Wednesday, April 23, 2014

To Resist, or, RoseE in the Sexiest Piece of Clothing of All Time

"Will you come along quietly, or do you intend to resist?"

"Well, don't be stupid! Of course we intend to resist! Just give us a moment, all right?"

Wandered through some novels today.

I started my day feeling very glad I'd decided to do this trip by myself, as it'd be hard to talk someone into coming to see the Musée des Egouts de Paris. Yes, it was smelly. Bring a handkerchief, preferably with a drop or two of perfume in it. Super interesting, though. For instance, do you know that they clean a lot of the larger tunnels by floating a giant wooden ball down them? Like these. See, the ball floats, and since it's blocking most of the tunnel, the water managing to get underneath it is super pressurized from the buildup of water behind it, so it basically hoses the sand and sediment off the bottom of the tunnel.

I feel that this system might bring us some great insight into what was actually going on in that first sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Look what they found in the sewers:

Swords. Whoops.

Did you know that Victor Hugo was pals with one of the sewer system engineers, and in consequence his portrayal of the network in Les Mis is entirely geographically correct, and Jean even takes the most direct and efficient route from the barricade to Marius's grandfather's house?

So all in all, extremely interesting. Smelly, yes, but educational.

After emerging from the sewer system, I headed up the river a bit to Les Invalides. OH MY GOSH GUESS WHAT IS GOING ON AT LES INVALIDES RIGHT NOW?!?

An exhibit on the Musketeers. Oh, YEAH.

Manuscript copy of T3M on your left there. As in, the handwritten first draft. The real thing.

First edition of first serialized chapter, right here. D'Artagnan riding into town on his horrible decrepit horse right there at the bottom of the third column.


Aside from my slack-jawed fangirling, my higher brain functions managed to note that it was, in fact, an extremely well-researched and -constructed exhibit. It roughly followed the plot of Alexandre Dumas' three Musketeer novels,* using them as a frame in which to contextualize actual historical content. Like who the actual historical musketeers were and what their uniforms looked like and how they were deployed in military contexts and who was in charge of them, and what Queen Anne's diamond studs would have looked like, and who Milady de Winter might be based on. It was really, really cool. And all about masked prisoners and the political careers of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin and the construction of the Hotel de Ville . . . and, of course, the long life and distinguished military service of the real Captain d'Artagnan.

So here's a picture of me in the sexiest piece of clothing that has ever been created in all of history or fiction. You can keep your loosened cravats, your wet linen shirts, your swishy capes and long dramatic coats . . . even your stetsons, fedoras, fezes and bow ties. Give me a man in musketeer blue, and I am conquered. And glad to be so.

At length, I went to explore the rest of Les Invalides, including checking to make sure Napoleon was still there. He still was.

I have a vague memory of reading about one of the honored daughters of the Shannon family (possibly Lydia?) causing a scene in this very room because she was convinced the tomb was made of chocolate and was determined to eat it or die trying. Well, the girl's got a case. And once the idea has crossed your mind, you can't un-see it. It's totally chocolate. I mean, actually it's marble, but . . .

And then I went poking around the World Wars, and picked up some cool info about the French Resistance. (Warning: next paragraph is very sad. Skip if necessary, down to the folding motorcycle.)

The letter reads:

"Dear parents,

"My letter will cause you great pain, but I have seen you so full of courage that I don't doubt, you will want to keep it, if only for love of me.

"In my cell, I suffered from being unable to see you ever again, to never feel upon me your tender care, except from far away. During these eighty-seven days of confinement, I've missed your love.

"Thank everyone who's been interested in me . . . tell them of my confidence in eternal France. Give big hugs to my grandparents, my uncles, aunts, cousins, Henriette . . .

"I'm dying for my country. I want a free France and happy French. I am keeping my courage and good humor right up until the end, and I'll sing "Sambre et Meuse" because it was you, my dear little mother, who taught it to me.

"The soldiers are coming to fetch me. I await their step anxiously. My writing might look shaky, but that's because I have a short pencil. I'm not afraid of death. I'm dying voluntarily for my country. (...) Goodbye, death is calling me. I won't need to be blindfolded, or tied.

"I love you all. It's hard to die, after all. Thousand kisses!

"Vive la France!"

Henri Fertet. He was imprisoned and executed for his activity with the French Resistance. He was sixteen.

On a much less solemn note, please enjoy this folding motorcycle, dropped in by parachute in a capsule-thing, all ready to go for the invasion. This is the silliest and yet most awesome vehicle ever.

Also, due to weird formatting, you may be seeing a very large picture of two tourists dancing in the rain in the courtyard of Les Invalides. It's a good picture, even if I can't fix its position or size.

*The capitalization here is correct. Dumas wrote three novels about musketeers. One of them was called The Three Musketeers, which makes that sentence a little difficult, but there are in fact two sequels, Ten Years After (which I have not read) and The Man in the Iron Mask (which I have).

Strangers in a Far-Off Land

"Well, wasn't it Shakespeare who said that when strangers meet in a far-off land, they should ere long see each other again?"

"Shakespeare never said that."

"How do you know?"

"It's terrible. You just made it up."


I had some surprising encounters on my first fully conscious day in Paris.

First, I found myself aux Champs-Elysées.

It was sous la pluie, at about twenty minutes to midi. I'm counting it. And there was tous que . . . well . . . tous que j'ai voulu, I guess, because at the end of them was the Orangerie, which is where dead impressionists live. The big attention-grabber is two astonishingly beautiful Monet panoramas, which are like stepping into a fairy kingdom. Sadly, no pictures allowed.

I did get a picture of this, though: 

I've never been that enamored of Cezanne. Monet was my Impressionist of choice, mostly because my dad showed me one of his Japanese bridges at the Art Institute in Minneapolis when I was little, and I can still remember the magical instant when my dad, after backing me away from the canvas, asked, "Can you see the bridge?" and then suddenly I could. But this Cezanne really grabbed me. He has something Monet doesn't. He can paint summertime. Not just the colors and textures, but the sound and the smell of it. Looking at this painting felt like those precious moments at camp, when it is perfectly comfortable to be outside (rare moments--outside is generally uncomfortable in some way; that's why we invented inside) and there is no pressing task and you know for certain that you will be young forever and ever.

 Here's a pretty picture of a room full of pretty pictures. It is a selfie, one of which I'm rather proud. Can you spot me?

Wandering past the Orangerie, I encountered this rather startling sculpture. Those in the know will understand why this resonated with me.

My next unexpected encounter was while having lunch in the garden (a crepe all stuffed with egg and cheese and mushroom . . . yum). My uninvited guest was a house sparrow, just barely seen here perching on the back of the chair opposite. He wanted to share. I was less enthusiastic.

Then I dove into the Louvre, and encountered lots and lots of things. I encountered La Liberté, but she was busy guidant le peuple so we didn't get a chance to chat. 

I also encountered my heretofore-unknown namesake, the Empress Ariane:

And of course I encountered the strange and magnificent pyramid that is the peculiar and compelling liminal hub of the museum. 

Magical things happen in liminal spaces.

It's true.

Because guess who was there in the crowd?

I will close with an image of this person about to start on his flambée and extremely rum-soaked crèpe Martinique

Like, really rum-soaked. It stung on the way down.

(Hey, Word of Wisdom only says I'm not allowed to drink it.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

April in Paris, or, I Swear I Am Not Making This Up

Well, I'm beat.

It seems, for all intents and purposes, that the unit of time I'm choosing to call "yesterday" started Saturday morning. I woke up to it in a cute little riverside hotel in Oxford, immediately worried about one thing only: were we gonna make it to Heathrow airport in time for Marjie's plane?*

It turns out that yes. As fortune would have it, we walked straight onto a train going directly to Paddington station, without having to change trains in Didcot like I thought. At Paddington, the Heathrow Express was easy to find and quick to board, and the trip took five minutes longer than I'd been counting on. So we made it to the flight in plenty of time.

I then had some fun figuring out how to get a rented wheelchair back to its rightful owners. I ended up cutting to the chase and just walking it over to the front door of an employee of the company, who lives just by Heathrow. It was a little odd, but effective.

Then back to London, and down to Metrogate to put in my laundry. After fighting with the temperamental machines for a while, I grabbed a Barclay's bike and zipped across the park to see Kiersten, my New Zealander friend who has been holding onto a suitcase for me while I've been galavanting about the countryside. The suitcase belongs to Jo, one of the study abroad students, who overpacked and was facing three weeks of European travel with a massive and weighty suitcase. As I was just going straight to Paris and staying there, I offered to take it with me. Eventually I won't regret that, but . . .

So, Kiersten thanked, I hauled the suitcase back to Metrogate House, folded laundry, watched an episode of Agents of SHIELD, and ate a candy bar. Then I hauled self, backpack, purse, and suitcase over to the Victoria underground station, and thence to Victoria coach station (which, it turns out, is a bit of a jaunt). The coach station was as most coach stations are: crowded and uncomfortably seedy. Still, I spent the last of my British change on a couple of hot rolls for my dinner, filled my water bottle, and brushed my teeth before getting on the bus.

I was pleasantly impressed with this bus. I've traveled Megabus once before, in the States, and it was not a totally enjoyable experience. Got me where I needed to be, for cheap, but it wasn't a terribly comfortable ride. This bus was nice. The seats were comfy, there was lots of room, and I could put that darn luggage down and let it be someone else's problem. I curled up and went to sleep for an hour, until awoken to go through border control at Dover. Thence, after a bit of waiting, onto my fourth ferry of the trip. I found a hidden window seat, curled up, and went back to sleep again, but I'm by now so paranoid about getting left behind on boats** that I set my alarm for much earlier than I needed to and ended up getting less sleep than I thought. Then back on the bus, resetting my watch for the hour lost crossing the Channel, and back to sleep.

I arrived in Paris at 5 a.m. Easter morning. (Or 4 a.m., if you're going by London time.) Then all my baggage and I got to struggle to find the metro station (not as easy a task as I'd been conditioned to think) and navigate the system. In proper Sunday tradition, the line I needed was down for maintenance. So more detours, more train changes, more stairs.

Finally, I made it to my correct station, found where I was supposed to be staying, didn't know what apartment number to dial to be let in, discovered I'd left my phone on the bus, tried to get internet to e-mail that I needed to be let in, borrowed a phone off a guy in the street, had call picked up by my host's friend who was just getting home with the dawn, got let in by friend, met host, got shown to apartment. Whew.

Checked maps, left apartment, grabbed a pain au chocolat from the bakery on the corner (open on Easter Sunday? Yes! The proprietor was a hijabi, which might explain it . . . hooray for faith diversity) and popped back on the tube to head into the city.

Couldn't figure out connecting train. Decided to hoof it; only two stops, right?

Well, two stops is a long way in Paris, it seems. But it was a long way along the banks of the Seine on a sunny Easter Sunday, so that worked out nicely. I strolled up the river at my leisure, enjoying the astonishing quiet, all the way to Notre Dame cathedral.

I've now decided that the best way to get to know a new city is to walk the river on a Sunday morning, and attend services in the biggest, most tourist-laden church you can find.

NDdP was packed, of course, but much less packed than I'd anticipated. I had to queue up to get inside, but the wait wasn't long. Once inside, instead of shuffling round the edges of the church with the other tourists, I squished into the crowd at the back and listened to the service. When it was over and everyone cleared out, I pressed forward to find a seat for the next mass, which started almost immediately. And was presided over by the archbishop/cardinal, with his mitre and little red cap and everything, so that was cool. I'd love to tell you what his sermon was about, but I kind of fell asleep for some of it. No fault of his.

(Side note: I've seen my share of cathedrals this year, most of them wonderfully gothic, with some good solid buttresses poking out of the walls to hold the ceiling up. No worries. NDdP's buttresses fly. They're enormous . . . like the bones of a wing . . . and reach out from the building more like spider legs than people legs. Gothic ceilings are impressive, but ND's must be the most impressive of all--not because it's the most beautiful (it's very simple compared to others I've seen), but because that sucker is being held up by physics and prayer, as it should by rights have crushed the walls to powder and glass shards long ago.)

The young woman I was sitting next to turned out to be a Korean tourist. My brain was hard put to it. (Switching between French and Korean is head-explodingly difficult.)

When the service ended, I headed out into the sunshine and walked back to Les Invalides along the opposite bank of the river. Along the way, I found a bench under a tree, where I lay down on my coat and took a nap. I was . . . I kid you not . . . within earshot of a busker playing "La Vie en Rose" on an accordion. I swear I am not making this up.

At length, I got back on my feet and continued on my way, crossing some pretty bridges and stopping at an antiques market to buy a cheese sandwich. Then I spent a long time figuring out how to get back down into the métro. I took my train, got off one stop early because I'd seen a grocery store there, found it closed, found my ticket wouldn't let me back on the train, walked up to the next stop (long way) but found a grocery store where I got milk and raviolli and pasta sauce.

Once back at the flat, I downed 24 ounces of water and fell asleep at 6 p.m. or thereabouts.

So that was my weekend: one long trek of hauling stuff (either self or baggage) across northern Europe. I'm not tired anymore, because I can't get back to sleep, but I still feel like a zombie. It might have something to do with the vast amount of "I'll eat later" I've been doing. I'll get myself around a bowl of porridge and see if that kicks the brain back into gear.


*For those of you wondering, I've spent the last week hanging out with Marjie, my adopted mom/aunt, and showing her around London and Bath during her spring break.

**Had a couple of near misses on the ferries to and from Ireland. And that was on a bus full of people that knew me and would notice if I were missing.