We queued at Versailles

This is not the first time Vicki and I have been overseas together; we were travel buddies on my first transatlantic trip, *coughmumble* years ago. On that trip we went to London and among our other entertainments we went to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. It’s possible to wait in line to get into the tournament if you are really patient and not too picky. As a reward you get in (hopefully) but you also get a sticker that says “I’ve Queued at Wimbledon.” If it is raining you get a sticker that says “I’ve Queued in the Rain at Wimbledon.”

As Bill Cosby would say, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. Today we went to the Palace of Versailles and queued for about an hour and a half to get in. Stickers were lacking but I think Versailles should consider it: “I Queued at Versailles.” Of course, it was worth the wait. The palace is always amazing but today we also rented bikes and rode to the Grand Trianon and the Hamlet (somehow skipped the Petit Trianon–next time!). I had never seen those parts of the estate. The Hamlet is really beautiful!

By the way–it is worth taking your kid to Paris because kids get into a lot of the museums and national monuments, including Versailles, for free.

When we got back, we were totally done in and opted for a very glamorous French dinner of frozen pizza. I did manage to go out to a karaoke bar with Daniel later that night. In a funny coincidence, the second or third song we heard was “Georgia On My Mind.” That guy could really sing, too! Daniel sang Charles Aznavour’s “For Me Formidable,” which is the perfect song for us because it’s bilingual. It was fun to go out late at night–something I didn’t do during the program since I usually had classes or excursions the next day. The karaoke bar, called Rive Droit, was right next to the Pompidou Center so we walked over so that Daniel could see it. It looks cool at night. I took a picture of the Niki de St. Phalle fountain nearby that everyone (of a certain age and background) knows from the old French In Action series.

It was time to turn in after a drink and a few songs. The next day–Friday–would be our last day in Paris.

That time we didn’t go to the Louvre, twice

The day after Daniel, Vicki, and Samantha arrived was the first Sunday of the month when a lot of museums, including the Louvre, don’t charge admission. So we went, but of course the line was enormous. We went to the D’Orsay instead. Today we decided to try again and . . . the line was enormous. So we went to the Rodin museum instead. Not going to the Louvre has turned out to be a good decision every time. The Rodin museum was great, as was the D’Orsay on Sunday. But we have decided that this trip shall henceforth be known as “that time we didn’t go to the Louvre, twice.”

After the Rodin we went to the Cafe du Commerce (Mrs. Redboots, please take note!) for a Fancy French Lunch. Vicki had gnocchi–not very French, but very tasty–I had “lieu noir” with “orge” which turned out to be fish and barley respectively (learning vocabulary by ordering things with names you don’t know), and Samantha had a fish filet with fries. Everything was good and the restaurant itself was, as Vicki put it, “a French restaurant straight from Central Casting.”

In the afternoon we headed to Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur which are always a good call. We took the funicular (after walking up through Abbesses metro station which is the deepest one in the system at 35 meters), walked through the church, then walked down and ate macarons. Plus a little light shopping in between! We bought cute/funny souvenirs in Pylones, which is a little store full of witty design objects. Now we are back at the apartment relaxing while the Pont-L’Eveque I bought comes up to room temperature.  Cheese and olives for dinner ahoy!

Also! Yesterday morning Daniel and I went to the Invalides/Museum of the Army to see Napoleon’s tomb and the collections of arms and armor there. Then in the afternoon I dragged him to the Arc de Triomphe because I like it, and he gamely went along.

Eiffel Tower!

Today we went to the Eiffel Tower like good tourists. We went up the elevator all the way to the top! I had never been up so I was pretty excited. The line was a little long but it moved fast. As usual I would recommend arriving early. We got there around 9:15 (it opens at 9:00) and by the time we left the Champ de Mars in the early afternoon the line was MUCH longer.

The three of us went to the Eiffel Tower, ate lunch on the Champ de Mars, and then Vicki, Samantha and I took a boat tour on the Seine and went to Galeries Lafayette. So glad Daniel had cooked dinner for us when we got home, because we were tired. (BTW, for interested parties, we got off at Trocadero to go to the Eiffel Tower. It worked out splendidly!)

Daniel is here now with his laptop so I can post pictures from my camera. This is a banner day! These shots are in order of where we went: the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, the boat tour, a stop off St. Germain des Pres where we stumbled onto a Laduree location, the Jardin des Plantes (another boat tour stop) and finally the roof terrace at Galeries Lafayette. Not pictured: all the amazing animal skeletons we saw in the Museum of Comparative Anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes. Also not pictured: all the accent marks that are missing from this post because I don’t know how to do them on this keyboard. Enjoy the photos anyway! A bientot! (accent grave…circonflexe)

Les Fleurs de Giverny

We wrapped up our first Parisian week today with a trip outside of Paris, to Giverny. Giverny is a small town in Normandy where Claude Monet’s home and gardens are located. Both the house and the gardens are maintained as they were in Monet’s time when he was using the gardens as inspiration for his paintings. Giverny is about an hour by car from Paris. I was worried about traffic since the summer vacation season kicked off yesterday (Friday was the last day of school all over France and le départ des vacances was actually covered in the media yesterday morning). But we made good time and only had to slow down once, to go through a tollbooth.

Now is the time that I really need pictures, because words can’t do justice to all the amazing flowers at Giverny. It is an “English-style” garden as I loosely understand the term: everything mixed together and slightly wild-looking versus a French-style garden like the one at Versailles that is all restrained, patterned, and manicured. Everything was in bloom and looking beautiful. I had been to Giverny once before but today was an even nicer visit with perfect, warm, bright weather. Lots of people were visiting, so serene contemplation of nature’s beauties was pretty much out of the question. Instead I took my telephoto lens (thanks, Mom & Dad!) and played around photographing the flowers–and a few obliging students. After the gardens we took a quick turn through the house: it must have been a lovely place to live. Big windows, art on the walls (Monet was a big collector of Japanese ukiyo-e pictures), bright yellow dining room, gorgeous tiled kitchen with an enormous stove. And, of course, a great view of the garden! 
We stayed just a couple of hours–it’s not a huge place so it’s easily doable in a half-day. Everyone got a quick sandwich and then we were back in the coach for the return trip. By 3:30 we were back at Cité. I did a tiny bit of shopping, called my parents, went over my notes for tomorrow and then decided to go over to Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre. Sacre-Coeur still reigns as my favorite place in Paris, an enormous white basilica atop a butte on the north side of the city. I took a slightly unfamiliar route and stumbled around a bit trying to find the right street when I exited the Métro. Suddenly I turned a corner, looked up, and there was Sacre-Coeur towering just a few streets away. It is, if nothing else, an unmissable landmark. The courtyards below it were thronging with people (beware of guys offering to make you a friendship bracelet–they are pushy!) so I muscled through and went into the sanctuary without taking as much time as I’d have liked to admire the view. If you go to S-C and are looking up at the basilica, remember to turn around. The view of Paris from the butte is equally incredible!
The sanctuary was crowded but the security guards are strict about quiet, no pictures, etc. so it was a nice atmosphere anyway. S-C has perpetual adoration of the Eucharist (they say it has been continuous since 1885, including through bombings during WWII) so they particularly emphasize that it is a place of prayer and not primarily a tourist attraction. The silver statue of Jesus is breathtaking with all the offertory candles flickering around it. The painted dome above the altar is also beautifully elaborate. Obviously a lot of people come just to see but there are always lots of people praying as well. You can spend the night and participate in the perpetual adoration at night but I think you probably have to be Catholic, so that lets me out.
I rode the funicular back down (in general I scorn the funicular but I wanted to try it), made my way past umpteen souvenir shops to Anvers station, rode 2 stops to La Chapelle, walked through hallways and tunnels to get back to Gare du Nord (where I will depart for London in a couple of weeks!) and from there back to Cité on my good friend the RER B. Public transit is great here. We have these Navigo passes (included in the cost of the program) that give us unlimited Métro, bus, tram, and RER rides in Zones 1-2 (i.e. all of the city proper). It is handy not to fiddle around with tickets and I must admit I feel very authentic scanning my little pass to “validate” my journey. I see people jump the turnstiles all the time but I’ve also seen RATP (Paris transit network) employees on trains checking people’s tickets and passes. The moral is: validez
Almost bedtime. Teaching day tomorrow, plus faculty meeting and program meeting. I am borrowing a colleague’s laptop on our break so maybe I can manage to work on pictures. Here’s hoping. À bientôt!

Musée du Louvre

Today’s foray into tourism was to the Louvre. Before you think it is all play and no work around here, I should say that this week is exceptional. After tomorrow (Giverny), no more outings for the whole group until the end of the program when we go to Chartres (hooray, j’adore). We assembled at 7:45 to make our way from Cité U. to the center of town where the Louvre is. Tram to Porte d’Italie then Métro (pink #7 line) to Palais Royale-Musée du Louvre. Easy schmeezy and since it was early on a Saturday morning the trains were not crowded. A tour guide had come to escort us on the journey and get us to the right place in the museum, then she turned us over to 2 of her colleagues for the actual tour. Real talk: I have always pooh-poohed guided group tours. I tend to suspect that a lot of people just want to say that they’ve been to the Louvre and don’t really want to learn anything or experience anything while there. There’s something perfunctory about following a guide around as they hustle through the museum with a little flag on a stick. (Experiment: hold up a flag on a stick in the Louvre. See if anyone follows you.) BUT I had also never been on a group tour through any major attraction like this. The Louvre is so enormous that it can be overwhelming, so it actually helped to have the guide (ours was a Londoner named Julian) sort of “editing” the museum for us. He was very knowledgable but also very funny, so it was not too didactic or perfunctory. 

We saw a little bit of Renaissance art, a little bit of Roman sculpture–notably the two pieces by Michelangelo that the Louvre holds–a little bit of 19C French painting (I have seen two of David’s “Coronation of Napoleon” this week), and a little bit of Italian painting including, of course, the Mona Lisa (La Joconde in French). More real talk: I do not understand the Mona Lisa hype although I understand it better after today. Julian told us that when she was stolen in 1911, her image was widely advertised in hopes that someone had seen her–like kids on milk cartons! So when she was found in Italy three years later and returned to France, her image had become famous and people came to see the original. So her fame has more to do with saturation than with some abstract artistic value. That’s a bit of a relief to me–I’d begun to worry that my aesthetic judgment was impaired. I have chosen a different Leonardo (the Louvre has 4) as my favorite, “La Belle Ferronnière.” You will have to Google it yourself because I can’t seem to embed links via the Blogger app. I just love how serious and skeptical she looks. Maybe it’s natural that I am always drawn to paintings of women, though I also like some portraits of men if they have interesting expressions or poses. 
I found out by accident today that I love Caravaggio and also Georges de la Tour. Finding la Tour’s “The Card-Sharper” required some hiking but it was worth it and I also saw 3 or 4 of his other works, including a breathtaking depiction of the Holy Family and a slightly creepy (in a good way) one of Jesus and St. Joseph. (The Louvre will make you wish you’d been brought up Catholic just to understand the paintings better.) “The Card-Sharper” was extra fun to see because the other version of it is in the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and I saw it when I lived in Dallas. So now I have seen them both! I also got to look at some medieval Islamic art, some Mesopotamian sculptures and clay tablets, and the Code of Hammurabi. The Code of Hammurabi is five thousand years old if my math and my memory are correct. Stand in front of that for a few minutes and consider what you’ve accomplished this week by comparison.
My brain could have stayed all day but my legs, feet, and stomach were ready to leave so I walked a couple blocks away from the Louvre in search of a café that wasn’t (a) packed and (b) expensive. When I found one I got seated right on the edge of the terrace in a perfect spot, lots of fresh air but out of the sun. I ordered a sandwich and a demi-pression (Kronenbourg 1664, my default French beer) and then had a coffee. If there is more enjoyment available for €12,60 I can’t tell you where to find it. Perfect weather, nice waitress, a cute dog nearby: maximum classic Parisian good time per square meter.
A quick stop for postcards and then back to Cité where I took a disco nap, ate some leftover Chinese, and am about to meet my colleagues and go out for a while. I must acknowledge that I am way behind on posting pictures but that can’t be remedied till Monday, I’m afraid. But if I don’t post some soon they will pile up and become utterly unmanageable! 
Stay tuned for an update from Giverny tomorrow afternoon. À bientôt!

Versailles on the 4th of July

Got up early this morning to meet up with my students and head to the Palace of Versailles. The Practice Visit paid off: our train trip went smoothly and we were at the Château by 9:45. Lucky thing too: some rooms were already getting crowded by the time we went through and when we left around 2, the lines to get in were almost down to the main gates. Versailles is slightly hard to get into, I will admit. It is remote from Paris, chronically crowded with tour groups moving like schools of fish, and it’s expensive (€18 for the ticket that gets you into the château and gardens). And visitors are treated to a choice selection of cobblestones, pea gravel, and stone floors. It’s hard on the feet. But there is a reason it’s so popular: it is breathtaking! The exterior is so grand and elaborate that it’s surprising even if you’ve seen it before. The interior is at least as grand and elaborate as the exterior but all that grandeur and attention to detail is contained in individual rooms, which somehow makes it even more overwhelming. Just when you think you will fall over if you see one more portrait of someone named Louis or one more embroidered bed curtain, you pop out into the gardens, which are as restrained and elegant and methodical as the château is ostentatious. Most exciting for me was seeing the Hall of Mirrors, which was closed for renovation the last time I was here. It is, as Jane Austen said of her writing, “light and bright and sparkling.” The Hall of Battles is also spectacular–a long gallery filled with busts of French princes, marshals, and admirals, with enormous paintings of French victories in battle on the walls. I am not a military historian but (and? so?) I found the room to be a particularly pointed piece of propaganda. Of course that’s what the whole palace is, really: a reminder of the power and supremacy of the French court. 

Our tickets included admission to the current special exhibition, “Treasures from the Holy Sepulchre.” It was a collection of gifts given to the Franciscan monks who maintain the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as well as documents from the Catholic Church and from leaders in the Middle East creating the agreement for the Franciscans to have the “custody” of the church. Seeing the documents was a thrill: they displayed a papal bull from the 1200s, which I think is the oldest document I’ve ever seen in person. There were also some beautiful examples of Arabic calligraphy from the sultans and caliphs who agreed to this arrangement. Once the custody was established, various nations started sending gifts to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: vestments, chalices, altarpieces, lamps, all of it in silver or silver-gilt with gemstones and velvet and embroidery all over the place. All that finery certainly throws some light on the Protestant Reformation, I can’t help thinking. It was amazing to see all those treasures in one place. Unfortunately no photography was allowed in that particular exhibit, so I can’t share any pictures. I did take a lot of pictures around the rest of the château and gardens, though. They are awaiting organization and posting which hopefully I’ll get to do tonight or tomorrow. 
We finished our visit on the steps behind the château overlooking the gardens, where we ate a nice picnic from the château’s restaurant. We split up for the trip home as some of my students wanted to stay longer and take more pictures. Three among the group were a little worried about getting back on the train by themselves (my train prowess intimidated them, haha) but I trusted that they would do great. One nice thing about traveling to/from a tourist destination is that you can’t go too far wrong just by following other people who are carrying cameras and wearing comfy shoes.
It’s definitely time for dinner–I’m in the Cité Universitaire reading room and I’m afraid my stomach-growling may be disturbing someone’s serious scholarship nearby! Classes tomorrow, the Louvre on Saturday, and Giverny on Sunday, so stay tuned. À très bientôt!