Monday, August 21, 2006

A moveable feast

The original plan was Paris, Turin, and Venice, but I only had a weekend so Paris it was. I made reservations at a hotel just across the street from the Gare du Nord. I suppose I could have gone cheaper, since I'll only be using it as bedspace, but I didnt want to spend my first day there getting lost. So I checked in, dumped my stuff, and headed on out. First stop, the Louvre. But first I had to get Metro tickets. I bought a two-day Paris Visite pass for Saturday and Sunday. The woman at the ticket counter spoke English and was very nice. In fact the concierge at the hotel was, too. No such thing as the rude, arrogant Frenchman you often see in the movies. Everyone I met on the weekend was nice. Not everyone spoke English, which was fine. Gave me a chance to practice my subatomic French: Bon-jour-bon-soir-pardon-merci-s'il-vous-plait-ou-est-je-voudrais-je-
ne-parle-pas-francais. Now then...

After a minute or so getting acquainted with the Metro, off I went to the Louvre. Got my ticket, and walked right in to the Denon wing where they had classical sculpture and paintings by Italian and Spanish artists. Nice. I turned a corner and went--Holy crap!--into this huge hallway full of paintings. There is just no way Im going to make it through all of this, I thought, and forget about the other wings; there was just no way. So I skimmed past a lot of the paintings, feeling a bit guilty that I didnt pay them the proper respect.

The biggest crowds were in front of the armless Venus de Milo, and that headless, armless, Winged Victory (boy these crowds really liked their amputees), and of course, Mona Lisa herself, La Giaconda. The painting was behind glass and there was a tape barrier around it so that you cant get too close. Call me a cretin, but I dont get it. There's obviously a certain mystique about the painting that deserves contemplation, but there are far more impressive paintings in the Louvre that I could get within inches of. Leonardo's John the Baptist, for example, whose face looks exactly like the Mona Lisa's, isnt under glass.

After a couple of hours or so in the Denon wing, I decided to give up. I only had a weekend so I went out into the courtyard and walked through the park toward the Arc De Triomphe (two euros for a scoop of ice cream the size of a ping pong ball? What th-? In Utrecht, 2 euros could get you a tennis ball sized scoop.). There was a crowd in the courtyard too and as I was walking along the Champs Elysees boulevard, I remember thinking, Where are all the French people?, since all I seemed to see were tourists.

Arc De Triomphe. Click, click, click. Decided against going up. I'll do that at the Eiffel Tower instead. Metro to the Eiffel Tower, chop-chop.

Monstrous queue at the Tower. So that rules out getting to the top. But you cant help but marvel at the intricacies of the metal structure. Makes you think that things were so much better then when they took the time to really make things beautiful. Took pictures instead. Then this French speaking African tourist asked me to take his picture with the tower as a backdrop, and he was probably surprised that I got as low as I could and motion him to get closer. I wanted to get the tower's top and did a pretty good job at it. When he saw the result, he beamed and asked me to take another one with him and his two daughters. Ok, let's move back a bit. Come closer. Closer, that's it. Now put your heads together. No, closer. That's it. Click. More smiles from him and from his daughters. He then asked me to take one more picture, this time of just his 2 daughters. Click. Big smile from the kids. Merci, monsieur. Youre welcome. It's so good to make other people happy that youd think people would do it more often.

I decided not to hang out at the tower since I won't be able to go to the top anyway, so I decided to go to Montmartre to look for Amelie. I got to the top, to the Sacre Coeur cathedral, where I didnt find Amelie, but saw instead 2 young men doing amazing tricks with a football to hip-hop music. Sweet Georgia Brown woudlve been better as they were juggling the ball with their feet, but hip-hop's fine, too. From the Montmartre, you could see almost the whole of Paris, and as the sun went down, I looked at the Eiffel Tower, just in time to see it explode into a dazzling light show. Drat! I missed it. Hung out til about 11 pm then got back to the hotel.

Woke up at--wha!--it's 9:30! Showered, got dressed and checked out. Off to Notre Dame to look for Esmeralda. The plan was to get there, take pictures, and move off to the next tourist trap, but then I said to myself I better get resigned to the fact that I won't be able to cover everything and if I keep hurrying, I won't be able to enjoy what little time I had. See what happened yesterday when you missed the Eiffel light show? Yeah, self. Youre right. So I hung back and chilled. There was a mass going on but they still allowed visitors in. Everyone knew enough to keep quiet. Out of respect, I refrained from taking photos, but no such compunction prevented the other guests who took flash photos of the priest amid the awe-inspiring altar. The chick leading the singing sang like an angel. In a setting like that, you cant help but be caught in the reverence. It would be safe to say that if a Pinoy were there attending mass, he would not be sending and receiving text messages, believing it to be sacrilegeous.

Outside, the queue to the Notre Dame towers was long and slow, so I decided against trying to go up and decided to have breakfast instead. At 11:30. Un petit-dejeuner, s'il vous plait, madame. The breakfast was one big glass of fresh orange juice, a cafe au lait, a small baguette,and a croissant. The nice lady who ran the place then placed a whole block of butter and a whole jar of four-fruit jam in front of me. None of that single-serve crap. This is Paris, man. I took my sweet time. After that, I walked along the Seine. This really is a beautiful city, I thought as I walked. Sickeningly romantic. I dont know the bridge where Gene Kelly danced with Leslie Caron was but I found myself humming, "It's very clear, our love is here to stay.. la-la-la..." I totally understood why the French surrendered so quickly in World War II. They didnt have the heart to see the city destroyed.

By then it was 2 pm. My train leaves at 6:55. I had just enough time to go to the Musee d'Orsay. Rodin, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Gaugin, Millet, Van Gogh... At this point, Id like to talk about something Ive observed. I ran into some Pinoy tourists, and they were all in their 50s and 60s. The Chinese, Japanese, and a few Thais and Indonesians I ran into were quite young. If not actually in college, they probably graduated not too many years ago. Im sure it's a reflection of the state of our economy. It's sad. The only young Pinoys I ran into werent there on holiday. They worked in the service industry. One has been there 3 years and he hasnt gone to the Louvre yet. I dont know, maybe he just isnt interested, but just the same, it's sad if in case he doesnt feel the urge to look at the treasures there, since they belong to him, too. They belong to all of us. Anyway...

At 5 I headed on back to the Gare Du Nord, had 'lunch' at a brasserie of steak and beer and a coffee, and waited for the train.

9 comments: said...

inggeht akooooh!


grifter said...

ah, Paris ... you slayer of women. was Helen worth it?

oopps ... wrong Paris.


HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger Jr said...

Hi Jego,

I am impressed! I'm a Parisian at heart and would have been so pleased to show you around.

Hope you could visit again.

Take care.

HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger Jr said...

By the way, the bridge that resembled the one in the Gene Kelly film set is either Pont Neuf leading to either the Notre Dame or La Place Dauphine (in front of La Samaritaine or La Conciergerie where Queen Marie Antoinette spent her final months prior to her execution) or the Pont Marie on the Isle Saint Louis or Pont Alexandre III (near the Invalides).

'Pont' means bridge.

I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the Fall, I love Paris every moment, so Yves Montand crooed...

A bientôt!

HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger Jr said...

Also, my youngest and I will be travelling again from the very same spot you are in the pic, la gare du nord, Monday next week. We will be taking that train which is found in the background, Thalys, to Brussels! said...

jego, great pics!!!

what's that chapel-like place with the domes? the other pic is of notre dame (w/c is replicated in montreal) =)

Jego said...

Thanks for dropping by, Hillblogger. Next time Im in town, I'll let you know through your blog. :-) I mentioned in the blog post about the French not having the heart to see the city destroyed. It turned out that the Germans didnt want it destroyed either. Hitler ordered the commander of the German army in France (forgot his name) to burn the city towards the end of the war when they were losing. The general disobeyed him. He fell under the city's spell, too.

I took that very same train. Thalys to Rotterdam via Brussels.

Heya, dikitan. The chapel-like place is the basilica of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger Jr said...

Pity! You could have stopped over in Brussels even for a lunch break at home!

Re Montmartre: I've got a flat right at the bottom of one of the staircases leading to Place Sacré Coeur! Extraordinary that you were just a stone throw away. And to think we could have had lunch at the fabulous restaurant on the ground floor of my building where they serve confit de canard or magret de canard, two delicacies I simply adore from the southwest of France!!!

Jego said...

Oh boy. I love duck. :-)