Back in October I went to Paris, France, with my mom. I had never been there before except when we passed through it when I was a little kid. My mom hadn't been for a long time. Armed with just a year of French studies and enough sense not to buy into all the anti-French American-hating propaganda, I didn't really know what to expect.
We were there for a little over a week, and for the whole duration, it was raining and cold! I got hit after the long plane flight with a sniffle that remained that way throughout our stay there. It never turned into an outright cold except for one day that I had to sleep off the worst of it. But it lingered.
So this did not make it easy for me to like Paris to begin with, since I'm definitely a warm climate loving Aquarius. But beyond my health I had a vacation in Paris in which I learned a lot, made concrete a lot of things I'd only heard about in books, and spent some quality time with my mom.
Which went well, I thought. I get along really well with my mom, or at least I do with her, and despite what she thinks (that I find her annoying, and prying, and whatnot) I think about her, it isn't true. She's always sweet and generous to me, and I enjoy her company. Props to her also for planning the whole trip. She did a great job!
So here's how it went, in condensed form.
First we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport. Wouldn't you know it? The French athletes (the core group, I imagine) had arrived at the same time and were at the baggage terminal next to us. They were in great shape and had warmups with French insignias on them. There was a pack of press people outside, so we had to get around them. We went to our hotel next, the Hotel Mercedes, which if I recall correctly, is north of the Champs Elysées. My mom had snippy comments about it being too far out, but with the Metro, it seemed fine to me. We crashed at the hotel for a while and slept, then got up and went to the Arc de Triomphe, going up to the top, and seeing the panoramic view of Paris for the first time. I had thoughts of this book Anna gave me to read, "Perfume", by Patrick Süskind. Then as it got dark, we walked down the Champs Elysées and looked at the shops and people.
I saw "That 70's Show" dubbed in French. WHY? Take funny characters with funny voices, then remove their funny voices. Blah.
The next day after having breakfast in the room underneath the lobby which was designed in the art nouveau style (think those Métropolitain signs), we decided to hit da bad boy, the Louvre. Walked past the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries. The Louvre is a strange building, blending a lot of different periods into one. The building and its branches have the old style to them, but then you have the modern pyramide that leads down into a sun-soaked lobby area. It was weird seeing the "Mona Lisa" with a huge crowd around it while it's jammed in a glass box, while all these other great paintings are around it. I enjoyed my boys Poussin and Raphael most.
The Louvre was huge, and took all day. And I think I've seen enough Flanders stuff for the rest of my lifetime. Bleh, too much!
We found one of the restaurants there in this little cavern-like place off one of the wings. The room we ate in had a sloping wall and everything was stone. It was of course overcast outside.
I think we saw "High Fidelity" later that night to rest. It was in English with French subtitles, luckily. Great movie! And does a good service to music aficionados. John Cusack films are like Kevin Smith films without the slacking.
I think this was my favorite day. We went to the Musée d'Orsay, which after my romps around some the big cities of the western world, is probably one of my favorites of the bunch, right up there with the Vatican and the Borghese. Moreau's "Orpheus" is even more spectacular in person when you see that rich green color up close. But these schoolkids were coming up to it and touching it! The museum is built into this old train station, so it has this grand feel to it with its huge arched ceiling and metal girder constructions providing the walkways.
The restaurant inside had a piano in it which a group of pianists were using to perform Erik Satie's "Vexations", which is apparently some little ditty Satie wrote when his girlfriend dumped him. Said Satie, "In order to play this motif 840 times to yourself, it will be useful to prepare yourself beforehand, in great silence and serious immobility." Yes, the pianists were taking turns playing the song 840 times in order to perform it correctly. It was sort of ominous eating lunch to it, like someone had just died or something! My mom ordered this "white" course or something or other. It consisted of numerous courses, all white in appearance. She said it tasted rather bland and was disappointing, but was satisfied that she tried it anyway. Something tells me everyone who orders this says the same thing afterwards. :P
This is one of the cool things I enjoyed about the big cities, and Paris in particular. These sorts of performances go on all the time, in all parts of the city. And it's normal. It's not a big publicity event like it would be in, say, Dallas.
Anyway. I strongly recommend if you go to these places for sightseeing that you get those 3 day Métro and museum passes. Especially if you plan on using the Métro a lot and going to all the little museums. It's such a convenience. And speaking of which, Paris' Métro is as easy to use as others in Europe that I've seen (Rome, Stockholm, London), but why is NYC's so convoluted? I mean, they don't use the end-stations or colors, but ambiguous directions and numbers. Buh.
At night we caught this play called "Shockheaded Peter" at the Opéra Comique. It was performed by some British troupe, I believe, so we could understand it (although I should say my mom knows French very well). This one was a riot. Excellent costumes, amusing songs, great timing and script, animated and charismatic actors. I enjoyed it very much, and it was MUCH cheaper than the plays we saw in NYC, and in my opinion, was still better. Although I'm sure this is an exception and not a rule.
On Friday we went to the Musée de Cluny (housing medieval artwork) and the Panthéon, which contained this huge swinging ball (another surreal sight) and some wonderful paintings. We walked by the Sorbonne, which had obviously artist-types sitting outside. Then we hit the Centre Pompidou, this godawful modern monstrosity that houses a library and some galleries and exhibits. It is like this huge steel building with glass tubes (walkways) going around the outside. Don't ask me. Next to it there was a nice little pool with some interesting sculptures placed in it. For lunch I tried calf's head for the first time. That was interesting. It was hard to take, but I managed it. Most of it was gelatinous skull tissue though!
Saturday was nifty because we took a tour out to Giverny and Versailles. Girvany is famous for being one of Monet's homes, his most famous one. It is here where his Japanese garden is with the lilies he painted in his pictures. The house had a beautiful view and a comfortable interior; I would enjoy living there a great deal. Getting out of the city was a refresher -- it seems like the France I enjoy most is in the country, but then again, I haven't been to the coast. ;) The rest of the people on tour group were obviously very wealthy, and they complained a lot. One of the men there is the president of some tech company in California, and he and I hit it off pretty well. I got his business card! Later we went to Versailles which was crammed with tourists who were being pushed through poorly ventilated corridors to look at the rooms of the palace. Talk about gaudy design! I'll always remember Paris as being this former home to kings who liked the faint dim light glowing off entirely gold rooms with overcast weather outside now. :P
Our guide looked like a young Richard Gere. Poor guy probably hears the same conversations and questions all the time. I asked him if he had any dislike towards American tourists and he replied deftly, "all tourists can have their good and bad moments, even French tourists". I asked my French teacher (a chick from Montpellier) if she disliked Americans and replied quite the contrary, she loves Americans and is wrapped up in the whole American culture thing. I don't remember any bad instances really in Paris during the trip, so where is this hatred towards Americans?
For dinner, I had this foie gras dish which typified French food for me. VERY rich food, and lots of it. What the French put as a whole dish, you'd see in the U.S. as a seasoning or flavoring to something else, in a very small amount. But it was delicious, I admit! And that's one of the occasions I've really felt stuffed.
Sunday we saved for the Eiffel Tower since we knew it'd be open. We didn't go to the very top; no point since it's not like it's hard to see all of Paris from the second landing. In our guide book, there's a story about how the old guard of Frenchies used to hate the Eiffel Tower, but now they love it. They used to say, "the best place in Paris is the very top of the Eiffel Tower, because from there you can't see it". Hee hee.
Before that, we went to Notre Dame and I got to see my gothic architecture live in person. It was pouring rain outside so we didn't get to look at it as much as I would've liked, but needless to say it was impressive. These are my favorite kinds of cathedrals. The scale is enormous and the strange support devices like the flying buttresses add a sort of mystery and creepiness to it all. Next we hit the Hôtel des Invalides, which used to be housing for those wounded in battle. It had all sorts of cool plate armor and heavy weapons, including bigass pikes and halberds and even some samurai armor.
Père Lachaise was next. We strolled around the massive graveyard for a while, looking at the graves of Abélard and Héloïse, Jim Morrison (with a guard placed there for protection 24/7), Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf. If I remember correctly, people would rub the phallus on the sphinx on Wilde's grave until someone stole it, and Morrison's grave has been poked and prodded and broken numerous times, hence the protection. How'd you like that job?
We went to Gustave Moreau's workshop, a little place tucked away where tourists rarely roam, and it was pretty cool. I would like a studio like that. Rooms with high ceilings and lots of open window space, the walls draped with Moreau's strange and intricate paintings. The place contained a ton of his work, and I found his drawings more impressive than the paintings. What an artist!
Browsed Lafayette and Printemps, two huge and very very expensive department stores. All the men's sections were full of gay guys and all the women's sections were filled with hot women. We saw a little fashion show inside to the tune of some popular techno music DJ'ing. Later we went to the Sacré Coeur and finished off with seeing, yes, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", months before it came out in the States. I didn't need to be able to read the French subtitles over the Mandarin voicing to see those kickass action scenes! Seeing Michelle Yeoh wield all those different weapons including the big-hurt-weapons kicked major azz.
Geez, I said this would be condensed, didn't I?
Our last day brought the Musée Marmottan, a fancypants building owned by some rich people and filled with expensive art. It had a basement full of impressionist work, mainly by Monet. I got to see a lot of Morisot's work, and I was blown away by how well she used colors -- the impressionist method of using strange colors to better illustrate how it appears in nature seemed to me to have been mastered by Morisot. I found myself blown away by the insight in her choices of color combinations. Maybe I'm just seeing things...
We walked around an area which had apartment buildings designed by the guy who made the art nouveau signs (Guimard?), and so every once in a while you'd see these certain buildings stick out entirely from the buildings around them because of their design. Very strange. To cap the day off we saw "Space Cowboys" (cheese) in English w/ French subtitles and then went to the lower level of the Louvre where there are some expensive stores and we caught the entrance area to a fashion show that evening, so there were all these elaborately dressed people outside. We saw a glimpse of the show from outside, and it was very very strange... The models if I remember right had wounds painted on to them for the designer's "look". And you could look right into the models' eyes and they would just keep doing their thing. Inhuman animals.
So that does it. There were some other things too but I forgot. While we were in Paris, the Olympics had concluded, Yugoslavia overthrew Milosovich, and the NASDAQ was falling lower to 3200 (heh, how far it's come!). I had a great time, and we saw a TON of stuff while we were there. I loved visiting, but I think if I go to France again I will visit in the summer (!!) and to the coast. I feel almost the same way about London, although for some reason it holds a dear place in my heart (perhaps because I met Anna in person the first time there?) but then again, I never visited it in the fall or winter. :)
A last thing was one of the best moments even though it was cold outside was doing as the French do, buying a baguette sandwich and sitting outside in the park and eating it while looking at a church and other French people.
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