I had to sit through some embarrassing things today, which builds character, I hope. This, or stomach ulcers, so I’d rather have character, please. But I won’t be talking about it because it’s a public blog and because it was generally icky and I have something way more awesome to talk about, namely our recent trip to Paris.
It wasn’t our first one: we went once before for a Patti Smith concert. But the concert happened in January: it was dark and muddy and we caught terrible colds and spent half of the stay in a hostel so I’d say it was only Almost Perfect. This time I can skip the Almost because Paris is amazing. It has beautiful buildings with high windows and iron-cast railings, painted classy white or cream (not scrambled-eggs-yellow and puke-peach pink like most houses here) and you can just get off the metro anywhere and are pretty likely to find a charming spot nearby. And I know it’s way cooler to like post-industrial ham can factories and tuberculosis hospitals covered in graffiti but I’m just not that cool and the postcard charm of Paris worked for me. So much.
We had an intense stay because we couldn’t decide what to skip (we did skip the sewage museum in the end though) and tried to see it all, in which we only partially succeeded. Because it would take long to talk about everything and because you don’t really care, I’ll give you my random list of favorite things about our Paris stay.
1. Notre-Dame. I love that place and when I say love that’s exactly what I mean (or almost exactly because you can’t really kiss a building and expect it to be very satisfying; true fact). As you might have already inferred I’m not all that original in my tastes but neither very apologetic about it and can tell you straight away that the Notre-Dame cathedral, and the little park behind it, where you can see all the intricate detail of the outer design, is my favorite place in Paris. It’s got that rare effect of stopping me in my tracks every single time I see it. We participated in the mass there, too, and it does make an impression to have the familiar ceremony in that interior. That, and having it read in French, of course.
2. All the museums and all the works of art. From the point above you’d be justified in expecting my favorite painting to be Mona Lisa, only you’d be wrong and not even close. If I had to pick a favorite it would be Vermeer’s Lacemaker, also not that surprising but still better than Mona Lisa. We saw Centre Pompidou, the Louvre, d’Orsay, Petit Palais, Orangerie, Musee d’Arts Decoratifs, and a few places with exotic art but I’m sure there was more and I’m forgetting something. It just felt like gorging on art, minus indigestion.
3. Of all the museums, the Louvre makes the strongest impression with its sheer scale and architecture. It’s as far from modern white boxes as can be and I find it extremely refreshing.
4. Politeness. There are many stereotypes about French people (as about any people) and while one often finds stereotypes disconcertingly true, the one about French rudeness couldn’t be more ridiculous. Everybody has an “Excusez-moi” and a “Merci” ready and says it with a smile, without the silent part we’re used to (which goes something like “Excuse me (can’t you damn see I want to go through and do you have to play with your phone in the way?)”). And even when people smirk at your French (as this trip has shattered a few of my precious illusions about the communicative value of my French) they will try to make sense of what you say or immediately offer English. It’s really hard to practice French in France.
5. Montmartre cemetery. It was one of our first trips and we almost gave up on it because like dummies we walked around the wall almost twice before figuring out the entry was on the other side of the road and on a different street level (don’t judge us). But the cemetery was impressive, full of half-broken neo-Gothic monuments (at least I assume they’re not actually Gothic) and wet, creepy cats (what is it with the cats I’ve no idea). It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea and those who prefer their cemeteries brighter and with wider alleys should go to Pere-Lachaise and those even less morbid should stay away from cemeteries altogether. But we enjoyed it, if it’s the right word to use.
6. Bookstores! There’s nothing we love more than visiting foreign bookstores and we were not disappointed. We came back with so many new books that we were seriously worried about excess baggage on the airport (needlessly, though). We bought some bargain albums, many children books (none for children though, it’s all for us), two fantastic books of Paris watercolors and a collection of romantic comics for girls of the 50s. It did hurt our backs but it was worth it.
7. Paris streets. Last time the weather did not favor walking trips so we mostly kept to museums, metro and beds but this time we walked whenever we could, breathing in the city’s atmosphere. Metro is a wonderful invention that we’re having a hard time to do without again but it does separate you from all the views and the pleasure of crossing the street on red light (everybody does it and you don’t even get fined).
8. Inner gardens. Parisians apparently love greenery and walking around the nice areas, you get to see a ton of charming green spots. You don’t get to see the rest because they’re cut off with gates rather than just grilles but luckily we lived in an apartment with such an inner court with greenery (and, needless to say, cats).
9. Biking around Versailles. We did the whole Versailles trip, with visiting the king’s apartments and going through the gardens among the fountains. Towards the end we discovered you can rent a bike and it was only thanks to that that we also saw both Trianons because we wouldn’t have been able to walk anymore. After days of walking, though, biking turned out to be just what we needed.
10. Temporary exhibitions. As if the permanent collections weren’t great enough, we also happened upon two temporary exhibitions that were as if to my order. In Centre Pompidou they had Roy Lichtenstein (the book about comics for girls might have tipped you off), who always fascinated me and, in fact, did not disappoint. It was also gratifying to find out he meant his art to be as cerebral as I always took it to be. The other one was pre-Raphaelite’s (albeit the lesser known ones) and we had to run around Paris to find it, thanks to a misleading poster (or just our misinterpretation, probably). It was fascinating in a very different way because I simply can’t think of a better example of art as an escapist activity. The patience and care with which they painted all the ornaments on princesses’ dresses and flowers behind the mythical goddesses suggest they wanted to live it the worlds of their own making. I get how people can judge it kitsch but their technical mastery impresses and it’s possible to understand their escapist longings. And, who am I kidding, like almost every girl I’ve been in love with pre-Raphaelites since high school.
I could go on for a long time because, as disclaimed before, this list is pretty random, but ten is a good number to stop at. To sum up, the trip was everything we hoped it to be and we don’t have a complaint to make except that it makes it doubly difficult to get back to some of the things one has to wrestle with here (or more like rub against its slimy parts, sorry for the disgusting but appropriate metaphor).