I believe I stole that title from a musical or a book or some kind of play. I’m not really sure which one it is.
The Dickinson crew (well the spring semester students, year students had the whole week off to do what they wanted) left for Paris Feb. 18th on the five hourish TGV. I don’t remember much of the train ride since I mostly dozed. We got to Pareeeee early afternoon at Gare Montparnasse and weaved through the throng to take the metro to Place d’Italie, where our hotel was. We had trouble keeping up with Laura, our program coordinator, who was charging through everyone like we were going to miss the next metro. She needn’t have exerted herself, there’s one every 3 minutes.
We got to our hotel which was conveniently located right next to a centre commercial (aka mall) and it was a nice hotel as far as my standards go. All rooms were equipped with a kitchen and my roommates and I did end up making dinner one night. Well ok, I helped clean up since I technically don’t know how to cook. I shared a room with the WashU girls. Actually it was really a suite. I slept on the couch which didn’t pull out into a bed. All you had to do was rip off the slip cover to discover a mattress already in place with some sheets and blankets. Very practical! There was also a trundle bed underneath the couch plus a twin bed squashed right next to the entrance. The WashU girls slept in the main bedroom. So in all our suite could hold up to 5 people.
The very first thing I did was take a shower because for some reason the hot water was not working at my apartment in Toulouse the day before I left. I gave up trying to take a shower and decided to do it the second I got to the hotel. After a 5 hour train ride, I felt really gross. We were going to see Cyrano de Bergerac at La Comedie Francaise later that night and I didn’t want to go to a theater feeling dirty.
We didn’t do much on our first day besides shower, go out to dinner at a restaurant called Chez Clement near Opera, and see Cyrano. The restaurant was good and we had creme brulee for dessert! We were also served warm goat cheese and that was really delicious. I even ended up taking some from people’s plates (with their permission). As expected, some of the Dickinsonians were weirded out by the cheese. Seriously, what is it with Americans and their fear of French cheese? There is more to life than American cheese guys! I mean I like American cheese, I would eat grilled American cheese for every meal if I didn’t know how detrimental it would be to my health. We were also joined by Pauline at this point, a Dickinsonian who had the misfortune to miss our train back in Toulouse because she had overslept. To be fair to her, it turns out her house had lost power and her cell phone was dead which she used as an alarm clock. I completely understand since I’ve been using my cell phone as an alarm clock since I’ve been in France (I think I sent my trusty American Girl alarm clock back home accidentally). Let me tell you, being awoken by a vibrating cell phone is very scary! And also very effective because it does wake you up.
And then it was time for Cyrano de Bergerac at La Comedie Francaise. I had never seen the play or read it but luckily our program director gave us a summary of each act that we were able to read before watching it. I’m glad I read that summary because I’m not sure if I would have known what was going on if I hadn’t. I didn’t hate the play but it was a little long and it was a lot of old French. The microphones or whatever the actors were using to project weren’t great either. And they often kept turning their backs on the audience while talking which was really annoying. Unfortunately sound always travels in the direction you direct it in and it was traveling in the opposite direction most of the time and not towards the audience.
And what is it with French plays and excessive curtain calls????? Someone needs to tell the French theater world coming out to bow 20 times is aggravating. It was the same thing with Le Cid in Toulouse. Is it always like this in France? At least Americans know when to end the curtain call. I swear the cast of Cyrano ran around in circles to join hands and bow at least 10 times! The curtain would come down and people would continue to clap for a few seconds and immediately the curtain was back up again for another round of bowing. I can’t clap that long. I’m going to be blunt: I know La Comedie Francaise is famous but I don’t think they deserve 5o0 curtain calls either. Even shows I’ve seen in New York don’t have curtain calls that last for centuries. Apparently Voltaire’s brain is resting there (most well known for writing Candide). Ew!!!!! Who wants a decaying brain hanging around?! I don’t care who it belongs to!
The next day (Thurs., Feb 19th) we went to visit the Louvre as a group. Right before I entered, I found a Space Invader! No, I didn’t see an alien. It’s actually my sister who brought Space Invaders to my attention. Basically, this anonymous artist has left these colorful mosaics stuck to building walls in the most random places all over Paris. They take the shape of Space Invaders, apparently characters based on some really popular video game. They also kind of look like the Ms. Pacman characters. If you pay attention you can find them all over Paris, these little miniature alien mosaics. The artist has his own website http://www.space-invaders.com and as it turns out he has “invaded” other cities besides Paris with his little comical aliens, including New York. I really wonder how this guy sticks the mosaics up in the first place because he does it without anybody noticing since his street art does fall into the category of graffiti. Some of the NY ones were on bridges in really far up locations. How did he manage to stick one up over a bunch of speeding cars is what I want to know. However Paris is the city he started with and I think the city that has the most Space Invaders. So I was all proud of myself for having spotted one without my sister’s help.
I’ve been to the Louvre before but it’s a big museum that is really impossible to do in a day. We had a really good tour guide and she hit up all the hotspots including the ever mysterious Mona Lisa (which is a lot smaller than most people expect), Venus de Milo, and some really famous statue that is headless which I can’t remember the name of. The Louvre used to be a palace back in… whenever that was, you can look it up for once! There are also the really fancy Napoleon Apartments but I’m not sure if Napoleon actually ever lived there. After the tour was over, I and some other girls wandered around for a bit and then headed out for lunch.
We went to a place that seemed to have a good deal on the lunch menu… only to figure out the menu we had consulted was the “snacking” menu not the lunch menu. We were so confused when we were handed these chic-er menus with more expensive prices. As usual, I’m the one who had to figure out what was going on with the waiter. I don’t mind too much but I feel like the Dson people should try to speak in French more to French people, even if I’m around. I didn’t have anybody in Spain to rely on when it came to speaking perfect Spanish. Some of the girls were suggesting we just leave the restaurant and find a cheaper place! And I didn’t want to lecture anyone on the basics of etiquette but this would be deemed impolite in the US as well, not only in France! The waiter brought us down to the 2nd floor to a table and handed us menus. It was our fault for not paying closer attention to the menus displayed on the restaurant windows, it’s not like we were tricked. And it would have been so embarrassing to go back up the stairs past all the other patrons on the first floor and walk out. Way to represent America. Anyways we got the snacking menus so crisis averted.
After lunch, we took the RER to Versailles which we got in for free thanks to our Paris Museum Pass provided by Dickinson. In fact word of advice if you intend to sight see in Paris for a few days: invest in the Paris Museum Pass. I think it’s a cheaper way to visit Paris and the pass covers a lot of tourist destinations. In a lot of places you skip the long lines for tickets. I’ve already been to Versailles like I mentioned before but I was in elementary school back then. However it’s a lot like I remembered. We decided to visit the gardens first because we wanted to snap some quality shots before the sun went down. However, the gardens aren’t nearly as impressive as they are in the summer. It is stunning to see how far the grounds go and how many walkways were built to allow the royals to frolic about. It’s a lot of fun imagining people in 17th/18th century walking around in their fancy getups. However during the winter the fountains are turned off and the fancy landscaping of flowers is non existent. On the other hand, the place isn’t run over by tourists. There are still a lot of people visiting the palace but it’s bearable as opposed to in the summer.
We tried to go visit Marie Antoinette’s private house but it turns out it’s quite the walk from the palace so we gave up on that idea to enter Versailles. It was getting late and some sections of the palace had already been closed off to visitors. Versailles is definitely a lot to take in. It is room after room after room of grandeur with ceilings decked out with paintings of angelic beings, gold leaf paint, and what have you. Very ostentation and showy… very gaudy! Heh. Most of the rooms are actually devoid of furniture but have plenty of paintings of royal family members and historical people of importance hanging on the walls. The only rooms that have furniture are Louix XIV’s room and Marie Antoinette’s. The grand ballroom the Hall of Mirrors was recently restored and that was a treat to walk through. I took a really crappy picture of it but I didn’t want to waste my memory card on the inside of Versailles. A lot of the girls kept repeating Versailles wasn’t what they thought it would be like and I wasn’t sure what exactly what they had in mind. Maybe all the empty rooms inside are a letdown after being wowed by the palace’s immense size from the outside? I think people expect too much visiting Versailles. I remember really hating it the first time around because I didn’t like Louis XIV as a monarch when I studied him in class. He spent all his money on building a grandiose palace for himself while his subjects basically starved to death. I still don’t care for the guy.
We headed back to the hotel and did some food shopping at the mall next door that had a Champion in its basement. My roommates cooked dinner together and we had a nice dinner of pasta and green beans with pesto. Yes Mom, I ate all the green beans. Maybe if Papa puts pesto on them and mixes them with pasta, I will eat them all?
After dinner, I, the roomies, and a lot of the Dickinsonians went out to a hole in the wall sangria bar near the Odeon metro stop. One of the girls in our program interned in Paris last year and knew about the place so we all followed her to it. I liked it but I was very tired. I also didn’t feel like ordering pitcher after pitcher of sangria like my cohorts (it’s expensive and I’m cheap) so I stayed sober the whole time we were there while the others got predictably tipsy and then some. So yeah it got awkward and I got annoyed at the group because I wanted to go back to the hotel. But I wasn’t about to take the metro back by myself which closes around midnight on weeknights in Paris (I don’t understand this. The subway runs 24 hours in Manhattan!) so I had to wait for the others to leave which isn’t fun when you are tired and sober. However I eventually ended up back at the hotel via taxi.
I also think another reason I didn’t feel very comfortable was the group’s large size. I don’t know how to interact in a large group of young people. About 4-5 people is all I can handle. I relate better to people older than me or much younger than me (hence why I love kids). My whole life there’s always been that awkward gap with people my own age, starting in elementary school. Now before you all start wondering, yes I have friends my own age. And those friends I absolutely adore because they get me and my weirdness and I don’t have to pretend or make excuses for who I am. I often find myself on the periphery in these kind of groups for several reasons but the primary one is because I just don’t feel comfortable around too many people and I can be extremely shy. And of course, people misinterpret my shyness as disinterest. However I will admit I’m picky when it comes to making friends. I’ve been socially slapped in the face too many times to be all open and friendly all the time. In fact, those kind of experiences is what led me to periods of depression. So if you are a Dickinsonian or someone on the program reading this, I apologize for seeming snobby or stand offish or whatever it is you think about me but don’t judge a book by its cover. There is more to me than meets the eye, as is the case with everyone. If I haven’t opened up to you much, it’s because I’ve been turned away too many times when I did put in the effort to get to know people.
Um ok enough psychoanalyzing myself! I almost forgot this was a blog and not a diary.
Despite my crappy night, I was determined to not let the incident ruin the trip for me. The next day we visited the Musee d’Orsay, the very same museum I waited in line for about 3 hours with my family back in December for that Grands Maitres exhibition which I never got to see because I had had enough of freezing my butt off in the cold. (Mom, I still think you were foolish to wait in line for so long in those sub zero temperatures. Picasso’s not the be all and end all of art!)
So it was my first time in this museum and I liked it better than the Louvre, mainly because it’s smaller and not as overwhelming. However our tour guide was awful. She was supposed to show us these “scandalous” works of art and explain what made them scandalous but she was about as interesting as watching grass grow. I completely zoned out during the tour which didn’t help because I kept getting left behind since the tour guide NEVER announced when we were moving on. She would just finish her explanation abruptly and walk off by herself, expecting us to follow her. What great manners.
I spent some time in the Musee d’Orsay after the tour ended and admired the Monet paintings and the Degas ballerinas and Van Gogh and Cezanne and all that jazz. I’m more of a fan of contemporary art I’ve decided.
Afterwards I joined Molly and Kathryn for lunch and we then headed to Sainte Chapelle, this Gothic chapel on Ile de la Cite where apparently a bunch of Jesus Christ relics came into the possession of Louis IX, later canonized as a saint. I’m not too sure if the relics are still around, such as the crown of thorns Jesus wore prior to being crucified. The chapel was partially destroyed during the French Revolution so a lot of it is a reproduction of the original. It’s a very beautiful building, especially the starry like ceiling and the enormous stained glass windows.
Afterwards we headed to Notre Dame where I was going to climb the stairs up to the tower with Kathryn (I’ve already been inside Notre Dame a few times but I have never been up the tower). However Molly wasn’t feeling too well so I decided to stay behind with her so Kathryn went ahead alone. We ended up going back to the hotel by taxi since Molly wanted to rest. I had to head out after an hour to meet up the rest of the group at the Pont Neuf for our bateau mouche cruise.
I’ve done the bateau mouche (literally translated as fly boat) cruise before but I was younger and it was during the summer and during the day. This time around I was older, it was a lot colder, and it was at night. We all gathered on the roof to admire Paris all lit up at night. Paris is gorgeous no matter what the time of year and it was nice to see Notre Dame, the Louvre, les Invalides, the Pantheon, etc. lit up at night. The most impressive part of course was the Eiffel Tower. It is no longer blue anymore because France is no longer the head of the European Union, the 6 months are now up. It shone in all its golden yellow light glory, the symbol of Paris and of France. It’s really funny to think that people hated it when it was first built and thought of it as a monstrosity. If it were to disappear tomorrow, I think a lot of people would be upset. My current Facebook profile picture is a picture of me on the bateau mouche with the Eiffel Tower in the background. However, it got very chilly on the boat’s roof thanks to the wind so we all eventually headed back downstairs in the heated section.
After the bateau mouche, I went back to the hotel to see if Molly was up to going out for dinner. She seemed to be doing a lot better so she, Kathryn, and Merewyn, another friend/penpal of mine who lives in Paris went out to dinner at La Mangue Verte (Green Mango) which wasn’t too far from our hotel. It’s the same restaurant I went to with my cousins back in December and I knew it was in walking distance of Place d’Italie. It’s located in the small Paris Chinatown and it’s a cheap restaurant and serves really good food. I had some pad thai and it was simply delicious. We all had a great time talking and afterwards we went to a bar near our hotel and stayed there for about an hour or so just talking. I think Molly and Kathryn appreciated the fact Merewyn knows how to speak English (she’s half Australian) so no awkwardly stilted conversations or translations. After Merewyn went home, I hung out in Molly’s room for a bit right down the hall from my room and then I went to sleep around… I dunno but not too late. I was a little surprised to come back from dinner to find my roommates asleep! I had assumed they were going to go out. Apparently they had cooked dinner again and lay down for a “nap” which turned into actual sleep!
Saturday, Feb. 21st, we had the day completely to ourselves. I decided for several reasons I would sight see alone. Like I’ve said before, I get tired of large groups and I needed time alone. I bid good bye to Allison and Nicole as they headed out. A lot of the places they wanted to visit I had already seen or been to so I was ok spending the day alone.
After getting stuck in my coat (long story), I took the metro towards Les Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon I. When I got there, I got a little confused between Palais de la Decouverte and Les Invalides. I saw a super long line outside Palais de la Decouverte and I was surprised that so many people would want to see Napoleon’s tomb. I had a hard time believing so many people were die hard Napoleon fans! But as it turns out, it wasn’t the right building. I turned back around and found myself at the right place.
I first visited Les Invalides chapel which was free before I figured out where the actual mausoleum was. I initially thought Napoleon wanted to be buried in some grand building and had it designed specifically for his tomb but turned out I was wrong about that one. Here’s some history of Les Invalides from Wiki:
Les Invalides in Paris, France, is a complex of buildings in the city’s 7th arrondissement containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France’s war heroes.
Louis XIV initiated the project by an order dated November 24, 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides, the hospital for invalids. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The selected site was suburban in the seventeenth century. By the time the enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards, the largest being the cour d’honneur (“court of honour”) for military parades.
Then it was felt that the veterans required a chapel. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant’s designs after the elder architect’s death. The chapel is known as Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides. Daily attendance was required.
Shortly after the veterans’ chapel was completed, Louis XIV had Mansart construct a separate private royal chapel, often referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature (ill. right). Inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (left) the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. Mansart raises his drum with an attic storey over its main cornice, and employs the paired columns motif in his more complicated rhythmic theme. The general programme is sculptural but tightly integrated, rich but balanced, consistently carried through, capping its vertical thrust firmly with a ribbed and hemispherical dome. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.
The interior of the dome was painted by Le Brun‘s disciple Charles de La Fosse (1636 – 1716) with a Baroque illusion of space seen from below (sotto in su perspective, the Italians were calling it). The painting was completed in 1705.
The most notable tomb at Les Invalides is that of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Napoleon was initially interred on Saint Helena, but King Louis-Philippe arranged for his remains to be brought to St Jerome’s Chapel in Paris in 1840, in what became known as the retour des cendres . A renovation of Les Invalides took many years, but in 1861 Napoleon was moved to the most prominent location under the dome at Les Invalides.A popular tourist site today, Les Invalides is also the burial site for some of Napoleon’s family, for several military officers who served under him, and other French military heroes.
So basically Les Invalides is a building that honors France’s fallen war heroes and its army. I have to admit I didn’t know any of the deceased soldiers but I still enjoyed my visit nonetheless. I don’t know if Napoleon deserves such a grand tomb though. It seemed like all the guy did was go to war and invade other countries. Even after he was exiled, he kept coming up with new conspiracies to re-invade places he had previously conquered. I suppose there’s more to Napoleon than his miliary prowess but honestly that’s all I know about him. Anyways his organ like sarcophagus is surrounded a circle shaped deck with his tomb appearing in the middle on the lower level. The dome of the building is absolutely gorgeous. Some of the other tombs are blocked off so you can’t really see them well from the blocked off vantage points which is a little disappointing.
Afterwards I went to Victor Hugo’s house in Place des Vosges in Le Marais. I actually wasn’t too far from where some of my French relatives live who aren’t technically related to me yet still considered part of the family. Yeah my dad’s family is really confusing! We visited these relatives back in December for a couple of days. I also ran i nto Nicole and Allison there but I had plans later with a friend and they wanted to wait for some introductory video to start so I went on ahead without them.
Anyways Victor Hugo lived in Place des Vosges for 16 years from 1832-1848. Here’s some history: The museum is in the Place des Vosges and dates from 1605 when a lot was granted to Isaac Arnauld in the south-east corner of the square. It was substantially improved by the de Rohans family, who gave the building its current name of Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée. Victor Hugo was 30 when he moved into the house in October 1832 with his wife Adèle. They rented a 280 square metre apartment on the second floor. The mansion was converted into a museum when a large donation was made by Paul Meurice to the city of Paris to buy the house.
The museum consists of an antechamber leading through the Chinese living room and medieval style dining room to Victor Hugo’s bedroom where he died in 1885.
I forget how much of the original apartment was preserved and how many authentic pieces of furniture VH actually owned that were present in the apartment. There was a temporary exhibit on Les Miserables which I do believe had the original manuscript on display and all the revisions and corrections VH made to his first draft. I really need to read that book considering it took VH several decades to finish the book and it is probably his most famous work today.
After leaving the VH house, I went to Place de la Bastille to meet up with Merewyn again. I took her to a tea salon called Le Loir dans La Theiere (The Sloth in the Tea Kettle) that Sandrine had taken my family and me to back in December. I had some vanilla tea and chocolate crumble. Very appetizing! I actually hadn’t eaten lunch so I was starving. If you ever go to Paris, check this place out. There’s always a line to get in but both times I’ve gone I’ve never waited very long. It’s a very congenial atmosphere and very cute and retro inside. I know my really good friend Alex raves about the more famous (and more expensive) Angelina’s which I do want to eventually go to. But hey, it gives me something to do next time I go to Paris! There’s always something to do there anyways, impossible to visit all the museums and sights the city has to offer. Kind of like New York.
Merewyn then took me to an English speaking bookstore (what? what am I doing buying English books in France? oh leave me alone!) and of course I bought a book. I just finished The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (which I bought in English at FNAC and yes it is the book that inspired the very successful Bourne movies franchise starring Matt Damon) so I needed something else to fill the void!
I parted with Merewyn and went back to the hotel to meet up with Molly and Kathryn to go out for dinner. We went to a creperie not too far from the hotel and then went back to the hotel. And that was really it. My roommates didn’t go out again that night and neither did I since we had to be in the hotel lobby at 7 AM to meet up with the rest of the group.
And then I was back in Toulouse around 2 PM at the apartment on Sunday, Feb. 22nd. There wasn’t anyone home at first and I was a little confused since I had thought my host family was supposed to return from their chalet the previous day. But my host mom soon returned from wherever she had been with her husband!
Yes, I finally got to meet my host father! I didn’t spend that much time with him since he left last Tuesday meaning we were in the same vicinity for a grand total of 36 hours. However he was present for dinner Sunday and Monday night and he is quite the jokester, in fact a lot like my middle host brother. I could tell my host brothers were happy to be with him and I mean that’s totally normal considering they don’t get to see him very often. I could also tell they respect him a lot and are more scared of him than their mother. I didn’t talk to him much but then I normally never talk much at dinner. It’s not that I don’t like my host family but I always feel awkward at dinner, like I’m an intruder in the intimate family setting. I think I felt less awkward in Spain because 1) Paqui’s sons are all grown up and live on their own (except for weirdo Jaime) so there wasn’t a real familial atmosphere. Her sons sometimes dropped by for lunch but they usually ate after I did. 2) Paqui was always home and therefore not chasing after her sons all the time 3) She doesn’t work and never has as far as I know. (In case you forgot Paqui is a nickname for Francisca in Spanish)
Anyways Host Papa (who is called Pops by his sons, how cute!) is now back in Cameroon but I hope I get to see him again before I leave.
Besides Paris and meeting my host father, not too many exciting things have happened. The Mirail is still on strike but I’ve actually been to ALL my classes this week which is a first. I have a meeting Monday concerning an internship but I’m not going to talk about it until I know everything has worked out. It seems I’ve had a lot of bad luck with that! It’s been a lot warmer this week so I’m actually thinking of going out to a nearby park and sitting on a bench and reading.
Hope all’s well in the Land of Standing Ovations (at least this is what my cousin Julien has apparently dubbed America). Everything’s peachy in the Land of Complainers and Never Ending Strikes.