Monday, October 8, 2012


We were going to Paris to get away.  Or at least I was.  I'd been working on a book that was vaguely about tigers for the past eight months and I wanted, for a couple weeks anyway, to forget about those solitary beasts.  I want to be footloose, to roam.  To just take in Paris as I saw fit. 

I lived in Paris many years ago with a mother and her son, Jean-Michele.  Jean-Michele and I lost track of one another over many years.  Then about a decade ago Larry and I were going to Paris, a place where he'd never been, and I decided on a whim to see if I could find Jean-Michele's number and give him a call.  To my surprise his number was in the phone book so I picked up the phone and called.  It had been perhaps thirty years since we'd last spoken, but I just said his name, "Jean-Michele?"  And, without hesitating, he said, "Marie?"

We saw him and his Algerian wife, Karima, twice on that trip and have seen them many times since.  In fact part of the reason we go to Paris as much as we do is to see Jean-Michele and Karima.  This June was no exception.  We'd done a house swap for two weeks and we had only just arrived.  There was a book I was looking for and we saw Jean-Michele for a drink and he said that there was a very good bookstore at the Place de San Suplice.  "And while you are there, you should look in the church.  There are two very good Delacroix frescoes."

In all honesty I can't say that I'd ever given Delacroix much thought.  But on a cold and rainy afternoon we stopped in the church and there on the wall were two amazing frescoes, including one with an incredible angel and another with a terrified horse.  We saw for a long time, gazing at them, before moving on.  We bought the book I wanted and went home.

The next day was Sunday, another rainy day, and a friend had recommended the Jewish museum.  He said that they had a very good exhibit on Moroccan Jews there.  I wasn't sure what I expected and, while I didn't want to be thinking about my tiger book, a portion of it was set in North Africa (that part has nothing to do with tigers).  So we set off early in the morning and went to the museum.  It was a little like getting into a fortress with all the security but once inside we saw that the exhibit of Moroccan Jews began with some paintings and sketchbook entries of Delacroix.  He had gone to North Africa in search of the exotic and found it in these Moroccan Jews.

I found myself spending a great deal of time with the Delacroix.  Here is a page from my journal in which I incorporate a postcard of an image from his sketchbook with my own painting beyond the borders of the card in my journal.  I call this entry:  Delacroix et Moi.

The next day Larry and I got up early and went to a cafe and after an hour or two I wanted to go to a store I knew for some art supplies so we headed out.  Except we went the wrong way.  We were walking and walking and after a while I realized we were heading away from the store, but then I saw the sign.  To the Delacroix house.  It was beginning to dawn on me that Delacroix was somehow becoming important to me and I felt almost as if I was following some invisible map - nothing I could see or perhaps even of my own making, but it was a map none the less and it was my job to follow it wherever it might lead me.
We found the house and went to pay admission.  The ticket salesperson asked if we would also like to purchase a pass to the Louvre because most of the larger and more important Delacroix would be seen there.  I thankfully declined the offer.  I am actually not a fan of the Louvre.  In fact I'd go so far as to say that I don't like the museum.  Or rather I don't like what they've done to it (but see my entry on Louvre tips.  There is a way to avoid all the tourists).  At any rate I didn't take the package deal. 
We walked into the house that also included his atletier.  We learned that he'd moved to this house late in life and the studio where he'd painted his most important works was demolished and he'd had to move.  This was apparently heartbreaking for him, but he built this new studio though he did not live that long after moving into the house. 
I wandered through two rooms and then came to a third, the one that led to the studio and there I stopped dead in my tracks.  For not only did Delacroix paint Moroccan Jews in his search for the exotic, but he also draw and painted tigers.  A lot of tigers.  The little room that I came to was full of them with a note informing the viewer that that actual painting of the tigers was, of course, in the Louvre.
I returned to the ticket person and asked if it was too late to add the Louvre to our ticket.  An hour later we were fighting the hordes, pushing our way through the busloads of tourists until at last I came to stand in front of this beautiful Delacroix painting of two tigers - that creature that I was trying to avoid had hunted me down even in Paris and as I stood before it I must say that it felt as if I was led here by design.  As if despite whatever I told myself before I headed out on this journey, this is where I'd been going all along.


  1. Very wonderful, Mary. Tony told me that you're writing about tigers. Me too, sort of. But no Delacroix! Wish I had the time to read your blog all the time--it's such a treat.

  2. Wow, Marla. Thank you so much! You're writing about tigers? You must fill me in. Thanks for the nice note here. Sorry none of us have time for that much, do we?