Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Few Americans in Paris

Yesterday we walked a bit on the Left Bank visiting the statue of Voltaire, the hotel of Oscar Wilde and other highlights culled from Rick Steves' walking tours of Paris. Sam grew impatient with this process of walking and learning, and was probably overstimulated on Saint Germain so we rested in a park near the Cluny Museum, stopped in Gibert Joseph bookstore to get him a copy of Fast Food Nation in English (his required reading this summer), and then made our way to the Luxembourg Gardens for a cafe stop, duck watching, and an unexpected but fascinating show of photos of Europe (since 1855). After that we did a complicated metro trip to Sacre Coeur; this included getting disoriented in the surrounding neighborhoods (I had to ask for directions 3 times). We took the Funicula up the hill, spent a long time in the church, and then wandered through Karen's old neighborhood in Montmartre, stopping at another cafe in Abbesses before meeting Karen at the Gar du Nord. Karen did a special tour of the Gar (she has written a great deal - including a book - on Paris's railroad stations). Here you can see her explaining the new part of the station with great animation. One can just imagine what her lectures are like at the Versailles School of Architecture!

And here is the sign that was left on the balcony of Karen's old apartment in Montmartre by her friend, Rhoda, to welcome us to the neighborhood. After traipsing around the Sacre Coeur with insane quantities of tourists on every side, it was very calming to read her message on rue Gabrielle. It says, " Hi to Sam, Beverly and Bob. Welcome to my street!"

and then we made our way back to her apartment on rue Simon Bolivar (that I had not seen before). Below is the charming view from Karen's kitchen. We now understand why she loves her place so much.

Jim, another Carleton chum (whom I had not seen in 33 years) joined us for dinner. He lives in Holland, in The Hague where he works for the World Court as a translator, and he introduced us to the most decadently wonderful chocolates we've ever had. We spent the evening enjoying couscous and each other's company, and then, courtesy of Jim, took a relaxing cab ride back to our hotel.

We have pissed away Euros this week, as I expected we would. What an amazing ritual of cutting holes in one's pockets and watching the money flow every which way...yes, we received some pleasure, but a cup of tea for the equivalent of $6 is just too much. I have noticed the absence of English being spoken among the throngs of tourists surrounding us at many venues. It is quite clear that most Americans cannot afford Paris this year. Without our credit card we wouldn't either.

Today, our last day of this journey, we had lots of stimulation with a self-directed tour of the sewers near the Place de la Resistance, a visit to the anthropology museum at Quai Branly that's filled with the visual culture of many indigenous peoples (I could write lots of about the controversial architecture and the problems with seeing sacred objects behind glass, but I'm going to restrain myself).

and then the long awaited, long line experience of waiting to go up the Eiffel Tower. I only made it to the 2nd level, vertigo kicked in during the elevator ride up.

No trip to Paris is complete without some images of the Eiffel Tower. The one below was taken when I was in the throes of a serious bout of vertigo. I decided not to take the elevator to the summit, and instead returned to terra firma while Bob and Sam ascended. Sam's trip to Paris was truly complete.

We had a lovely final dinner with Karen and Rhoda. And now we are busy packing at midnight. We are off to the airport in the morning.

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