Our trip started with a 3-hour delay sitting on the runway. You know when you fall asleep on a plane and wake up later, only to find out that you haven’t taken off yet? It was one of those. I traded some barbs with the guy sitting next to me about the captain’s announcements. He got on the mic every so often to tell us it would be another 15 minutes, or another half hour, to the point that we came to dread hearing his voice. We had a few good laughs at the captain’s expense. Only after we got to Paris did I see my neighbor pull out a US Army-issued backpack, with a Special Forces patch on it. I didn’t have the nerve to ask what kind of places those credentials had taken him lately. But we wished each other well and said goodbye.
X and I didn’t want to take a taxi into the city, fearing the price, and so hopped on a train to downtown Paris. We exited at the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, and saw that magnificent building upon exiting to the street. What a site! We took a few pictures, but didn’t wander around too much with our luggage. It took a while to find a taxi, but eventually we did, arrived at the hotel, checked in, and promptly fell asleep for a nap.
We woke around 5pm and headed to the first site on our list, the Eiffel Tower. Navigating our way through the crowds and the touts selling keychains, we found the line to the elevator, where some Englishmen informed us they’d waited a half hour to get to the entrance. But the line at the stairs was nonexistent, so we decided to climb! It’s really not that bad. We walked up to the first level and had a beer, taking lots of pictures of the city. It was after six, but the light was as strong as if it were noon. We walked up to the second level to see more. The views were amazing!
Having had enough, we descended to the ground and took some more pictures, then took the subway to a random neighborhood: St. Germain. We had no reason to go there other than that I had once heard a band by that name, and it sounded good enough. We walked around until we found a suitable restaurant, then had a delicious dinner of steak (for me) and duck confit (for Xianyi). Just lovely. We were amazed to see that it remained light until about 10pm, a welcome surprise.
The following day was for the Louvre. We overslept and arrived there just before noon. After taking a few pictures next to I.M. Pei’s pyramid (yay China!) we went inside to find the Mona Lisa (of course). The French have been collecting art here for 500 years and yet somehow this one painting dominates the place. The people flock to it. There are signs everywhere that forbid flash photography, but it seems the staff have given up trying to stop people; the cameras pop and flash as if it was a Brad Pitt sighting. So now we’ve seen the Mona Lisa (La Joconde); I must say, it was underwhelming. In fact, the whole museum was mostly a bore. I enjoyed some of the sculptures – Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave – but walking through the halls and halls of old paintings of Bible scenes was just boring. There was nothing to grab me.
Sunday we took another tack and went to the Pompidou Center. We saw an exhibit called Dreamlands, which dealt with the modern urban landscape. It showcased earlier exhibits from World’s Fairs and amusement parks, particularly those that tried to imagine the future of the city. Coney Island’s DreamLand played a major role, as did Las Vegas. There were images of the many pavilions around the world which have miniature Eiffel Towers, Empire State Buildings, and Pyramids for park-goers to wander about and photograph themselves in front of. The exhibit was meant to question the value of authenticity. It had particular resonance for me on this trip, as Xianyi and I are sure to end up with lots of pictures of ourselves in front of landmarks – exactly the same pictures that visitors to these amusement parks could end up with. In the other galleries, we beheld the typical trappings of modern art: cubes and triangles carefully arranged on the floor, a black canvas with a single vertical white stripe (“looks like half a ping-pong table”), a movie of a woman in a kitchen naming the tools she uses for cooking. Xianyi and I were both unimpressed with the lot. She said something to the effect of “anyone could have made this”, and I thought back to a recent discussion of the NYC Junta, where we posed these and other questions.
We went from there to meet a cousin of Xianyi’s friend, a Chinese girl who has been living in Paris for five years. She and her boyfriend met us for a drink and then we took a walk around the Louvre area, including Napoleon’s palace (now the Museum of the Army), and walked all the way from there to the Champs Elysses. They had to get home after that, but they recommended a nice restaurant for dinner. Another great meal!
Monday took us back to Notre Dame, where we had a proper look inside. Although I’ve given up Catholicism, I do still feel the pull of a proper cathedral. I was disturbed to see that even here they have stopped trying to cease tourists taking pictures. Does no one have any respect left for a holy site? Cameras were snapping away, flashes disturbing the tranquil darkness of the interior. I couldn’t help but have a smug satisfaction that none of these pictures would be any good. Guess what, people: when you take a snapshot with flash inside a long, dark corridor, that picture is not going to come out. Just try to enjoy it. I lit a candle, left some coins for the poor, and abandoned the barbarians to their desecration.
From there, we walked and walked, around the Island St Louis, onto the Rue des Archives on the Right Bank, and over to the Picasso Museum, which I was really excited to visit (finally, some decent art!), but it was closed for renovation until 2012! We went back to the hotel and took a nap, then went out for Japanese and walked the streets of our neighborhood until midnight.
Tuesday we tried to secure a UK visa for her. It turns out my company may want me in London at the end of this trip, and since Da Hai is living there, it would have been great to take her with me. But alas, there is not enough time to fulfill the long list of demands that is required of 3rd-world citizens. Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. The bastards. So we gave that idea up and ended up at the train station five hours early for our departure to Caen in Normandy. That has given me time to write this, although I won’t be able to post it until I find a wifi connection…