A travelogue by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1999 Evelyn C. Leeper
November 22, 1999: fly to Paris
November 23, 1999: Ile de la Cíté (Notre-Dame, the Deportation Memorial), Mirza Miroc Sculptue Display, Shakespeare & Company
November 24, 1999: Louvre
November 25, 1999: Hôtel National des Invalides (Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum), Musée des Plans-Reliefs), Église du Dôme (Dome Church) and the Tombeau de Napoleon (Napoleon's Tomb), Musée Rodin,
Musée de La Legion d'Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie, Musée d'Orsay
November 26, 1999: Musée National Picasso, Rue du Rosiers, Musée Carnavalet (Museum of the History of Paris), Place de la Bastille, Opera House (the Opéra de Paris Garnier), Seine River cruise
November 27, 1999: Musée de Cluny (Musée National du Moyen-Age et las Thermes de Cluny (Museum of the Middle Ages and the Thermal Baths of Cluny)), Notre-Dame, Archeological Crypt, Sewer Museum (Musée des Egouts de Paris), Musée d'Orsay, "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc"
November 28, 1999: Louvre, Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Musée de la Marine (Maritime Museum), Tour de Eiffel
November 29, 1999: return to New Jersey
It's almost a shame to go to Paris. We have visited forty- five countries, more or less. (Does Scotland count separately from England? Puerto Rico from the US? If we visited places that are now in Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia when it was all Yugoslavia, is that one country of four? Do we subtract a country because Hong Kong is now part of China? Does the United Nations count?) But we always had to say that we had never visited France or Italy, and now we will end that rather odd distinction.
Anyway, why Paris? Well, obviously it's a major world city. And we had three more vacation days, and Thanksgiving weekend was free, and Lufthansa had a sale going, so ....
For a change, we didn't use "The Lonely Planet," partly because we could get a copy of the "Eyewitness" guide easily, and borrow a Michelin green guide and figured for only a week we didn't think we needed another book. We found a hotel based on a recommendation from someone I knew from the Net and collected recommendations of things to see and places to eat from other people as well, including our niece, who had lived in Paris for a couple of years.
November 22, 1999: Our flight was full--no luxury of empty seats next to us as on our Australia trip. I noticed that the airport personnel no longer ask you the three questions ("Did you pack your own luggage? Was it ever out of your control? Did anyone give you anything to carry?"). I suppose someone finally pointed out to them that asking these questions just made people have less confidence in them, as it made them believe that the X-ray screenings were useless. The weather forecast for Paris was not very promising, though the various weather sites couldn't seem to agree on whether there would be snow, rain, or just partial clouds, or whether the temperature would be 3 degrees Celsius, 12 degrees Celsius, or something in between. (Note: since the only countries still using the English system of measurements are the United States and Burma, I will give metric units here, will use the French/European style of showing times, will give site names in French, and will give prices in both French francs and United States dollars.)
November 23, 1999: We had a tight connection in Munich, and then were taken by bus from the terminal to one of those stand-alone gates in the middle of nowhere. From there we taxied forever, and then had to be de-iced, so we ended up leaving an hour late--no big deal, really.
At Charles de Gaulle airport they never even checked our passports. They had checked them in Germany, so maybe they don't check between EU countries anymore. We got French francs (FF) from the ATM in the airport (after circling the terminal a full time because the machine did not list either Plus or Cirrus on the front). If I understand it, they will actually bill our account in Euros (€) which will then be converted to US dollars ($). A euro is just about a US dollar, and the prices for just about everything were also displayed in euros, but people aren't paying too much attention to that yet..
We caught the shuttle bus to the RER train to Paris (49FF each). As usual, the train passes through the ugliest parts of towns, and the graffiti along the tracks is not very different than what one finds in the US.
The Gard du Nord train station, however, was something else. In all my travels, I can't recall seeing any train, subway, or bus station with so much garbage on the floors. Primarily piled along the walls, there was also so much all across on the stairways that one couldn't find bare step to walk on. I decided I should hold the railing just to make sure I could catch myself if I slipped on it. (Later, as I note, we discovered that it was not always like this--there may have been a cleaners strike or something.)
We got to our hotel, the Hotel La Motte Picquet, with just one transfer on the Metro. (All this was still on our RER ticket.) The Metro stop almost right outside our hotel. You can get from any station to pretty much any other station with at most one transfer--and so far it seems at least one transfer as well. At some point we may actually want to go somewhere on the same line as we're near at that point, but I doubt it. (And the "one- transfer" approach doesn't guarantee the shortest trip, just the easiest.)
Our rooms weren't ready (it was only about 10h) so we dropped off our luggage and went out to see Paris.
Our first view of the Tour de Eiffel was down the Champs du Mars, with the top of the tower shrouded in fog. Not a good day to go up it, we figured, but we did walk to the base to see it up close. There were a couple of groups of Japanese tourists, but no crowds as there would be in the summertime.
We walked over to the Motte-Picquet-Grenelle Metro stop, but decided to have lunch before going any further. We ate at a small restaurant called La Prime Rose; I had croque-monsieur and Mark had warm goat cheese on bread. With an espresso, this came to 80FF, or about US$13.35--not unreasonable for a big city. (It's probably worth noting here that in France, as in most countries in the world, the price you see on the menu is the price you pay. It includes any taxes and the service charge. However, one is expected to leave the odd francs one gets in change, so if the meal comes to 74 francs, you leave the extra six francs you get back. "Odd francs" here means pretty much what comes back as coins, though if you spend enough, I'm sure you're supposed to leave a small bill or two.)
We then took the Metro to the Ile de la Cíté, which is the island on which Notre-Dame is located. We had a quick view of the outsides of Sainte-Chapelle and the Préfecture de Police (scene of heavy fighting during World War II), but proceeded directly to Notre-Dame.
Now normally we do not visit a lot of cathedrals on our travels, having been "cathedralled-out" on our Eastern European tour. But one must make exceptions for exceptional cases, and Notre-Dame is one. After all, we've seen every movie version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and wanted to see where it all took place. (Actually, the name of Hugo's novel is Notre-Dame du Paris, but it is almost universally translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.)
The other reason we stopped going to cathedrals is that they have almost all been attacked by what we call "scaffolding moths," and Notre-Dame was, alas, no exception. Scaffolding and barricades covered the bottom third of the façade, and it didn't help to know that they're coming off next month. (As it turned out, the upper part of the scaffolding did come off in a couple of days, so we were able to return on Saturday to see the statues of the Kings of Judah.)
The zero marker in the plaza is still there, though it must be new, because the level of the plaza has risen over the years. Notre-Dame used to have eleven steps leading up to it; now it has none.
The steps (35FF) leading up to the "Gargoyle Gallery" are very worn with age, and I had to take several rest breaks on the way up the 262 steps. The view of the city is good (though it would have been better were it not raining), but the main thing to see from this point is close-ups of the gargoyles. You can almost see Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton perched there with them.
If going up was hard, coming down was harder, and I managed to strain one knee. Luckily, a night's sleep healed it.
We walked around the outside of the cathedral, admiring the flying buttresses, and crossed over to the Deportation Memorial at the foot of the island. This is a memorial to the 200,000 Frenchmen deported and killed in the concentration camps. The memorial is a small area surrounded by tall concrete walls, blocking out all views of anything but the sky and a small opening toward the river. There is an inside chamber which has 200,000 small lights burning, and various quotes, such as, "Mais le jour ou les peuples auront compris oui vous etiez ils mordront la terre de chacrin et de remords ils l'arroseront de leurs larmes et ils vous eleveront des temples" (Vercors). Around the plaque in the floor is "Ils allerent a l'autre bout de la terre et ils ne sont pas revenus" ("They went to the other side of the earth and they did not return"). Over the door is engraved "Pardonne n'oublie pas ..." ("Forgive, but do not forget...").
We decided to walk around the area a bit. There was a display of the sculpture of Mirza Miroc in the Square R. Viviani which reminded me of the sculptures in the Vigeland Park in Oslo (except that Miroc is really fascinated by birds, and seems always to include at least one in each sculpture. After this we managed to find Shakespeare & Company, which is on Rue de la Bucherie, but on the west side of the square. (Most of the street is on the east side, and our map didn't even show it on the west side.) Shakespeare & Company is a very famous bookstore, or at least the stepchild of one. The original Shakespeare & Company was not at this location, and was a place where famous authors spent time, often living there on beds provided by the owner (who also was the first person to publish James Joyce's Ulysses). After the old shop closed, someone else opened a newer version with the same "policies" and apparently some of the same furniture, etc., but I'm not sure I'd call it the same bookstore.
Much as I wanted to buy a book there, I couldn't find anything I wanted that was worth carrying back. I suppose this sounds odd, but pretty much everything there can be found in the United States, and fairly easily at that. So I already have most of what they have that I would want. I did buy a postcard of the store, but that doesn't get the stamp that a book does ("Shakespeare & Company, Zero Kilometer, Paris"). Oh, well.
We found a Greek restaurant for dinner, Maison de Gyros. Certainly not very fancy, but we weren't really ready for fancy at this point, having been up since yesterday morning except for a couple of hours of sleep on the plane, which is not much like sleep at all.
We returned to the hotel on a crowded Metro. The Metro cars here, except for the very newest, have doors which passengers need to open manually when they want to get on or off. (We bought our Metro tickets in a carnet, or batch of ten. These are 55FF for ten tickets, or less than US$1 each, and a better deal for us than the unlimited ride cards, since we usually only ride a two or three times a day. Single tickets are 8FF each.)
Our hotel room was fairly small and not luxurious, but it did have a private bathroom and a television with satellite TV. At 470FF a night (US$80) that's not bad for a big city.
November 24, 1999: After a quick breakfast we thought we would start with the Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) (which is part of the Hôtel National des Invalides complex, so named because it was once a veterans' home/hospital) and do part of the Musée du Louvre in the afternoon and evening (this being the day that it was open late). (Henceforth I will refer to this just as the Louvre, but if you're going to be looking it up in an index, you need to look under "M," at least in all the places we looked.) Unfortunately we got to the Musée de l'Armée at 9h and discovered it didn't open until 10h. So we said the heck with it and went directly to the Louvre.
We spent ten hours at the Louvre and you will be pleased to hear I am not going to describe everything we saw.
Our first task was finding the place they sold Carte Musées et Monuments (Museum Cards). This was tucked away behind the group meeting rooms. A card good for five consecutive days is 240FF, which at first sounded like a marginal deal, but turned out to be a fair savings. First of all, the individual museum admissions had gone up from the figures I was calculating with--only a couple of francs here and there, but it added up. And with the card we went to lots of museums we might not have otherwise (like the Musée Rodin). Also, the card lets you do things like split your visits to museums such as the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, which might be unmanageable otherwise. (In the case of the Louvre, where certain sections are closed on certain days, that's the only way to see everything.) When the lines are long, it also lets you bypass them, but this is not a big deal in October (although the admissions line at the Louvre on Sunday at 9h was pretty long). (For those who want to compare costs, I'll give the general admission fees for the various museums. The Louvre is the most expensive that we went to, at 45FF.)
We also had to find a cloakroom (there was no way I was wearing a heavy winter jacket all day in the Louvre). This took a few tries, as some signs claiming to point to a cloakroom didn't seem to.
Having stashed our coats, we started with the Egyptian galleries. We were going to follow the old Michelin guide we had brought, but the entire museum has been remodeled since it was printed, so it wasn't much help. And I left my dictionary in my coat pocket, so I just had to make notes to look up words like "hochet," "grauwacke," "souliotes," and "aveugles."
The Egyptian section was quite good, though they seemed confused as to the difference between Sekhmet and Ouadjet--at least one label actually said "Sekhmet (or possibly Ouadjet)." From there we passed on to the Greek and Roman antiquities (skipping the many halls of Greek ceramics to save time). We did see the "Venus de Milo," however, front and back. Her back, Mark pointed out, is a view one rarely sees, yet the artist carved that as well.
Why, I asked, is the "Venus de Milo" considered so much better than any of the other sculptures there? Why is the "La Giaconda" (a.k.a. "Mona Lisa") so much greater than the other paintings? Mark had no real answer, and I don't either. All suggestions welcomed.
By now it was lunchtime and we grabbed a quick lunch in the Cafe Moullien in the museum to save time. Two sandwiches and drinks for 110FF (US$18) is not too bad for a museum cafe, and anything else would have taken too long.
Since we were at the gallery of gigantic French paintings, we decided to see that next. These included Delacroix's "Liberty Guiding the People," "Dante and Vergil conducted by Phleias across the lake the encircles the infernal city," and Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa." The Louvre has acres of paintings, and some of these seem to want to contribute a whole acre on their own.
We saw the "Mona Lisa." This is a major feat in the summertime, when the crowds are very thick, but not in November, though there were some other people there some of the time. It is the only painting behind a wall of glass in the whole museum (at least that we saw, and we saw most, if not all, of the paintings).
Then we saw more gigantic paintings, these all by Jacques- Louis David: "The Oath of the Horatii," "Paris and Helen," "Coronation of Napoleon at Notre Dame," "Leonides at Thermopylae."
We went through a lot of Italian paintings, the vast majority of which were religious in nature, and Flemish, Dutch, and German painting, which were less so. Pieter Boël's nature sketches seemed very modern--he would draw a bird just as a bird on the paper, with no setting or background to it, similar to Audubon, or perhaps even more so, since Audubon would often put in a few plants or grasses.. There were more portraits in this section, both of famous people, such as Hals's "Descartes," and of ordinary people doing ordinary things. We finished up with French painting through the middle of the 19th century, and more religious themes. (Everything later than that is in the Musée d'Orsay.) The only thing that livened up this section was the occasional "Temptation of St. Anthony," though most of these seemed more like nightmares than temptations.
Finally about 19h we decided to call it quits and not do the Greek ceramics or any of the objects d'art (which aren't our thing, anyway). We had seen the Marly horses (sort of--from a window overlooking the courtyard in which they are), and all the other "major" pieces. (These are the ones that a group tour would get make sure to you past in the hour or two for the whole museum.)
We had hoped to see the Assyrian bulls and other works in the "Oriental" galleries, but those are closed on Wednesdays (and Saturdays). Apparently several of the galleries are closed one or two days a week. Frankly, I would have preferred the Oriental galleries to be open and the French paintings to be closed, but that's on a different day. (I'm reasonably sure that the galleries with the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, etc., are open every day. This information changes each year, but is supposedly on their web site, http://www.louvre.fr/.)
We decided to make life easy on ourselves and have dinner in the food court in the "mall" attached to the Louvre. We chose Tapas del Sol, a Spanish restaurant. Mark had seafood over penne and I had fish in a Mornay sauce over rice. With drinks, the bill came to 124FF (US$21).
November 25, 1999: Today we went back to the Musée de l'Armée (37FF or the Carte Musées). The first room was prehistoric and early historic weapons, and included a sign saying "Hamurabi, Toutankhamon, Agamemnon, Pericles, Alexandre, Annibal, Cesar, Vercingetorix--premier héros national de la Gaule." I thought that the heroes of a country or region had to have at least some connection with it. Caesar I could understand, but Tutankhamen?
We saw a lot of weapons of various types, and I discovered that my Collins pocket French dictionary was not very complete on weapons. It was also not symmetric, in the sense that if I looked up "crossbow" in the English-French side, it said "arbalète," but "arbalète" wasn't in the French-English side. (In spite of this, I highly recommend carrying something like this. It's smaller than many phrase books and much more useful.)
The Oriental Hall was very dark, in order to conserve the Japanese armor there. As a result, you could barely see the Japanese armor. Luckily, light isn't a major problem for European armor.
A few of the rooms were closed during the lunch period (11h- 14h15). A bigger disappointment was that the World War II gallery was completely closed for renovation. We did see the World War I gallery, which was not very large or detailed. It concentrated mostly on the French involvement, with the British and American being side notes (though that's probably reasonable for the Americans, who did arrive fairly late). They had a name for each year; I don't know if these are traditional, or just the Museum's coinage:
1914--L'échec des plans
1916--L'année des enfers
One thing missing from the exhibit was any of the extreme propaganda posters against the Hun that were so popular (at least in Britain). I noticed that the death counts for the battles were also the total for both sides, not just the French, or the French and their allies. I'm not sure whether this is motivated by a sense of forgiveness, or a sense of the meaningless of the conflict, or a sense that they may get German tourists.
Another part of the Invalides complex, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, has a large collection of relief plans from the 19th century. These are huge scale models of various towns and fortifications, up to seven meters on a side. They lost their usefulness in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1873) when fixed fortifications became less important against the new weapons and tactics.
There was another section dedicated to the era of Napoleon through Napoleon III (his nephew). Mark thought they might refer to Waterloo by saying that Napoleon won second place there, but they didn't. They did have various mementos of Napoleon--his hat, his pen, and even his horse ("Le Vizir"), which was stuffed after its death.
After the museum, we went to the Église du Dôme (Dome Church) and the Tombeau de Napoleon (Napoleon's Tomb). This is also included on the Carte Musées, but is apparently so popular that they stamp the back of your card, I suppose to limit you to one visit. This appears to be the only place that does this. For a non-Frenchman it's mildly interesting, but sort of on the level that Lincoln's Tomb would be for a non-American (and given how relatively remote that is, I suspect for Americans as well).
After this we had lunch at a place specializing in pizza, though pizzeria would not really be an accurate term either. We had a Torino pizza: chorizo, ratatouille, goat cheese, raw egg, and oregano. I realize that having pizza might sound too American, but this wasn't.
We had hoped to go to the Musée de l'Ordre de la Libération (Museum of the Order of the Liberation) in order to compensate for the fact that the World War II gallery of the Musée de l'Armée was closed, but no such luck-- it was closed as well. I don't know if this was connected with the other closure or not--the gate was locked with no sign on it.
The Musée Rodin was just on the other side of the Hôtel National des Invalides, and since it was included on the Carte Musées, we decided to drop in (28FF otherwise).
Rodin's style is very different from what we had seen in the Louvre. For example, his marble statues all look unfinished, with the figures only partially carved from the stone. In his "Hand of God," for example, Adam is seen emerging from the stone, which makes a sort of sense, but so is the hand of God, which doesn't. His bronzes also are "rougher" than those of earlier artists, with a more urgent and immediate look. The museum also houses works by other artists that Rodin had collected, and some of Rodin's larger works such as "The Thinker" and "The Gates of Hell" are in the garden outside. (Many of these are also in the Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford. Though I've seen explanations of how bronzes are made, none quite explain why or how there are many copies of the same work, and they often seem to be different sizes.)
The Musée d'Orsay was open late this evening, so we decided to spend a little time there today and finish up another day (another advantage of the Carte Musées). Right across from it was the Musée de La Legion d'Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie (Carte Musées or 25FF), so we dropped in there, but unless you can read French and know at least something about the Legion of Honor, this isn't really worth a stop.
The Musée d'Orsay (Carte Musées or 40FF) used to be a railway station until it was converted into a museum for works from 1850 through the present. By the time we arrived, all the floor plan guides seemed to be gone for the day, so we found our way around with a German one someone had abandoned. We looked only at one gallery, the older works, of which the most interesting was Georges Clairin's "Les rochers de Belle- Île; temps gris." This was interesting not so much for the painting as for the copper frame done (if I read the sign correctly) by Sarah Bernhardt, and having a design of octopuses, squids, and other sea creatures, and looking like something out of Jules Verne. There was also a cross-section of the old Paris Opera House, which turned out to be the best view we got of it-- but more on that later.
We gave up fairly quickly on the Musée d'Orsay because it had been a long day and we were exhausted. We saw a few restaurants, but even with a dictionary and a phrase book, we couldn't translate "osso bucco" or "civet de biche." So we returned to the area near our hotel and a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, the Café du Marche. This was very crowded, but the food was reasonable. I had lamb chops, Mark had beef bourguignon, and we shared an apple tart. With beverages, this was 190FF (US$32).
November 26, 1999: At last we were going some place that was on the same Metro line as our stop. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the station actually had different entrances for different directions and no connection between the two, so we ended up going one stop in the wrong direction, changing platforms, and then heading in the correct direction. Even when we don't have to change, we have to change.
Our first stop was the Musée National Picasso. This is housed in a building constructed in 1656 for a salt tax collector, and this is quite appropriate--France got this collection in lieu of the enormous death duties Picasso's estate owed.
While Picasso's work is certainly thought-provoking, perhaps even more so was the fact that several groups of school children, the youngest probably about eight years old, were being taken around and having Picasso's work explained to them. Unfortunately, it was in French, because I could have used an explanation for some of the works. But in any case, this is just not the sort of thing they do with eight-year-olds on school trips in the United States.
The first part of the museum was chronological, with Picasso progressing from realism to cubism to surrealism. The cubism was somewhat holographic, providing multiple perspectives of the same object and reducing things to their basic components or essentials, but the surrealism, though occasionally displaying the holographic aspects, is almost impossible to explain. One of the pieces that I found the most striking was his "Figures au Bord de la Mer" (ht tp://www.tamu.edu/mocl/picasso/graphics/figshore.gif, part of the incredibly cool "On-Line Picasso Project" at http://www.tamu.edu/moc l/picasso/) but that may be because I thought I could understand it. Picasso does have the recurring images of bulls and guitars, which the notes said were reminders of his Andalusian background. (Picasso left Spain after Franco took over, and never returned. His "Guernica" remained in the Museum of Modern Art in New York until after Franco's death and the restoration of the monarchy.)
The museum shows Picasso's artistry in many media. Unlike some artists, who concentrate on painting, or on sculpture, or on line drawings, Picasso used all of these and more. (One of his best known pieces is a bicycle seat and handlebars combined to form the head of a bull.)
Another painting I liked was "Jeune Garçon à la Langoste," in which a small boy is looking at a lobster in his hand with a very expression on his face. "Massacre en Corée" (htt p://www.tamu.edu/mocl/picasso/graphics/korea51.gif) that was notable for having the soldiers as men in armor that made them look like faceless metallic robots, while the victims were all very human and individual.
While we were in the museum, the sun came out for the first time this trip. This was good, because the next thing we did was a walk to and through the Jewish area, Rue du Rosiers. This was a mix of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, with Eastern European foods side by side with Middle Eastern delicacies. There were also signs put up by the Lubavitchers, indicating their presence as well. As with elsewhere in Paris, there were bakeries, but these specialized in challah and poppyseed cakes instead of pain du chocolat or croissants. We ate lunch at Korcarz; I had a bretzel aux saumon (hard poppyseed roll with smoked salmon), and Mark had pain de oignon aux thon (onion roll with tuna salad). With beverages, this was 90FF (US$15), and we also picked up a couple of pastries for later. Hebrew seems to be the language of choice here, with everyone saying "Shabbat shalom" rather than "Gut shabbos."
After this, we stopped in the Musée Carnavalet, which is the Museum of the History of Paris. Again, we would not have stopped here but for the Carte Musées, but with the card, we figured we might as well. (One thing is for sure--on our next visit, the card probably won't be worth it because we will have seen most of the museums already.) As with most museums, the signs were all in French, but most were easy enough to figure out. (For some reason, I can read French moderately well, can understand it slightly, and can't speak it worth beans. Whenever I try speaking French, Spanish comes out. Does anyone else have this problem?) Would it be worth the 35FF admission fee? Possibly, though it's not a museum that is critical to see. We found several sections closed (which would be more irritating had we paid the full entrance fee), and it was very hard to find the route through. The fact that is was actually two buildings connected by a couple of corridors didn't help. (Most museums have signs point to the "sens de la visite" or "suite de la visite"; this did not, or at least not consistently.) However, I did quite like the 19th century caricature statues by Jean-Pierre Dantan (a.k.a. "Dantan Jeune") of all the famous people of his day, of which they had a very large collection--probably about a hundred and fifty on display. (The only example I can find on line is at http://www.johann- strauss.at/biographie/polizei.html.)
We stopped in a grocery store for a couple of sodas which we drank in a park near Victor Hugo's house (which we didn't visit even though it was on the Carte Musées because it was getting late). We went to the Place de la Bastille where we saw the new Opera House (the Opéra de la Bastille) and took the Metro to the Place de la Opéra where we saw the old Opera House (the Opéra de Paris Garnier).
Or rather, didn't see the old Opera House. What we saw were the plywood walls completely surrounding the old Opera House, leaving only the top of the dome visible. And to add insult to injury, the auditorium was closed for rehearsal, meaning that even if we paid the 30FF to go in, we couldn't see the main feature of the Opera House (including its Chagall ceiling). (It wasn't even accessible with the tour, which was 60FF, only once a day at 13h, and only in French.) I had always said that when I came to Paris there were three things I wanted to see: Notre-Dame, the Opera House, and the sewers. My consolation is that I don't think they can cover the sewers with scaffolding.
We could at least see the Grand Staircase from the main lobby. This is the staircase that the Phantom came down as the Red Death. The gift shop had mostly "real" opera things, but did have the book Le Fantôme de L'Opera and a sequel to it, as well as a postcard with the cover art from an early edition of the book.
(On the way we passed through the Louvre Metro station, which had what must be copies of various pieces of statuary from the collection. We hadn't seen this in the part of the station we had used to get to the Louvre, but here they were lined up on both sides of the track. And the Metro station at the Place de la Bastille had a mural of the Revolution, though the eyeglasses on one person in the mural looked rather modern for 1789. We've been using the Metro a lot, buying our tickets in a carnet, which is a batch of ten tickets for 55FF, as opposed to paying 8FF each.)
With the weather finally cleared up, this seemed like a good time to take a Seine River cruise, which someone said was best taken at night. Given that the buildings along the river are lit up, this probably makes sense, although a daytime cruise in good weather would have its appeal as well. We chose Bateaux Parisiens, although it's probably pretty much identical with the Ile-de-France cruises. Most are one hour long, cover the same stretch of river (from the Eiffel Tower up to Ile St-Louis and back), and cost 50FF. (This, by the way, is not included on the Carte Musées. Neither is the Eiffel Tower.)
I discovered by experimentation that the best seats on the boat are those on the outside front on the port (left) side. Port, because when the boat passes Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis, the main sights are on that side. It was during this cruise that I realized that the Kings of Judah were now visible on the façade of Notre-Dame.
We had dinner at another restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, Ambassade de Sud-Ouest. This had traditional cooking from southwest France, but wasn't as good as the previous restaurant. Mark had daubes de canard (duck braised in red wine), which had the texture and consistency of beef, though the attached skin indicated that it must indeed be duck, and I had a cold country platter of paté, country ham, and sausage. I think I know why the French drink so much wine--they need something to cut all the grease. Also, it's cheaper than Coca- Cola (the former is about 18FF a glass, the latter about 27FF). Dinner came to 200FF (US$33).
November 27, 1999: It was cloudy again, having rained overnight. When we left the hotel, we discovered that vendors were in the process of setting up a "brocante," or flea market, on the streets around our hotel. Since we were gone all day, though, we never got to see what it was like.
On the recommendation of several people on the Net, we went today to the Musée de Cluny, or the Musée National du Moyen-Age et las Thermes de Cluny (Museum of the Middle Ages and the Thermal Baths of Cluny) (Carte Musées or 30FF). This is actually a very nice museum, one of a manageable size.
One of the main features of the museum is not from the Middle Ages ("le Moyen Age"). It is the Roman baths, or the Gallo-Roman baths, as some of the literature refers to them. Well, yes, they were built in Gaul, but the "Gallo" part seems either superfluous or inaccurate. There is, I believe, a caldarium on the grounds, but the only part open is the (aptly named at this time of year) frigidarium, with its vaulted fifteen-meter-high ceiling.
There are also the "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries, six tapestries depicting the five senses and their renunciation. The tapestries were restored in the last century, but so badly that the restored part looks worse than the original part. Each tapestry has many of the same figures: the lady, the unicorn, dogs, hares, a flag with crescents, birds, a monkey, and so one. In one she is tasting a sweet, in another she is using a mirror, and so on. (They can be seen, although not very well, at http://orio n.it.luc.edu/~avande1/unicorn.html.)
Related to this, another exhibit had a narwhal tooth, which was described on the label as being believed to be a unicorn horn in the Middle Ages.
On the façade of Notre-Dame, there are twenty-seven statues of the Kings of Judah. During the Revolution these were mistaken for the Kings of France, and their heads were stuck off. Later (though I'm not sure exactly when) new heads were made to restore the façade. In 1977, someone digging in a garden discovered the old heads, which had been rescued by someone and buried there. Since their positions had been filled, the old heads are now in the Musée de Cluny.
After seeing these, we walked back over to Notre-Dame to see the statues themselves (since they were now visible). We also went into the Archeological Crypt. This is obviously popular with tourists, since it had more English than anywhere else. (I guess organized tours that come to Notre-Dame like having this as an additional sight with no additional work.) The admission fee here without the Carte Musées is about 37FF. It can be combined with the Musée Carnavalet for 40FF, and then it might be worthwhile, but it certainly isn't on its own.
Also on the Ile de la Cité is one of the original Metro stations, with its Art Noveau exterior and an interior that looks liks a battleship. I notice that the litter is much less in the Metro stations than it was in the Gard du Nord, but there are still lots of Metro tickets flung about. This is one problem with the ticket system rather than tokens.
We had lunch at La Mascotte, where I once again had to confront the fact that my pronunciation is terrible. I had a country ham sandwich and vin chaud, which is just what its name implies--hot (red) wine.
After lunch, we went to the Sewer Museum (Musée des Egouts de Paris), which is 25FF if you don't have the Carte Musées. This is probably a museum that you will not be "iffy" about--you will either definitely want to see it, or definitely not want to see it. Because I was familiar with the sewers from Les Miserables and various films of The Phantom of the Opera, I was in the first category. I was a little disappointed that they didn't mention the literary references more than they did. I was also curious if what Hugo had written about Bruneseau was true--that when he was mapping the sewer system he found Marat's shroud. But the emphasis of the museum--which is actually in the sewers, on the walkways above and along the actual drainage lines--is more technical, technological, and environmental.
From here we went back to the Musée d'Orsay, taking the RER (railway) rather than the Metro per se. Metro tickets are good on the RER within Paris, a useful fact to know when traveling on the system. We concentrated mostly on the Impressionists this trip, this being the main feature of the museum, but this really is the worst way to see art: among huge crowds (because it was Saturday), with tired feet, and trying to see everything in the museum in one trip. (Another problem is probably that most of the great, or at least famous, Impressionist pieces are in other museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Institute of Art in Chicago, and so on.) The piece that struck me the most was Georges Lacombe's "Isis," a wooden statue with blood flowing from the goddess's breasts instead of milk (http://sunsite.icm.edu.pl/cjackson/l/p- lacombe1.htm).
By now we really wanted to sit down, so we combined this with something that would show us something, however minimally, about French history--we went to see Luc Besson's film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (called simply Jeanne d'Arc in France). This was playing at the Gaumont Theatre near our hotel, and also gave us an example of the movie-going experience in France.
The theater was new, with comfortable seats. One difference from the American theaters (at least the ones I am familiar with) is that the seats do not fold up. They also give you a lot of leg room, or maybe it just seemed that way after a transatlantic flight. The schedule outside lists the starting time for the ads and coming attractions, and for the film, so for this showing the ads started at 17h30 and the film at 17h50. Admission was 53FF; there are cheaper matinees during the week.
There are several ads and coming attractions before the film. Though we have coming attractions in the United States, the ads are just making their appearance here. So we found the ones in France more interesting than tiresome, but this could change.
The film was fine, except for Milla Jovovich.
Afterwards, we had dinner at a Thai restaurant around the corner. Both of us had duck and, unlike the duck the previous evening, this duck really did taste like duck.
November 28, 1999: In the Metro station this morning, there was a harp player. There are buskers in the stations, and on the trains, the most unusual being one man who got on the train, set up a curtain, did a puppet show from behind it, then collected contributions, pack up, and left.
We went back to the Louvre to see the Assyrian galleries, which had been closed when we were there earlier. The monumental statues of a mythology not ordinarily covered in schools or shown in films were wonderful. (Actually, they did show up in D. W. Griffiths's Intolerance, which may be one reason it was so popular. Other Biblical epics of the time sometimes used this as well, but ever since sound came in, Assyrian and Babylonian mythology seems to have gone out.)
We also went through some of the French sculpture galleries, though, there was a certain sameness to the sculptures in the 19th century galleries. If seen in smaller doses, they probably would be more meaningful. We also saw the Marly horses a little closer up.
We stopped for lunch at the food court at "Hector Le Poulet." In my opinion, Boston Market has nothing to worry about. The French idea of spicy sauce is pretty unspicy, but this shouldn't be surprising in a country (or at least a food court) where the Mexican restaurant has a big sign up that says (in several languages) "Our food is not spicy."
We took the Metro to a stop further along the Champs Elysées--the street starts near the Louvre, but goes for many kilometers before it gets to the Arc de Triomphe. A lot of that is through gardens, which would not be at their best at this time of year. So we decided to go to the section where the shops were.
When we exited the Metro, my first thought was, "Even the trees are covered in scaffolding!" Well, not quite, but they were wrapped in white net bags. This was apparently Paris's idea of special holiday decoration--each bag was tied on with a giant red bow, and apparently there is some sort of light projection at night. As "Anthony" on Usenet said, "It's a Christmas decoration, believe it or not--one of the worst I've ever seen. Giant white garbage bags cover many of the trees, and illegible figures are projected upon these as they are lit in various colors from within. If you look closely, the garbage bags are tied with red ribbons at the bottom--I guess they are supposed to look like presents. In previous years, the custom had been to light all the trees with garlands of tiny white lights, and it looked great. I see that someone could not resist doing something --different' for 1999--with the dismal result that you saw."
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to celebrate his triumph at Austerlitz (a triumph brought about in large part because his enemies not only didn't synchronize their watches, they didn't even synchronize their calendars). This is the same Napoleon who said, "The idea of dedicating monuments to those who have rendered themselves useful to the people, is honorable to all nations: but it should be left to after ages to construct them, when the good opinion conceived of the heroes is confirmed." Go figure. In keeping with our luck, one side of the base of one of the legs had scaffolding on it.
There is a viewing platform at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but it is 284 steps to get there, and when you're at the top, Mark pointed out, you don't see the Arc de Triomphe. If you want a good view of Paris without climbing either the Arc de Triomphe or Notre-Dame, there is an elevator in the Eiffel Tower.
After this we took the Metro over to the Musée de la Marine (Maritime Museum, 38FF or the Carte Musées). It was not one of the world's great maritime museums, but then France wasn't one of the world's great maritime powers. It had Napoleon's barge as one of its main attractions. It also had a lampshade map which the label said was from 1840-1850, but this was a load of hooey--the map had "Yugoslavia" and the "Commonwealth of Australia" on it, among other anachronisms. I can believe they may have had a lampshade map from that period which needed to be replaced, with the dismal result I saw (to borrow a phrase). They also had a display on submarines but no Nautilus, an inexcusable omission when even the United States Navy submarine exhibits have a Nautilus as part of their exhibits.
We walked over to the Asian Art Museum, which was scheduled to re-open in 1999, but it was still closed.
All that remained was the Tour de Eiffel. From what we could tell talking to other people, everyone seems to save this for last. We couldn't decide whether we wanted to see Paris from the top in the daylight or at night, so we compromised by getting in line about 16h, and getting to the top a little before 17h. This let us see Paris in the daylight, then watch the sunset and see Paris at night.
The price for going all the way to the top by elevator is 60FF, and this is not included on the Carte Musées. We were in a line that apparently didn't take credit cards (though some did) and there was a woman two people ahead of us who wanted to know if she could pay in US dollars. Argghh!
It is very windy atop the Tour de Eiffel, which is undoubtedly less a problem in the summer than in the winter, and more so in the rain or snow (which luckily we didn't have). The lines for the elevators--up and down--were very long, and we're glad we followed the advice someone was giving his group to go all the way to the top first, and then do any walking around on the middle platform afterwards. (There is one elevator that goes just to the middle, and you have to switch to another to go all the way to the top. I can only imagine how long the lines must be in the summer.)
After we finally got down, and bought our tchotchke (a beret), we had dinner at Le Suffren on Rue de la Motte Piquet. We both had lamp chops. I have a mussels in curry sauce appetizer; Mark had "creviches gris," which are small, hard-to-eat shrimp. Somewhere between the appetizer and the main course the waiter got a lot less abrupt--Mark thinks it may be because he managed to eat these tiny shrimp rather than complain about them. Who knows? I had baba rhum for dessert, which was a lot stronger than I expected, and Mark had a chocolate mousse cake. It was probably the best meal we had, but nothing fabulous. I guess we're just not into French cuisine. (Someone will undoubtedly tell us that we didn't eat French cuisine, just tourist cuisine, but I'll point out that we've eaten French cuisine in the United States and weren't thrilled with it there either.)
November 29, 1999: Our flight was at 10h50 so we left the hotel before sunrise. The Gard du Nord was a lot cleaner than the last time we came through--there must have been some sort of cleaners' strike when we arrived.
Lufthansa claims that they give people enough time in Germany between planes, but they fail to take into account the fact that you no longer arrive at the terminal, but rather somewhere out in the middle of nowhere and are bussed to the terminal. This takes at least ten minutes off the time you have to make your connection, and in both directions we practically had to run to make the plane.
The latest security thing is some regulation that for all planes arriving in or leaving from the United States, all passengers who are United States citizens have to fill out some sort of special card. This is even stupider than the questions they used to ask. First, there is no check that people actually fill them out. The airline staff hand them to you and ask you to fill them out and deposit them in a box in the waiting area. Coming back, we were really rushed at Frankfurt and never filled in the cards. The plane took off anyway. Second, the airlines have this information. When you check in, they look at your passport. How difficult is it to have them flag the United States citizens?
Okay, time for a summary. First of all, we already have a list of what we need to see next time that was closed, scaffolded, or moving this time:
What is different in Paris? Well, two of the obvious things are that almost all the restaurants are all smoking area, and that wine is cheaper than Coca-Cola (or just about anything other beverage). Of the restaurants we ate in, only the Korcarz was non-smoking. Oh, and the coffee is much better than in the United States.
Costs for this trip (in US$) are:
Admissions & Miscellaneous
Evelyn C. Leeper (firstname.lastname@example.org)