Touching Art

17 Aug

by Maribel Steel

Truly, Paris is a city of beautiful smells. From the moment we left Charles de Gaulle airport, I have noticed the fragrance of this enchanting city. Warm tones of Chanel drift in the air as we make our way to our friends’ house in the 15th Arrondissement. The scent of freshly percolated coffee also catches in the summer breeze like an intoxicating spell, enchanting us towards the nearest cafe where waiters in pristine white aprons wave their hands like wands to produce a ready-made table for three. Tempting – but we must stride on – three abreast, the middle one sweeping the ground as she trots to keep up.

We are nearing the flat on Boulevard Lefèvre. With peripheral vision from my ‘good’ eye, I use the contrast of bright blue sky to see the dark outline of buildings, trailing behind my guides as I gaze dreamily, pulled along like a child looking back at a toy shop. I want to reach out and touch the sturdy wrought iron gates or a Parisian tree or a crisp white café table cloth – hey guys, let me touch something?

On our first day, Niquette takes us to the Jardin de Rodin and we wander around the spacious shady garden, touching the solid bronze and marble sculptures scattered around the grounds. Intricate carvings of little children’s feet and tiny hands adorn a gate and we linger a while tracing with admiring fingers the precise curves and lines of these carved cherubs intertwined with leaves and branches, coiled snakes and tempting fruit from the Garden of Eden – our hands glide slowly like Tai Chi masters.

We hunt down a Cubist museum near the garden of Luxemburg to see the work of a Russian artist, Zadkine. Our quartet moves inside the compact gallery and I utter to waiting staff a new French phrase my friend has rehearsed with me along the way. I wave my long white wand and with foreign fluttering eyelashes, I announce,

“Bonjour Madame. Je suis mal voyante.”

She glances at the white cane.

“Oh! I understand,” she replies in English. “You may go in to the gallery for free, Madame.”

As we turn to enter the gallery she calls after us,

“Madame? You may touch the sculptures if you are very careful with them. But only you.

“Merci beaucoup, Madame.” Niquette and I smile broadly as we walk arm in arm through the narrow door. I am overwhelmed with gratitude – touch the artwork? And believe me, I truly saw Zadkine’s sculptures of ebony, bronze, stone and carved wood through dancing eyes at the edges of my fingertips.

To read the full story as part of a series “Touching the sights of France” go to Maribel’s blog:

Maribel Steel is a writer, blogger, mother and singer who lives in Melbroune, Australia.  As a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa, she believes her life is about learning to trust her other senses; to hear, to touch, to smell, to intuit, to love and to laugh.  To learn more about Maribel Steel, visit her website:


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