Paris, je t'adore

Note: I'm kind of careless about the spelling and language here, too bad; it's the only way to write these before I start the Thessaloniki adventure.  (Actually I'm on it right now.)

I’d forgotten what flat terrain looks like, but I was soon reminded, flying over all the fields of the breadbasket of Europe. Seeing the Eiffel Tower from the plane—I was on the lookout—was most excellent!

On this day we started with the Jardin de Luxembourg, then went to St. Germaine des Près, the area near the Latin Quarter including the bookstore where once George Whitman handed out books, la Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris, walked along the river Seine (which, admittedly, smells a little when you’re actually down there), went to the Louvre (fortunately I saw all the awesome stuff before being, basically, booted out), the Museum de l’Orangerie—passing through part of the Tuileries and seeing the Place de la Concorde as well as visiting a fantastic but also horribly crowded chocolate shop, the Angeline and then going to the Place de Vendôme, where I saw the Opera Garnier, and then the special exhibit ‘Une chose câchée dans l’autre’ at the Grand Palais before going to Montmartre—and the Basilique de Sacre-Coeur—for the sunset, followed by dinner at the vegetarian restaurant Au Grain de la Folie, which offered seitan (which I naturally felt compelled to refuse); we could have gone by the Moulin Rouge but that’s a pretty shady district at night. And thus ended the first day.

Well. Going to Paris, seeing all those things for the first time…was simply AMAZING. My friend whom I went to visit knew all the best places to start, so it was not only a fantastic experience but also well-ordered (their metro system takes a little getting used to), and the greatest difficulty for me was getting out of Greek mode into French mode. Oh, I also have a massive love of wrought iron…and Haussmann’s Paris has plenty of that.

The bookstore in St. Germain des Près is called Shakespeare’s something or other (I’m writing this on a bus and I didn’t bring the bag with me) and is excellent for both used and new English books—I got a used copy of Shalimar the Clown (Rushdie) for 4 euro, and a new one of The Devil’s Dictionary (Bierce) for 3 euro. And of course the first food I had in Paris was a crêpe, so that was one box checked off.

I also saw the massive fountain of St. Michel, which is on the way from here to Notre Dame. (The metro stop is shared: St. Michel Notre Dame.)

Notre Dame…what can I say about this place? You don’t need to be religious to experience awe as you walk through—and really even as you look at the insane detail on the outside; did you know that there’s a wrought-iron thing on the top, and that there are carved figures if you look up at the door frames? But anyway: the scale, the detail, the grandeur all inspire humility in the face of sheer awesome.

The river Seine is decorated with many lovely bridges—one of my favorites is actually the Pont de l’Archeveche just west of the Notre Dame—and is always worth walking along, although I recommend above rather than below.

The Louvre…is bloody enormous. I mean, I have no interest in the Egyptian art or whatnot, but we still managed to spend two hours just looking at the sculptures (including the Greek and Roman stuff on the way to the Venus de Milo; hell yes I skipped over the amphorae and everyday objects), and the French gallery and Italian masterworks along with, of course, the Winged Victory and La Joconde along with a number of other famous pieces, including Delacroix’s one of Liberty leading the people and that one of Napoleon making his famous gesture and Madonna on the Rocks, etc. etc. What I particularly appreciated about the Louvre, apart from all the art, is how grand it is as a building. I’d gone to the Numismatic Museum, a.k.a. Schliemann’s House, the day before and that was another place where the rooms were a pleasure to behold…but, obviously, the Louvre is kind of on a whole other scale. The one thing I am genuinely irate about is that this jerk guard outside the Richelieu wing decided that I wasn’t allowed to have a free pass anymore (no one else had any problems—not only did I get it in the first place but we also went to Denon and Sully first!), so I missed out on the Flemish and Netherland masterworks…bah, humbug. Anyway, it’s not just that you’re forced to take separate visits to it but also that you should: I’d probably have forgotten half the amazing stuff I saw in lieu of more amazing stuff if we hadn’t left so abruptly (and we did end up having time for two more museums, so that was good).
(Also good to know: this is how I got a free ticket in--"Je suis étudiante en...Athèns?  Athène? uh...Grèce? (mentally: fuck it...) Athens, Greece." I'm starting to think that I got in because they were generally too embarrassed to ask for any other ID, like the woman in the Panthéon eventually did, at which point I was all...yeah actually from les États-Unis...and then I had to pay five dollars.)

The Tuileries are also just as long as the Louvre, I think…they’re very big. Oh, and to put this out there: I rather like le Pyramide, even if it seems odd next to all the wonders of 17th century architecture.

The Musée de l’Orangerie is amazing for its unique entrance rooms, which are huge ovals with very soothing, enormous canvases by Monet including some water lilies and other things (although not the Japanese bridge), as well as some other Impressionists and an interesting movement into some modern stuff that is still finely detailed and well-painted.

How to tell you’re in Paris: we walked by a total of two model shoots, one outside the metro and one on a pont over the Seine. (Surprisingly, I had to wait more than two hours before hearing an accordion.)

The chocolatier and salon de thé Angeline is a rather nice place; quite classy, although extremely crowded when we went there. The Place de Vendôme, which is just north of this, was impressive…having once had to write a little report on the Opéra Garnier, it was quite awesome to see it for real. Also that entire area is posh, so there were a ton of awesome wrought iron balconies for me to admire.

We went to an exposition within the Grand Palais called ‘Un image câchée dans l’autre,’ which was a brilliant collection of all these images containing some theme of duality, from the Renaissance tradition of hiding faces in nature to Escher and Dali and artists creating a facsimile of another famous painting in some form, as well as the dude who made faces out of food, political caricatures and other images that look different when turned upside down, and some modern sculptures including a really cool one that said ‘YES,’ ‘NO,’ or ‘SEX’ depending on what side you looked at it from, and one that needed a mirror to form ‘ALICE’ in its entirety, and then sexualized images like using a photo of a woman to create the appearance of a penis and torsos designed to look like faces (Magritte’s ‘Rape’ being a famous example). I’m still a bit disappointed that the store had closed by the time we got to the end (and we rushed the end, too), because I would have liked a mini-catalog of their stuff. Since it was a temporary exhibit and things were on loan, we couldn’t take photos.

All in all, Paris has by far the best organized exhibits I have ever seen (at least in terms of art); I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to be an art student there.

Montmartre: a nice place to view the sunset, although when we went there there was a huge crowd because there were some dudes singing American songs (badly) on the steps up to the Basilica. They didn’t allow any photography inside, which was a shame, because where the Notre Dame’s sheer size leaves room for nothing less than awe, the Basilique de Sacre Coeur was far more…I guess…peaceful? There was something relaxing about being inside there, at any rate, and I wish I could have gone back.

Walking through Montmartre: we passed the grocery store in Amélie (they even had a poster out front), the café frequented by all manner of artists, a place where Picasso once stayed, and lots and lots of little artists’ stores. It’s that kind of place.

The vegetarian restaurant was more than decent, although the meals were small. Paris is really expensive—the stupid exchange rate didn’t help (it was 1.46 or higher through the weekend).

(P.S. the Mona Lisa does NOT look like da Vinci in drag! Just thought I’d put that out there.)

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