Friday, August 15, 2014

Visit to Europe - Part 2: Paris

The second day I wanted to see the Louvre. Josh had already seen it and Lauren wasn't particularly keen to spend the hours I knew I was going to walking around there so I woke up early Sunday morning to find its famous glass pyramid opening. I arrived shortly before 9:00 am, when the museum opened, to discover a line already stretching across the pyramid, across the courtyard, up some steps, well on its way to filling up the next courtyard. It took maybe half an hour to finally reach the ticket office and from there I was free to wander the galleries.

Warned against following the incipient hordes to the Mona Lisa gallery, I decided to visit the ancient art galleries first. Seeing as how every other gallery contained something - Hammurabi's stele, cuneiform astronomy tables, an statue of an Egyptian Scribe - that I teach in my classroom, this part of my visit felt more business than pleasure. No matter. One aspect of a museum like the Louvre is it opens your eyes to just how BIG history is. I encountered entire rooms devoted to near-eastern civilizations I had never heard of before. To place your nose close to the glass and see the stray marks left as the stylus was removed from the ancient wet clay is an uncanny experience, transporting the observer to a time when written symbols were the bleeding edge of technology.

Ultimately the Louvre is a 'drinking-from-the-fire-hose' sort of experience. After the 17th room filled with Egyptian sculptures and detailed descriptions of the development of Greek pottery, my eyes started to glaze over. After lunch I went back at it, putting on some music and tackling the masterpieces of Western Art. I strongly recommend listening to 'Air' while dodging the tour mobs in front of the Mona Lisa.

Reconnecting with Lauren and Josh later in the day we took a quick (free) tour of the D'Orsay museum. We didn't make it all the way through but Impressionism does offer a gust of fresh air after the endless labyrinth of the Louvre. The greats, the Monets, Manets, Renoirs, and Degas, are all clustered together and for some reason the crowds were nearly as impacted here. Lauren, interested in Art Nouveau, lead us through a final gallery before the museum closed. With lacy, intricate carvings and organic flowing shapes, Art Nouveau wouldn't seem out-of-place in Rivendale.

For dinner we decided to try this place, HD (Happy Days) Diner, which was a French attempt to emulate a 1950's American diner. How could we pass that up? For the most part they got it right, although the wisdom of essentially trying to emulate a Johnny Rockets menu in the city of fine cuisine seems a perverse endeavor. I give them extra points for having two different flavors of Dr. Pepper, minus one point for the brioche-like hamburger buns and minus a million points for sprinkling rosemary on the shoe-string french fries. It's not that anything was bad per say, but it really points to a basic misunderstanding of American food. Adding any spice to french fries other than barbecue is like making Converses out of Italian leather, technically possible but besides the point. The purpose of diner fries is to deliver large amount of greasy starch into your body as quickly as possible NOT to elicit an appreciation for the subtle interplay between tarragon and Tuscan olive oil.

Our last full day in France we took a boat tour of the Seine narrated by, I-swear-to-God, France's answer to David Tennant before Lauren and I went take a walking tour of Montmartre. Before heading to this obvious tourist trap I tracked a self-guided tour of the neighborhood. Following its detailed instructions was like pulling off a magic trick. Not only did we dodge the hordes of tourists, pick-pockets, and scam-artists in front of Sacré Coeur, but entire stretches of our walk were just us, strolling alone through one of the more picturesque neighborhoods in Paris, able to appreciate the houses and gardens as though we were the first happy couple to stumble onto the place.

 I was surprised learning Sacré Coeur is a product of the late 19th century, pegging it as much older. Apparently the entire basilica was constructed as an apology to the French people by the French government for the crushing defeat of the Franco-Prussian war. Could the Bush family do something like that for the last decade?

Our last night in Paris found us eating another great meal at the Le Cavalier Bleu and then returning to our apartment melancholy to leave this city the following morning. On to Barcelona!

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