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The Land of Balisto

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!

Me with Manet's Luncheon on the Grass at Musee d'Orsay

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.

Elyse and I at Chartres Cathedral

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.

Ready to research!

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.

MA 412 all boxed up

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.

Way back there is the Venus de Milo

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.

The Wounded Gaul and company

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.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

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.

Pinacotheque de Paris

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.

Beret + Notre Dame

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Filed under Asnieres, Chartres, France, Paris

A Movie-Concert-Concert-Movie Sandwich

Well, it has been a pretty busy week and a half now that I have begun checking things off my to do (in Rome) list. Perhaps one of the most important things on that list should be research. So, last Saturday I woke up bright and early and headed out to Villa Borghese to visit Galleria Borghese and its sculpture from the Great Trajanic Frieze. Unfortunately, there was a horrible exhibition on Caravaggio and Bacon. (I know it seems hard to believe, but, yes, it was horrible!) The paintings were hung on faux walls that stood in front of many of the sculptures I wanted to see. *Sigh* Perhaps I will do some research another time.

Birdwatchers at Villa Borghese

After a disappointing visit to the gallery, I took a walk through the villa. It was the first time in a long time that I have been awake before the rest of Rome. It was a crisp, sunny winter morning and I followed a cute couple who spent their Saturday morning bird watching. Later that day I met Jennifer and Lisa in Piazza Barberini and we walked to the church above the Spanish Steps. It’s not a very impressive church, but it has some beautiful frescoes in its cloisters that are only open once a week. So, look for a post about them if I happen to get up off my lazy ass and make it over there at exactly 11:00 on a Tuesday. After some questionably necessary shopping, we went to the movie theater to see Avatar in 3D. Why did I ever pay to see it in two dimensions?!

That evening Damon and I got dressed up to go to the opening of the doorman’s art show at a book store not too far from home. The book store had this wonderful series of cookbooks. Each one held ten recipes focusing on one main ingredient. Damon surprised me with the one on basil a few days later.

On Wednesday Damon dragged me out to a concert in a cute, young neighborhood of Rome called Pigneto. I did a little research before we left and got a list of the best restaurants there. We tried Primo, which apparently has local moms take over the kitchen to make their specialties on certain nights. This wasn’t one of those nights. We finally arrived at the venue to catch the tail end of opening band. It was this cute, pop-punk Italian girl band. I wish I had caught their name. The headliner was the Buzzcocks, or the “Buzzcoks” as our tickets indicated. They were really wonderful in concert. If you don’t know who they are, you might recognize this cover by Nouvelle Vague performed at Bumbershoot:

The following Tuesday I was back in Pigneto and back at Circolo degli Artisti for yet another concert. This time Julie (the Honors Professor) and I had dinner at Necci dal 1924, a restaurant made famous by its frequent patron Pier Paolo Pasolini, an Italian director. This time the food was exceptional and the atmosphere was more my style. I’ll probably head back there soon. The band I saw this time was Joan as Policewoman and she was amazing in concert, much better, in fact, than any of the recorded tracks I’ve heard. Unfortunately, everyone in Rome is sick right now. I had kleenex in my pocket at the show, Julie had to leave for a minute due to a coughing fit and Joan blew her nose between songs. Ahhh, illness. It was fun nonetheless and I hope to spend more time in the Pigneto neighborhood. Perhaps during the day sometime.

Joan as Policewoman at Circolo degli Artisti

Last night was actually quite exciting as well. We screened the movie Nuovomondo (Golden Door) in the conference room and the director, Emanuele Crialese came for an informal discussion session afterwards. Last week we watched his film Respiro, which, to be honest, I did not particularly like. At all. However, Nuovomondo was wonderful! It’s a story Crialese wrote highlighting the journey of a Sicilian family from the old world to the new world. It also falls within the category of magical realism, which really attracts me. As icing on the cake, he was a wonderful guest speaker. He was very honest and humorous and answered all questions thoroughly. Now I get to listen to the entire talk again so that I can prepare the transcript!

A scene from Nuovomondo

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Relaxing in Southern Germany

Flowers and Buildings along the Neckar River in Tübingen

Flowers and Buildings along the Neckar River in Tübingen

I had a little trouble getting to Tübingen. After that scorchingly hot afternoon in Berlin, there was a lightening storm that delayed my flight. Luckily I arrived in Stuttgart just minutes before the last S-Bahn and train to Tübingen. Joey met me at the airport and we made it back to his dorm by 2:30 am. Joey had school the next day so I spent a lot of my time sleeping off my Berlin exhaustion. In the evening I explored the city. I saw the castle, the river, the Rathaus, the island and the H&M. 🙂

The next day Joey and I walked from his dorm to the city center. We visited the main church and then bought some ice cream to eat by the Neckar river. They have these boats that you can only find here in Tübingen; they’re called Stocherkahn and they kind of remind me of the gondalas in Venice. The boat driver, if you will, uses a big stick to push the boat along the water. We saw people barbequing sausages for a leisurely summer dinner on a Stocherkahn as well as people practicing for the Stocherkahn race.

Stocherkahn Boat Race

Stocherkahn Boat Race

Afterwards we met up with his friend Ben to have a beer and a pretzel at the Bier Garten by the river. We then decided to be a bit adventurous with dinner and bought the ingredients to make pho at home. DISASTER. It tasted nothing like pho and was a bit hard to eat. Thank god Ben had chips and pretzels for us to munch on. After dinner we all met up with Lindsay and her Swedish boyfriend in the park and then we went to a bar for drinks. Then it was off to bed!

The next morning we had a lazy day trying to save up on sleep before heading to Greece. We did hop on the train to the next town over, Reutlingen, to buy some shorts for Joey to wear in Greece. We were mildly successful. Now we’re going to try to get some shut eye before heading to the airport at 3:30 am. Ahhhhhh, not looking forward to it.

The main thing that I learned during my time in Southern Germany: There are some differences between Austrian German and German German. I have trouble understanding and at times I sound like a fool.

Joey inside of my Authentic German Pretzel

Joey inside of my Authentic German Pretzel

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All Things Viennese

Apparently I don’t write often enough for the McDonald family, so I will try to post twice a week instead of once. 🙂

On Tuesday after class a small group of us decided to attend the show at the opera house across the street from our school. You can get cheap standing tickets for only 3 or 4 Euro. Unfortunately they over-sold the standing area and we had to stand on the stairs. The Barber of Seville was playing. (Remember this episode of the Looney Tunes?)  It was very fun even though our feet hurt at the end of the night.

Rebecca, Andrea, Sarah and I waiting in line at the Opera.

Rebecca, Andrea, Sarah and I waiting in line at the Opera.

On Thursday our whole program got together and headed off to school for dinner. Brigitte, the school secretary, and Traudy, one of the teachers, taught us how to prepare the typical Austrian meal. A few students were assigned to making Wiener Schnitzel, which is like fried, breaded fillets of meat. They also fried up some mushrooms and zucchini in the same breading. Sarah and Rebecca tackled the Sommersalat, which means summer salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and onion. I started out cutting potatoes for the Erdapfelsalat or traditional potato salad, but then the girls needed help with the Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), so I moved over to that. I was amazed at how easy those dishes were to make! If you would like the recipe, let me know and I will send it to you!

The group enjoying the dinner we prepared!

The group enjoying the dinner we prepared!

Today I wandered around the city a bit and saw some beautiful things. I went to the Belvedere, which is a palace as well as a museum and saw the exhibition on Alfons Mucha, a Czechoslavakian Art Nouveau artist. It was really amazing. They even recreated the pavillion he designed for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. I hope to do my presentation for art history class on Mucha.

I also wandered down a street that was the site for public art. There was a cement wall that bordered the west side of the street that had several individual panels on it. The introductory panel was titled, “Kunst Projekt: Erdapfel”, which means Art Project: Potato. Each panel had a different work of art that had something to do with potatoes. One of my favorites was simply a hole cut in the cement wall in the shape of a potato. When you looked through the hole, you could see a beautiful park on the other side. This one was also great:

Potato Art on Argentinierstrasse

Potato Art on Argentinierstrasse

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Filed under Austria, Vienna