Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Tale of Four Cities Part IV: Paris – Erich

We ended our April excursion to four European capitals with three days in Paris. (To be honest, it did turn into May while we were there.)

We stayed with our friends Bryan and Ami (@amitakesonparis on Twitter) at their amazing apartment, full of windows and light. They have two daughters almost the same age as our kids. And I'm sure if you asked the kids what the best part of being in Paris was, they would tell you it was playing with friends. One of the hardest parts of this kind of travel for our kids is far fewer opportunities to just play with other children. So we're glad they got to do so at this stop.

But the sights of Paris were pretty cool too.
The creepy clown guy behind us later insisted on shaking people's hands. Not popular with our group.
Naturally, we saw the biggies: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomph. They are all impressive examples of architecture, and each in a very different way than the others.
This is not the usual view one gets of the Eiffel Tower. This one is better!
But the architecture of Paris is not limited to famous structures.
Detailed work from Notre Dame. The kids loved the guy holding his own head.
The city is full of interesting (and not so interesting) buildings. Some of the modern structures are quite ugly, and sometimes I wonder if that is on purpose. But others are dignified. And there are rare old gems in Paris. I mean, gems of buildings, though there are probably actual gems somewhere. And in some places, there are just interesting art elements added to the building that seem somewhat random.
Someone added a mosaic of Qbert to the side of a building. @!#?@!
However, if you are looking for beauty, the buildings are only one element. Go to some of the magnificent gardens. The Tuileries Garden is filled with sculptures, paths, playgrounds, plants, flowers, and more. At one end is the Louvre which is a gigantic and gorgeous building. Plus there are the two pyramids (small and large) sticking up from the ground at the Louvre.
This is only vineyard in the city of Paris itself. It is in Montmartre. But I hear the wine from it is not so good.
But my favorite garden was the Jardin du Luxembourg. Here's the story. Maria di Medici is married off to some French king named Louis. (There are a lot of those.) Sadly, they hate each other. But she is rich and homesick. So she buys the Hotel du Luxembourg and turns it into a palace. Then outside of it she designs and finances an enormous garden in the Italian style that she misses.

The palace eventually became the home of the French Parliament. The gardens are now open to the public. They are beautiful, with different sections. There is a gorgeous fountain with two lovers and some man in the clouds looking down on them. It is an incredibly impressive place. Amazing what a bout of homesickness (and millions of Francs for this is certain pre-Eurozone) can do.

We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Musee d'Orsay. They have an incredible collection of Impressionist Art and Post-Impressionist Art. Not only did we enjoy the paintings and sculptures there, but Ami gave us many great lessons in those art periods. Still, here is our unresolved question. Was Impressionism a necessary step to get from Realism to the Modern Abstract Movement or could you have jumped from one to the other without an evolving step?

Somber as it may sound, one of my favorite excursions was to the Montparnasse Cemetery. Many important French citizens are buried here. I personally saw the graves of the great mathematician Henri Poincare, the great playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, and the great sculptor Frederic Bartholdi. But the real thing that brought me there was it is also the burial place of Alfred Dreyfus, the man wrongly accused of being a traitor in the 1890s and convicted because he was a Jew, not because he was guilty.
The Parade Ground of L'Ecole Militaire. Here Dreyfus was "degraded" before the public.
As Lumiere says in Beauty and the Beast “...this is France, and dinner here is never second best.” Yes, the food is delicious. We ate dinner one night at a French restaurant. So bouncing from one animated movie to another, do you remember in Ratatouille when Remy is trying to explain flavor to his brother Emile? He talks about two things that each taste good, but when you put them together, it is something even better.

Well, that was the way of this meal. Some people had Beef Cheeks and Codfish which you had to eat together. Others had veal rolls and shrimp that you had to eat together. Needless to say, everything was excellent. The kids ate so much that they declared that their regular stomachs had spilled over into their dessert stomachs. (Though dessert still somehow got eaten. Culinary miracle!)

As good as that meal was, I imagine the kids will remember eating macarons more distinctly. They are sweet meringue based cookies. Though I'm sure the French would not call them cookies. To the Pennsylvanians I lived near, we would say that they were a French version of Whoopie Pies, though the similarities in form are incidental because the differences in flavor are immense. Carver got one that was violet and licorice flavor. He asked our hosts what violet tasted like and they told him “It tastes like the color purple.” That didn't help, but he enjoyed it when he got to eat the real thing.

Paris is a wonderful place to visit. It is easy to get around. There are buses and metros everywhere. But it is also very expensive, including public transportation. (Though London may be even more expensive in regards to transportation. Though not in regards to food. Apples in Paris were the most expensive we have seen anywhere in Europe.)

It is interesting. I enjoyed Paris, thought it was lovely and had so much to offer. But the entire time I was there, I always felt like “This is a city in which I don't belong.” I don't mean the city was unwelcoming. It was more inside of me. Some places you feel right at home. Other places you always feel out of place. For me, Paris is one where I feel out of place. I may one day visit again, but I can't ever see myself feeling the temptation to stay.

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