May 10, Paris

I love the bit in Pride and Prejudice when Mrs. Bennet is describing every dance that Mr. Bingley danced at the assembly, and Mr. Bennet complains he wished Mr. Bingley had sprained his ankle on the first dance, and saved him the trouble of hearing about it. That’s where you’ll be with my touristing today.

The babysitter wrote out the two metros and the one train I had to take to get to Versailles with all the insousiance of someone who is an expert at mass transit. I had her directions clutched in my hand, asked at least one kindly-looking person on each platform, and in the train, and, zut alors, made all my connections to Versailles. Where a construction worker yelled at me to get away from the ticket office: Versailles is closed on Monday. There was massive renovation going on, but according to my guidebook, which, yes, I should have checked, it’s always closed on Mondays. Which doesn’t explain the incoming busloads of German and Japanese tourists, so they must have been really disappointed.

  The upside of having no ticket sellers was that most or all of the gardens were open, and could be visited for free. I wandered around a bit in them. I can see why Romanticism embraced the wild, untamed look in nature. These gardens look far too repressed and pollarded and pruned. Even the areas with the natural look were carefully shaped. It pleased the socialist in me to see ordinary folks jogging or bicycling around the big lake.

When I strolled into the parking lot at Versailles, there was an om-pah band organizing around a statue, so I wandered over, and a couple really fancy old cars drove up. It was the start of the 40th annual Paris-to-Cote d’Azur-Rally. I realized Patrick would love to see the cars, so asked the first couple drivers if I could get a photo. Their “OUI!” was so enthusiastic I took more photos later without asking.

Then I wandered around the town of Versailles. I found St. Louis Cathedral. I love that the French often portray St. Joseph with the Christ Child, rather than just with his mother. So that’s why I got a photo of that in a wood carving, and another carving that was extremely beautiful. There’s also a photo for my friend Annie of the statue of the priest who invented sign language. I found a fruit seller who gladly pretended I spoke passable French while I bought some fruit for my evening meal. And, after a brief contretemps with the ticket agent about my return ticket to Paris, I was on my way home.

But instead, I got off at the Musee d’Orsay, and decided to spend time in the Invalides area. Lunch was at Le Paris Orsay. Some women came in after me, and one was eyeing my plate of delicious hash. I gave her a thumbs up, and two of them ordered it. I asked the waiter to suggest dessert, and he brought me a creme brulee.

Two things I most wanted to see were the Musee Rodin, which was, alas, also closed on Monday. At least it was only around the corner, and not a train trip away. One ticket to the Invalides admits the bearer to all the displays, so I saw as many as I could.

First was the Museum of the Resistance. I knew it would be difficult: it was excruciating. I think the guard was even sniffling a bit. One wing was dedicated to the deported, both the captured resistance fighters sent off to German prisons, and the Jews deported as part of the Holocaust. I saw a very interesting statistic: 60% of the resistance fighters were rescued at the end of the war, but only 3% of the Jews survived. Without under-appreciating DeGaulle’s role in the resistance, he certainly was a genius at self-promotion.

Not on display, but also part of the military nature of the Invalides were the two young French soldiers in wheel chairs I watched sharing a smoke and chatting in the sunshine.

I did a quick turn in the arms & armor museum, and also saw some utterly, fabulously, exquisitely-clothed dolls showing the uniforms of the various regiments and officers and Napoleon himself, with dates and perfect details. Joanna Bourne would love to have copies of these guys. Even the moustaches were formidable!

My final stop was the Dome, the church built around Napoleon’s tomb. Napoleon is supposed to have said he wanted his ashes sprinkled on the banks of the Seine. Instead, he got a totally over-the-top, over-gilded, over-decorated, fawning and sappy memorial, all constructed around a wooden tomb larger than some fishing boats. I refused to take photos, though I took one of the front so you can see the extravagance from the outside. Napoleon himself is portrayed as every sort of hero and sage and god and warrior, except perhaps as a Chinese Mandarin. I couldn’t believe everyone else thought it was fabulous, from all the cameras being waved about.

Other military folks or Bonapartes are also buried in the Dome. And that’s where I saw it– absolutely the best memorial I’ve ever seen. Marechal Foch’s tomb was in a side chapel, with  chilly pale blue light filtering in, where eight grim-faced soldiers shouldered his casket. I took a photo with flash, and one in natural light, so you can see what a devestatingly powerfuly impression it creates. wow. It made it worth the visit.

On the way home, I stopped for a quick look in the Church of the Madeleines. Napoleon built it for his soldiers, and it’s modeled on a Greek temple, rather than the usual blueprint for a church. The sculptures inside were lovely: inspiring and graceful, and not at all simpering or maudlin. But I didn’t get photos of them, just of the rows and rows of seedlings in boxes, inexplicably covering the steps to the church door.

My route home took me through the trendy 8th Arrondissement, where I was able to gawk in the windows of fancy retailers, such as Dolce & Gabbana or Cartier. What absolute fun. The prices were noted on little cards by the goods. What! Over 2,500 Euros for a little peasant skirt one could find at Saturday Market? Look! There’s even a loose thread that needs clipping. Most interesting were the pseudo-punk clothes at designer prices.

So, sadly, smoking seems to be up in France. Eloisa & Sylvie were mentioning that the statistics showed that after years of decline, more and more teens are taking up the habit. I was noticing that I never see so many people smoking in Eugene. At home, people almost never smoke while they’re walking down the street, but here it happens all the time. Dommage.

My other rant: I noticed people love to take photos of themselves or each other in front of some precious monument or building. I thought it was just young folks who did that, but I’m seeing lots of older folks whom one would think wouldn’t be crazy about having their photo taken so often, or who would prefer a clear view of the marvelous object that is really the subject of the photo. Am I totally off base here? Is this why I travel alone? As I was getting my camera out to take the photo of my dessert, one of the hash-eaters at the next table offered to take a photo of me with my creme brulee and coffee. Whatever for? I know what I look like.

Mist, turning to rain, in the evening. Paris is beautiful with a soft layer of damp embracing her.


One Response

  1. Thank you for L’Epee photo! I tried to comment on photobucket, but it wanted all sorts of information. French sign and American sign are close cousins. The British had a system, but when Gallaudet asked for their help so he could export it to America, they refused to help him without being paid. In Paris, Gallaudet was able to convince one of L’Epee’s students, Laurent Clerc, to return to the US to teach sign. From there arose American Sign Language. To this day, they say that a French signer and an American one can communicate fairly easily, but the British system is completely incomprehensible to an American signer.

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