On our way to the Eiffel Tower, a not-so-sober French gentleman stopped by while we were waiting for the ‘green man says walk’ sign to cross the street and started labeling each of the girls. “English, English, English, English...” – he hesitated when he got to me – “Not English.” Of course I couldn’t be English. I’m much too brown for such nonsense. He then proceeded to ask if I was Arabian. I said nothing. Turkish? Nothing. Italian? Nothing. Some other nationality that was completely wrong? Little light up man turns green. I start crossing the street and yell back over my shoulder, “Soy Mexicana!” That’s not entirely correct. Mexican is a nationality and I am a Hispanic-American, but you gotta give the people what they want, and he wanted an exotic-sounding answer.
Then, when we had gotten to the Tower and settled ourselves onto the blanket I brought (the ground is disgustingly littered with cigarette butts, food wrappers, wine corks, bottle caps, and goodness knows what else), one of the nice wine-beeah-wine people approached our group. He was by no means the first wine-beeah-wine person to approach us, but he did not go away when I immediately started having a Grumpy Cat on Benny breakdown, repeating “No no no no no no no no nononononononono” as soon as he came within ten feet of us. Oh, I should probably use metric since I’m writing about Paris. Hm. I think one meter is about three and a little bit feet, so it would be ten divided by three and a little bit, which equals... three and some meters? Eh, fuck it. Ten feet. Go ‘Murica. Anyway, this nice WBW Cult man stops at our group despite my fit of no-ing and attempts to charm us, asking in that I-expect-an-affirmative-answer-or-I-will-jokingly-tease-you-and-you-will-have-to-sheepishly-smile-at-me-and-put-up-with-it-and-maybe-you-will-buy-something-from-me-to-make-me-leave-you-alone kind of way if we are a happy family enjoying our evening. We laughed politely and answered yes. Sure, we’re family enough, and we are having a nice evening. But he hadn’t scanned the entire group yet, and when he did get to me on the end, he drew his head back quizzically and added, “You too?” Yes, me too. I’m adopted, but I am a valued part of the family! He walked away while we were all guffawing at my adopted sister status.
Other art. Some i really liked. Some i thought were...interesting.
The pigeons got me when I sat on a park bench that they had just poo’d on. Ruined my dress for the rest of the trip, those little bastards. But I tip my sunhat to them. They persevere, and we could all learn a thing or two from watching those nefarious wingéd creatures. For example, just because you can do something neither means you should nor have to. Pigeons have wings, yet they choose to take the stairs. Why? Because shut up and mind your own business, that’s why. You wanna get pooped on? I didn’t think so. Stop asking stupid questions. Lesson: Do what you need to do and do not mind the opinions of others. If there’s food at stake, the strong, the quick, and the smart are the pigeons who get to eat. Lesson: Play to your strengths and you can be successful. Even when missing limbs or hurt, the pigeons get on with their business of pigeoning like no pigeon has pigeoned before. Lesson: Pigeons are basically pirates and should get peg legs and eye patches.
Never Hungry Enough
Foods! It was necessary to start out with that. I like food. Who doesn’t? And boy did my tastebuds fancy French food. Crepes were a staple. Until I accidentally ate an entire jámbon et frommage crêpe. The crepes are quite large – about the size of my face. Usually I could comfortably eat a third, or half of one if I was on the verge of passing out from lack of sustenance. One day, though, I was on my own wandering around when my stomach began gurgling protests at me for some delicious French culinary perfection. I gave in to the protests almost immediately and grabbed a ham and cheese crepe. I went to Notre Dame to sit in the little park and write while enjoying my lunch. Take a bite, write a couple sentences. Take two bites, write another sentence. Drink some water, change a word. Take another bite... Pretty soon I was done with my crepe, but I didn’t notice until my tummy started protesting some more, this time that it was ready to explode because I had eaten too much. Stomaches are just never happy, are they? I felt sick the rest of the day from that crepe. Unless you are a champion food eater, or you are French, I do not recommend eating an entire crepe. Except for a dessert crepe. Those have less filling, so they’re a little easier to eat. I had a butter and caramel one, and a Nutella banana, the latter of which was sent down from the gods above. You have to have one of those.
I had three other desserts that far surpassed anything I’ve ever had in the United States. First, gelato. Strawberry gelato made with real strawberries. It was the best tasting strawberry-flavored anything I’ve ever had, aside from the actual strawberries that I bought at the market while in Paris. All the food is made with organic ingredients, not artificially flavored, which is why all the food is so scrumptious. Even simple things like vanilla ice cream are stupendously better tasting. You know you are eating real vanilla bean ice cream, that it is not artificially flavored, when flecks of ground vanilla bean are visible in the ice cream and each bite is accompanied by a chorus of angels serenading your palate. Vanilla ice cream is usually accompanied by chocolate syrup in Paris, which only makes it better. I had a dessert as such at the Chinese restaurant next to our hotel, and that one came with a fancy little drink umbrella. It was amazing. That umbrella brought the dessert to another level. (Note: Paris has the highest number per capita of Asian food restaurants in the world. That includes Asia.) (Note on the note: That may not be true.)
My favorite dessert I had while in Paris was a strawberry tarte from Dalloyau. Oh my goodness, was that exquisite little sculpture of delectable goodness a paragon of all that is good and sweet in this universe and the next. Do you understand? I don’t think you do. You can’t. You have to taste it to understand. It was a spiritual experience eating that tarte. The details were perfect. The little medallion that came on the tarte? Chocolate. Edible. Beautiful. Flawless. All the strawberries were arranged to perfection. The glaze was impeccable. Everything was right in the world when I had that tarte. If everyone could have one of those tartes, the world would be a better place.
Even though the desserts were my favorite, the meals were spectacular as well. Paris has a number of ethnic food restaurants that are wonderful. I had Chinese, Japanese, and South American food while there, all of which were superb. At the Chinese restaurant, my friend and I each ordered a plate, and our meals came in those bowl-plate hybrid dishes, but we also had plates. Unsure about how to handle the situation, we just set the bowl-plates on the plates and started eating. I glanced around while we were talking and realized that a total of zero other people were eating with their bowl-plates on top of their plates. They had all scooped food onto their plates from the bowl-plate serving dishes. Oooooooh... We quickly followed suit, so we were only eating like heathens for five minutes or so.
The South American restaurant, which had a lot of Mexican decor, so I’m going with a Hispanic theme instead of strictly South American, was entertaining. There were decorations everywhere. Hanging from the ceiling, on shelves, mounted on the walls, on chairs. It was somewhat overstimulating. My favorite was the Corona bottle chandelier. Nope, my favorite was actually the salsa cans with flowers in them for centerpieces. I ordered my food in Spanish, which threw our waitress off for a second. She wasn't expecting that, but she seemed pleased. I had a burrito that came with guacamole, rice, and pico de gallo. It was all good. Not as good as if, say, my mom had made it, but still good. I’m just glad they didn’t make a salt pile with a bit of guacamole in it, which a lot of restaurants do. Way too much salt in the guac. It’s grossing me out just thinking about it. The best part of my meal there was the sangria. They must have had the fruit soaking in that drink for a couple of days, and they did not skimp on the wine. My kind of people.
I can’t write about the food in Paris without mentioning the bread. It is completely acceptable to eat a baguette with jam and have that be the entire meal. The bread is that good. And the bread that is delivered as an appetizer when you go out to eat will always be polished off. We never had bread left over. It would be a crime not to eat it. The Parisians eat a lot of bread. The Parisians just eat a lot. I don’t know how they stay fit. I routinely saw small women wolf down an entire pizza for lunch. How? It’s some sort of conspiracy, I’m sure. I’ll ask my uncle about it.
Museum Passes for Days
If you go to Paris, I highly recommend purchasing a museum pass. If museums aren’t really your thing, stop reading my Paris memoir because we can’t be friends and I don’t want you reading my recollections. Are all those terrible humans gone? Good. Let’s talk about museums. There are a ton of them in Paris. Multiple tons. You couldn’t see every artifact and art piece if you spent every day of a month in museums. And that is sad. You have to pick and choose, and you have to come up with a game plan. My favorites were the Louvre and the Musée Rodin. I also enjoyed the Picasso Museum and the Cluny. And the Musée d’Orsay. You already know I had fun at the Pompidou Centre. Okay, I liked them all. My mantra is: All the museums! I’ll break the museums down into sections so that I can better organize the pictures.
I regret not going back to the Louvre on one of my free days, but I am happy with what I saw while there. I was also happy that we went later in the day. It was fairly packed full of people when we first arrived, but the crowds thinned out considerably as the evening approached. When we were there, the Louvre was open until 9:45 pm, so I suggest going around 4 pm. The Louvre is especially immense and packed with so much history, it’s dizzying. The layout is somewhat inconvenient, but that’s where the planning comes in. Get yourself a map, and be aware that there are two different maps in each language, one with the handicap-accessible routes, and one with all the routes. Choose accordingly. Then pick out about six or so things, mark them on the map, and plot out your route. Learn how the rooms are numbered and make your way to your first artifact. You will probably get lost at first, but eventually you’ll get it right. I made sure to see Napoleon’s apartments, the Sphinx, the Mona Lisa, the medieval wing, Venus de Milo, the moat, and the Apollo Gallery.
The Musée d’Orsay
Smaller and more manageable than the Louvre, the d’Orsay is a good museum to start out with before attempting the monstrosity that is the Louvre. There are still many people walking about, but the crowds won’t be as stifling as the Louvre. I enjoyed the sculptures the most at d’Orsay, even more so than the majority of those at the Louvre. For some reason, the Musée d’Orsay seemed like the more fun museum, like it was the cool aunt, and the Louvre, while still awesome, was the more serious parental figure.
The Musée Rodin
The reason I loved this museum so much was the gardens. I love gardens, especially when there are winding paths through tall trees, flowering bushes, and shrubberies. It was magnificent. While everyone else took the middle paths, I stuck to the outside and found some delightful tunnels and quiet passages. I even found some pedestals that were missing their statues. Very curious...and a little creepy. I stayed to take a picture, of course. There was a pond at one point, and the most adorable duck couple ever was having a float, and then the female took a floating nap! I was dying of the cuteness overload. And continuing on, there were paths through a mini forest of trees. In the center was a creeping bush that went as high up as the treetops, but had spiky leaves all over. I am convinced that bush was hiding a portal to another world. Then I came upon the Gates of Hell, Rodin’s sculpture inspired by a scene in Dante’s Inferno. I took a smiling selfie by it. Then I stopped to smell the roses, and all the other flowers too, and met a ladybug friend. It was a splendid way to spend an afternoon.
This is a smaller museum with a lot of medieval artifacts, which I was rather thrilled to see after taking a medieval literature class in the spring semester. By far the most exciting part of that museum was the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. I had no idea those tapestries were there, so when I walked in the room I yelped upon seeing them. I think I walked around in that one room for a half hour because I couldn’t believe I was seeing those tapestries. There’s also an interesting collection of stone bodies and stone heads - separate, mind you, not attached.
The Picasso Museum
I thoroughly enjoyed this museum because it was laid out in a twisty-turny house and I thought that added a sense of adventure to my meanderings. It was also great to see work from the different stages of Pablo Picasso’s career instead of the usual cubist works; you get to see his full range of abilities. That’s not to say the cubism portion isn’t amazing, but it is still only a part of what he could do and did.
Other Museum-Type Places I Saw/Want to See
The Conciergerie: This is where people stayed when they had to face the Tribunal during the French Revolution, and where they were sentenced to execution by guillotine. The French were a little bit murder-y back then. You can also see where Marie Antoinette was jailed.
The Notre Dame Archeological Crypt: Underneath Notre Dame is a Roman city. Very cool, and they have some ancient stonework that you can touch.
The Catacombs: The line was a 2+ hour wait both times I tried to go, so I did not make it into the catacombs. I guess that just means I have to go back to Paris. Oh, darn.
The Sara of the Opera
Perhaps my favorite place in Paris was the Opera House. I first read Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera in middle school, and I loved it. I love the broadway musical. I love the character of Erik. I love theatre. You can imagine how ecstatic I was to visit the place that inspired Leroux. The Palais Garnier is not covered by the museum pass, but that meant nothing to me. I was going to go to the Opera, dangnabbit. In the opening vestibule, informational plaques tell you how you would arrive as a member of high society. I pretended that was exactly the situation I was in, even though we all know it's more likely we'd be the plebeians. Then you go into the main staircase area, and I was just done for. Ornate cannot begin to describe the elaborately decorated Opera. I felt like royalty going up the grand staircase, and I could feel myself sneering at all the unworthy peasants in my way, but I didn’t really care other humans were there. I was just having fun pretending to be a high society lady at the Opera.
To cool down from the excitement of the theatre proper, I went to the museum wing, but that just fueled my excitement. I was disappointed that everything was encased in glass, though. It was nearly impossible to get a decent picture that wasn’t a reflection of a sunlit window. To take an actual break, I found a dark stairwell and sat in a recessed area that housed candelabra. Of course I couldn’t just sit there when I had the prime opportunity to do my best Phantom impression, so I sang, “I am your angel of music...Come to me angel of music....” Sadly, no one responded.
I ended my visit in the gift shop, where I wanted to buy everything, but had to settle for a mirror with an image of the chandelier on it. Then I glided out of the Opera House and back onto the streets with all the commoners and got a puff of diesel to the face. I much preferred my position as a lady attending the Opera.
There is so much more that I could write about, but we don’t have 200 pages for that, so instead I will sign off with these last few thoughts. I loved the Luxembourg Gardens. What a lovely place to relax and write. The various churches and cathedrals were beautiful, especially Saint Chapelle, Sacre-Couer, and Notre Dame. Notre Dame was one of my favorite places to simply be around. The outside of that edifice is inspiring to me somehow, and the garden and park are such fun to sit in. I wish I would have climbed up to see the bells. Next time, I suppose. I did climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and got quite dizzy on the spiral staircase down, but the view was worth it. I visited some cemeteries and saw the resting places of Abelard and Heloise, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, and countless other people with some pretty nifty-looking graves. I traveled to Normandy and went down to Omaha Beach. I climbed the ramparts of Mont Saint Michel and was the King of France. I happened upon a “hip hop concert” on Saint Michel Boulevard in Paris. They were dancing to Cotton Eye Joe. I had dinner at the famous Cafe de Flore, where Hemingway often went to write. I visited a perfume museum, went in the exit, didn’t pay for a ticket, felt guilty, and bought French-made perfume. I found a statue of Thomas Jefferson. I heard a street performer sing Backstreet Boys songs while sitting on the steps of the opera house. I went to a gypsy jazz cafe for lunch and live music. I also heard lots of metro performers. I saw the Moulin Rouge and walked the red light district by day. There was always something to see or hear, always somewhere to explore and something to experience. Going to Paris once won’t be enough. I don't think any number of visits will ever be enough. I’ll be back again.