There was no way we would not try to embarrass our children, and so we did!
Recently, I traveled to Paris and discovered what all the fuss is about; why people fall in love with this place, and why it’s depicted as the city of romance. It hit me the moment I arrived, as soon as I left Gare-du-Nord train station and immediately noticed the cobblestone streets and magnificent architecture of the buildings surrounding me. But that was only the beginning, thankfully there was so much traffic that our taxi could only proceed at a snail’s pace, giving us ample opportunity to absorb everything outside. The cafes and bakeries along the way were enough to send my head spinning, never had I seen such a vast collection of eateries anywhere else that I’ve visited, or seen so many stores all nestled in such scenic surroundings. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, near the Eiffel Tower, I could not wait to go out to a local patisserie and eat a baguette and experience a Parisian pastry. My husband’s pleas to sit in a proper restaurant where he would have space to rest his tired feet went unnoticed by me; all I cared about was satisfying my craving for French baked goods. The moment I noticed the display of food through the window of the first patisserie that we passed, I could finally relax. No one spoke English, but the language of bread and cake is universal, so there was no problem there. From that point on Paris, for me, became a city filled with temptation, because everywhere I went and saw the signs for a patisserie I knew what treasures stood only one bite away. We didn’t only eat bread and cake however; as tempting as it was, we also dined in proper restaurants in order to experience other French foods. We made sure to walk for miles after each meal, so that we could develop an appetite before our next eating experience. Sounds like gluttonous behavior, and that is exactly the way it was. Missing, thank goodness, from the scenery were the big yellow McDonald’s arches that can be seen in almost every metropolitan city worldwide, and the one and only McDonald’s near our hotel had a very tiny arch, almost unrecognizable. I had to walk inside just to see whether the menu was the same, as I remembered how once I went into a McDonald’s in Israel to check out the menu and found that they served McKabob, and in England they had an ‘After Eight’ McFlurry. I wondered what variation of the usual menu this French McDonald’s would offer, and I laughed when looking at the dessert section of the McCafe with its colorful macaroons and other delectable cakes—it was nothing like the options offered in the US. While in France, I made sure to eat in non-chain restaurants and cafés, not difficult to find since most places were not chains—how refreshing. No matter what the weather was like, and it drizzled most of the time, people would still sit outside, elbow to elbow while eating their meals, or just sipping their coffee. What I didn’t appreciate of course was all the smoking, I hated it, it seemed as though every second person in France smoked. Every corner I turned surprised me with more restaurants, more shops, and more beautiful apartment buildings; perhaps it was the feeling that I would never have enough time to do it all—to see everything—that added an element of awe and excitement.
But enough about the food, because if you strip that away, there is still so much more: the walking along the Seine, morning or night, the way the Eiffel tower glistened when it lit up in the dark, the way the Champs Elysees looked when standing at the very end of the street, looking onward toward the Arc de Triomphe—a monument that stood big and tall amidst the modern-looking shops along this famous street. A reminder that when those stores close or change hands, the Arc de Triomphe will still be there standing aloof, looking down on all of us. The one museum that I could not wait to see was of course Muse du Louvre, holding some of the world’s most valuable art; everyone has seen this building’s famous image at some point in their lives, but standing there outside, with grim skies all around us, I was filled with veneration for the architects of this beautiful structure. It felt surreal, it still feels that way. With the aid of our museum pass, my family and I skipped the very long line outside and headed straight to the Italian paintings, in order to see the one and only Mona Lisa. We figured that with a five-year-old in tow it was best to go directly to the artwork that we were most interested in viewing, before he would realize that there were no dinosaur bones to see, and an imminent meltdown would ensue.
Getting to the Mona Lisa was not as easy as you may think, true, the building was huge and there was so much to see, but most everyone congregated around Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa painting, especially now because of the latest conspiracy theory regarding a so called code seen somewhere in the painting. Honestly, I had no interest in looking for those iconographic symbols; I just wanted to view the portrait of this beautiful woman and nothing more. After standing in line, in a civil manner, hoping that people would eventually let us through, we finally decided to do the European thing and force our way in. With elbows bent to the sides of our body, we shoved and pushed like the best of them, and only then were we able to plow our way through the aggressive crowd and slowly advance towards the object of our interest, the Mona Lisa. Once we reached the outer rope, the one preventing anyone from getting any closer to the painting, it was a struggle to remain there for more than a minute as the perpetual shoving continued, and like an underwater current that would sweep you away from shore, we found ourselves moving away from the painting as well. I would’ve preferred to see the painting in a more relaxed atmosphere, instead of having to muscle my way in and endure people’s bad hygiene as they rubbed against me, but at the end of the day it was all worth it.
I had seen Leonardo’s work before, years ago, but I never saw the Mona Lisa; and although very familiar with the painting, there was something extraordinary about viewing a classic up front. We did not view any other section apart from the Italian one, because at this point Jack was bored stiff, and positively confident that we were not in the right museum. So we did our best to soak up as much as we could until we reached the elevators at the end of the wing. I had forgotten how large some of those paintings were, and I’m talking about framed paintings and not frescoes. The Infant Jesus and the Virgin Mary, appeared in supernatural apparitions, and consumed much of the subject matter in those paintings, but what caught my attention mostly was the artists’ depiction of the female body between the 13th and mid – 18th centuries, and particularly how the artists’ chose to paint the female navel.
It’s nothing new that the full-figured-woman was the preferred image of artists back then, but I thought of things from another angle, another perspective. I studied the crowd that gathered around the paintings—analyzing and photographing as much as they could—undoubtedly adoring the artwork and the images before them, and I wondered how many thought of the women in the paintings as great beauties or even remotely attractive? Is it not the case that in today’s society a full-figured woman can only dream of adorning the cover of a magazine, getting a spread in playboy magazine, a starring role in a movie, or a contract from the top modeling agencies in the world? Yet those women in the paintings had stood the test of time, adored by the crowds at the Louvre. Strange? Of course one can’t compare between artwork of that magnitude and a spread in playboy etc., but it serves to make my point anyway. What if one of those artists, from centuries ago, were alive today and commissioned to paint the same biblical subject matter, would he choose a voluptuous woman, or someone like Kate Moss, or a Victoria’s Secret model as the muse for his 21st century painting? Would such a painting have the same effect on us?
While other people might have had serious academic discussions when standing in front of those paintings, interpreting the artwork, or at least trying to sound knowledgeable, my mind drifted in another direction. I remembered the erotic connotations associated with the navel according to Desmond Morris in his book “The Naked Woman.” The female belly had always been considered a taboo zone, because of its proximity to the sexual part of the body, right bellow. The Victorians were so uptight about this part of the body that they could not utter the word “belly”; instead they used “stomach,” so if you suffered from pain in that region of the body, you had a stomach-ache and not a belly-ache, and this is the term that we still use today even though it’s anatomically incorrect. In Victorian nurseries “belly” was still considered too vulgar so they made use of “tummy” or “tummy-ache” instead. A mistress was called a “belly-piece” in those days, and a man’s penis was known as a “belly-ruffian,” an “itch in the belly” was a sexual desire, and “belly-work” was copulation. Desmond Morris says that today’s slender-figured woman does not have the classic round looking naval, because in flat bellies the navel then tends to look like a vertical slit. The female belly is usually longer than the male’s when comparing men and women; the navel is more deeply recessed in a female’s body than in a man’s body.
The Pastoral Concert—a round naval
But if you look at modern photography, you will immediately notice the vertical slit on the models with exposed bellies, and the reason for this, you may be surprised to learn, is to emphasize the part that looks like a body orifice. The female’s genital orifice looks like a vertical cleft and therefore a shift towards the vertical navel instead of the round one, which in this case would be symbolic of the anus, is a way in which the artists offer a substitute for the real thing. In early photographs it was painted out so the belly looked abnormally smooth. Under Hollywood code in the 1930s and 1940s, no navel could be shown in film. Even in Middle Eastern countries, which gave birth to belly dancing, covering the navel had become a requirement of the new religious regimes sweeping across those countries. And this strengthens the argument that navels have always had a very strong sexual connotation attached to them. In fact, the US Navel Observatory has listed a few interesting classifications for the different navels out there: The Vertical Slit is known to be graceful, feminine and erotic; the Navette Navel is a strong, vertical elongation, but wider in the mid-section; the Triangular Navel—a common type, considered beautiful and shaped like an inverted triangle with convex sides; the Almond-shaped Navel—considered most beautiful by the Japanese; the Circle Navel—perfectly round; the oval—most common shape; the Cat’s Eye Navel—horizontal in shape, more like an eye; the Coffee-bean Navel—a shallow oval ‘innie’ with two flesh protrusions inside it and a combination of an ‘innie’ and ‘outie’ navel; the Pierced Navel—the modern mutilated navel.
I can safely say that after three hernia procedures, the last one not very successful either, as I still feel a twitch of pain here and there, my navel looks nothing like any of the above mentioned descriptions. It is more of an upside down smiley face—that would make it more of a ‘sad face,’ I guess. And I doubt there is anything erotic in a sad face—nothing too exciting—and what kind of subliminal message could it possibly be sending my partner? Thankfully, perhaps the only thing in my favor these days is that I too have small breasts, yes, just like the ones depicted in all those beautiful classical paintings at the Louvre. Perhaps classic little breasts can make up for that missing vertical naval. Truthfully, I couldn’t care less about my navel, as I will never wear a top that reveals it, although I am guilty of following this fashion trend in the past. So what’s left then, the beach? Oh, who cares? But I still like to wear a bikini at the beach. However, at my age I’m not looking to impress anyone anymore, and my main activity is chasing after my five-year-old rather than talking to young suitors. Usually, when I can finally relax on the warm sand, and look lovingly into my husband’s eyes, he then asks me to put sun block on his bald spots, and tweeze the hair out of his ears. If the people standing next to me at the Louvre only knew that great artwork had inspired me to think of things like navels, breasts, and tweezers, they might have turned their noses at me.
I can’t wait to go back to Paris for another visit, maybe next time I will get to sleep next to my husband instead of my five-year-old who refused to sleep in a different bed. Maybe there will be time for some belly-work. But still, I will forever think of this place as a romantic city, for I had totally fallen in love with the place, and all the belly-cheer and belly-timber that it aroused–that would be food in Victorian terms. I also gained nine pounds that I‘m easily working off, because there are none of the same tempting belly-cheers out here in Las Vegas.