Monday, June 16, 2008

parting meals and glances

sunday was my last day in paris, and i was all by myself. the squirrel left for the airport around 2, and for a while i stayed in the room and worked on this blog. i had done a lot of my packing saturday night, so i didn't have to spend too much time on that. i had a sorta vague plan to go out around 4 or 5 -- i remembered that we hadn't gone to cafe de flore (the other famous latin quarter cafe besides les deux magots, and conveniently right next door to it), so i thought i'd go there and then see what developed.

before i left the room, the squirrel phoned from the airport and said she'd read about this restaurant called kong (of all things) at 1 avenue de pont neuf, which overlooked the pont neuf and was designed by philippe starck. she said it was supposed to have an amazing view over the bridge. i told her i was planning to go to cafe de flore but said i might check it out (the address was easy enough to remember). she said she had a good time and thanks for coming with her to paris. i said me too and felt a little verklempt, surprisingly, so i got off the phone and finished getting ready.

the clouds were rolling in again as i put on my ipod and walked to cafe de flore. i had my umbrella, of course. on the way i passed this saxophone player serenading people at one of the many corner cafes along the boulevard saint-germain -- the usual cheesy standards. despite encroaching clouds, it was a nice evening for a stroll.

got to the cafe and was seated on the glassed-in terrace by a window. decided wtf and ordered foie gras with my wine. the waiter put a big round paper placemat on the table with a drawing of the cafe packed with people of all stripes, and people in the street walking by. the drawing was much like the scene that really was before me -- outside sat lots of people having a drink, a smoke, and a cellphone chat or a talk with their lover or mates. inside were also many people: an older couple sitting next to me had coffee before meeting up with some friends and taking off for wherever. i was facing two teenage girls at a table who had loads of pop/gossip mags. one was playing music on her ipod, and they were commenting animatedly on the different stories. behind me and across the aisle was a table loaded with incredibly beautiful 20-30somethings, including a pretty hot ginger man with a little soul patch. i sat there surrounded by excited, happy french conversation, and it felt normal to not be able to understand a thing.

directly behind me, a guy was speaking english, talking about contemporary movies or something. then the saxophone player from down the street showed up outside, playing his cheesy standards for a different cafe crowd. i just ate my foie gras and drank my wine, and wrote in my journal and smiled to myself at being alone in a crowd. i thought, i've been here 15 days and i've eaten foie gras all but two of them, i think. the version i had at cafe de flore was creamy and pinkish, but nice and duck-ish. (sometimes when it's creamy, it doesn't have as much character as when it's more country-style with the dark patches and the lovely, lovely fat.) and i wished i was facing the table of beautiful people, b/c the few glances i got of them were so fetching.

a dark cloud passed overhead. but i felt so good i had another glass of wine and watched as a drizzle started outside and people put up their umbrellas as they rushed past. i felt like the night was just beginning, and i decided i would head over to kong after all. i liked being in the cafe, alone and anonymous. i was trying to blend in with my black turtleneck and slacks and boots and leather jacket (and scarf!), but i'm sure i looked like an american (never mind the speaking giving me away). i didn't really care. i could smell cigar smoke and the sulfur of a struck match, and the rain-charged air.

so i paid my tab and thanked the waiter -- "merci, au revoir!" put my headphones back on and trundled back down blvd. st.-g. toward the bridge. this time i put on vol. 3 of my "best of the '00s" mixes and tuned out the city sounds.

it didn't take that long to get to the pont neuf, but i lingered on the street before getting to the bridge to take one more graffiti shot:

then i lingered on the bridge to watch the clouds rolling by (the photo at the top of this entry is looking across the bridge, and you can see where kong is, in that domed building waaaaay back there, to the right, next to the lamppost.

it was raining when i got to the place of kong. i felt nervous to go in by myself but figured what the hell. in the lobby of the building i read the directory and found out i had to go to the 5th floor. walking out of the elevator, i met the hostess and told her i just wanted le cocktail. she smiled and motioned to my right. the bar was deserted, nearly as empty as this photo i found on the internet:

i sat down in about the middle of this crazy flowery bar and set my stuff on the chair next to me. there was nobody else at the bar. to my right, the room opened up with tables, and there was one, maybe two, small groups sitting there. an adorable young bartender returned from serving the tables and asked me what i wanted. after two weeks of drinking wine wine wine, i decided i wanted a martini. avec tanqueray. so he made it for me -- it was strong and very good. with three perfect tiny olives on a toothpick.

the place was kind of weird -- sort of japanese, with chrome chairs and white/blonde wood, and on the shelves behind the bar was all this kitschy japanese stuff like video boxes and toys and suchlike. presently the bartender struck up a conversation, and i told him it was my last night in paris, and someone had told me to check this place out. his name was alex. after a while he asked me, "do you ... LIKE ... paris?" i was like, "well, yeah! i mean, the weather could be better, but it's pretty gorgeous." then i said, "do you?" and he downcast his eyes and gave me that gallic lip curl and shook his head and said, "NO! i am from the south of france! it is MUCH more beautiful there." and i was thinking, right. of course. so it turned out his life wasn't all that great. it's not like he was exactly complaining; we were just talking to each other like people, and i sensed he wasn't all that happy. or maybe he was just having a bad night. anyway, we also talked about music and other fluffy stuff, so it wasn't like a total bartender bummer. i actually quite liked him.

the music that was playing was pretty nuts, including some french dude doing a campy cover of britney spears's "baby one more time." nuts! then this chanteuse came on, singing "cry me a river" and other standards. not as good as hearing fiona apple sing that on jon brion's last night at the old largo, but still nice. i liked her voice. after a couple tracks, i asked the guy who was messing with the laptop -- who wore a spiffy suit that didn't quite disguise the seemingly very elaborate tattoo he had on his neck -- who was singing. he wrote it down on a business card: salome de bahia. a brazilian singer, i later learned. he also wrote "outro lugar," which is a song title from her album brasil. and i realize now i'm not sure if that was who was singing the standards too. anyway, it was a good soundtrack for the situation, whoever the singer was.

so a few more people showed up in the bar, mainly on their way to the restaurant. alex said, "did you know this place was in sex and the city?" and -- thunderstruck by the synchronicity -- i went, "no waaaay!" the series, not the movie, but still. so he told me i really should go upstairs and see the restaurant, b/c it's quite amazing. i asked if he thought i'd be able to get a table. he said ask the hostess. so i did, and she said sure, just tell her when i'm ready. i went back to the bar and finished my drink, then said good night to alex.

the hostess took my coat and umbrella, and after a minute i was escorted up the elevator to the restaurant itself. then it was another short stroll up some spiral stairs, and WHAM! a glass ceiling, a vast oval space that looked like this (except with a greyer sky and full of people):

i was seated at a table near the front, on the left side by the window. excellent view. looked over the menu and then sat for a while, staring up at the dark cloudy sky. all around me were mostly couples, chatting and smiling and holding hands and doing couple-y things. suddenly the sky was alive with tiny, darting arrows -- swallows! wow, it was so cool. then the waiter came, and i ordered softshell crab with a spicy sauce, and chilean sea bass with black rice. he insisted i drink white wine, so i had a glass of chablis.

omg, it was delicious. the crab with the spicy sauce ... heavenly. crispy and fiery and crunchy and just a little bit chewy. then the sea bass, white and meaty, with some kind of foamy fennelly stuff in a little terrine on the side to dip into. and the black rice was really intense -- chewy, earthy, and dark as the swallows flitting through the air. noir!

i had no room for dessert or cheese. i really wanted to try something else, but i didn't want to waste it. i just savored my last sips of wine and drank my evian and grinned to myself. i think i texted deb then and said thanks for the tip. i felt so happy and satiated. i knew i had to go back and thank alex too.

so i paid the bill and went down to the 5th floor to collect my coat and umbrella. alex was over at the tables, so i waited for him and then told him thanks for insisting i go upstairs. i had told him earlier that i was a writer. and he said, "you must be a special writer -- usually when people don't have reservations, they make them eat in the bar." i was very surprised, b/c i hadn't told the hostess anything at all. i dunno if he was trying to be flattering or what. (i mean, also, it was sunday night.) i laughed and said, "maybe i just LOOK important."

back on the street, i felt pretty good, but not all that drunk. it wasn't raining anymore, and i lingered on the pont neuf to see the eiffel tower do its flashy thing one more time. i headed back in the direction i had come. i had my ipod on and was singing out loud. then i came across some cops up ahead, who had the alley to my right blocked off. so i turned off the music. "bon soir!" i said and smiled as i passed, and they greeted me and kept on doing whatever they were doing.

somewhere around someplace, i veered slightly off course. i realized it right away -- and, luckily, notre dame is a pretty big landmark. so i was like, i gotta head toward the cathedral. so i did, and came out on the big plaza in front of it. the moon was shining murkily behind the clouds, and i ambled down the wide walkway, totally elated, like all of paris was at my feet. i passed by two guys wearing 17th-century dress -- i mean, wigs and long brocaded coats and buckled shoes and the whole shebang -- and couldn't help turning to stare as they walked by. what was that about?

when i crossed the bridge (i think the notre dame bridge), i turned to look for the moon again, but it was behind a tree. i stood to look at the seine, and fumbled in my pocket for my phone, to call 00soul. suddenly a french guy materialized at my elbow and said something to the effect of what are you doing? being as i was totally wrapped up in my own thing, i handed him the best line ever: "i'm looking for the moon." he hopped up and sat on the stone railing. "i will find it for you," said french guy. oh, brother!! anyway, i ended up having a chat with this dude in his izod zip-up sweater (fashion disaster, but he was cute), whose name was richard (ree-chard). he said he worked in london and was back in paris visiting family. he definitely was coming on strong, but what he didn't know was that rejection is my sport in any language and any town. so i finally put him off (although at one point i was ever so slightly worried he was gonna follow me -- but not too much, b/c i knew the desk guy at the hotel would help me if that happened -- but richard trundled off to the metro like a good lad when all was said and done.) this encounter actually didn't last that long, but it felt like a while, b/c i think i'd had quite enough to drink.

i watched him descend into the metro, then crossed the street and stood for a few moments by the fountain of saint michel to make sure he wouldn't come back up. and i slipped away down le rue de saint-andre des-arts to spend my last few hours in paris alone in a hotel room.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

at the flea market and the movies

saturday was deb's last full day in paris. she leaves for the airport this afternoon around 2.

we had breakfast -- cafe au lait and pain chocolat, mmm -- at this little bakery down the street from the hotel, and then jumped on le metro to go check out this flea market in the 14th mentioned in suzy gershman's born to shop paris (a very entertaining guide for anyone who wants to shop in paris, and it has useful info about tipping, public transportation, and other tidbits). it's not the really big, famous one (called le marche aux puces de saint-ouen) but a smaller one, called puces des vanves, that was closer to us and more dealable (and which she says is the no. 1 flea market in paris ... and who am i to argue?). we found it without too much trouble, and i got a present for one of my friends. the market was spread out along three different connected blocks, arranged sort of in a T formation.

we wandered around, taking in a totally random variety of furniture, clothing, shoes, photographs, paintings, war medals, jewelry, accessories, fixtures, cutlery, dishes, videos, books, postcards, cameras, and assorted bric-a-brac. this was more like a real flea market than the street market we went to on thursday, which was of course much smaller, but also didn't have the sheer crazy array of stuff this bigger one boasted. i admired a pair of black velvet gloves adorned with gorgeous gold embroidery (and a bag to match), but decided i didn't really need to go there. most of the vendors had booths or tables, but there were some people with just a blanket spread out on the sidewalk. those were epic in their randomness -- everything from dusty old electronics to tubes of mayonnaise (!).

then we walked across the 14th to another shopping street with designer outlets and stock shops. i left the squirrel at a cafe and window-shopped a little, but nothing really grabbed me. also, i was kind of shopped-out. had a croque monsieur and a glass of wine at the cafe, and then we headed back to this shop in the 3rd, called sobral -- which sells colorful resin jewelry that looks like exotic candy -- so that deb could buy the bracelet she coveted. (it looks sort of like this.) then we got ice cream (i had blood orange that was sweet and tangy; she had a double scoop of, uh, chocolate and something else). we walked around and looked at some of the mansions along the seine. where even the drainpipes are impossibly ornate:

later i took a picture of the back of notre dame (see above). but i must really be burned out on being a tourist, b/c i didn't take too many photos today, either. too bad. i wish i had some shots of the flea market. oh, well.

we went back to the room and feasted on bread, foie gras, and wine. then i made good on my promise to go see sex and the city with her at the local cinema. she said she wanted to see it with a french audience -- i guess to see how they'd react. it was in english with french subtitles, so i said ok. i never watched the show, but i know enough about it to follow the story (and they also had an intro that brought you up to speed). i really like sarah jessica parker -- have since her days in square pegs (recently released on DVD, and i recommend watching it if you never have). i kind of wish she would've done something deeper with her career than this frothy fluff, but a gig's a gig, i guess.

the theater was just around the corner from our hotel; 9.50 euros for a ticket. we got into the queue, and they opened the door about five minutes before the movie's posted starting time. we went down and down and down the steps -- underground cinema! i had read that the french don't eat during movies, but there were snacks available in the lobby, and some people were indulging. the previews and run-up advertising and other blather was as long (if not longer) than at an american film.

anyway, the movie was entertaining, if not especially thought-provoking, with a lot of fun (and some truly hideous) fashion. it was long, howev -- more than two hours! that just seemed excessive.

back at the hotel, we had more wine, and the squirrel finished packing. at 2 am we hunched over my laptop to watch the new who ep, "midnight," which was nice and creepy. then we went to bed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

a cathedral of green

i did not take one picture today. fail! i really should have taken some shots while in the jardin de luxembourg, but ... well, i was too busy enjoying it, i guess.

deb went to the asian museum, so i was on my own for the afternoon. my day began weirdly: i walked out of the hotel to find it surrounded by police tape. a cop directed me to go left instead of my usual right (which goes toward place st. michel), so i had to take a detour while heading to rue de rivoli to begin today's shopping adventure.

there was a lot of commotion on the main drag and the bridge. cops everywhere, in cars and vans on the street and also directing the traffic. after i crossed the st. michel bridge, i saw, several blocks to my right, some kind of gathering and people holding orange flags. i thought it might be a demonstration of some sort and considered checking it out. decided, given my tendency to get swept up in chaos even when i'm just standing around, not to. shopped instead.

i was hungry after all that retail madness, so i got a chorizo & cheese crepe from a corner stand. it was draped with thin slices of the spanish-style chorizo (hard like pepperoni, though bigger; not mushy like the mexican chorizo i also love) and magically delicious. clutching it in my hands, i headed off down the street to the jardin de luxembourg. the above photo is from that vast and lovely park; i found it on this website about paris tourism.

had to make a quick stop at a smaller park along the way to eat the crepe, however. it was too hard to walk and munch at the same time. while there i watched an old man feeding the pigeons. he held bits of stale bread or crackers or whatever he was feeding them in his hands, and they landed on him and ate from his fingers. pigeons are totally gross and disgusting, but it was sort of neat to watch. i felt kind of sad, though. it was like a scene from a movie where a lonely geezer has no friends but the birds in the park.

presently i made my way to the J de L, and i actually managed not to get lost. as soon as i walked in, i was enchanted. there is, of course, the famous fountain in the middle (not to mention the palace), ringed with chairs for people to hang out in and quite chill in its own way. but i was much more taken with the pathways around the perimeter, under the trees. the leaves were the most marvelous spring green, nearly translucent when i looked up, like stained glass against the dark brown framework of the branches. it was cool and peaceful on these pathways, with not many people around.

i put snow patrol's eyes open on the ipod and started my rather manic stroll, thinking about 00soul while listening to this album that seems to be about the same breakup with the same girl who provides the emotional drama on the previous album, final straw. anyway, i did walk down by the water, but the sun was too bright. retreated to the trees on the other side, where i kept on ambling around winding paths dotted with statuary. i saw kids riding ponies, running and playing ball, and raging on the playground. but mainly i kept away from the humans and enjoyed the relative calm of this lovely place.

then i went back to the hotel and waited for the squirrel to return, while catching up on this blog. we had some drama over where to eat dinner, but whatev. ended up back at cafe clement, cuz she wanted oysters. the place seemed sort of devoid of servers ... we decided that might be b/c france was playing holland in the euro cup. (they were blown out, 4-1, c'est dommage!)

it rained a little bit while we sat on the glassed-in patio, an excellent vantage point for watching the world go by. including soccer fans with little flags of france painted on their faces, one guy dressed up like a soccer ball, and a couple of people wearing one red and one blue shoe (again with the non-matching shoes of my dream...). just across the way i watched a young couple sitting in the doorway of a closed juice bar. both had plastic cups of beer. the boy, dressed all in black and with a black cap on too, was working hard to impress the girl -- he talked and talked and TALKED, gesturing with his hands and doing his best to entertain. she nodded and smiled and laughed, but i was frankly amazed at how she couldn't get a word in edgewise for at least an hour. she did finally begin to converse, but pretty soon he was doing all the talking again. deb and i amused ourselves greatly by making up various scenarios about this encounter. they were still there when we left, and i think our meal took about two hours.

anyway ... the squirrel got her oysters, and i FINALLY got a truly medium rare steak. it was actually fairly bloody, but ohboy it was good. for dessert we had profiteroles with ice cream and drizzled with homemade chocolate sauce. OMG, nirvana.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

outside in the rain and inside notre dame

we got up late -- the maid knocked around 1015 am b/c she wanted to clean the room. eventually headed off to a nearby street market. on the way there, we walked down one of the narrow, alley-like streets stuffed with cafes and shops that surround our hotel. a bunch of people were crowded in the middle of a little intersection, cellphone cameras snapping away at something. as we approached, we looked closer and saw that the object of this impromptu paparazzi fest was ... a rat. its fat brown butt was sticking up, naked pink tail and all, as though it were trying to get through the grate but was too chubbed-out to make it. as we paused to gape in horror, it pulled itself upright and sat back on its haunches, while the cell-wielding tourists went wild. (is this the fault of disney's ratatouille? were they thinking it was remy the gourmet-chef rat or something? yikes.) later we realized that there was a bunch of rotting fruit beneath the grate, so it was probably after that stuff, rather than attempting to escape.

anyway. so, i went slightly wild at the market and bought a little serpent-shaped silver ring, four silk scarves, and a medium-sized duffel bag for the return trip (b/c when i was packing i forgot to put in the one i borrowed; upon realizing this, couldn't get it into the suitcase anyway so left it behind). we came across a guy selling tons of different foie gras and other french-country delights (like jars of cassoulet) -- all made by his mother, he said -- and deb asked her usual million questions. she bought some duck pate in a jar and canned goose pate, we got some wine, and he threw in a can of wild boar (!) pate. gift with purchase! "how come clinique doesn't do it like that?," asked the squirrel. indeed.

while we were standing there, the threatening sky opened up. it began to POUR rain. luckily we had our umbrellas, but wow. le deluge, indeed.

after the market we made our way to les deux magots -- one of the famous cafes of the latin quarter -- for lunch. we sat in the glassed-in part along the side of the place, as being outside wasn't an option due to rain. the door was open, and sparrows flew in to ... not so much beg as demand handouts, fluttering in the air above people's heads in a surprisingly aggressive way for such tiny creatures. i had coffee and a croque monsieur, and deb had a green bean salad and tea. we were seduced by the gorgeous dessert tray being waved around; i had a vanilla mousse and raspberry thing, and she had an apple tart. mmmmm.

the weather cleared up, and it became sunny, though still windy and chilly. we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and went back out. decided to swing by notre dame for a quick tool-around the inside. the stained glass is pretty incredible. the rose windows are impressive ... (this photo by the squirrel of -- i think -- the south one is the best of hers, and mine totally suck)

but i really liked the more abstract ones, like this (sorry, it's a crap photo and crooked to boot):

after notre dame, we went off to explore random retail stuff, like the monoprix, which is sort of like the french target, but smaller and with groceries. i needed stuff like body lotion and little packets of tissues, so it was good for that. did some more shopping and then went back to our hood. deb's feet/knees were bothering her due to chartres expedition, so we stayed in. we drank wine and ate lebanese sandwiches from the always-hopping shop down the block. it was a nice break and some good togetherness time, as the squirrel and i are gonna split up again tomorrow.

day of a million stairs

on wednesday, the squirrel and i split up, and i went to montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement, to see le sacre coeur and whatever else there is to see. windmills, yeah. deb went to chartres to see the cathedral there, and i just didn't want to travel 60 miles on the train to see another church. actually, i'd planned to go shopping today, but ... well, she's already seen le sacre coeur and didn't think her feet would stand the trip. mine were feeling pretty good, and it was another gorgeous day, so i decided to save shopping for later in the week when the weather is supposed to be crappier. it was a good decision but, of course, ended up being more walking than i would've liked.

the basilica is very beautiful, and i managed to get a good photo of it (above), although one has to stand below it on the steps, b/c there's not much straightaway to back onto.

anyway, i figured out the way on le metro, no prob. on the way there, an older man got on the train and played the violin for a couple of stops. this sort of thing happens a lot -- musicians getting on with their instruments, or sometimes a singer, and doing a couple of numbers between stops. so, he played the standard stuff, like "besame mucho" and other tunes i recognized but didn't know the names of. he was behind me in the wide standing space, but i could see him reflected in the glass of the doors. he was jowly and sort of saggy-faced, and he looked kind of melancholy. the music, too, had a mournful edge to it. it made me feel kind of sad to think about it, this guy begging a living with cheesy standards on le metro.

soon the ride ended, and i trotted off to my destination. but when i got to the bottom of the big, tall hill that leads to the church, the funicular (sideways trolley to the top) wasn't working! so, i trudged up about 50,000 steps -- along with all the other hapless tourists. up isn't so bad on the feet, but it's murder on the legs. on the ipod it took gnarls barkley ("run"), the hives ("tick tick boom"), the white stripes ("my doorbell"), and half of the raconteurs' "steady as she goes" (ahaha) to get me to to the top. luckily, there are breaks -- little landings, i guess you'd call them -- so i could walk around in a circle underneath a skinny tree for a sec to catch my breath and unhink my quads.

made it to the top, and there it was: the church of the sacred heart. here's a view of paris from the steps just below it. they have smog here, too:

le sacre coeur is quite curlicued on the outside, and that's nothing compared to how ornate it is inside! you have to be silent, and no pictures allowed inside -- it's a place of worship at all times, and one must be respectful. i was just grateful for the silence itself.

not too many people were in there -- just a small horde. a few were sitting in the pews. i just trundled around the perimeter, gawking at the ornate ... everything. carvings that filled every niche, and amazing stained glass. i haven't been inside notre dame yet ... i suppose it's even more incredible, so maybe i should make the effort.

anyway. i hadn't gotten too far along when i witnessed one of those things that makes me feel embarrassed to be an american, and maybe even embarrassed to be human (and which i really have a knack for being around when they happen). this seriously abrasive fat guy took a picture of a rack of burning votives (which people light and say a prayer for someone), and this english lady said, "you're not supposed to do that." the guy obviously didn't care, or he wouldn't have done it in the first place. but naturally, her admonishment didn't shame him. instead, he copped an attitude, like, "why not?" she told him it was disrespectful. so he said, "yeah? well, you're shit!" i kept walking, but the world did one of those things where the air seemed to expand and contract at once. i was both cringing inside and restraining myself from getting into it with this pig. (i mean, if you don't want to be respectful, don't come in, ok? stand outside and drool or eat your ice cream or whatev. fuckhead.) but this was no time for pointless heroics. i really wished i had a sonic screwdriver so i could discreetly point it in the guy's direction and make his camera blow up. then i wanted to go up to the lady and apologize on behalf of all u.s. citizens. but i didn't want to break the silence rule.

so, i stumbled on after a minute. soon i overtook this dumbass and his male companion, who was older and possibly his dad? anyway, rude dude was BRAGGING to his friend: "so she said it was disrespectful, and i said, 'yeah? you're shit!' and she didn't know what to think of that!" triumph in his voice. augh. i felt like i was being tested by god. i sooooo wanted to tell the guy off. but, again. i didn't want to break the rule of silence. not to mention the rule of not assaulting people in le sacre coeur.

instead, i turned my attention to the lovely stained glass and statuary. the inside of the main dome is an amazing painting. for once i didn't go into the little shop, but of course there was one. i saw rude dude again outside of it, though, and i threw the worst curse i could think of at him. then i saw the corner dedicated to st. michel slaying the dragon. i fingered the dragon choker at my throat and felt a little bit defensive.

left the church and headed toward place du tertre, the touristy nearby square stuffed with cafes and ice cream joints and tchotchke shops and artists drawing people's pictures. tried to follow the walking tour in the paris day-by-day book. i found au lapin agile, the cabaret that used to be called cabaret des assassins and was a hangout of picasso's.

after that i got hopelessly lost. to get un-lost, i had to retrace my steps. including going down all the steps i came up:

once back down the steps, i did see a few more things, including a windmill. but my feet were killing me, so i didn't make it to the moulin rouge (wasn't too jazzed about seeing it anyway ... sorry) or even some other things i actually wanted to see. oh, well. i needed enough feets power to get me back, and that's just the way it was. i did buy a cool silver ring in a little shop along the rue des abbesses ... it's a band with an x-type cross pattern, and the middle part spins. like a worry bead on your finger -- nifty.

so i limped back to the metro station, outside of which was a guy with a goldfish bowl balanced on his head, entertaining a small crowd. coming back on le metro, some transit cops got on and checked everybody's tickets.

got back to my hood and had a glass of wine at the same cafe as yesterday, and wrote in my journal. the cafe was right across from the fountain of st. michel and the dragon. i watched a couple of young guys toss a plastic toy of some sort into the fountain for their dogs -- a lab and some sorta husky mix -- to retrieve. the fountain has three tiers above the main pool, and the dogs were really into splashing around in the water, in that joyous doggie way that's so much fun to watch. probably that's not an approved use of the fountain, but it was entertaining. especially when one guy threw the toy into the highest tier, which the dogs couldn't get to, and he had to go in himself to get it out. silly hippie.

deb and i had dinner at a place near notre dame that had pretty great foie gras but was otherwise sort of eh. they overcooked my lamb to damn near leather -- even though i SAID medium-rare. it's like they look at americans and think "well done," no matter what you say. then we walked over to notre dame. it looked lovely in the blue evening light. don't you agree? (don't click on this photo to make it bigger, howev; it's a little grainy or out of focus and looks much better just like this.)

wow, paris. it's kind of amazing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

everybody knows that everybody dies

made the move to hotel eugenie in the latin quarter today. it is on a little street called rue st. andre des arts -- just a short walk to notre dame, and the nearest corner is this street called git le couer, which anthony informed me was the site of the former beat hotel. there are two or three hotels on it now, and a funky little record store that i passed the other day on the way to doing something else. i might get back there, i hope.

anyway, the hotel room is small but neat, and there's a bathtub, quelle surprise. we're on the second floor, which is really the third floor, with a view of the sky and the street below.

when we arrived our room was almost ready. the desk clerk arranged our airport return ride via a supershuttle sort of thing that costs a lot less than the cab ride did. plus, it's dealt with already -- no fretting at the last minute. i'm sure they're getting a cut of the deal, but it's good for everyone.

so we got organized and went off to the famous cemetery pere-lachaise. we're both still having feet issues, so we decided not to try to see every famous dead person in the place. we did amble around quite a bit -- the place seems to go on forever, and it is just packed with tombs and crypts and suchlike. people stacked on top of each other, literally. definitely not the way i want to spend eternity.

a lot of the tombs have ceramic flowers on them, some have little built-in planters with roses or geraniums, and others had fresh flowers on top. after a while, it feels a little bit heartbreaking. i mean, it's a mere fraction of all the people who have ever died in the history of humanity. not even a drop in the bucket. and yet there are so many graves. some of them are very basic, just big slabs of stone with names and relationships. sometimes they have framed photos on top, which was a little bit eerie. but some of these tombs are very elaborate and gothic. apparently it was a thing to try to outdo your peers, even in death. every once in a while, the tall, narrow crypt would have an iron gate slightly ajar, like someone inside decided to go for a walk. i did see a grave marked lupo, which is the name of one of mick farren's vampires. i guess a travelin' bloodsucker needs a few cribs scattered around.

anyway. we saw the grave of french writer colette. and heloise & abelard, the famous doomed lovers. theirs was a very elaborate monument, with two stone figures lying next to each other atop a slab in a tall square pavilion. but it was fenced off and covered in scaffolding, so you couldn't get too close. a few dessicated roses were scattered on the ground inside the fence, as though people had tried to toss them onto the tomb but fallen short. poetic, somehow.

then of course we went off to find the thing that most people in the cemetery had come to see. obligatory crappy shot of jim morrison's grave:

in fact, pere-lachaise was essentially deserted until we came to the final resting place of the doors' lead singer/poet. it was hard to get a good picture b/c (a) there were so many people crowded around it, and (b) it is actually sorta wedged behind a crypt -- not an optimal picture-taking sitch. among the many people there paying quiet homage (no pouring out of alcohol or wild hippie dancing or anything) were two young teen girls sharing an ipod (one headphone b/w each) that you just know was playing the doors. they wore cute contemporary outfits and leaned together against a nearby stone, their faces concentrating, tilting their weight on the outsides of their ballet-flat-clad feet.

after jim we walked another little ways, then sat on a bench and had a quick picnic of cheese and bread. the day was lovely -- it's now so warm that the squirrel is complaining it's too hot. but i'm much happier. the cemetery has lots of trees and is actually pretty peaceful. this was a beautiful vista:

dunno who you have to be to get the eternal park-front view. but it's nice:

we did some more walking, even though we had to go veeerrrry slloooooowwwwwly b/c of our achin' feet. we saw the grave of raft of the medusa painter gericault -- a blackish-green stone with a bas-relief of the famous work (although he's not the only one to make a version of that historical event). a sad tombstone of a little boy and his dog. various other tragedies. and then we finally found oscar wilde's grave. it stands out b/c it looks a lot different than almost anything else in the place (at least, anything else that i saw). for one thing, it's covered in lipstick kisses:

anthony told me about the tradition of kissing the grave with bright lipstick on, but i forgot mine that day. merde. oh, well.

by then we were pretty much done with dead people, so we ambled out the gates and found our way back. returning to our hood, we sat at a cafe called le fenelon for a while and drank wine. deb wrote postcards, and i wrote in my journal. the euro cup is going on, so after a while someone at the bar dropped a big long cable tv hookup down from an upstairs room to hook up to a tv inside the bar. i just sat and watched the bustling street and the world go by. after the parade of the dead, it was rather a relief to be back among the living.

Monday, June 9, 2008

laundry, the eiffel tower, and
le satire incomprehensible

all right!! nice weather at last. of course we spent about 90 minutes of it washing our clothes at the laundromat down the street. but that was essential.

doing laundry was sort of like buying gas at some stations in america: instead of selecting the numbered pump on a central machine, putting in your credit or debit card, and then going to pump gas, you put your clothes into a numbered washer, go to the central machine and select the number, put in the money, and watch it go. you also buy soap that way -- select what you want, put money in the same central machine, and the soap comes out in a package of two little cube-shaped "sachets" of pressed dry powder. the directions said to use two cubes per load, but that seemed like too much to me, so we used one per each load we had. a good decision, b/c the stuff is very strong-smelling, and the odor is nose-itchingly intense for a person like me who uses unscented detergent.

anyway, as it is our last day in this neighborhood, AND such a nice sunny one, we decided to carpe diem and headed off to le tour eiffel. i actually wore my black dress and was quite comfortable (and looked very fetching i might add). we expected a mob scene, but it really wasn't bad. we waited about a half-hour in line for tickets and the elevator. the sign at the base of the tower said that the third tier (aka the top) was closed, but the woman in the ticket booth said that it might reopen, and we could buy another ticket for the top on the 2nd level. (tix can be bought to go to just the 1st level, or to the 2nd -- costs more -- or to the 3rd -- also costs more.) once on the 2nd level, we learned that the top WAS open, so we ponied up and got in line for the next elevator.

it was a bit confusing as to where to go to get that top-level ticket, so i approached this adorable french lad in a brown suit and orange eiffel tower tie (what's with the french and orange?). "we want to go to the tower," i said like an idiot. he laughed and said, "you ARE on the tower." so i had to laugh too, and then said, "er, i mean, we want to go to the TOP of the tower!" and then he pointed the way to the ticket booth. ahaha. whatevs.

while riding the elevator to the top i punched the button on my ipod and played the pixies' "alec eiffel" -- another dream realized. i felt a little bit uneasy going up; probably i should not have looked straight down, but i couldn't help it. once up there i was ok. we took some pictures from the bottom, glassed-in level, and then went up to the top, caged-in one. i think the above shot of the seine was from the caged-in level; can't remember.

so, wow. whotta view. in this shot (which is def taken through a dirty window) you can see the arc de triomphe off in the distance, and the trocadero at the nearer left:

this is looking toward ecole militaire (not far from our hotel), and the big tower is i think montparnasse:

and this is looking toward les invalides (the golden dome):

and here is the eiffel tower under a blue sky! (it would be cropped except it's from the set of photos that got deleted from the camera...)

it was getting late-ish by the time we descended the tower. the squirrel had decided some days ago that we should go to the comedie francaise to see dom quichotte. i don't know how i let myself get talked into these things -- i can barely speak french, let alone understand it in a satirical play full of singing, puppetry, visions, and historical doings. but i went anyway. she said if we didn't like it we could bail at intermission -- ahaha! no intermission. it was somewhat bamboozling to sit there for nearly two hours watching something i basically didn't comprehend at all, beyond a word or two and some general activity. i could sort of follow along at points, but other times i just made up what was happening in my head. the actor who played santo was great, though. the whole production seemed fairly insane -- even if i had understood it.

anyway, before the show we ate dinner on the patio at the nearby restaurant hotel de louvre. some lovely foie gras (probably the second best after la terrasse). and i had squid stuffed with ... stuff. not sure what, but it was fragrant and delicious. drank a lot of wine and then dashed off to the comedie next door. deb took my picture a million times at dinner, and during the last one this older woman sitting across from us looked at me and smiled, like, "yeah, i have a camera-happy sibling too." or something.

also, i did take a picture of one of these iconic metro stations that look so sci-fi, and which the doctor and romana II ran out of while sightseeing/dashing around paris in "city of death." there's a bunch of them, but they're so cool:

after the comedie debacle, we descended into the metro and returned to our hotel to drink wine and pack up everything, b/c tomorrow we move to the eugenie hotel in the latin quarter. kind of sad to be leaving valadon, but excited to be seeing a different neighborhood, and one that's supposed to be more lively and "city-like."