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Day #5 - Tuesday
It was a cool, sunny and very windy day again. We set out early for Sacre Coeur and climbed the steps all the way up the side of the hill. The view from the top of the hill was incredible. Sacre Coeur was built in the late nineteenth century and has an Eastern, Moorish architectural influence and look. The interior was beautiful but the architecture was the outstanding feature. David paid (€5) to go to the very top of the dome but Kathy decided to go underground to the area known as the “crypt.” It was a little spooky down there, especially with the statues of saints such as St. Denis. St. Denis is the patron saint of Paris and was beheaded by the Romans. There are statues of St. Denis dressed like a cardinal carrying his head under his arm! The stations of the cross were designated by placards and statues. Meanwhile, David really enjoyed the stunning views of Paris from the top of the dome and took tons of photos. The walk to the top of the dome is up a very long winding and narrow staircase. You then traverse narrow stairways outside near the top with some stunning views before ascending to the pathway inside and around the dome.
Sacre Coeur is accessible near a few different Metro stops but we got off at Anvers and then walked a block or two uphill towards the church. At that point you can take a funicular up to the top of the hill or walk up the stone steps. There is a carousel at the bottom of the hill. We ended up walking up the stairs which was not as bad or long as it looks! We were warned to stay away from Gypsy children who surround tourists and pick their pockets in this area. However there was a police van in front of the church and no Gypsy children around when we got there. The metro stop Abbesses is already on the about the same level of the church. The Abbesses area is on quaint little streets with nice views down the hill and shops and cafe’s and restaurants.
Instead of eating out, we stopped at the shops near our apartment to buy foods for lunch. We went to the butcher for half a baked chicken, bought bread and pastries at the boulangerie and cheese and fruit at the downstairs greengrocer. It was a fabulous repast!
The big event of the afternoon was the civil wedding ceremony for Yves and Corinne at the City Hall of the 16th Arrondisement. The mayor of that arrondisement performed the ceremony dressed in a suit with a tricolor sash around his waist. He gave a nice little speech and acknowledged the American guests by saying that the 16th arrondisement has always had a special relationship with the United States. George Washington visited the 16th arrondisement on a trip to Paris and it is also where a tree commemorating 9/11 was planted. The mayor also spoke about marriage, of course, and stressed the importance of communication and compromise between husbands and wives. There was champagne, hors d’oeuvres and sweets afterwards in a little conference room. We also had little Sephardic pastries consisting of dates wrapped in a honey dough.
David was coming down with a cold so he decided not to go to the bachelor party gathering at the hotel bar later that night. Instead, we went back to Montmartre and set out to find the famous Lapin Agile Cabaret (see also history and official site in French and in English). We took the Metro to Lamarck Caulaincourt. The hills are super steep there and we had to walk up and down a couple of staircases before we found the cabaret. It looks like it has been frozen in time with the old stone walls and painted shutters. They still perform cabaret-style shows (€24) with political humor and songs. For dinner we found a small restaurant in Montmartre called “Les Copains d’Abord” where there was a guitar-playing folk singer. Kathy had steak in wine sauce with julienne potatoes and David had grilled lamb kebobs. Our waiter, surprisingly, was Indian and spoke English.
After dinner we were dismayed to
find that the metro stop was closed. It seems that they were renovating
that line after 9pm at night and there was a free replacement bus (sort
of what we’ve been acustomed to in Boston!) We were able to figure out
the bus schedule and where to get on. Kathy told the bus driver that
we had to get back to Pigalle and he was kind enough to alert us at the
next Metro stop. We took the train back to Pigalle and stumbled back
to the apartment, our feet and legs absolutely aching!
Day #6 - Wednesday
The Wedding at the Intercontinental Hotel.
We arrived at 11:30am and the ceremony was supposed begin at noon. We walked around and looked into some of the ballrooms which in 19th Century Beaux-Arts style were very elaborately and ornately decorated, carved, and lined with gold gilt. We noticed Yves at the main desk wearing nice pants and a tshirt! We then ran into Jiro from Japan, Dan from Paris with his fiance, and Mosan from Iran. Both Jiro and Dan were graduates of Boston University like Yves and David. Mosan and his family also live in Boston. He had just come from Iran where he left his wife and triplet boys.
We were seated in the Salon where the ceremony was to take place and there were about a 100 or 130 people in attendance. The Salon like the ball room was very ornately decorated with gilt figures of nymphs and cherubim along the ceiling. A four piece group was playing various types of wedding music. Eventually the ceremony began and the family procession started. Corrine, the bride, was wearing a lovely pale pink satin suit and a spectacular hat! The ceremony was somewhat chaotic but very nice and there was impromptu joking and banter but all in French of course! At the conclusion of the ceremony, there was no receiving line; the bride and groom were just congratulated by the closest family members seated up front. Everyone else drifted over to the ballroom for appetizers and drinks. The appetizers were very good -- David’s favorite part of any formal event!
Unlike in American weddings, there were no toasts. The best man, Yves’ friend Louis from childhood, sang them a song in a very good imitation of Louis Armstrong. The band was very good and played a nice set of pop and International world tunes including some arabic music. The drummer was Morrocan and played a special Morrocan hand drum during the arabic music set.
At 6pm things were winding down and
Yves said we would hang out in the bar later with friends. We got a chance
to talk more personally with Corrine (we had not met her until the civil
ceremony) and learn about her life and vocation in Paris. Steve was going
to leave about 8pm but said the line for a taxi was a mile long with people
wanting to go out and there were no taxis at all! At about 9pm we and Steve,
Peter, and Gillian went up to thier suite for some wedding cake. At 10pm
we said goodbye and took a taxi back to the apartment in the pouring rain.
Day #7 - Thursday
We took our time getting up and stopped for coffee at a local cafe. The place had all the atmosphere of a greasy spoon back home but the coffee was rich and smooth. We went to the grocery store to buy cookies, chocolate and coffee for friends and family back home. As cat owners, we were intrigued by the different kinds of French catfood—including rabbit and goose liver flavors. We bought a couple of tins of kitty “foie gras” to bring back home.
Perhaps no other city in the world celebrates dogs like Paris. There are pooches everywhere but lots of little dogs in particular. We saw miniature poodles, dachshunds, and schnauzers, some of them sitting in cafes with their owners. In spite of the ubiquitous Chat Noir images and “Paris Cats” t-shirts for sale we didn’t see a single actual cat until our trip to Pere Lachaise cemetary.
Pere Lachaise (more about Pere) is the resting place of over 1 million people including famous artists, writers and composers. As we entered the cemetary grounds we saw a small group of old ladies feeding raw ground beef to a lanky tabby cat. Following a map through the crowded rows of tombs, we managed to locate the gravesites of Pissarro, Ingres, Gericault, Chopin and Moliere just to start. As we approached Oscar Wilde’s gravesite, the sky clouded over and the wind blew. A stylized statue of a nude male angel stands as his tombstone. Years ago a thief broke the penis off of the statue which was also defaced in other ways. Someone had started a trend of kissing the stone and so the entire thing was covered with red lipstick prints—hundreds of them. One wonders what Oscar would have thought about this?!
Of course we stopped by Jim Morrison’s grave which was decorated with candles, flowers and a dream catcher. Some of the other people who made the pilgrimage to Morrison’s grave were an eccentric lot— some were in tie-dye, one couple had matching Lizard King tattoos on their arms. Another young guy sat near the headstone with his eyes closed as if in communion with the deceased. One person asked anyone in general if they knew what the greek lettering on the headstone meant.
We shook off the melancholy of Pere Lachaise at an Art Nouveau-styled café near the Pere Lachaise Metro with croque madame sandwiches (toasted ham & cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top – YUM!) and a “crepe delice” (melted chocolate with banana and whipped cream) for dessert. Then we left the past behind and headed to the modern world of La Defense.
In preservation of the city’s history, all of the modern office buildings and malls have been put in one section of Paris. We read that La Defense was named for a nineteenth century public statue and has nothing to do with the French department of defense. It was like being in Disney’s Tomorrow Land with sleek glass skyscrapers in bold geometric shapes everywhere. We ascended to the top of the Grande Arche (see also) in a tiny glass capsule-shaped elevator that is outside the building and saw more incredible views of the city. You can look straight down the Champs Elysees and see how the shape of the Grande Arche echoes the Arc de Triomphe. Inside there was an exhibit of contemporary art and photography. After we left the Grande Arche, David walked around and photographed more of the incredible postmodern architecture, outdoor sculptures like a huge brass thumb sticking up several stories into the air, and fountains while Kathy went into the mall. There were actually some really good sales on clothes—too bad about the poor exchange rate at that time. See the official site for La Defense with complete detailed map with all the buildings and a related info site.
We took the train back to the apartment and had dinner in a little bar in Pigalle. Afterwards we perused the neighborhood, which was a strange combination of sleaze, history and culture. After walking past strip clubs, sex shops and pick-up bars we found a plaque stating that one of the premises was the former location of Degas’ studio! We passed the “Kata Bar” (see also this site) which was packed with black-clad goths listening to thumping industrial music. Interestingly, there was a sign outside the club showing a stick-figure throwing a swastika into a trash can. Neo-Nazis apparently aren’t tolerated there. Although Pigalle is not the real redlight district of Paris, there were some places that reminded David of his trip to Amsterdam. There were a number of darkened bars illuminated with red neon lights inside. A peek in the windows revealed girls in miniskirts sitting around waiting for men. There were also bars for gays and lesbians as well as private clubs.
We ended up at the Moulin
Rouge to take photos of it at night. It was a huge circus! As we approached
we saw a number of huge tour buses lining up. People were lined up
outside so in spite of the steep ticket prices (100+ Euros for dinner and
a show) the popularity of the old haunt of Toulouse-Lautrec continues.
As David was taking photos on the street island near it, many other people
were hanging out there also just looking around and taking photos. Moulin
Rouge is now probably an even bigger draw after the movie and people like
to just go and see what it’s all about. We were told the Lido
on the Champs Elysees has a better show for the money!
Day #8 - Friday
On our second attempt, we finally succeeded in getting in to the Louvre. David had found a little-used ticket kiosk in the mall leading into the museum so there was no line for tickets. The security line at the entrance moved quickly as the guards x-rayed everyone’s bags. Our first destination was the Denon wing where we found ourselves gazing up at the massive figure of the Winged Victory. The grandeur and sense of movement captured in the marble is quite something. We made our way through the Italian Renaissance gallery to the Mona Lisa. Many people (including the writer of one of our tourbooks) have proclaimed the Mona Lisa to be a disappointment-- a small picture of a yellow-skinned woman with no eyebrows. We found, however, that there is a profound sense of peacefulness that seems to emanate from the painting and her smiling expression. The tourists gathered in front of her spoke in hushed and reverent tones. Clearly, what you get out of a work of art has to do in large part with your own feelings and expectations.
After the Mona Lisa, we made our way through the French paintings and saw the famous Raft of the Medusa by Gericault along with many works by Jacques-Louis David. The neo-classical pieces were so huge (humungous!) they made you feel as if you were engulfed in the depicted scene. Kathy had wanted to see the 18th century French paintings but this gallery, along with part of the Egyptian collection, was closed. There were signs posted explaining that some galleries were closed each day due to staffing shortages. We wondered how the greatest art museum in the world could not afford to hire more employees especially when France currently has 9% unemployment?! The Louvre has a few cafes and we had a very nice lunch of sandwiches, one was simply boursin cheese on bread, the other was chicken salad. Even though it was summer, we tried the hot chocolate. Scrumptious!
Before Louis XIV built Versailles (see also), the Louvre was the palace of kings who came before him. It was interesting to see how the design of the galleries reflected the periods in which they were built. One room in what is now the Egyptian wing still had an ornately carved bed-canopy hanging from the ceiling. You could see where royalty had once slept beneath it.
Leaving the Louvre, we went back to the Metro station. The Metro is full of street musicians, some of whom are very good. There was a young woman at the Louvre stop playing Chopin’s “Waltz in C Sharp Minor” over and over on an electric keyboard. Apparently it was the only song she played, but it was done beautifully! On the train, a man who announced himself as “Romani” (a gypsy) played a few songs on (successively larger and larger piped instruments taken from his bag) first the “pipes of Pan” and then on a bagpipe.
Back in Montmartre, we made the rounds of a few souvenir stores to pick up more gifts. We had our last dinner in Paris at a Belgian chain-restaurant called Leon de Bruxelles. The specialties of the house are mussels and fries. David had a platter of mussels escargot style with garlic and baked cheese on top while Kathy had a bucket of mussels steamed in broth. The Belgian fries were crisp and tasty. The waiter even offered to bring us some ketchup for them! For dessert we splurged on one last ice cream sundae made with chocolate, vanilla and caramel glace. It was a memorable dinner-- the perfect conclusion to our trip to Paris!
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