This was my first "note to self" after a quick jaunt around the Latin Quarter. It was really my only complaint, and I think the reason it was so shocking was simply the stark contrast between the quantity of shit on the sidewalk and the comparative civility of everything else in Paris. The b.h. And I spent most of the first couple days walking- we did more than ten miles on our first day, plus whatever distance we walked in the Musee d'Orsay. We started out going through the grounds at the Palais du Luxembourg, walked up to the museum, then went up the road to the Grand Palais and the slightly less grant (Petit?) Palais across the road. We stopped for baguettes and cafe noir at a small stand, and when we saw the Arc, we decided to head toward it. A longng walk and 344 stairs later we found ourselves staring down at the French equivalent of Chicago's Miracle Mile, with all of the excess and douchebaggery and perfumed tourists behind us. It was beautiful, but we were glad to be above the fray.
After that we made the long trek to the Eiffel Tower, which we chose not to climb. The Tower was even more striking than I had expected, actually, which was great. We were embarrassed by how blasé we had become by the time we had finished the Impressionists in the d'Orsay, but we couldn't help it. There had been a feeling of overload, of "oh look, there's another world famous masterpiece- oh, and there's another. Are you hungry? I think I want coffee, too." I'm not sure that having such large collections of the same artists (Monet and Manet, in this case) is as impactful (is that a word?) as having just a few. Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It's just that each new thing kind of wipes out the wonder of the last, and by the end of the day I had barely held onto the morning's highlights. Luckily I took literally thousands of pictures.
We walked and walked and ate and looked around with our mouths open a lot. The first couple days we mostly got food from the market downstairs from our apartment and ate inside, collapsing from exhaustion on our couch/bed with a bottle of wine and some fresh bread and cheese after walking all over creation.
Then our friends from Sweden showed up.
You may remember our friend J(male) from the many dinner parties of the last two years, many of which involved more wine than food. He is living back in Sweden now, and he and his wife D joined us on Sunday. Thus began the Bacchanalia. We met for breakfast on the first day, then walked around taking in sights for a couple hours, then stopped for a drink, and then coffee, then more walking, and then a snack and another drink, after which we would find a place to have dinner and more drinks. Since both J and the b.h. are fond of eating feet and brains and rare meat and parts of animals that most Americans wouldn't go near, we were treated mostly very well by the members of staff at the restaurants and cafes. The language barrier was a challenge, but mostly we found it pretty easy to get what we needed. I think my favorite things were the outdoor markets. I was amazed at the array of food to be had right in the middle of any random street. Also, as expected, the fashion was fabulous. I was impressed by the colorful array of stockings and tights on women of every age in the City of Light. I did not, however, find anywhere to shop for the good stuff. I mean, I could have forked over a month's rent for some over-priced crap at one of the designer stores on the Champs Elysees, but that's the same over-priced crap available at the same stores in any city, so I didn't feel inclined. In fact, we couldn't really find much of anything to buy, which was slightly disappointing. I bought a copy of Christpher Hitchens' Blood, Class, and Empire at Shakespeare and Company, but more books wouldn't have been practical. There were stalls and stalls and stores and stores full of tacky garbage - striped "French" shirts that no one in their right mind would be caught dead in, berets bedazzled with the word Paris, and, perhaps most puzzlingly, many variations on an apron with a picture of a kitten wearing both the aforementioned "French" shirt and a beret, with the words "I (Heart) Paris". I am not sure what the market for these products is, but since we were there in the off season, I guess we were mostly spared the type of people who would purchase such things.
The Louvre was everything I expected it to be. We decided not to even try to see most of it, and instead went directly to the Etruscan, Roman, and Greek section. We also managed to see a bit of Ancient Egypt, and stopped by some of the more famous works (Mona and Venus), since we were already walking past. Everything was wonderful. Napoleon's apartments were also quite impressive- a monument to one man's outsized ego. Again I was relieved not to be there during the height of tourist season, since it was crowded enough already. We actually avoided talking in front of other English speakers as much as possible, since neither of us was particularly interested in getting stuck talking to other Americans. This strategy served us well until the last night in town.
The four of us went to dinner at a higher-end, highly regarded restaurant, and no sooner had we sat down and ordered than a couple sat down next to us at the banquette. They were big and loud and stereotypically American in a way that makes me cringe and want to claim Canadian citizenship. When our food started to arrive, the man would lean over, his face only inches from each of our arriving plates, and point and ask "What's that?!". We tried hard to be nice but avoid engaging him. It wasn't easy. At the end of the meal, he finally broke the imaginary wall between our tables completely to have a loud (this tiny, elegant restaurant seated maybe thirty people) conversation about tipping. It was horrible. My favorite was the part where he said, typically of a particular brand of self-important New Yorkers, that when he was younger, he used to live in "The City" (As if there is only one. See #9 on this Post from one of my favorite bloggers for an entertaining observation on the subject). I chose to think of that experience as a useful reminder of how little we had actually had to put up with while we were there.
So yes, we enjoyed Paris. we will probably be going back at some point. Here's a random smattering of photos:
fish at the market
An illicit photo I took inside Shakespeare and Company. The signs said not to take pictures "in order to respect readers", so I used my phone and took them when no one else was around.
This is a stained glass window in the Cluny Museum. I sent this picture as a post card with the caption "Ouch. Quit it." Medieval Christians were not a terribly upbeat bunch.
This was taken at a very touristy little spot next to the bookstore. That's a glass of 2003 Medoc in the foreground, and Notre Dame in the back. Best thirteen Euros I spent all day.