Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alsace

Bonjour! I am sitting in our rental van in a McDonald's parking lot using their free Wifi as we have no internet/email access. We are currently in Alsace enjoying the best weather of the trip. Staying in a smaller but very cute and modern apt. in the tiny village of Merxheim. We call it "the compound" as it has another rental (which by luck is a family with a twin boy and girl who are 9 years old), a swimming pool, yard, badminton and ping pong. Irie is not wanting to "tour" as she just wants to stay and play with the kids and swim. Can't say I blame her. She seems to be trying harder to communicate in French which is important with one week until school starts. Today, she asked if she could walk alone the one block to the bakery and get our order. She came back with a loaf of bread, a croissant and two pastries...and the right change. Adorable!

It is about 4-5 hours drive from Paris, but a lifetime away. Small cute villages with half-timbered houses (see: photos). Vineyards climbing the hillsides everywhere. And the people are friendly and make a point of saying "bonjour." Not that the people in Paris were not friendly and helpful, but it's the big city v. small rural communities. Probably not much different than the same juxtaposition in the U.S. One of the other unique things about this region is that just as many people speak German as French. We are litterally 10 miles from the German border, and only about 45 minutes from Switzerland, so yesterday we had the opportunity to visit 3 countries in the afternoon. Lisa finally had the opportunity to live in the isolated world that Irie and I share, not being able to understand or speak the language, and she seemed happy to be back in France for a happy hour beer.

We are here until Saturday morning, then we have a big 8-hour drive to Fréjus. We will have to work on getting internet connection, but that will take a back seat to La Rentrée (the return of everyone to school and work) on Sept. 2, and then we must also apply for our carte du séjours which allows us to stay for the year. In other words, our communication will be sporadic for awhile. I'm sure I will find a way to check in when possible. Au revoir for now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Le Louvre (by Lisa)

Can you believe it? Here a month and we’re just now visiting the most famous museum in the world. The Smithsonian is called America’s Attic, for me “Le Louvre” que veut dire (means) The World’s Treasure. It seems any antiquity that is discovered and dug up makes its way to the Louvre. Does Greece have any Greek statues? Joëlle, my French teacher in Ashland, told me that as soon as the Parisians learned the Germans were coming they went to the Louvre, collected all the treasure, took it home and hid it. Then after the war and liberation they brought it all back. She claims not one piece went missing. That is hard enough to believe. Harder to believe is how some of these massive pieces were carried away and stashed for 4 years.

I think we put this museum off because of its sheer enormity. I’ve been here of course--found my way to Mona Lisa and gazed at her behind her glass window over the heads and cameras of fellow tourists. There is now a guide ribbon to keep the traffic flowing in front of her. Irie wanted to visit this museum as she became familiar with it after our trips to the Tuileries Garden, the carnival and the shopping area down below. She remained astounded that a royal family would need such a big house, even after I told her about all the company they invited over. She then became interested in seeing “Lisa.”

For this Louvre trip I prepared. I remembered my own glazed-look aimless wanderings alternating with tourist horde crush. I listened as other students in my French class warned, “Do the research! Know what you want to see before you go! Set your route!” One could really spend years there and not repeat objets d’art. The night before, I went on the website, I found thematic tours and selected Masterpieces (you know, the biggies) and “Outsized” which was aimed at kids. In all this involved 15 works, spread over a manageable area of real estate, but with very specific directions. Just for fun I noted an optional add-on in case we whipped it off quick--Egyptian Antiquities.

We set the alarm.

This family, pathetically claiming to still be on Pacific Time and generally sleeping in until 9:30 or 10, actually arrived at the Louvre, via Metro, by 9am opening time on a Monday morning. Busy, but not crowded. First stop: Venus de Milo, also known as Aphrodite in the Greek. By studying ahead of time I learned she represents Ideal Beauty. She is lovely, but her face is rather empty--vacant eyes, lack of facial musculature, really no affect. But I had already been spoiled by the magnificent Rodin museum--that guy knew how to sculpt human agony as well as bliss, showing up in body and face. Venus is so lovely and commanding she has her own room, and these early birds only had to share her with a few other tourists. We rolled along with our directions, tantalized by other works along the way, and tantalized by the building we were in. The Louvre is gorgeous, quite surprising actually, that the monarchy abandoned it for Versailles. Talk about use of skylights! To connect from the Sully wing to the Denon, our tour led us into the sous-sol (underground) Louvre, and as one circles an old base of a crumbling donjon, in semidarkness, the contrast of Medieval and Renaissance France is very clear.

Once we arrived at stop #2, Mona Lisa, the crowds were there. Irie complained of feeling small when she got shoved and stepped on (mostly by Italians!). Of note, she doesn’t feel small surrounded by grandeur, only by seas of humanity. Ok, still early, this will be the most crowded place, onward! My directions kept us in the same general area (good planning) and we knocked off some MASSIVE paintings (Feast at Canna, Coronation of Napolean), paintings that were remarkable for technique (Oath of Horatii, Oldalisque) and/or subject matter (Raft of the Medusa, Liberty Leading the People). It is noteworthy that some of these paintings documented actual events and that the painters were considered the photojournalists of their time. We made it through the Top Ten Masterpieces (see photogallery) and Irie still had a little bit of steam so we switched course to the Richelieu wing to see the OUTSIZED tour. Oops. By now the hordes were there and the slow muck of oozing human lava flow trapped us. My directions (“make 2 lefts, go through the doorway, admire the ____ on your way, turn back around and go through....”) became useless as we found ourselves swept back around Venus, then Winged Victory of Samothrace again and again. We did find Egyptian Antiquities! Or rather, found ourselves in them.




Time to go! Past time to go! J’en ai marre! How to get out? Dad! This way! I didn’t write those directions down, and it wouldn’t have helped. To know where you are and to know where you want to go, look out the window. Like a beacon the Pyramid guided the way.
On to Greek food, thank you Aphrodite.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Parks and Gardens (by Lisa)

Look down on Paris from any tall monument and you will see that it is a very big, pretty flat, very white city. Within this are carefully planted and maintained boulevard trees, the trunks are surrounded by grates filled with cigarettes butts or hardened cement/sand where dogs like to pee and poop. So Parisians are in need of their parks. Before living here for a month I assumed dogs needed their parks too, more on that later.


We live near Park Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement. It is nicely casual--no tightly clipped boxwood hedges. It has winding paths where people run, a small lake for ducks, a playground, a restaurant and the ubiquitous Guignol (puppet) theatre. The grass is plentiful and lush. And interdit for big dogs. There is no interdit sign and no tiny roped barricade for the grass, but there are park guardiens who have kicked us off the grass two times because of our “big dog”. Little dogs are ok, not sure why, something about poop. But little dogs seem content to trot and poop on the pavement. There are not many big dogs here, but I have seen some and have to wonder, “where do they run?”


The Luxembourg Gardens are gorgeous--there is a contrast of neat and ordered paths, tightly edged lawns, fountains and plantings with more densely tree-shaded area where you can find the pony rides, a small performing stage and the playground. Here one can actually loll about on certain stretches of lawn. Cute little metal green lawn chairs are provided all over this park. The Palais de Luxembourg edges this garden and this beautiful building houses the Senate. A treat for me this time was the tour of the Ladies--12 statues of women who had made some sort of significant contribution to France. The women and the era in which they lived were all described in my June issue of Paris Notes and I used it as a guide as we made the circuit. The playground is big, well appointed with regard to equipment variety and safety. It is enclosed and costs to go in.


The Tuileries Garden, part of the massive Louvre complex, are also beautiful with neat paths that encourage the strolling of royalty. The non-interdit grassy areas are studded with groomed conifers, giving some semblance of seclusion for your picnic. However there is a price for this tiny glimpse of privacy--it smells like pee, human pee. But of course the parks have their own daily sanitation rituals, just as the streets do. The sprinklers go off without notice. Since it is summer there is a carnival set up along one edge of this garden. I managed to suppress a panic attack on the ferris wheel but no such luck suppressing motion sick on the spinning swings. video

The gardens of Versaille are a living masterpiece of landscape architect André Le Nôtre. The formal layout of hedges and plantings invite strolling and appreciating the perspective. There are also untamed forests set aside for the Louis’s hunting parties. The gardens were the highlight of our trip to Versaille--the strips of color and artfully placed statues and fountains pulled at us to go outside as we were shuffling along with the crowd in gilded rooms. The grass is flawlessly unused. The plantings were very fragrant in the cool summer evening.

The Nocturne show was very dramatic. This garden highlights a concept we recently read from Adam Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon.” He explains the difference between ‘culture’ and ‘civilization.’ Culture is what is imposed on us, what we are told is beautiful or worthwhile. Civilization is what the people determine is worth our attention. He gives the example of the odd placement of questionably pleasing art work in the expansive main areas of Musée d’Orsay, while the universally appealing impressionist works are crammed into some rooms on the upper floor, with civilization crammed there to see them. The gardens of Versailles reflect this contrast--they are flawlessly designed, attentively maintained and this results in a stunning visual, olfactory, and auditory display. But their design and upkeep completely ignore the reality of the civilization--we need to pee and we like to relax. A full bladder is a detail that lessens our enjoyment of the garden. Huge expanses of lawn that must feel great to bare feet but are interdit is just a brutal tease. So the powers that be have determined the culture of the garden--beauty is preserved by no toilettes and nothing on the grass. The woman peeing behind the statue and the man peeing into the hedge have determined the civilization.

Park de la Villette is on the northeast edge of the city and is a complex of activities and museums. The Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie is quite big and very good. We especially enjoyed the Math and Optics areas. Reading scientific principals and explanations in French kept me at a slower pace than Rick and Irie. This park is not very intimate, it is more like a collection of many things to do in many different buildings or areas. A very cool discovery was the series of canals and locks that connect this far-flung part of the city with the Seine. We took a bateau ride from the Park down through the canal, including the locks, hooked up with the Seine and docked in the heart of town at the Musée d’Orsay. The one way trip took 2.5 hrs and some of it went under the city--Les Miserables is now on my “to-read” list. On this bateau we had a real live host who provided interesting bilingual commentary. And now that we are in the swing of touring this city with an 8 year old we were well prepared with a picnic and a bottle of Champagne.

Parc Floral is on the eastern edge of the city and is part of the Bois de Vincennes, which gets into the Paris suburb of Vincennes. We entered this park through the Château de Vincennes which had a cool and very deep moat (empty!). This château could use some attention, but with so many châteaux there must be some rivalry for the funding. The Parc Floral drew us because of its free classical music concerts (though you pay to go into the park). We went this past Saturday and Sunday because it was so relaxing. The flower gardens are more English in style--drifts and drifts of color. Most flower pictures were taken by Irie who spent most of the concert running around barefoot.
The lawn areas are for lounging (beware of goose poop) and there are dedicated garden areas for plants to be viewed close up and perhaps learned about (butterfly garden, cacti, irises, etc). The first day we rented a Parisienne which caused the song “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” to stick in my head. The second day we played mini-golf amongst tiny versions of the Parisian monuments. There are no putting greens, it is cement. This park became my favorite, probably because all senses received hours of respite--classical music instead of sirens, fresh air instead of exhaust, rainbow swaths of color instead of the ubiquitous white stone, bare feet on grass instead of in sweaty shoes clicking on pavement. I guess taste was the only thing we didn’t need to give a rest--we are pros at finding delights of the palate.

Rick: Here's the photo gallery of Parc Floral. Irie shot almost all the flower photos, running around taking pictures while we relaxed and listened to the music. She seems to have a very good eye and took such beautiful shots that I would love to choose a dozen or so, blow them up, and hang them in the house when we get home.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Versailles

Well, it's been a week since we went to Versailles, another busy, filled week in Paris. I've been wanting to write a post on our experience there, but where's the time go? There is so much to see and do in this fabulous city! We also want to share our visits to the Musée Picasso, Musée Rodin, and the Brancusi Atelier, as well as the 3-hour boat ride through the St. Martin canal, and Irie has taken some wonderful photos that we are trying to get her to write about. Sitting here alone in the living room of our apartment on a Saturday night, girls asleep, I finally have the time to think and breathe and write.

We decided to go to Versailles on a Sat. because of Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes held only on Sat. nights in the summer from 9:30 to 11:30 pm. It was described as a Grand Spectacle of fountains and fireworks. Since we have never been to Versailles, we decided to show up for the King's Promenade from 6:30 to 8:30 which enabled us to tour the main rooms of the Palais. Yes, it's a famous palace, and yes, it's something to behold, but as you can tell from my petty descriptions in the photo gallery, the ostentatious display of wealth and narcissism is a bit much for me. How many rooms can one see of spectacularly painted ceilings, decadent chandeliers, gold-gilded doors, fireplaces, and picture frames, and marble everything? Marble floors, marble pillars, marble statues, marble pedestals, marble walls, it's just too much. My thoughts go immediately to the common workers who slaved in the quarries so a few royalty could live in unnecessary extravagance. It's no wonder the people revolted! On top of that it was crowded. We waited in a line that stretched for at least half a mile before finally getting into the Palais, and this snaking coil of people only continued once inside. The famous Hall of Mirrors (where the Treaty of Versailles was signed after WWI) was probably my favorite and even that seemed overrated after all the accolades I'd heard about it.

Glad to get out of the Palais and breathe some fresh air, we headed for the famous Gardens of Versailles where the Night Spectacle would take place. We had about an hour until the festivities, and could see that the place was going to be packed. We waited in line for admission only to be told at the turnstiles that there were no toilettes in the entire gardens. Lisa had to go so we got out of line, fought our way back through the ever-growing crowd only to find another massive line waiting to use the bathrooms. Forget it! So we went back to the ticket line and finally jostled our way into the gardens. People were milling about and sitting wherever possible - the edge of fountains, on the gravel paths, etc. One of the stranger things about France is they have all these beautiful parks with luscious grass but the grassy areas are "Interdit", ie. not allowed. We found an area where the grass wasn't completely cordoned off, and like the others in the area sat ourselves down right on the edge of the grass and path. Luckily we planned ahead with a picnic that included some excellent french Savoie cheese and bread, olives, cinnamon-coated sliced apples, cookies, and a bottle of wine. We noticed a few people looking enviously at our delicious little spread, but we have been in that situation before and with a child...well, this time we were prepared. Of course, it didn't take long for the security to come and tell us (nicely) that we couldn't sit on the grass. He kept walking and warning so we stayed put and finished our picnic, and by the time he returned we were done and ready to walk around a bit. The sky was streaked with clouds and the light of the setting sun, so the gardens had a very nice twilight quality. Unfortunately, after 4+ hours of taking the Metro, waiting in line, touring the Palais, and having some wine in the garden, Lisa's bladder needed relief. We ended up on the far edge of the gardens, perpendicular to the Palais, where they had some evenly dispersed statues embedded into the hedges. We realized, with a two-hour show still ahead of us, that this was the perfect place and opportunity to "go." Irie and I stood guard (while trying to not look on guard) on either side of the statue while Lisa did her business, then I proudly took her picture with the unknown female statue who had aided her. A woman sitting nearby knew exactly what had transpired and flashed us a brilliant accomplice smile. We later saw men in the shadows "watering" rows of bushes, and when we heard a guard chastising one such patron saying "the garden is not a toilette" - we laughed saying "well then put in some damn port-a-potties."

On with the show. There is a big stadium to the side of the gardens near Lisa's favorite statue so we got in line with a lot of the other guests thinking we'd get good seats. At 9:30, as darkness fell, they opened the gates and in we walked. But there was no way into the stadium, it was roped off, and instead we were directed to make a left turn into a hedgerow filled with terraced lighted fountains that were steaming and shooting water while classical music played from speakers that were unseen but seemed to be everywhere. The end of these fountains led us into another hedgerow that reached a large round fountain with a dazzling centerpiece of dancing water. Then, yet again we followed a dark path through rows of trees that led to yet another large well-lit fountain, this one with an obelisque as its centerpiece. By now we felt a little naive as we realized there would be no stadium show, that this WAS the show, and we embraced it. One fountain had large green lasers that played interesting visual tricks with the water. Another had a circle of small pots (around a bigger central fountain) emitting steam that Irie treated like a cauldron with her as the wizard. Yet another involved a 18th Century ship that rose out of the depths blasted some cannons, before sinking again. Throughout the journey, the music would have different themes to go along with the different fountains, but it was all classic to the period when the royal families were living there and having their various decadent events. At one point we found ourselves on the main promenade that leads from the Palais to the Grand Canal, and here we found the famous Bassin du Char d'Apollon, the fountain with Apollo and the horses. Suddenly, in a long row, fire balls were shooting into the air in an orchestrated dance, more eye candy! About 11:15 we had covered the entire garden and headed up to the main fountain (the Bassin et Parterres de Latone) and pools just outside the backside of the Palais where most of the people were now congregating. The night ended with a 15-minute show of fireworks and dancing fire balls. I have some nice video of the event, about 14 minutes worth, but just don't have the time to create that now, maybe later.

While we very much enjoyed the Night Spectacle, as you could probably tell by my above description I was less than enthralled with the Palais itself. Out front as we initially approached the Palais, something seemed wrong, and as we got closer we realized they were doing reconstruction (what's new) and had erected a faux facade to make it look real...it didn't. For such a decadent place (and expensive to visit), it had a bit of a run-down feeling to it. Lisa noticed in the gardens that while some rows of hedges and bushes were perfectly clipped others were neglected. And the toilette issue was ridiculous. Oh yes, and to top it off, the train station that everyone came into Versailles on had no trains running until 5:50 am. So after midnight, literally hundreds of people, plenty with kids in tow, had to traipse through town about a mile to the next train station that was actually running trains at this hour. For a country famous for it's meticulous planning and preservation this seemed so completely unplanned for, a big Saturday night event at the famous Versailles, but no way to get back to the small hamlet of Paris. Somehow it seemed a fitting end to the evening.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cimetière Père Lachaise (by Lisa)

Despite several previous trips to Paris, I never made it to this famous cemetery. Nope, I never made the trek while I was a student--this despite my fondness for the Doors (preferring however, the poppy “Touch Me” over the whacked out “The Music’s Over”), my ability to score cheap wine and other party favors, and my ability to just hang out. Now that I’m here a month I have no excuse not to go, so when a crabby Irie and a hot August day coincided, I set off alone.

I knew this cemetery contained some “famous” people, French and non-French. For the non-French, ie Americans, the big draw seems to be Jim Morrison. Others, more musical, artistic, or literary types make the trek to pay homage to Colette, Molière, Proust, Seurat, Piaf and Bernhardt. I, worshipping no one, went as a student of the social sciences--curious how the French house their dead and more curious about the living who go to see them.

My map was a waste. While it gave a rough idea of where to find the famous, the cute little roads all through the cemetery (cobblestones of course!) went unnamed on my map. That turned out ok, as I stumbled on some things I had no idea I would find, and never found others, just wandering around. A hint for future visitors: there is a free map just inside the main gate at the info bureau and if there is a little tour, glom onto it for a bit and they will lead you to the famous, you can always drift in and out of a tour.

This is a packed cemetery. A prime real estate location in and of itself. In fact, there were several tombstones empty, just waiting for the arrivals, like Hawai’i beach front property waiting for the retirees. I was quite surprised at the recentness of some of the tenants. Sure, Henri Salvadore, the recently deceased Caribbean singer (try Chambre Avec Vue) makes sense. But who are these others? In the pictures, you can see new tombstones as shiny and sleek as a grand piano. In other pictures the entire stone has been obscured by moss. Other graves have been hurtled up by ingrowing roots. The funeral parlor across the street (convenient!) proudly stamps its name into the corner of the black marble but you know it’s just a matter of years before nature claims the stone. I was reminded of the Cities of the Dead of New Orleans. There are thousands of tiny houses (some not so tiny and quite ornate) called sepulchres. The family name was usually engraved on top and the doors are locked or rusted shut. Some contain little shrines, with pictures, seemingly 50 yrs old, of the family members, and it appears that the last visit may have been 50 yrs ago. Remarkably some doors were wide open, with nothing but cobwebs inside, as if the family had moved out. Some graves had lists of family members engraved in a progressive line upward, from the 1700s to the 2000s. Given the sparse available real estate I have to believe the bodies are stacked vertically too.

As for the visitors, not many, mostly French and in the tour group. The Italians made themselves known to me first by the language, and then I could spot them with the ladies’ glittery spike heel sandals picking their way through the cobblestones, while their dutiful husbands carried their patent leather purses. Ah, then the Americans. You can follow them and their overstuffed backpacks right to Jim Morrison. The middle aged parents dragging their prepubescent kids to this grave in some kind of nod to their own past and nostalgia, and the chain smoking (cigarettes!) kinda-hippies who were trying to set their own nostalgia, but had to wait for the “tourists” to leave. Morrison’s grave is the only site in the whole place to receive the star treatment of ugly metal barricades and a cemetery employee attendant. His tombstone shows age with moss-like drippings which are starting to obscure the name. The tomb is actually a tiny stone wall surrounding a patch of dirt strewn with cigarettes. No offerings of whiskey today, unless of course, the nearby guardien already helped himself. Reminded me a bit of a Dead show in the later years--grubby, smelly and a supervisor needed for the hangers-on. How does the observer change what she is observing? By observing does she become a participant? I hope not, I wanted to scream “I’m just curious! And I think this is really pathetic!”

The highlight of the cemetery was happening upon the numerous memorials to the victims of the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust. Each concentration camp had its own memorial, including Drancy, in France. Not many non-Europeans know that there were transitional camps in France, set up by the Vichy/Nazi partnership. There were also memorials to those Resistance fighters caught and executed. This area of the cemetery was even prettier than the rest. Maybe because of the shade, the flowers, the art work of the memorials themselves. Or maybe because I could hear live children playing in their neighborhood just over the cemetery wall.
Cimetière Père Lachaise photos

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My experience with the French medical system

Only in France for 3 weeks and I've already had a chance to compare how the U.S and the French medical systems operate. Lisa noticed a blotchy brown spot under my right big toe nail shortly before we left home. I had noticed it for at least a couple months, but figured it was a bruise (from skiing, playing basketball, or just being clumsy) that would grow out. After Lisa's comments I started paying more attention and by last week I was convinced it wasn't going anywhere. Lisa was very concerned and raised the prospect of melanoma and how serious that was. Frightening! But here we are in a foreign country, all its citizens on vacation, with an unknown (as of yet, unused) foreign insurance policy with a high deductible, and our dog Maggie was on the way. What to do? Even hearing Lisa describe a biopsy (because of the toe nail) made me nervous and wonder if I would be laid up for awhile, but it was clear we could not ignore it.

First, we called the woman from whom we're renting to see if she knew a dermatologist. She did. We called and got an appointment for Weds. Then we realized that Maggie was hopefully going to finally arrive that day. We waited to make sure and then cancelled the appt., getting a new one for Fri. at 4:45. At least that's how Lisa heard it, and she is the one doing all the hard work language-wise. We showed up to a fill-in Physician as it's August and so most Parisians are on vacation somewhere else, only to find that our appt. was scheduled for 2:45. The Doctor was very nice and saw us anyway. She did an examination of my toe and did not feel comfortable saying it was nothing, or that it was serious, so she called a colleague to make an appt. for a second opinion. She did not charge us for the appt. Again, all of this took place in French, and while I could comprehend enough to get the gist of what was being said, it was Lisa who was under pressure to understand and confirm the proceedings. And, yes, Lisa told her she was a physician too.

Today was the follow-up, at the Hospital Tarnier. A small hospital with one entrance, we walked around 90% of the building and 75% of a small park before finding our way in. Lisa again took charge with her French and for a moment I panicked when I realized I had forgotten my passport. My license did the job. After a short wait we (yes, "we" - everything here is a family experience due to language and child-care issues) were taken into an examination room where Lisa gave my medical history. Then it was time for the exam, and she had me strip down to my boxers. She did an examination of the toe, said it was clearly red blood cells and thus a bruise. Then she examined the rest of my skin and after some discussion with Lisa who was satisfied with her diagnosis..."Viola," we were done. She handed us the paperwork and told us to take it to the Caisse (cashier) on our way out. I was genuinely curious what such a visit would cost (and wondered about that first visit for which we had not been charged). I was charged 23 euros or about $35. I am clearly not a citizen, yet they never asked for my insurance or anything else beyond basic identification. Lisa is convinced a similar visit/examination in the U.S would have run at least $250 because of malpractice insurance costs. An American dermatologist would probably have leapt to a biopsy. This doctor could remain confident in her experience and skills without necessarily wondering "what will the jury think." Healthcare is also government subsidized, a "right", so she gets paid no matter who she sees, no matter what resources the patient has. We just had to pay a little into the system because we don't pay taxes here. At home we pay a lot into the system (Medicare) and don't get to use it at all. Ok, stepping off the soap box now.

I am thankful that it was nothing serious, that I am not sitting here in Paris with a ripped-off toenail, that I didn't go broke finding this out, and that we can now make plans for the weekend :) Most of all, thanks to my wonderful wife for having the French skills to get us through this in a thorough manner so we can enjoy the relief that we now feel!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Odd and Ends in Paris



Sparkling Tour Eiffel at night Sorry about the sideways video, I'd have to buy QuickTime Pro to rotate it, but I’m still trying to figure out a way to correct it. It's still very much worth watching. The Tower is lit blue every night in honor of the EU and every hour, on the hour, they glitter the lights for 10 minutes. It's captivating, you really can't take your eyes off it! We were on a bateau mouches on the Seine River from 10 -11 pm and it's a beautiful way to to see the city at night.

The boat we took, the Vedette de Paris, was small and uncrowded (unlike some of the bigger packed boats we passed)---a good choice! It starts right in front of the Tower so we got the big light show right off the bat. As it cruises toward the two îles that split the river in two for a short stretch, the Île de la Cité and Île St. Louis, we pass under all the famous bridges of Paris. The ages, architecture, and ornamentation of these bridges are as different as the faces in this very multi-cultural city. A few of the bridges are pedestrian-only, regardless people lined them all, some waving or shouting bonjours and hellos, everyone taking in the same sights and scenes that we were.

Meanwhile, both sides of the river are lined with beautiful (and expensive) Haussman-style villas/apartments with steeply slanted roofs, wrought iron balconies and ornate detail. These are interspersed with gigantic famous buildings built in self-aggrandizement by one king/President or another: the Palais du Chaillot; Musée d’Art Moderne; Grand Palais; Assemblée Nationale; Musée d’Orsay and many other current museums or hotels that remain unknown by name. Then the famous stretch off the Champs-Elysées starting with the Obelisque at Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries, and the immense former Palais/current Louvre. Irie can’t believe that a king would build something so unnecessarily big and opulent. We explain that is one of the reasons the people revolted against the monarchy. As we approach the îles, Notre Dame comes into view and you get a magnificent view of the Rose Window on the south side. The bateau turns and goes around the other side of the îles, where the Hotel de Ville and the Conciergeries (where Marie Antoinette, among others was kept prisoner, in the tower? or am I confusing her with Rapunzel?) line opposite sides of the river. On the return trip, we get a repeat of the views and bridges with the Tour Eiffel standing tall over the entire scene. Unfortunately, the combination of the boat cruising along and being a novice at taking night pictures resulted in photos too blurry to share. The views, however, are etched in my head. It was relaxing yet vivid.

The week also saw us beating the crowds at the Tour Eiffel by climbing the first two levels, then buying tickets for the elevator to the top at the 2nd level. In the photo see the crawling line of tourists waiting for tickets--an elevator ride is the sugar for this line of ants. After the climb, Irie and I went back to our apartment while Lisa got some alone time shopping. Take note in the web gallery of the ornate department stores.

Another day found us walking through the Louvre courtyard (though we have yet to go inside on this trip) into the Jardin des Tuileries where we found a carnival of all things. We all rode the ferris wheel (Lisa taking on her fear of this ride) for yet another round of excellent city views, while Lisa and Irie also did the water ride. This was followed by the Musée d’Orsay for some beautiful sculpture and Impressionism.

On Sunday, I headed down to the Champs-Elysées for the end of the Tour de France. Yahoo sports listed the event as 12:45, and I got there after 1 pm. The streets were barricaded and lined with people, but it was quiet and subdued. Where’s the bikers? I finally see them on a large video screen, somewhere out in the country, surrounded by fields, with 140 km to go. It became clear that the race, while starting at 12:45 only ended in Paris, and after enjoying the spectacle for a few hours I headed back home without having seen a single bike racer. C’est la vie. The reason I didn't stay or go back is that Lisa and I had a date (thanks to our landlady for the babysitter link!) in which we went to the famous St. Chapelle chapel to hear a stringed septet perform Vivaldi's Four Seasons. My favorite classical piece in that setting, surrounded by all that magnificent stained glass left us both feeling sated and dazed.

The funniest event of the week had to be our trip to the Paris Plage. Every year, from late July to late August (which just so happens to coincide with our stay) they truck in sand and create a beach along the Seine. They have all kinds of beach-related activities, concerts, and even a temporary pool. It has been hot this week (about 30 C) so we decided to go to the pool in the afternoon, when the schedule said “kids 10 and under accompanied.” It was fairly crowded with a short line and we made it through the first entrance no problem. Then we got to the actual entrance to the pool and one of the guards made it clear (en français) that my knee-length (righteous curl brah!!) swimsuit wasn’t acceptable. After Lisa conversed with him we realized that 1.) we all needed bathing caps, and 2.) that I needed a “european” swimsuit, either a speedo or what we decided to call a “tankini” which is only slightly larger though just as skin tight. It just so happens that they are prepared for people like us and had a vending machine that sold those exact items. Let me just say that there was a bit of blushing, a fair amount of time in the pool up to my waist, and you will not find any of those pics on the web gallery. (Lisa here: He looks hot and buff in that thing and I think he needs to send it to all his middle aged friends). You will find many photos from everything else this week below...

A week in Paris

Friday, August 1, 2008

Musée du Quai Branly (by Lisa)





I highly recommend this museum. It is fairly new, being the legacy of former President and Paris mayor, Jacques Chirac. It is sublime in its serenity. It is located just up from the Tour Eiffel and at first you pass a massive wall of green. One of the outside walls has been vertically greenscaped and in this heavy summer heat the many varieties of thriving plants appear lush, like a carpet you could roll on and steal a bit of dew. You then enter a garden area and immediately the sounds of traffic, of multi-tongued tourists, of cheap trinket hawkers is gone. And on this summer evening (choosing very wisely to go during the extended hours) we are nearly alone. A lone kitty greets us in the garden. The building was inviting in its cool moderness, both inside and out. We specifically went to see a temporary exhibit on Polynesia. We didn't know what the museum was about. It is very much 3D. It contains artifacts and art from various indigenous people all over the world, divided into vast areas--Oceana, Africa, Americas, Asia. The skulls were creepy, the carved figurines with a little door for housing bones interesting, the buffalo skins familiar, the jewelry made with human hair odd.

The Polynesian exhibit was very interesting, covering the far reaches of the South Pacific, and included Hawai'i, which I was very excited to see. We learned that the items came from the collections of the Europeans who were given them or stole them. Polynesians are giving and generous. Despite this it surprised me that a feathered cape and helmet of royal Hawaiian colors (red and yellow) would be given to a European admiral. Many items were "collected" by missionaries, who brought their prizes back as trophies, proving that they had won over the Polynesians who were now giving up their idols in favor of the white man's god. Unfortunately there were no items related to Hula--no ipu heke, puili, ili ili, or kala'au. So I have to wonder--the missionaries did their best to rid the Hawaiian islands of Hula, maybe the Hawaiians didn't so easily give this up and hand over dance implements to them. They kept them when the Hula went underground, thankfully to be revived. Or maybe I just have my history wrong--early Hula was chanted so the key to its survival was survival of the stories and language and the implements were added later. Don't know. In any case, I'd like to bring an image to those of you who have been to Hawai'i and driven the many Kamehameha roads and seen the familiar royalty signs of the robed and helmeted warrior in profile. I've now seen the robe and helmet in person, in France!!
King Kamehameha I Statue, Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawaii