August 26, 2013

Paris with Leona

It was my first time flying in to Charles de Gaulle airport and it seemed to tippify some of the things I remembered from Paris the last time I came. The design was utilitarian and brutal and they had this funny circular design with satellite terminals all joined to the core by these little underground passages. The baggage and passengers all got jostled through this centre atrium of the massive don't core. It just reminded me that the French do it differently and like to own that difference with pride. Something I mostly associate with their language and fierce patriotism.

I hopped on the terminal train and while chatting to an American girl going in to Paris to be an aupair, the train stopped and wouldn't move on to our terminal, quoting a mysterious piece of baggage left at terminal 3, our destination. After much confusion and a couple of useless emergency replacement bus rides to the wrong terminal, we ended up on the same train, this time taking us all the way to the city transfer busses. Taking note of the signs we figured out the line closures for just today would get us to Paris in a bit of a different way but either way, I managed my way into Gare du Nord, a short walk from the hotel.

I just love Paris. It's a place which ticks all of my boxes with it's layout, public spaces, transport, food, style and even the people which are more of an intrigue to me than a bunch of stereotypically rude people. A city becomes vibrant when you shove millions of people into it with only space enough for far less. It brings people out of their small apartments and into the parks, the cafes and the theatres. Vibrancy is born.

I would be travelling for the week with my friend from Wales, Leona who I met a year earlier while performing Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain in the Proms at Royal Albert Hall. We were both staying at the same hostel and met with her friend over some drinks after a rehearsal and the performance. After keeping in touch for the last year we decided to catch up in Paris.

I explored the area while waiting for Leona to arrive from London, checking out the locality of Marais and then walking around the Musee des arts et Metiers. This place was pretty fascinating and held Foucault's pendulum as well as a whole host of seminal scientific instruments and inventions that underpinned the enlightenment. I walked past beautiful clocks for navigation and the first calculating machines by Pascal, precious binoculars from Aluminum when it was harder to refine than gold, exhibits on major French civil infrastructure projects and models of the first pumps, generators and blast furnaces that we take for granted today. While pretty specific, it was a fantastic museum for a scientist and engineer. There was just enough time to walk northbound to Montematre for a peek at Sacre Coeur before heading to the station to greet Leona.

It was really cool to catch up after a good couple of months out of contact but it's always a little difficult when you've missed out on so much of the context of recent events and life of another person. Character that you exude online in text and broken video is always incomplete and I continuously become amazed at how much communication is enhanced when being there in person. I guess it's not surprising then why companies will just fly people around the globe rather than dabble in the most modern video solutions available today.

We headed up to the top of Notre dame, across Pont design Artes, Sainte Chapelle and the armoury where they had lists of all those decapitated in the Revolution square, now Place de la Concorde. Leona studies law so we thought it'd be fun to walk around the Courts which surround Sainte Chapelle (the 'Palace of Justice', a pretty awesome name for your work place). We found an open room where it seemed 3 guys were getting charged together for some sort of theft or assault. We were metal detected and searched before going in to this small little chamber where the police guards outnumbered the accused two to one. It was rather fun to try and figure out what was going on without language and to figure out how the systems varied. After a couple of little attempts to sing in one of the cavernous and empty halls we were off. That afternoon, it was blissful to settle in the Luxembourg gardens where the number of people and the shear joy of the surroundings make it so very pleasant to just sit and enjoy life.

We met Francois at a metro station in the evening for a drink. We talked about his new internship and some of the perks about consulting in the oil and gas arena. Some local opinions of Paris are always welcome too so after a little recommendation on restaurants, Leona and I settled at a little Indian place called Old Kashmir.

Leaving the resting Leona, I checked out the Pantheon and then the Pompidou centre, the modern art museum. It's amazing how high the French hold up their physicists, engineers, composers and artists. They put their physicists in the Pantheon crypt with political revolutionaries and then put their composers names on the Eiffel tower. This is a sort of place that really values culture and enlightenment in all forms, a pretty stark contrast to the occasional cultural chasm back home.

I thought I'd go and ride around a bit more, checking out the quiet and serene Montparnasse cemetery and then going to the Catacombes, finding that a solid 3 hour line had formed to get in. After being told that I wouldn't even make it to the door before closing time, it was back to the hotel to catch  Leona for the afternoon.

One big thing I just missed out on last time I was in Paris was Napoleon's tomb in Les Invalides. The whole complex was stupendous in scale and grandeur, constantly reminding you of the power that the Emperor Napoleon commanded at that time, forging so many parts of what France is now, even after so much cleansing during the revolution. The exhibits in the war museum were so helpful to get a grasp of the tumultuous history of France and now I think I have finally figured out the difference between Napoleon the 1st and 3rd.

After Les Invalides, I said goodbye to Leona at the metro and rode to Place de la Concorde for the sunset. I ran into Le Madelaine and saw that there was a concert on the way home. It was Vivaldi's four seasons combined with some songs for Soprano soloist. I had to go an after a while milling around trying to get some wifi to let Leona know, I popped in and saw this magnificent church by night. The concert was great overall with a fantastic but certainly buoyed by the Soprano. The orchestra weren't really that professional and the concert master seemed a little oblivious to the group sometimes in terms of ensemble and timing. His solos as part of the Vivaldi were proficient but pretty conservative re cadenzas and generally mediocre to watch. I left after chatting with a couple of older French women who didn't know a word in English. It was fun to share some views on the concert and they were happy to give me the time to check my Google translator on occasion. I was very happy and lucky to have bumped in to the concert in the way I did and left pretty ecstatic. I took a scenic ride past Le Louvre to see the pyramid by night. An awesome end to another day.

The following morning was for a little market and then the Eiffel tower. We took all of the obligatory photos on Champs de Mars and then joined the ques for what we would soon find to be a good 2 hours. I'd been to the tower before but not to the top so when we were half way through the que and it said the top was closed due to overcapacity, I was pretty crushed. I drudgingly took my took my ticket but was then told that we'd be able to buy on the middle floor if we waited there for another hour. So we did but it was worth it to get that extra height and to get a true idea of how much this thing towered over the whole city.

With most of the day gone, we cycled over to the Champs Ellise for some window shopping and then to Montematre to catch Sacre Couer before it closed. That whole area was fantastic and completely filled by portraiture pilgrims, filling what was something of a portaiter's square near the La Boheme restaurant where we ended with dinner after beholding the spectacle of Sacre Couer. The interior was spectacular with a massive amount of light streaming through the high dome in the centre. The mosaics were adorned with gold over the high alter and the space really met a nice mix of simplicity and complexity in the decoration.

Dinner was topped off by a visit to Le petit musee du chocolate which was an awesome loose weight chocolate shop with fantastic slithers of all the dark chocolate varieties around. Back home and we were tossing up whether to go on a pub crawl or not since we were a good hour late for the start but instead went straight to the final destination. O'Sullivans filled up pretty early that evening with a bunch of Contiki groups which all seemed to converge on this ex-pat heavy bar come club. Leona ended up leaving pretty early as she was still pretty tired. In high-insight I should have probably joined her as she only just missed the last metro home and got a little lost. I stayed on and had a fantastic time with a number of the Contiki girls from Australia, Spain and Korea who all had names starting with M for some reason. I got back pretty early in the morning after sobering up a little and getting a bike back. I continue to love cities with hire bike schemes for this reason too as taxis are never that much fun when going home alone.

I checked out the Pompidou centre (modern art) by myself the following morning and found heaps of intriguing and sometimes hilarious art works which push the boarder of what art is. For example, one of the works which had only three directions for the curator along the lines of: 1. Select an average sized gallery room. 2. Hang four or five canvases of typical dimensions (the curator had obviously gone out on a limb by selecting one oval canvas - rebel!..). 3. Paint the walls and canvases in the same colour. Viola, art! Of courses there were all the usuals like Picasso and Duparc and Mutt's famed urinal. Not that all was Dada and abstract, the fauvists and more current painters balanced with bursts of colour and also a bunch of fun little moving installations.

On the way to the Tuilleries I joined a mob for an attempted glimpse of Eminem at his hotel on Rue du Rivolli beside the Tuileries and strolled through the adjacent amusement park, toying with the thought of how often they had to clean the full body vomit guards on one of the more daring rides. I thought I had better not be a contributor to the statistic in the state I was. The L'Orangerie was one of the big items for the day and it didn't disappoint. This was a fine collection of works from the impressionist masters of course culminating in the presentation of the panoramic water lillies of Monet in their purpose built, oval rooms. Leona and I indulged in a 3 course meal with wine that night, the French restaurant continuing to make me love the food of Paris.

Despite it being my second time to Versailles, it was so much more vibrant in the sun this time around. Last time Madde and I had so little time and the rain made it impossible to check out the gardens. It seemed that the whole place had been freshly gilded since my last time as the gold gleamed brightly during the whole approach to the palace. After 40 minutes queuing for security in the blaring sun, we were in! It was pretty different to the last time with new audio guides and really good 3D introductions to the place. At last I could see the gardens but made the mistake of waiting in line for the little guided train trip around the gardens. In the sun again for a whole hour to find that it was effectively a shuttle bus which I could have done without. Down the far side of the gardens, the Petit Trianon got me with a full priced instead of free ticket because I'd left my Swedish ID as collateral for the audio guide just a little earlier. Although a little embittered, I checked out the place and could imagine that it would be a nice sanctuary for the queen who it had been gifted to.

Time just got away and soon I found myself running back to the train station to make it to Le Marais to meet with Francois' boss to find out a little more about energy business consulting. I got the idea that while I would love to work in Paris and live in Perth, the work life balance would be in question. The type of work sounded really interesting making the hours enjoyable, but as a whole, it didn't seem like a healthy sort of lifestyle for me to lead. Moderation in everything. I left with a much better idea of consulting as an expatriate. Maybe I'll try something similar one day but with more intriguing options available, maybe later.

That night was the big pub crawl night. I tagged along from the second bar and met a bunch of nice guys including crazy Sebastian who lived with his family in China and was about to start a language course in Paris. He was having his first big night out so needless to say, he became a pretty funny bloke as the night went on. Together with the Spanish and Italian guy, we eventually got to good old O'Sullivans where things devolved quite nicely, with one girl in particular.

We sobered up on the avenue near Blanche metro, got pickpocketted then had to figure out how to get back home without knowing the name of the hotel. Both of us were all safe and sound by 6am after some ingenious navigation (trying to find the hotel we didn't know the name of) and after a couple of hours sleep it was back on the road for another action packed day, now short one mobile phone. Thankfully I had a pretty good picture of Paris at that point so after checking out of the hotel and waiting in a police station for 3 hours to get a stolen report (catching up on some sleep at the same time), there was just enough time to check out Galleries Lafayette. It was the first rainy day for a week in Paris so it was a pretty good time to go. This was a clothes shoppers paradise and architecturally, a pretty cool place to put a department store (it had an incredible stain glass dome atrium in the centre. Like an art gallery for clothes in certain areas.

Back in time to walk up to the train, Leona and I walked up to Gare du Nord for the connection to London. Leona and I parted ways for the last time at St Pancreas after some more sleep catch up on the train. Paris mk. 2 had been a cultural and social adventure with more discoveries along the way than any of the travel legs so far. Never have I faced so many challenges to my own character and had to ask whether I'm being true to myself and travelling to make the most of this limited time abroad. Next stop: London and a little change of plans heading to Manchester after some realisations over the week just past.

No comments:

Post a Comment