Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cultural Activities (you can ignore this if you're not Dr. Ricks, or even if you are)


1) Symphonie Fantastique. After listening to the score so many times in Music 101, I really enjoyed getting out, getting dressed up, and getting to hear it performed live. I loved watching the conductor, who had more energy than is reasonable for someone past the third grade, and the solo horn parts, which were performed standing and (somewhat) offstage, as dictated by the programme. When the blast signaling the character's execution sounds in the end, I felt a pang of both sadness and relief, knowing what a miserable existence his had been. All that from half an hour of music!

2) La Maison Poupée, with Audrey Tautou. We saw this just about a month into being here, and it made me realize exactly how terrible my French is. I could catch maybe one in every 5 words, and if I hadn't been familiar with the play, would have been totally lost. If I concentrated very hard, I could translate sentences as they came, but I could only do it for a couple of minutes before I could feel the headache coming. I loved being able to experience French theatre, and in such a beautiful venue--I only wish I had seen the play more recently, now that I know my French has improved tenfold.

3) Siddharta. A modern French ballet at its moderniest. I think more than anything, this ballet helped me realize that something being French doesn't make it automatically beautiful, or worthy of my attention. I liked certain elements of the production, but was so thrown off by some of the more interpretive, "artistic" representations of the story of the Buddha that I know I'll be sticking to classical ballet, if any ballet at all, from now on.

4) Agricultural Salon. Awesome. We've spent all this time reading and hearing about the French and their ties to their land, farms, animals, and food, and I got to really see it in action at the Salon d'Agriculture. It would be difficult to choose a favorite part, although the ENORMOUS livestock definitely makes the list, and, who am I kidding, the truffade that Chelsea and I ate left me vowing never to return to the States (seriously, it's this potato-cheese-butter-something delicious dish that's something like a casserole made by the gods). It was just nice to see some down-home French people, in their faded work jeans, next to their prize pig. Soooeeeee!

5) Tour of the Catacombs. One of the coolest extra-curricular (i.e. not included on a walk) things that I did while in Paris, for sure. There's a part of me that's just a little bit morbid, a little bit fascinated with everything skeletons and cemeteries and Halloween, and this trip was a bit of a fix. The way that Paris chooses to deal with its dead is a little bit strange to someone from the States--they're constantly uprooting and moving remains, burying them in the foundations of monuments, and, apparently, storing them en masse in underground caves. So creepy. So cool.

6) The Pierre Boulez concert for tonight counts, yeah? I'm sure it'll be fantastic.

Walk 21: Get Lost! The Anti-Walk

I can't count the number of times that I got lost in Paris, but, if it comes to choosing one of them to document, it will have to be the trip to Roland Garros (site of the French Tennis Open) that ended in Courtney and I finding a fantastic park and staging an impromptu photo shoot among all of the new spring blossoms.


And, it turned out to be a park dedicated to poets, all poets, which justified my love even further.

To get lost in Paris isn't to lose oneself at all, but to do quite exactly the opposite.

Walk 18: Grands Boulevards

The Grands Boulevards are home to Paris' largest department stores, Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette. I'm not much of a department store person, so I didn't stop in while doing the walk, but Richard recently dragged me to a fashion show on the seventh floor of Lafayette (remind me to tell you the American tourist escalator story) and I'll admit that I should have looked around ealier. It's a department store, yeah, but it's gorgeous. Vaulted ceiling gorgeous. And the roof is open to the public, and has an incredible view.

The Palais Garnier Opera house is incredible. Add this to the list of things I love about Paris: they cherish their art, and build structures, temples, worthy to house it.

It was closed to tours the day I went. And the next time I went. I think I'm going to try again today. They say it's worth it.

Napoleon's monument to his victory at Austerlitz, called the Place Vendome Column:

That's Napoleon on top, decked out in Roman costume, complete with laurel wreaths.

Statue of Joan of Arc on Rue Saint-Honoré.

It was on this same street that Joan of Arc was wounded in 1429, at age 16, while leading an attack against the English. She died just two years later, burned at the stake by the English, but remains one of the most deservedly famous heroines in France, having rallied the French to fight the English, ending the Hundred Years' War. Ooo ooo!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Walk 19: Parisian Necropolis: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

I've visited cemeteries before, but nothing has even come close to the scale (188 acres!), importance, or general creepiness of Père-Lachaise. Cemeteries are fairly self-explanatory, so this entry will be picture-heavy.

Heloise and Abelard, famous French scholars and lovers of the 12th century. They were torn apart by Heloise's uncle and finished out their lives in solitude, but their remains were moved here, together, in 1817.

Jim Morrison. One of the only graves I could say was crowded, and some French teenagers were definitely smoking joints up here.

And a real musician, Frederic Chopin.

Shaina, Emily, Richard, and I kissing Oscar Wilde's tomb, although sans lipstick, as is usually custom. Knowing a little bit about Oscar Wilde, I really think he would have liked the idea of people kissing his grave--it's exactly the kind of eccentric thing he relished.

And these are just some that I liked. Nobody famous.

The plaque translates as "Alone at last!"

I bet this guy had a great sense of humor.

Walk 9: Follow the Money: Palais Royal, Bourse, Covered Passages

Imagine a nightmare that consists entirely of you, walking past rows and rows of windows, each filled with beautiful, precious, antique, and extraordinary items, all of which you want, and none of which you could ever hope to be able to buy. Welcome to window shopping in Paris.

Le Louvre des antiquaires is one of the most expensive collections of antiques in Paris, and I had to go there for this walk and be tormented by all of the exquisite pieces. Sigh.

On to the Palais Royal, just outside the Louvre, where members of the royal court were housed under Louis XIII. The columns were added in 1986. They remind me of the Audrey Hepburn version of "My Fair Lady."

It was shortly after this shot was taken that Richard, Chelsea, and I happened upon the filming of an Angelina Jolie movie that will be called "The Tourists." We stayed and gawked for several minutes, trying to see through the gobs of cameramen and extras. I'm pretty sure I saw her arm... Then, crossing the street, we were stopped by a news crew and interviewed about being tourists in Paris. C'est cool, non?

The Bourse (Paris' version of Wall Street) I had to save for another day because, after our Jolie/newscrew shenanigans, we were running out of time to get to class.

Let me just say this: Paris is full of surprises. Here, you can turn a corner, innocently, only to find that you're less than a block away from the Eiffel Tower, or get lost and end up coming across something better than you were originally trying to find. It is a beautiful, mysterious city and, in it, you can't help but feel like a beautifully mysterious person.

Walk 15: Saint Ouen's Labyrinth: Navigating the World's Largest Flea Market

Sorry, folks, no pictures. I actually did have my camera that day, but this is the last place you want to stand out as a tourist.

I love junk. Anything that can call itself vintage, second-hand, or just plain old, has a place in my heart and, often, in my closet. But the whole first part of this walk takes you through, not a flea market, but a vendor-lined avenue with aggressive salespeople who love to hear English coming their way. My roommate ran into some problems and we kept our visit pretty short. But I'd love to go back, maybe next time with a thicker French accent, because these are just a few of the things that I saw: a shag-carpet-covered easy chair, garden statues that looked like they'd been stolen straight from the Louvre, a twice-life-sized painted wood cutout of Marilyn Monroe's famous white dress shot, a store filled entirely with old cartoon paraphernalia (think Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie). I love France's fascination with the old, and their unwillingness to part from the past. It's comforting, in a way, to think that the things that are valuable to me, that I treasure, may be loved again, generations from now, by some young girl with the same penchant for bargain-hunting.

Walk 8: Marais Walk 2

This was a short walk, but it was full of character. Can I just say that I love the Jewish quarter? It's the only place in Paris where I can eat while walking and fit in, I love fallafel, and, too, it's really cool to hear Yiddish in passing. Plus, where else are you going to see a menorah in a bakery window?

Besides just ambling around the Marais, we saw the gorgeous Hotel de Soubise, a mansion belonging to Francois de Rohan, the prince of Soubise.

And then, tucked away, is the Musee Cognacq-Jay, where I found this beaut:

Really, I wasn't interested in much in the museum, but this looks EXACTLY like my friend Julia: