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Wednesday was another museum day: chilly and rainy. No complaints, however, after the excellent stretch of good weather we had over the weekend.

As so often happens to a flâneur, my best experiences of the day were unexpected. The first was at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), which I visited to pick up some brochures. They had a free exhibit of 50 prints, drawn from a larger show last December that I had read about and regretted missing. The organizers asked 100 artists to draw covers for an imaginary magazine, The Parisianer, modeled on The New Yorker. Here are some I particularly liked, and there is more information at this link.

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After stashing my loot I had a baguette thon crudités (tuna sandwich) at the local Boulangerie and headed over to the Pompidou Center for a show of the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson. It was quite good, including a lot of early and rarely-seen works as well as his iconic images. The show was organized chronologically, so it also vividly presented the story of his life.

Once again, however, what really amazed me at the Pompidou was unexpected: The Clock (2010) by Christian Marclay. It’s a 24-hour collage of short clips from hundreds of films, mostly in English but several in French. Each clip includes an image of a clock or watch, or at least mention of the time, and the indicated time matches (with just a bit of artistic license) the actual time when the film is being shown. I had read about this but had imagined just a series of clock faces, which sounded vaguely interesting from a contemporary art perspective but not worth more than a few minutes of viewing. What I hadn’t appreciated was that the clips are long enough to offer tantalizing glimpses of character and dialogue and action, often at a crucial moment when time is of the essence. Each was itself a little nugget of cinematic history: trying to recognize the movies was fun, and it was a pleasure to be reminded of some wonderful or wonderfully awful films. But even richer was experiencing the way one’s mind tries to weave these disparate clips together into a coherent story, despite the manifest absurdity. This effect was enhanced by brilliant inter-cutting, and mixing sound from one clip under another. The experience was surreal and disorienting, but fascinating. Last, but not least, the synchronization of the film’s time with real-life time upends one’s usual experience of losing oneself in a film. At The Clock you always know exactly what time it is. I watched from 4:14 pm to 6:05, and I would be quite willing to go back for an additional hour or so if any of my June house guests are interested.

It was pouring at dinner time so I ate dinner at La Perla, in the next block. The food was reasonable and reasonably priced, but it didn’t remind me of Mexico, or even Texas. The welcome was warm, as it had been my first night, but I just read a book on my Kindle and didn’t partake in the convivial atmosphere. I stepped back into the rainy night without an au revoir and I’m not sure whether I’ll be as welcome another time.

Mot du jour: l’art de vivre. Zhizhong noted recently on Facebook that he never hears the French use the phrase joie de vivre, which is familiar in English. He speculates that it’s a romantic anglophone projection that has little to do with the reality of French life. The French do refer to l’art de vivre, which expresses the idea of finding a path through life which maximizes pleasure and minimizes stress and conflict, but the mildly tragic pose preferred by the French would never admit of anything so enthusiastic as “joy!”