Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 1999 Mark R. Leeper
11/22/99 Leaving New Jersey
11/23/99 Arrival and Notre Dame
11/24/99 The Louvre
11/25/99 Invalides, Rodin, Musee d'Orsay
11/26/99 Picasso, History of Paris, Opera Houses, Seine Cruise
11/27/99 Middle Ages, Sewers, Orsay, Gaumont
11/28/99 Louvre Mesopotamia, Arc De Triomphe, Maritime, Eiffel Tower
11/22/99 Leaving New Jersey
I frequently start my trip logs with an explanation as to why we are going the place we are going. Of course nobody really has to explain why they would want to go to Paris, one of the most fabled and romantic cities in the world. But why now? Actually it started with a Thanksgiving vacation that we had not a lot to do. Evelyn had checked airfares and they were not to expensive to... Prague. We had said we wanted to return to Prague. We tentatively made plans that this would be that return visit. Air fares were very low. Then we looked at what the temperature would be. Wrong time of year for Prague. Evelyn looked and for many European cities the fares were low. Now we had always said we would hold off on France and Italy until we were old and tired. And now seemed to be just about that time. We could not do all of France, but we could do Paris, particularly if we used up the rest of our vacation. Paris has a special interest for me, being that I am interested in cinema. Yes there is the Eiffel Tower and the Arch of Triumph, but we are really going to see Notre Dame Cathedral, setting for THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. And even more the Paris Opera House. I was a fan of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA long before it was cool to be a fan of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I saw the 1943 Claude Rains version the night of Saturday, July 4, 1964, and I have been a fan ever since. I like the Webber version that so many people like, but it came along lately. Now we are going to Paris and actually see that fabled city, including the Paris Opera House. We have the whole city to see--unarguably one of the most romantic cities in the world. This is one of the great historical cities of the world.
Paris is 6 hours off so I am heading to work at what I am trying to think of as 2pm. As is frequently the case when we travel we are going to weather that is not as good as what we are leaving. At home it is getting up to about 65F. It will be about 40F in Paris. The weather is not perfect, however. It is a very foggy day. When we went to Spain we left a gray and ugly day at home and had nothing but rain in Spain. I am hoping that is not the Paris experience. I kept myself up all night to force myself to sleep on the plane. Occasionally when I do this before a trip I will be trying to work at a terminal and will see at the bottom of my screen "ddddddddddddddddd." I will realize I fell asleep for a moment with my finger on the kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk.
OK it is now 7:48pm Paris time. I stayed awake, except for maybe a few seconds. As long as my eyes are open and I am moving around I am wide awake. If I close my eyes for a few seconds I start to drift. Hopefully that will hold true on the plane also. I would expect to be traveling for about 13 1/2 hours.
We park the car at an outer lot at Newark. We get the bus. A guy gets on talking on a cellular phone. Somehow to talk into a phone three inches from the guy's mouth he is using a volume of voice that he would use to talk to someone across the bus. He says into the phone "Okee-doakee." He then hangs up and complains to the guy next to him that he is dealing with morons. An older couple gets on the bus very well dressed. The driver asks them which terminal. Evelyn asks the woman to pass the information forward. The woman looks at Evelyn without changing her expression, or rather her lack of expression. Her husband says Terminal B. Well, it is the international terminal. I suspect she does not know English. I am sitting writing. Suddenly the driver jams on the brakes and I feel myself slide on the seat and hit the luggage pen. The driver asks me if I am all right. I look around and realize that had shot off the end of the seat. "No problem, I'm fine." I call out. Some car had pulled in front of the bus. Well, I am not litigious. But this trip is not shaping up well. It is still gray and foggy.
The woman at the Lufthansa counter has flaming red hair and a thick Irish accent. Not someone you would expect to see at a German airline counter. By putting my palmtop and my keys in my brief I am able to get through the metal detectors without setting them off. We are here very early.
We boarded about half an hour before the flight. The last few times I flew Lufthansa it seemed like a well run airline. However the coach seats are narrow. We flew Lufthansa to and from India and while the trip to India did not impress me, the plane seemed a lot more luxurious on the way home. But then on our visit to India being off the plane was only marginally more comfortable than being on the plane. Besides we were dehydrated and the air crew kept coming around with orange juice.
Evelyn points out there is an empty seat behind me. Nobody has boarded in five minutes. I move back. I am there ten seconds when someone comes down the aisle. "You're zitting in my zeet." I leave him to his zeet and take mine own.
They came around with a box of orange juice even before we take off. It is quite good. We pulled out of the station on time at 10:20 but then sat on the runway for better than half an hour waiting to take off. I guess that is taken into account in the schedules. As per plan I fell asleep waiting for the take off, woke up momentarily as the plane took off, and slept about 45 minutes. The latter was the only disappointment.
My plan for France is to use what French I know and let people answer in what French they know. I tried this approach on the plane and discovered the flaw. I made the mistake of saying "danke" for the orange juice. Now the stewardess remembers and when she is trying to hand earphone to the guy sleeping next to me she says something to me in German.
There is something different about this plane and the United planes we flew last trip. The seat seems as narrow, but nobody in the aisles is bumping into my elbows. I guess the aisle is wider. Or perhaps the stewardesses are more graceful. (As the flight wore on, this proved not to be the case.)
11/23/99 Arrival and Notre Dame
Well it is a new day in Paris. I guess I should start a new day in my log. Dinner came. It was a lox salad, chicken and rice in tomato sauce. A very nice chocolate cake with whipped cream on the side. And finally cheese and crackers. The cheese was a tasteless piece of what might have been Swiss and a flavorful little block of either Blue Cheese or a close relative. I suppose it could be Gorgonzola. It is a lot better a meal than one gets on American planes if one does indeed get it. I am ashamed to say I ate everything I was served. That was a virtue when I was a child. As an adult it is a lot easier to eat everything, but it only adds to my weight. I ought not to eat the whole meal.
On the music program they have a nice generous selection from CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA by Pietro Mascagni. Usually for an opera to have such beautiful melody it has to be written by Puccini. Lufthansa uses electrical earphones rather than pneumatic ones and they are a lot better.
The movie for this flight was THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. I would have probably liked to see the film. I have heard good things about it. However sleep overtook me. I cannot complain about that. It was strictly according to plan. I got about four hours of sleep. Not a full night's sleep, but enough to keep me going and to shorten the flight. It is now 4:40am. If I can keep myself going till 11pm I will crash, get a really good night's sleep, and wake up acclimated to the local time zone.
Breakfast was meat sandwiches and yogurt. I put them in my brief for later. I did eat a tiny blueberry muffin.
We landed about 20 minutes before our flight. After we had to turn off electrical equipment and I could no longer write in the log I read some more of A TRAVELLER'S HISTORY OF PARIS. Evelyn and I have been trying to figure which revolution is it was we are seeing with the barricades of LES MISERABLES. It may be too minor to even mention in the history or it may be the revolution of 1840.
Most places we travel we feel very good with the people. We had been warned that the Turks had a sort of Fascist state in which it was really easy to be thrown into a Turkish prison. Boy were we misinformed. We ended up really liking the Turks. But I don't think a Jew can ever feel really comfortable in Germany. The people can be nice and friendly. They can run their airlines efficiently and give lots of service. But the feeling is always a little like you would feel around a perfectly friendly dog who bit you once. You want to be friendly but you never quite trust. The new generation feels nothing but terrible about what the last generation did. And perhaps anyone is capable of such things, though I would like to think not. In the back of ones mind is always the memory of what good German people could do.
Munich is covered with a wet layer of snow. This is our first snow of the winter season. The previous plane told us what the gates were. However getting over there was a long hike at a fast pace with heavy bag.
The architects of Munich airport clearly thought that the construction materials had a utilitarian beauty in themselves. The airport has a sort of built-with-an-erector-set quality. we must have walked briskly for a half mile.
To board us they put us on a cold bus which we boarded in the snow. I was sorry I did not wear my jacket.
By the time we were on the plane people had taken all the luggage space in our area. We were toward the back of the plane and it was not full, but apparently people from further forward in the plane had taken the space.
I jammed my suitcase in and Evelyn was able to fit hers under an empty seat. At least we have an empty seat between us.
The plane eventually started and it rolled and rolled. The taxiing seem interminable. Then the plane stopped and got 15 minute treatment that I assume was a de-icing. A special truck had a crane on the top. At the end of the crane was a cabin and a hose on a stiff arm came out of the cabin. The truck was called an Elephant B. It sprayed a steaming white fluid all over the plane.
The plane finally took off more than 50 minutes late.
Breakfast was ham and butter sandwiches. Now I like buttered rolls and I suppose I like cold cuts, but not generally as a combination. I disassembled my sandwich. Hey, speaking of bread and butter, who invented this combination? I have heard it was Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer with the metal nose. He thought it would prevent the plague. By the time it was discovered it would not prevent the plague it was already an established combination.
It is obviously not a very nice day in Paris. Not the kind of day where you can see sites. Landing I could not even see the wing of plane. It is totally overcast and very foggy. Tonight is a full moon and I was hoping it would look very nice, but it will be totally obscured. We land about 15 minutes late
The pilot says goodbye in three languages, German, French, and English. The English version of the message ends in "Have a nice successful day and bye-bye."
Customs was so easy I was afraid we might have entered France illegally. We were not sure where to walk. If we did it right there was no passport control at this end and customs stopped you only if they pulled you aside. Basically the fact you exited by a separate door was the only difference from a domestic flight. Really we probably had the passport check in Germany and that probably is good for the whole European Union
Then we had to try to find an ATM. The core of the building is a large circle. We walked around the core about one and a half times and finally found an ATM we had passed up before.
Next we needed to find how to get the train for Paris. There was tourist information. We waited in line and just as we got to the front Evelyn decided she had all the information she needed to know. I hated to waste the position in line. Evelyn assured me she knew what we were doing. We got outside the door and Evelyn realized she did not know how to get to the level where we pick up the shuttle. Back to the end of the information line.
We got train tickets and grabbed the train. Looking out the window we got our first views of France. Buildings look small. French cars look like short pugs compared to American cars.
Ah Paris with its wispy, willowy thin blondes with waist length hair and floor length legs. The Metro tunnels are a lot like the New York Subway system except the walls are rounded to make them look like tubes, for no obvious reason. Also the Metro is not kept as neat and tidy. I suspect from the look of things that to encourage usage patrons are allowed to empty their wastebaskets on the floor of the Metro station. The Metro looks like inside of a trash bin. The train I am on has spring-loaded seats near the doors. They automatically fold up when you are not sitting in them. Big laughs are when a tourist stands up to read the Metro map and then tries to sit down again. The French find this as funny as Jerry Lewis and the Yanks agree. The children seem very intelligent. Most can speak French already.
We checked into La Motte Picquet Hotel, just about half a block from our Metro stop. The proprietor was very tolerant of my lousy French.
We are on La Motte Picquet. We walk a little way just to get a feel for the street. Just two or three blocks away we get to Champs de Mars across the street from the military school. Louis XVI used to march his troops on this field. Now it is a manicured park. At the far end is the Tour Eiffel. We are here so I suggest we walk over and take a closer look. It is too foggy a day to go up, but we walk around under it. There is the Jules Verne Restaurant right there. I suggest to Evelyn that it was the setting of FIVE WEEKS IN A SALOON?
We walked back to the main street La Motte Picquet. I stopped to pat a passing dog on a leash and he licked my hand. His owner said something in French, but I did not pick it up.
We passed the Gaumont Theater. Gaumont is a French film studio. What films were they playing? French director Luc Besson's JEANNE D'ARC (which we call THE MESSENGER). It is in English with French subtitles. And they have the James Bond movie THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. It probably bothers the French that so much American product is over here. The US even got the one-time French director Besson. Of course it is true that Besson was not that much of a loss. His films are standard action films. They got people's attention only because they were in French with subtitles. That gave them bookings in art houses. LA FEMME NIKITA is an action film and not much more. But a lot of people who go to art house films secretly prefer plain old action films given the choice. They just like to see them packaged as art.
Nearby was a restaurant called the Primrose and we went in for lunch. I visited the bathroom which was so tiny pushes you in to the edge of the toilet just to open the door to get out. It is an Asian style squat toilet. Just what it is doing here I have no idea.
I had hot goat's milk cheese on peasant bread. Evelyn had croque monsieur, a ham sandwich with melted cheese on top. Evelyn's was just OK, mine was a delight. Goat's milk cheese is very creamy and has a distinctive but pleasing flavor. Evelyn also had an espresso. From there we got a book of Metro tickets and took the Metro to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame is probably the most famous cathedral in the world. The site of the cathedral was chosen for spite since it was the former site of an altar to praise Jupiter and the Roman Emperor Tiberius. In those days there was little thought to preserving the treasures of the past, and artifacts of non-Christian religions where not thought of as treasures in any case. In the interim it had been a Christian basilica and a Romanesque Church.
Up in front of the Cathedral is the point from which all roads of France are measured. There is a metal plate in the ground. Obviously the cathedral is considered the most important building in the country.
The cathedral was begun in 1163 and required 170 years until it was thought to be complete. Of course there were alterations even after that. The Church's considerable financial resources were put into the construction. They were at the core of the support of the building. But also in a wider circle of support there was the voluntary labors of many of the locals. They were hoping absolution to counterbalance whatever sinning they had done with work done in service of God and Church working on the great Cathedral. It was assumed in God's eyes the work on the Church would outshine the fact that the worker had cheated his neighbor. Hence there was a still wider circle of the cheated and sinned-against neighbors who contributed involuntarily and perhaps even unknowingly to the construction by having those that had wronged them forgiven the transgressions. If any of this seems immoral, don't forget it is being done for the benefit of God and hence by definition it was morally good. Certainly it was more moral than the Crusades.
The French Revolution had an anti-religious tone to it and in 1793 the Cathedral was looted, then converted into a Temple of Reason. The Corps de Ballet would perform dances of reason in front of the altar. The Festival of Reason was sponsored by atheists Pierre Chaumette and Jacques Hebert. Reason is using ones head and not losing ones head. Sadly Chaumette and Hebert eventually lost theirs.
The cathedral is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic designs. Notable are the Gothic Rose Windows. The one to the south with its depiction of Christ is 43 feet high. At the front of the Cathedral, is one showing the Virgin. At the east end there a spectacular array of flying buttresses. These are balanced supports pushing in opposing directions on a central structure held up by their combined forces. Essentially the Cathedral is supported and works by intentionally playing many opposing ends against the middle and each other and for the benefit of the middle. I wonder if there is some symbolic meaning there.
Unfortunately the scaffolding moths have been busy on Notre Dame. Somehow Europe seems to be infested with these moths. They leave cocoon-like scaffolds all over ancient buildings all over the world. We always seem to run into buildings covered by their ravages. The Cathedral was closed in 1795, but reconsecrated in 1805 when the people chaos of the revolution had subsided and people felt they had had enough reason.
The inside of the Cathedral are inspirational messages on posters. There will be some sort of quote and an explanation. The quote will be translated, sometimes shakily into English. For example they had a quote translated "I was thirty and you gave me water."
But admittedly the greatest attraction to the Cathedral is the gargoyles. These are fantastical creatures carved into the upper reaches, some as waterspouts and others as decorations. There is a climb of about 400 stairs to go up and see them. That is roughly the same as climbing up the stairs of a 16 story building, then climbing back down. There is a time I would have jumped at the chance, but I am older now and I have limitations. I decided to give it a miss. Evelyn, however, is more courageous so she went up while I waited. OK, it bothered me that she went and I stayed behind, but so it goes. It took her about half an hour. It absolutely destroyed her knees. The rest of the day she could not go up and down stairs without going sideways like a crab and holding onto the handrail. I am hoping she will be better after a rest, but at this writing I don't know. We always said we wanted to go to exotic places while we were young and we were saving France and Italy when we were old and tired. I joke that here we are in France right on schedule. But I think I took it more seriously than Evelyn did. Now Evelyn is finding out.
Almost in the shadow of the cathedral the Deportation Memorial, a tribute to those deported in the Holocaust. One climbs down 26 steps into it so one is surrounded by a high all and can see only the wall and the sky. Scratched in red are quotes from famous French about the deportations and a tomb of the unknown deportee. One word that does not appear is "Juif."
We passed by the Mirza Moric le Labyrinthe sculptural garden. It is not mentioned in any of the books but has a garden full of interesting sculptures, most involving people and birds. Evelyn wanted to visit the historic bookstore Shakespeare and Company. That we did though we got only a postcard.
It was now getting dark. We found ourselves in a sort of Greektown, or at least there were a lot of Greek restaurants. We had Gyros for dinner and then headed back to the room. Of course we were on subways and again and I was astounded by the amount of litter. At times you almost have to shuffle through it. Maybe it is supposed to add to the ambiance, like the bars where you throw peanut shells on the floor. And I thought Americans were messy. There are also lots of stairways to climb, most without elevators or escalators. Evelyn commented on how hard this must be for the handicapped, whose ranks she had temporarily joined after her visit to Notre Dame.
We returned to our hotel and took our luggage up to our room. Though tiny and expensive by Motel 6 standards, it was spacious, luxurious, and cheap by Tokyo standards. One of the benefits of travel is learning what to appreciate at home. I would have never thought our motels of all things would be a standard for the world. We take them for granted but for budget travelling no other country in the world has anything that can match them.
The evening went napping more than I intended and working on log.
11/24/99 The Louvre
I woke up about 6am. That is about the time I would have wanted to awake. Well... I could have slept until 7:30, but I wake up at home about 6.
Evelyn did not wake until somewhere around 8 so I had a chance to get caught up in my log. It didn't last long. We went out about 8:30 with plans to see the Hotel des Invalides. First we went to a bistro for breakfast. They had advertised crepes with banana and nutella. The latter is like peanut butter but it is made with hazelnuts instead. I think that is a lot healthier, however. It is a mono-saturated fat. Anyway we went in to find out they do not make crepes for breakfast. I had croissant and hot chocolate. Evelyn had croissant and coffee. I want to tell you they really make a fabulous croissant, but I would be lying. The croissant was OK, but nothing great.
The Hotel des Invalides is the military museum. It opens at 9am, but supposedly has different hours in the winter. Well, it is not really winter yet. We got there about 9:05 and nothing was open yet. I think we found out they opened at 10. It did not seem worth waiting around to we quickly replanned. It would be the Louvre today.
We decided it made more sense to stay a little longer on the metro trains but have only one exchange. I thought I could sit and write. Nope, the metro was like the subway in Shinjuku. Absolutely packed tight standing. I got no writing done. But it wasn't too bad.
We got off at the Louvre exit. The doors on the metro trains do not open automatically like they do in most subway trains. You have to press a button or unlatch a latch.
We missed the new entrance to the Louvre. But we got to see it later.
We wanted to buy the Carte Musee, a one price covers many museums card. However no parle francais so everybody just pointed us in a general direction. We went there but found nothing. It turned out it was a hallway and you had to go considerable distance inside. We found it eventually. Then had to find the coat check. It took us better than a half hour to get going.
The Louvre is one of the most important art museums in the world. When one thinks of the great national collections the Louvre comes to mind first along with the New York Metropolitan Museum. Some of the most famous works of art in the world are here, especially the "Mona Lisa" and the "Venus de Milo." Then there is "Winged Victory of Samothrace." However...
Visiting the Louvre is like having a Jehovah's Witness for an officemate. Different countries have their national art galleries and the selection of art reflects the tastes and history of the county. Different nationalities have different ideas of what is great in a painting. For me the Louvre is one of the dullest or perhaps the most irritating national galleries and the reason seems to be what paintings are represented. I can only intuitively guess a figure, but I would say that the proportion of Christian or Biblical religious paintings is three times as high here as it is in other national galleries. I have seen a lot of paintings in one day and far too many are what becomes tiresomely religiously themed. At one point we went to four consecutive rooms and every piece of art was religiously themed. Toward the end I called the situation to Evelyn's attention. This was their 19th century art. I said that I thought there was a piece of religious art in every room. Of the last nine rooms only one was totally free of religious art.
By the end of the day I was so sick of seeing depictions of crosses and pierced hands, pictures of saints with their bodies pierced by arrows, and pictures with Christ's head in the middle of the picture glowing like a light bulb. Even the Prado, national gallery of the very Catholic Spain did not grind the religious axe so crudely and repetitively.
Our visit started with moat walls of the original fortress that was the basis of the Louvre. I think they were still in the original location.
There is a very large section of Egyptian art, no doubt collected in the days of Napoleon. We spent more than an hour just looking at Egyptian art. Much of this art is in very ornate rooms with ornately decorated ceilings. Frequently they would be decorated in themes of Old Testament Bible stories set in Egypt. They would have one on Joseph and his Brothers in Egypt or Moses being drawn from the water.
There are three major works of art and there is always a crowd in front of them. You have to wait a few minutes to get a good view of them, particularly if you are only 5'6" tall. That is about 168 cm. I did get a picture that I have never seen before. Just about everybody has seen the Venus de Milo as seen from the front. Nobody ever shows you a back view. I got it and will show the back view in our Paris photo album. Coming soon.
The Egyptians used hard rounded head holders to sleep on. Shorten the three tongs on a tuning fork and put a base for it to stand on and you have an idea of the shape. Surely a sack of feathers would have been more comfortable. I wonder why they did that.
We saw the sculpted busts of some Roman Caesars. Now the question I have is just how were busts of emperors created in the days of the Caesars. The bust of Augustus would have been all over the empire. Let's say they would need to have at least 5000 busts of Augustus. I would assume that it is really difficult to chisel stone and get the result to look like a recognizable copy of anything. And you could have only one or two first generation copies of the Emperor. Now perhaps you could have several good sculptors making second generation copies. By the third generation you must have some serious copy degradation. I suppose you could get ten good sculptors and each makes seven copies. Then you could have 70 second generation copies. Each of those busts would have to spawn 70 new busts in the next generation to have about the right number. It is tough to believe it could be done with any real quality.
By about 1:30 we were done with antiquities. We stopped for a couple of soggy sandwiches, a coke and a glass of wine. It came to $17.45. But it is the Louvre
In one aspect the Louvre gets at least passing marks that most big art Museums fail. Most places you can see the art, though frequently you have to move around to find the right place. The problem is lighting. Has the lighting been placed so you do not get reflections between you and the painting. Most paintings have a glossy finish and if the lighting is wrong you get a reflection of the lighting, not a view of the painting. This is the kind of thing you would think museums would be very aware of. Nope. Lots of art museums handle this problem very poorly. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg gets the lowest marks. They often put glass over the front of a painting and then have it lit from a window. You stand in front of the painting and what you see is the window and not the painting. At the Louvre you had to maneuver around sometimes, but you generally could find some place to stand to see the whole painting.
Now in spite of my complaints, of course the Louvre has some of the greatest artists in the world. There are Rembrandts, Van Dykes, Breugels, Vermeer, Bosch, and to add status there are Titians. (These are status Titians.)
The main concentration of their collections is Antiquities, Objects d'Art (which we skipped), European sculpture 1100-1900, and European Painting 1400-1900.
I have to say some people go through an art gallery as if it were an occasion for solemnity. I am cracking jokes the whole time. I am not exactly the most reverent guy. Next time I have to remember to write some of them down. There may be a paining of Romulus and Remus suckling on the wolf. If there is a particularly plaintive look on the wolf's face I will caption it "Get these things off of me!" That sort of big yuck.
We were treated extremely rudely in one way. I was a little bothered to discover their Mesopotamian art was closed on Wednesdays. I came 6000 miles and paid a full entrance fee. But I came on a Wednesday so the fact I was interested in seeing the code of Hammurabi and the Assyrian bulls and all their Babylonian art meant nothing. I have been fascinated by these mythologies for many years and we did get to see some of the archeology in Turkey. We saw some in Britain and perhaps some at the Met. But the Louvre decided that if the day you happen to visit is Wednesday arbitrarily they don't let you see it in the hopes you will pay an admission to see it another day. But, hey, while you are here there are lots of pieces of Christian art to see. And I bet most of it is available seven days a week.
After friends recommended the Louvre very highly I have to say it is not one of the better National Galleries I have seen.
By the end of the day we were really exhausted. Somehow the Louvre has far more stairs than necessary. Frequently they seem to be there for no reason. You go down 20 steps, see something and at the other end walk up 20 steps. Why? Do the French love steps so much.
The Louvre has a shopping mall as part of it and there was a food court. We had a late dinner with Spanish food. I had chicken leg and seafood on macaroni. Evelyn had a seafood paella. It was fairly tasty.
We picked up a bottle of Orangina on the way back to the room to have something to drink. After being on our feet most of the day we dragged ourselves nearly dead to the room and worked on logs. I watched a little CNN, which is the only English language TV station we get.
11/25/99 Invalides, Rodin, Musee d'Orsay
Well it is Thanksgiving. Sort of. It is just past midnight so it is not yet Thanksgiving in the US. And here they have no Thanksgiving. So in this room it is Thanksgiving.
We were warned for years that the French treat you rudely if you do not speak French. Then I hear that was only in Paris. So far I don't know what makes Parisians treat people rudely and there is no sign of me getting any data. (This does not include Louvre policies.) It is a more expensive city than Tokyo, but the people are never rude. So far. And nobody wears berets. Breakfast at a little bistro and was a baguette with Camembert cheese and hot chocolate.
The Hotel des Invalides is really the old soldiers home, but it is also the military museum of France. Compared to most countries' national war museums, it is not very big. Louis XIV had the structure built for war veterans.
We went first to the Weapons and Armor display in the West Wing. Here you see suits of armor, breastplates, helmets, swords, knives, guns, etc. Some of the armor is for jousting, some for battle. There are pieces showing the evolution of the gun including attempts to give the user multiple shots without reloading. Two of the guns had three barrels that pointed in different directions. Another had one flint but eight charges and you moved the flint back to the charge. There was also examples of samurai armor and Malaysian krisses.
Climb the stairs and there are rooms devoted to France in World War I and World War II. For WWI they had the usual of mannequins in uniforms of French and Germans, and of course examples of machine guns and other weapons, etc. There were models of aircraft and maps. There was a model of a trench. There seemed to be little emphasis of when the United States came into the war. There was just the impression that the tide of battle eventually turned in France's favor. The World War II exhibit was closed for renovation. Based on the coverage of World War I we can speculate on what the coverage would have been like. No doubt from the exhibit's point of view eventually French Resistance would have brought down the Nazi invaders. Likely they would have also said something about how the American and British forces, once shown the way, rallied behind the courageous Free French to do their bit to defeat Germany. Perhaps even the Russians pitched in.
Standing between the World War I and World War II rooms is a large inspirational statue of Charles DeGaulle that would have terrified Hitler.
Flanking the exit were two more exhibits of armor. Pieces included jousting armor with a rack for holding lance and armor decorated with griffins or dragons.
Going across the courtyard and over to the East Wing there were more exhibits. We went to the top floor and worked our way down the four floors. Relief maps were the subject of the top floor and there must have been at least a couple dozen, each at least two meters square. Some much larger. Most are places I do not recognize. Chateau d'If I do know but Evelyn does not until she reads the sign. My father used to talk about the Chateau d'If the fortress prison and its most famous prisoner. I will tell you after three more paragraphs to give you a chance to guess.
There was also a gift shop on this floor. I am interested in Military history, but my French is just not good enough. They also have more models of battlefields behind the ship. I am going to give the answer to that question here where you are not expecting it. It was Edmond Dantes who was held prisoner at the Chateau d'If in THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. My father always said what a great novel that was. Kids should read it. So I did. Yeah, some novel. The theme is that money is the power to crush your enemies and to wreck vengeance. Very educational.
Lower floors you found mementos of the French in the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War. You saw a reconstruction of the room in which Napoleon died. The uniform, hat, death mask, and horse of Napoleon. Yes, Vizier, the horse Napoleon rode was stuffed and is here for your edification. Lower floors go back earlier. There were also items from the service of American hero Lafayette.
The bottom floor was a temporary exhibit about some sort of shadow film about French warfare.
On the way out there were two more rooms of regalia and armor.
Now Lithuanian Sardine Pizza has some competition for weirdest pizza I ever enjoyed. Wait a second. I have just been handed an envelope. The judges have made their decision. It's official, folks. My weirdest pizza is Parisian pizza with chorizo sausage, goat cheese, raw egg, potato, ratatouille (that's French eggplant and garlic stew), onions, oregano, and tomatoes. The pizza was a little soupy. Also I had a tall (giant) Coca-Cola. Half a liter. It sure help wash down the old ratatouille.
From there we went to the Church of the Dome, part of the grounds of the Hotel des Invalides. Here rests the tomb of Napoleon, guarded by something like eight stone colossi. He himself was about 5 feet five inches.
After seeing the tomb we went over to the Rodin Museum. This was a private home built in 1728. Auguste Rodin came to live there, paying the rent with sculptures. It became a museum of his work after his death in 1917. Rodin, pronounced "Rodan," like the flying monster, did sculpture like "The Thinker". And "The Kiss." He is noted for the sensuous beefiness of his sculptures. His is a very realistic style, in a sense--perhaps it is more just a detailed idealism. This is what people would look like if they were in this good physical shape and then assumed these hyper-dramatic positions. People like his work because this is how they picture themselves doing things like making love. They prefer this to just putting up a mirror during the sex act. That really would show them reality, but it would not be pretty. A mirror would make them look more like two Jell-O molds being poured into one bowl.
Certainly if you want to stare at the human animal passion, Rodin can show it too you in its most perfect representation. It is exciting just to look at his sculptures. I am very pleased that this is all art since I was afraid I was being attracted to it for all the wrong reasons. Still all those funny positions give a person pause. I think what it must have been like to pose for Rodin. The first two minutes of posing must have been a lot of fun. After that muscle fatigue must have set in. Ten minutes must have been agony.
After a walk through the house there is one through the garden. There he has his impressive "Gates of Hell." The gates are decorated with couples making love, Rodin's "The Thinker," angels falling from heaven, and it is capped at the top with Rodin's "The Three Shades." I wonder if placing so much of his own well-known works on the "Gates of Hell" does gives himself exaggerated metaphysical and cosmological significance. I told Evelyn it was odd that Rodin would put onto the doors of Hell pictures of angels falling from heaven. She thought it made sense because that was where the angels fell to. But to me that is like decorating a hospital with pictures of car crashes.
We next headed off to the Musee d’Orsay, the OTHER major art museum of Paris, but right across the street is the Museum of the Legion of Honor. Since we have the Museum Card, it is free, so we decided to explore it. There is a lot we don't understand, however. Mostly we see military decorations and paintings of generals. Naturally there is a big painting of Bonaparte. We his breastplate and his batons of command. I am not quite sure the function of a baton. Serge Eisenstein had the last word on the subject in his film OCTOBER. The Revolutionaries storm the palace. They find some barrels and open them. They are filled with military decorations to be given out. I think of that whenever I see military honors or when I see someone at work has a Golden Pyramid award.
On the way out a visitor from Kyoto asks what is in the museum and is it worthwhile. I have to tell him not really. He says that it looks a lot like the Legion of Honor at the Presidio in San Francisco. I thing what is displayed is quite different.
The Musee d'Orsay is like the Paris Museum of Modern art. At one point there was a big exchange of art between this Museum and the Louvre. The Louvre has art only up through the 19th Century. The Musee d'Orsay has only later art. I think the Louvre got the better of the deal. Somehow the art I saw on the first pass seems more superficial. It is not art of substance. This trip we walked only around the first floor.
One piece of art is supposed to be a painting of the sea shore, but it is actually a TV screen and a film that just does not show much movement. Elsewhere one walks into a narrow blue room to see on TVs an expert explaining why the sea is blue. Sarah Barnhardt apparently liked a painting of the sea and designed for it a frame showing exotic sea creatures with gems for eyes. I would like to see a painting of Verne's Nautilus in that frame.
There were some Monets and other examples of Pointilism. But this was the only art that seemed to have resonance. At the back end of the floor there is a small scale model of the old Paris Opera House. We will see the real thing tomorrow. (P.S. Sort of.) I hum to myself the music from the Webber and the Kopit plays of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I look at the roof statuary and try to remember which piece Erik hid in to eavesdrop on Christine and Roual.
The rest of the floor is Neo-Classical sculpture.
We sat down to rest and worked on our logs for about half an hour. This trip entails a lot of walking and we are both out of shape. Rather than go back to look at the art we decide it is time to start looking for dinner. Perhaps we went off in the wrong direction or there just is no place but we could not find a place near the Museum. We found a place that we were interested in the menu but they told us they were only serving salad. (Note: I should find out what Osso Bucco is.) (Postscript: Veal Shank in Wine.) Looking nearer the hotel we found Cafe du Marche. This is what you think of as a Paris cafe. Crowded, uncomfortable, good food. We sit side by side on a bench trying to eat off a circular table two feet in diameter. There isn't really room enough to take off our coats. But the food is good. Evelyn has a glass of wine, but not the New Beaujolais. It seems all over Paris restaurants are advertising that the new Beaujolais have arrived. This is big excitement in Paris. A Frenchman never knows. What if the new Beaujolais are too fruity? Or too dry? Worse yet they might not have the right je ne sais qua. What kind of Beaujolais will he be saddled with until next year? They may even give him gas? Wouldn't that be a nightmare? The Frenchman would have to make do with a Bordeaux or a Burgundy. As a public service every restaurant worth its salt puts up a sign to remind people that the new Beaujolais have arrived. Pity the poor Frenchman who forgets. The suspense must be terrible. But not for two tourists called Leeper. Evelyn has lamb chops and I have Beef Bourguignon. For dessert we share an apple tart.
Back to the room and our logs. For entertainment I play a radio version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I find it much inferior to the Richard Lester 1973 film. That joyous film is the best adaptation I have seen.
11/26/99 Picasso, History of Paris, Opera Houses, Seine Cruise
For breakfast we had some sandwiches and yogurt that we had not wanted on the plane. We had to pack our bags because we could get a double room only for the first three nights. We are in the same hotel but for the weekend we have to move to a smaller room.
Over breakfast we discuss what to do with our last three days. Evelyn wants to visit the sewer museum. If we do not have the time I suggest that can be eliminated. Is there anything she can get out of that that she could not get just sticking her head in the toilet?
Now we are taking the Metro to the Picasso Museum.
I am never really sure if I am on a train and some gray-haired person is standing next to me if I am expected to give up my seat. I hate to look boorish and rude. The decision has become more complicated with time. Occasionally when I give up my seat it occurs to me afterward that the person might actually be younger than me. Some people look old prematurely. Frequently when I do give up my seat I discover there were people sitting nearby who were obviously younger than me who did not offer their seats. Nobody has ever offered ME their seat. On one hand I resent that as it means I can never win this game. On the other hand I don't know how I would react if someone younger did offer me their seat. Maybe I should feel lucky they don't. Boy, am I ever conflicted.
Our train stops next to one going in the other direction. That leaves you sitting staring at a complete stranger. It is an odd thing. Trains are set up with opposing seats. When you sit down you are facing a perfect stranger. Frequently you look at the stranger and the stranger looks at you. That is OK, because you are sharing a space with the person. If you look too frequently you break a taboo, but you are allowed a little bit of looking time. But that is not true if your train pulls up next to another train. You are not sharing space with these people, your train is just sharing space on the track. It is very lowbrow to look into the other train. If someone sees you looking at them they will immediately look away, silently suggesting you should not be looking at them either. Looking at the person opposite in your own train you could possibly start a relationship. Looking at someone on another train is staring. It is rude. It is like staring into another car on the highway.
We get to the Picasso Museum and the first thing I see is a line of school kids from first or second grade collected in the courtyard. Culture shock. They take little school children to see Picasso artwork in France. What about all the nudes he paints? Back when I was growing up the attitude in the US was "You aren't going to take my kid to see someone's painting of naked people. It's un-Christian." Of course those attitudes were of the 60s. In the 90s it does not come to that. The attitude is "You aren't gonna take my tax dollar to enrich some kid's life. You do that I will find someone who can run the schools cheaper without so much enrichment. Appreciation of art can go straight to hell." And of course if you just scan up and down the radio dial you can tell that it already has. Aesthetics is a lost art in the US. Bad art has almost totally driven out the good.
I get inside and a first grade class is sitting in front of a Picasso nude and the teacher is discussing it. I don't think we are in Kansas any more, Toto.
Back at Burroughs in Detroit I used to work with a guy named Doug Berger. In the way of most people at Burroughs this guy was a political back-stabber. I was told that in addition to his working at Burroughs his major income was as a slum landlord. He was just the sort of person whom the management liked to get at Burroughs because they understood him. Also when it came to giving him an incentive, he was really simple to understand. All they had to do was offer him money. Money seemed the only thing that mattered. One day at lunch out of the blue he said that if there was anybody in the world he would have liked to have been, it would have been Pablo Picasso. I think at that point my jaw dropped into my mashed potatoes. "Wh-Wh-Wh-Why?" I managed to blurt out in my astonishment. "There is a man with a license to print money. When they bring him a bill in a restaurant if he just doodles on it, it is worth more than if he simply pays it." Oh, of course. Doug, you are a long way from understanding Picasso or how one gets that sort of fame.
It is remarkable, however, to see just how many media Picasso worked in and how close to being correct Berger was. In one place there are some masks that look like Picasso just spent two minutes tearing them out of newspaper. There was a cult of Picasso and everything he did was considered great art. Yet he did not really seem to grow wealthy or live in wealth. The reason there is a Picasso museum is that he died owing big chunks of tax money. The government just took the paintings after he died and it paid the tax. Then they created the museum. Actually that probably was very cagey of him. The government could get what he owned them only by creating a monument to him.
The museum traces the evolution of Picasso's art as he moved from realism to surrealism to becoming a master of surrealism. I would be lying if I said I didn't think at the beginning any of it was put-on. Toward the end there must have been a bit of self delusion.
Picasso worked in many different media and in each achieved what all artists seek: unquestioning acceptance and sympathetic interpretation. Rarely is this achieved by any but clergy and tyrants in police states.
We could take Picasso at face value. Then I would say that it would be a mistake to say that Picasso's mind distorted reality to look like his paintings. Instead we would have to say that his mind distorted what he saw some mysterious third way so that what he painted and what he saw looked the same to him.
While in the museum we got our first view of real blue sky. For the first time the clouds burned off. It was really surprising how much there was in this house. The walk just kept going on and on.
Our next destination was Rue du Rosiers. This is the Jewish Quarter. One comes on Friday afternoon and it is abuzz with activity. It is just one very short street one lane wide. But on either side there are Jewish shops and the bakeries that have their breads and pastries out. We stopped for lunch at Korcarz. I had tuna salad on an onion roll, Evelyn had lox on a bretzel (a bread pretzel?). There was a poster near our seat showing Hassids in hats and long sideburns working out at a health club. Afterwards we got some pastries to take back to the room. The street was full of delis, bakeries, Jewish book stores, and falafel shops.
The Museum of History of Paris is apparently another house, or rather two neighboring mansions, turned into a museum with a large collection of whatever was available. I get the impression that a lot of museums owe their existence to Nouveau-Impoverished families who give up real estate for taxes. There is a lot of stair-climbing as they add walls and in general make a single tour to cover both houses. There is a relief map of Paris City Island. I think they exaggerated the size of the major buildings, Evelyn disagrees. I should mention that historically al there was to Paris was an island in the Seine. Notre Dame is on this island. Eventually sprawl spread the city to the shores across the Seine. The island is the oldest part of the city.
There is a good collection of paintings to recreate the feel of the city in various points of history. Some of the rooms serve a double duty. They show furnishings but the rooms are on a given theme and they also tell you something about the subject of those themes. There are three rooms in a row dedicated to theater, literature, and religion. Of the places we visited this museum had the most on the Revolution of 1789 and the Terror. There were portraits of the leaders of the Revolution including Marat and Danton. There were little ivory guillotines. There was a model of the Bastile. And there were the inevitable exhibits of Napoleon.
On our way to the next site we stopped at a grocery. Evelyn got some Coca-Cola, I got some current-strawberry fruit drink and we took them to a park. I had some of the bread we had bought earlier and fed the birds. There were pigeons and sparrows. The pigeons were fat and lazy, the sparrows were fast and even when we tried to feed the pigeons, usually the sparrows got the food.
We went to see, albeit from a distance, the New Paris Opera House. It opened July 14, 1989, the 200th anniversary of the Bastile. It was designed by Carlos Ott. It seats 2700 an d is technically advanced. The problem is the outside of the building is just plain boring. It is little more than a glass cylinder.
Near it is the Colonne de Juillet, A monument to the martyrs of the Revolution of 1830.
We took the Metro to our next stop, but got off prematurely. The train had stopped at a fascinating Metro station. Many of the metro stations are decorated in a theme and this one was decorated in a Louvre theme. It had reproductions of ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian stone artifacts including a life-sized statue of Sekmet, the lion-headed god. At least I think it was life-sized. The Egyptians were none too specific how tall their gods really were. But I was much impressed. In the United States we are impressed if the subways just work. Riding them is not supposed to be a learning experience. In fact it all too frequently is quite a learning experience but that was not anyone's intention or plan.
But now I was getting excited. I was going to see the real Paris Opera House. This is the opera house that haunted by Erik, the mysterious and sinister genius Gaston Leroux's novel THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Lon Chaney, Claude Raines, and Charles Dance had played Phantoms of this opera house. (Herbert Lom had been in the London Opera House, Maximillian Schell in Eastern Europe, Richard Englund had been on Elm Street.) But I was going to see the great stairway. I was going to see the mysterious Box Nine. (I assumed the guide would point it out.) Above all this was going to be that beautiful building with its strange statuary. We came out of the subway tunnel and saw something that looked like a shoebox. The from about the middle to the top it was sheathed in gauze. The bottom half was wood. No, but the Paris Opera House, where was that? That was it. The scaffolding moths had played their dirtiest trick ever. It you looked at the top you could see a bit of a statue poking out of the top.
But at least there was still the tour. I could see the sights of the interior that had been in the film. We went in. There was the list of sites that the tour would visit. Only two had appeared in the film versions. There was the great stairway and the great auditorium itself. It was an expensive tour. Was it worth it for just those two sites? But wait. There's less. Today the auditorium was closed for a rehearsal. For $5 Phantom fans can walk on the grand stairway. Keep it. This is a huge old building designed by Charles Garnier for Napoleon II in 1862 and not opened until 1875. The catacombs beneath, the huge ramps that appear in the movie and the Webber play are all there supposedly. It is a great mysterious building. We took some photos of the grand stairway from a distance and went to the souvenir shop. I got a postcard with the cover of the 1956 French paperback of the novel.
We got on the Metro to return. After a stop or two someone got on with a luggage cart. He started pulling things out of his cart. He pulled out a blanket and a bungee cord and set up the blanket as a curtain. He pulled out a buttoned cardigan sweater with a mannequin head that looked Spanish with a pencil moustache. He pulled the sweater over his head and sticks his arms into the sleeves. He puts his wooden head above the curtain and starts playing Latin music, bobbing the head making had gestures. When the song is over he takes around a cup and collects some coins. By the time one stop is over everything is packed and he gets off the train. The beggars are more creative in Paris.
It had been recommended we take a cruise on the Seine. If they were a reasonable price we decided it might be worth it. You get the boats near the Eiffel Tower. We took the Metro to get there and walked by the Seine. On the way we passed some Americans from Arizona and we talked to them about their trip and ours. There is a stairway down to the water's edge. One gets the boat near the Eiffel Tower and goes east past City of Paris Island, returning on the other side and back to the point of origin. Boats leave each hour and the cost is a very reasonable 50F or about $8 for better than an hour. Sights visible from the boat include the Dome Church, the Musee d'Orsay with its huge glowing clocks, and the Louvre. At night the City of Lights is really beautiful. I guess I am really happy to be here.
Rick Steves, a travel writer, recommended a restaurant called Ambassade du Sud-oest. It was supposed to have authentic cuisine of the Southwest of France. The restaurant looked a little fancy, but I figured if Evelyn wanted it, she should have it.
They brought out a basket of bread. No butter. Hey we are talking authentic here. For those who want to enhance their bread, there is an electric pop-up toaster on each table. I suspect that in the Southwest people really heat the bread over a fire, but it is not logistically possible to do that in this establishment.
Most of the dishes seemed to be variants on duck and/or mushroom and/or fried potatoes. I ordered duck and fried potatoes. Evelyn ordered the Southwest platter. That came with ham, sausage, and pate.
It always makes you wonder when you get served bread in a restaurant and there is something cut out of the bread. The bread that should be an oval in cross section is a D. Was it served to a customer who ate only part? Was it moldy? Did rats get at the loaf? I can think of many bad possibilities, and few that are good. In fact, I can't think of one good reason.
Evelyn's dish came out first and it was a cold plate. It had a thin slice of ham with a big white strip of fat. It had sausage. These were little disks about the diameter and thickness of a US quarter. They were bright red and white with more white than red. This was a lot like Spanish chorizo sausage. The pate was a partially jelled slice of liver loaf. That was all that was on the plate. I took one look and edged my chair northeast.
It was something of a relief when my dish came. It looked like London Broil and fried potatoes. The London Broil was on a layer of what could have been duck fat. I gave Evelyn a piece. I tried to believe this was duck. If it was it could have fooled me. Duck... the other red meat.
I like to claim I never met a cuisine I didn't like. Southwest France is not high on my list, however.
We returned to the hotel. We could get our double room for only three nights. We now move to a smaller room. The vie out the window is of a wall. What turns out to be the worst thing is there is no control on the radiator and the room is too hot. We have to leave the window open and even then it is uncomfortable. There is a noisy plastic folding screen on the bathroom to save space over having a door. As you enter you are in a square entranceway just wide enough to accommodate three doors. You are facing the bathroom and the bedroom, such as it is to the left. We have a small bed in which we get in each other's way. At 480F the last room was a lot better bargain than this one is at 420F.
11/27/99 Middle Ages, Sewers, Orsay, Gaumont
I woke at about 5 am and worked on my log for three hours until Evelyn woke up. When she did I gave her some of the pastries from yesterday as breakfast in bed. She gets that every month on the 27th.
Looking out the window the clouds are back. Well we got a little bit of sunshine. We walked out the front door and into the middle of an antique fair setting up. Apparently the weekend there is a fair up and down the street in front of our hotel.
In the United States the most popular item to litter with are cigarette butts. Smokers figure that the cigarette butt is something that could not possibly offend anybody anywhere in nature. They pride themselves on being too sensitive to drop them on the floor in the houses of friends and anywhere else they are just a part of nature. You do not see that in Paris. The most popular litter item is the cancelled Metro ticket. You use it to get into the Metro. It is stamped with the time just to be sure it is not reused. Then it becomes useless to man or beast. You see them on the ground just about everywhere. Actually not all the stations have as much trash as we saw in the first station. But a lot of them do.
It turns out we rushed for no good reason. We got to our first site almost 15 minutes before it opened. We walked around in the small park across the street.
The Museum of the Middle Ages has some of just about everything left from those ages. There is tapestries and carved wood and stone. The original heads of the kings from Notre Dame Cathedral, removed following the Revolution and later replaced rather than returned. The building itself goes back to Medieval times. There is a Roman bath in the lower part.
The most popular exhibit are the Lady with Lion and Unicorn Tapestries. Each celebrates a different sense. They start out with the lady taking a sweet while other animals eat and her dog looks on hoping to get a piece. The sound tapestry has the lady playing a musical instrument while the lion and unicorn listen, etc.
There was some very nice detailed wood carving, some examples of Latin text, etc.
When we finished Evelyn wanted to walk to Notre Dame. Last night from the boat she had seen that some of the scaffolding had been taken down and she could now see the bodies of the kings. She wanted a picture of me in front of Notre Dame and I affected the posture of a hunchback. I did not see this, but according to Evelyn it greatly amused one of the locals. I then asked Evelyn to turn her back to the cathedral and tell me how many kings were there. Fourteen she guessed. Pretty close. It was 29.
We had seen the crypt was in the square in front of the cathedral on our previous visit but had not given it much thought. Another tourist mentioned it and it was covered by our museum ticket. It was 33F, but neither of us thought you got very much for that price. Basically you saw stone walls that had been excavated and were told what was there. But it was little of any real interest value. There were panels explaining what you were seeing and buttons that turned on lights on the pieces, but not a whole lot for the price.
When the tour was over we were ready for lunch. It took a while to find a restaurant. I will not discuss the meal in detail but we did run into our first rude waiter. He was impatient with us and yelled at some Belgian tourists about having only two hands. I ordered a Camembert cheese sandwich on a baguette which he seemed unhappy about serving us. I don't remember the reason. When the Belgians saw my sandwich they wanted the same thing also. It was decent food. I have to say, however, that I have not seen yet why French cuisine has such a good reputation. Standard breakfast seems to be coffee and a roll. Lunch is typically a sandwich like ham and cheese on a heavily buttered roll. They apply creativity only to dinner. That can be good, but most French dishes are heavy on fat. This is just not such a great cuisine. They look down on Chinese cuisine because it does not use cheese. But there is more art to Chinese cuisine than French.
Evelyn was anxious to take the Paris sewers tour. Nobody but the French would have the chutzpah to try to turn their sewer system into a tourist attraction, but there is something unique about the Paris sewers. Victor Hugo devoted about 50 pages of LES MISERABLES and every film version uses them as a setting. They save Erique Claudin's life when he becomes the title role in the 1943 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Ed Norton worships as a hero the designer in an episode of THE HONEYMOONERS. Evelyn wanted to take the tour. One goes down into the sewer and walks through galleries and passageways named for important people in the history of the Paris sewers. You have the Bruneseau Gallery named for a friend of Victor Hugo who surveyed the existing sewer system for Napoleon. The tour shows you how they force the sewage through pipes with huge balls, how they handle storm water overflow, etc. Of course everything they show you is the old analog sewer technology. It will make things go a lot easier when they convert over to digitizing their sewage. One quarter inch diameter optical fiber should be able to handle an entire city's sewage. Of course converting it back at the far end is a real mess. Just as wineries give visitors a free glass of wine at the end of a tour, this tour includes a free visit to their restroom at tour's end. The visitor has an opportunity to try out their user interface. One actually gets a chance to put the sewer system through its paces.
Next was our return to the Musee d'Orsay. We had seen just an introduction last time. They have an excellent collection of impressionists. We saw Whistler's Mother and Renoir's Dancing at the Moulin. George Seurat, Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Renoir, Manet, and Monet. And Cezanne. But I think it became clear to both of us that something was going wrong. Here we were seeing great art, much of it famous, and we realized that neither of us really cared. We were seeing it to get it over with. We were pushing ourselves to see as much as we could in the day time, write as much as we could in our logs at night, make Metro connections, climb up stairs, climb down stairs, find museums, walk long distances, stand on our feet for hours, etc., etc. Neither of us had a good idea what to do next. I took Evelyn to a cafe in the Metro and we each got a 50cl Coca-Cola. Sugar, caffeine, and water. All three calculated to put us back on our feet. The evening's entertainment was going to be going to the Museum of Eroticism. Nope. Let's go to the Gaumont theater we passed the first day and see THE MESSENGER. Here it is called JEANNE D'ARC. Here we were in Paris, where would it be more appropriate? Let's see what movies are like in Paris.
On the way suddenly I realized I had no idea what to get for a tchotchka (in previous logs spelled chachka). We always get a souvenir that a local would get for himself, that is emblematic of the place. Something cheap. With the Coca-Cola in my system, suddenly I realized what to get. That was a load off my mind. Now we just had to find it.
We had no idea when the movie was, but we got to the theater at 5:10. Seating was at 5:30. The film was at 5:50. Could we wait inside until the seating. No, go away until 5:25. So we walked on the street and looked for where we would have dinner. Everybody says the film was not very good. Personally I have a taste for historical films. But also like the Coke it was just the right thing for what ailed me. Certainly being surrounded by the 15th Century French army seeing them battle the English invaders from a really comfortable seat seeing a beautiful print on a wraparound screen did a lot to rekindle my spirit.
The irony did not escape me that I was surrounded by a French audience in Paris watching a French director's telling of the story of Joan of Arc as she fought against the invading English... and it was in English with French subtitles.
We probably should have waited on the Medieval Museum until after seeing the film.
I don't know if I will get around to reviewing the film, but I had a great time. It cannot be the director. I do not like Luc Besson in general.
After the movie we went to a Thai restaurant. I had duck in peanut sauce. Evelyn also had a duck dish. Then it was back to the room, the logs, and sleep.
11/28/99 Louvre Mesopotamia, Arc De Triomphe, Maritime, Eiffel Tower
Paris is gray and ugly this morning. So far Paris has been gray and ugly every morning. We were out by 8:30 and found the streets mostly sullen and ugly. We were able to get seats on the Metro, which is quite unusual. I think the pace is starting to take its toll. I feel like I am running at half speed.
We get off the Metro and are in the middle of buildings out of the Louises. Huge ornate long buildings. Statuary all over them. The courtyard of the Louvre is as big as a city square.
In the middle of this Renaissance courtyard of splendor, the Pavilion Richlieu, the museum built a new entrance in the form of a glass pyramid as tall as the other buildings, at least two stories tall. Thereby the entrance to the Louvre has now achieved a coveted second place in the Worst Taste in French History sweepstakes. It comes in just ahead of the Can-Can and just behind public executions by beheading.
The Mesopotamian exhibition is very good. Huge bulls on column capitols, metal figures, metal tools, wall reliefs, metal figures like toy soldier, pots, eagle-headed gods, sarcophagi, and terre cotta doll houses. The code of Hammurabi is inscribed in cuneiform on a black basalt phallic stone about four feet high. Probably the most impressive are the huge winged bulls of Darius, King of Persia from the 8th Century BC., found in Khorsabad Persia. Things from places like Susa, Ugarit, and Byblos. I was not sure this was worth coming back for, but it may have been one of the high-points of the trip.
What it was doing in Mesopotamia I don't know but there was a short but very wide sarcophagus. I explained to Evelyn why they needed it. "Pharaoh moves aside for no man." "But living god, the obelisk appears to be wavering in the wind." "Pharaoh stands aside for no..."
I wonder what some of these ancient kings think that these decorations erected to honor them would be moved to distant lands and again erected.
While we were there we saw some neo-classical statuary. Hercules with snakes, men wrestling lions, men holding horses, nekkid ladies, nekkid men. The pride of the collection is the pair of the horses by Guillaume Coustou. Well, it is good stuff.
Lunch was back at the food court, one of the few places in Paris where lunch might be more imaginative than a ham sandwich. Evelyn and I shared the Spicy Chicken Platter at a place called Hector the Chicken. Since I had not seen in Paris anything I would call spicier than hot chocolate. It was roast chicken, French Fries, salad with dressing, and a smear of hot sauce, mayonnaise-based hot sauce. Well maybe it is real hot sauce mixed with mayonnaise. It was horrendous. Only the French.
Our next site mixed a stroll down the Champs Elysees with a visit to the Arc de Triomphe. The street is a lot like 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Now we did not mean to create a mess. You see the street is very wide. So when you cross the street you do it in two lights. There is an island to stand in the center. Now Evelyn thought this would be a good place to photograph the arch. Now there are a lot of tourists on the street. And they see us taking the picture. And they realize it is a good idea. Well it couldn't have been more than eight or ten of us and we were all taking turns shooting the arch. It was only a few minutes. Then we were back seeing the Champs Elysees.
The best thing about the street was no scaffolding. There was not a lot they could cover up. Except all the trees. It was somebody's idea of how to make all the trees look like they were gift wrapped. It was like a big sack over each tree tied at the bottom with a red ribbon. It looked like a counter measure for gypsy moths or some such. But when you can see past the trees, the Arch is at the end of the street. There was a Ferris wheel at other end of the street for those who bothered to look.
As we approached the Arch we could see that there were the two great reliefs on the two flanks. Well, no. We could see one of the great reliefs. The other had scaffolding in front of it. We had come to Paris in the expectation of seeing four edifices: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Paris Opera House, and the Arch de Triomphe. Only the Eiffel Tower could we get a good look at without scaffolding in the way. The scaffolding moths had hit Paris with a vengeance. One of the four one might expect. Three seems to indicate that one the scaffolding goes up, it stays up for a good long time.
Now when we were planning the trip and we talked about the Arc de Triomphe, I asked a key question. What triumphs? Not to put too fine a point on it, with the exception of Orleans and Austerlitz the French have sort of been on a losing streak since Agincourt. Orleans had Joan of Arc. Austerlitz, well at Austerlitz the Austrian and Russian armies agreed what day they would gang-shag Napoleon. They would have done it too if Austria and Russia had agreed that they were going to use the Julian Calendar the way Russia did or the Gregorian Calendar the way Austria did.
So what was the triumph? Austerlitz. We are talking 164 feet high. There are commemorative plates around, but they mostly commemorate where the French fought to a non-victory like Algeria. The huge arch is an incredible ego trip. Admittedly Napoleon did have several victories, not well remembered, but they might have been if Napoleon had won in the long run. Under the arch is the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Also underneath the arch is an artificially created wind tunnel. The arch focuses any wind that there is. That makes a constant winds under the legs.
We could have climbed the arch, but we were smart enough not to.
Our last Paris museum was Musee de la Marine. This is France's National Maritime Museum. Now I have read Hornblower books and seen the British National Maritime. They always have the French be the bad guys. It is nice to see the French side of the disagreement. Of course it is all in French. But the paintings are nice and the three meter models of war ships are spectacular. There is a Chinese cannon in the shape of a dragon, there is Napoleon’s barge. There are exhibits on how ships are constructed. There is a lamp with ships charts as a lampshade. It covers the naval history up to submarines and aircraft carriers. Admittedly once they get off the Napoleonic Wars the museum is just not all that interesting. What would have made a great addition would be an exhibit on Jules Verne and the Nautilus. Totally missed opportunity. But for the age of fighting sail the museum is good. The museum was full of cub scouts or whatever the local equivalent is. The pack leader are women in their early 20s. In scout uniforms. And shorts. A couple of them put a whole new perspective on scouting for me.
Outside the museum were two set of demonstrators. One was for some sort of international rights movement and one for the Falun. That is something between an exercise regime and a religion.
There was another museum Evelyn suggested we try, but it was not open. Well our last event was to go up in the Eiffel Tower. That was where we headed next. On the way we shopped for our tchotchka. Not much luck.
From there we headed to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is about five feet short of a fifth of a mile high (four and a half feet short on a hot day). A fifth mile is not far to walk horizontally. It is kind of scary when it is straight up. It was built for the 1889 Universal Exhibition as a temporary structure. The French never got around to tearing it down. It would yield a lot of steel, being 10,100 tons. The line moves quickly, but at the cashier we were stuck behind an American who wanted them to take either dollars or Visa. They take Francs, cash. You get into a sort of funicular elevator at the base. Seeing the ground fall away under you is something of a scare. It takes you up 376 feet to the second level. Then you wait in a long twisty queue. Things that seemed like just interesting details on the ground become suddenly important. You wonder about Eiffel's qualifications. I passed the time by making loud groaning noises like tortured steel girders make when they buckle. It was quite cold. Finally we got in an elevator and went to the top. This is not at all scary since you feel so enclosed. I told myself that tomorrow I will be a lot higher up. And I will have only air holding me up. The view of the city is breath-taking. We timed it just right so night was descending on Paris. To have more time in the tower I went around volunteering to take people's cameras and taking their picture. Eventually I had no good excuse to hold onto the last site in Paris. We took the two elevators to the ground.
Time was really running out for us to get a tchotchka. We needed something a local would get for himself and something that is specifically reminiscent of Paris. It is more reminiscent of Paris during the war years, but I got a beret. Then it was time for our last dinner in Paris.
I had seen Le Suffren the previous night and it had a real crowd so I suspected that it was popular. The head waiter put us at a table in a row of tables. He was somewhat curt. He brought out six glasses and set three tables including ours. He put two on our table and four on an adjoining table. He picked up two and put them on a newly set table. When he went for the last two he knocked them on the floor. He picked them up off the floor, held them over the shelf with clean glasses and then took them back and set a table with them as if they were clean. I looked at the floor and it dust and old fallen food. I started to think we would be the Suffren. Sitting at the table were an actor talking to a dancer. I ordered from an assistant waiter who was equally curt at first. There was a platter in which you could order one thing from the first group, one from the second, and a dessert for 110 francs. Everything was in French, but I recognized the word for shrimp in the appetizers. I ordered that and lamb chops. The shrimp I got were raw, gray, and tiny. They were three quarters in to an inch long. I was not sure how to eat them but I found I could break off the torso and the fins and split them open, eating the equivalent of the lobster tail. I got a pile about the size of my fist. Evelyn got the casolet. Two women sat next to us and in five minutes were talking like old friends.
I guess I don't know what changed the waiter's attitude toward us. Suddenly he seemed a lot friendlier and more attentive. It might have been that I was game to eat the gray shrimp. Restaurateurs hate to see people turn their nose up at food and too many Americans might have done that. It was soon clear that there were something like 50 or 60 shrimp there and not one would escape. The other possibility was that he might have expected that we would ignore the two women next to us because they were black. Instead we were immediately friends. I don't know. But the waiter seemed to suddenly decide to be friendlier and to give better service.
We would talk to the women for a while, then let them eat and listen to the actor. He talked about working with Angie Everhardt, Sylvester Stallone's wife. He had played an American ambassador to someplace and she had been his ex-wife. Now I had heard of Everhardt before. As the story is told she decided she would like to date Stallone so sight unseen she sent him a letter suggesting they date. And she sent some pictures of herself so he would recognize her. Apparently she sent him full length pictures so he would know she was not fat or unpleasant to look upon. And she did not want him to fixate on her wardrobe so the pictures she sent him did not have any clothing in them. Apparently Stallone appreciated her, well I guess it was her candor. Or something like it. I am sure he is a great admirer of, well of candor. Anyway that is how the story goes. Our actor was saying that Everhardt assumes that every man she world with will want to partake of her candor. There were two men on the set who did not so she went up to them point blank and asked "Are you gay?" and then walked away.
My lamb chops were small but good. They came with potatoes au gratin. The meal came with a bottle of wine or a large glass of Coke. It was actually a very small large glass of Coke. By dessert time it was clear they were feeling generous. I ordered Charlotte Chocolate in vanilla sauce, having no idea what it was. I didn't think I could go too far wrong with chocolate. It started with a plate of vanilla sauce. Onto it they placed something that was like a large slice of chocolate pie but it was chocolate shortcake instead of crust and chocolate mousse as filling. The two women decided they wanted that for dessert and got equally large slices.
Shortly we wished them a good trip and returned to our room.
Another cloudy day. Every day has started gray and ugly. The first three days stayed that way. The next three cleared up during the day.
The news says that a naked man went into a church in England and started slashing people with a Samurai sword. According to the news no motive is known. My question: what motive are they expecting? I am sure they will find it was a coldly calculated move to take off his clothes and go into that church to slash people.
Our flight is not until 10:50 but we were packed and down early. The clerk then kept us waiting easily ten minutes while he served breakfast to the guests who had purchased it. It was still dark when we hit the street.
We took the Metro to the airport. I will not miss the Parisian love of stairs. The last few days seems like a long collection of exercise sessions walking up and down stairs. This must be how Parisians keep in shape.
Walking through the Metro changing trains we climb up 12 steps because we are passing a platform and then climb down 12 stairs on 20 feet further. They could have left it flat and had only one set of steps leading up to the platform, but what fun would that have been? One day sightseeing in Paris is the equivalent of half an hour on the Stairmaster, only Paris is more fun.
I will say that the Metro station that we first saw and was covered with litter has been cleaned up considerably. Not relatively but really. Somebody had cleaned up an extremely messy Metro station.
We get the train to the plane. After a little walking around we go up to the departure level. It is a circle divided in 32 sectors. We arrive at sector 31 and start looking for Lufthansa. The luggage straps eating into our shoulders. 28... 24... 18... Finally at 12 we ask where it is. Sector 6. Choice words deleted.
Well I could tell you all about the flight, but that has little to do with Paris. Breakfast was a cheese sandwich on buttered bread. We got to Frankfort and again had to run across a German airport with full packs to get our next plane. By the time we got on there was no luggage space near my seat. I tried to force the luggage in, but no go. It was placed behind a seat at some distance. Evelyn and I were on opposite sides of an aisle. There was an Italian next to me. He said that he had long legs and was having some trouble. He would trade with Evelyn to get her aisle seat. Evelyn was not interested. I suggested that since the window was unassigned I take that and he takes the aisle. So that was what we did.
Lunch was Chicken Fricasse and rice (boring). But it did have smoked salmon and a cheese plate with Camembert. I thin Lufthansa has better food overall than airlines in my own country. The service is also better. They repeatedly come around with beverages. Travel is often dehydrating and I think that they do a real service.
Not such a service was their choice of movie. The movie was RUNAWAY BRIDE. I watched it while I worked on my log and it was not much of a distraction. I am not THAT hungry for a movie.
Well, there is not much reason to draw this out. The plane was about 15 minutes late in landing. Customs was no problem, just a wave through. It was good to get home.
Well, I guess a lot of what I write about in the log is complaints about the city and its unnecessary use of stairways, over-use of scaffolding, and it abuse by one or two rude waiters. There is something else that I should say. There is something very beautiful about the city. It really is a jewel among cities. I was thinking on the boat cruise about the German plan to burn the city if they had to withdraw from it in World War II. As we floated by the buildings all lit up I could not help, in spite of any cynicism I had, thinking wouldn't that have been a loss. Somehow this city is something people love and I also cherish it. I cannot define exactly what a mystique is, but if someone want to explore mystique, Paris is the city to visit.