So I’ve decided all of these will probably just be really long. Sorry, I talk a lot.
Life is full of destinations.
We mainly travel by the metro system with our tiny little metro passes that could so easily be lost. They're literally a piece of paper that's about a half an inch by an inch and a half. When we’re not using the metro, we are walking. So much walking. The majority of the locals use the metro as well (as far as I can tell) or scooters/motorcycles. Mostly scooters though, which in my opinion are less cool than motorcycles, but it works for them.
Okay some technicalities to get out of the way about how our grouping works. About 10 of us are in a group that goes to one of the four wards in the area. I am in a group that goes out to Antony. There are four groups total. So each group meets in the morning with either the Murphy’s (married, both Professors, and have their three sons with us) or with the Howards (Professor, his wife and two daughters) for a spiritual thought and just a general meeting to discuss how things are going. My group and another of the four groups meet with the Murphy’s. Okay I think that’s all I need to explain…
In the past couple days we have gone to a LOT of touristy sites. We (split into the two different groups that meet in the mornings) went on a full on three hour walking tour with Sam, our attractive tour guide from Minnesota who’s lived here for about 5 years now. His accent was interesting since he’s spoken mainly French for a while now but was obviously American. He could answer almost any question we threw at him, which was extremely impressive considering we are a curious group of students. We started at the St. Michel fountain (Michael thrusting Lucifer from Heaven during the War in Heaven, in case you were wondering) and walked to Shakespeare and Company, an old bookstore that is SO COOL! A few of us went back later that day to actually go in the store and I could’ve been in there all day but we didn’t have that kind of time. It was literally filled with books. The shelves went all the way to the ceilings; the stairs had books on them, the couches, the tables, the piano that was upstairs, the railings, and the window sills, the books were stuffed everywhere and anywhere. I was a kid in a candy store. I might have even drooled a little bit and I’m not even embarrassed to admit that.
We walked by the park (not really sure it had an official name) where the last ‘ritual’ of Dadaism was performed. We walked by Notre Dame again but this time learned more about it because Sam is a boss. The green looking statues that go up to the spire are meant to be the apostles and he explained that the majority of the statues around and on the church were mainly for political purposes. We learned that St. Denis, from Greece, was preaching and the crowd he was preaching to did not like it so they beheaded him (that’s the first thing I think to do when I hear something I don’t like…). Apparently Denis stood, picked up his head, and walked it to some lady somewhere. Then he walked to some hill and buried himself. Now, at that spot, there is a cathedral where many kings through history are buried. Good story, right? I might start telling that at all the parties I go to.
We walked down Rue de Cloitre, part of the old Forbidden City where women were not allowed and where strictly monks lived. I felt as though I was breaking rules being an LDS girl walking down the street in my khakis and flannel. Oops. We came to an apartment complex that held the love story of Heloise and Abelard. Heloise, a celibate nun, was instructed by her uncle (potentially another family member but that is a minor detail) to meet up with Abelard, a celibate monk, to have a theological discussion. Well, nine months later, their child is born and they were separated eternally by being buried at opposite ends of the city once they passed. Prior to that, I believe they were just kept very far away from each other. I think Sam said some crazies a while back unburied them and reburied them together somewhere else in the city, ‘reuniting’ them. A lot of the doors in Paris have little faces of Heloise and Abelard on opposite sides, looking over at each other. I asked and apparently their child wasn’t all that special, just in case you were wondering that too.
We walked by St. Chapelle, which I plan on seeing before we leave for London, which is the only other church besides Notre Dame left standing on that island area (surrounded by the Seine River) of the original 27 that were built. Napoleon III, Bonaparte’s nephew, wanted wider streets and apparently the churches were in the way. Rude. We traversed to the “New Bridge”, new in the sense that it did not have houses on it, the sidewalks were raised, and it was made of stone, built by Henry III (he was trying to build it with the taxes he put on wine—bad idea to tax a Frenchman’s wine) but finished by Henry IV, who the people apparently really liked. Along the side of it were ugly faces which were drawn by Henry IV at the opening night of the bridge. All of his fancy, high-end guests had gotten really drunk so he was drawing their faces and decided instead of just mailing them out to the owners of the faces, he had them sculpted into the side of the bridge. And his face? On a super legit statue of him on a horse right next to the bridge. Of course. By the bridge were some stairs where Jacques Emole (not sure on the spelling but that’s what it sounded like) was burned alive on Friday the 13th. Hence that day considered to be unlucky. The stairs are unlucky as well so we walked on the other side of the river as to not be eternally cursed.
Okay now one of my favorite parts. The Louvre. THE LOUVRE. My jaw wouldn’t stay up and I can admit I definitely DID drool a bit. No shame. It is spectacular and that is still an understatement. It’s monstrously huge, with such intricate detail and fine workmanship. We came to the invisible pyramids and I couldn’t even concentrate on what Sam was saying, it was so moving. And we didn’t even go inside!! The only place we went in was a Starbucks for a bathroom break actually, in case you were curious of why I didn’t expand on any other place. Another fun fact, brought to you by Sam via this blog; if you were to spend just 30 seconds at all the hanging pieces of art at the Louvre and went every day during all their open hours, it would take you about 8 YEARS to see all of it. Just thirty seconds, and just the hanging pieces.
Across the courtyard was the Jardin de Tuileries, a gorgeous and huge garden that stands where a castle once stood that closed the Louvre off completely. The castle was intended for Katherine Dimetery (again, don’t trust my spelling) who was Italian royalty. She brought over the fork to France, was the first in the West to wear high heels to her wedding, and made the corset popular by requiring any women in her court to have a 14” or smaller waist. Anyone else disgusted by that? Cause I am. Anyway, the garden was made as symmetrical as possible, as to show ‘mankind’s assertion of domination over nature’, as Sam put it. It follows the Axis of Paris, which the Louvre is actually off of by like…13 meters or so? The Axis goes up through the Arc de Triomphe and is used all over Paris. Supposedly. Just don’t quote me on that. If it’s wrong, I blame Sam.
We ended the tour at Place de Concorde, the bloody square where the guillotine once stood. Among the hundreds of others who were beheaded there, a plaque in the ground, by the obelisk that stands in the middle of the Place de Concorde now, recognizes the beheadings of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. From there, we broke off into groups of 5-6 to do what we pleased. I went up the street, Champs-Elysees, one of the most expensive streets in Paris and extremely looong and covered with high-end stores, to the Arc de Triomphe. The ‘round-about’ surrounding that is one of the most dangerous streets in the entire world. It averages an accident every 30 minutes. Google it, it is crazy. Just watching the cars and scooters go around it, without any rules or street lines, stressed me out, despite my excitement of maybe witnessing an accident. According to Sam, some insurance companies here don’t cover you if you get in an accident in that circle. Yikes.
I did not go up the Arc de Triomphe but I’m not torn up about it. It was so amazing. There is an eternal flame that is underneath it, in honor of the unnamed and unknown soldiers of WWI and WWII. Again, according to Sam, it’s only been out three times. The first time was during the Nazi occupation of France. The second time was when France won the World Cup and a bitter supporter of the Brazil team relieved himself on the fire. The last time was when two American backpackers roasted their hot dogs just a little too close to the flames, one of the hot dogs fell in and put it out. Needless to say, those last three got a free flight home and a stamp in their passports saying something along the lines of “Never again in the EU”. But really, who roasts hot dogs over some random fire in the middle of a round-about, no matter where it is? Weirdos.
Before we ended back at the hotel that night, I had to use a public bathroom. And I’m not talking like a McDonalds or 711 status kind of bathroom. An automatic porta-potty. You push a button and the door opens. You do your thing, hoping SO hard that nobody decides to push the button while, well, yeah. The soap dispenses automatically, the water goes by itself, the fan goes when the water turns off, all the while a recording in French is telling you what is happening and you can’t understand any of it and just want out of this ridiculous and scary bathroom. No worries though, no one walked in on me. I pushed the button and got out just fine. It was slightly scarring I suppose but it could’ve been worse. Much worse.
Today consisted of a few museums, with quick run throughs as to see the things our professors want us to see for our classes, which might I add, don’t start until OCTOBER. Just so you know. We have little time to really get to see all that we want to so we got done with the things we needed to see. We went to Musee les Invalides, which used to be used for a hospital for Napoleon’s soldiers, where we saw an anniversary celebration of France’s firefighters and police force, honoring the force and the fallen. We didn’t mean to stumble upon it, but stumble we did. The guards, when we asked where the museum entrance was, decided it would be funny to mess with the little American girls and point us in every which direction. We eventually got in and saw exhibits on Charles de Gaulle, a French president who was at the forefront of the liberation of France after WWII, on WWI and II, and visited Napoleon’s (the III) tomb. It was GIANT! It was in the churchy looking part of the building, under the golden dome. We walked around in the Intendent Gardens outside the museum near the tomb.
The next museum was Musee Rodin, all statues, where we saw “The Kiss” and the “Monument to Balzac”. I really liked another one that we didn’t have to see, “The Centauress”. We didn’t spend too much time there and made our way to Musee d’Orsay to see “The Artist’s Studio”, by Courbet, “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe”, by Manet, and “Portrait of Dr. Gachet”, by Van Gogh. The museum itself was beautiful, high vaulted ceilings (that seems to be a theme here…) and more detail than I could describe on a good day. We headed back on the metro to the Latin District (area surrounding Notre Dame, St. Michel fountaine, etc) an area that is named such because it is near the university which has been around for centuries. There used to be a lot of bookstores there for the students and were primarily in Latin, hence the name, the Latin District. Or Quarter. Either way, you get what I mean.
We had crepes and gelato while sitting on the steps that lead down to the river, by a corner where two cafés face each other across cobblestone streets. We listened to an old man play the accordion on the bridge as we ate under the shadow of Notre Dame. A metaphorical shadow though considering there wasn’t much sun due to the overcast weather. It feels like home with all the overcast and humidity.
I just returned from an evening trip to the Eiffel Tower. Every hour on the hour for five minutes, it sparkles. We’re not talking Twilight here either—this is legit. It’s got to be hundreds, if not thousands, of white lights that just make the entire tower glitter.
Next post will probably be all pictures. Hopefully.
There ya go.