Category Archives: France

Last days in Paris.

France has come and gone and I’m back in Berkeley, but in the interest of completeness I must write because I haven’t yet written about my last two days in Paris. There was also a depressing 12-hour flight home (made better by Bridesmaids and Jane Eyre, made worse by the fact that my seating companion was a beefy American in a Harley-Davidson jacket, made slightly better by the fact that as far as that could go he was fairly considerate) but that’s not worth writing about, beyond what I just said.

A Raghav and a basilica

Yes another shot of the Eiffel Tower.

We walked all over Paris and saw many of the things you are supposed to see. On Wednesday we went to the Louvre, the shopping galleries, the Opera Garnier, and Le Marais district. On Thursday we went to Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais, Les Invalides, the Left Bank, and around Montmartre.

All of these things were great and worthwhile. At the Louvre, I was in the presence of the Mona Lisa (like everyone has said before me, it was pretty small) and also Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo and some lovely Jan van Eyck and Vermeer. (I’ve seen my share of Italian Renaissance painting in my time, so I think the Dutch stuff is kinda refreshing. Love the austere black dresses.) But museums are exhausting—especially one like the Louvre—and I was tired before we’d even finished the first room of Greek sculpture.

Apropos of my other blog we visited some amazing old bookshops, like amazing amazing, like you’d never see here. There were tiny librairies tucked away in the Gallerie filled with old first editions that I couldn’t believe were not behind glass, and a musty, haphazard aesthetic, Harry Potter ish. The best was Shakespeare & Co., a(n) historic Anglophone bookstore on the Left Bank. I feel like if I lived in Paris I’d be there all the time. There was a reading room upstairs with a desk (on it, a Henry James reader and the International Herald Tribune) and a window overlooking the Seine and Ile-de-la-Cite and Notre Dame. Another room had a piano, where a girl was playing something Baroque. Plus, it was in Paris—how can anything at home compete?

When we got to the Opera Garnier, I was like, why does this look familiar? Then I was like, oh yeah, because I just saw it in Sherlock Holmes. Also, it was the inspiration for Phantom of the Opera. They don’t have opera there anymore. Just ballets.

My history self was excited to go to the Grand Palais, because it was constructed for the Universal Exposition in 1900 and that whole turn-of-the-century expo thing is just super interesting. They were having an exhibition of relief maps, and I mostly paid for it so I could check out the inside. The interior apart from the exhibition was pretty blank, though the iron work and glass ceiling were wonderful, and then I imagined what kinds of exhibitions had gone on there 112 years before. Probably, you know, racist stuff.

Me and Winston. Outside the Petit Palais.

I love how in exploring Paris we unintentionally came across so many adorable streets of shops and lights and sidewalks, in all these arrondissements. That reminded me of San Francisco.

Also: it was really really cold. The first couple days in Paris had highs in the low 40s, which being from California I’ve never really experienced in a prolonged fashion. I become a pitiful shivering mess whenever the temperature dips below 40 at night in Sacramento and I can see my breath. But: I’ve decided I like the cold.  With proper jeans, boots, three layers, a thick coat, a hat, a scarf, and gloves, it’s not bad, it’s (as my guidebook put it) invigorating. And I wanted to also throw that out there because I do realize that I am wearing the same coat in every freaking picture. All pictures were outside, it was cold, and I packed light. …Deal with it.

Parisians ice skating.

Despite a multitude of impressive and historic and beautiful structures, to take photos of, to pay admission to, to visit, I think my favorite times in Paris, as it often is with places I travel to, were the times I didn’t feel like a tourist. Sometimes I’d jam my camera into my bag and then my hands into my pockets and walk like I knew where I was going. Browsing bookstores, shopping for scarves, and having coffee sans crème at one of the city’s many brasseries made me feel like I could be a Parisian. It’s silly, maybe, but I love a city the most when I feel like I can be a part of it.

We’ll see if my crush on Paris lasts, what with the distance and me being back home in my normal life, though if precedent is any indication I’d say it might. I’ll work on my French just in case.

Oh, and food:

Tartine and beer at a restaurant/pub in Montmartre that I would be a regular at if I lived near

Penne carbonara– with a freaking egg– in Le Marais

Oeufs and mayonnaise, probably one of my favorite things I ate in France

Very cheesy crepes in Montmartre

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Obligatory ode to Paris.

Did some big things today. Pantheon, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower. Took lots of photos that will never make it in a magazine (blurry, overexposed, or just been done before) though I did try to be original sometimes. Walked all over Paris and also took the Metro.

The Pantheon, outside.

The Pantheon, inside; Foucault’s pendulum.

Secular, non-secular gods

At Notre Dame Raghav kept humming “The Bells of Notre Dame” from 1996 Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I ignored him because otherwise I could have broken into the whole song. I was afraid of heights when we went up the towers, which feeling was sorely exacerbated by the sight of people thrusting their tiny digital cameras between the protective bird wiring with nary a safety strap on their wrist, and I subconsciously felt the drop of the camera to its hundreds-feet-tall death. Paris from above was beautiful but hazy.

Notre Dame, outside.

Notre Dame, inside. I love stained glass.

Notre Dame, from the top.

We did not go up the Eiffel Tower because it had a “fermature exceptionnel” translated was “exceptionally closed” this afternoon (I am not translating, that is how the Eiffel Tower people translated it). But I loved seeing it, more than I thought I would. I saw it from the plane, a towering anomaly in the Parisian skyline, and that was exciting. But I really hadn’t realized how big it is, and standing directly under it, all I could think was that it seems to me a marvel of late 19th-century modern engineering. Like steampunk and art nouveau. And that was exciting too. Plus there was a light show.

I have been trying to use my French, and I mostly do when ordering (it helps that menu items are usually in French and my task is only to say “Je voudrais…” and then pronounce them), but sometimes I slip and become a two-year-old using one-word questions. (“Change?” “Dinner?”) French people walk fast but otherwise seem perfectly nice. The proportion of well-dressed men is probably about five times that of their American counterparts. Women, maybe twice.

For those who are interested to know: I had French breakfast (redundant? Every breakfast here is French!) in the Latin Quarter: eggs, bacon, baguette with jam and butter, coffee (oeufs, bacon, baguette avec confiture et beurre, café). Had Starbucks for lunch (again, with a French Starbucks delicacy not available in the States, the caramel and sel muffin). Had tartine monsieur and a German beer for dinner.

Cafe Mouffetard. 10 euros.

Tomorrow, the Louvre, and whatever else fits into the day. And this always happens and I knew it would happen again but I’ve decided to live here someday.

Nous sommes arrivés.

Met up with Raghav and we’re now at a hostel in Paris, in Montmartre just around the corner from Basilica Sacre-Coeur.

Our room on Rue d’Orsel

The first thing I did when I arrived was went to a café across from Sacre-Coeur and ordered a sweet crepe and a chocolat chaud. As I ate I thought, I’m moving here. It was great.

The second thing I did was I walked up the (many, many) stairs to Sacre-Coeur and took lots of pictures. I entered the Basilica and as usually happens with cathedrals was moved, awestruck by the space, the peace, and the religious iconography. It was also great.

Basilica Sacre-Coeur.

Then, I walked back down the stairs, and was hassled by two very different persons both seeking money from me. Immediately it became apparent that in Paris such persons are far more comfortable making physical contact with you in order to get your attention, i.e. grabbing wrists, blocking paths. My American self is full of entitled indignation. This was not great, and this slightly dampened my Parisian spell, but only slightly.

Hard to see, but next to my fries is a delicious falafel sandwich with tahini.

When Raghav arrived we had dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, in true ironic fashion, and to further ironize it all I had the best falafel yet of my trip. This is partly because I didn’t actually have falafel in Lebanon; I had a falafel-like item in Hasbaya in the South but it was filled with meat and was a bit too rich for my bus-sick blood. In Paris, I found the falafel I was looking for.

Tomorrow, the Latin Quarter, maybe the Eiffel Tower, Paris, pictures to come.