where we've been and where we're going

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A day off, then to see Napoleon

On the 23rd, Saturday, I took the day to stay in and work, which was well worth it. In the evening, I went out to see my cousin. She was in Paris with a group from her high school, and it seems like she loved every second of Paris. I met the group at Pont Neuf, where their boat cruise of the Seine dropped them off, and we walked to Saint-Michel, which is where the students (and the tourists) tend to go to hang out and enjoy nightlife. We went to a bar. The kind of bar which is almost a club, with a bit of a dancefloor and a DJ and a bouncer and the whole bit. After their tour guide did some finangling to get a group of 10 high schoolers past the bouncer, we were in. Maybe I'm getting old, but I was worried about the girls in the group, considering that not all of them had great French and there was a group of pompiers (firefighters) on the dance floor. With an eye on all of them, though, Dani and I had a great time dancing. It was tons of fun to see her, and I certainly love to dance as much as possible.

On Sunday, after sleeping in, Chris, David, Kate and I headed to Invalides, which was once a military hospital (and, we think, it still is). It now houses three military museums and includes the church where Napoleon is buried. His body is inside 6 concentric coffins, each made of a different (expensive) material. The outermost is wood. Additionally, the sarcophagus (I suppose that's what it is) is set in the cellar, but the first floor is cut out, so that an observer still must bow to Napoleon to see the grave. Apparently, Hitler thought this was a great idea when he saw it.

We also visited the World War museums, which were huge and extremely comprehensive, and the museum with miniature representations of the fortified cities of France. We skipped the museum of armor. Being in the WW museum made me wish I knew more military history, as I always do when I take classes as well. Scott would have enjoyed it more than me, because he would have appreciated it more. Note to self...more military history.

After a hot tea post-Invalides, we headed home. We took naps, then met up again (with Edgar this time) to head for dinner. We did a terrible job of locating a restaurant, since so many things are closed in Paris on Sunday, and ended up at a terrible little Italian place near our foyer. The food was provided by Sodexho. Always the optimist, Chris referred to it as the best restaurant in Paris, and it really didn't taste as horrible as I expected. However, both David and Chris got sick the next day. Go figure.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Art and government

June 22nd

It was a busy day today. Katie, again my partner in crime, and I headed to find the Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris. On the way, we found the Fountain des Innocents, and wandered into a funeral at L'Eglise Sainte-Eustache, where Mozart held his mother's funeral. Whoops. The museum, once we found our way out of the section with the ridiculous modern art that freaks everyone out, was wonderful. Lots of Chagall, Picasso, Ernst, Mondrian, Pollack, Arbus...wondrous. I find modern art to be incredible, but not the modern art that involves green blobs and sound effects.

We were starving, so we found a bistro right next to the Pompidou. Here, Kate had her first experience with escargot. I'd never had them in the shell before, and we had quite a time attempting to get them out of the shell. They were, in fact, delicious.

We tried to go to L'Opera Garnier for a tour, and we found it closed due to rehearsal. Frustrated, we headed over to L'Ile-de-Cite, which is where Notre Dame resides. However, our goal was the Memorial de la Deportation, an homage to those people of France who were deported to work and death camps under the Nazi regime. Most of those who were deported because they were part of the resistance returned to France; most of those who were deported because they were Jewish did not. It was a beautiful and respectful memorial, with millions of lights to represent each of the deported.

The group went to a talk at the French Senat. After quite a bit of work to get my group there on time, we arrived and received a tour of the building, which is in the Palais de Luxembourg, built by Catherine des Medicis. Then we had a meeting with a French senator, the head of the US-French relations committee. It was fascinating, particularly in contrast to a meeting we had two weeks ago with the US embassy.

After a group dinner, several of us roamed the Rue de Mouffetard, hopping in and out of bars...including a karaoke bar! The French do it a little differently, with ridiculous 80s videos behind the lyrics and lots of Celine Dion from the French karaoke-ers. Wild. Because we missed the last metro home, and I was wearing heels, I definitely walked home to the apartment with our group barefoot at 3am. Fun times in Paris.

Monday, July 16, 2007

La Fete de la Musique

June 20

Who knows? I imagine I graded papers today....

June 21

Today, on the summer solstice, and the longest day of the year, when the sun sets in Paris after 10 at night, Paris suspends its noise laws and the metro runs all night. It's the music festival, and one can find free concerts everywhere, from the Louvre and Notre Dame and the Centre Pompidou, to the ways along the Seine and the middle of the street in the Latin Quarter. Everyone brings out their talent and their lack thereof and plays in the streets and on the bridges and in the parks and in the bars. Orchestras and one-man bands. Every kind of music you can imagine can be found in the streets of Paris on this night. And every Parisian and tourist as well. It was incredible.

As a group, we ate a traditional Brittany-style dinner of crepes at a little creperie in the Latin Quarter and then attempted to walk around. We ended up finding it nearly impossible to walk as a group, so we broke up a little. David and I attempted to catch Stravinsky's 5th, which the Paris Orchestra was playing for free in the main lobby of the Louvre, but we arrived too late to be allowed in. Fortunately, we still caught the sunset, and a flautist in an archway. We then rendez-vous-ed with most of the group, who were wandering drunkenly along the Seine, after crossing the Pont-des-Arts filled with drummers and other various musicians, including dueling choruses of Christian and Jewish singers. I didn't last long with the crowds and the chaos, but it certainly was thrilling.

Teacher's Duties at the Mosque of Paris

June 18

Today, Monday, the students in my class turned in their first papers. However, I ended up sick, so the day was gone. Once I felt a little better I still had to finish planning my lecture for tomorrow, so I didn't do anything fun today.

June 19

I lectured today on the European Union's common foreign and security policies and how they relate to human rights. It was my second lecture of the class, but one I knew far less about than my first on human rights NGOs. I think it went less well than the first, but it still felt fairly successful. Lecturing is so much more difficult than running a discussion section, but I still love to do it. I'm once again grateful that I have found that I do love the thing I've chosen to do as a career.

In the afternoon, I set off to find a place to grade papers. I first went to the Jardins des Plantes, which is the equivalent of the botanical gardens, one might say. There are labyrinths and rose gardens, with an evolution museum as well. It was pleasant until a guy joined me on my bench and played mp3s out of his phone while I attempted to read. I bailed out of there and crossed the street to the Mosquee of Paris. While this may seem a strange place to try and work, there's a perfect little cafe attached to it. It's an open air patio enclosed from the street by white walls and perfectly shaded by fig trees. I sat at a little mosaic-topped table while a waiter walked around with little perfect cups of perfect mint tea for a mere 2 euros apiece. It was perfectly brewed at the perfect temperature with the perfect amount of sweetness. I couldn't have found a more wonderful place to work and drink tea than this.

That evening I went out with the students for the first time. We went to a British pub, Frog and Princess, in the Latin Quarter. A program assistant meeting I attended before the trip recommended I go out with the students a lot to keep an eye out for potential problems. I was only doing my duty.

Kissing Poets in the Graveyard

June 16

After lunch at the cafeteria with Kate, Judith, and Edgar on a Saturday, Edgar and I broke off and took a trip deep below Paris into the Catacombs. These lie even under the metro system. They were tunnels once dug to supply stone for the buildings of Paris, but they were filled with bodies of those causing disease in the city where they lay in regular cemeteries in the 18th century. The bones of the dead line your path, used almost like building blocks of a fence around you, with skulls arranged in a pattern of death. It’s surreal. Kate said her trip to the catacombs reminded her you can sleep when you’re dead, so she’s been hitting Paris sights like a whirlwind.

June 17

On Sunday, Kate joined Edgar and me on an excursion in northeastern Paris. First, we attended Sunday mass at Notre Dame at 10 am. This mass features Gregorian chant, which was gorgeous. Despite the irreverence of the tourists they continue to allow in the church while you attend mass, it was a wonderful experience. Even with really creepy, Tim-Burton-style organ music.

Afterward, we set off to find the remains of the Bastille. We went to the Opera Bastille, which is in the area where it once stood. Apparently, it’s the most often visited monument in Paris that doesn’t exist. However, the trusty guidebook suggested we might find leftover bricks, but we found this NOT to be the case. It’s the only time the old book has let me down. (Photo: Where's the Bastille?)

We then had lunch in a true Bohemian bar. We wandered into this place where every patron was a chain smoker, we only listened to obscure, jazz/world music I’d never heard, the walls were lined with well-used books and posters of musicians of which I’d never heard, and we ate weird bar food. Naturally, we were the only tourists in the place.

Nearby, we found Pere La Chaise. It was the most famous cemetery in Paris for me, but I shouldn’t speak for all people. Buried here are famous people such as Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, and so many more. Over 1 million people reside here, with only 100 000 headstones. Crazy. In particular, we managed to find (after much difficulty, trust me) Camille Pissarro, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and the place’s most famous dead guy, Jim Morrisson. We found his grave on accident, and I told him exactly what I thought of the Doors, which unfortunately is not complementary. After defaming the dead, I (almost) kissed Oscar Wilde’s grave like so many others have. Who started that crazy tradition?

We attempted to hit the jazz festival in the Bois de Vincennes, but rain forced us to a Salon de The. Instead, we went back downtown and managed to make our way all the way through the Picasso Museum. It was a collection that I think may have been the most extensive in the world. We were exhausted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An Evening of Art

June 13

The building where we attend classes is in the Latin Quarter, near the district known as Saint-Germain-des-Pres. The Eglise Saint-Sulpice is in this area (recognizable from the DaVinci Code), though I never made it over there. However, the oldest church in Paris (or at least the tower from what was once the oldest church is Paris) is also in this district – Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres. I visited today, and I found it to be breathtaking.

The inside is all wooden and painted on almost every surface. Gorgeous murals of Christ and his apostles cover all of the walls. The columns and the ceiling feature beautiful patterns, usually with the fleur de lis of France. (Anyone know why it’s the symbol of the monarchy?) Rene Descartes is even buried here, in a fairly unremarkable monument in a chapel off to the side. A memorial honors the parish dead in the world wars. It was really, just gorgeous.

June 14 - another missing day. Sadness. I hope it was fun.

June 15

Kate and I (she's been my primary sightseeing partner, and she's been fantastic, by the way) had a picnic this evening at the fountain of the Jardins des Tuileries, which stretch between the Place de Concorde and the Louvre. It had rained most of the day, but we had a perfect sunny stretch for our little picnic. We then walked over to the Louvre, which is free for those of us under 26 after 6 pm on Fridays. How perfect!

We hardly dented it, of course. It is, after all, the Louvre. We saw the inverted pyramid of the DaVinci Code fame (I just read the book once, but I know what you all want to hear). We also saw the Code of Hammurabi and two Vermeers. We attempted to make our way through the ancient arts and the Flemish and Dutch masters. It meant some skimming, and we missed Roman, Greek, and about half of the Egyptian art. We did our best, darn it. The photo is Kate and I in a transported Mesopotamian temple.

Remarkably, we found some of the most beautiful views of Paris from the windows of the Louvre. I personally think that the Eiffel Tower is one of the worst, because you can't see the Tower itself in the view. This was a great one, particularly since the wind and the clouds of the storm made it dramatic, in addition to the colors of the sunset. Loved it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Missing Day

June 11 and 12

On Monday I attempted to catch another opera. Lohengrin was playing at the Opera Bastille, but the girls and I were less than successful in attempting to get tickets. Clearly, when you want student rush tickets on the closing night of a Wagner, you have to be aggressive. Instead, though, we wore our opera clothes to the Cafe Opera, where we had a delicious French dinner, and the girls told me what they like in a professor, for future reference.

However, on Tuesday of that week, we had another group outing, this one fabulously romantic. We began our afternoon at the Musee Quai Branly, the anthropological museum that constitutes Jacques Chirac's cultural contribution to Paris (most of the presidents did such a thing). An anthropological museum, you say? Yes, I do. And it was fantastic. A bizarre looking building, surrounded by a lovely garden. The inside is filled with treasures of indigenous societies from all over the world, both past and present. I, for one, thought it was fascinating.

From there, we walked to the nearby Champs du Mar below the Eiffel Tower for a picnic. Sandwiches, wine, cheese, and great company made for a lovely evening. We also climbed to the top, which is pretty anti-climactic if you've done it before, and seen a better view from Notre Dame. But we climbed it at sunset...which is spectacular. And at night it lights up, complete with sparkles for 10 minutes at the top of the hour. Sigh.

More photos, plus one of our group.