SAHIL BIHARI'S BLOG

"I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind." — Albus Dumbledore

It is going to be almost three years since I've been living here in Paris and I can only thank my stars that I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, even two and a half years down the line, I still find it hard to think of reaching a point in the near future when I might be done exploring the city.

Just another piece of work on a sequestered wall in Montmartre

There is an endless list of things to do in Paris. Probably that is why I love it. However, all the good things come to an end and I know that I might be moving on to some other part of the world soon. Before that happens, I thought I will jot down a list of my favourite things to do in Paris.

Food

Every city has its own charm and one of the most charming things about Paris is the superlative quality of food everywhere. From the best boulangeries to the amazing cafés, Paris is full of great places to eat. Apart from the regular bistros and brasseries, there are also so many other places to explore in Paris. It wasn't tough for me to decide which food l should start this section with.

Burgers

Burgers = Happiness.... and there are so many burger places serving the much needed happiness in Paris. Although I could easily list out 10 to 20 burger places on my list, I would like to keep this post as short and simple as possible. So out of all the burger places that I have visited these are the ones that I would recommend:
  • L'Artisan du Burger
  • Big Fernand
  • Roomies
  • Hank Burger
  • Mamie Burger

Coffee

Coffee is the best way to start a day. Among the cafés that I have visited so far, these are the ones that really made my day:
  • Holybelly
  • La Caféothèque de Paris
  • Strada Café
  • 13- A Baker's Dozen
  • Matamata Coffee Bar

Other interesting places to eat

  • Les Antiquaires - My undisputed number one. Almost every dish that they serve is great, never disappoints.
  • Au Petit Sud Ouest - The best foie gras and duck confit in Paris.
  • La Gare - It used to be an actual underground Metro station, later converted to a restaurant.
  • Urfa Dürüm - A small and crowded place but amazing for kebab rolls.
  • Bouillon Chartier - Classified as a 'monument historique' since 1989.

Things to Do

A post about Paris without the Eiffel Tower is incomplete. So here it is.

The Eiffel Tower

Now let's move on. Paris is home to a few of the most visited monuments and museums in the world. In fact, there are so many famous places in Paris to visit, that even though the city has a giant Ferris Wheel, just like the London Eye and Singapore Flyer, this wheel doesn't even make it to the 'Top things to do in Paris' list.

The Paris Ferris Wheel


Museums

Out of all the museums that I have been to these would be the ones that I liked the most:
  • Musée du Louvre
  • Musée d'Orsay
  • Musée Rodin

Movie Locations

From French Kiss to Da Vinci Code to Inception, all kinds of Hollywood movies have been shot in Paris. If you have the time it is fun to check out a few of the most famous movie locations in Paris. In fact, there are a few Bollywood movies that are set in Paris as well. Significant parts of movies such as Queen, Befikre, Don (the new one released in 2006) and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom were all shot in Paris.

Le Pure Cafe from 'Before Sunset' Then (left) and Now (right)
There is also an app called Secrets de Paris, which contains an endless list of things to do in Paris.

Seine River Cruise

Each and every cruise has its pros and cons. However, the best ones from the tried and tested list are:
  • Bateau le Calife - Best dinner cruise
  • Bateaux Parisiens - Best lunch buffet and cruise
  • Vedettes du Pont-Neuf - Best value for money cruise

View from Bateaux Parisiens


Bastille Day Fireworks

On 14th of July every year, France celebrates the Bastille Day, which commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille in 1789. This celebration starts with a military parade and a fly-past of the French Air Force in the morning and ends with one of the most spectacular firework displays in the evening. With perfectly coordinated music, lights, and fireworks, it is one of the most beautiful events that I have ever witnessed.
Here's the video. Also, if you're a Coldplay fan like me, here is the shortcut link to the best part...
(Click here for the Coldplay part).



Walk along the Seine

Finally, if you're just looking to just spend a relaxing evening in Paris, you can always take a walk along the river. It's beautiful, buzzing with people and absolutely free!

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway

After staying in Paris for more than two years, I finally managed to visit the Louvre recently. During this visit, I was surprised to find out that most of the visitors at the museum were there just to see the Mona Lisa. From the moment you enter the museum, you can see almost everyone moving towards Salle des États, the hall where the masterpiece is displayed. Yet according to this article (Read: How Long Does it Take To Look at a Painting?), the average time people spend looking at the Mona Lisa is a mere 15 seconds.

The famous Mona Lisa behind bulletproof glass displayed at the Louvre (Image Courtesy: ourescapades.com/)

The Mona Lisa (a.k.a. La Gioconda, which means The Laughing One in Italian) is undisputedly the most famous painting in the world. It is seen by approximately six million people every year. But why is it so famous? To find out, I did my own research about the painting and found out some interesting facts. 

Creator: Leonardo Da Vinci

One of the first reasons why the Mona Lisa was considered a masterpiece initially was because of its creator, Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath with a huge following. With his interests spanning a multitude of areas such as invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography he literally epitomizes the word genius. Leonardo was so famous during his lifetime that the King of France carried him away like a trophy, and is said to have supported him in his old age and held him in his arms as he died.
Apart from the various pieces of art that he produced, he is also credited with the invention of the parachute, helicopter, tank, scuba gear, and self-driven carts (Visit: The Inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci). Da Vinci's top 7 inventions are illustrated in the short video below.


Techniques 

Apart from Da Vinci's prodigious patronage, connoisseurs of art also find the Mona Lisa particularly fascinating because of the techniques used by the artist in the painting.

  • Sfumato: Derived from the Italian word "fumo", meaning "smoke", the technique allows tones and colors to blend gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. Da Vinci was the most illustrious practitioner of this technique, which was later on used by other famous artists and Da Vinci's followers.
  • Silberblick: This German technique, which literally means "silver look" in German, creates an illusion that the subject's eyes are always gazing at the person viewing the painting. In this technique, instead of painting symmetrically, the irises of both the eyes are shifted slightly towards the center. This is the reason why the Mona Lisa always appears to be looking at you.

The theft of Mona Lisa

The most recent event that increased the Mona Lisa's popularity exponentially occurred in the twentieth century. On 21 August 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. When one visualizes the Mona Lisa being stolen, the first picture that comes to mind is that of a super smooth museum heist carried out by slick thieves having state of the art tools. However, surprising as it may sound, the Mona Lisa thief (an Italian man named Vincenzo Peruggia) just hid inside the museum overnight knowing that it was going to be closed the next day. In the morning, he removed the painting, hid it under his smock and exited through one of the staff entrances of the museum. The short video below illustrates just how simple it was. 


For the next 26 hours, people didn't even notice that the painting was missing. Later on, when the authorities realized that the Mona Lisa had been stolen, the painting was all over the news. In the next few days, thanks to immense media coverage the Mona Lisa was transformed from just another artwork to the symbolic celebrity painting that we know of today. People thronged the Louvre just to see the empty space with four iron pegs on the wall where the Mona Lisa used to be displayed. 

Visitors look at the empty space where the Mona Lisa used to be before being stolen (Image Source: pagebenkowski.files)

By stealing the Mona Lisa, Vincenzo Peruggia wanted to prove his patriotism for his country and "return one of the most celebrated Italian artworks back to its homeland". However, the news about the theft spread so fast that Peruggia had to shelve his plans and keep the Mona Lisa hidden in a trunk in his apartment for the next two years. Afterward, Peruggia returned to Italy with the painting. He was finally caught when he tried to contact Alfredo Geri, the owner of an art gallery in Florence. Geri took the painting from Peruggia, verified the authenticity, and then informed the police, who arrested Peruggia at the hotel where he was staying. The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre on 4 January 1914. Its popularity has been snowballing ever since.

Controversies

Apart from these facts, there are numerous controversies surrounding the Mona Lisa that make it a hot topic for discussion. Out of these, the three main controversies are the ones mentioned below:

Who was Mona Lisa?

The history of the Mona Lisa hides behind a veil of mystery. There are several aspects of the painting which still remain unclear. However, it is widely believed that the lady in the painting was Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. Although most of the evidence about Mona Lisa's identity so far has been inconclusive, in 2015 a team of Italian researchers claimed to have found the remains of Lisa Gherardini after years examining the remains of bodies buried below the Sant'Orsola convent in Florence (Read: Who was Mona Lisa?). 


There is a second Mona Lisa painted by Da Vinci

The Isleworth Mona Lisa, which is a slightly wider version of the Mona Lisa, is also speculated to be a work of Leonardo Da Vinci. The painting was discovered shortly after World War I by an English art collector, Hugh Blaker, in the home of a Somerset nobleman where the painting had been resting for the past 100 years. Later on, Blaker moved the painting to his art studio in Isleworth, London. As the figure in the Isleworth Mona Lisa looks a bit younger, many people surmise that it was painted by Da Vinci before the Louvre Mona Lisa so that he could practice his strokes before creating the final masterpiece.

Left, the Louvre Mona Lisa and, right, the Isleworth Mona Lisa. (Image Source: ft.com)


There is a third Mona Lisa painted by Da Vinci's pupil

Another copy of the Mona Lisa is said to be displayed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. As the details of the painting very closely resemble the Louvre Mona Lisa, it is believed that it could be the work of one of Da Vinci's pupils.

Left, the Louvre Mona Lisa and, right, Prado's Mona Lisa. (Image Source: wikimedia.org)

Is it worth all the hype?

Although I am not the best person to give a verdict on whether the Mona Lisa is worth all the hype, I believe that it is one the very first instances in history of something going 'viral'. Even if I believe that the Mona Lisa is overhyped, I am still writing an article about it. That's the beauty of something going viral! Once people start talking about your work, it keeps on spreading like fire, no matter how good or bad it is. 
However, looking back at all the findings, we can definitely infer that the Mona Lisa has had quite an eventful history so far. It is this history, which makes it stand apart from the rest of the paintings in the world.
It's official. Xenophobia is Dictionary.com's 2016 Word of the Year. 2016 has been a year full of unexpected and dismal events. A year when international politics plummeted to a new low and when words such as Xenophobia, Post-Truth, Alt-Right and Brexiteer were the most searched words online.

With so many unusual outcomes, this year perfectly justifies the existence of the insurance and risk management industry. Now that Christmas is almost here and the curtains are finally being drawn on this year, I was wondering that if I were to choose three major events from 2016, what would they be?



Brexit

The United Kingdom is in a state of disarray. Living in France, I would consider this as one of the most important events of the year. On 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to opt out of the European Union. The "Leave" campaign won by 52% to 48% and all hell broke loose. From a significant rise in racism hate crimes to the stepping down of the leaders of the "Leave" campaign, the country has been engulfed in a veritable bedlam.

Brexit

Apart from creating a cacophony of opinions, the Brexit has also cast a dark shadow on the future of the UK. If you break down the voting statistics according to the demographics, you will find that although England and Wales voted "Leave", 62% of the voters in Scotland and 56% of the voters in Northern Ireland voted to "Stay". A Scottish referendum was held in 2014 to decide whether Scotland should be a part of the UK or not. Although in 2014, 55% of the people voted to remain in the UK, there is a high probability that the present-day Scots might opt to exit the UK  in the case of a fresh referendum (which would probably be called 'Sexit'?).

Considering the unstable and volatile political state of affairs, some firms have already started planning to relocate to the European mainland as it would be more cost-effective for them to operate from inside the EU. With cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris trying to woo these firms, there is bound to be some (if not a lot) migration of talent from the UK to the EU.

With higher risk come higher returns. This might be an opportune moment for risk-loving investors. Finance thoughts apart, it would be interesting to see how the negotiations shape up in the coming years. Now with Theresa May struggling to salvage the situation and the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty yet to be triggered, the UK will remain in a state of uncertainty for at least the next two years. Unstable and uncertain are words that investors and businesses detest.

Trump

From a businessman and a reality TV show host to the president-elect of the largest economy in the world, Donald Trump took everyone by surprise on 9th November 2016, when he defeated Hillary Clinton in the US elections. When his campaign started, most of the people took him for a joke. The promises that he made and the things that he said hardly made any sense at all. He made all kinds of horrible remarks about women and about people from different races. There was hardly a soul on planet earth that Donald Trump had not offended directly or indirectly.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Carmel, Indiana.
Image Courtesy: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Media pundits thought that he could never win. Political analysts thought that he could never win. Once again, the demographics had a lot to say. Nearly, 45% of the US did not vote. Maybe because most of them thought that he could never win. Well... and then he won.

Aleppo

The Syrian Civil War has been one of the deadliest conflicts in recent history. With the recent air strikes on Aleppo, it came to a point where it epitomises a monumental failure of mankind. Innocent civilians were caught in the friction between the state and the rebels. It has been so bad that even the UN addressed it as a "complete meltdown of humanity".

Looking at the Before vs After pictures of Aleppo, it is heartbreaking to see how such a magnificent historic city has been reduced to a pile of corpses and debris.


These photos courtesy of Ahmad al-Khatib, a media activist in Aleppo, show Syrian social worker Anas al-Basha, 24, dressed as a clown, while posing for a photograph in Aleppo, Syria
But with each such incident, there emerge heroes who put up a brave face against these atrocities and bring hope and cheer to people. Aleppo also had people such as Anas al-Basha, popularly know as the Clown of Aleppo, who decided to stay back in Aleppo to bring some cheer to the traumatised children.

The White Helmets on a mission

Then there are the Syrian Civil Defence volunteers, AKA the White Helmets, who have been relentlessly working to save and rescue people in the war-torn city. The White Helmets have saved more than 73,000 lives till date and were the favourites in contention for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016. Although they didn't win this year, you can still support them for winning the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize by signing an online petition (Click here for the link).

All good things come to an end. Thankfully, so do all the bad things. I can't say which bucket the year 2017 will fall into. But I wish it falls in the 'good' category.

Fingers Crossed! :)
I have long been a fan of Impressionist paintings and after having encountered several works of art in various museums across Europe, I had a chance to see one of the most symbolic masterpieces of the era at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. Although the museum is not a huge one, the works of art on display are simply sublime. Even though the museum contains the works of several great artists, the highlight of the museum is Nymphéas, one of the final works of Claude Monet, which consists of twelve large canvasses displayed in two oval-shaped chambers.

Claude Monet

Oscar-Claude Monet was a founder of the French Impressionist painting and the most prolific and consistent practitioners of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perception as it is presented in nature. This included en plein air or plein air painting, an art form where the painter works outdoors in the lap of nature and painted the views presented by nature rather than painting an artificially created set.

Claude Monet
Although most of the paintings made by Monet are displayed in museums across the globe, the Musée de L'Orangerie houses his final masterpiece, Nymphéas, which he wanted to give to France as a gift.

Impressionism

Every wondered why the Impressionist movement is called so? The impressionist movement started with a painting called the Impression, Soleil Levant by Claude Monet. This painting depicts a sunrise at the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown, with two small boats in the sea and a red sun in the sky. Surprisingly, the term was coined by a famous art critic, Louis Leroy, in his satirical review of the painting style.

Impression, Soleil Levant
This art movement was characterised by relatively small, thin yet visible brush strokes, open composition, accurate description of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and unusual visual angles.

Musée de l'Orangerie

The Musée de L'Orangerie was built originally in 1852 to shelter the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries. In 1921, the administration of the Beaux-Arts decided to assign to the Direction des Musées Nationaux (as it was then called) the two buildings overlooking the Place de la Concorde, the Jeu de Paume, and the Orangerie.
Since Monet had earlier indicated that he wished to donate some decorative murals to symbolize an end of the first World War, he was suggested by Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister during the war, that he install the painting in the Orangerie. After visiting the place, Monet completely fell in love with it. Not only does the museum overlook the Seine river, but it also is located in the peaceful garden of the Tuileries. Since the garden was right next to one of the busiest crossings in Paris, it completely symbolized the Nymphéas (Water Lillies) as a peacful place in the midst of all the commotion. Monet spent several years painting and conceptualizing the installation of the Nymphéas and finally it went on display at the Musée de L'Orangerie in May, 1927, just a few months after Monet's death.
Apart from the Nymphéas, the museum also contains the works of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Alfred Sisley, Chaim Soutine, and Maurice Utrillo.

Musée de L'Orangerie

Nymphéas

Nymphéas or Water Lilies is a series of 250 oil paintings made by Claude Monet. During the last 30 years of his life, Monet concentrated all his energy to complete this series while trying his best to not to lose his eyesight, which kept declining almost to the extent of complete blindness. Nevertheless, Monet wanted to present to France a set of decorative murals to symbolize the end of the Frist World War. The Water Lilies, being the perfect embodiment of peace, calm and harmony was the perfect present. The work consists of twelve murals displayed on the walls of two conjoined oval rooms. These long murals give a feeling of being surrounded by water lilies in a calm and quiet atmosphere. The two oval rooms join together at the center to make the infinity symbol to represent endless peace and tranquility.

Nymphéas at Musée de L'Orangerie


Alhough Claude Monet was one of the most influential painters of his era, his final years were not as rosy as one would imagine. In 1911, Monet's wife, Alice, passed away. Just a few years later in 1914, he lost his son Jean. After Jean's demise, Monet was left with only his daughter-in-law Blanche, who took good care of him. As a final blow, during these years Monet also started developing cataracts. This was a huge setback since Monet's skills were highly dependent on his eyesight and with each passing year it just got worse. In the midst of the all the commotion from the first World War and a moribund eyesight, Monet needed a lot of perseverence and determination to complete this piece of work. 
There was a time when the enemy forces had reached just 6km from Monet's place of work. However, determined as ever he decided not to abandon his place and keep working till the piece is complete. Finally, after years of perseverance, the work was finished and it was decided to display these murals at the Musée de L'Orangerie.
Monet died on 5 December, 1926 of lung cancer. But his legend still lives in all his paintings. 

"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."
-Claude Monet
Finally starting with my first post.... Hello Paris!