I arrived late Thursday night in Paris and so I didn’t do much. My first full day consisted of sleeping in (something that would characterize the majority of my recent trip to Paris) and then headed out into the city. First I went to Saint Denis to buy some slacks for my upcoming appointment at the Louvre, but after that was taken care of, I took a long walk along the Seine. There are a bunch of vendors set up along the river selling old books and it was fun to leaf through their moth-eaten pages. I ended up at Notre Dame as the sun came out and I sat in the gardens around the back on a bench in the sunshine. I walked to the other end of the island to have an early dinner at a restaurant recommended by my guidebook. I sat next to the window sipping French onion soup and watching the sunset behind the cathedral. It was so beautiful. As I left I heard a clarinet/guitar duo playing on the bridge that really hit the spot. I wish you had been there.
When I got home, Elyse and Hugo took me out to a bar that the local preteens frequent. I made a friend on the bus ride home and interviewed him using a twix candy bar as a microphone. (Don’t worry. He was not a preteen.) The next day, I was feeling a little under the weather and slept in again. However, I was determined to see the Musée d’Orsay. So, I turned on my iPod, tuned out the other visitors, and gazed at paintings I have only seen on flash cards. A dream come true!
Five hours later it was back to Asnieres where I met up with Hugo and Elyse. We then headed back into the city for some much-needed greasy food. Cuisine of choice? Chinese, of course. Hugo led us to the best Chinese restaurant in Paris, Chez Shen. It’s located at 39 Rue au Maire near the Arts et Metiers metro station and it’s absolutely imperative that you dine at this fine establishment when in Paris. I ate there nearly everyday and have no regrets. After dinner we walked to Hotel de Ville, which is where the mayor lives. There is currently an ice skating rink set up in front of his modest home. Elyse, Hugo and I watched wide-eyed as the most talented ice-skaters I have ever seen in person (this includes many years of attending Disney on Ice at Arco Arena) engage in a game of sharks and minnows. It was insane. We found ourselves rooting for strangers and pointing out close calls. We left as soon as there was blood on the ice. Ick.
The next day, we failed to wake up early enough to go to Versailles, so I headed out to the Pompidou instead, which is a modern art museum. Sadly, the 1905-1960 section was closed, which was really what I came for. That means no Matisse, no Picasso, no Rauschenburg. The disappointment goes on and on. I was pleasantly surprised to find an entire floor full of works by women artists. This featured Eva Hesse, the Guerilla Girls, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Krueger, Louise Nevelson, etc., etc. Needless to say, I spent hours at this museum as well. One memory ingrained in my mind: a video of a nude woman hula hooping with a hoop made of barbed wire. She was a damned good hula hooper, that poor girl.
The next day consisted of another failed attempt to go to Versailles, but this is because it is closed on Mondays. Soooo not our fault. Still feeling the itch to get out of the city, we took the train one hour to Chartres, home of Chartres cathedral. I read in my guidebook that as you get closer and closer to Chartres, all the eye can see for miles and miles is wheat fields and the cathedral poking out over the top of them. Apparently, you’re not even supposed to notice the rest of the town until you’re practically in it. Lies, lies, lies. I saw no wheat fields. I saw town and lots of it! Stupid guidebook. Aside from the disappointing lack of wheat fields, however, Chartres was amazing. I’m a much bigger fan of small-town France than I am of Paris. The cathedral, which is the town’s main attraction, was our first stop. It was actually really creepy. Most churches have added a lot of artificial light, which really modernizes the viewer’s experience with a church. Chartres cathedral had just a few very dim lights added, which made it seem very close to what you would have experienced at the time it was built. It was dark and dusty inside. It smelt like old, if you know what I mean. Even the chandeliers and pulpit were covered in plastic gathering dust. It was eerie to say the least. It felt like an authentic gothic encounter to me.
After exploring the church, Hugo grabbed a map from the tourist office and took us on a walk throughout the town. Chartres looks a lot like the town that Beauty and the Beast takes place in. I had “Look, there she goes. That girl is strange-no question.” stuck in my head the whole time. We crossed the cute little river a few hundred times before it started to rain. We found a pub for shelter and played cards before hopping on the train back to Paris.
The next day I had to wake up before noon because I had an appointment at the Louvre for special research. I met my escort, a cute, short old woman with glasses, frizzy hair and clogs, at Pavillion Mollien where the Department of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities is housed. I started out by apologizing that I don’t speak French and she said that she didn’t speak English……. As it turned out, she did speak a little English. We weren’t having serious, deep conversations or anything, but we were able to communicate when necessary. She first took me to the storage facilities where MA 412 has been sitting in a crate awaiting the reorganization of the Greek, Roman and Etruscan wing. I saw so many famous sculptures boxed up and plastic-wrapped. It was like an artwork graveyard.
The next stop was the Wounded Gaul, but wait! I’m sorry, Rick Steves is filming in that room. You’ll have to come back later. So, it was on to visit the Venus Pallas of Velletri which now stands across from the Venus de Milo in a long corridor. Since they are remodeling the antiquities, these were the only two sculptures in the room save for a headless togate figure. I think few people have ever found themselves alone in a room with the Venus de Milo. Okay, so I wasn’t really alone. Agnes, my escort, was there and so were some men fixing light bulbs, but it still made my heart skip a beat.
I next visited the Captive Barbarian duo taken from the Forum of Trajan before heading back to the Wounded Gaul. Ahhh, Rick Steves has vacated the building. Another empty room at the Louvre. Incredible. It’s an experience I will never forget.
After finishing up the research, I popped by the opera house before heading back to Elyse’s place. That evening Elyse and I took the metro to Moulin Rouge and then went on a walk to the Arc de Triomphe, which is pretty damn far. Then we forced our tired legs to take us up many flights of stairs to the top of the Arc for a 360 degree view of Paris. It was beautiful, but windy and it was soon time to head back to Asnieres for our homemade fiesta–fajitas, guacamole, salsa made from Uncle Sil’s recipe and mojitos a la Hugo.
The next morning I was able to drag Elyse and Hugo to my fourth and final museum of the trip, the Pinacotheque de Paris, for the Edvard Munch exhibition. I’m getting very tired of writing and you’re probably tired of reading, so suffice it to say that it was great. They had the Madonnas Julia and I so loved freshman year.
After the exhibition, we did a little tourist shopping and I came out with a beret. Then we sat together in front of Notre Dame watching children scare the pigeons. My trip had come to an end.