November 4 9:30am

Bon Jour! Comment allez vous? Oui, Oui!

That is pretty much all I can manage at this hour of the morning.  Overall, we’re having a great time with French.  Gerry Sr. is fantastic – talks to everyone and sounds quite proficient!  Gerry Jr. puts his heart into it and no shyness about trying.  Oscar is learning, too, word by word and trying when forced.  I mostly listen and produce one word sentences, like “oui“, “non“, “baguette“, “merci“.

Paris is wonderful!  We arrived last Thursday, via the Eurostar, a very fast train that goes from London to Paris without stops.  Twenty minutes of the ride are in the tunnel under the channel, which I thought would be claustrophobic, but went by so fast I hardly noticed.  The day was gorgeous so looking out the window was a pleasure.  The farms of France are considerably larger than those of England, and I did miss the hedgerows, but on the other hand, everything is flat – you can see forever.

Gerry struck up a conversation, in French, with the cab driver who brought us from the station to our apartment.  Gerry claims he was just being nice, but we were very impressed as it was quite a long conversation!

Our apartment is fantastic.  First, it is really pretty (which after our last dump in London, I have come to appreciate!)  It isn’t huge, but we’re comfortable.  The children have their own room, though they constantly complain about having to sleep together. You know: “He steals the covers”, “He snores”, “He moves around too much” and worse!

The thing I like best about the apartment (and I like just about everything about it) is the view.  Yes, we have a gorgeous view of places and things, like buildings and the river.  (At night when the Bateau Mouche goes by it is quite pretty).  But what I like, are the rooftops and the chimneys.  We’re on the 6th floor, so we see a lot of rooftops and chimneys, and I find that there is something so appealing about them.  In fact, some of my most distinct visual memories of the summer of ’79, when I lived in Paris for a month, were the rooftops and the chimneys.  I couldn’t help noticing them in Great Britain, too.  They’re nothing like the US, you know.

Plus, we are smack dab in the middle of everything!  That has to be the other best part.  Friday we took off walking and went to Les Halles (north of here), then to the Louvre (west of us), the Tuilleries (farther west), the Champs Elyssee (farther west still) to the Arc du Triomphe (far enough for one day!)  Yesterday, Gerry Sr. and I went to the Quartier Latin and walked for about an hour, looking for a restaurant we ate in back in the early ’80s (we found it), the English bookstore (we found it, too) and the apartment that I lived in back in the summer of ’79 (I think we found that, too).  All in all I was amazed at how much a city can change in 20 years!

We hadn’t really wanted to swing full tilt into touristing when we got here, so most of our activities have been looking for groceries, dry cleaners and other services.  The kids didn’t even go out of the house yesterday!  We have started studying again, and they even sit and watch French TV.  We’re trying to establish a routine for the month.  It seems like so much time, but already I know from England that it won’t be enough!

November 6   6:47pm

Things are great!  Our weather is still good, though we had a few drops of rain today and some clouds…Temperature is cool.  We’re settling into a routine of sorts – studying in the mornings, out in the afternoon, family time at night.  Yesterday our afternoon was spent at the Centre Pompidou, which is just a few minutes’ walk from here.

Nothing was going on in the place. We’ll have to come back on a weekend to see the street performers.  We saw just the modern art part of the museum, thinking that was about as much as the kids could stand…As it turned out, I was the one who was least interested!  We went to the older modern stuff first – famous names like Pollock, Matisse and Picasso – and that was pretty good.  Oscar really liked the cubist Picasso stuff which was a surprise for me.  Gerry Jr. was bored throughout.  We finally got down to the lower level, where the really modern, modern stuff is.  I was ready to leave, but the kids were entranced!  I guess they thought looking at all that nonsense stuff was at least more interesting and captivating than the painting and sculpture they were supposed to care about…Whatever turns you on, right?

We made the mistake of not having lunch until after we had seen the museum, so we were all hungry and a little cranky until we sat down to have lunch in the museum.  After lunch we looked at some really new design items.  These are items that are just being manufactured now and will be for sale in the last months of this year.  I especially like a little car called Be Up that looked like a souped-up golf cart.

Evenings we read:  Gerry, Oscar and I are all into Orson Scott Card (who I have mentioned before).  Chubby is struggling with his Agatha Christie.  I think he lets too much time pass between “sittings down to read” that he loses momentum.  We’d really like to have him read Ender’s Game, which got three thumbs up from three readers in the family!

Today, the children studied in the morning again, and in the afternoon, Gerry Sr. and I went out without them.  We went to the Musee d’Orsay.  The main collection there (since 1986, which makes it new to us) used to be in the Jeu de Palme – the Impressionists.  The museum itself used to be a railroad station and the transformation into a museum is fantastique! The architecture of the museum is as interesting as the collection.  One the ground floor there is quite a collection of statuary.  My favorites were the portrait busts of a fellow called (I can’t remember!).  Some were the plaster casts and some were the bronze versions, but all had unbelievable detail in the hair and the clothing, as well as being a study of the character of the sitter.  I loved them.

The paintings are, of course, just wonderful.  It was like being back in ART 100 at Smith and seeing not slides, but the real thing.  We were also lucky – just by our good chance the museum was free today because of a strike.  We never found out what the strike was about, but it saved us 90 francs (about $13) and meant that we didn’t have to see everything today.  We do need to go back since we only saw the ground and top floor, missing all of the middle level.

After the museum, we stopped in a sidewalk cafe for an expresso and tarte au pommes.  On the way home to the apartment we stopped at the church of St. Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris.  From there we wandered through the streets, buying dinner from the meat vendor, the fruit vendor, the bread vendor, etc.  Fun!  I leave the talking up to Gerry – he has such a way with the vendeuses.

A bientot!

November 9   6:13pm

It has turned cold!  Just like that, it’s winter.  We had been so lucky with the weather up until now – really gorgeous days and temperatures that required just a sweater, but that has changed almost overnight.  We had rain for two days (Wednesday and Thursday) but Thursday morning the wind began to howl and when we walked outside… BRRRRRR!  It was inevitable, so we’ll just have to change the wardrobe.  That doesn’t mean much for most people, but we have this little person with us who thinks that just because the sun is shining it must be like Puerto Rico.  We had a fairly major argument today before going out, we parents insisting that he had to bring a jacket, even if he felt it was to warm to wear it…He wore it!

So what have we done?  Today we took a field trip from school and went to the Museum of Science and Industry, another “new” attraction since our last trip to Paris back in the early ’80s.  As a school field trip it didn’t make the grade, but the building is quite spectacular as is the view from its windows.  The kids had fun, because many of the exhibits were interactive.  Had they read the descriptions, they might have learned a lot, but that isn’t their thing, I guess.  Not much of the museum was in English, and Oscar struggles with the French, so he was frustrated at least part of the time.  The best sections – on sound and light – were mostly bilingual and that is where we spent most of our time.

Also today, we met our “representative” for the apartment.  A charming woman named Isabelle came to show us how to work the washing machine, to make sure everything was alright, etc.  She made several suggestions on places to go and even knew of a basketball court for Gerry!

Yesterday, the children stayed home once again, and Gerry and I went to Montmartre for the afternoon.  Of course we walked up the steps to Sacre Coeur, to admire the view.  It was fairly clear looking southward over Paris, though dark clouds threatened from behind.  We visited the inside of Sacre Coeur, and though I remembered the church as being unremarkable, I found it very likeable on this trip.  It is recent, particularly compared to many of the other churches I have visited so far.  Honestly, I didn’t miss the peeling paint or the constant requests for donations.  Because of the intense sun, the stained glass was luminous and cast intriguing plays of color across the statues and the walls.  It seemed a place for people to worship, despite its fame as a tourist attraction.

The Place du Tetre was half-filled with artists (it was a cold and windy day) and we will return with the children and maybe even have their portraits drawn, just for the fun of it!

Years and years ago, before I was even married to Gerry, I had a friend, Nana de Herrera, who lived in Montmartre.  I used to visit her every day when I lived that one summer in Paris, so as we descended the hill of Montmartre, we retraced my well-worn path from her house to the bottom.  Though we checked the doors of the buildings, we found no names at all, nothing to indicate whether she was still living there. I doubt it, as she was an elderly woman 20 years ago, but I sort of hoped that her son, perhaps, would live in her old apartment… We also found no sign of the Zingaro studio, he (an artist) and his mother (a ceramist), that was part of that old routine.

We walked along the Boulevard de Clichy, too.  What can I say?  Parisians certainly don’t need to go to Amsterdam to find a Red Light District.  It was just one peep show after sex shop after peep show, etc.  And St. John’s parents take note:  The Moulin Rouge is right in the middle of it all.

A wild goose chase took us over past the Sorbonne looking for a cooking school I attended way back when but the place we were trying to find was actually 20 km outside of Paris!

Wednesday afternoon we also enticed the children out of the apartment by taking them to Forum Les Halles – a huge shopping complex near here.  There was rumored (correctly) to be a basketball court within the complex and we found out that 8:30 on Monday evenings, there is a basketball clinic.  Gerry will go, we think, and see what’s up!

It’s hard to believe that a week is already gone!  There are still so many things to see.  Some of my observations so far:  Cell phones are much more acceptable here than in England.  In London, you don’t dare talk on your cell phone in a restaurant – but Paris is about on a par with San Juan – everywhere and anywhere, who cares who you disturb!

Women, alone on the streets, are like concealed weapons – very sharp.  They are particularly rude to one another.  I have seen daily incidences of women swearing at each other for very minor transgressions.  Notably, I have yet to see a woman react similarly to a man.

France doesn’t feel like a country where women are important.  In England, you feel quite palpably that women are the backbone of the whole place.  Strong and silent, they keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes.  In France, I haven’t had the same sensation.  Unfortunately, it has been just the opposite.  It isn’t that French women do not occupy important positions in the society, culture, whatever – you just get the impression that they aren’t the ones that matter.

Again comparing Paris to London…London seems a more accepting place.  I feel that an American woman like me could just blend in and live my life in England, where here in France I would forever stick out.  Certainly in both places you see all kinds of people, so what I am describing to you is really a sensation of being “too” foreign, too American.  I’d have to change and be more like the French to feel as if I were invisible.  I wouldn’t be able to just be me.

November 12  8:00am

Saturday morning, we all got up late, as usual.  Not being a “school day” (and believe me the kids are quick to point this out) we got dressed and headed out for a walking tour of the Latin Quarter. We of course had to stop for lunch first, since some people were notably in bad moods…Peckish I believe is the proper word.

Lunch seemed to do the trick though and soon, armed with our brand new Michelin Green Guide, we were off looking for adventure.  Our first stop was the Church of St. Severin.  Now, those of you who have been following this narrative know that churches are high only on my list of things to see and weather can be an ally for the intrepid church tourist, as it was today.  You’ll remember that I mentioned that it had turned cold…Well, it’s quite cold and that church represented a haven out of the wind, and everyone just couldn’t wait to see it!  Besides that it was pretty interesting – the most striking detail is the twisted column at the very head of the chancel.  That portion of the church is in the flamboyant Gothic style, so all the vaulting on the ceiling seems to spin out of this twisted column and the effect is beautiful.

Wandering through two streets that date from the Roman city, we came out on the Boulevard St. Michel just near the Museum of the Middle Ages – Baths of Cluny (A funny, composite name for a very interesting place!)  This was one of my favorite museums from back when, and again, the cold made everyone eager to go inside so we decided to visit it right there and then.  The museum is a collection of household items, tapestries, textiles, manuscripts, painting and sculpture from the Middle Ages.  It is the medieval house of the abbots of Cluny which in turn is built on the ruins of ancient Roman baths (2 C).  The lighting of the exhibits adds to the beauty of the whole museum.

The highlight of the museum is probably the series of six tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn.  Everybody really seemed to enjoy this museum, probably because there was a lot of variety and it was not that big.  Our visit took just about an hour and 15 minutes.  Oscar took some very good pictures, which I am hoping he will post on the site for you to see.

From there, we walked along the Sorbonne.  Gerry Jr. remembered the area from his trip in April, and he correctly predicted that we would emerge in a plaza with fountains on both sides.  We crossed the plaza to the Boulevard St. Michel and continued walking toward the Pantheon.  Many of the shops in this area are related to the university – specialized book shops for law and business particularly abundant in the street leading up to the Pantheon.

We decided to visit the Pantheon.  I had never visited it before and had little interest today in doing so, except we were there, it was cold, so why not.  The building (though it looks like a church, and has been a church in the past) is very large.  That is a bland thing to say, but it expresses my feelings quite well.  The only thing I found interesting were the huge wall paintings by Puvis de Chavannes of the life of St. Genevieve.

However, down in the crypt we did see the tombs of some very famous people, buried there for the honor they brought to France.  Naturally, I paid special attention to Marie Curie, the one and only woman buried in the crypt.

Emerging from the Pantheon, it was already getting dark, so we walked home, looking along the way for some food for Gerry to take to his lock-in.  Gerry Sr. accompanied him to the church and dropped him off.  The three of us stayed in for the evening, mostly because I have come down with an awful sore throat which appears to be a permutation of Oscar’s cold.

Sunday, we got up and dressed and headed out about 10 to get to the church on time for the 11 o’clock service.  Last week we left at about 10:30 and got there at 11:20 and had to sit in the balcony.  The service was nice and the sermon good.  We picked up Gerry Jr. and brought him home to sleep.  The day was a pretty quiet one for everyone, but Gerry Sr. and I slipped out alone around 7 to have a nice dinner.  Sunday evenings are pretty quiet in our part of Paris, so it was very relaxing to walk around, looking in the windows of the stores and restaurants.

November 16   8:00am

We have had a couple of beautiful, sunny days but it is still cold.  Weather report says -1 C this morning!  For you Fahrenheiters who live in the North, that’s not much, but Fahrenheit or Celsius, when you’re from Puerto Rico, That Is Cold!  Oscar even wore his faded jacket yesterday, under the cover of darkness, when he and Gerry Jr. ventured out alone (that’s right, alone) to buy bread for dinner.

Monday, I can’t remember what we did!  I know we had school time and it seems we all went out, but….

Tuesday morning, we had a couple good hours of school work, and because the Louvre was closed, we headed for La Concergerie, Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame.  It was a fun, middle ages sort of day…There wasn’t much to see at La Concergerie, which must be why I had never visited it before,  The Hall of the Men-at Arms was impressive, or would have been if there had not been some other exhibit erected on scaffolding obscuring about 2/3 of the room.  Imagine, this was a room where 2000 men-at-arms could eat together.  It was immense, but we couldn’t see it.  But what we could see was beautiful!  This room had four big fireplaces in it for cooking, but just off it was another kitchen (about the size of my house) which had another four huge fireplaces.  This kitchen was for cooking for the Great (Great) Hall that was above the Men-at-Arms Hall and was for the royals’ dinner parties.

The Concergerie, like the Tower of London, was really a royal palace, but is best known for its infamous history as a prison.  We saw the cell where Marie-Antoinette was held before she was beheaded, and there are numerous references to Robespierre who ironically met the same fate in the same place.

From the Concergerie we walked down about half a block to the entrance to the Palais de Justice to see Sainte Chapelle.  This little chapel was the royal chapel of the same palace, and is located in the courtyard of the palace, all of which now is the Palais de Justice.  We passed through the ubiquitous body and handbag search, and walked through the junk in the courtyard to see the chapel.  As everywhere, there was scaffolding on the outside, which even Oscie remarked on.  That’s okay though – one doesn’t go to Sainte Chapelle for the outside.

You still enter the chapel, on the ground level, into the servants’ worship area.  It looked quite good to me, the colors were bright and the arches well-lit.  Of course, the wonders are upstairs in the royals’ chapel, so up we went.  Despite a gasp from Gerry Sr., and echoing, imitation gasps from his two irreverent sons, the upper chapel has lost some of its luster or my memory has been kinder to it than reality.

The beauty of Sainte Chapelle, whose spire I can see out the window as I write this, is that, as a product of the very late Gothic style, it appears to be made of glass.  The enormous windows are held up by bouquets of slender columns, which almost become invisible in the glow from all the stained glass.  When it is described as a jewel, I have always thought that it isn’t just a “jewel” in its value, but also that the effect of the stained glass makes being inside like being inside a precious, cut stone.

Our day was not overly sunny and the chapel is surrounded by the buildings of the Palais de Justice, so perhaps these factors contributed to the sense of dullness and dirt that I experienced inside.  The windows seemed unevenly cleaned, and really most of the place looked like it could use a good dusting.  There is a section in the front, where the paint is fresh.  I don’t know if this is to show us how the paint once looked, or is the beginning of a paint job (which it could probably use, too).  Although I am not being very complimentary to it, Sainte Chapelle is a place that you need to see each and every time you visit Paris.  If just once you see it looking like it does in the postcards, you will never forget it.

Then for a quantum jump in scale, we crossed the island to see Notre Dame (a matter of a one block walk).  Really there is nothing like Notre Dame.  Yes, it is similar to many of the English cathedrals I saw, particularly Salisbury, but it is special nonetheless.  I like to look at the facade and think of Monet’s series of paintings (don’t forget I was an Art History major in college so I have an excuse!)  The inside is so evocative.  I love history because I like to imagine myself in those times, and Gothic architecture has always been my favorite.  The church was fairly dark inside, (it’s close to evening by now and the sky had clouded over) so the beauty of the interior comes from the height of the vaults over the nave and the tenuous lighting, that seems to exaggerate how high they are.  Gerry Jr. showed us the sites of his memorable Easter Sunday morning visit to Notre Dame: Where he slept on the floor until the service started, and where he sat for the service (right in the left transept next to the altar!)

The children and I were going to climb the tower, but it had closed early for “technical problems.”  Instead we visited the Treasury and marveled at the reliquaries, especially the one said to hold the Crown of Thorns.  The children both find the notion of relics quite quaint, yet compelling.  I shared that same feeling when I first discovered their existence when I was in Italy in 1975.  (Apparently, a lot of their interest arises from a computer game all my men are hooked on called “Ages of Empire”.  In the game, they have to collect relics.  They must have been surprised to find out that in real life they are pieces of old saints’ bones!)

From Notre Dame, we headed over to the Left Bank to look for a store that sells lead figures.  Oscar has decided to collect lead figures and we thought he would like to see what was available.  The shop had everything, from old fashioned to too modern!  Prices were high, for an 11-year old boy, but he was interested in adding more substantial pieces to his collection.  Again, the computer game has had some educational effect:  We were even able to identify Saladin among the figures.

Wednesday, another good study morning (stretching into early afternoon for people who don’t get up until 10…) and a beautiful day, so we headed out to the Eiffel Tower.  Oscar had been commenting about how small it seemed, and really it does seem small, until you get right up to it, and then it seems immense.  We decide to go up to the second level.  Only Oscar wanted to go to the top and he was mad and disappointed, as only he can be, until we actually got out onto the second level.  There he decided, that yes, it was cold enough and probably the top would be too high to really see much of anything.

The view from the second level was spectacular.  We had a gorgeous day, so everything looked clean and bright below us. Despite the cold the view kept us outside for a long time.  We came down in the early evening and walked across the bridge to the Palais de Chaillot and took pictures of the tower with the lights on.  We had fun playing with the camera, trying to make the car lights stream under the tower, but it wasn’t dark enough yet.  It was too cold to wait for darkness, so we hopped on the Metro and came home.

Yesterday, we had planned to visit the Louvre, but we were unable to generate any momentum with the studying, so the day’s rhythm was lost.  The children ended up staying home all day and Gerry Sr. and I took a walk in the afternoon, just exploring our neighborhood and the side streets.  We discovered the grocery store in La Samaritaine and purchased goodies for a special person’s birthday (which we just missed) and regular food for us to eat at home (regular, you know, like frozen escargot and duck pate…)

Well, today is another good day.  Let’s hope it warms up.  When I planned my clothes for this year, I didn’t plan that it would be quite this cold, and keeping warm for me is layers – so many layers that I go out looking like the abominable snowman!  Just like the US though, you can dress for the outside, but you’ll die of overheating inside, so it isn’t surprising that I have a cold and a sore throat.

November 17 8:45am

One of the things I like best about France is that the children are free at all the museums!  After England, where Gerry was paying the adult rate most places (and the fees are exorbitant), the free admission for under 18s is fantastic!

We have discovered that giving the camera to the children can make an enormous difference in how they enjoy the museums.  When they get to take the pictures, they look more carefully at things and finding things to take pictures of, they find things they like.

Another beautiful day and it’s Saturday.  No school today, so we’ll have more time to do things.  Today, the American Church in Paris is having its Christmas Bazaar and there is a market of regional foods set up right on our street.  Should be an excellent day for shopping!

Yesterday turned out to be a good day.  Oscar got up early and got through his school work lickety-split.  (He needed some of that restorative computer time in the Ages of Empires apparently.)  Gerry Jr. got up late and really couldn’t buckle down to his school work, but did insist on getting through all of his math review for the chapter test he has to take.  On a mock test, he got all but 1 right, so he’s ready to take his exam…Maybe today.  After two weeks of studying almost every day – he’s ready to take four exams all at the same time, so we’ll have an intense couple of days.

We dilly-dallied going out because we were trying to get to the Louvre after 3:00pm.  Our reasoning was that since the kids were so reluctant to go, we would go for a short visit, and going after 3 we pay a reduced admission.  Gerry and I knew we would go back, so for this first visit we decided not to pay the full price.  The museum is open until 6, so 3 hours would be more than sufficient.

We went out about 2 and discovered the Regional Food Fair, had a delicious lunch in a really friendly place that we pass every day, and then headed for the Louvre.  The kids were complaining, as usual, but we brooked no dissent!  (What firm, unrelenting parents are we!)

Getting there was a voyage of discovery, at least for me and Gerry!  The Metro station right by our house took us directly to the Palais Royale-Musee du Louvre station, which in turns takes you directly to the (new to us) underground mall beneath the Louvre gardens. (You don’t even have to go outside so next visit, no coats!) The mall is a wonderland!  Beautiful stores, many related to the museums of France, exposed excavations of parts of the palace, and more – everything done in that creamy yellow stone of pressure-washed buildings.  With the stores decorated for Christmas, it is very festive down there, too.

Well, the Mall obviously gives out right into the Museum entrances, and after buying our tickets and studying the map of the museum, we still needed about 10 minutes to get oriented and started off in the right direction.  That hasn’t changed since my last visit – just the place you are when try to orient yourself is entirely different (and very much improved).

We started out in Greek and Roman Sculpture, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace being our goals.  We were planning to hit the highlights, since this would be the children’s only visit.  It was a good place to start:  Gerry has just finished up Greek and Roman history in his World History course, and the only art Oscar (says he) likes is sculpture.  And guess what?  They did like it.

From these galleries, we went off in search of the Mona Lisa.  It was in the same part of the museum it was when I saw it the first time, but they have changed the wall where it is displayed.  As a testament to the number of people who must do just what we did, they have created a traffic flow around the area and put the painting itself into a room large enough to hold the madding crowd.  For the children, after wandering down the long gallery of Italian painting, most of it large, dramatic and colorful, the Mona Lisa came as a bit of a disappointment.  They were expecting it to be large for one thing.  Because it is displayed in a protective box, on a (fortified?) wall, behind a very thick piece of glass, (none of the other paintings are…) and it is also a little dark…truly, it doesn’t look like much.  But there were dozens of tourists snapping pictures, so we did too.

From there, I had hoped to find some paintings by Hieronimus Bosch, thinking that might spark some interest in painting, but a wild goose chase through the museum (the likely place was clear in the other wing) brought no reward.  However, Gerry Sr. and I got a quick look at some of the other important painting galleries (reconnaissance for the next trip). Oscar actually complained that he couldn’t look at the paintings if we were going to go so fast (!!), and I strategically led them through more sculpture galleries on the way, so grumbling was minimal.

It must have been successful. Oscar wants to return to the Louvre, and has also decided he will visit the Musee d’Orsay with us. Not bad for a two hour visit!

We were home by six and barely had time to “freshen up” before we headed out again.  There was an activity for high-schoolers at the American Church, so we dropped Gerry off there at 7 and the shutterbugs (Gerry Sr. and Oscar) and I took a night walk around that area to play with the camera.  The church is located on the river between Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tour, so we had plenty to snap.  We had fun, though we got cold, playing with the time exposure that makes car lights stream through the picture.  We also played at creating ghosts, but mostly we just tried to get good pictures of the monuments at night.  It was fun and the first night we have been out doing things, other than eating dinner, since we got to Paris.

November 19 8:30am

I feel the need to note here that we have seen so few tour groups in Paris, that seeing two of them as we ascended Montmartre really sticks in my head.  Gerry Sr. claims that it is just the wrong time of year…but I have to wonder how much “the events of September 11” (that’s the phrase we hear all the time) affected tourism even in a city like Paris, which I would guess would be pretty busy with tourists year-round.

Saturday, I was busy working on the website for most of the morning while I waited for the troops to awaken.  Once they finally were all awake and fed, no one wanted to do much besides play computer games, so I went out alone.

I went to the American Church’s Christmas Bazaar as planned.  It is nowhere near as large an affair as that of Second Union Church in San Juan, which was surprising considering that the congregation is much, much larger.  I did buy a Christmas ornament for Oscar, and the Cordon Bleu cooking school was represented, so I got cookbooks for the Gerrys.  I also got some information on cooking classes for them and I hope they will go a few times before we leave Paris.

From the church, I decided to take a walk.  The day was very bright and sunny, though cold.  I was wearing Oscar’s faded jacket (!) which is very warm, so I walked.

The church is located on the Quai d’Orsay, between Les Invalides and the Pont d’Alma.  I started out walking back towards Les Invalides and crossed the river at the Pont des Invalides.  I stopped in at the Grand Palais and got information on the science museum there (Palais de la Découverte) for Oscar and continued along to the Rond Point on the Champs-Elysées.  The first Saturday we were in Paris we had walked to this same point from the Tuileries, and noticed that the landscaping seemed to be in transition.  It is still in transition, but now I could see where it was going.  In the center of each of the four fountains is a very large green Christmas tree, still undecorated.  Along the back edges, where flowers must be in the summer, there are now dozens of small Christmas trees, flocked white.  It will look very pretty when they finish and I hope we will get to see it.

I turned west on the Champs-Elysées, and walked up to the Arc du Triomphe on the south side of the street. Once I reached the top, I headed back down on the north side.  I was window shopping and people watching and getting some exercise – so a pleasant afternoon’s stroll.  One I got back to the Rond Point I continued down toward Place de la Concorde but instead of walking on the Avenue I walked in the gardens, which brought me to the Place de a Concorde on the side, so I could walk around it.  If you walk on the Avenue you end up in the middle of it and cross it though the center.  It sounds shorter, but there are four traffic lights to negotiate to cross the Place at that point.  All that waiting is hard on Type A personalities like me, so I was quite happy that I came out on the side and could walk around it.

Something else good came out of that walk around the side – I discovered the Rue Royale.  I was all set to walk straight down the Rue de Rivoli, which takes me past the Louvre and almost directly to our apartment, but I had to pause in my walk for a traffic signal at the Rue Royale and glancing to my left saw the Eglise de la Madeleine.  On a whim, I turned and walked that way.  The Rue Royale is definitely a hoity-toity shopping street!  In my memories of Paris, it was always the Champs-Elysées that represented high fashion shopping.  Either my memory is faulty (good chance of that) or things have changed…The Champs-Elysées resembles just about any American mall with the likes of Gap and Ben & Jerry’s, but the Rue Royale has the like of Gucci and Lalique…So you know we are talking a quantum difference.  Again, I window shopped (could you have guessed?)

Arriving at La Madeleine, I decided to visit the church, because, as I am sure you can imagine, I needed to sit down! The church has an interesting history.  So many people had their fingers in the pie, both in its design and construction, that it is amazing that anything worth visiting came out of it.  The most memorable thing in the church is a half-size copy of the statue of the Virgin from Lourdes, and there is a sea, no an ocean, of lit candles in front of it, and a line of people waiting to light theirs and pray.  I am not sure how these things work, but I did say a prayer in front of the statue for everyone I know who is currently ailing…

Just as I was preparing to leave, the cell phone rang.  (Only my family has the bad timing to call me on that dumb phone while I am in a church!)  It was time to go home.  At 3:30 pm they were ready to do something!  As I left the church, I was greeted, by surprise, by one of the most beautiful views in Paris.  I was looking down the Rue Royale, through the Place de la Concorde with its obelisk, across the river to the Asemblée National Palais Bourbon.

The metro station at La Madeleine is for the newest of the Paris metro lines and it takes me to the corner by my apartment in two stops, at very high speed.  We are always looking for an excuse to take that line.  It is so new, it is spanking clean.

The whole family headed out about 4:00.  We used a flimsy excuse to take the new line again, and made the connection to Les Abbesses, one of the metro stops for Montmartre, our destination for the evening.  We took the funicular up the hill to Sacre Couer and the kids were thrilled that they could use their metro tickets (we bought the monthly tickets when we arrived). Though it was cold, the views from Sacre Couer were enchanting and naturally, we took lots of pictures again.

We visited the inside of the church, too.  The evening mass was just beginning and it was conducted by a choir of nuns.  I guess it must have been an evensong type of mass, as it was completely sung.  The beauty of all those soprano and alto voices resonating through the church was arresting, and most of the visitors had stopped milling about the church to sit or stand and listen, including us.

Afterwards we headed toward the Place du Tertre, but were accosted by a portraitist who grabbed Gerry Jr. and started drawing him.  Stupidly, I didn’t know to stop him immediately so we ended up with a fairly unpleasant scene at the end, where the artist wanted 500 FF ($70) for the drawing and believe me, it could have been anyone in the city, for as much as it looked like Gerry!  Well, mostly because I didn’t want the drawing at all, I finally ended up paying him 50 FF ($7) to end the affair.  Afterwards, all the accosting artists who tried to detain us for drawings got an aggressive “Non!” from me.  I actually did want a drawing or a caricature of the kids, but that experience put me off the project at least for the time being.

We ate a light dinner at a restaurant right on the square, which was good (as is all the food in Paris), and then retraced Gerry’s and my steps from the week before, walking down Rue Lepic to the Boulevard de Clichy, to show Oscar the Moulin Rouge.

Sunday, Gerry Jr. got up at 9:00 and took the metro alone to the church for the 10:00am Sunday school for high schoolers.  He is trying to make some friends here in Paris and so has been very actively participating in the activities there.  Gerry Sr. and I went to the 11:00 service and all three of us came home together.  We stopped at the regional Foods Fair on our street and finally bought a variety of things to try.  We had a big lunch as a result, and spent the rest of the day at home, just reading and relaxing. (Translation:  Taking a nap!)

November 20 8:30am

I amaze myself at how quickly I have gone back to noticing the weather.  The kids, too, all of a sudden actually comment on what’s going on outside.

Big school day for Gerry Jr. yesterday with exams to take in math, history and Spanish, so we left him home for the afternoon to give him some peace and quiet.  Gerry Sr., Oscar and I went to Les Invalides and the Musée de l’Armée.  The weather wasn’t great.  It was quite cold and looked as if it would rain.  Actually, in my rose-colored-glasses sort of way, I thought it looked like it might snow!  And I was hoping it would. (Actually neither rained nor snowed, just looked gray and gloomy all afternoon.)

Our visit to the Museum was a little rushed, as usual.  We had a good two and a half hours and you’d think that was sufficient.  But it is hard to know what you are going to like and where you’ll want to spend your time, and as has happened more often than not, we didn’t have enough time to enjoy thoroughly the parts of the museum we liked the best.

The collection is phenomenal.  It is a wealth of uniforms and arms.  I could just imagine a costume professional for a film studio, studying the uniforms for a period film.  The section on armor is also very good, and beautifully displayed.  The section I liked the most however, was on World War II.  Unfortunately we got there after seeing everything else, not knowing that it was a different type of exhibition.  Whereas the others were just displays of things, this exhibit explained a great deal of the history of the war (and isn’t it always interesting to read history of familiar events from another country’s point of view…).  There were films and maps, newspapers, posters, photographs, as well as uniforms and guns and such.

Oscar was in his element, identifying tanks and guns.  I think perhaps his interest in WWII was revived after the visit.  He had mentioned to me about a week ago that he was losing interest in WWII, due to an increasing interest in the Middle Ages.

I was struck by two distinct but contrasting emotions visiting this museum.  The first one has to do with man’s search for beauty and identity.  “In an army museum???” you might ask.  Looking at the uniforms and the arms, from even the prehistory and Roman times, right through to the near present times, it is hard not to notice that once the “technology” of the weapons or uniforms had been perfected, and the practical part was resolved, the makers could not resist making something unique and individual.  It wasn’t enough to just make a sword, the swords were embellished with inlays and etchings and fantastic birds and animals.  Body armor ranged from pieces where golden lions protected the joints and head, to all over geometric and natural patterns, forged to create color!  The uniforms are wonderful too – especially when you think that they were conceived and worn by men.  Soldiers who have an eye for fashion and effect?

The other emotion is the true horror of war, where human beings are no more than another weapon in the arsenal.  That thought struck me very strongly watching a film clip of the landing at Normandy. Here were young men, wading through the water to the beach with bobs exploding right behind them.  Can you train the fear of death out of the soldier?  Can he fight without doubts that his dying is for the greater good, when the enemy’s soldiers also feel they are fighting for the greater good?  Fifty million human beings died in World War II, 30 million of those were civilians… and 26 million were Russians.  According to “my experts” on WWII, the Russians didn’t have many resources to fight with, but they did have men, so they just kept putting more soldiers in front of the Germans, until the tide of the war went their way.  It was very sobering, after marveling at the beauty of the weapons, to realize that it all boils down to killing one another, and it has been going on as long as human beings have been on the earth.

I don’t want to leave this discussion on a bleak note, so do take a look at the pictures of the weapons and armor.  Perhaps it is a greater testament to man’s need for beauty that these instruments of war were made with such care.  Another thought struck me about them too (a result of the books I am currently reading) that perhaps all these designs and images (hexes) were meant to protect the user from harm or ensure that his soul found its way to heaven.

Of course, we also squeezed in a visit to Napoleon’s Tomb.  I think that Napoleon got the worst spot, though.  The nicest places to have a tomb in that building are in the side chapels (above ground), with the diffused glow of the light filtering through the stained glass windows bathing the air around your tomb.  Napoleon got the biggest one though, and that sure matches his ego.

November 22   8:45am

Tuesday we started out with another busy school day, but by early afternoon we headed out to go to the wax museum.  The kids really enjoyed Madame Toussaud’s in London and were eager to go again.  Gerry Sr. went off to get a much needed hair cut instead, so Gerry Jr., Oscar and I went to Musée Grévin, the Paris wax museum.  Despite a difference in the opulence of the settings, we were all a little disappointed.  Very few of the figures were convincingly realistic, and many of them did not really look like the people they portrayed.  I was surprised at the lack of consistency.  At Madame Toussaud’s the figures we didn’t recognize were the local celebrities, but all the figures we did recognize were very lifelike and very accurate portraits.  Here some were and some weren’t.

Afterwards, Gerry Sr. met up with us again and he and Oscar took the metro home.  Gerry Jr. and I walked, stopping in at all the athletic shoes stores…He discovered crepes with bananas and nutella, now sure to be a daily treat.

Yesterday, we canceled school for the day and took the train to Versailles.  Oscar, who is zipping through his third Ender book, was thrilled to take his book on the train and be able to read on the way.  In fact, that might be the part of Versailles he liked the best!

The train left us just around the corner from the main approach, so we did get the full effect as we walked toward the chateau.  For the first time since we have been in France, we saw parked tour buses!  We despaired, but inside there was no evidence of hoards of tour bus riders.  Probably a building that held as many as 20,000 people cannot be overwhelmed by a few tour buses anyway.

We got the audio guides and took the main tour through the state chambers.  This was one of the best audio guides I have listened too, because it gave a lot of details about the life and people at the court, as well as the furniture and decoration.

The gardens are impressive despite their winter “clothes”.  All the fountains were off and much of the sculpture was covered.  Nevertheless, we had beautiful autumn color in the remaining leaves, and huge open vistas to admire. To me, the yellow and brown and pale green leaves of the trees seemed to glow like a stained glass window and provided a beautiful contrast to the dark green trellises, grass, and the glassy water of the fountains.

Home again by early evening, we did out grocery shopping and settled in for the night.  Somehow our dinner conversation got around to “being scared of the dark” and we howled with laughter at each person’s stories.  By far the funniest was Oscar’s rendition of his cabin’s hodaghunt from camp last year!

* A hodag is some sort of animal that is like a bear with antlers, I think. They are native to northern Wisconsin, and though elusive, have been spotted in the vicinity of a certain boys’ camp called RAC.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26  8:30 am

Despite all their friends having the week off from school last week, we had school, even on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  The kids didn’t want to go out afterwards, so they stayed in with their computer games.  Gerry and I went out to walk on the Grand Boulevards.

We took the metro to a stop called Pyramides, and from there walked toward the Opera building.  We wanted to visit the building – Gerry Jr. told us it was really impressive – but we got there too late to take a tour.  We wended our way slowly back home, window-shopping.  We did discover a (mostly) pedestrian area called Rue Monmartre that was filled with food shops, restaurants and boutiques.  It was lit with the strangest lights that gave a white cast to everything and everyone.  The streets were paved with little tiles, all white about 2 inches square.  I haven’t gone back to my guide book to get the explanation, but we haven’t seen anything similar in our month in Paris.

Friday evening, Gerry went to the Youth Group meeting at the church, and Oscar and Gerry Sr. and I went out to have dinner nearby.  Oscar was thrilled that he got more foie gras than he could eat for just 12 euros!

Saturday, we got a late start.  That’s our sleeping in day, and Gerry Jr. made it almost to noon.  Once we did get going, we headed for the Arc du Triomphe to climb to the top.  It wasn’t the best of days, not all that clear, but surprisingly, from under the arch, we could see to the Place de la Concorde on one side and to the huge “arch” at La Defense on the other.  I noticed that the Ferris wheel (which I don’t care for) is situated so that from the Arc it perfectly spans the end of the street as you are looking down the Champs-Elysées.  It is so perfectly placed that, on a hazy day like ours, you can’t really see the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde.

We did climb the 284 steps to the top of the arch.  The view was worth the climb, but perhaps not worth the money.  There are certainly more spectacular views elsewhere in Paris.

We walked down the Champs-Elysées afterwards for more window shopping.  I noticed that the Rond Point Christmas trees are apparently finished as they are. Last Saturday, I thought they were still in the process of decorating them, but it looks like they are meant to be bare.  We had planned to walk all the way back to our apartment, but we hopped on the metro for two stops and came out in the Tuileries gardens.  Finally, we saw the little Parisians with their sail boats, the Arc du Triomphe du Carousel and the famous pyramid of I. M. Pei.  From there, it was back out to the Rue de Rivoli and more window shopping and grocery shopping at La Samaritaine.

Gerry Jr. cooked us great hamburgers for dinner, and we watched a movie on the DVD player.

Sunday, Gerry Jr. left early for church, and Gerry Sr. and I followed about 10:30.  We came home right away afterwards and made lunch. Then Gerry Sr., Oscar and I went out about 2:00pm hoping to visit the Louvre again, but the lines to get in were so long we abandoned that plan.  We took the metro to the Place de la Bastille.  We saw the new Opera house there, just from the outside, and walked to the Place des Voges.  The streets were filled with people and there were lots of street entertainers in the squares.  The effect was very lively and festive.

We stopped along our route (homeward) to visit the Carnavalet Museum, which is about the history of Paris.  The building itself was what caught my attention.  The rooms are decorated in period styles and though some appear to be a jumble of furniture, the decoration of the rooms themselves was very interesting.  Having just come from the Bastille, it was also interesting to see the rooms that deal with the prison and the Revolution.  Back on the street, our walk finally brought us to the Pompidou Center, where we stopped to watch another street performer who was making people from the audience do all these silly things, and which was really funny.  I popped in to St. Merri which is right near there to see some famous stained glass, but there was a concert going on and since it was evening, I didn’t get to see the windows.  I am surprised I saw the church at all:  It is completely covered with scaffolding and protective corrugated iron.  I couldn’t tell until I was inside that the church is gothic in style!

November 28 8:00am

Monday was rainy so we had an extended school day.  Gerry Jr. needed to finish a biology exam that was giving him problems (especially in concentrating) and Oscar is working on a science project dealing with erosion.  Spending the afternoon at home allowed both of them the time (and supervision) to make some progress.

Monday night we had a wonderful dinner!  We invited the youth pastor from the American Church and his wife and son to have dinner with us.  We had a very enjoyable evening.  We talked over a little wine in the apartment and then went, practically next door, to a quiet restaurant.  Food was good, company excellent.

Tuesday, by contrast to Monday, was brilliantly sunny.  The really severe cold of the last couple of weeks has abated somewhat.  It is still cold, but not bitterly so.  And the sunshine yesterday was irresistible.  Perhaps it was an attempt to be more efficient with our time or just a desire to break up our routine, but we did not study in the morning.  As a result we were actually out of the house by 11 and on the metro on our way to la Defense (14 stops).

La Defense is an ultra-modern district on the outskirts of Paris.  The centerpiece is a huge arch which is four sides of a cube.  It is so huge that all of Notre Dame, spire included, can fit inside it.  We actually paid money to go to the top of it (this is a theme here in Paris, if you haven’t noticed!) and though we had some trouble finding how to get outside once we were up there, we did get a chance to enjoy the view back towards the more recognizable parts of the city.  Getting up there is interesting.  I steeled myself for it, but ended up being the least anxious of all during the trip.  The elevators are under the arch, just off center.  They look like glass capsules running up and down these scaffolding-like structures – completely exposed, nothing below them…and high!

The real attraction of this area is not the view from the arch, but the whole district itself.  There are scores of unusually shaped buildings stretched along a long, wide central parvis.  There are restaurants and residential buildings, as well as these modern office buildings, plenty of public art – a “stabile” by Caldor as well as fountains, and a piece that looks like a pack of 20 ft. tall drinking straws!  The kids said they felt like they were in Chicago, and I would agree that it hardly feels like Paris at all.

There was a Christmas bazaar set up in the parvis, so we walked through there.  There was plenty to look at – food vendors, toy shops, artisans and lots of items from other countries.  Oscar bought himself 5 lead figures, made in Russia, of World War II soldiers.  He has been collecting figures all along the way on this trip.  Most are not lead, that being slightly beyond his budget in most places, but he has collected a good number of them – all military – but from as far back as 1100.  It will be fun to get them all out once we are home again and set them up.

We were home again by 5, making a stop-off at the Adidas store for Gerry Jr. to buy himself a new pair of basketball shoes.  It looks as if he will be playing basketball in Italy, and he is getting prepared.  With his new shoes on, I took him down to the walkway on the Seine and kept him company while he practiced and broke in his new shoes.  It was a big change from having him dribbling and juggling that ball in the house!  Afterwards, he settled right down and we actually did get schoolwork done in the evening, something I doubted was possible, but about which I was thrilled to be wrong!

Today, we are off to EuroDisney.  The kids had to earn it by visiting all the Michelin 3-star sights in Paris and a few 2-stars, too.  With their school work, they are both right on the schedules we set at the beginning of the year.  They even had to go to bed early (11 pm).  But with all conditions met, we should be out of here and on our way in about an hour!

Unfortunately our sojourn in Paris is coming to an end.  I have mixed feelings…It would be easy enough to settle down and stay a few months or even a year, yet it will be good to get on the road again.  Since we don’t have a real life in Paris, it is a little like playing house, and you can’t just go on in limbo forever, without shaking things up a bit!  We will leave the apartment on Friday and spend two nights in a hotel near here.  Gerry Jr. has two church activities he wants to participate in before we leave, so he’ll be able to do those.  We pick up our car on Friday, too, so our travels from here will be by car.  We’re headed first to the Loire Valley, then north to the coast to visit Normandy, then eastward toward the big gothic cathedral towns and the Marginot line, then south to the wine route and Dijon.  That finished we cross the Alps and head for Florence.  Three weeks in all. Stay with us!

November 29 8:30am

We had a wonderful day yesterday at Disneyland Paris (apparently the name was changed some time ago…) The park (or parc) is small compared to Disney World or Disneyland, but certainly more manageable as a result.  And what a stroke of genius to go on a weekday in December!  Our day was sunny and cool, but dry and not too cold.  Not exactly like the weather in Florida or California, but fine for doing all the things the park offered.  There were plenty of people there, but we didn’t have to wait more that 3 minutes to board any ride.   I, of course, was very selective about what rides I would board!  I won’t ride a roller coaster, so I let the kids and Gerry brave those all by themselves.  We saw some neat attractions, including one 3-D thing that was loads of fun.  The scenery is fantastic and so is the animation – perfect Disney.  The kids had the most fun and we came home at 9:30 pm exhausted, one and all.

December 2 6:00pm

Just a note to finish the Paris Journal.  Our last day in our apartment we cleaned and straightened, getting ready to leave.  We celebrated with a bottle of champagne, a gift from friends and spent an awful night with three of us sick with some sort of stomach upset.  Gerry Sr. was “fine” by morning, but Oscar and I had a horrible day – a day when we had to go out to the burbs to get our new car, pack up all our suitcases, finish cleaning the apartment and move to the hotel.  It wasn’t easy.  Gerry Jr. helped his dad enormously; Oscar and I did as much as we could and spent the afternoon in bed.  We also ended up spending most of Saturday in bed…It was for Gerry Jr. that we stayed in Paris the extra days.  He had made friends at the American Church and had two Youth Group activities to participate in, one Friday night and one Saturday night.  Fortunately he was not plagued with our problems and was able to participate fully.  No matter what, we were headed out this morning, so it was a good thing that Oscar and I were back on our feet, mostly. By noon, we were headed out of Paris on the next phase of our adventure.  Follow along in the France Travels Journal. Au revoir!

Continue reading (Euro Year Journals)

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