30 July 2016


As much as I love Shakespeare, I have to tell you this:  The man never had an original idea in his life.  At least, not an original idea for a story.  Every one of The Bard's plays was written, in one version or another, by somebody else.  The reason we read, perform, watch and beat them to death today is that he imbued his characters with a depth never before seen in drama, at least in English:  Until his time, most dramas were "morality plays" or other kinds of vehicles to impart lessons or accepted wisdom.

Likewise, Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic scene is no more original than any murder story has been since Cain and Abel.  Even if you've never watched the whole movie, you know that scene:  Marion, played by Janet Leigh, is taking a shower when a female figure stabs her.


I am not saying the scene--or the film--does not deserve to be as famous as it is.  Rather, I am just pointing out that Hitchcock probably paid a visit to the Louvre, or at least looked at an art book or two, some time before he started making Psycho.

Please don't ask me how it took so long for me to come to such a realization.  But I might be the only visitor in the history of the world's most famous art museum to laugh while looking at Jacques Louis David's The Death of Marat.

Like Marion Bates, Marat was stabbed by a woman.  He met his fate in his bathtub, where he spent much of his time (and, in fact, did much of his writing) because of a skin condition.  It's extremely unlikely that Marat could have taken a shower, even if he had known they existed:  Even though the first indoor shower was invented two decades before he was murdered, it would be another six decades before modern indoor plumbing would make them workable. The originals were operated by hand pumps.

Anyway, for a time in my youth, Jacques Louis David was my favorite painter.  His combination of revolutionary fervor (He, as a deputy from the city of Paris, voted for the execution of the king.) and painting technique--dark backgrounds that made for vivid, dramatic colors and forms, a technique often called "chiaroscuro"--appealed to my sensibilities in those days, almost precisely because I could not see it as another side of the sentimentality I thought I was rejecting.

But one lesson I learned from Marat and David is that backgrounds or backdrops matter.  Why do you think I came to Paris again?  Why do you think my favorite muesums in Paris are the Rodin, Cognaq-Jay, Picasso and d'Orsay?  I mean, I love much of what Rodin, Picasso and the Impressionists did.  But there's nothing like going to the museums devoted to them (especially Rodin, in my opinion).  On the other hand, I can't say I was a fan of much of the work that's in the Cognaq-Jay.  But it's become a "new favorite" precisely because of the environment it creates and the way those works are presented.  Plus, it has some of the friendliest staff I've encountered in a museum.  (Oh, and it's free!)

Anyway...A great backdrop can make for a great ride.  That's why I can put up with the insanity of Paris traffic (Then again, I'm a New Yorker): What's not to like about riding among beautiful buildings and gardens?  

But cycling also transmutes, if not transforms, backgrounds.  A bleak, apocalyptic necropolis becomes bearable, and an interesting--and in its own way, even beautiful--image when it's the setting of a good bike ride, even if it is just from work to home, or vice versa. I used to pedal through such a setting every day when I was a student and worked in a factory; that ride might be what kept me (relatively) sane.

I have been able to ride through far more beautiful vistas.  Some were natural, whether in mountains or along seashores.   But for the past few days, I've rolled through some of the most beautiful urban scenes in the world.  It's made for some great riding--and a great trip!


  1. I understand that you are traveling and posting on the fly, but: Norman Bates, Marion Crane, Janet Leigh.