Joys of Old Age

When I first decided to be an anthropologist, I knew I wanted to travel. I just didn’t know I wouldn’t find much to say until I was…old.

When I undertook fieldwork as a youngster there were no cell phones. Heck, there were no phones where I was. I actually transported a portable typewriter.

Now I transport ear plugs and dental care, sunscreen and orthotics, a collapsible cane and various medications. Moisturizer and dental floss. Vitamins.

Reading glasses and bifocal contacts and special eye drops. Statins. Special earplugs for the plane after ear damage some years ago.

So it evens out. No typewriter. Two devices and a keyboard. Maybe it doesn’t even out. At least no books. Only kindle.

Paris:  City of Love

Despite the difficulties of getting here (and of recharging devices), after just 14 hours, my doubts about coming have vanished.  It was a difficult time, the last few months.  Our beloved dog, Kealani, was very ill and we were panicked/in denial.  She died a few days before we left.  Work became not only tumultuous, but incomprehensible to everyone – which is saying a lot, since we are a college and most of us are capable of putting our thinking caps on.

Would it be worth it to go to Paris?  Again?   If I had known there’d be difficulties getting here (physical and mental), would I have come?

Yes.  

We’ve never before seen Paris as leafed out and so green, nor the Seine so many shades of blue.  At Sunset, to the west, the Seine is the color of twilight sky over the Pacific – even in places with almost no light.  Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is, on seeing it this time without the tennis tournament or the skating rink or the Tour de France…the single most amazing city hall on the planet.   The people are composed, but right now, playing guitar and laughing softly below our window.  The occasional motorcycle or moped buzzes by.  The Seine, to the east, is an even deeper blue (navy blue, has to be where they got that color name) with more lights that spill gold onto it and boats of happy revelers.  The Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her last night, is no longer under renovation and gleams in the moonlight, one of the best turreted castles ever.  We know these little side streets – but we never really know them.  

This time, each little architectural detail stands out on this first day – not like our first trip, but with more familiarity.  Notre Dame is nothing less than the world’s great cathedral, but it is a monument to the human values of aspiration, of soaring, of flight, of endless beauty – not to any one god.  The saints, and especially the Mother, wait in beautiful, patient attitude for songs and prayers to soar above.  Notre Dame, tonight, without tourists, was as it should be:  the home of 12 and 13th century chants (now sung by women instead of just men and boys).  They’ve lit the interior well without candles, because that would soot it up.  It’s modern sophistication and…Gothic splendor.  The Goths are an interesting bunch (everyone says they are “German” but I see them as pan-Celtic – more about that some other time).

Notre Dame cannot be explained, described or even experienced.  In some former life, I know I loved or drew its dots, lines, tiny houses sat upon arches.  I know that only a genius, unnamed, came up with those flying buttresses.  Yes, I know Rome invented/perfected the arch, but from childhood I’ve known that the flying buttress was several steps up the ladder of engineering.  As a Californian, I sit there and look at the arched brick ceiling and know that no one here worries about earthquakes.  I know the Romans forced the Parisii to make a column (maybe just one column) but…look where it led.  To this.  To Notre Dame.  Anyone who hasn’t seen Notre Dame has missed out on some central human experience.  TOnight, with the Gregorian chants, it is clear that the music and the building soared up toether, driven by some greater spirit that unified them.  

Singers are ineffable and miraculous, today and always.

So there are the amazing balconies (and lower buildings in the neighborhood where we stay – no Haussman).  Geraniums.  Cobbled streets.  Across from my window tonight (there’s a barking dog too), is a remnant of a wll of Paris’s oldest church.  And behind it are the towers of Notre Dame, with the Merovingian graveyard in between (where some of my ancestors – and perhaps some of yours, too – it was a long time ago)  form the backbone of a simple garden.  Homeless people sleep there.  Toniht some people are singing American pop (of course).  I already picked out my homeless place (someone put great chaises in front of Hotel de Ville).  It’s about 55 degrees outside, so the Parisians are sometimes wearing coats – or shorts.  

We didn’t bring enough European converters.  This is our main problem, aside from physical effects of travel.  We don’t care about the physical effects, because we are happy here.  Our apartment is dream-decorated.  I’ll try to take pictures.  No one can do small apartments like the French.  There are inkwells, reliquaries, trompe l’oil (spelling?) and euro cabinetry.  Tiny Euro bathroom fixtures that work so well.  Touches of red, as in any well decorated Parisian apartment.  

We pass through familiar streets.  The owner of the local tavern vaguely recognizes us.  We go on a walk to a favorite restaurant – it used to seem a long way, but knowing the way, it is close by.  I have aligot.  We remark on how the Franprix has changed into a mini-mart.  Lots of changed in 18 months.  There are gas stations outside the peripherique that have mini-marts.  But the common courtesy, the easy of crossing very busy streets, the beauty of every building…that hasn’t changed.  Even the new modern buildings I used to think were ugly not mesmerize me – who would think of building a chartreuse tube builing or a wrinkled tin foil building?  (Just not anywhere near history…)

Idiots are starting to put locks on new bridges, having been banned from that other one.  There’s a big sign memorializing Charlie Hebdo right outside Jardin des Plantes.  Where it will be seen by virtually every tourist coming to Paris.  

And if you look closely, that spotlight isn’t a used car lot.  Nope.  If yuou look closely for its soure – it’s the Eifel Tower.  Com

Competing with the New Moon.  And Jupiter and Venus in the west.  Wi5th the wrought iron and the many many pocket and balcony gardens and yes, that amazing young woman in the cream coat dress with the cream designer bag and her jet black hair.

Competing with the lovers, strolling along the Seine, with the bouquinists closed up.  Men embracing men, women with women, and of course, lots of us women with men, holding hands, embracing, because Paris is for romance and doesn’t care what age you are (there are some really old romantic couples), and Paris doesn’t cre if you are of two different “races,” or the same gender/sex.  Paris doesn’t een care if you are homeless and sleeping on a grate – eeryone is respectful (even the police) and the police seem to have better things to do than harrass the homeless.

Oh, and we saw no thieves, pickpockets, etc. and there are no sirens tonight.  It’s $23 dollars to visit a doctor for any reason and the pharmacists are licensed to give out many medicines on their own.  My favorite skincare costs ¼ of what it does from Amazon (or less) and vitamins are virtually free.   People act as if they think other people are important and beautiful.  Old people are helped by younger ones and mothers with infants are helped by all.  Not everyone is kindly, some are aloof, but they are not rude.

Dinner for me was tuna tartare with tiny poppy seeds and sesame oil, a dash of balsamic and some fresh lettuce, and a side order of aligot (can only get here).  I couldn’t finish it.  I’m writing this on a 18th century desktop.  II got to hear Gregorian chants, some of the first music to be accurately charted in the world, sung by people who have devoted their lives to doing it right and hae amaing voices – in Notre Dame.  With a crowd of people who didn’t sneeze, cough or mess around.  

‘Nuff said.  

How not to go from LAX to Paris

So I made reservations for our usual non-stop flight on Air France, about eight months ago.  It was supposed to leave on Sunday, June 21, and we booked early enough that we got the dual seating on the upper deck of an Airbus-330.  Just two people, side by side, so no climbing over people or having people climb over you.

Air France used to be the only operator of a non-stop to CDG, but now Tahiti Nui also has one – but at the time I booked, reviews said Air Tahiti Nui often had cancellations or delays.  Ah ha.  This is now relevant.

At 7 am on the day of departure, Air France texted us that our 3:30 flight would not leave until 4:40 but having made travel arrangements, we decided we would just be early.   We, and about 550 other people, arrived at the gate around 3:00 (15:00).  At 4:30 pm no boarding had started.  Soon there was an announcement that the flight was delayed 30 minutes.  Groans from the people already standing up in the boarding queues.  Then, another announcement that it was delayed 20 minutes.  Then, an announcement that there was a mechanical problem and the delay was another hour.  A man who worked for some airline went and had a long convo with one of the two gate attendants and said they had known about a mechnical problem since early in the morning.  

At 7:00 pm they told us that unless we were cleared to take off by 8:00 they would have to cancel the flight due to restrictions on the flight crew.  We had seen the crew board at 3:30. but several of us had also seen the crew debark by an exit on the tarmack (straight to the ground level) at around 6:00.  People started talking about the likelihood of a new crew.  

By then, people with tight connections in Paris flooded the counter and many were on the phone cancelling their flights and paying a $300 per ticket rebooking fee to try and find something else.  I asked one of the attendants if the flight would be rescheduled and he said of course.  When?  The next day, of course.  

At 8:00 pm they announced they had special clearance from LAX to depart late, but that if the problem wasn’t fixed by 8:30, they would issue vouchers for hotels.  All the old people and crying children were not so cool with this.  We were exhausted.  I went again and asked when the flight would take place – in the morning?  The next afternoon?  Because, living more than 2 hours from LAX, this mattered.  People began wondering whether to go home if they lived closed.  No, there would be no taxi vouchres – even though many Angelenos were getting quotes of $80-120 to travel 35-40 miles.  It was Father’s Day evening, heavy traffic.

No water, no apologies, most people standing up in line.  Some people beginning to make beds on the floor.  

At 8:30. about 8 more gate agents arrived and went into a glassed-in, private area for a conference.  They talked for about 20 minutes, then one of them announced that the vouchers were about to be given.  When they came out, each agent took some questions – there were many different kinds of questions.  They announced that people who lived “close” should go home, but they could give no idea of how long it would be until the flight.  They gave us cards for an 800 number to call.  People were already calling the 800 number of course, reporting wait times of about an hour just to get an agent, all of them trying to rebook – but they couldn’t rebook because they were already checked in for FLight 65 and it wasn’t cancelled, only postponed.  

I asked how long it was going to take to issue the vouchers.  “Not long at all,” said a snippy gate agent.  “there are ten of us!”  This answer was repeated to many of us.  Most people lined up in front of the gate counter, but one woman said she’d been told the vouchers would be given out at the boarding kiosk.  I texted my DH this information (he was at the gate counter) and as soon as this kind oady signalled me that vouchers were being given out at the gate kiosks I texted DH and he managed to be about #30 in that line.

And that was the only line there ever was.  9 agents milled about, occasionally answering questions, 1 agent “gave vouchers.”  But there were no vouchers, they just wrote our names down and told us to go to the Sheraton.  People were losing it.  One woman had a total meltdown, asking why only 1 agent to handle 500 people.  Actually she was yelling.  It grew hard to hear further announcements, what with people yelling back and forth between two areas, not everyone understanding the English announcements, and lots of kids/babies crying.  

We were told to go to the hotel shuttle area and we were one of the first there (many had to go through baggage claim and retrieve luggage.)   I’ve never seen traffic so bad at LAX.  We could see hotel shuttles on approach – after 30 minutes they had inched forward enough that we could tell none were for the SHeraton.  We went to the taxi ranks, where the drivers refused to take us, because “there’s a free shuttle” and “it takes too long just to get out of the airport.”  Back to the hotel shuttle island.  No movement of shuttles, bigger lines.  Back to the taxi ranks, because DH had rememered that it’s illegal for a taxi to refuse a passenger.  We went to the taxi concierge, who had to threaten the taxi driver with expulsion from the airport if he didn’t take us.  We agreed to $20; the meter would later read $9 and we would be refused a receipt. 

He dropped us off at the back of the hotel, which was under construction, and we schlepped around to the lobby where we were about 15th in line.  THe Sheraton immediately got more agents to the front and the manager asked me when I thought we’d be needing shuttles back.  By then, we’d been emailed by Air France that our flight was rescheduled for 11:30 a.m., Monday morning.  Manager said Monday mornings are very busy at LAX and he’d try to get more shuttles.  We decided on an early arrival.  Air France agents had kept announcing that the counter would not open until 9:00, that we should use our current boarding passes and that we would keep our same seats.

We went directly to the restaurant and used the AF voucher for $20 to eat a quick meal and decided to get on an early shuttle.  Most people were saying they’d arrive at 8:30 or 9:00, we arrived at 7:30 and sat down until 6 other people were in line in front of a closed AF ticket counter, all of us having tried to use the self-service kiosks and been told our flight had left the day before by the computer.

By7:45, there were about 50 people in line, including a young couple who was there only because AF had misplaced one of their 4 large bags the night before.  They had rebooked on a different flight.  They had been on the 800 number until 2:00 a.m. and were in the midst of rebooking when the agent said that 2:00 a.m. was when the phones closed and abruptly hung up on them.  They dialed in at 5:00 a.m., when the lines reopened and were immediately told that AF 065 was entirely cancelled  

They urged me to dial the 800 number immediately, but I had just done that and had been told that I was checked in and that I would lose priority at rebooking  if I un–checked in and that the flight wasn’t cancelled.  

A few guys came out and made a line maze and we all got in it in an orderly way.  One of the guys said quietly to those of us near the front, “That plane is cancelled, it’s not going”   At that point, two of us whipped out our phones and dialed the 800 number.  Others asked more questions.  I got an operator in about ten minutes.  She was extremely helpful .  It took her about another 10 minutes to offer us 2 seats on a Delta flight to Detroit, from which we could catch a Delta flight to CDG.  I said yes, she held the seats for us.

DH looked up where Delta terminals were, about half a mile away, and we began run-walking.  He carried nearly all the luggage because of my back.  Delta was a freakin zoo.  I begged the operator to stay on the line until we had boarding passes.  She said to go to the self-serve kiosk (lines there too) but we were rejected.  She said to get into an agent line (people were waiting for an hour or more already).  Our flight was supposed to leave for Detroit at 9:20, it was 8:40 and still the TSA.

Delta/Air france operator did something and finally, we could get the self serve boarding passes.  Now we really ran.   TSA let us into the priority line (no taking out of 3-1-1 bag and no taking off of shoes).  But my bag got tagged for secondary inspection.  

DH ran on to the gate, but forgot his personal item.  I saw them holding it up, but I was in a holding area with my bag.  I was just about to yell to claim his bag when he came back.  Now his bag was tagged for secondary inspection because it was an “abandoned” bag.  

At 9:10 we finally raced to the gate where, fortunately, the flight was delayed due to so many Air France passengers.  Naturally, our boarding passes didn’t work and we had to go to the counter, where a very nice lady gave us the last two adjoining seats in the last row of that plane.  A bunch of other AF people behind us had to split up.

There was major weather (worst turbulence I’ve ever been in) around Detroit so of course our plane was late with tight connections to the next flight.  Delta held that one until all of us had arrived.  Delta was so informative and helpful.  We already knew before boarding the first flight how to navigate Detroit’s Terminal A and that we wouldn’t have to go through security again.  

Finally, we arrived a day late at CDG.  Dh didn’t get his special meal and we didn’t bring enough snacks that fit his diet.  My back hurts from the trotting.  We took a taxi into Paris.  It was rush hour and our driver was inept (kept getting off on off ramps and speeding to get onto an onramp and then ending up even further behind the buses and trucks he kept staying behind.  It  cost 81Eu,, the most we’ve ever paid for a taxi from CDG.But we made it to our concert at Notre Dame, for which we’d had tickets for ages (Gregorian chant, amazing).  And then we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  Uncrowded.  Every place has been uncrowded.  And, ah, the Seine at sunset this time of year.  Blue and silver toward the west, and the Conciergerie gleaming.   We walked past Heloise and Abelard’s house (her uncle’s house, really). no crowds at all outside well-lit Notre Dame, so could see amazing details.  

In just a few hours, we are in love again with Paris and though a bit banged up by the travel, so happy to be here.  Not a single petition girl, only a few (good) street buskers (well, most were good) and we can see Notre Dame from our apartment window.  

TTL;DR:  Do not trust Air France’s text messages.  We saw our plane being towed away as we were leaving on Delta.  If AF hadn’t pretend to reschedule (again and again), they would have had to pay refunds.  Be your own travel agent and rebook if this happens to you.  Do not use tight connections!!

Italians in the Forum and in the Streets

We went to the Forum on the first Sunday of the month, when it is free. Nearly everyone there was speaking Italian and it was crowded, but the space is so large that it doesn’t seem any different than it probably did in ancient times. It was wonderful to see so many different Italians out and about on their day off, particularly the families.

Italian children, in general, are allowed a lot of freedom. They climb on things, such as fountains and monuments, often at an age younger than most American moms would permit. Their parents pay very little attention to them while they do this, and they are mostly successful. They play with their siblings or cousins or with other little kids who happen to be around. They are loud and very, very active. They love to jump and spin around. They do quite a bit of play wrestling and horseplay, sometimes resulting in genuine insults and tears. By about the age of 10, most of this has stopped, but at the forum I watched a set of kids playing their version of King of the Hill by using part of a fallen column, which was lying in some grass. One kid would get on top and the others would try to push her off. The group was 3 girls and 1 boy, who was maybe 2 years younger than the girls.

The winner of the King of the Hill contest, each time, was one 9-10 year old girl with the most beautiful long, wavy blonde hair. She was very pretty in general and quite the competitor. Eventually, only her brother was challenging her and he was so determined to get her off that ancient marble. To do this, he first had to get on top himself (which she prevented without using her hands, just her legs) and if he ever did get up onto the stone (it was about 2 feet square), she just used her butt or torso to bump him off again, sometimes resulting in him taking quite a tumble.

Eventually, after she had beaten her three competitors (remember, the Colesseum is in the background during all of this, with the ersatz Gladiators in all their crimson glory visible way below us, as this was taking place atop Palatine Hill), she flounced off to tell their parents she was the winner – but before she did, she turned and spat at her little brother – and it was quite an accomplished spit. A veritable fountain. Yet, she made sure she was far enough away from him that it didn’t really land on him. The look on her face of absolute triumph, I’ll never forget. The boy responded by getting on top of the rock (the other children were now ignoring him) and standing there sadly.

Later, as they were all leaving (throughout all of this, none of their parents had so much as glanced at them, despite the fact that with all the horseplay and falling of the rock, there could have been scrapes and bruises – there are no helicopter parents in Rome, as far as I can tell), the little girl glanced at me and I thought I saw both glee and a bit of chagrin (she knew I was watching, and she knew I was foreign). By then, the children had switched to a game of “volare.” (It really helps to know Italian lyrics!) They were going to “fly” down the steep hill, screaming like eagles or at least, screaming. Dodging other visitors, including the elderly, I could hear these kids as they flapped their arms, sometimes bumping into strangers, and “flew” down Palatine Hill. It looked really fun, but at the same time, illustrated to me a big difference in our cultures. Very few suburban California kids run off ahead of their parents like that, much less in a huge public space, and certainly not while bumping into random other people.

That’s just one example. There was the couple who decided it wasn’t enough to sit on the big chunks of marble at the foot of the Temple of Saturn, they needed to climb higher. Saturn, you may recall, is the God of Death and the Underworld. He is also the primary founding god of Rome and his temple is one of the most amazing still standing. We were sitting there too. So this couple climbs up higher than every one else (if she had been successful, her feet would have been dangling 5-6 feet above my head). But, instead, she fell off the rock (they were essentially rock climbing on ancient, slick marble that had grooves in it) and landed on her back a few feet below, right at my feet. She had enough sense to pull her head up as she landed, but the force of the fall still made her head hit the stones below (worn smooth by centuries of passersby). Her immediate reaction was to start laughing. I could tell it hurt, she grimaced, too. I asked in English if she was okay (I didn’t know her boyfriend was with her). He climbed down a little and laughed at her, and then she climbed back up. They now climbed to an even higher spot because, you know, that’s the way to get back on the horse after a fall.

At the top of Palatine Hill there are beautiful gardens, one feature of which are dozens of orange trees. The oranges are ripe right now. All of the lower hanging ones have been picked, so we watched groups of people shaking the trees trying to get more oranges. Big burly men would get together and shake the trees hard, and little boys would try to help too. I kept thinking they should just stick one of the little boys on a man’s shoulders, which is in fact what eventually happened. One group was Russian, several others were Italian. Now, everyone had free oranges. The Italian father who had figured out first that putting his son up into the tree was efficient made his little boy put the orange peels into the nearby trash can (this is an unusual feature of the Forum, compared to Paris, trash cans are few and far between). But the Russians actually went over to a beautiful, classic, 1600 year old marble bath tub (in a beautiful, secluded part of the garden near where I was sitting) and threw their peels into that piece of art! When we walked by, all of them went from laughing and throwing peels to looking embarassed. It was funny. I’m sure the seagulls or crows will take care of the issue, but still.

There’s so much more in this same vein: the street wrestling of little boys, the way that even adult men use space, and the way that women, while smaller than many men here, manage to control the social space around them (for example, stopping near at the top of a staircase where lots of people are trying to get to the top to see a view, and extending their arms so no one can pass – so they can see the view unobstructed!) All of this is shown or alluded to in Fellini’s Roma…but shucks, folks, I didn’t realize it was real. And there are clowns, everywhere. The tiniest children seem terrified of them (Clown Santa in particular), but there’s also a lot of public clowning (should start taking videos) of many kinds. For example, I watched a forty-something man try to “rock climb” the face of the church across the street (unsuccessfully but trying everything he knew for at least half an hour, including, at one point, lifting up his shirt and carefully examining his belly before adjusting his belt, apparently to help in his climbing). Mind you, this man was not in any way built like a climber and his friend, whom he was trying to impress, simply sat with his back to him and smoked a cigarette. Failing to climb the church, he then tried beating on the door and kicking it. This was at 9 am, no one appeared to be drinking. It didn’t hurt the door at all – this door has seen way worse. In fact, it seemed to me that the man was doing an able job illustrating just how impenetrable Roman buildings are, even to the determined. Maybe that was the point.

So, those are the ethnographic highlights of yesterday, January 3.

Arrival Day 2013 – Winter

Everything went as planned. 50 minutes from touchdown to sitting in a taxi. 50 minutes more to the hotel door (there was a little traffic). We saw homeless encampments all along the highway, we saw Aeroville in the distance, it was raining lightly. When the fast line in the passport control was empty, I was seen leaning against this thing that looks like a giant round desk (with my walking stick, which I do not call a cane, thank you) and a nice lady beckoned me into the fast line. It saved us about 10-15 minutes is all, but it is yet another example of the French attentiveness to common sense and to people with reduced mobility.

Check-in at the hotel (Hotel Paris Rivoli) couldn’t have gone faster or better, complete with a sweet little lesson in French from the man at the desk. He knew within two sentences of our speech that one of us was mostly American, but wanted to know a little more and we had a nice little discussion of French Polynesia and California (he used to live in L.A., had never visited our little hometown, but knew a beach nearby).

Then we crashed for 3 hours. Room is sweet, clean and more than enough for us. We have two little balconies, which is nice for checking the weather. Also for people watching. Really fun people-watching. Elevator works. It’s cool to stay in a hotel with all the little brochures.  THIS one is right in the middle of a neighborhood we know well, so after sleeping for about 3 hours, we freshened up (French style bathtub, no shower curtain, just like at home), and headed out for a walk. We walked past Saint Paul as the bells were ringing. We finally walked down Rue des Francs Bourgeois (fun, but I see why people wish it had stayed traditional). The garden at Carnavalet looked just as nice in winter. Lots of other medieval and somewhat newer buildings (we’re staying right off François Miron).  Room has a small closet, two little sleigh beds pushed together, hooks for purses and things and good quality soap.  There are abundant cafés nearby and an ATM right outside the door.  Have not yet tested whether cards work.

Went to tabac on Rue de Sevigny where very nice man sold us carnet and advised waiting to recharge Navigo Decouverte.  V.  figured out bus route to D’Orsay for the Male Nude exhibit tomorrow (bus stop right outside hotel).

Oh, almost forget:  we went to an art opening just around the corner, even into the caveau (V. had no trouble with claustrophobia; I definitely felt a little old to be there, which is unusual but…it was really a party for younger people…great exhibit about gender and gender-bending though).

In the end, we went to what must be one of our favorite cafés in all of Paris, it’s not on TripAdvisor and has only 3 Yelp reviews. Thank the gods. Sometimes we are the oldest people there, but as usual, tonight we were one of two fifty-something couples. Everyone else was young. Gay couples, solo female travelers, solo female locals, friends out with tourists, young French people sitting outside smoking. Prompt, correct service. We both had the same thing. Planchette. What is my thing with merguez? I really like it with hot mustard. V. ate half my other stuff, but none of the potatoes (they call them dauphinois or something, but they are roasted new potatoes with skins, and they taste SO good; we have no potatoes like this back home; we wondered if winter potatoes would be as good). Pichot of wine (red, Montagne Saint-Emilion) was very good.

We are NOT cold. I was too warm in the restaurant. My intuition that I should wear lightweight things under my coat was correct. Coat was perfect. I didn’t mind getting rained on a little (it was such a light rain), but I had a hood. My turtleneck with layering piece was too much for sitting inside. Turtlenecks may all stay here and never see the light of day again – regular clothes with a jacket seem to be the way to go. Newish Merrill rain/snow boots were fine in terms of comfort and there were some puddles, so that was good.

Saw the most adorable baby clothes. A designer dress for a 9 month old and an adorable military jacket for a 9 month old boy. And much else. Could not follow rule of buying immediately because it was past 7 pm.

Now for the HIGHLIGHT! ICE SKATING! Ice skating, decor at BHV (I know it’s not Galleries Lafayette but it’s very cute and we have nothing like it at home). Ice skating! And the statues at Hotel de Ville watching everything; misty Notre Dame in the distance and that spotlight from the Radio Tower they have here. BHV is very nicely lit up for Christmas.  Naturally, we did not ice skate ourselves.

We had café gourmand, after wisely deciding no entrée. Yum. We toasted Utah’s new stance on gay marriage, we toasted France and in general planned our time for tomorrow. Supposed to be at D’Orsay at 11:30. And still haven’t accomplished primary mission of seeing the windows in the Grands Boulevards.

Louvre Grand Gallery, a bit of sculpture & Dinner in Saint Germain

There is more Paleolithic art at one site in southern France than in all the rest of the world at 20,000 years ago. The world’s first representational art belongs to France although the area around Kiev is closely tied to the early artists of France. For a long, long time the only pigments people had were in the black-gray-white range or the brown-ochre-gold range, no greens or blues. France is the first place on Earth to begin working with blue and green, but the entire art of making those pigments was lost the rise of the great civilizations of the Near East and, of course, flourished in Greece and Rome.

Medieval times saw a great revival of art in religious contexts (my own love for medieval art is perhaps born of the fact that I recognize all too well the primitive skill sets and difficulties with composition and perspective that characterize medieval painting). Then, by 1300, especially (or only) in Italy, something else happens and somehow, the Louvre (and the Hermitage, France and Russia again) make extraordinary efforts to collect that art. Of course, there’s still plenty of art left in Italy! But the Louvre has the most astonishing and instructive display of Renaissance art, when the joy of bright pigments returned to painters (with the possible exception of Mantegna – if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was poorly paid for his paintings, which are dim and dark, and done at the same time as Ghirlandaio’s amazing paintings which are shown opposite early Mantegna). One can only suppose that Mantegna was, in his way, painting what he saw – an early impressionist. I have to say I prefer the intense, bright colors. Skies really do appear to be that blue in real life, why not show them?

Yes, a lot of the paintings are religious, but what a glorious time for honoring mothers and children. Perhaps it was because so many women – perhaps one in five – died in childbirth before modern medicine that men, as priests or as artists, valued the feminine, especially mothers. Back then, people really believed in their God – and the painters were exceptionally literate in all things Biblical (most of them). But it’s not just the Bible that shows up on the walls, it’s also Greek mythology – the painting of Themis and Peleus is one of my favorites, showing a happy bacchanalia going on below their thrones in the sky – divine Feminine and Masculine looking on approvingly. The satyrs are pretty naughty.

The Madonnas are all different. They are all serene and composed, but some look sad and wistful as they think of their baby’s fate, others seem more focused on treasuring the baby, while the baby looks sad. The baby almost always has an expression of wisdom beyond his years, as he should. Some of my favorite paintings are of the Annunciation, a theme that means more and more to me as years go by. The paintings of the elderly Elizabeth, long past the age of child-bearing and barren, receiving the news that she’s going to give birth to John the Baptist (not John the beloved apostle – the other one, Jesus’s cousin) depict a woman caught between faith and common sense (aren’t we all?)

We didn’t get to the Medieval Collection on this, our13th trip to the Louvre, and we spent 5 hours. There was a time when that would have seemed like way too much time. But this time, it was like seeing old friends, particularly the faces of the two D’Este sisters. Isabella D’Este, the most lettered woman of Renaissance times and Duchess of Mantua would be delighted to see her image in so many paintings (her studiolo paintings are all in a row in the Grand Gallery, and the altarpiece that depicts her husband – by Mantegna – is across from those, although the Louvre has loaned two of her portraits to the new Louvre Lens project). I’m convinced that the handsome Conditierri portrait is that one of the old Severino brothers, staunch supports of the Este’s and of the Sforzas.

Many artists seem to have a hard time transitioning from mythologically/Biblically themed art to portraiture (Boticelli’s portraits are nothing like Leonardo’s) and one can see that specialization in the Renaissance is leading to new art movements. However, it’s hard to understand Impressionism – or Neoclassicism or Modernism – without a good look at the Renaissance. For Leonardo, the only thing I can figure out (for the Madonna of the Rocks) is that he wanted that strong, forceful composition (and in the painting of Mary sitting on the lap of Saint Anne, he wanted something that hadn’t been done before – and he certainly achieved it, again, in terms of composition). Salai’s face keeps turning up in Leonardo’s paintings (Salai is the subject of Saint John the Baptist, whose sly smile is repeated in Leonardo’s famous – but rarely exhibited nude of Salai, done while Salai was posing for John the Baptist – and generously exhibited in Los Angeles at the Italian-American institute a year or two ago). Leonardo writes of the difficulties of painting without the subject right in front of him (and of a series of techniques for doing so), but Salai was always there – almost until the very end of Leonardo’s life and is probably the person who sold the painting now known as Mona Lisa (a misnomer if ever there was one) to François I.

The Louvre now recognizes formally that the Belle Ferrioniere might be Beatrice D’Este (whose childhood statue by Romano is in the Italian sculpture room elsewhere in the Louvre – we did manage to stop by and see her – and I couldn’t believe the number of pieces in that Italian sculpture room that I had neglected to really admire on the many other trips to the Louvre). The portrait of Ludovico Sforza’s mistress (Lucrezia) is also in the Grand Gallery (Beatrice was his wife – something like 25 years his junior), attributed to the “School of Leonardo” but done by Leonardo & Co. during the same period when Beatrice sat in the Salla de Assi for her portrait by Leonardo. Her sister, Isabella D’Este was supremely jealous of the fact that little sister got her portrait done by Leonardo. I believe Leonardo finished the portrait posthumously as Beatrice died in childbirth at about the same time that he was painting her. I also have the fantasy that it was this portrait that Tolstoi saw in the Louvre and incorporated into the famous scene in War and Peace, when a young, unloved wife dies in childbirth and a portrait is painted of her looking reproachfully out at the world ever after.

I don’t try to rank the parts of the Louvre any more, but I do like the big format French paintings better than all those Roman heads they have. Odalisque never fails to make me smile and to remember how good certain shades of blue look next to human skin. David, Íngres, Le Brun (her self-portrait in Neo-Classical style might be easy to miss among all the paintings, especially with Napoleon taking up all that space with his coronation across the room), all the masters who led to Impressionism are there. I’m reading a biography of Picasso, who was delighted to move to Paris (he had exhausted his copying of his favorites in El Prado), and I know that these were paintings that Manet, Monet, Renoir and Matisse (among many others) treasured and copied from as they were learning. There was a little boy about 8 years old with colored pencils and a lot of talent copying one of the Îngres paintings.

We managed to dash over to Marly, Puget and Khoursabad Courts just as the sun was beginning o set and had most of it to ourselves. Louvre was open until 9:45 and after going in circles through cuneiform and getting sidetracked by Ninevah (Sumeria is the world’s first civilization according to V. Gordon Childe, whose definition of the term is the most widely-accepted – and it is a marvel to see pieces that are already so sophisticated and tell so much about a culture and are 4,500 years old). I agree with the Code of Hammurabi – if you are adopted, your *real* parents are the ones who raised you and anyone who returns to the “house of the ones who are the blood relatives” and abandons their real parents is an ungrateful and immoral person. On the other hand, I hope the Code doesn’t prohibit curiosity and love toward all the people who help make us who we are. I don’t think it does – I know exactly what it means and I thought of my amazing real dad, back in Santa Paula, impatient for me to get home – because my well-being and safety is so important to him.

Later on, after sitting in the pink sunset near the Carrousel Arch and then going down into Saint Germain for an absolutely amazing dinner at Au 35 (thanks to Paris forum members for that recommendation), we realized we were more or less on Parisian time. Although we arrived for dinner at just after 10 pm, we weren’t the last people to come in and the place was gently bustling. My husband’s beet and tomato gazpacho (soupe froid) was perhaps the most interesting part of the meal, and if I could figure out the yellow pepper sauce that accompanied my poached egg appetizer (I know, it’s the height of decadence), I’d be very happy. I am not an expert in Bearnaise sauce, I only know what I like and each morsel of my plat was enhanced by it, if I chose to abandon the delicate and perfect flavors of the unsauced potatoes, mushrooms and beef to use it. Now I realize I’ve never actually had good mushrooms before (these tasted in a way like mushrooms back home, but the intense richness of the flavor was something I’ve never tasted). It’s only been a few hours since I ate that meal and I’m already wishing I had more mushrooms. Too full for dessert (we had eaten at the Louvre Carrousel food court because we got up too late to eat any sort of regular lunch or breakfast – we had excellent couscous and garbanzo beans and vegetables – but in portions large enough to feed three people on each of our plates – so if you choose the couscous place at the Louvre – and I would recommend it for a basic, fast food type meal – you might consider ordering just one lunch for two people; let me know if two people can even finish one lunch there).

I knew before going to Au 35 that they made good steaks (and I know another few places to get good steaks in Paris; I find that many places have entrecôte on the menu but really, you’re better off skipping steak unless you can see that others are enjoying it – or you have read a review). With Brouilly as our wine, two entrées and two plats, our bill came to a mere 88€ (and we had three items on our plats). We were the only English speaking people there.

An older and distinguished looking French couple were seated just before us. They had two éntrees and two desserts – no mains at all. He was wearing cream colored pants, fisherman sandals (at 70 years of age or thereabouts, I imagine he is placing comfort before style but his green sweater was beautiful) and she had on cream pants, a cream top I’d described as within the “peasant” genre, but her scarf – which I could never have tied in that manner if my life depended on it, was one of those big square ones but not shiny silk, instead an abstract set of prints in mostly blues, she had on velcro-closed Birksenstock type sandals and a giant red tote (birkin-shaped but definitely not a Birkin) that really set off her outfit.

The waitress at Au 35 spoke English, but humored me by also speaking French and we both resort to using whatever words got the meaning across. Almost everywhere we go, people are interested in California (and the sea, and how lucky we are to live near it) and almost everyone has a cousin or brother or someone who has lived somewhere in SoCal for awhile. Au 35 is near the René Descartes school of medicine and Science-Po, and there were some very lively and interesting art gallery openings going on in the neighborhood. After dinner, strolling down the street, we could enjoy window after window of contemporary art – a good appetizer for today’s event, which is seeing the Angel of the Bizarre at the D’Orsay and seeing the D’Orsay in general.

Why I Love Paris, partie première.

I ran into a woman today who said she had no desire to go to Europe. It’s true she lives in a California beach town, and we have great wines, and rolling hills and it’s lovely here.

Inwardly, though, I just started stammering. But-but-but-but!

I guess there’s no way to explain it if you don’t already get it, and if you already get it, you probably want to share your love for Paris. Paris is like a lover that your partner has no trouble accepting into his or her life. Paris cannot grow old, and yet it is already old and beautiful and still sexy. A person can get a little jealous of Paris.

The small town I grew up in was cheerful, and a great teacher of lessons about people. But it was not Paris. How the Parisians stand themselves, I don’t know. I would be inwardly gloating every minute, if I lived there. It seems to me that most of them do have that je ne sais quois attitude, and when I think about it, most of the words I’d use to describe what I love are…French:

Style. Attitude. Elegance. Sophistication. Art. Music. Towers. Cathedrals. Museums. Culture. Enchantment. Glamour.

If these words aren’t completely French, they’re still derived from French – which I wish I could speak. After years of trying, it’s not the language itself that defeats me. Non, c’est l’aire, la mystique, la mystère.

Now, it’s true that some French are a bit imperious, which is why I’m shy speaking to them. And they really do cut people’s heads off, occasionally, usually for the right reasons – but sometimes, the wrong person. But the ideas behind the violence are good ones. I totally understand the motive.

And then, there’s the Art. Where else can you stand in front of a huge painting of a huge historical event, with realistic detail, from centuries ago – and the events depicted took place just steps from where you’re looking at the painting? Who did that, back then? Who recorded history so meticulously – or had the talent on hand to do it? The French.

Sure, some of the people who painted were immigrants, but the French don’t care – as long as as you are a good painter. Not a good painter? Don’t paint in public, please, and we won’t exhibit your drawings. You can still draw and paint – just do it at home.

They say that 75% of Parisians play a musical instrument of some kind. On the Summer Solstice, at Fête de la Musique, anyone who pleases can come out on the street and play. Manu Chao gives a concert up on Montmartre hill, the college kids bring their stereos into the streets, the Churches get their groove on with sacred music and organ work, classical music is never overlooked, and jazz is everywhere. Just wandering around, on our first night on our first trip to Paris, we ran into Potzi and part of his manouche group. We stayed up until 2 a.m. in Montmartre, at Au Clarion des Chausseurs (highly recommended – ignore Tripadvisor on this one; and I’m a Tripadvisor Destination Expert – just not for Paris). Potzi was amazing, but his bass player was equally amazing. I tried to tell him that – he thought I was confusing him with the guitar player (of course – most bass players think that). I think I managed to tell him I was a bass player too and that I admired his bass playing. I said it was “Superbe.” He corrected my pronunciation. Really. He did. I should have said “Magnifique” in the first place.

So I’m boning up on French words for Awesome (okay – now, that’s one great English word):

Redoutable

Extra. C’est extra! Genial!

Extraordinaire.

Miraculeux.

En plein forme!

Beau/belle.

Superbe.

Merveilleux/Merveilleuse.

Excellent.

Remarquable.

Sensational/le.

Stupéfiant.

And sometimes, Dingue.

That’s crazy, dude. C’est dingue, gars argot.





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