Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Paris: Day 4

Continuing my grand tradition of posting about things several months after the fact... from an email to Dave on October 26, 2010
"We had our first impact from the French strike today (Woo hoo!!) making it a true Parisian experience. Okay, fine, the impact wasn't that big. We woke up super early to go to Versailles. We wanted to get there as soon as it opened so we could get back and do a few things in Paris this afternoon. Luckily, we decided to ask the hotel concierge before we left if it was open. It was open today, but it was opening an hour and a half late. So we altered our plan and spent the morning at the Musee d'Orsay (mostly French neo-classical and impressionist art). I grabbed my morning yogurt and pastry and we got on a city bus (much less stinkier than the metro). Unfortunately we didn't realize that some of the stops were only going one way so we went past our stop all the way to the Latin Quartier. We  realized our mistake, hopped off, started walking back the other way down the street in the frosty fall morning until we caught another bus back to the Orsay. Even with this little mishap we still got in line 10 minutes before it opened.

 We spent almost two hours at the Orsay. I heard a couple of people say that they liked the Orsay better than the Louvre, but I think that raised my expectations a bit high because I absolutely loved the Louvre. Truthfully, I didn't love the Orsay. The sculpture was not nearly as great as the sculpture at the Louvre. I really enjoyed the Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. I even enjoyed Cezanne and some of the others that were starting to break off into Modernism. The thing that really bothered me, honestly, was how much sensuality --or more specifically, the objectification of women--played a role in the art of that time. Don't get me wrong, there are tons of nudes at the Louvre and many paintings that are sensual, but there wasn't the same theme of woman-as-object running throughout so many of the works of art. To me there is a big difference in how I react to a nude Greek sculpture that shows the glory of the human body and a 19th century French sculpture of a naked woman lying on her side with one hip thrust out. There was the famous Manet painting of a picnic-- where the men are clothed and the women (supposedly prostitutes) conveniently have their clothes missing. It was scandalous at the time, and frankly I didn't really approve of it either. (Why do the guys get clothes and the women don't? Maybe it's the feminist in me, but come on, let's have some equality here. So women are ornamental objects?) And there was another (again, supposedly of a prostitute) of a reclining woman wearing nothing but earrings and shoes, staring frankly at the viewer like, "So?" Again, scandalous to the community at the time--- and to your poor sheltered wife. And to top it all off was a sculpture by Camille Claudel (Rodin's mistress) showing her agony at him being dragged away from her (she despaired after Rodin refused to leave his wife for her and ended up in a mental hospital). All inspiring stories no? Anyway, there were some very lovely works, but overall I left the Orsay rather depressed at the statement it made about French society at the time and love in general.

After a morning at the museum we boarded the RER (suburban train) to Versailles. After a quick 30-minute train ride on a severely overheated car (it was a cold day, but we took off lots of our layers by the end of the trip). We got out and started trekking to the chateau via a sandwich shop. We went to a place called "Class'croute." They had really great sandwiches. Mine was a crusty baguette filled with generous slices of chevre' (goat cheese), herbs and bacon. Yum! Then we readied ourselves to view the glory and history of the French monarchy.
My delicious goat cheese baguette sandwich
French sandwich guys-- kinda like Subway, right?
In front of the gate to Versailles

Versailles was seriously impressive. And almost oppressive in a way-- I think the weight of living with that much opulence would weigh down on you after a while, although I suppose if you were born into it you wouldn't know any differently. But it was truly splendid and well worth seeing.
The royal chapel at Versailles
Ranell in the famous "Hall of Mirrors."

The Hall of Mirrors

Why would you settle for sculpture when you could have gold-plated sculpture?
The Hall of Mirrors
The portrait gallery
In the courtyard
Incidentally there was an art exhibit of some Japanese artist that was displayed in the different rooms at Versailles while we were there. His "art" resembled bizarre anime cartoons and was oddly incongruous with the grandiose surroundings. (Maybe the incongruity was intentionally designed as part of the exhibit....)
What more does a French chateau need than an anime bunny with a stick?
When I see the Hall of Mirrors, I definitely think "Colorful Snowman of Smiling Cartoon Flowers."

By the end of the palace we were both tired and I felt a bit "castled" out for the day. We almost went home at that point, but decided to go around back to take a look at the grounds. The view from the back of the chateau over the "Grand Canal" rowing lake was absolutely incredible. Ranell was tired so she stayed there to people-watch and read a book while I walked through the grounds and saw the Trianon Palaces and Domaine de Marie Antoinette. The palaces were fine, mostly more of the same, but the grounds were just heart-stoppingly beautiful. I could pass on gilded halls and elaborate furniture, but give me beautiful trees and a rowing lake! I felt like Elizabeth Bennett wandering the grounds of Pemberly: there were neatly trimmed rows of hedges edged with Greek-looking statues, bordered on one side by woods with orange and yellow leaves and the other with the "Grand Canal" rowing lake. Simply breathtaking. I could have wandered for hours.

Overlooking the grounds and the Grand Canal

After Ranell and I met up again, we braved the toilet line which, like everything else at Versailles, is gargantuan and over-the-top. We seriously waited for about 15 minutes. Right when we got to the head of the line, the lady running the W.C felt the need to take a cigarette break or clean it or something, because as we stood at the front of the line lots of people came out, but still we stood there- not moving- for about 10 more minutes straight, trying not to do the pee-pee dance too obviously. We finally finished our business and headed back to Paris, stopping at the sandwich shop again. This time I got a prosciutto, feta and sun-dried tomato baguette.
The "toilette" Nazis

Back in Paris we walked a few blocks to transfer to the Metro. I hadn't ridden the Metro for a couple days, so I stuck in a ticket and thought that the message in French said that I needed to use a different ticket. I used a second ticket and then Ranell went through and hers worked. I finally tried a third, before finally realizing that the message was actually telling me to go through the doors and that I just needed to push my way through them. So I just ate 3 Euros by playing with the ticket booths for the metro-- my brain is definitely getting slower as we get more tired.
In front of Sacre Couer Basilica

A fuzzy, out-of-focus view from Sacre Couer
We got off near Monmartre to see the Sacre Couer Basilica- a church from the late 1800's on the highest hill in Paris. We were smart and paid 1,5 Euros to take the little tram to the top of the hill instead of climbing hundreds of stairs. We took some pictures of the floodlit exterior of the church, walked around the beautiful cavernous stone interior and then sat and quietly chatted until one of the people that worked there shushed us. We walked along the road next to the church and stopped to hear a street singer play the guitar and sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (in English, no less). He was actually quite good and while we stood there, overlooking Paris at night, the Eiffel Tower burst into its hourly "sparkle" light display. Yet another quintessentially Parisian romantic moment without a romantic companion. Both Ranell and I laughed about this and contented ourselves with having a nice friendly hug. We wandered around the touristy but fun Montmartre district. We bought a ham and cheese crepe from one of the many stands surrounding the little square down the street from the church. Basically a french quesadilla, but with fantastic cheese. I guess it goes to show that some food concepts are just universally good-- and anything with good cheese qualifies.
Eating a crepe in the Montmartre district.
As we were wandering we had a tourist couple ask us for directions in French (I was so flattered), but when we told them we didn't speak French they were relieved that we spoke English. We got out my handy-dandy map and purse-sized street atlas and helped this couple from the Netherlands find the Metro station. We wandered around a bit more and then finally settled into a cafe to have some hot chocolate and a snack. Our hot chocolate came out with dark chocolate drizzled around the bowl of the cup accompanied by little pitchers of steamed milk. It was so cute! Now if only the milk was more than lukewarm-- but it was still yummy. We got some bread and a little started plate of cheese ravioli with cheese sauce and then some Creme Brulee for dessert. We whiled away our time in a true Parisian fashion, privately chatting away for several hours on life, the universe and everything at our table in the cafe until we realized it was midnight. By the time we left there was only a French couple murmuring over their wine and a Frenchman sitting alone eating a cheese plate. We got our check and as we headed out the door, the Frenchman with the cheese plate flashed us a very knowing grin. It then dawned on me that he probably knew English and got his whole evening entertainment from eavesdropping on our "private" conversation in a "foreign" language. Ooops.
Ooh la la. Creme Brulee.
Did I mention that I love Creme Brulee?

We headed back the Metro and home to our hotel where I am now writing you this long email. I am sore all over: my legs, my feet and especially my calves. Walking on cobblestones at Versailles and a couple of other places does crazy things to your ankles and leg muscles.

So tomorrow we finally must say Bon Voyage to Paris. It has been a fantastic trip and part of me is sad to leave. But part of me is relieved to be able to rest my aching legs and see the kids and you again."


Lynnette said...

I just love reading about your trip! You're so descriptive and I feel like I'm there, experiencing it all with you (which is good, cause that's probably as close to Paris as I'll ever get). I actually have never had any desire to go, but after reading your many posts, you've changed my mind. So glad you and Ranell could take this trip. Keep the pictures coming - even if it's a year after the fact! :o)

Cassie said...

What a great trip! Thanks for an entertaining-late-night read. I am so glad you got to take the trip--and super jealous.