Saturday, May 14, 2005

Paris--Day 2: Let the Tourism Begin!

On Friday, L.H.'s friend took us to Notre Dame cathedral. On the way, we saw a medieval museum in a "townhouse" that had once belonged to the monastery at Cluny, the church of Saint Severin, the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, and the Sorbonne (the original building of the University of Paris plus an old student quarter). It was a bit chilly and damp, but I have finally figured out how to pack for traveling in Europe: one warm-weather outfit plus one cold-weather outfit per day, worn in layers in case it warms up.

Notre Dame was huge and beautiful. D.D. took a crying fit; she claimed it was the male chorus that was singing in the background, but I could understand if it was just the size of the place that got to her. Also, there were hundreds of people strolling through it, so in all, it was an overwhelming experience. But after we sat and talked quietly for a few minutes, she calmed down and we made our way around to where L.H. was checking things out. The line for the tower tour was a block long, so we didn't go.

Then we walked around the rest of that island. (There are 2 islands in the middle of the Seine, and therefore in the center of Paris, that were the original settlement of Paris.) The Sainte Chapelle is on the other end, and although it is smaller than the Notre Dame, it is more opulent. It was a private chapel for the king, dedicated to the Crusaders.

We eventually made it to the Eiffel Tower at the end of the day. It is much bigger than I had imagined from just seeing it in photos. There are *2* elevators *each leg*, plus a set of stairs. An hour-long line stretches from one leg to another along one side of the base. We had dinner plans with L.H.'s friend, so we weren't able to go up, but we wandered around the gardens. Paris definitely *is* the city of love, going by the number of couples we saw mugging on every occupied park bench or stretch of grass. But the final straw was when D.D. noticed that a tree at the Eiffel Tower was covered with initials that had been carved into it. Fuckin' lovers.

There are lots of snack stands catering to tourists, and every single one of them carries cotton candy. Now I understand the character in the children's book Barbapapa. Barbe a papa is cotton candy in French.

This is a photo I took from the Louvre guide book. We didn't take many photos inside the Louvre.
(Giotto di Bondone, c. 1300: Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata)

Note the interesting use of lines to indicate Jesus beaming stigmata down to St. Francis. Unfortunately, a similar, and much more interesting, painting didn't make it into the guide book, but imagine if you will: Aphrodite hovering over 6 "lovers from history" (Lancelot, Paris of Troy, Troilus, etc.) and shooting identical beams *from her crotch*. The painting was called something like "Aphrodite Conquers the Fabled Lovers."
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Rage in the Classroom, etc.

I have to pick a different seat in class next time. The guys sitting across the table—one from Africa and one from China (who likes to be called "Rock")—are totally nice and polite and not socially retarded. The same cannot be said of the girl next to me. You might remember me mentioning her before: the Luna Lovegood spaz-alike.

The poor thing is quite hirsute, but that doesn't really excuse the wide array of annoying behaviors (or the "Happy Kiddies" technicolor pencil case). Imagine a painter who imagines himself a performance artist: he makes bold, dramatic strokes on the canvas, dancing back occasionally to see the result. Not imagine that it's a hairy woman with a pen. It's quite distracting.

Leaning over me and staring at my notes instead of reading the overhead is also distracting. And asking what we're supposed to do every time we get a worksheet—3 times per class. Get a hearing aid, damnit! And acting like a game show contestant when we discuss the worksheet all together with the instructor: 3! 3! 3! And wiggling in her seat like she has ants in her pants. And *taking off her shoes and putting her SWEATY, pantyhose-clad feet on an empty chair*. And how does one even make paper squeak by rubbing one's fingernail across it?!


There's a guy in one of my classes who seems to be going for the young George Michael look. I wondering which gender he is trying to attract. Hee!


My skin is so dry today, I could strip the paint off wooden furniture with my bare hands. I could scratch my class notes onto my arm and still read them this evening. I could wipe my hand across Tammy Fay Baker's face and remove her makeup down to the skin. I look like some kind of desert lizard, which is something considering that the only place wetter than here is in the Amazon (it is raining buckets as I write).


I personally feel that if you are extremely pigeon-toed, wearing boots with 3-inch heels and long, pointy toes is not going to improve your chances of not tripping and falling. Just an observation from the bus stop.


D.D. was in such a fantastic mood when I picked her up one afternoon this week that she wondered if I had put super-happy potion in her milk at breakfast. I reminded her she didn't have milk, but maybe there was something in her chocolate milk at school.


I'm not exactly a professional decorator myself, but I wish shop owners would make a little more effort with their window displays. The bakery in the village where D.D. takes ballet has some dolls in the window, and nothing makes me want to buy bread more than seeing Chucky with a baker's hat and a rolling pin.


D.D. and I have been noticing enormous ravens big enough to carry off a cat or possibly an unattended baby. Between them and the giant snails, I'm becoming concerned about the water supply around here. There's also a nuclear power plant somewhere nearby...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Life Goes On

I'm still working on my Paris write-up, but there's so much to say! So here are some tidbits from real life since we got back:

I had to run some errands in town, and I passed through my favorite section of the main pedestrian/shopping street. I like to think of it as the Thoroughfare of Deliciosity; 3 bakeries, a butcher specializing in smoked sausages, and a coffee and tea shop are all cuddled up together, so there's a series of good smells as you walk past. mmm... sausage and coffee and bread... mmmm.

I strolled though a department store on the way to my bus, but their wares weren't any better than what I had just bought, so I didn't bother to stop. But I noticed that right in the middle of a big area that is being remodeled, they had left one little display carousel—of hairnets. I wonder if they have such a hard-core clientele of hair-net shoppers that they didn't want to piss them off by moving their wares to another section with the rest of the hair-care products.

D.D. announced on the way home from school one day that she wanted to be a gardener when she grows up, "instead of a ballerina or that other stuff" (dance teacher, police officer, archaeologist). I hope she has a better knack for it than I do. My tiny seedling (indoors) had croaked when we got back from the trip, and so had most of the flowers D.D. and her friend had sown on the balcony. But my beloved ivy and xmas cactus were still going strong. They probably looked down their shoots at those puny seedlings.

D.D. stopped to look at something on the ground and declared that she thought it was a "roly-poly-oly", without a trace of silliness. I think Disney has messed up her vocabulary.

Postscript to Paris—Day 1

Advice for
Driving in France:
Be prepared to pay several tolls as you drive across the country. From the border to Paris, I think we stopped 6 times for a total of 24 euros. That's about the cost of a half a tank of gas. Eek!

Driving in Paris:
There is a disturbing lack of lines on the streets. And the few lines seem to be more of a suggestion than a law, judging by the behavior of the other drivers. Ditto crosswalk signs for pedestrians, who seem to have a militant disregard for personal safety. I'm pretty sure most of the jaywalkers were Parisians, not tourists, going by the absence of maps and cameras and the presence of a purposeful stride. Also, our hotel wasn't in a touristy area.

Germans are pretty conscientious sign-obeyers, so the difference in mentality in Paris was quite obvious.

Paris—Day 1: The Trip

We haven't done much highway driving since we got the car, just short jaunts around town or to neighboring towns that are not connected by highways (think of Elgin to Taylor, Texas, as opposed to Austin to Elgin), so driving across a large part of France made us use skills that had gotten a bit rusty. But we made it in spite of our map- and sign-reading deficiencies. And we managed to keep ourselves entertained in the process.

Our first source of amusement was a road sign while we were still in Germany: Danger! Accidents Possible! That's about as useful and specific as the US Homeland Security's "Orange Advisory." [It actually refers to a dangerously short on-ramp. The sign.]

Then when we got to France, we saw lots of white cows out in the fields, all lying down. The first standing cows we saw were black, so L.H. quipped that they must be German cows. We speculated on whether they were imported to be the worker cows, or just to be a positive influence on the white French cows. Then I wondered if perhaps the French cows were subverting the German ones, because we saw a couple of black ones lying down. Car games with nee and L.H.

More pervasive than cows, though, were the fields upon fields of rapeseed (1). I mean, the stuff was *everywhere*, so it must be a major crop. As a matter of fact, we saw a (German) tour bus that claimed it ran on pure canola oil. Neat! We didn't take a photo ourselves, but you can see the beauty for yourselves here. I happened to recognize it because I had seen it while driving through southern Sweden with L.H.'s friends acting as our tour guides.

(1) Rapeseed is the source of canola oil (see the debunking at the bottom of the linked page), but Americans don't want to see the word "rape" on their kitchen staples, as in "rapeseed oil", so it got a new name.

You know how American highways have mile markers but only sporadically, plus exit numbers? Well, in France, *every 100 meters* is marked with a sign. So at the end of the length of a football field, there's a number: 366.9, 366.8, 366.7.... I'm just anal enough that I would catch myself keeping track of them, which meant it was time to distract myself with futile reading assignments for school and Crazy Eights with D.D.

If you ever go to France, DO NOT EVER order andouillette in a restaurant. You will receive tripe sausage, also known as chitterlings sausage, as L.H. discovered to his eternal horror. After a quick search online, I see that it is often referred to as "sausage bursting with offal." L.H. said it smelled like the outside of the pig from which it originally came.

After the mystery lunch, we passed a bizarre series of ... installation art? on the highway for maybe 20 km—disks, spheres, pyramids, cubes, flat squares, a single pole, flat triangles, and cubes on one point, all in rainbow-hued pastels. They were just lying on the ground next to the road. After 10km, I was all, "Ok! It's geometry AND art—we get it!"

Some of you may be tempted to smite me for blasphemy, but there was a stretch or two between Reims and Paris that reminded me of Texas scenery, maybe between Austin and Waco. The part of Germany we're in tends to be hilly and forested, so it was a nice change.

We managed to drive into central Paris, find our hotel, and put the car in a garage without a hitch. D.D. was happy that she got her own bed and that there was a tv, but she didn't know what to make of the bidet. L.H. mused that it was the perfect size for a Barbie pool, but D.D. was disgusted by the suggestion. And we had no Barbies on hand with which to try it out. Suffice it to say that the bidet went unused while we were there.

Then we paid a visit to L.H.'s friend from Sweden who is living in Paris temporarily to help take care of her baby granddaughter. She and her daughter took us on a walking tour of their neighborhood (at the Place d'Italie) and pointed out some good places to eat. D.D. found a feather on the ground while we were out. When a pigeon crossed her path, she held out the feather and said, "Hey, Pidge! Looking for this?" all smart-alecky. Hee!

After a quick Chinese dinner, we went back to the hotel and geared up for Day 2: Let the Tourism Begin!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Electronic Prozac

I've been in a bad mood, but having a bit of a rant off-screen and reading about Sars' version of a bad mood made feel better.

So I will now troop upstairs and cobble together my notes from the Paris trip into a real post for tomorrow.