Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The Opera Garnier is famous for many things. It is stunningly beautiful-- a tribute to the arts in every possible way. It's beauty is captured in paintings by artists like Degas (who used to attend regularly). Somewhat lesser known is that the story "Phantom of the Opera" is set here because the building sits atop a small reservoir. Even lesser known is that the Opera is home to a school of trout and several hives of bees.
As the story goes, it was several years ago that then-prop man at the opera, Jean Paucton, was looking for a place to keep his new beehive until he could get it to his country house. He apparently asked his friend, who worked on the Opera's fire brigade and was raising a school of trout under the opera house (I couldn't make this up if I tried!), for advice. The gentleman recommended putting the hive on the roof. Mr. Paucton was reticent as he was unsure where the bees would find pollen, but he had no choice. He returned the next week to find the hive overflowing with honey-- significantly more full, in fact, than hives get in the countryside! The hive has continued growing for more than 25 years now and he now has over 75,000 bees residing in 5 hives, collecting more than 1,000 pounds of honey per year.
The honey is said to be especially fragrant as these bees have access to Paris' most prestigious gardens. From the flowers of the French "White House" to the Jardin Tuileries and even as far as the Bois de Bologne, the bees collect pollen throughout the city and return to produce mini pots of gold (available for sale in the Opera shop and at the gourmet food shop Fauchon).
After hearing about the bees for some time, I decided to try to find the honey. I marched over to Fauchon and paid dearly for my 125 grams of "gold." I have to say, though, that in the end, it tastes like honey. Perhaps it is a little more floral, perhaps a little sweeter even, but the thing I like about it most is that it is a little taste of heaven from what must be some of the most inspired bees on Earth. I wonder how the trout made out...
Walking in to the controversial exhibition in a private gallery space in Paris, I was curious as to what I would find inside. The exhibition is posted on buses and billboards throughout the city, and at this point, the basic concept is fairly well known. The exhibition features the human body-- using actual human bodies-- to show the inner workings and intricate systems we use everyday but never see.
I've always been fascinated by the human body. From the way the organs form to the sophisticated way in which the systems interact, it all seems impossible, yet it works.
The first body you see when walking in is laying down, encased in plexiglass-- a very comfortable way to begin. The body is cut at 1 cm intervals and laid out so you can see the bones, veins, tendons, etc. as they move through the body. It was very artistically displayed and extremely interesting. The second body, however, stands before you, like you could have a conversation with it, and I was suddenly acutely aware that, at one point, this was a person who did stand next to people and have conversations-- something much more disturbing to me. It took me a few minutes to come to terms with what I was seeing. I developed an intense respect for each of the figures before me, something not usually required in an art exhibit. As I went through the rest of the show, I read every sign and reviewed every display in an earnest desire to understand all I could from what these people had given me the opportunity to learn.
About 2/3 of the way through the exhibition, however, I was jarred back into reality when I saw the cranium of a small child. I can understand the concept of giving your own body to art and education (as odd as it seems), but as a mother I could not come to grips with how you would willingly give the body of your child to anyone. I was shocked and disappointed that it was included, especially since it didn't seem to add anything to the show-- certainly the points could have been made without it.
I left the exhibition extremely contemplative, intrigued, appalled, feeling challenged, and yet somehow inspired. I don't know that I would actively recommend the exhibition (as I think everyone should decide their comfort level for themselves), but if you're interested, know that it is artistic, informative and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see it... this unforgettable, out-of-body experience.