An Arabian in Paris By Sara Erickson

The Story of the Adopted Sister

Having brown eyes, brown hair, and brown skin in Paris is akin to having a giant light-up marquee mounted on your shoulders that says EXOTIC: FREE STARES AND CONVERSATIONS. Being exotic has its perks. People are nicer to you because they want to interact with an exotic person. It probably makes for a good story. And I do not want to disappoint, so I often play nice and let them think I’m from some distant locale and smile and nod as I walk away. Though, sometimes people try to touch you, and that is definitely a drawback. I don’t know you, and do I look like I want to know you? No. Get away from me, ya perv.

I do find the concept of exotic to be interesting. I mean, it’s not that Parisians have never seen a darker complected person. In fact, I would argue that they are much more advanced in relations between the creamily unpigmented and caramel to cocao-toned epidermises (epidermi? epidermised?). I noticed several times during my stay in Paris that groups of friends, from children to adults, were arbitrarily mixed in terms of the pigmentation of the people. Hopefully my taking notice of this says something about the societal norms from which I come and not my own personal shortcomings. This observations struck me as completely normal, yet altogether divergent from what I usually see. In Wisconsin, it’s like we’re all stuck in high school with our cliques. There’s the group of Asian kids, the Hispanics, the white kids. Sometimes there’s a token Other in a group, but that makes everyone feel special and her Otherness is well noted. I know this because I am often the Other. I’m the ethnic friend that makes homemade tortillas that other people get to brag about. But in Paris, it didn’t seem like that dynamic existed among their friend groups. And somehow even with that I stood out.

What I don’t understand is that there is a sizable population of Indian people in Paris. They all seem to be in a cult that sells the wine-beeah-wine, and sometimes champagne, but they have the whole brown eyes/hair/skin thing going on, just like me. Perhaps I was still a novelty because I’m a female, and they were a cult of menfolk who harassed you to buy wine-beeah-wine. Or maybe there is a slight deviation in my appearance that they picked up on. Whatever the case, people definitely noticed that I was different from them. We shall take one night as an example. Though I encountered such remarks elsewhere on the trip, this one particular night was especially eye roll worthy.

Some of the girls and I went to le Tour Eiffel to watch the light show at 10 pm and enjoy some wine and the company of friends. The Eiffel Tower has 20,000 LED lightbulbs on it, and at 10 – er, 22:00 – they light up sporadically and the Tower shimmers in the Parisian night. You think the iconic monument can’t be any more breathtaking in it’s colossal size and stature, but then it dazzles with a gorgeous display of magic. I truly do think it is magic, by the by. Twenty thousand LEDs is a likely story for the muggles, but I know that Madame Maxime of l'académie de magie de Beauxbâtons cast a charm over the Eiffel Tower to put on such a lovely show.

Sunset on the Eiffel Tower.

Giant leg of the Eiffel Tower.
Different angle.

That is a giant tennis ball hanging in there. It was the week of the French Open. I guess that's kind of a big deal in Paris. Who knew?

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.

The Eiffel Tower is there somewhere.

After taking many selfies, most of which I look like a twit in, as per the usual, we packed up our things and prepared to meander home in the cool Parisian night. Paris at night is quite enchanting, especially if you can find an accordion player on the cafe-lined streets. We commenced our walk through the park to the streets of Paris, myself leading the way, when a young man spoke some French at me. I knew it was French, and that was about it. It sounded like a question, but I couldn’t be sure about that, so I shrugged, scrunched up my mouth and eyes, and raised my eyebrows to say “Sorry, but I have no idea what in Victor, Hugo, and Laverne you are saying,” and continued on. Since we had seen quite a few French-speaking yet obviously non-Parisian tourists directing confused glares at maps, and since we had been in Paris for two weeks and knew our way around one or two streets (not an exaggeration – we knew, like, two streets), one of the girls who spoke a bit more French decided to stop and try to help these two men, thinking they needed directions. When she stopped, we all stopped and backtracked to wait for her. Seeing this, the man who had said the French to me gave a surprised look and exclaimed, “She is with all of you?!” while gesturing in my direction. Mind you, I am greatly cleaning up his English for the purpose of this story.

He then proceeded to ask my origin with the help of an English translation app, and to say I am an exotic beauty, propose to me, tell me he loves me, say he will marry me and that I am his wife, et cetera, et cetera. He even did the thing where he brought all the fingers of one hand together at his lips and whooshed his hand away from his face, sprawling out his fingers as he made a kissing noise. “She is, how you say, [kiss with hand gesture] beeyooteeful.” I believe I rolled my eyes the entire time, but when my friend responded to him in French after he stated that I am his wife, I smiled, put my arm around her, and we walked away. I don’t know exactly what she said to him, but from the tone of her voice, I knew it was something along the lines of “No, she is my wife!” I think we were crying we were all laughing so hard. I also think she told him I was Arabian. Like I said, give the people what they want, so long as I don’t have to marry any Frenchmen.

The Karma of Sphere-Feet

When my nephew was but a little round blob of a baby, he had spherical feet. Shoes did not fit him because of his sphere-feet. Being the supportive aunt that I am, I thought this was hilarious and could not help but to point and laugh at his bulbous tootsies. But, oh, how I would suffer five years later.

In preparation for all the walking I would do in Paris, I put “Cute yet comfortable walking shoes” on my Wunderlist for Paris, which I entitled “Paris, Mon Cherí.” I found these shoes at Keds’ online store. Perfect. I ordered those super cute shoes and wore them for weeks before leaving for Paris. I even did some hiking in them! Okay, it was my version of hiking, which entails walking a couple hundred feet into well-documented land on a nicely cleared path and sometimes pretending fallen trees are tightropes to be traversed. Nonetheless, I did break in my cute, yet comfortable, walking shoes. But beware the karma of sphere-feet.

In the long flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, and then the short flight from Frankfurt to Paris, my feet ballooned up like, well, a balloon being blown up. I had to undo my shoelaces completely and then shove my feet into them. After one day the tops of my spherical feet were chafed raw. After another day, my pinkie toes needed to be amputated before the shoes themselves severed the toes from my round little feet. Every step slid my sock against the open, festering wound that was the top of my feet. I could not go on, but Paris called to me, and so I answered, “DAMN YOU, SPHERE-FEET!!” But I continued on, cursing under my breath with every step. Or sometimes cursing aloud, apparently. I didn’t notice, but one of my fellow travelers did. Oops. Ah well, sometimes I have trouble with inside thoughts versus outside thoughts.

One of my lovely roommates graciously offered me her Nike sandals to use while I found some shoes to replace my too-small cute, yet kinda the opposite of comfortable, chaffing shoes. They were a little big, and definitely did not match any of my outfits, so I looked a little buffoonish, I’m sure, but I did not give a damn. They were comfortable and I could walk around museums and cathedrals and metros without sobbing in agony on the inside.

To get a pair of shoes, I first wandered to the Nike store with a friend. I figured I could find some sandals in my size. Nope. They only had $200 running shoes, and I don’t think the sales associate understood anything that I said. I guess maybe they did have the sandals, then, but I didn’t press for answers. We did try speaking French, but it didn’t go too well. Instead we tried a mall that had an entire floor dedicated to shoes. Actually, it was a department store, not a mall. Pritemps, I believe it was called. It felt more like a mall than a department store. I moseyed on up to the fifth floor, zigzagging between the upward trending escalators, did one lap around the fifth floor, and went right back down to the first floor. The cheapest shoe I found was 85 euros. That was a whole lot of nope.

But down on the first floor is where we found what we didn’t know we were looking for. A chocolate shop. I ordered a caramel frappe, and they made it with actual chocolate and caramel. It took some time for our drinks to come out, but it was so amazingly worth the wait, and the 8 euros. My tastebuds found their savior in that frappe and commenced worship immediately. Oh my Frappe, was that heavenly nectar delicious. The decor was to die and rise for too. It was all light pink and gold, very Kate Spade, i.e. the goal for my apartment and life. Giant flowers with lightbulbs in the center were my favorite piece. They were mounted on the wall in a cascading arrangement for the lighting. I need them in my life. After we finished our drinks, we were served a chocolate on a silver plate. Neither of us liked the one we were given. Mine was raspberry-filled. I like raspberries, and I like chocolate, but not together. Still, it was a fabulous experience that I’m glad we stumbled onto. If it weren’t for the sphere-feet debacle, we may never have discovered the chocolate store in Pritemps. Thank you, sphere-feet.

Alleluia!

Epilogue: I found some cheap shoes at H&M. They did the trick, and were nice and comfy with my shoe inserts.

The Tourist's Guide to Not Being Completely Awful

Being a tourist is hard work. Everything is a guessing game. What does the menu say? I don’t know. Just point to something and pray it’s good. How am I supposed to act in this situation? Not sure, just look around and try to blend in. Is that an emergency exit and will the alarm sound if I go out through that door? You have a 50/50 shot, go for it and claim stupid American ignorance if it is. Of course, you should try to learn some of the language and customs of the culture you are traveling to experience, but it is impossible to plan for every possible situation. Phrase and guide books are useful, but you don’t want to be flipping through the book in the middle of a conversation or when there’s a line of people behind you. That’s an inconvenience for everyone, and nobody has time for that. To help all the tourists out there be not completely awful, I have compiled a list of ten things to do and keep in mind while touristing your way through the world.

1. Try to speak the native language to everyone you meet. The people who live in the place you are visiting will appreciate it and are more likely to help you out and work with you. Remember, you are visiting their country. Have some respect. It can be entertaining when you know a little French and your waitress knows a little English, so you play a game of sorts in communicating with each other, and I promise you will learn new things and it will be rewarding.

2. Do not expect your customs to transfer to the place you are visiting. Example: In Paris, dining is an experience to be relished. It is not like in the United States where quick service and a telepathic anticipation of the customer’s every need is expected. You only get things when you ask for them – politely. You are expected to enjoy yourself, your food, and your company. Even if the waiter knows you are American, you are in their culture and you need to adhere to their customs. And for the record, you should be polite to your American waiters too. Don’t be a jerk.

3. Stop complaining about differences between the culture you are in and your native culture. It guarantees you won’t have a good time. Sure, note the differences, and you can dislike some of their customs, but don’t complain about it. Your complaints will not change the way an entire society operates, so get over it, adapt, and enjoy yourself.

4. Primp before getting to the front of the line or mob of humanity if waiting to get to the front of a line or mob of humanity to take a picture of/with something. Example: I want to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa, and there is a humungous mass of humanity shoving and heaving, trying to get to the front for a good picture of/with the Mona Lisa. I’ll stay back here to fix my hair and makeup before I start throwing elbows to get to the front. That way I won’t waste a lot of time getting the picture done when I do bash my way to the front.

5. Do not edit your photos right after you take them while still standing in front of the object you took a picture of/with. Example: I clawed my way to the front of the mob to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa. I snapped a few photos, so one will turn out, maybe, and I will promptly get out of the way of other humans and carbon-based life forms who want to get to the front for a good picture, editing my photos on my own time where I won’t be in the way of others.

6. Try to be courteous of other people who want to take pictures. Example: Someone is taking a picture of that fountain. There’s ample space to walk behind the person, so I will do that instead of walking in the two feet of space between their camera and their subject. OR: Other people want to take a picture of this, so I will get my picture as quickly as I can so I do not monopolize the area because other people have as much right to get their picture taken with this as I do.

7. Try new things. I hate seafood. Hate. It’s disgusting and whoever had the idea to eat slimy sea creatures needs to be resurrected and beaten with a sack of lobsters. Sorry, I got a little violent there. Everything turned red and a dark fury descended upon me. I’m sure you know the feeling. When I was in Normandy, I decided to try the Normandy omelette. Unbeknownst to me, it has mussels in it. I did not complain. I ordered that item because it was a specialty of the area, and I probably should have known it would have seafood in it. I tried it. Honestly, if I didn’t think about it being mussels and I got a lot of cheese in each bite, it was pretty good. I inevitably would think about the fact that squishy bivalve mollusks were sloshing around in my mouth and gag, but it was a new experience and I am glad I tried it.

8. Don’t stand in the middle of public areas when you are lost and confused. Move off to the side. I mean, really, compose yourself in private, people. It’s not that difficult and if you can’t manage this one, do us all a favor and stay home.

9. Shut up. Americans are loud. We need to be conscious of this and shut the hell up when we are in other countries. No, do not sing parts of songs you don’t really know at the top of your lungs in the park. Whisper when you are in a place of worship. Walk over to the person you want to talk to rather than yell across the room at the museum. Just because we do it like that in ‘Murica does not mean we need to do it like that in other countries.

10. If traveling in a group, do not whine about allowing time for people to do what interests them. It’s rude. Just because you don’t like museums does not mean that you need to whine about the group spending too much time at a museum. Other people find it interesting. If you don’t, you need to act like an adult and find a way to entertain yourself. Nearly every museum we went to had a cafe in it. Go to the cafe, sit, have a drink, and socialize or go on social media. Bring a book or notebook and pen with you. Listen to music. People watch from a bench. Just don’t be disrespectful to your group members and take time away from them because you want to be an uncultured brat.

Pompi-Don't Know If That's Art

The Pompidou Centre has very nice balls. A whole line of them, progressing from small to large. Or does it go large to small? I suppose that’s up to the audience interpretation. I interpret the tipped-over globe as a commentary on how the world is on its side, not quite topsy-turvy – that would be too fun – but prone and lifeless. Though, there is no up or down in space, so really the world can be turned any which way and still be portrayed correctly. Or maybe since the base of the globe was still attached, the artist tipped it on its side so that the ball would fit into the succession of height via spherical diameter, taking the stand out of the equation. Why not take the stand off the globe? Then it could just be a ball. We may never know. I’m going with the artist tried to separate globe from stand, but was defeated by the glue binding the globe to the stand. Must’ve been the Kragle. We all know the power of the Kragle. Where is the Chosen when you need him?

It's a lineup of balls. 

Another art piece of interest was the chess piece on a chair. Black chess piece. White chair. Is that supposed to be a statement about racism? If so, I take offense. You, George Brecht, are leaving out entire cultures of peoples with your black/white paradigm. Maybe there could have been, like, a brown soda bottle sitting on the chair too. Bah, I’m used to being left out of the conversation. Let’s focus on the fact that A CHESS PIECE ON A CHAIR IS NOT ART. I’m sorry, it’s just not. You may be able to pull one over on the Pompidou Centre, Brecht, but you ain’t foolin’ me.

Art?

There was another piece that I found extremely intriguing. Some sort of provocative question about the sustainability of the human race. Building tools and textiles left unused. A pallet of wood, chopped down, dead, left untouched, unneeded. How long can this earth be our slave? How long before we are tragically brought down by our own inability to recognize what our progress and growth costs? How much more can – wait. That’s just remodeling stuff that the workers haven’t gotten around to using yet. Never mind, people. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Let’s talk about the benches. Benches probably aren’t at the top of the traveler’s list of things to pay attention to, but they should be. When you are on your feet all day, you gain a profound respect for the bench. The depth of the seat, the material, where it is placed, how far off the ground it is, if it has any parts that snag clothing. The Pompidou Centre had the best benches. They were nice and deep so two people could comfortably sit back-to-back without even worrying about touching each other. And they were long enough that you could sit pretzel-legged without taking up much space relative to the entire seating capacity of the bench. The benches were low enough that I could comfortably rest my feet on the ground, but not so low that it was a laborious task to get back up. While the benches looked like they were made of concrete poured into a rectangular mold, they were, in reality, squishy like memory foam! I understand that seems to be an inordinate level of excitement for a squishy bench, but believe me, it is warranted. Because it was a essentially a giant Tempur-Pedic® mattress, I didn’t run the risk of tearing my dresses, an all-too-real problem with wooden and metal benches. Many a good sundress has been lost to scraggly benches. Best of all, the benches are placed in front of art so you can continue to take in the artwork and ponder it. In fact, I would argue that the benches were strategically placed in front of pieces that the curator wanted you to stop and contemplate instead of pass by casually.

My favorite art piece was a sign that questioned if it was art. I asked that a lot in the Pompidou. Art? There were exhibits that used sound, some had motion pictures with no sound, others used moving parts, some had lights. Sometimes there were larger reproductions of normal objects, like a giant box of matches. I just wonder if those behemoth matches could actually alight if struck against the playhouse of a box. Of course, there were paintings and drawings too, and some of those were out there as well. Like the body painting (using girls as paintbrushes – having them roll around in paint to create art), or the one of the penguin in the supermarket. Why? I don’t know. And you know what? I don’t really care. It made me laugh, and that’s good enough for me. Good on ya, Pompidou Centre. You certainly aroused my curiosity.

Hmmm...good question.
Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. -Pablo Picasso
Penguin in a supermarket.
Giant box of matches.

Other art. Some i really liked. Some i thought were...interesting.

Epilogue: There was a mural that you could color in the gift shop and I colored in a bee. I think the curator should move my bee to the exhibition floor. It’s a masterpiece.

My bumblebee. 

Peg Legs for Pigeons

The pigeons in Paris have seen things. They’ve engaged in warfare, and they have survived. You will see battle-worn birds hobbling around on a stump for a foot, perhaps lost in a fight with a cat, or a soda can. But do these fowl heroes pity themselves? No. They meet every challenge set before them with the bravado of a flat-brimmed, backwards cap-wearing teenage athlete who will probably never make it to first string in college. Kids chase them, and they hop just far enough so they are out of reach. Fly away? Nah, that’s for cowards. Those pigeons are winners. Like a matador fighting a bull, they exert the least amount of effort to gracefully avoid the oncoming danger. Sometimes they lose, but they always rise again. And they are everywhere. Go into a building, and you’ll most likely still find a pigeon. You cannot escape them, you cannot keep them down, so you might as well bow down to their staunch indomitableness.

What are you lookin' at?

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.)

Fancy.

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.

Behold! Beer chandelier and salsa can vases!

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.

The Louvre

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.

Musée Cluny

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.

After ascending my staircase (yes, it is mine), I floated over to inspect the busts lining the hallway. Ladies do float, after all. Walking is for the common folk. I took a stroll (also something ladies do) around the staircase and came upon a costume gallery with exquisite outfits that must have weighed thirty pounds apiece with all the jewels and beading on them. From there I went into a large hall with fireplaces on either end. Gilded floor-to-ceiling windows with velvet curtains lined one length of the hallway, and gilded floor-to-ceiling mirrors with velvet curtains lined the other length. Crystal chandeliers were interspersed at equal intervals. Exiting on the other side of the hall, I found myself in a smaller hallway. Less extravagant, but still ornate. No matter where you went in the Palais, wherever there wasn’t a window, door, or mirror, there was a painting.

Looking down on the peasants.

From the small hallway, I found the library. Floor to ceiling books, two stories. It was a dream come true. Except for the part where the books were caged. But you know I still managed to touch some. After the excitement of the library, I made my way to find box five, and oh my goodness, they actually have a gold plate on the door that says it’s the box of the Phantom of the Opera! I couldn’t go in, but I did push my phone right up against the glass in the door to take a picture of the inside.

Library. You can't see the cage and railing preventing me from touching these books.

There was another box open, and I am told I was so excited to go into the theatre that I was dancing around and hopping up trying to catch a glimpse. There was a family in front of me blocking my view and barring my way to the front of the box. They were having a conversation about lunch, not even looking at the theatre! Ignorant fools! I think I eventually made them nervous with all my dancing and jumping around, and they left. I actually lost my breath when I stepped to the front of the box. It was gorgeous. All the seating and walls are in red velvet. The architecture is in gold. The stage is black, the ceiling has a mural of the performing arts, and the chandelier is...it’s THE chandelier. How else to describe it? That is not a chandelier. It is the chandelier. It made me sad to think of it having to fall.

A wee bit happy. 

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.

Adieu

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.

Until next time, Paris!
Created By
Sara Erickson
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Credits:

I took pictures, and I borrowed some from friends and fellow travelers Abbey and Bobbi.

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