Sunday, September 25, 2011

French wine gives me false memories

And now we come to the last blog about Paris (for now) and we can all go back to the halcyon days of me having nothing to do or say of any importance whatsoever from the long, long LONGNESS of Long Island.

The day began rather late due to the heavy drinking that went on the night before and I had wanted to do a last minute touristy thing to either the Musee d'Orsay or the Musee Rodin. The day before on our way to the RER train of destiny we saw the Musee d'Orsay and I really feel like if you've seen the front of the building you have seen the museum which is probably why until I just looked at my notes that i realize that we didn't even actually go inside. I've been including it on my list of "stuff I saw" in the retelling of my trip and what can I say about that except that I drank a LOT on this trip so my apologies for my open faced lies.What happened was this: we took the metro to the Musee d'Orsay and had planned to go in when we realized that we had been granted yet another amazing day of clear and bright weather and opted for the Musee Rodin.

But before that, since we got a relatively late start we decided to go for one last salad. I'd like to marry each and every salad I ate there but that would be impossible since I ate them. We picked a place that was right near the metro stop and it was just about lunchtime so it was hopping with businessmen eating gorgeous plates of various meats and drinking quite heavily. Awesome. It being Paris, there was also a fair share of couples swooning and sharing their third courses. I don't actually see how Parisians work. I mean they seem to spend hours drinking coffee and eating and this is why I must live there immediately. But I digress. Salads. Oh salads how I miss them on the very warm and rainy afternoons that have been happening since I returned. Could it have been just one week ago I was a world away?

So after all that eating and observing we went to the Musee Rodin. Upon entering, I knew instantly we had made the right choice. I had only ever been familiar with Rodin's famous works like the "Thinking Man" and the general attributes of his sculptures; the sinewy, sleek marble, the dichotomy of realistic humanity portrayed in marble.

This was my favorite scultpure, called "Dreaming":

 I was glad to be seeing the sculptures for the first time in that setting. It was remarkable. Again we were blessed with perfect, if a bit cloudy, weather and we lingered over the works and on the grounds for hours. It being our last full day in Paris, I think we all accepted the fact that we weren't going to do much else and just decided to relax into the experience of the place we were in. After touring the grounds and the museum (this was Rodin's Paris residence toward the end of his life) we decided to get some glace, relax in the picnic area and while away the hours like proper Parisians.

A couple of observations from that afternoon:
There was an art class touring the museum at the time we were there and they had been given an assignment to sketch a statue of their choice. In fact there was a lot of that going on that day and, I presume, everyday. There was an artist there, a young woman, who was the skinniest person I've ever seen. Her body curved in on itself and took on the shape of a question mark. I thought she was someone Rodin would have loved to sculpt.

I don't lie around in the grass looking up at the blue sky enough back home. I need to do more of that. (And more of walking around everyday and wine drinking. I really believe all of that is good for me.)

This was pointed out by Rowan: a lot of the Asian tourists we saw took souvenir novelty photos and never just one normal one. Either they would be flashing the peace sign, or chanting a little song before the photo was taken or something else equally quirky. This was true at every single touristy place we went. They have fun with their photographs.

We stayed for a few hours and then decided to head back to the Latin Quarter for a drink and then some dinner. On Tuesday we had gotten lost in particular neighborhood and were determined to go back there. Again, I have to credit Rowan with her navigation skillz and soon we were back. We sat on a street bar that advertised happy hour and frankly had the only open seats, it being Friday evening and all. We ordered margaritas and they were gross. Also gross? The sewer smell that would waft up every five minutes or so. The available seating at this place was becoming explainable. When the couple sat next to us began feeling each other up, we decided to walk on. I'm glad we did because not only did we find a shop where I found these amazing red earrings, but we also found a shop that sold nesting dolls. Unfortunately they were so very overpriced that I was not able to add to my collection (and there was nothing overtly French about the selection) but I was happy to see that yet another city had a shop dedicated to them.

We came across a dive bar and went in for a kir and some beer and honestly I could have stayed there all night. There was a young student-y crowd in there and a small but strong selection of extraordinarily good looking people. Why are the French so cool and good looking? I don't get it. But they are. It appears they live in one long Truffaut film. I wanted suddenly to be 10 years younger and just starting out. Bastards.

We decided to go for Indian food, it was a whim we followed and it was the right choice. We had an amazing dinner with more wine and laughter and the bittersweetness of a vacation coming to a close. After dinner we walked along the Seine and saw all the couples sat along the banks drinking wine and kissing and it was all so very romantic and just exactly what I wanted from Paris. I wanted to run into Owen Wilson. But I settled for the amazing everything that was this trip. Nothing seemed ordinary in Paris and I will be returning.

We went back to the apartment to drink our last bottle of wine and reflect on the trip that was. I hate how quickly everything good ends.
The shuttle came to collect Lorraine and I in the morning and Rowan hopped a train to visit her friend in the south of France. On the way to the airport the shuttle driver, a very handsome French man who looked a bit Jesus-y asked if we had a good time. I wanted to tell him everything and then ask if I could come home with him and marry him and stay forever. Instead I just said "Paris is beautiful. You are so lucky to live here." He said "I know."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pressing every button you can find will land you in Versailles

Okay yes I know I'm incredibly late with this post but I promised I would blog about the whole trip and I've taken copious, studious and thorough notes on the rest of the time and what we did (if, by "copious, studious and thorough notes" you mean "drunken scribblings in a notepad on the floor after copiously,studiously and thoroughly finishing the wine before our last night in Paris") and will update accordingly.

Alors, on Thursday we headed for Versailles. I usually have mixed feelings about visiting the grand homes of the past, especially the caliber of Versailles simply because no matter how beautiful they are, there is always that sense of "man, were these people assholes or what?" that pervades my brain and does not let me simply enjoy prettiness. But I immediately digress. I've admired photos and documentaries and silly portrayals of King Louis(es) and Marie Antoinette and am always intrigued by the hot sweltering mess that is royalty and so Versailles was a must for me.

I know in my last post I praised the efficiency and honesty of the Paris metro. I stand by that...with one very glaring exception. The RER trains. There is a very distinct lack of/confusion inherent in the signs that populate those railways. We took the metro to a stop that said "RER C" train connection which is what one needs to get to Versailles. Ok, so usually, and I'm just going by my 10 years worth of experience with connecting trains in the tangled spaghetti of the NYC subway system, when the map says there is a connection it is usually through a tunnel of some kind or up or down some stairs. And in keeping with the infinite branching of the city, we followed a series of hallways and stairs expecting that at the end of each would be the RER station. Instead we were lead to the street level. I'm sorry, I'm just laughing out loud at how confused we must have appeared to passerby. I had the sensation one gets when one is on an elevator expecting the doors to open to a familiar floor and finding that the elevator has not moved. To make a long walk a short story, the RER train is connected, via about three blocks on the street with an entirely different ticket needed. Not that you'd know that. I can't tell you how we found out where to buy tickets or how to get there but I can relate to you the following anecdote:
     Sometimes when a DVD player or television speaker system is on the fritz at my folks' house my mother will often just press every single button on every remote and device she can find until something changes or works. That is essentially what we did. We visited each kiosk and pressed buttons. Eventually we ended up with tickets.

While all THAT was going on Rowan befriended an elderly New Zealander travelling alone and shaking. I'm exaggerating but seriously, this man was 90 million years old. He was very sweet and just as lost as we were so he was watching as we pressed every button in the room and then asked for tickets from some dude, two levels below the entrance to the RER. So he waited with us on the platform we assumed was the correct one (turns out we were wrong on that count as well) and the platform started to fill up with more and more tourists looking beleagured and confused. I tried to make sense of the posted train schedule but it simply looked like a physics equation and I figured we could just follow the group that looked the most confused. Barring that, we could find more buttons to press.

The train arrived on the wrong platform, there were no signs nor annoucements in French or any other languages and this resulted in all of the tourists crowding on the train, some with one foot on and one foot off just shouting over and over again "VERSAILLES? VERSAILLES? VERSAILLES?" Imagine that said over and over WITH increasing panic. We all assumed it was the correct train though why, I have no clue and took our seats.

Then I looked over at the set of seats next to us and I saw this woman:

aka the Madame Bijou that Jack Dawson, the dude that couldn't figure out that if he laid down sideways next to Rose Dewitt Bucatur on that huge door that he could have lived too. No but seriously, this woman was sat next to us on the train to Versailles only on this day she wore these blue cat eye, bejeweled glasses. So that was entertaining.

Then, after waiting on a short line to get tickets and me getting my cafe noir to go we made it to Versailles. A few of Lorraine's photos from the iPhone:

Yeah, so those beautiful photos only vaguely capture the grandeur and ornateness and the size and shape of the palace. And again might I point out the blueness of the sky? Yet another postcard perfect day.

Sharing the experience of Versailles with about 4.5 million other tourists was annoying in the same way that visiting the Met in NYC is annoying; there is tons of shit you really, really want to see everywhere but the sweaty, adoring public is obnoxious enough to distract you from the fact that you are surrounded by all of this beauty. Also, I think three of us were famished, having had our pre-packed lunch of salads and sandwiches confiscated at the gate (which I understand completely as I'm certain there are people who exist at this moment just waiting for the next time they can leave their refuse behind on a pristine manicured lawn that is 500 years old). So we swiftly walked through the rooms, never really lingering anywhere but the hall of mirrors and I truly defy anyone to not linger there.

We finished the tour, reclaimed our lunches and sat out in the courtyard and ate salads (the French make salad an art form, even in the prepackaged incarnations) under a very, very hot sun and headed back to Paris.On our walk back to the train we heard an honest to goodness, stereotypical French laugh. I won't insult anyone here by typing it out but YOU know what I'm talking about. It was on my list of things that absolutely had to happen while I was in France and so I ticked it off the list. Brilliant.
Rowan then had an utterly amazing idea to get out of the RER at the Eiffel Tower and go and lounge in its shadow.

Here's a photo of her, soaking up the sun:

Lovely photo, yes?

Not pictured in this photo are the couple seated to our right and the couple seated to our left. The couple to our right seemed to be platonic friends drinking wine and laughing over a packed snack of French stuff. The couple to our left sat silently while she chain smoked and he looked on at the passerby, mutely. Neither of them looked like they were having any fun whatsoever. They will be important later.

So Rowan napped and Lorraine and I sat up people watching and being stupid and we saw this young girl in a very long skirt accompanied by a person in a gorilla suit. They were walking around from blanket to blanket and person to person just putting out their hands. Some people would give them change or some food, utterly nonchalant (apparently this happens often). Lorraine observed a group of Asian tourists taking a novelty shot (sir) and the gorilla suit person jumped and scared the ever loving shit out of them. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if one of them later discovered their wallet/phone/camera missing.

A short while later the couple to our right had laid back and were soaking up the sun quietly when they were approached by three pre-teen looking girls. They exchanged a few words with the three girls surrounding the guy who was shirtless and relaxed on his side. I can only surmise by his tone that he told them nicely to fuck off. So fuck off they did. The chain smoking woman to our left shouted something to the guy and he suddenly began looking for something in his pockets. Turns out those teenage girls stole his phone. I really don't know how they did it because I watched them all throughout the conversation. He immediately got up and ran after them and I watched him as he yelled and demanded his phone back. They were calm and not at all surprised and threw his phone back at him casually as he flipped them off. He walked back to his friend and they walked off in a different direction and the whole scene ended as quickly as it began. Who knew such dark grey deeds took place at the base of the Eiffel Tower? Well they do. Also, the lawn smells vaguely of poo. But that can't be blamed on thieving teenagers. Or can it?

After patting ourselves down and accounting for all items of significance, we decided to head home, freshen up and then go out to dinner. Only when we got home, we were so full of vitamin D and maybe a few glasses of wine that we decided to cook dinner at the apartment and save our energies for the next day. What followed was a lovely dinner with many, many glasses of wine and the drunkest night of the trip. I'd post photos of the antics that followed except we didn't take any and I'd kind of like to keep those memories undocumented.

I've got enough notes for a few more posts and those are sure to happen as I long for the fresh air of Paris from inside my windowless Long Island office. First world longing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gleaming the cube

Days in Paris: 5
Baguettes eaten: I ran out of numbers
Wine: just poured another glass

Wednesday was for Pere Lachaise which, for those unfamiliar is a cemetery here, in the land of ornate death monuments. Everyone you have ever heard of that lived and died in and around Paris is buried there. On top of each other. The layout of the cemetery mimics the layout of the city: a million pathways branching off into a million more with no seeming end in sight. 

Pere Lachaise reminded me of New Orleans. It really should be the other way around but there you go. It also reminded me that as humans cursed with the knowledge of our own end, we will do hugely extravagant and elaborate things to make ourselves feel better about it. We do things like build chapels for our dead beloved.

You can't really see it in the above photo but many of these had stained glass windows and mini altars and elaborate inscriptions. I have to say that contrasted with the clarity of the day, it was sobering to be in the middle of all of this.

Of course we beelined for the most famous graves. Oscar Wilde:

adorned with lipsticked female kisses although he was an unabashedly gay man. I witnessed a young girl kiss it and while I can appreciate the sentiment, and I love me some Oscar Wilde, I was well and truly grossed out by lips upon a stone first placed there in 1900, kissed by hundreds of thousands of other mouths and exposed to the elements of 100 years. Blech! But graves and headstones are for the living. Not pictured is the whole headstone bc it was just too damn big to get it up on Lorraine's iphone which is all we've got while we are here. Later I will post some other, even higher quality photos after we're back home. 
There are a lot of very, very famous people from history/the arts/literature and music buried there but I found Chopin's grave to be the most elegant and pristine. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it now but I will soon. It is a beautiful engraved statue that matches everything he left behind. I suppose graves serve that purpose if anything. Some kind of marker that even though everything you ever thought or felt disappeared in an instant, someone remembers you. So yeah, on that light an airy note, we'll move on.

The cobblestones throughout the cemetery just about destroyed my feet and consequently my lower back but we trudged on and out of the cemetery after seeing a few other famous graves (there were some middle aged men that Rowan and Lorraine saw wearing home made tshirts that said "Jim Morrisson Tour 2011 which, LMFAO.) We walked for a bit and realized that in the immediate area surrounding the cemetery were just long stretches of nondescript store fronts, mostly selling gravestones. Probably the only thing more depressing than death is the business of death so we walked in some direction to some metro stop. In between we came across a produce market in the middle of the street with fiercely aggressive grape sellers that really, really, really wanted us to buy grapes and frankly, I'd never survive in a place where people compete for your business so vocally. I just wanted to buy all the grapes so they'd stop yelling. But I didn't. 

On the suggestion of both a couple of guidebooks and a very sweet girl named Malia, we ended up visiting the Marais section of the city. Thank God it was a beautiful day because we were able to sit outside at a cafe for a bit while I drank my new crack, cafe noir aka espresso. Oh that reminds me, as we exited the metro station we saw a man walk and simultaneously light a crack pipe. A bona fide crack pipe. That kind of set the stage for the visit to this neighborhood.

As we sat at this cafe two things happened: 1) we met our first rude waiter. Nothing he said or did was remarkable, just kind of assy and annoying. and 2) a very large population of skate rats were there, gleaming the cube. "Hey guys! Where's Christian Slater? Oh right, he's 46."--Rowan.  But in all seriousness, it was all 1990 up in that piece. 

After paying the waiter, who snapped one last snap at us we wandered around aimlessly and I think we may have wandered off the regular path because there was nothing really especially of note to be seen. We did that for awhile until about 4pm when it was cocktail o'clock and I wanted to visit Harry's New York Bar, having punked out of it last night. So we hopped on the metro and headed to the historic bar to get some sidecars and bloody marys. Sidecars, which for those who are reading this and don't actually know me, is my drink. Living as I do in the 2010s and not the 1920s, no one knows how to make one aside from those fresh out of bartending school or old school bartenders so whenever I find one who knows, I take full advantage of it. So, um, Harry's is where the sidecar was INVENTED. Here's me drinking one in the place where it was born:

It tastes like happy.

Well we ended up getting good and drunk in the middle of the afternoon and also spending about 990 euros on alcohol, something I haven't done since I was about 22. Young at heart. Naturally we decided to leave as it was getting a bit more happening and move on to the next bar I wanted to visit, Willi's Wine Bar, very close by. When we got there I asked for a Kir. I think my French, while very limited and broken is believable enough as many people seem to want to continue the conversation after a "Bonjour ca va" from me. Naturally I just smile and nod so instead of a Kir, I got a glass of champagne. It was no sidecar but it hit the spot. Willi's clientele was a bit bizarre in that it was entirely filled with foreigners, mostly speaking English. However, we enjoyed it there very much and the wine was great. I think everytime I mention wine in this blog you should drink a glass. I'm much funnier after a few drinks. 

We spilled out of the bar and headed to get some more moules and frites because you need to make that magic happen more than once in Paris. Our waiter recognized us which was so pleasant. We could briefly pretend we were locals which was awesome. I like to pretend I"m from here. But I'm not leggy enough to really pass for it so I get the sense that wherever I go, I have the word TOURIST branded atop my forehead. 

Then we came home and drank some more wine (YOU know what to do now) that we had bought at the Verres et Vins right across the street owned by this amazing old French couple and called it a night to be sure we'd be up relatively early for Versailles the next day. 
You'll have to wait for the next installment for that as I have "something" to do right now. Heh.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I wish our waiter would just stop.

Days in Paris: 4
Baguettes eaten: 600
Croissants eaten: 1

We got some oeufs:

and ate a very non Parisian style breakfast at home. This afforded us some well deserved rest from our drinking and vacation. First world problems.

Lorraine ventured out to get us a fresh baguette (see tally) and walked home triumphantly hoisting it in the air like the trophy it was. Side note: instant coffee is the same everywhere.

We hadn't really planned a schedule for today other than the need to see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. We ended up beginning with a visit to Notre Dame, the holy mother of all churches. A word about Paris public transportation, and forgive me if I use NYC as a reference for everything but that is how my mind works when it comes to cities. Paris' public transportation is eons above and beyond anything in NYC. It is on time, it is clean and it goes where it says it is going to, even in the rain! IMAGINE! The announcements are clear and easy to understand and in two languages, French and English. There are plenty of seats and plenty of room to stand. The same is true for the public buses. Thanks to Rowan, we have been navigating the city with ease and making good use of the bus and metro systems. So bravo to France. /gush

Notre Dame is the biggest fucking church I have ever seen in my life. Not that I am a seasoned church goer...I've seen all the cathedrals in NY, the Montreal version of Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey and a handful here and there but seeing Notre Dame for the first time made me wish I had gone to confession. The building inspires fear and awe and a surprisingly very human appreciation of what it took to build something so grand. We did almost get run over by a Japanese tourist wearing a suit who was rushing to get ahead of us and ended up standing next to us, waiting to cross the street. Another side note: that old addage about French people being rude? I have found that to be false. The only rudeness we have encountered here has come from other tourists. Wtf?

Some photos:

What you see when you approach. Yeah, did you go to confession today HEATHEN!!

I feel guilty.

We toured the length of the church and because we were lazy idiots, the line to get up to the bell tower and reenact Quasimodo and Esmerelda (because NO ONE has done that before) was unrealized. Instead we walked around and behind and began a very, very long walk that lasted no less than 7 years. I am now 42 years old. In all seriousness though, you cannot come to Paris and not expect to walk. And walk we did. Some highlights:



That last one is from yesterday's trip to Montmarte but I forgot to include it in the post. It is a purse in the shape of a gold high heel shoe. 

We walked along the Latin Quarter's cobblestone streets and branching off commenced and never ended. Just an endless array of amazingly beautiful buildings and streets. I don't think the weather could have been more perfect if we created it ourselves. September is the best time to be here, fuck the springtime. 
We continued to walk and get lost in the maze until we ended up in what looked a lot like Soho in Manhattan with art galleries and antique shops and no creperies, despite our desperate need/desire for one (again, first world problem). But we stumbled upon a boulangerie in the middle of nowhere and bought croissants, the first of the trip and eating a croissant in Paris is....I can't think of a word to describe this experience so I'll just say gagagagagagagagagaaaaaaaaa. Good? Good.

Again, Rowan is the master of map reading, public transport navigating and in no time, we were on our way to the Eiffel Tower. Little known fact: The Eiffel Tower is named after the designers Steve Eiffel and Bob Tower. If you visit the tower all the way to the top, you can see wax figurines of these two great men who'd waited so long to get to the top, they turned into wax. True story.

The Eiffel Tower is humbling. It is gorgeous and huge and imposing and glamorous and because it is such an icon of this great city, when you first see it, it doesn't quite seem real. Also, if you really have to pee when you get there, the existence of toilets don't seem quite real until you realize that they are on the outskirts of the base of at least the east leg. Remember this if you ever go. 

Notice the bright blue sky in the background. The day was so clear. It was a postcard. 

We spent roughly 3 days on line waiting to get our ticket/waiting for the first elevator/waiting for the 2nd elevator but the view from the 2nd level is hands down one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Hemingway once said "There is never any end to Paris." When you see the city from the very top of the Eiffel Tower, you believe him completely:

Those are just two of Lorraine's shots. As we ascended the elevator I got choked up with that first view and there was a collective gasp inside the packed elevator.  It is surreal.

Some comedy from the trip up:

As we waited in a packed group to mount the first elevator there was an extremely large man who paradoxically did not want any part of his body to touch anyone else's in close, crowded quarters.  Rowan's shoulder bag brushed against him and this sent him into an awkward ass dance in order to avoid making contact with anything/anyone else. "He was a tool"--Rowan.

Lorraine lost her entrance ticket on the second level, an outdoor level with so much wind that all our photos make us look like mental patients and when we retraced her steps, it was lying flat where it dropped. A miracle, if ever there was one.

The elevator to the very top was frightening. So frightening that the goth chick with the pireced septum had to stand in the center of the elevator and hold on with eyes closed and the 6 foot 8 man standing near the door said in a little boy voice "I don't wanna stand near the door anymore."

When we entered the enclosed top level it smelled of "popcorn and sweat"-Rowan. After the awesome view of the 2nd level, being in an enclosed, smelly crowded room at the top was a bit of a disappointment and when you climb up the one flight to the open air part, you are kind of always picturing the tower toppling over while you clutch a stranger in a panicked bid to stay alive, no matter what occurs. Or maybe that was just me.

Then we waited another six years to descend. All kidding aside, visit the Eiffel Tower. Even if you have one day in Paris, it is amazing. 

By the time all of that had finished, our stomach linings were dissolving in hunger and we went in search for food. The tentative plan was to visit Harry's New York Bar, as that has always been a place I've wanted to see due to its Hemingway ties and the fact that the Sidecar was invented there. It was a bit late however and by the time we got to the Opera district and finally found a restaurant, we decided to just finish our dinner and head home for oh maybe we had some wine ok?! Stop looking at me like that. 
Oh our waiter was a manic energetic ball who claimed that when Bush was president, no Americans came to Paris but now that Obama has been president, he sees so many more. He also put on some pantomine and told unintelligible jokes in such volume that when he walked away Lorraine said "I wish our waiter would just....stop." We all did Lorraine. We all did.

I'm a day behind on these. I'm on vacation so excuse moi. G'night!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oh, that's what that conversation was.

Days in Paris: 3
Baguettes eaten: 540
Wine bottles finished: 6...teen....thousand

In my last post I praised my little temporary Paris apartment. I would like to wholeheartedly stand by that praise but reiterate the bummer that is the morning, hourly bells. I equate it to inserting my head under a Manhattan bus badly in need of a tune up, clanging and rudely jolting me from a deep sleep/my life. The 5 euros my earplugs cost were well spent but not that well spent because as it turns out, the bells are not just a one day occurrence and neither are the little French children who are really, really, really excited about going to school on a Monday. 
But again, me + being in Paris at all= not complaining too much.

We got ready and went to find something eggy and substantial to eat and failed at our first stop but entered a promising cafe. We sat down and asked for the menu, exchanged a few broken, hesitating words wherein Rowan and Lorraine ordered omelettes with jambon and when I ordered a plain omelette was told it wasn't available. As weird as that sounded, and after some back and forth in broken French, I just ordered the same thing as they did. The waiter returned about 15 minutes later with three huge baguettes filled with ham and cheese and butter. Rowan instantly said aloud "Oh, that's what that conversation was." We asked for omelette we received ham sandwiches. Language barriers! Funny AND fattening.

This afternoon it was my absolute pleasure to explore Montmarte, the same area we are staying. We got the local and very wee Montmarte bus and took it straight up the "mountain" to the Sacre Coeur. The bus looks like it should be saying "I think I can, I think I can" as it drives up the steepness towards the Sacre Coeur. We made it to the top and inside the church where Lorraine took this:


and this:

But all on the DL because you aren't actually allowed to take photos of things inside the church (which, incidentally did not stop several brash tourists from setting off their obnoxious flash photography devices, a practice which tears the heart out of Lorraine--her words). 
The church overlooks the entire city of Paris as in this photo which not taken in 1911 but rather with an iPhone and Lorraine's artsy tinkerings:

I looked for Amelie Poulain but to no avail. What I found instead was a breathtaking view of what may be the most beautiful city that ever existed. Sorry NY, I love you but for reals? LOOK. 

After we left the church we wandered around aimlessly and came upon the touristy little section of souvenir shops and cobblestone streets and ended up in front of the Espace Dali but decided to just head for the gift shop where I bought some perfume, completing my 1950s housewife's dream of getting real FRONCH perfume. 

We then headed in the direction of down the mountain and went in search of Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge because that's what tourists do. Along the way we got tired and bought some sodas and sat in this little park which was mad shady with a bunch of single men sitting around sandwiched by porn shops and strip clubs and sex toy warehouses. At one point a man who had been sitting quietly by himself got up angrily, started talking French smack and stomped off in a random direction, only to return and stare us down a few minutes later. I was uneasy and unimpressed by Pigalle, and later by the Moulin Rouge. I have to say I did not feel the ghost of Edith Piaf, as I had hoped. I did feel the ghost of Times Square, circa 1985, however.

After returning home to stock up on a few groceries (EGGS!) we had a brief respite during which we may or may not have eaten three different types of cheese in front of the open window. I mused about how open Paris is and how I feel its embrace down every street corner, passing every cafe in front of which the seats face outward and couples sit next to each other and look outward and include you in their daily scenes of living and conversing. Seeing the layout of the city from Sacre Coeur was an opening of sorts as well. Paris is so spread out and open and infinite underneath the sky. And picturing all the branches of  alleyways and cobblestone streets within that openness is humbling and comforting and awe inspiring all at once. 

Then I climbed out of my navel, again and we headed down to the Latin Quarter for some dinner and to enjoy the perfect September evening. This time I got the close up view of those seemingly infinite branches of streets as when you turned a corner there were two more streets branching off in different directions and it was only a matter of which had more sparkly lights than the other. I think every choice in life should be just like that: which option is sparklier?

Sadly, despite the infinite amount of dining choices we ended up in a place I did not at all enjoy (while Pigalle seemed like the Times Square of the 80s, that section of the Latin Quarter seemed like the Times Square of today in that it was tourist trap of thousands of competing restaurants all concentrated into one area) but the company was good (and the wine, cough cough) and we got to wander through the Latin Quarter and near the Sorbonne under a clear sky, a full moon and the big bright open city. It would have all been very romantic had I been one half of a couple, but strolling around with my sister and my sister from anotha motha? I'll take it.

I'm positive I'm missing something here but it is now 1:30am and Imma tired. More to come...

Edited to add: Blogger was being rather spiteful last night and did not let me post this so after a nice long sleep in I'm up and waiting to see what Tuesday has to offer. I hope you who are reading this are having a good day. For my NY peeps, go the fuck back to sleep because it is 4am.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Loose Meat

Sunday in Paris. I sound so pretentious. But that's what's up.

As a quick side note, all photos that appear in this post are courtesy of my sister Lorraine, who has a domain name and the skeleton of a website for her photography but it is not yet complete otherwise I'd link it here.
As a second side note before I begin, a brief word on why I'm here, when I'm here: the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 is today. For me and more importantly for my sister the events of September 11 were not a 2 hour documentary or a years long news sound bite or a selling point for why America is #1. My sister narrowly escaped the towers (she was in the building when the plane hit) and lost a lot of friends in the aftermath and we both, along with a very good friend walked across the 59th street bridge with hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers in the shadow of the actual physical towers. September 11 is very, very personal to both of us, more so my sister. Last year as the 10th anniversary approached, my sister expressed the deep seated need to not be present for the inevitable daily reminders of that terrible time. And when I say daily reminders, I mean hourly reminders. The stories retold and retold again, the 911 calls, the images over and over again. I was in full agreement and we made a pact to be out of the country on that date and taking part in all the things that make us happy, that make our lives enjoyable and worth being around. Is that understandable? Is that reasonable? Are we being callous? I guess that depends on who you are and what you believe but the fact is, I'm here in a place I've always wanted to be, celebrating life because if I learned anything on that day, it was that life does many things but the most important thing it does is that it goes on.

Enough of that....

I apologize for the above photo if any of you reading this are allergic/don't like seafood/are anti-taking photos of your meals but good LORD that right there? One of life's many pleasures. Moules accompanied with frites. (aka Freedom fries, lmfao)

Yes that was part of our first meal here, that is to say what Rowan and Lorraine ordered and what I now desperately wish I had ordered. Not pictured is what I ordered. What I ordered was called, rather innocently andouillete, which as a born and raised Louisianian, I had confused with the American version of Andouille sausage. Andouille sausage is something I have enjoyed on many, many occassions and so I ordered it. What I got was what has come to be known over the last two days as "loose meat". I'd venture to describe the texture and visuals as "entrails" or "gross" or "nastiness in a casing". In fairness to the top notch brasserie we were eating in, I'm only a fake, part time meat eater. I have only temporarily suspended my nascent vegetarianism for France, land of meat. Also, why I would order sausage right out of the gate with no regard to how gross sausage can really be in a land of meat, well that's on me. In the end, when accompanied with me picking up several of my dining companions' moules and the top notch bottle of rose we got, all was well and the andouillete made for a good anecdote and inside joke and really, who doesn't like that?

And we returned home last night, and I posted yesterday's drunkenness and I began this post vaguely sober and as the hours tick by, that changes. I simply cannot stress enough the quality of wine that exists in this country. If you arrive in Paris as a non wine drinker, you will not leave without being a wine enthusiast. That's the Allison guarantee.

Moving even further on, the apartment in Paris that I am staying in is kind of totally incredible. It is small, it is Parisian and it is perfect. Apart from the tiny detail that it is directly on a busy street and I am a light sleeper but some auditory protection in a box that I purchased earlier today should correct that.  Also, jet lag jet lag jet lag. It is a very real, very first world problem.

Today we visited the Louvre, the mother of all museums. I saw everything famous about the museum: the pyramid out front:

The Mona Lisa (not pictured because you know what that looks like), Venus de Milo, Psyche and Cupid and lots and lots of art in a ginormous building that is a work of art in itself. 
Our visit to the Louvre was well timed as it was pissing rain the entire time we were in there and well into the hour or so after we left. As a result we decided to sit in a cafe and while away the hours eating and drinking and laughing. I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention what I ate so I'll just mention part of it: cheese. Cheese from the gods. Cheese as there has never been. I can still taste it, like the scent of an old lover on a pillow. Did I just compare food to a lover? I reveal more of myself through these posts than I wanted...

By the time we ended our meal the sun had come out and we wandered for hours back past the Louvre, through the Jardin de Tuileries and the Jardin de Carrousel and unforgettably we walked along the Seine for aways, my shoes ravaging my heels and then we got this close to the Eiffel Tower and then went "meh, let's get the bus and go home and drink wine."--Rowan Campbell. The Eiffel Tower is on the schedule for the coming week....the coming WEEK of which I still have several days left!

Currently it is 10:30pm. I'm seated at a table, watching Rowan trying to drunkenly paint her nails and Lorraine grooving to Busta Rhymes and I'm trying to get her to play Basement Jaxx. Oh and drinking wine. More a demain....

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Steel is the new oak

I am in Paris! I have pretty much fantasized about coming here since probably the age of 12, in between viewings of the "Princess Bride".  I could sit here and boldfaced lie and say "oh Paris isn't what everyone says it is" or "Paris is aight, nothing much to see here" or "Where's the closest Applebee's bitches?" but that would be contrary to my very being, a. and b) Paris is beautifulomfgitslikethiscitywasborninmysubconciousandisonlyrealbecausei'vecrossedoverintosomekindofthirddimensionwheredreamsarereal.

i want to write all about my flight, the loving tale of the very, very hurried shuttle driver and my adventures in ordering andouilette sausage but i am rather hammered at the moment on some of the most delicious wine that was ever fermented inside a steel barrel. (Did you know that steel was the new oak? I'd be really surprised if you did because Rowan just made that up.)

So I'm just checking in right now, at this hour where it is 12:40am physically but 6:40pm in my brain. More tomorrow...

P.S. I'm currently sat in front of an open window over looking a street called Rue du Mont Cenis, There is a church of undetermined demonination across the street, the parking lot of which contains no fewer than 700 vespas. Lyrical, nasal French floats up in random sequence from the clear, perfect night. I've just poured another glass of red magic and I'm going to catch up with a good friend. Life is good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tales from the Library: Smells edition

After eight years of working with the public in a library setting, I'm continually surprised how aromatic it is and how those aromas vary in intensity but never in family. No, not woody or earthy or herbaceous. All the aromas belong to the...I want to say revolting family for lack of an official genus. (Note: Google whether or not aromas have genuses.) (Note's note: Google what the plural form of genus is)*

Take for example what I've smelled so far today:

  • vague french fry
  • a special combination of moldy bathroom tile, armpit sweat and moth ball
  • very cheap drugstore cologne that has been spilled onto a shirt and then kept enclosed in a vacuum safe container, thereby saturating completely and irrevocably the fabric of said shirt and the air immediately surrounding it
  • stale beer, cigar smoke and the shame of someone seriously  hung over
  • 80s hair gel (think dep hair product)
  • cigarette smoke that has been trapped inside the pages of a worn detective novel
That last one happened as I was going through damaged paperbacks to discard. This happens more often than is really believable in this day and age and each time it does a single image flashes in my mind, that of a scene from the 1985 film "Stephen King's Cat's Eye". You remember that film right? James Woods, Drew Barrymore and a little goblin that when thrown into a desk fan turns into ground beef? Anyway there is a scene when a cigarette deprived Woods is imagining everyone around him smoking cigarettes as he watches impotently and at one point someone leans their head back in order to release a steam engine's worth of cigarette smoke. That's what I think happens to the library books that come back smelling like that. Some weird 80s person lets out an unending stream of cigarette smoke directly on to pages of the paperback and doesn't stop until a cat is electrocuted. Either way, the entire process is unpleasant.

Another noteworthy aromatic event was that time, not too long ago when a library patron decided to have an entire fast food  meal at one of the study tables. The reference desk was busy so before I even realized it, a page came up and said "Um, there is a guy eating at the desk over there." I looked over and sure enough, homeboy had a burger, fries, soda AND an apple pie all laid out on the table and was wearing a toothy smile as I approached him to tell him that the library didn't play that. So for a good half hour that section of the library smelled like dinner.

I could go on with these stories and descriptions and opine that the library has come to mean a different (read: lesser/grosser) thing than it used to or that I sometimes have a brief glimpse of panic that all the library naysayers who say things like "omfg only losers go to the LIEberry still lol" may be taking over faster than I'd care to admit but the reality is that public libraries have always been bastions for the mixed nuts medley that is humanity and all its trappings, aromas included.

What's worth noting when discussing library aroma is the distinct lack of "book smell". I no longer smell the nostalgia inducing scent of books in any modern library and that is for any number of reasons, the biggest being that we throw out old books instead of keeping them. Oh and also all the other scents are strong enough to overpower whatever smell of "book" lingers. Whether or not this observation depresses you really does define a small part of you in my very judgemental eyes.

And with that I shall leave. I'm going to find a vat of patchouli oil to shove my face in.

(*Note's note's note: Google whether or not it is grammatically correct to end a parenthetical phrase with a preposition)