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Paris day 7 and our return home

I write this last narrative about our wonderful trip to Paris some weeks after the events herein described. Unfortunately, that was unavoidable. We took full advantage of our last day in Paris and then had a busy day returning home, and then "normal" life reasserted itself with a vengence, so I had to wait and find my moment to put the last bit down in writing.

Paris on Sunday, September 18 was as beautiful a day as we had experienced during the trip. We had a week full of wonderful weather and this day did not disappoint. It was the second day of the European Patrimony Days in Paris, and this meant two things. Certain museums were free, and thus to be avoided because they would be more crowded than usual. The second byproduct was that many churches, state and city buildings and other collections were open to the public for free which would otherwise be closed to the public. This allowed for some interesting glimpses into Paris, though our day still focused on the blockbuster venues such as the Louvre and the Pompidou center (neither of which were free, and thus only their "normal" level of crowdedness).

After a breakfast in our apartment we decided to walk into the Marais district. Our apartment was just over the neigborhood line from the district (we were in the Third Arrondissement and the Marais comprises the Fourth), such that we could easily walk in, though we were not actually staying in the Marais proper. Laura and Ian, her counsin Jennifer and Jennifer's daughter Brenna, however, had stayed in the heart of the Marais when they were in Paris in June and July, so she knew the neighborhood.

The Marais started as a set of wetlands or fens as part of the Sein river system. Marais translates loosely into wetlands. In the late Medieval and early modern era, great families started to have the wetlands drained and building gran residences in the Marais (this created a beautiful neighborhood, but as you might imagine, building on drained wetlands, which is what much of Paris is, leaves a certain vulnerability; everywhere we went, we found commemorations of the high water marks from the 1910 flood, which turned Paris into Venice for weeks). The neighborhood is not as maze-like and jumbled as the tiny bit of Medieval Paris that remains on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, but the streets are narrow and the architecture of many buildings show that this was a neighborhood untouched by the reforms of Napoleon III and Paris' dominating city Architect Geroge-Eugene Haussmannn (the panner who knocked down much of Medieval Paris, but who also gave a unified and beautiful character to the city, as well as providing for the first public parks and gardens throughout the city). So, the Marais feels older as you walk into it.

As we walked in, we saw various civic buildings, including the Archives, has special displays and were open to the public for visiting. However, as we were loosely following a suggested walk in my Paris guide by Rick Steves, we headed first to the Carnavalet Museum. The museum is housed in one of the old mansions from the early founding of the neighborhood. It is quite a vast place. Within it are artifacts, paintings, photographs, parts and entire elements from buildings and stores all from Paris' past. It is a repository for the history of Paris. It was a fascinating jumble of wonderful things. I especially liked the various commercial signs from shops, stores and other businesses of the past, usually created for a populace who could not read. Also there were the store front and the main display room fixtures from the G. Fouquet jewelry store from about the turn of the last century. The style was classic Art Nouveau and it was equisite. The exterior had stained glass with glamorous Art Nouveau portraits of women as well as having beautiful bronze panels and fittings. The interior had a fountain, a bejeweled peacock statue and glorious wooden and glass display cases that were of classic Art Nouveau design. It was wonderful that someone had saved so much and preserved it. It was only sad that we could not walk down a Paris street now and find such a store front, but, we couldn't have afforded anything they sold anyway.

From the museum, we returned to the street and headed to Place des Vosges, a late Medieval (1605) square with a beautiful little park in the middle and shops, restaurants and apartments arranged around it. One of the most famous residents on the square was Victor Hugo, who had an apartment right on the square with his family for 16 years, and where he wrote many of the works he is best known for. The apartment is now a museum and, being Patrimony Days, we got in free. It was interesting to view the place the Hugo family called home. There was at that time (1832-1848) a lot of Asian influence coming into the decor, and the Hugos seem to have really let that guide many of their decorating choices. After a quick and crowded walk through the spacious apartments, we headed back to the square a picked a restaurant to each some lunch at. Laura had a gallette (a buckwheat crepe) and I had a Croque Monsieur (grilled ham a cheese) at a nice cafe called Nectarine. The meal was good, and we sat outside in the shade of the covered walkway while to the sounds of the fountains and children in the middle of the square and the occiaisional passing traffic.

From cafe, we crossed through the park in the middle of the square, which was filled with families enjoying the fountains, park benches, play areas and shady trees that all are ranged around a equestrian statute of Louis XIII (his father Henri IV build the square, but Louis got the statute). Passing that scene, we headed over to the back entrance of the Hotel de Sully. As an aside, we found in Paris, that Hotel, especially in the Medieval and Early Modern era had many meanings that don't equate to what we think when we hear the word "hotel." At its basis, it is a place to stay, but we found it used to describe hospitals, residences, and, in the case of Hotel de Sully, a grand mansion.

Sully was one of the glamorous mansions built on Place Vosges after 1605 as a grand residence. Like the Canavelet Museum, it has survived because it has been repurposed as a city building. However, the exterior and courtyards retain their splendor and charm and it was another window onto Paris' past. Of course, there was no time to linger. This was our last day in Paris and we had a lot to do.

Post revolution, the Marais changed character from a ritzy neighborhood changed into the kind of working class neighborhood that inspired Victor Hugo as well as becoming the a center for Jewish residents of the city. As we walked back through the Marais, we passed by many Jewish shops and restaurants and dozens of Orthodox men and boys selling fruit in the street. The neighborhood was alive with bustle and vitality. We walked down the Rue Rosiers and Laura pointed out the apartments that she and Ian had stayed in (sadly without air conditioning) earlier in the summer.

Leaving the Marais behind, we took the Metro back for our second visit to the Louvre. In many ways, it is impossible to describe how impressive the Louvre is. The ambition of the museum, showcasing elements from seemingly all of human history, is as grand as the egos of the French kings which created the grand palace in which the museum is housed. We saw countless masterpieces and so many artifacts which I had seen in texts on ancient art and cultures.

Our first destination was to see some of Michelangelo's work. The Louvre has the piece called Cupid and Psyche, which I found particularly beautiful (especially in the light of that particular day) and it also has two of his "slaves" pieces, know as "The Dying Slave" and "The Rebelious Slave." All were impressive, but the image I most recall is a closeup look at the faces of winged cupid and his mortal lover Psyche. It was just vibrant in the light with the warmth of the stone in the sunlight cast through the magnificent prism of the sculpter's art.

Our next highlight was the visit to the Venus de Milo. It is hard to express why this now incomplete statute of a half nude goddes is so impressive, and yet it strikes you as so balanced, so poised and yet so expressive and full of life that you are left to wonder at the genius and serendipidy that intersected to render stone into a masterwork. The area around the statute was quite crowded of course, and of course, I had to elbow my way in to get my own dozen photos. The statute was lit by natural light, which made it all the more beautiful, if a little tricky to photograph.

We saw many more pieces of classical statuary that was wonderful and we went on to see other relics of the classical period from Greece and Rome. Notable was the fact that some of the few remaining decorative marble pieces of the Parthenon that Greece retained after the bulk was carted off by Lord Elgin and ended up in the British Museum were on display in the Louvre on loan (note ON LOAN) from the Greek Government while the new museum built to house them is being finished. Though these three fragments were very damaged and are less impressive than the mass of marbles acquired by the British, them were nonetheless powerful and moving examples of the great artistry of the Athenian Parthenon.

From the Classical sections of the museum, we moved into the Mesopotamian wings to visit the cultures of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria. We saw the first great proclomation of law, the Code of Hammurabi, preserved in a basalt stela. Also, almost overwelmingly impressive were the great stone bulls and processional panels from the palace of Assyrian King Sargon II. These are treasures that I have seen depicted since I was a child, and it was an amazing feeling to stand next to them and to ponder the many thousands of years these objects have survived. I will admit that I had to hold myself back from photographing every detail of every object. First there was no time, second, that would have been pretty boring for Laura, but it was fascinating and I did take some time when Laura stopped for a rest to run through a whole number of galleries and photograph some of the most interesting parts, particularly from the Sumerian collections.

We had time to visit one more area after our wirlwind tour through the ancient cultures of the fertile crescent, and Laura let me pick again. This time I wanted to see the Medieval foundations of the Louvre. As with most things in Paris, what was standing now, had been preceded by something else. As it turns out, when the French kings tore down their big Medieval castle because it was drafty, smelly and unfashionable, in order to build the amazing and opulent Louvre palace (and then on to Versailles etc.), they just filled in over a number of things, including the huge moat, the foundations of the castle and several chambers. This has all been excavate beneath the museum now, and you can walk through part of the moat and some of the chambers. It is pretty awesome. They also have a big model showing how the Louvre castle once looked, and it was very impressive. I think Laura is right, if they had kept that around to run away to come the Revolution, they might have escaped with their heads. Well, it's hard to keep a whole big castle around "just in case" especially when you need the space to build the McMansion of all McMansions.

What remains of the Medieval Moat was truly impressive. Not something I would want to figure out how to cross while people were shooting arrows, throwing big rocks and pouring down boiling oil. Not only were the sections of the moat walls in very good condition hundreds of years after construction, but so too were the pilings for the draw bridge and other medieval architectural standards. We were able to pass from the moat area into the basement of the donjon (the central defensive keep inside the fortified walls). It was relatively small, but space standards were pretty cramped even for a king in those old castles (thus the drive to renovate when threat of exterior attack faded; who knew the peasants would be revolting?). From the donjon we passed into one of the other chambers, I believe the Salle de Saint Louis, where they had a small collection of some of the artifacts recovered from the fill inside the castle basement. All in all, it was very interesting.

By the end of it, however, we were climbing out of the Louvre basement and needed to head back to the apartment for a rest, a meal and a check of what we needed to pack.

As day seven went, we were pretty footsore and tired.

But our day was not yet done. Just around the corner from our apartment is the major modern art museum of Paris, the Pompidou center. It is a fantastical looking metal and glass structure, and, it also affords an amazing view of some of the Paris skyline. So after a rest, we used our museum passes for the last time and entered the Pompidou center. We headed to the top floor open to the public and then alternated for the rest of the evening between galleries, and the outdoor walkways which afforded an absolutely glorious view of the sun setting over Paris (particularly behind the Eiffel Tower).

The museum has some amazing holdings. I was really impressed by a Picasso they had which is almost playful and really shows what a mastery of forms and styles Picasso had. The picture, titled 'Arlequin Assis" (painted in 1923), shows a very realistic painted figure of a the classic Harlequin figure sitting. The top quarter of the figure or so, divided off at about a 45 degree angle, is paited completely. The rest of the figure is just an outline, dominated by the unfilled white space. The technical execution of the painting is quite flawless. The seeming unfinished nature of the seems playful. It is as if Picasso got to a point and decided, you know, I don't want to do realistic classical painting anymore. I have some other ideas. Of course, he was already producing more abstract pieces. This, more than any other piece by Picasso I have ever seen shows that he could have done comforbably producing flawless realistic masterworks, but he consciously went in another direction because he was not excited by such work. He wanted to break the borders of realism and forge his own path.

There were many other modern master works by the likes of Kandinsky, Delaunay, Dali and Matisse and many other interesting and strange and some just not that interesting (to me, art being in the eye of the beholder) pieces and works.

Of course, they all had to compete with the gorgeous evolving sunset out over the paris skyline. In between viewing painting and other works of art, we ducked out and I shot photo after photo, paticularly of the sunset behind the Eiffel Tower, but also got shots of the Arc de Triumph and the Grand Arch of Le Defense. It was just fabulously beautiful.

Of course, all good things had to come to an end, and we had to get back to our apartment and make sure all was ready for our early morning departure. Our landlady, Annmarie, called us to make sure everything was okay, and to let us know that all we needed to do was to leave our keys in the apartment and go the next morning.

After a good, but too short sleep, we arose about 5 am and got dressed, had breakfast (with our last pain chocolate) and settled everything into our bags. We left our keys and departed for the last time from our little apartment building. It was dark outside, but not too cold.

We departed through the quiet Paris streets, heading to the neares RER station, beneath a shopping mall at Chatelet les Halles. We had our first little moment of panic when the first entrance we reached was totally closed. We stood for a moment trying to think of a backup plan, however, we noticed some other travelers heading on further and followed them to another entrance that was open.

Down we went. We had our tickets and after winding down through the various passageways (as this was both an RER and Metro station), we arrived on the platform just in time to see the arrival of a train that appeared to be going our direction and we lept into action and jumped on. We then asked the passangers there (as the train was pulling away) if this train went to Charles de Gaulle international airport. The first passenger had no idea, but the second said "non." Oops.

We got off at the next stop. We now could find a schedule board that showed an airport bound train was following in about 15-20 minutes. We waited on the platform and finally got on the train. The ride out, taking the same route as we had taken in, was uneventful and mundane in a good way. We saw the Paris commute waking up and getting moving. Paris would continue to function and live without us, so it will be there when we go back again (which is hopefully sooner than twenty years off).

We exited the train at Terminal 2 and went to find our departure gate. We were on what was essentially a "local" flight, in that we were once again going from Paris to Amsterdam to Detroit to the DC Metro Area (but, if you have been reading, you know we left from BWI, but read on and see if we ever returned that way . . . ).

Still, we had to go through pretty extensive security. France had been upping its security measures the week we were there. On our last morning we saw armed soldiers walking through parts of the terminal, and also they were being pretty thorough at security.

Unfortunately, they were not issuing thorough instructions and therein lies the reason I got to go through security three times . . .

I was very fortunate in having an excellent large sized Cannon camera bag, thanks to the generosity of our neighbor Kaarin O'Connell, which I used both as a carry on bag and a day bag everywhere we went. It had, in addition to my camera, a book, guide books, my mp3 player and other useful things on this particular occasion. As I approached the head of the security line, I was reminded to remove my belt, empty my pockets and place my bag on the x-ray belt (once again I got to keep my shoes). The security officer at the front of the belt noted I had I camera bag and told me to take out the camera.

No problem.

I got through the metal detector, began to repocket my wallet and put on my belt when they grabbed my camera bag and called me back.

Crossing to the other side of the metal detector, the security officer overseeing things going on the X-ray belt told me that I had a collection of wires (various USB cables and earbuds) in the bag that had to be taken out. For some reason, at the end of most of his instructions, he said "cheers." Anyway, I easily complied and walked back to the other side to receive my bag.

Beep.

I was quickly at the mercy of a second security officer who was alternately wanding me and patting me down and quickly berating me for coming through the metal detector without taking off my belt and emptying my pockets. My abortive attempts to explain that this was the second time through never really got out of the gate. Just as it was getting to a fever pitch, there was another beep, or something . . .

And I was being summoned back by the first security officer who yelled at the second guy that I had already been through the line. The second guy mumbled an apology and I walked, once again, through the metal detector to see what the first guy wanted. Now a third guy entered the mix, running up from the x-ray viewer with my bag and he declared "you have an e-book."

Uh well, yeah. They said take out camera. They said take out wires. No one said "take out e-book." Also, no one said, God forbid, take out all your electronics. Noooooooo. That would be too easy.

Anyway, I pulled out my Kindle, took off my belt, emptied my pockets and walked, for the third time, through the metal detector. I gathered my things, and then was confronted by . . . duh duh dahhhhhhhhnnnnn, the explosives residue lady!

She led me aside (I gave a beleaguered look to Laura) and she wiped down my bag and then walked off with my bording pass. I turned again to Laura and asked her to tell the children that I loved them . . .

However, then the lady came back, gave me my borading pass, and we were off to our flight.

The short flight, handled by KLM staff, was no problem. The flight was quick and relatively efficient.

Once in Amsterdam, we cleared passport control with ease. Then we had to go through security again. This was a better and more interesting process. I did not have to take anything out of my bag this time and I did not have to take off my shoes (again! score!), but I was supposed to not only empty my pockets but also send through my boarding pass, which was really against my training, and thus, as I was conducted into the back scatter scanner booth, I still had it in my hand. They instructed me to put my hands over my head, and, noticing the bording pass still clutched in one hand, they firmly snatched it from me and then used their electronic magic to make me naked, at least to somebody. Zap.

Then, I was on my way, quickly with pass and other possessions in hand. Laura seemed to have done better, once again, as she appropriately put her pass through with her other stuff. I was just having that kind of day.

We then walked across the very large Amsterdam airport to our next gate. We bought a few sundries there, and then embarked on the long transatlantic flight back to, oh yeah, Detroit.

Of course, being called into the "boarding area" was just the start of our little journey to get to the next room to wait for our plane. So, we were called up to pass out of the main terminal so that we could wait in another room in a long security line. This second wave of security concerned itself with interrogation, asking us very firmly whether we had anything that had been passed to us, that did not belong to us, that someone, perhaps, had asked us to take for them? No. Perhaps you did not pack all your own things? No. You received gifts from someone on your trip that are still wrapped and you just packed them? No.

Okay, we could go.

To another big room.

Without a bathroom.

To wait.

And wait.

So, our flight was delayed in getting us on by at least an hour.

So, we were seated together in the middle of the middle, but it was not too bad. We had the same configuration of plane. As an experienced passenger, I managed to avoid having my thigh hit the call button for the flight attendant, but I noticed several other people got surprised by that particular design "feature." However, they had plenty of time to get used to it as we sat on the ground.

And sat.

For another hour plus past our departure time. Seems like there was some mechanical issue with the air conditioning. Also, they still had to fuel up the plane, which was interesting, and fumy. But we survived and did take off.

Once we got off the ground, we got fed, of course, and we did not otherwise do much in the way of sleeping on the all day flight. We each did some reading (Laura had ordered a book on my Kindle before we left Amsterdam; modern technology is COOL). Also, I picked through the movies to see what I could stand. Remake of "Clash of the Titans"? Nooooooooo! Did not last ten minutes. The comic book based "Kick Ass"? No! Did not last five minutes. Reimagining of "The A-Team"? Actually a fun movie. Watched the whole thing. It passed the time. It was "not bad." Then I watched a bad movie, but, for some strange reason, it was watchable, even though it was a highly predictable gore fest: "Ninja Assassin." I could never recommend this movie, and yet, I watched the whole thing.

So, moving right along . . .

After a very long flight and a longer time on the plane, we arrived in Detroit such that we were able to make it through Immigration and Customs just in time to note that our flight to BWI was in the air. Clearing immigration was no problem. The CBP inspector was very professional and efficient. Then, of course, we had to get our bags and clear the customs part of the CBP inspection. As an aside, aparently somewhere in all this luggage toting, airplane flying, I laid the foundation for throwing out my back, but I did not have to feel that wrath until after we got to be home a few days.

So, Customs inspection was also a breeze, but, as noted above, even if we had been at the head of both lines, we would have never have made it to our plane.

So, we had to get rebooked. We were offered a flight that would get us to BWI at 11 pm. No way.

We could go to any of the DC Metro area airports, so, we got lucky and got a DCA flight that got us in at about 9 pm, which was two hours later than planned, but still not horrible.

We spent our first couple of hours on American soil in the Detroit airport, which doesn't have a lot to recommend it, but we were together, and we could bask in the recent memories of an absolutely fantastic trip.

I thought about how wonderful Paris had been, as city, as a state of mind, as a place of being in the moment, and a place of celebration for 20 wonderful years with Laura. It was really hard to beat.

The flight to DC was quick and efficient, once it got started, and Laura's dad picked us up from the airport and took us home. The trip was well and truly over. We had our own bed to return to, or lives with work and schooling and the kids. There was a bit of a shock to the system, but, in a good way as well as with fleeting regret that our Paris adventure couldn't just go on and on.

Every day was GREAT.

But every day with my family, in my home, that is pretty great too. And that is what 20 years stand for, as much as we celebrate them with the extraordinary.

With Paris.

Paris, Days 6

As you may have guessed, if you read my previous post, that the last few days we have been pushing things.

There is so much to see and experience in this glorious city, and it is hard not to want to fit as much into each day as possible.

So, today, though we started a bit later and moved a bit slower, we continued to work thing pretty hard.

It being Saturday and also European Patrimony weekend (a kind of pan-European celebration which means that lots of museums and attractions are free (and mobbed) and other places like municipal governments or private chapels in some of the great churches are open for visit), we decided to avoid the actual festivities and go to places that were still charging (and that our museum pass covered) and also doing things that were about visiting and seeing parts of Paris that were not "attractions" per se.

We started at a "small" flea market way out to the south in the city. It is just near the Paris beltway, which mostly marks the route of the old medieval walls of Paris. The market was very interesting. We did not find any amazing treasures, but it was fasciating to walk through. If this one was a "small" one, I think I might not make it walking a large one, as this took a lot of time to get through, there were a lot of people and lots of stuff. Also, I noticed that, while many people had dogs (buyers and sellers), every dog was extremely well behaved and calm. I was impressed.

After that experience, it was time to get back on the museum track, and we headed into central Paris to go to the great D'Orsay art museum.

The one unfortunate thing about the D'Orsay from my overall experience in Paris, is that it is a "no photography" museum. It is a little frustrating that in the Louvre it is fine to take photos as long as you don't use a flash (and the flash issue is subject to lax enforcement) but at this newer museum, there is just an absolute ban on photography (I noticed a lot of not very surriptitious photo snapping with cell phones, but I wasn't about to walk around with my camera out when I wanted to just enjoy and absorb the art). So, no photos from this part of the day.

Laura and Ian went to this museum during their visit in June, but the museum is quite large with a quite diverse collection. Even if you went through every room, you could not absorb it all, and I think with each visit, you could find new things. Also, they have temporary exhibits and make new acquisitions.

The museum was built in the shell of the grand train station created for the World Exposition for which the Eiffel Tower was also created. Neither were planned as permanent, but yet they are still here. THe D'Orsay almost did not make it. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, whose reprieve came in part because it made an excellent radio tower, important especially during World War I, the D'Orsay lost its immediate untility because it was not well placed as a working rail hub. It was too much in the center of Paris, on the banks of the Sein and within sight of the Palace of the Louvre on the other side and it generated too many noxious fumes (being all coal fired engines at the time). Having lost its purpose from the exposition, it fell into disuse and went through the better part of the 20th Century fading in glory and falling apart. Fortunately, before it was demonlished, the idea to turn it into a grand space for art caught fire, and it, like other nearly lost rail stations (Union Station in DC comes to mind), got a new lease on life.

The space is really massive, with the various show floors suspended in the area that was once the vaulted space over a rail yard and boarding platforms. The interior did not lend itself to an easy flow pattern for the various rooms of art and that is really my only complaint. It is easy to miss things as you try to maneuver around, but it is a very impressive museum.

We started, naturally enough, at the restaurant. The restaurant is a beautiful, airy and gogeously decorated and gilt room. The ceiling is covered with a huge paiting from the 1900 exibition and the floor is dotted with statuary. We got a nice table by a window and ordered what might have been our most expensive meal in Paris. It was very nice and we each had a delicious dessert (Laura a chocolate mousse cake and I a creme brule).

Thus fortified, we headed into the museum. Now, I have to admit that a bit of art/museum fatigue had set in by Saturday. It was not quite "ho hum, another Van Gogh," but it sure did make me more choosy about what I looked at and how long I spent in the room. The art in the museum runs the gamut of the great (and some not so great) European (mainly) artists of the 19th and early 20th Century. The painter of La Grande Odalisque is represented here (Ingres), though to my eye, the works here were lesser than the masterpiece we saw in the Louvre. Lots and lots of "big names": Manet, Monet, Renoire, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Letrec, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Degas. Saw lots of paintings by all of them. Many quite famous and interesting to see, others perhaps not the masters' best work. There was a fine piece by Winslow Homer (one of the few Americans) and James Abbot-McNeil Whistler's portrait of his mother is also apparently there, but we did not find it (see my comment about being easy to miss things with the layout).

There were a couple of paintings that caught my attention beyond the fact that I might have seen them in art books, on art shows, or learned about them long ago in art history. There was a very large work called something like The Romans in Decadance (Les Romains de la Decadence) by Thomas Couture. It seems to be a metaphore about a culture of excess being ready to collapes under its own weight. Or, less intellectually, it seems to say the the Roman Empire fell because they had too many parties with half naked women where drunken idiots tried to do gymnastics on the serious statues of long dead Roman statesmen. There was also another huge paiting entitled "Cain" which showed a very old man still carrying the weapon with which he killed his brother leading his tribe of animal skin clad hunters, their women and children, through the wilderness. According to the information about the painting, it was painted near in time to the discovery of the first Neaderthal skulls, and so Cain and his tribe are depicted as "cave men." There was also another "interesting" and quite large canvass showing a knight in armor, standing with a kind of serene look in a field of flowers while surrounded by dancing naked girls who are apparently personifications of flowers according to the flower hats they seem to be wearing. I thought, since this was in a room entitled something like "symbolism" that the painting might be some parable of virtue risiting temptation or something like that, but the title is just Knight of Flowers. A little research turns up the fact that this may be a character from the Parsifal legend and it may be a parable of being oblivious to the beauty of life, but it seems like the painter (Rochegrosse George) mostly had naked girls on the mind.

Then there is the painting that I recently learned is informally titled "The Athens YMCA." The painting shows a Christ-like figure in the center, apparently meant to be Plato, surrounded by mostly naked young men, uh, studying together around their master. It is a crazy bad painting and I'm not sure, or perhaps I am exactly sure what the painter (Jean Delville) had on his mind. Interestingly, according to the information on the D'Orsay website, this painting was to hang in the Sorbonne, the great central University of Paris (now broken up and decentralized in to more than a dozen city Universities), but it somehow never made it to its intended audience. I am not surprised that the folks in charge of the University decided to pass on this one.

Despite these striking and, at some points, decidedly odd pieces of art, the museum really impressed me with its diverse and beautiful collection of art. We finished mainly looking at the collections of statuary, which of course included some Rodin pieces, however, most of them were copies or derivatives of originals which we saw at the more complete Rodin museum.

All in all, however, a good outing.

So, we took the Metro to a stop from where we could walk back to the apartment without transferring to get to our exact stop.

On the way back, we stopped at a church, Saint Eustache, which we had noticed many times, but never entered. The church was specially opened for the ongoing European Patrimony Days, and, somewhat counterintuitively, not only was the church and some of the private chapels opened, but also there were acrobats performing an aerial exhibition in the vaulted space of the transept while an accompanyist played various classical pieces on the church organ. The church itself took over 100 years to build, and was completed in 1640. It was beautiful, but in serious need of restoration at various places. The stained glass was interesting, but did not match the masterworks in Notre Dame or Sainte Chapelle. It was an interesting little side trip before taking an afternoon rest.

From there, we headed home, picking up some snacks.

After some late afternoon napping, we decided to go to Monmartre and visit the Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart) church. We took the Metro and then the funicular up to the top of the Monmartre hill (the highest point in Paris). It was already dark and we had missed the spectacular sunset from this vantage, but it was still wonderful to see Paris all lit up. The scene before the church was a riotous and raucus mob. There were students, tourists, guys selling beer, musicians, drunks, con-men (and women) and performers. It called to mind the description of the scenes before Notre Dame in the Middle Ages given to us by our guide Thomas (which seems so long ago, even though it was just days). He described how beggers passed themselves off as cripples to gain greater alms from the travelers and pilgrims. He also described how the local band of thieves worked, a thieves guild, if you like. The leader would initiate a new thief by picking a target and telling the thief to steal from him or her. Then, he and his crew would spread word through the crowd that the initiate was a thief and was about to rob someone. While the mob turned on the would-be thief, the thief band would pick their pockets and otherwise make off with their things. If the initiate survived or escaped, he was in, otherwise he had given his life to help the thieves out, but just didn't make the grade.

While we had no mob attack on a would-be thief, the wild and crazy scene before Sacre Couer in some ways seemed to keep the spirit of the circus atmosphere that existed just outside the moast sacred precincts of the city.

Inside, despite the noise, there was a beauty and serenity. The church, relative to others in the city, is not that old, and was built after the Prussian seige in the 1870s by grateful survivors of the district. It is a magnificent space. Photography, without flash, was allowed. While, keeping in theme with other places, I saw some cheating on this, it was the first time I saw a priest stride across the floor saying "Madame! No flash!!" with a quite severe expression. Give that man a truncheon.

I gave him no cause to be severe with me.

After walking around the beautiful interior of the church and taking some pictures, we were moved to donate to the church and take a candle to offer for the memory of someone we lost. Laura took the little candle to the statue of Christ of the Sacred Heart and set it aflame for the memory of our dear friend Sandy Cisneros whom we lost just a few weeks ago. She was a dear friend of my parents and was one of the many mothers who looked after me and my sisters when we were young. More recently, my own children had got to know her and her grand children on trips both to the Outer Banks and to Arizona. She leaves a big hole in the world, but we offered, for our part, a small light in a beautiful church to help us remember all the good she left in the world.

After that solemn moment, we returned back to the wild crowd, took some photos of the Paris skyline, and then climbed the famous steps down the hill. We browsed a little in the tourist traps at the bottom of the hill and then returned by metro to our apartment in the 3e Arrondisement for our second to last night in Paris.

We had delicious Indian food leftovers and went to bed, preparing to face our last day with energy and excitement.

But that story has to wait.

Tags:

Paris Days 3 to 5

On Wednesday it was our twentieth wedding anniversary and, not surprisingly, it was a GREAT day.

It was also a busy day. Pretty much, we decided to cover a lot of ground. We had been on our feet a lot the day before (particularly with two walking tours), but Wednesday beat Tuesday hands (or perhaps aching feet) down.

We got a later start than intended, which seems to be a pattern. It is just hard to get our bodies used to the time change, and we end up staying up later and rising later than intended.

Still, we go going and decided that it would be another day to start on the Ilse de la Cite and then to venture onto the Left Bank. We had our museum passes, so first hit the Concergerie. This was once a royal castle of the Capetians, with gothic vaulted ceilings in the lower level that match the kinds of construction seen at Notre Dame. As time passed, the use of the building evolved. The French kings, wanting more space and having less need of the security of the island bound castle, moved out. They left a steward in charge. Many architectural changes happened, and finally, the place that had hosted feasts and housed men-at-arms and French medieval cavalry was repurposed as a prison. At its height, the prison held 800. The prison changed hands from the royal government to the revolutionary government, and the Concergerie housed many of the Revolution's enemies and victims. Marie Antoinette spent her last days there, as did Robspierre, once one of the revolutionary leaders.

The gothic structure that remains is only on the lower level, including vaulted ceilings and large fire places. The later architecture, including areas where revolutionary era prisoners were held have been largely reconstructed. The exibits were pretty well done, though the manequins rather hark back to an earlier period of thought in museum display. The area where Marie Antoinette was thought to have been held was transformed during the restoration (and at the request of surviving relatives of the French royals) into a chapel commemorating the King, his sister, and his Quenn, Marie Antoinette. One of the outside courtyards remains as well, which had been used by women prisoners. In the corner is, essentially, a cage where those who were to be executed were collected until a cart full was available (twelve). Laura got a photo of me locked up there. I escaped execution.

From this building that told a story that spanned centuries, we went to stand in line to get into Sainte Chappelle. Sainte-Chappelle is the other Gothic church on the Ilse de la Cite, but it tells a very different story than Notre Dame. Notre Dame was built for the people of Paris, to contain lessons in sculpture and glass to teach the lessons of the Catholic faith, and the glorify the power of God and His Church. Sainte Chappelle is all about the greatness of the Kings of France, and the relics of the Crucifixion (the Crown of Thorns, pieces of the True Cross, etc.) acquired on the First Crusade after the sack of Constantinople by the French Crusaders.

However, due to the happenings of French history, Sainte Chappelle has an almost crazy location. Sainte Chappelle is in the middle of an area that was once the province of the Kings of France, but which, after the Revolution, fell to the people and Republican government of France. Thus, this ediface, both royal and holy, is in the middle of a precinct of secular public buildings and is only accessible through the same entrance (though with divided lines) to go the the criminal courts in the Palace of Justice. So, with criminals, lawyers, family members, social workers and perhaps witnesses in one line, we joined the other line, filled with tourists, to go through security and get into the interior of the Paris courts in order to approach the chapel.

Security took some time to pass us through. At one point, the person in charge of the line split the line in two, side by side, to, I think, how long the line looked on the street. Still don't really know why he did it. However, despite putting two lines side by side, there was still only one door, one x-ray machine and one metal detector to be applied to all the tourists. Thus, the lines, at the doorway, became a free for all to be sorted out by the individual tourists, sort of like boarding the Air France flight from Amsterdam.

However, once again I did not have to take off my shoes (though my belt had to come off) for the security check, so point to the French there.

We found our way to the entrance and got to take the short line in because of our museum passes. The entrance leads into the lower chapel, which is dominated by a museum bookstore, but which gives access via spiral staircases to the upper chapel. We went straight up and emmerged into what can only be described as an heavenly space.

Sainte Chappelle, it should be said, is undergoing major restoration of its stained glass, and currently, about 20% of the glass (the windows around the sanctuary) are covered as they are dismantled, cleaned and reassembled. About 40% has been cleaned and about 40% remains to be cleaned.

The newly restored glass is absolutely glorious.

The Sainte Chapelle is a "chapel" in that it is a relatively small space, but the height of it is soaring, and on all sides are the jeweled and radiant images of sacred stories that clothe an otherwise naked display of royal power and authority. The effect is almost indescribable. Along with the symbols and stories of the Catholic faith, the chapel contains innumerable reminders that this is THE KING's chapel. The symbols of French royalty are everywhere.

It is as if to say, here is my private telephone booth to God, and by they way, those things over there are the relics of Christ, which I own, and by the way I am the most glorious and powerful ruler in all of Europe. In case you couldn't tell.

It is pretty overwelming. And that is with most of the glass still to be restored to its amazing clarity and brightness. When the restoration is done and light pours in from every window, it will be nearly transformative I think. The glass yet to be cleaned is obviously beautiful, but dulled and dimmed by the years. But it is going to be really stunning. Something alone to come back for.

As I mentioned, the chapel is entered through the lower chapel, which was the place of worship for the King's attendants and household. It is not too shabby either, but the main show is the Upper Chapel. Despite the wonder and the glory of the chapel, its use apparently was only for a relatively short time as a main place of worship for the royal family, and as they shifted their seats of authority off of the Ilse de la Cite, the Sainte Chappelle became concamittently disued. The Crown of Thorns no rests in the Treasury of Notre Dame.

We left Sainte Chappelle with me shooting photos of gargoyles and other figures on the outside of the church and we proceeded to the exit out of the court precincts and back to the street.

Our next stop was to further our Medieval experience as we headed for the Cluny museum of the Middle Ages on the Left Bank. We had passed by the Cluny during our Left Bank walk with Alexandre the day before and easily made our way there on foot. On the way we picked up some delicious crepes to eat along the way at a small bakery/creperie. They were served folded with a wrap of wax paper allowing them to be eaten something like an ice cream cone. We finishedour snack as we arrived at the gardens outside of the museum. The gardens once served the Medieval residence which now houses the museum. In Roman times, the area held the baths of Lutecia (Roman Paris), and parts of the structures still survive (unfortunately the frigidarium, which can be accessed through the museum, was closed). On top of and next to these ruins, the Abbots of Cluny built their Paris residence. They were the leaders of a powerful and wealthy order, which could, apparently, afford to have their leader visit and stay in residence for large portions of the year in Paris in order to further the political and economic goals of the order. Thus, a beautiful Medieval building now houses the impressive collection of objects from the Middle Ages for Paris.

We entered the museum with our passes and had the opportunity to see a great many objects from Medieval France and beyond. Certainly one of the great holdings of the museum are many of the original pieces of the statuary that adorned Notre Dame. In the furor of the Revolution, the decorative statuary on the front of the Cathedral was seen as symbols of the oppressive Royal and clerical regime. No matter that the kings torn down were the Kings of Judah, the kings had to go. Some anonymous persons, however, carefully collected the pieces that they could and spirited the remains away and buried them. Later, in the 1970s, these examples of the high achievements of Gothic stone carving were discovered during excavation for construction, and the fragments of the Kings found a new home in the Cluny. One striking thing is that many of the statues show clear signs of having been painted. Though the restored statues of Notre Dame, recreated after the city and nation decided to save the cathedral (interestingly enough, strongly motivated by the huge popularity of Victor Hugo's novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame), are cleanly carved and are seen as beautiful in their spare, bare finished stone, to the Medieval eye, (just as with Classical statuary), they would be seen as unfinished, because their paint had not been applied.

There were many other treasures large and small, secular and holy. I was especially interested in one of the few remaining Medieval combat manuals which was on display. Each day or so, the page is turned to display a different part of a lesson in sword or dagger combat. There is supposed to be an interactive display that can show images of all the pages, but it was unfortunately down.

Also of much greater note, are a set of Unicorn Tapestries. Now, I have to admit to a slight bit of jadedness, because I did not have to go to France to see Unicorn Tapestries. Another very good example of the iconic motif is on display at the Cloisters in New York City, and we saw them last year. However, these Tapestries were distinct and very impressive as well. The display was basic, but effective, and the audio commentary (Laura rented the guides for 1 Euro a piece, which is a STEAL) was interesting and informative. In fact, I think the Cluny commentary for their guide was about the best I have experienced in France.

Another very interesting room was the Abbot's private chamber, which, though it held 12 statute niches, they were not for the Apostles, but instead for display of prominent members of his own family. Also, he had a special opening into the chapel so that he could hear services without having to go down to be present in person.

After seeing all these Medieval treasures, we still were not done with the day.

Far from it, we decided to take a quick march over to catch the last hour of business at the Rodin Museum. It is unfortunate that we had to make such a limiting choice, but Paris is full of so many wonders, and our feet can only take so much (more on that later), so we decided we had to go for broke and see what we could.

Fortunately, after a bit of a longer walk than we perhaps anticipated, we made it with enough time to tour the entire house and see the collections therein, though we had to truncate our visit to the gardens, missing several significant statutues. C'est la vie.

Rodin is very special as an artist to Laura and I. Long ago, Laura began to send me postcards with Rodin's works on them. One of the first, if not the first, is The Cathedral, and beautiful sculpture of a man and a woman's hands touching.

It was there.

We saw it.

I took a picture or two.

GREAT!!!!!!!!!

Many other amazing works were there as well. Rodin was prolific, driven (rather egotistical) and very, very talented. He also studied his stuff, and he collected classical works in statuary and other art works, he purchased statuary of fellow artists to study, and he purchased old master and "contemporary" art. We saw several Van Gogh's in the house, as well as ancient greek pottery, and egyptian sculpture.

Rodin's art runs the gamut of human emotion and experience. It was stunning to see, as well as to see his influence on the work of his student (and lover) Camille Claudel, who has a room devoted to some of her very impressive work in the museum.

We were too soon hurried out by the polite, but obviously ready to go home staff. We were able to linger a bit in parts of the garden, where I was able to shoot photos of the Thinker, the unfinished Gates of Hell (which incorporates a small version of The Thinker, representing Dante). Also impressive were The Shadows and The Burghers of Calais.

So, finally, out the gates (fortunately not to Hell), we went.

But did we stop there? No.

By God, I was in Paris and it was Wednesday and the Louvre has extended hours.

So, off I dragged poor Laura on our anniversary to see what we could of some of Western Civilization's greatest treasures. And we walked there.

Did I mention our feet were already sore. For some reason I did not let that hold me back.

We arrive through the Gardens of Tuleries, passing under Napoleon's original Trimphal Arch (which has been renamed the Arc du Carrousel, as Napolean thought the first arch not impressive and big enough).

We went through security and entered under the glass pyramid. Laura had a few things she wanted to see and I could do no less than accomodate her, since I had insisted we come. We went first to see the two Vermeer paintings on display, one an Embroideress at her work, the other an Astronomer. Both supremely beautiful examples of the artist's work. We look at much of the surrounding art and then moved on to examine the museum's holdings related to Napoleon III's aparments, from when the Emperor (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) resided in the Louvre palace. The apartments were quite impressive and extensive, with a mix of personal rooms of luxury and state rooms of power.

After that, I had to go and see the Mona Lisa. After all, isn't that one of the reasons you have to go to the Louvre?

It was crowded, but manageable. I got to look, to gawk, to take many bad photos, and wonder at the bad luck of the guy whose painting is across from the Mona Lisa.

The paiting whose dead artist has to feel lucky that he gets the scraps of interes.t after people finish gawking at the Mona Lisa, is called The Marriage at Cana and the artist is Paolo Varenese. It is an accomplished piece, by a master Italian Renaissance painter. It is of an important Biblical story, and it depicts it in incredible detail, such that you feel you might step in and join the party.

And yet, it is second banana to a little portrait, done by a guy who had as much interest in dissecting bodies, inventing gadgets (like crazy flying machines) and tinkering with this and that as with being a painter. That was just something he ALSO did.

And the Mona Lisa is small. Not a miniature, but your bathroom mirror is probably larger than it. It looms large in our art history, but one could see it as a nice little painting.

Except it's not. And Varenese's painint is frickin HUGE. It is like 50 or 100 times bigger than the itty bitty Mona Lisa. The figures are larger than life, and you feel you can step into it because it is an entire wall with a vaulted ceiling big.

And yet, the enigmatic smile of a merchant's wife draws us in a way that the huge party never can or will.

Varanese gets to be happy with crumbs.

There were tons of other amazing works all around. We went to see a few more, including four or five additional works by Da Vinci that the Louvre just happens have thrown up on a wall in another part of the museum. We also saw amazing works by Rafael, Botecelli (a favorite of mine), Fra Angelico, and so many others. We passed the monumental remains of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a truly inspiring sight, even in its ruin, to reach one last paiting.

La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Quite a picture and the epitome of French Neoclassicism (I mean obviously, because I read that in a book).

But after just a few too many masterworks, we needed to get back to our apartment. We dragged ourselves out at 9:30 (about 15 minutes before the museum shut down) and finally gave in to riding the Metro.

Nothing against the Metro, it has just been amazing the learn Paris by walking it.

And just to say "welcome" we had our only encounter with Metro ticket inspectors. You see, when you take the Metro, you only use your flat price ticket to enter the system. However, you are supposed to hold onto your ticket until you depart, because to discourage cheaters, there are occaisional inspections.

On this evening, we rounded a corner in the transfer tunnel between one line and another and ran into a whole phalanx of inspectors (at least 5, maybe more). They had distinctive, quasi military looking uniforms (hats and all) and a no-nonsese looking lady caught my eye and said in French, "your tickets?" I quickly produced mine, but Laura, tired as she was, took a moment to process what she was being asked and then figuring out in which pocket she put her ticket. The sarcastic part of my mind flitted in that moment between declaring "madame inspector, I've never seen that woman before of my life" and throwing myself in the way and yelling "run laura, I'll hold them off!"

Stupid brain.

Anyway, before I said one silly thing, Laura produced her ticket, the tough lady inspector checked the coding on each and waived us through. We caught our transfer and arrived at our home Metro stop, Rambuteau.

We virtually crawled home from there, and ate what we had in the fridge over trying to go, even somewhere local, for dinner.

We slept like rocks.

The day started a bit late the next day, but we got enough in to feel like we deserved to be in Paris, although it was really a day dead on our feet.

I found a local place to get "pain chocolate" (chocolate croissant) locally, so we started our morning right.

Then, we took the Metro down to the Tularies Gardens, this time to go to the little museum known as the Orangerie. Formerly just an orangerie (not surprisingly a place to grow oranges in cold climates), it now houses a fine collection of Impressionist art. The centerpiece is a set of eight huge canvasses (displayed in two oval rooms) of Monet's Water Lilies. The paitings are displayed in natural (albeit filtered) light and are both impressive and beautiful.

We got the audio tour, which was a little pricy, and the quality varied from entry to entry from informative and insigtful to needlessly boring and opinionated. Though I definitely learned stuff, I probably could have done without it.

After viewing some of Monet's masterpieces, we descended to see some work by some other guys and gals. The paitings were mostly from a collection built by a 1920's Art Dealer, Paul Guillaume (and he is featured in a number of the paintings as he was patron, friend, buisness agent and hanger on to most of the featured artists). He died at an early age in 1934, and though his widow maintained the collection carefully, she remarried and when she donated the collection to the state, she did so under her second husband's name. Thus Guillaume's collection bears the name of the Walter's Collection. Them's the breaks.

So, I continued to be impressed by the work of Renoir (though from looking at the paintings and hearing some of the audiotour, he seems to have had a definite "dirty old man" streak). I liked some of the Cezanne present in the collection, though I was not very impressed with the still lifes, though I was told that I should be. Henri Rousseau did not do much for me, and Amedeo Modigliani was hit and miss. A stand out "new to me" discovery was Marie Laurencin. She had some very interesting and beautiful paitings of subdued pastel pallets, featuring beautiful portraits of women. Laura made sure that I got photos.

As an aside, I have to say that the museums, in general, have an amazingly relaxed photo policy, and all of the Museums we have been to have permitted photography, as long as it is without flash. Sadly, many people ignore the rules and still shoot with flash, which is a shame as permanent damage can happen to the paitings and other artifacts over time. I keep waiting for the Gendarmarie to descend with truncheons on the malefactors, but so far no luck.

There were also some Matisse and Picasso, though neither of their best work was included in what was shown. Andre Derain was a painter I had known little about, but saw some interesting work. Unfortunately, a painting I would have really liked to see, Arlequin et Pierrot, was temporarily unavailable. Two other artists work were in the collection of note, Maurice Utillo, whose work was fine, but the examples did not wow me. Also, Chaim Soutine, who had some wild landscapes, but one or two were fine, ten, and you start to get a headache (if you are me). I did not care for his figures or still lifes.

All in all, an enlightening and interesting visit.

From there, we hurried to the Paris Opera Garnier, the Belle Epoq temple of theater, ballet, music and, of course, opera, to catch the Right Bank Walk by Discover Walks. The Opera House is very impressive, built under the patronage of Emperor Napoleon III. We walked completely around it before meeting with our tour. It was relatively small, with only 7 of us, including our excellent guide, Bertrand.

We learned a great deal about the Right Bank world of money, power and privilege. Napolean Bonaparte and his Nephew Napoleon III figured prominently, as did the grand Sun King, Louis XIV, France's longest ruling monarch.

We also learned a good deal about England's Kind Edward VII, from his time as Prince of Wales. There is a whole little neighborhood named after him. It would seem he was admired both for his diplomatic skills which resulted in alliance between France and England (as an aside, that alliance did draw both those great powers into World War I, but that wasn't part of the tour) after centuries of animosity. Also, the French seemed to admire a man who would have a custom bathtub built so that he (a quite large man) and one or more lady friends could bathe in champaign together. At least, that is how the story goes.

We saw the Place Vendome, a square where the first Ritz Hotel opened (the first hotel ever rated above 5 stars (a "Palais")) (still there) and where it is a must for a jeweler to be and be seen to be anyone. Recently, the jewelry retail world was rocked by the fact that De Beers prime spot on the corner of the Place and the Rue de la Paix was bought out by Cartier which now can expand its smaller space which had been next door.

Time to drop those diamond stocks? Who knows?

The Justice Ministry is also on the Place, but that dates from the time when Louis VIV renovated parts of Paris to modernize the city. His "Sun King" stamp is visible throughout the Place. Our guide helpfully pointed out how to tell where the Ritz ends and the Ministry begins. Just check the cars stopped on the street. If they are Ferraris, Mercedes, etc. Ritz. Little sub-compact commuter cars? The conveyance of a state worker.

Oh, and the jewelry in the windows was pretty amazing. Sorry, Laura didn't get me anything, and vice versa.

Just around the corner was a marker that shows where the Republic of Texas, before being annex by the U.S. and sparking the Mexican-American War, had an embassy. Texans cozying up to the French. Who knew?

We continued to walk the streets, getting more stories and insight in to Paris, and finally ended up just adjacent to the Orangerie, where our day had started. There, on Place de la Concorde, there are excellent views of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, La Gran Arch de la Defense and the Obelisk of Luxor, as well as views of the U.S. Embassy and the French Presidential residence, know as the Palace of Elyseum (it is on the Champs Elysee after all).

Bertrand had given us just about two and half hours of his time and discussion. I surely have not covered it all, but he was, as with all the Discover Walks guides, wonderful. We had a lovely time learning about the city from him. He said that they had ambitions to do a Monmartre walk in future. That would be great, though it will be too late for this trip. We hope to do that neighborhood before we have to go.

So, though we had a great time with Bertrand and his tour, we were totally dead on our feet. We had missed lunch as well. We jumped on the metro and went back to the apartment. We had some ambition of going back out to eat dinner, but in the end, made due with what was about and tried to get some rest early, as Friday was going to be a big day.

And, as I am writing on Friday, I can say that it was indeed a big day. This was the day of Versailles.

The guidebooks all say to get to Versailles early and get in when it opens. We nearly did that too. Actually, it opened at 9:00, and we were in by 9:30. Not exactly the head of the line, but our visit was comfortable and not pressed like sardines anywhere.

We had the extra Pain Chocolate I had bought the day before as well as some other good stuff to fortify us to try and tackle the Sun King's massive estate.

We took the regional train (RER-C "Vick") out to the station 5 minutes away from the Chateau.

When we walked up, it was already busy and the front was incredibly imposing. Not in a Medieval "mess with us and you die" way (which Laura observed might have helped with that whole Revolution thing), but instead in the "prepare to walk among the gods" kind of way. Louise XIV dubbed himself the Sun King and styled himself as Apollo. He had his family and court painted as Roman Gods. His entire estate pays homage to a real and (mostly) imagined classical past. Not only is he the embodiment of the state, God's Catholic representative on earth, but also a person channelling the divinity of pagan gods, giving him the power that was still remembered from the Roman Empire.

This palace, which was supposed to be a "retreat" from the real and political muck and mire of Paris, was the Olympus of the French Royalty. Their place "above" it all.

Louis was one driven and totally egotistical ruler. Just seeing the major sections open in the Chateau confirms that this King dominated everything and he wanted everyone to know it and everything in the environment controlled to reinforce that message. We saw room after room of amazing decor, painting after painting reinforcing themes and ideas.

It was overwelming.

Also, despite the grandure, I found it far less impressive than the Medieval splender of, say, Sainte Chapelle. Maybe it's just me, but after the 50th rosy cheeked cherub and faux Roman portrayal of this or that noble, and I just had to say, who is this guy kidding?

Of course, it was no joke. The Sun King dominated France and the Eurpoean scene for some 70 years, being very much in charge, a total control freak. The problem, perhaps, was that as both his son and grandson died before they could take the throne, he never was able to share his vision, abilities and work ethic with his successors. Louises XV and XVI got the lifestyle, but they failed to wield the kind of power, authority and vision needed to keep it.

My favorite part of the Chateau was the Hall of Mirrors, despite its deterioration. It is a brilliant piece of theater and beauty, connecting the Sun King's War and Peace rooms. Sadly, the guys with the truncheons who have failed to stop people from taking flash photographs of the Mona Lisa and other masterworks, also don't seem to be stoping people from carving grafitti into the MIRRORS???!!!! Many sections of the Chateau were marked as off limits to photography and all of them forbade flash photography. Yet, I barely ever heard even a half hearted "no flash" and I never saw it heeded. People just did what they wanted and chaos was allowed to reign.

After touring the main parts of the mansion and also visiting a bit of the wings which the restored monarchy, after the Revolution and the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, tried to set up as a museum to unify French memory of French greatness through honoring the paintings depicting all of French history and historical figures. We saw one salon devoted to Bonaparte by his successor (a constitutional monarch) and another that covered famous French battles. That was just too many paintings, so out to the Gardens.

Now, when I say Gardens, I guess I mean landscaping in every direction as FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE!!!!

Yes, just a little back yard in which you could easily fit into several of my home neigborhoods.

It is barely to be believed that one man commanded so extensive a project for his personal pleasure. Sure, it had a state purpose, etc. But man, this guy thought BIG.

The fountains, of which only 20% remain, were not going as they only play (for extra pay) on the week ends during Spring and Summer. We saw one, briefly, being tested out and it was stunning. The others just had to be imagined. They say the water features required the diversion of an entire river. No problem says the Sun King.

It takes a hour of concerted walking to get from the Chateau to the end of the Grand Canal.

What canal would that be? The one modeled after Venice (actually two, and big one and a small one forming a cross) so the King and his guests could ride on Gondolas and pretend to be in Venice because it is really too much of a bother to go there in person.

Eat your heart out Vegas.

We did not reach the end of the Grand Canal. We stopped for some lunch (pizza for me, panini for Laura) and then on through one of the side gardens to French Disneyland (and I don't mean EuroDisney; I mean in the late 1700s, they were singing "Its a Small World After All" in their own imaginary worlds).

In making our turn, we missed no fewer that 12 individual gardens, including the one made up of "made up" Roman Ruins (none handy on location, just fabricate them, because we all are the personifications of Roman Gods anyway . . .), but choices had to be made. Versailles is insanely huge and complex.

We made our way down to the place where Louis and his successors, and especially the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (a highly unfortunate Grand Duchess from Austria) had their retreat from the "retreat" of Versailles. Also known as totally losing touch with reality.

There were several smaller and lest ostentatious residences here, started first by the Sun King himself. Since he was so greatly invested in the main Chateau, I guess he came down the estate to get away from the person he had made himself as much as anything.

This was interesting and beautiful and thankfully more simple. However, to really go around the bend, you needed to visit the little estate created by Marie Antoinette. On one part, it is a retreat for a princess, a little place to play house (though not really to do any work), a little theater in which to put on plays with friends. A pavillion temple dedicated to Love (and quite lovely at that) all bound by an artificial "English" river.

However, venture further, and you find the deep, dark desire of the Queen.

She just wanted to be a Shepherdess. So, she had a quaint ten or twelve building farming village built and staffed for her amusement. She could put on plainer clothes (though still probably multiple years worth of a real shepherdess' income) and walk around imagining herself as Little Bo Peep. She and her ladies had dainty little farming tools (rakes, etc.) all made up covered with ribbons and other decor. And she lived just like a real peasant in a building, as the travel writer Rick Steves puts it "[l]ike any typical peasant farmhouse, [with] a billiard room, library, elegant dning hall, and two living rooms."

She may not have said "let them eat cake" but she really had no idea who her subjects were and how they were living.

All that aside, her little Antoinette-land is very charming and beautiful. Dozens of French school children were there today touring and sketching different parts of the Hamlet. Also, the place is home to rescued animals, who help to recreate the feel of the Queens personal working farm where she could pretend to be living a simple life. We saw cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, doves, ducks, geese, and swans to name a few.

Having made it to the far reaches of the estate, we had to get back. Way, way back.

And hey, we were still not recovered from Wednesday. Who was that nut who made us walk to the Louvre to see things after hours anyway? If I ever get my hands on him . . .

Anyway, to make a long and footsore story short, it was no mean feat getting out of Versailles, not to mention finding the bathroom. Many of the gates that would have normally been open to get around, were closed because they were having some huge (and EXPENSIVE) fireworks show at one of the fountains this evening and they were trying to get everyone out by 5:30. That meant that if you made a wrong turn, you would have to walk around the outside to get back to the Chateau, to try to find a WC and exit.

Guess who managed to direct us out? I think it was that crazy let's go the the Louvre guy!

I'll get him one day.

Still, Laura still said she wanted to keep me even after we go back into the Chateau, could not get to a WC with a reasonable line and had to exit and put her back through security to get back.

She is one terrific woman.

We made our way to the train finally and got some rest on the ride back into Paris.

I should mention, the weather today, like just about every day, was glorious, sunny, some clouds, but generally neither too cold or too hot. In short, the weather has been GREAT!!!! (in keeping with the whole theme of this trip).

But, even though tired, Laura knew that I had not made it yet into Notre Dame and I really wanted to see the stained glass, to take some photos, and see how the Cathedral and Sainte Chapelle compared in the decorative department.

She bravely got us off at the Notre Dame stop and patiently waited all around my route as I jostled with other photographers to find the best shots and best camera settings to immortalize the memories of my visit.

The inside of the Cathedral is immense and impressive, but the glass is, after Sainte Chapelle, just impressive, but not sublime. It is hardly a fair comparison, but there it is.

Still, the three mighty rose windows were glorious, and very tough to shoot.

And thus, I committed the (latest?) sin for which I am going to Hell. In front of everyone looking up towards the altar, I got up and shot, with FLASH, the great front rose window of the cathedral. No men with truncheons (or even priests or nuns dressed as ninjas) jumped out to repremand me. I was pretty sure they wouldn't because dozens of people had been blantantly shooting with flash all over the cathedral my whole visit.

Still, I had, with holier-than-thou thoughts, carefully declined to shoot with flash in the cathedral. Even if not sacriligious, it would be rude. Still, I turned hypocrit, because there seemed no other way to make the difficult shot, especially with Laura patiently waiting with terribly painful feet.

So, I shot with flash and got the heck out of Dodge, um, Dame.

And the photo really came out gloriously. Crime pays.

And I'm probably going to Hell.

So, to erase that thought, we go back to the apartment to allow Laura to soak her feet and take a rest. I started in on this entry, then headed out on the hunt for that most elusive of quarry: take out.

Actually, it probably is all around, but to get take out, you generally need to, at least at first, speak French.

I looked long and hard, making my first score when I found the ATM of the bank that has a reciprical agreement with BofA. No ATM fees and cash for the asking.

Second, I determined that I didn't want just anything, I wanted Indian. It took me a while, but I finally made it back to a place that I had seen on Monday. I started in (bad) French, but got to the part where I asked "Parlez-Vous Anglais?" to which the answer was "yes" and it was all good from there. The restranteur kindly took my all vegetarian order, sat me down with a glass of OJ on the house, gave me a 10% discount, pretty much just 'cause, and had me out in under 20 minutes.

Back at the apartment, we ate our fill of samosas, dal, naan and aloo gobi and then headed for bed (well, with a detour for me to hang up the clean clothes to dry and to write this incredibly long and meandering entry).

So this is me saying "Bonsoir", waaaaah only two days left! and EVERYTHING IS GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Paris, End day 2

So, here at the end of the day I sit with aching feet but a very happy heart. Laura and I had a perfect day in Paris, jumping right into our tourist blitz with wild abandon.

We got a late start because we were definitely held back by jet lag. However, once we had breakfast from the elements I got at the store this morning we headed towards the Sein and crossed onto La Ile de la Cite. We thought first to take some time to see the smaller church, Sainte Chappelle, however the line was very long, and we wanted to catch a walking tour in front of Notre Dame at 1 pm. So, we went to the Cathedral, thinking to buy a six day museum pass at the place where they sell tickets to climb the Notre Dame tower. However, the line was twice as long there. We thought to head back in the direction of Sainte Chappelle to see if there was a way to get the museum pass without waiting in line when we spotted a Tourist Iformation Kiosk, where it just so happens they sell the museum passes. After a short wait we asked for the passes and had a longish conversation with the young lady behind the counter as she explained that this weekend many attractions would be free for Patrimony Day.

Translation: those places are going to be insanely busy this weekend.

On the up side, that means that "not free" stuff, like the Louvre, may be slightly less crazy this weekend. We decided that Saturday might be our first Louvre day and Friday our trip to Versailles.

In the meantime, we had about 20 minutes before our tour and we ducked down into the Archaeologicl Crypt of Notre Dame. It is not actually under the cathedral itself, but under the plaza before it. Below were extensively excavated Medieval and Roman ruins, which chronical the long history of Paris, first as a Gaulish settlement of the Parisii, later as the Roman settlement and city Lutecia, and finally as the Merovingian and Caputian (but not Carolingian (read Charlemange etc.) only pre- and post-Caroligian) capital.

The museum was neat and qucik with English language literature and lables for most of the exibits. We spent 15 minutes (already paid for with the museum pass) and then on to our walking tour.

We had two walking tours today. Both with a newish outfit called Discover Walks. The outfit is getting on its feet and offers tours free, with tips appreciated but not required. The tours are done by native Parisians who offer their personal experiences as well as a very enjoyable and professional tour in English. Our first tour was with Tomas, who took us around the exterior and the neighborhood of Notre Dame. He does not do tours inside the cathedral as audio tours are available from the concession operated in the cathedral, and a guide led tour would be disruptive to the daily operations of a cathedral that remains at the heart of French and Parisian Catholicism.

Tomas did a wonderful job. We learned a lot, particularly about the post revolutionary reconstruction of Notre Dame, much of which was admirable, and some of which just expressed the interests, beliefs and ego of the architect hired to manage it. Quite fascinating. Got lots of pictures, some of the even good.

Our second walking tour was of the Left Bank. The themes were the medieaval city, its renovation (and thus destruction of most but not all of the medieval character of Paris), and the foundations of the University system and education. Our guide was Alexandre, who was very good, very knowledgeable and friendly. Unlike Tomas, he did not have the advantage of having a single architectural masterpiece around which to focus a talk. As the streets meadered, so to did his discussions have to follow. Often one train of thought had to be left until we reached a new destination so that the illustration of the point to be completed was in sight. Still, I thought he handled it (and us, particularly a few tough customer tourists who always needed to put in their two cents) very, very well.

We ended the tour, after walking medieval narrow streets, passing the college where the real Cyrano de Bergerac studied, seeing the entrance of the Sorbonne, with architecture funded by Cardinal Richelieu, and passing many other sights (including very handy water fountains given to Paris by an English benefactor in the 19th Century), we finally ended before the Pantheon, once inteded to be a great religious edifice dedicated to Saint Genivieve, it exited the French Revolution as a temple to the heroes of France.

Alexandre left us there, but Laura and I entered determined to tour it (paid for with our museum pass) and to climb to the top and see the 360 of Paris available from its incredible vantage. We got to see the very impressive frescoes and statutes, which reminded me in some ways of the decorations inside the U.S. Capitol and the hall of statutes there. Both are stages where a country is telling its founding myths, the stories and history important to its national political identity and cultural heritage.

Before we could go up, we also had to go down, so into the crypts we went. We saw where the French had placed, in ironic juxtaposition, Russeau and Voltaire across from one another. We saw the room in which are interred Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. We saw the tomb of Louis Braille. There were so many luminaries of French history, and of course, quite a few we knew little or nothing about. Most of the information was in French, so we puzzled out just a bit.

Then we headed up to find the tour that would have us climb sets of stairs to rise 35 meter above the city, around the dome of the Pantheon. We had fifteen minutes to wait and found a bench. This was the first time off our feet since we left our apartment. It seemed that it might be difficult to convince our poor feet to climb the 260+ steps to the summit, and we felt the distinct lack of lunch (second day in a row). Still, as the time drew near, we and about 50 other people assembled and ascended in stages to the walkway around the dome.

The climb was a little harder after a day of walking the city than it could have been. Still, we arrived in good order and saw all of Paris laid out around us, bit by bit. Around each column, it seemed some new wonder awaited. There was the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and many other sights. It was pretty awesome. After resting a bit and going around twice shooting photos and seeing sights, we descended fairly easily to exit.

We then sat again, collecting our thoughts and our plans and deciding to try the Rue Mouffetard area. We settled on a Savoy cuisine restaurant and had the specialty fondu of this Alpine area. It was great.

After that very nice meal we headed out again to see if we could get to the Luxemborg Gardens before they closed. We did not make it as the daylight was ending and the gates closed by the time we arrived. Still, it was a walk full of sights and activity in the busy, student dominated Left Bank zone. As we looked at the beautiful, closed park, we turned with some regret back towards the Sein.

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped and bought some chocolate croissants for breakfast and also stopped at our local supermarket to pick up some fruit and some cookies for a sweet ending to the day.

We staggered back up to our apartment, had a cup of tea with some cookies and started thinking of bed.

Tomorrow, we will likely focus on the Right Bank and start to really seriously use our museum passes.

As you might expect, the daw was GREAT!!!!!!

Paris, End Day 1, Start Day 2

Made it out last night and it was GREAT.

We walked down towards the Sein, drinking in the sights. We had a very tasty dinner at a place that dubbed itself Madame Tomatoe. Laura had delicious pasta and I had a chicken sauteed with tomatoes and fresh fried potatoes.

We then returned to the right bank area of the Sein, passing Hotel de Ville and snapping photos of the crescent moon adjacent to Notre Dame, crossed the bridge to the island and walked passed the great cathedral and the statue of Charlemagne. We briefly crossed to the Left Bank, but returned to the island to walk down to Pont de Neuf and there we caught a river cruise to see the sights all lit up for night.

We bought our tickets and suddenly there were half a dozen tour groups marching through. We were slightly buffeted along, but we got good seats on top of the boat in the open air. The cruise was beautiful (though the tour book was correct that the French and English narration by the tour company was pretty useless). We saw the Louvre, the Orsay, the Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais, Notre Dame from the river side, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower brilliantly lit up. The tour groups were pretty well behaved and the retirees from the Australian/New Zealand tour behind us were pretty funny. Laura did have to make the international sign of "hey lady you make a better door than a window" to a French speaking lady who kept leaping up in front of us to take pictures, not only spoiling several of my shots, but also spending a lot of time just standing blocking the way. The Aussies had shouted a lot of "hey down in front" at her, but she had been oblivious.

But she sure got Laura's point and she was much better behaved from there on out.

After the tour, which I have to repeat, was just beautiful, we headed back to the Right Bank and then up towards our apartment. On the way, we stopped at a gelato store by the Pompidou Center, where the delicious frozen custard is served on cones and shaped before your eyes into a flower. Beautiful and delicious.

We happily munched as we approached our block and walked all around the block, spotting the local supermarket, so we would know what was around. Turns out we are comic book central, as we have at least two comic book stores within a block of our apartment.

Need to find a bakery.

This morning, I tried to get out of bed at 7.

When I succeeded in rising, somewhat after 8:30, I got myself dressed and ran out to the local supermarket to pick up some necessaries. Picked up orange juice, milk, eggs, yogurt, sandwich bread, and butter. Cost just under 9 Euros. Then, thinking myself clever, I went back to the fruit store that is just around the corner from our apartment entrance, because the fruit we saw last night looked terrific. Apparently, however, they don't open very early, because it was after 9:20 and they were all closed up. I also verified that we don't seem to have a bakery within a couple of blocks because I neither saw nor smelled any fresh bread (or more importantly, chocolate croissants).

The search will continue.

Now I have got both Laura and I breakfast and we hope to get out, do some walks, tour Notre Dame and perhpas go to the Cluny and other museums.

It has been and will continue to be GREAT here in Paris!!

Sep. 13th, 2010

Yesterday, my dear wife and I boarded a plane for Detroit. Detroit you say? Why ever would you do that?

Well, it was the first leg of a much larger journey, and it is apparently the hub from which Delta/KLM flies you to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, okay, so now we're talking. Off to Europe.

But not really to Amsterdam.

No, the trip really goes to Paris.

So, after many hours of flying, and walking through airports, and going through security and passport control, and getting a little public transit experience in Paris, how are things going?

I am going to say GREAT! Because every day of this vacation, without fail, is going to be GREAT!

We are, however, moving a bit slowly and are tired. So, I can, if not explain, at least, sum up.

We departed Baltimore-Washington International Airport at approximately 4:45 on Sunday. We have been blessed by the assistance of Laura's parents, who flew out on Wednesday to look after the kids while we are gone.

We flew to Detroit. A perfectly acceptable flight as these things go. Just a quick jump from the East Coast in the Mid-atlantic, closer to France to a place somewhat more distant. In the back of your minds just has to be the mantra, we saved $500 with this routing.

So, in Detroit, which has a nice airport with an interesting indoor tram system (which we did not ride because we wanted to stretch our legs), we had a short lay over and then onto the international flight to Amsterdam.

We had to go through passport control, run by the folks at my sister agency US Customs and Border Protection. The young man in front of us who told the inspector that he was a GW student, but he was going to study Islam in Jordan got a couple of questions. Laura and I got waived through. The plane was a huge and packed flight. We were somewhat back in the plane, but not so much that we had far to walk. We were in the center set of 4 seats, to one side, with Laura towards the middle and me on the aisle. They fed us, and that was okay. We had these individually controlled entertainment centers. The controls were fastened into the arm rests, where people's thighs tended to set off the call buttons. Bad engineers. On the other hand, the control could pop out and worked pretty well, although you had to be careful about the retractable cord, because it could whip that thing right out of your hand. I give a slight edge to the positive aspect for the engineers on that one, but I think we need to make the designers take a lot more international flights so they can think about what they have done.

There were a fair number of movies. Nothing great, but I picked one to get me through the dinner service etc. I watch Prince of Persia. Not wonderful in itself. Some striking imagery, but hey, where was the script (not to mention the fact that they did not seem to have any Persians, or Arabs or anybody really remotely from the Middle East actually starring in the movie). It passed the time, and then we tried to get some shut eye.

That worked okay, but to every person who steadied themselves on or next to my head as they headed to the bathroom (which was directly behind my seat), I hope something ironic happens to you in the future, because I had less than optimal (even making allowances for an international flight) sleep.

About an hour out from Amsterdam, they fed us again. The banana was good. I think I actually ate while we were over Ireland, but that went by fast as I watched the real time map of our flight.

In no time we were landing in beautiful sunny Amsterdam, which was a little out of character to my knowledge, because the city is supposed to be more like Seattle or Portland in its weather tendencies. We really only got to see the airport. A nice facility, in which we were immersed in a great deal of hustle and bustle and dozens of languages and dialects (oh, and the airport announcer who every five minutes was calling someone by name, telling them they were holding up this or that flight, and they better get on our their luggage was coming off; I kid you not, in the hour plus that we were there, it seemed like she called out two dozen or more passengers from almost as many flights; not us however).

We went through Dutch passport control. No big deal. Very efficient and courteous. Then back through security. I did have to take off my belt and take everything out of my pockets (metal or not), but I did get to keep my shoes. I have to say that this, to my mind, gives an edge to the Dutch as far as how pleasant it is to pass through. That, and the brightly colored multi-sized bins you get to sort your stuff into to be x-rayed. Almost festive.

So, amid people being warned that their luggage was going to be tossed off the plane (no doubt later to be blown up as a cautionary measure), and English, French, German, Dutch, Russian, Arabic, Mandarin and who knows what all being spoken at every turn, we passed our time quickly at our gate awaiting the final flying leg of the journey.

I am afraid that, despite the fact that I am going to have a GREAT time in France and Paris this week, I have to say that the Air France flight from Amsterdam to Paris was the least well organized, least disciplined and least comfortable of the three stages of air travel. First, they only had two boarding calls. First they called the first class/premium passengers, and then they called everybody else. No careful phasing, no staggered boarding according to some at least facially logical formula. Just, okay, now everybody else!

It was a zoo. And, they took our large carry-on bags away. We had carefully dealt with them from BWI to Detroit and from there to Amsterdam, but the polite but firm Air France folks said there was no way our bags were going into the passenger cabin of their flight. So, one attendant told us to leave our bags with her and she tagged them. As we turned to go, another rushed up, grabbed Laura's bag and told me to grab the other one and follow her. So, after I assisted in temporarily stowing the bags on a platform outside a restricted door from the jetway, we entered into the chaos that was the Air France flight trying to get "everyone" to their seats and stow their stuff. First thing I noticed was that, unlike in other flights, there was no enforced discipline as to what you put under the seat in front of you and what went in the overhead bins. Jackets, purses, all sorts of bags and other small items just went up. The flight attendants just had to try to find ways to put things up, and as time went by, the people who came later had their things stowed all over the place far away from where they were sitting. It was all just a bit silly.

The plane was older, with an interior design I had not seen before. I did find it useful that the back of the tray table had a hook for hanging a jacket and a fold down cup holder. The trip itself was fast, just a quick 45 minute hope with no change in time zone and we landed IN PARIS!!!!!!!!!

I noticed as we flew in all the fields, small towns and villages, water courses, wooded roads below. Most of that geography probably reflects land use from Medieval, or even older Roman or Gaulish times. It was just a little thrilling to think about.

At the venerable Charles de Gaul International, we offloaded through kind of spiffy glassed jetways in the brilliant mid-day sun. We got our bearings and joined a huge flow of passengers heading towards the baggage area. We did not have too much trouble retrieving our bags, and then we had to decide how we would get to our accommodations. We had decided on the trip to Paris to be adventurous and take public transit. Though we thought a beat about a taxi, we rejected that and headed for the RER train terminal.

It was packed, again with the polyglot masses that were coming and going. Laura remained with the bags while I ventured to effect my first transaction with a French automated ticket kiosk. I got at the back of a moderately long line (as it turned out, quite a slow moving, moderately long line). I tried, through my fog of fatigue, to watch how the machine worked. I belatedly figured out that, though I knew that it would only take coins or credit cards, that another set of machines next to these would change bills into coins. However, I was already committed to my line, with a wall of Germans waiting behind me. So, I figured out, pretty much, how the credit card reader worked, and I was actually able to assist the American woman ahead of me get her tickets. It was enlightened self-interest, of course. The sooner she was done, the sooner I could also be done.

So, armed with two RER-B tickets good for one way transit from the Airport into the city itself, we boarded the next train. Although we had plenty of room at first and did not feel bad that we and our bags were taking up a block of seats, it soon proved to be the fact that the RER-B is not some express for tourists going from CDG into central Paris, it is a working local train, and it was pretty soon packed. This could have been a problem, as we approached our stop at Gard du Nord because there was a significant number of people and other objects between us and the door. Before it filled up too much though, I did get for the first, but probably not the last time in Paris, felt a little bad as a young woman nursing her baby came through the car begging. No one (locals or travellers) offered her anything, and one flight attendant, who remarkably looked almost like the young beggar’s sister to me, gave her such a look of disgust it was a little shocking. Anyway, we weren't going to give her anything anymore than anyone else, but I did feel like this was the first time that I was having to be a heel, and I had not even got to do anything fun in Paris yet. Still, she moved on and the train car filled up to the brim.

Turning back to how we were going to get off the train, when we pulled away from the station before our stop, I got up, did my best to say "excuse me sir" in French to the first person in my way, who was very polite as we danced around each other to maneuver him behind both me and my bags so he could sit and let Laura by, and then, once we stopped, we somehow (with minimal application of the sharp elbow approach) got off the train.

However, once there on the platform, we needed to figure out how to transfer to the Metro. And it turns out that the crowds that take the Paris Metro are very much "Devil take the hindmost" as far as being resolute about where they were going. We had to dodge a fair number of folks to find a corner of the platform in which to get our bearings.

So, we exited the RER area and headed for the number 5 metro line. We had to get tickets and thought to buy some books of tickets for the trip. However, this time the machines defeated me and would not take any of our credit cards. We, fortunately, had some coins that Laura's cousin Jennifer had given her (left from the trip in June) and with these we bought two precious tickets.

Then, down the stairs with our luggage (and each of us questioning our sanity for not instead going up to the street to summon a taxi) and onto the Orange #5 line. A few stops later, we then transferred to the Brown line, #11 to get to our stop at Rambuteau. We barely made it into the metro car, with the assistance of a local holding the door for Laura and me. No sooner were we in, but the train lurched forward violently, almost throwing us to the floor (actually, had I not caught myself on the pole, I would have violently sat upon an older Parisian lady whose life, I think, flashed before her eyes; she might be the first Parisian who took an active dislike to me, but hey, it was the train operator's fault, not ME!). Having survived the takeoff, we went a few short stops to Rambuteau. We headed up in the busy and bustling stream of Parisians to find blue sky and high puffy clouds awaiting us above the Pompidou Center.

Now we just had to orient ourselves and find our apartment building. While doing so, a Roma whom President Sarkozy has not yet deported came up to beg coins (jerk moment number two for me) and I sent him off. We figured out which way we needed to go down Rue Rambuteau and headed off passing shops, shoppers, restaurants and the ever present hustle and bustle. We were pretty tired, but, Laura decisively took us in just the right direction (past, by the by, like 5 million pizza places) and we soon were looking at the entrance of the apartment building that matched exactly the picture we had from the internet. We followed a resident into the building since the security key box was not where the directions said it might be.

Just about out of energy, we showed the pleasant lady behind the building management desk our paperwork. She kindly called our landlord (or, as it turned out, a lady business partner). The lady, Annmarie from Amsterdam, quickly showed us how our keys would work to get into the building and what to do if we got locked out. Then, she took us up to our efficient little apartment and showed us all the features. It was a little warm and she opened the windows (oh, note about earlier transit, windows on the commuter train and the metro both open to let in breeze).

Our windows look in over the play yard, in the middle of all the apartments, that belongs to a day care center. While Annmarie was showing us around, it was empty and tranquil. She was very friendly and thorough with her instructions and advice. When she left, one of our neighbors began a gentle jazz riff on a saxophone. We were in Paris, with our little apartment, all paid up, in a beautiful and busy neighborhood, just off the Marais in the 3rd District (3e Arrondissemont) and we were ready to go.

That is, after Laura shot off a brief e-mail, ready to go to bed because we were dead tired.

Once we hit the mattress (nice, not too hard), reality further broke in. Hey, we are next to a day care, and some of those kids scream and cry.

A lot.

Well, this will be another good reason not to sit around the apartment, once we are rested, and get out, out, out.

Also, there is some construction going on in the building (RRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAANNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG goes a power saw or something), but, that also should be confined to the times we are out and about.

So, I got an hour of shut eye, but was restless.

So, I thought I would get first impressions down while I still recalled them.

This will probably be the most involved (though I hope not the only) writing.

I am full of nervous excitement to get out. To try to not embarrass myself with my pitiful and meager French. To eat some great croissants and crepes. To see world class art, architecture and culture and history of every sort.

So, my instructions are to wake Laura at 6 and off to sample some food and some evening/night life in the City of Lights. Wahooo!

So, I am expecting to have the most wonderful GREAT time with my one true love as we mark twenty years of marriage together.

It is and will continue to be GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dresden is coming

Evil Hat Proiductions has finally put the Dresden Files RPG on a final timetable, and more importantly has put it into preorder (go to http://www.evilhat.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=65_72). There are two books that look fabulous. With the preorder (which is not cheap, just under $100) you get an immediate download of the nearly finished PDFs of the books. I have just scratched the surface of them, but they look amazing!

Evil Hat is a boutique RPG design company and each game is both a labor of love and the result of often years of playtest, drafting, revising and editing. Their art design is amazing (thus the "looks amazing" comment above).

The heart of the game is going to be the FATE system, first seen in Spirit of the Century, but refined to work for Jim Butcher's Dresden Files universe. This game has been in the works for a long time, but my money is on it being worth the wait and the cost.

And the books are huge, three and four hundred pages long.

So, I look forward to my books arriving after Origins, but right now, I will be loving the preview of having nearly done PDFs to look over.

Check it out.

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Whiteout Redux



So, after failing to get to the theater to see Whiteout back in September, I finally purchased the film made from my friend's first comic book work to see it. It is not a bad movie. It is also not a great movie. It is pretty much a middling hollywood action flick that is only remotely tied to its source material.

On the scale of bad and good, it was nowhere near as bad as lots of movies last year. It also was nowhere near as good as the original comic book series. It had some charms. Tom Skerrit brings some class to the movie. It feels cold all the time, so they approximated the antarctic atmosphere pretty well. As far as the DVD, it is pretty light on features: no commentary, a few deleted scenes, and the making of shorts, including the one with Greg, are reserved for the Blu-ray release. Since I'll probably be adopting Blu-ray just as it is replaced by Red or Green-ray or whatever comes up next, no joy for me.

So, I do wish I had got out to the theater to see this one to see what an audience would do with it. It is unfortunate that fidelity to the source material was only lip service. The original was much, much stronger.

But hey, its Hollywood . . .

Kindle Test

So, after a long dry season, a brief post. I received an Amazon Kindle for my birthday and I am still a novice with it. I am here experimenting with it's web browser. it has fewer functions than my blackberry storm, but it is much more legible. As a book substitute it is very good. The keyboard is slow but sure.

All in all handy

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