Holiday Skating On The Champs Elysees

After we left the Eiffel Tower we walked along the Seine, crossed over, and explored the temporary holidays wonderland built on each side of the boulevard. As in prior days it was packed with people.

020To satisfy my holiday craving we bought some warm roast chestnuts from a street vendor. You eat them by peeling off the brittle outer shell then munching on the soft white nut. They are somewhat bland, but not bad.

We washed them down with piping hot glasses of spiced wine. In Paris, apparently, there are no concerns about people being injured by hot beverage spills; the glasses were filled to the rim with steaming liquid and so blazing hot that I had to put my gloves on to hold the plastic cup. It was a fine, warming concoction on a chilly evening.

There was a skating rink set up along the way, with dance music pumping, somewhat cheesy Christmas decorations on display, and skaters flying by. We stopped to enjoy the spectacle and sip our wine before heading home.

Eiffel Tower, Boxing Day

002Last night we decided to go to the Eiffel Tower to get a good look at the famous structure up close and illuminated. It’s a corny tourist move, no doubt, and we ate in a classic “tourist trap” restaurant that survives not because of the quality of its food but because of its close proximity to the Tower. Lots of other tourists were milling around the Tower, also unable to resist the temptation to revel in its glowing, spidery, nighttime beauty. When you are around the Eiffel Tower in the evening, it’s a magnetic object, and it’s almost impossible to tear your eyes away.

A Late Afternoon Snack

009After a long day of walking took us ultimately to the Pantheon, Richard and I walked around the Panthon neighborhood and found an excellent fromagerie. Some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat’s milk cheese, and some Morbier, a fresh baguette, and some wine purchased at the nearby wine shop, and we were ready to have a snack and play some cribbage.

The bread, cheese, and wine here are very inexpensive but of very good quality. I would gladly eat cheese and baguette just about every day of the week.

Last Visit To The Louvre

Today Richard, Russell and I visited the Louvre. I think it will probably be my last visit. If you’ve been to the Louvre, you may understand what I mean. If you’ve never been there, you won’t. You’ll read the guidebooks, and they will tell you that you absolutely must visit the Louvre, and you will go — because you absolutely must visit the Louvre if you come to Paris. I’m betting, though, that you probably won’t enjoy it.

Today we bypassed the long line for tickets because we had a museum pass, which is crucial — otherwise, you could wait for an hour or more just to get a chance to buy a ticket. Once inside, we headed to the wing of the museum that houses the Mona Lisa and thousands of other paintings from the Renaissance. When you get to the room that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, prepare for a scrum. The room is a wild melee of people elbowing to get close to the painting and taking “selfies.” It’s not a positive reflection of humanity, and it’s simply impossible to enjoy the painting in anything approaching quiet contemplation. The experiences in front of the other famous items at the Louvre, like Venus de Milo, are similarly unpleasant mob scenes.

It’s hard to get away from the crowds, and it’s hard to appreciate the artwork when any movement is likely to insert you into a picture taken by another tourist. And there really is too much to see — room after room after room of Egyptian antiquities, or Roman statues, or Greek busts. I found myself thinking that, if I were an Egyptian visitor, I’d be upset that my cultural heritage has been taken and warehoused in faraway Paris, in a place where countless riches from other countries are on display.

005If you want to focus on one area, such as Flemish and Dutch paintings, you could fill an entire day. And be prepared to walk through room after room of hundreds of Madonna and child and Biblical paintings, still life paintings of gutted animal carcasses, landscapes and sea paintings, arranged in rooms where dozens of pieces are on display cheek by jowl and even the ceilings are painted masterpieces. It’s just too much. At the end of our visit I searched for a room that was quiet and suited for enjoying art, and found a room of beautiful medieval tapestries that would have been worth a separate visit if they had been located in virtually any other museum in the world. In the Louvre, however, they are an afterthought — as the picture included with this post indicates.

After a few hours we departed, having walked for miles on marble floors until our feet ached and our necks were tied in knots, and I swore that I had had enough of clustering, clamoring tourists, and walls crammed with paintings, and bustling guides. I think this will be my last visit to the Louvre.

A Temporary Day Along The Champs Elysees

Yesterday we took the Metro to the Champs Elysees stop and got out to take a Christmas Day stroll down the grandest of Paris’ grand boulevards.

043The sidewalks along the section of the Champs Elysees nearest the Place de la Concorde were crammed with temporary wooden structures that looked like Alpine huts that were gaily decorated with lights and tree trimmings. There also were bright holiday decorations at the corners and on the fountains.

All of the huts were selling something. The most popular offerings were consumables, and the trade was brisk. Judging from the number of stands that were selling it, and the number of people who were drinking it, hot spiced wine is a popular Parisian treat during the holidays. It was just too early in the day for me to try it.

In addition to the spiced wine, people were noshing on hot, made-to-order crepes, hot sandwiches, popcorn, and some high-end and low-end candies. It being Christmas Day, I looked for some chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but no such luck.044

Eiffel Tower, Christmas Day

028Today we celebrated Christmas by taking a long walk up the Champs Elysees, then veering over to the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as it has been during past visits, but the place was still packed — and the vendors still hawked rings of Eiffel Tower figurines, large and small. If the Eiffel Tower had not been created by Gustave Eiffel way back when, it would have to have been invented by souvenir peddlers.

Concepts Of Imprisonment

At Kish’s suggestion we went to the Conciergerie to view a show called Triple Tour. The show features works by modern artists all of which center around the concepts of imprisonment, and it packed a real punch.

002The show powerfully illustrated how “imprisonment” can occur in different ways — by failure to communicate, by aging and physically infirmity, by socialization, and by political systems, among others. All of the pieces were thought-provoking, and some were enormously moving. In my view, among the most potent pieces were a tunnel of video screens created by Bill Viola, all of which displayed different people, eyes closed and gagged, trying to speak; a set of extraordinarily and creepily realistic old men in wheelchairs created by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, some of which were on autopilot and could sneak up on you, and Boris Mikhailov’s incongruously brightly colored photographs of people in Soviet Russia trying to enjoy normal lives under an oppressive regime.

It was fitting that the show be held in the Conciergerie, a building that housed some of the most notable prisoners during the French Revolution — such as Marie Antoinette.

Merry Christmas — And Joyeux Noel!

002Merry Christmas to all of our friends and family!  We hope the holidays bring peace and happiness to all, and joy in spending time with your loved ones.

After a few days of rain and gray skies, Christmas dawned bright and clear in Paris.  The sun was a welcome sight — although it’s only supposed to be a temporary one — and it lit up the dome of the army hospital museum at the end of our street.  In the square right in front of the museum, the merchants have erected a number of Christmas trees, all of which are decorated with delicate, bright, flowing ribbons.

Joyeux Noel!

 

Notre Dame, Christmas Eve

097It was rainy and breezy in Paris today — so much so that the large Christmas tree placed in front of Notre Dame cathedral toppled over and the authorities scrambled to reposition it before the holiday festivities began in earnest.  Russell and I paid a visit, happy to get out of the cold, pelting rain, and were pleased to hear the choir practicing when we arrived.

I’ve always loved choral music, and it was a great treat to hear the Notre Dame choir tuning up for tonight’s program, their voices rising up to the rafters impossibly far overhead.  The rehearsal was all too short, and then it was back to the bustle of tourists walking around the perimeter of the cathedral, chattering and snapping photos of pretty much everything under the roof.

At A Paris Grocery

As usual, we are staying in an apartment during our trip to Paris.  It’s the apartment of the vivacious Josette, where Richard and I stayed several years ago.  It’s a great location, right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, in a neat residential neighborhood.

001One of the true advantages of the apartment rental experience in a place like Paris is the chance to get away from the commercial areas and get out with the Parisians.  Because we’re in an apartment, we need items like orange juice, coffee, milk, wine, and beer.  (Of course, you would never dream of buying bread in a grocery store; you’ve got to go to the bakery for that.)

There are a huge array of other items to try along the tight aisleways, and you can always find bins of fresh fruits and vegetables under the striped green outer awnings.  There are some language challenges — my de minimus French skills can’t distinguish ground coffee from whole bean, for example — but you typically can make do with some careful looking (and, in the case of packaged coffee, giving it a squeeze to see whether it feels ground.)  The proprietors of these neighborhood groceries are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, too.

Shopping at a local grocer in a foreign land is one of the things that makes travel fun.

The Stained Glass Of St. Chapelle

038In past visits to Paris, I’ve never been able to see the legendary St. Chapelle, because it was being renovated, or the lines were too ridiculously long.  This trip, I finally was able to check off that item from my bucket list.

033St. Chapelle was the home church of the early French king who was killed in battle during the Crusades and later became canonized as St. Louis.  The chapel itself is known primarily for its stunning stained glass windows, which are brilliantly colored, intricate and ornate, and reach to the very top of a high vaulted ceiling that seems to touch the heavens. The windows are generally viewed as the finest surviving example of stained glass artwork of the early Middle Ages.

The windows of the chapel each have a theme and depict Bible scenes that would be immediately familiar to the people of the time.  In addition to the windows, the chapel features fine wooden carvings of saints, small frescoes of Bible scenes, many of which are violent — how many people got beheaded, tortured or impaled during the early Christian period, anyway? — and a painting of Jesus engaging in the Last Judgment above the doorway.  I guess the idea was to remind you of the need to avoid the temptations of sin when you left the sacred sanctuary and returned once more to the real world.

As I craned my neck to take in the towering windows, I wondered about the medieval craftsmen who created the scenes at the very top, that cannot really be viewed and enjoyed by mortal man.  What must it have been like to work with dangerous substances like lead, doing the painstaking work needed to create delicate objects of such beauty, knowing that the product of your labors would be largely inaccessible to your fellow man?

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Eiffel Tower And Ferris Wheel

062The Eiffel Tower is beautiful at night, all lit up.  This holiday season, a Ferris Wheel has been placed next to the Place de la Concorde, and there were throngs of people waiting to take a ride.  The combination of the illuminated arc of the wheel and the graceful lines of one of the world’s most famous structures was irresistible.

Starving Actor, Parisian Style

Actors and not enough work.  It’s an age-old problem.

 009If you’re an actor in Paris and you can’t find work, your options apparently are few.  I say this because it seems as though one of the last-ditch options is to post a sign along a busy Parisian thoroughfare, feature some of your different publicity photos that make it look like you could play just about any role from heartthrob to homicidal maniac, toss in an obscenity, and end with a command — all in English, too — and hope for the best.

I don’t know whether this sign had the desired effect and produced a lot of high-quality acting work for Fabrice Yahyaoui, but it did give me a laugh as we headed to lunch in the Marais today.

Scarf Story

When you walk around Paris, you notice one immediate difference from America:   Everyone — young and old, male and female — seems to be wearing a scarf.  And, because they are Parisians, they look ridiculously stylish in doing so.

007There apparently are many different ways to wear a scarf.  Almost no one goes for the “flung over the shoulder” look I remember from my youth.  Instead, the scarves are nattily tied around the neck so that they gather there in attractive bunches and bulges that complement the entire outerwear ensemble.  Russell, with his practiced artist’s eye, explained that one of the approaches involves doubling up the scarf draping it over the neck, and then sticking the end through a loop.

I couldn’t figure that technique out, but I did bring a brightly colored scarf from home in preparation for our Parisian adventure.  I wore it knotted around the neck yesterday, and hoped that it helped me fit in — even if just a little bit.

St. Sulpice, December 22, 10 p.m.

004Last night we knocked around the Latin Quarter and the Luxembourg Gardens part of Paris, ending up at Les Deux Magots, a famous café across from St. Germain des Pres church.  Les Deux Magots is reputed to be one of the haunts of Ernest Hemingway and other American expatriates during their sojourn in Paris, so of course we had to stop there for a drink and a chance to soak up any remaining Hemingway vibes.

On the walk back to our place we passed St. Sulpice and its wonderful fountain, and then crashed — hard — as the jet lag caught up to us.