Thursday, March 19, 2009

Je suis un amoureuse

Je suis un amoureuse. Yes, I am a lover, especially of beautiful things. Who isn't?

Christmas time in Paris is magical. But more than any other place, walking on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, or the Elysian Fields, encompasses the feeling more than anything. In France, it is le plus belle avenue du monde, or the most beautiful avenue in the world, and I think no one can possibly argue. You can walk from the east, from the Place de la Concorde (which has the obelisk that marks it), through the avenue, until the west side of the avenue to the Place de l'Étoile, the turnabout where 12 avenues meet (hence its name as the "Star Place"), the middle of which is the Arc de Troimphe.

If you would enter from the west, through the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps you can have the full effect of what Parisians say, at this point, you are entering paradise. The "Arc of Triumph" is what Napolean built after the war to honor his victories and pay tribute to the many unknown soldiers of WWI.During Christmas, all the lights that line up the north and south side of the avenue are lit with blue lights. The scene is absolutely bewitching.

Even during non-Christmas season, my sister thought walking quietly through the route, with the sprinkling rain, was one of her most spellbinding experiences.

With some of the highest rent in the world, only the best stores and restaurants line the street--although in recent years, there seem to be some tasteless additions such as Abercrombie and Fitch. However, you can spot the most glorious of the Louis Vuitton stores, where you can find the best of travel-goods, pricey terrace restaurants that hold dishes that seem undoubtedly savory, the French auto Renault's speed racer car expo and even a Quick (the French equivalent of McDonald's) and Le Petit Brioche (a pastry goods chain) all on this enormous street.
It is some people's shopping haven (or heaven). I would love to be one of the those people, but until then, a girl can dream...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Heaven...I'm in heaven

Vous me manquez, Paris!

Yes, I miss Paris. I miss being in love. But I decided to get over it. Move on. Disassociate the whole love affair with the city. That is why those of you following my blog are just NOT going to hear about it anymore. It is too painful to think about everyday. I need to go to other cities and other realms for a while before I have the heart to return to Paris. I hope that is okay with you all...

My mood about it all can be encapsulated in one of my favorite Elizabeth Bishop poems. If you want, you can read it here. I don't want it all to sound so tragic, but sometimes it kind of feels that way. And before you get too frustrated with my sensitivity, remember, everyone is entitled to their feelings. And how can I tell my heart to stop if it doesn't want to? So I will go back to ignoring it.
Instead, I will talk about my absolute favorite spot in Paris: Sacré-Cœur. The picture above is my sister and me, visiting the spectacular spot together.

There is nothing I loved better than to walk up those steps during EVERY visit to Paris. It made me feel like I was ascending toward something better, toward a heaven that did not seem so beyond me, here on Earth.
Though you have to walk through a pretty questionable neighborhood (you have to watch for pickpockets), and depending on how fit you are, it may be your personal hell climbing up the hills and up the steps to get to the Basilica, you will not be disappointed.

So, if you, dear reader, hunger for another romance, I will give it to you, though with a little alteration. Here is my love story with Sacré-Cœur (note: for lack of a better pronoun, I have substitutde "it" for "her" as do the French with the pronoun "elle." I am fully aware of the undertones of this, but you as my reader must try to ignore it, or not.)
My dearest Sacré-Cœur,

I fell in love with you at first sight, though I already had seen other more elaborately ornate edifices and churches. You struck some chord in me that I cannot describe, and still capture me when I think of you. The quiet simplicity you displayed, in comparison to Notre Dame, seemed to beckon to me. You are unaware. You do not know your beauty in your still white innocence and only wait patiently for the thousands that come into your doors each day, welcoming the guests with peaceful song.

There are no come hither looks from you, but only a smile with your face up, looking honestly into the sun, casting the sun's light through the windows into your dome. You only see truth up there in the sky, resting on the clouds, floating perfectly as if holding hands with some God that whispers in your ear.

I salute you, and hold your memory dear in my heart. Until next time.

Bonsoir, mon amour.
Isn't that romantic? haha. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic, but I have decided to use my energies toward something else. And I don't mean to diminish the beauty of love at this time. I only want to bring light to the beauty in other things, like the creation of this glorious building as a place to worship something higher than ourselves, outside the human realm, and supposedly more beautiful that anything on Earth. Absolute Love and Truth. Isn't it a beautiful idea?
The view of Paris from the top of the Sacré-Cœur on top, and Notre Dame on the bottom.

Comparing the two above, many people will disagree with me and feel more inclined to like the intricacy and extravagant beauty of Notre Dame. Though I cannot argue with the aesthetic perfection of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur is my personal preference.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lulu, love, Where's the Loo in the Louvre?

Everyone knows that the must-see museum in Paris is the Louvre, the great fortress of the Mona Lisa, or La Jaconde. To many tourists, however, the whole experience can be quite disappointing. There is the crowded gathering around the masterpiece, and it seems like a small painting when mounted on a huge white wall and security all around it, with a dozen camera flashes by the second, and its imprisonment behind a huge glass case definitely does not add to its charm. But it is amazing. The eyes follow you no matter where you may turn, and if you try to catch the Jaconde off-guard, it doesn't work--I've tried.

If your schedule doesn't allow you time to go INSIDE the Louvre, it is worth to walk outside from the Place de Concorde through the Garden de Tuleries. This is the true central park of Paris, and actually has many pockets of quiet space away from crowds that can be quite refreshing in the center of the city in the prime tourist spots. There are beautiful sculptures, fountains, and trees that go through the park and lead up to the Louvre pyramids: the dazzling glass pyramids designed by I.M. Pei. The juxtaposition of the old Palace with the new futuristic edifice--which had caused quite a controversy when it was first built--has still left spectators speechless.

Here is my friend, Kristen, modelling for me as I tested my photography skills. She is such a compliant subject for my art!

Either way, the Louvre is overwhelming to see all in one day. There are four parts to the museum, all through the Palais de Louvre and beyond, and it would be virtually impossible to see it all. Still, it is worth it. Just map out what it is you want to see and where you want to go. Go through the Sully wing and head for La Jaconde, then go see the infamous Praxiteles' sculpture Venus de Milo, then head to my favorite, Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova, and make the grand finale to Nike of Samotrace sculpture. The Hellenistic art pieces and sculpture are vital to view, according to my little sister, who is the art history buff.

I prefered to wander about and was especially captivated by the old chambers of Louis the XIV that was on display before they moved to Versailles. However, the decorative arts and royal furniture spans many different royal families and many centuries.
Although I only focused on the Louvre in this entry, there are so many ABSOLUTELY fabulous museums in Paris. The other essentials include the Musee d’Orsay, which is the great impressionist museum and just across to the left-bank of the Seine, the Musee Rodin which holds many of the great sculptor's works, and the Centre Pompidou, or the main museum of modern art in Paris (that has a particularly cool building that is also a must-see).
I love this picture of my friend Shirin. This particular trip during Christmas was so special to both of us.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Ramble in Le Jardin de Luxembourg...

For those of you who didn't catch it, the title above refers to the title of a poem by the Earl of Rochester. I have a particular affinity with this poem because this is when my writing drastically improved--writing about this poem in comparison to John Donne's "The Flea" for my college T.A. crush.
Anyway, the next day, my Irish love and I went to Sarkozy’s house, walking and talking our way around the Luxembourg Palace. The fountain had a myriad of people that surrounded it, and whether they were the tourists or the crème de la crème of Paris, most were watching the others.

There was a thoughtful silence as we walked around the wrought iron fence that enclosed the Jardin de Luxembourg, looking at the display of current photo exposition, which exhibited beautiful aerial shots of the splendors of the earth and breathtaking photographs of the most memorable events of the 20th century—some sad, and some happy. Apparently, knowing this particular outdoor photo expo at the Palais de Luxembourg is a must-do for every posh Parisian.

There are also those that advocate turning the park into a NYC-like Central Park in Paris. I guess that explains the runners and the old hat ladies. But, I bet Luxembourg gardens compete with the Palais des Tuileries, next to the Louvre, for that "central park" title. What do I think? Well, Luxembourg Gardens would make a prime and central location, being close to the renowned Sorbonne University (below). It also just has that personal feel to it. But Tuileries is also just magnificient, and alot bigger, too.
The best part was that the photos from the exposition were illuminated at night, which we noticed while we were walking by another day. Make sure to take a stroll by here for a little bit of all--the romance, art, and people.
That is me in Luxembourg Garden, above, with the Parthenon of Paris far behind me.

Then when you are sufficiently tired, and not TOO tired, since the French insist on savoring every aspect of life and being exhausted will not allow that, walk across the street for a cup of espresso and a luscious pastry. One of these extravagant cafés will surely help you soak in all the charm around you.

If that isn't enough, or you have had just about enough of the rude French waiters and no one can understand you and your feet are about to fall off and you are stressed out because you have longed forever to inhale a cigarette with true nonchalance, or all of the above, perhaps a Gauloise will calm you. Although I don't really promote them...

Not a smoker? Well, every Francophile makes sacrifices of health.

Just kidding.

Circa 1960, here are two famous Frenchmen who were Gauloise smokers and obvious cigarette connoisseurs--the writer Joseph Kessel and writer/philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Lodging Question

We stayed at the Hôtel Palma Paris, on the Rue de Gambetta near the Edith Piaf museum. It was a great location, clean, and for what it was, the price was relatively fair. Don't be surprised when the rooms look nothing like the pictures on the website. In fact, if you are on a budget, go to Paris with the lowest expectations possible and the disappointment won't be so shattering. I think it had the worst hostel selection from all the cities in Europe.

Later, I wish I had stayed with friends who were staying a stop away near Place de Bastille, at a “cozy” (aka cheap) hostel called the Hôtel Saint Sebastien off the Richard Lenoir metro. I stayed here every other time I was in Paris thereafter, after two failed attempts of tracking down anything better. The San Sebastien is a great central location to wherever you may want to go around Paris and is cleaner than some of the other places at the same price. However, if you would rather stay up all night mingling with fellow jolly travellers in a downstairs bar, then Three Ducks Hostel is the place for you. I must warn you that you will have it be at the price of sharing a room and shower with twelve people and a bathroom with two floors of gnarly, unwashed vagabonds. Therefore, a decent shower or good night's sleep are not guaranteed here. You may not party it up at the San Sebastien, but you do get a "free" breakfast of croissants, confiture, and chocolate chaud that is included in the room charge. I guess it just depends on what you are looking for.

Wandering through the streets the first night, after going to the Tour d'Eiffel, we went through the famous Bastille district,which is the trendy place to be for the youth of Paris. I was, frankly, emotionally drained out. I just wanted to sleep. This was because I had talked non-stop through dinner, rambled on straight through the crowds and up and around the signature phallic representation of France, and still persisted all the way back to our hotel. And then he wanted to talk MORE. "It's impossible!" I thought to myself, surely he had to be just as tired of listening as I was of rambling. I had nothing left to say.

Strategically, I led the way toward the Rue de Lappe, where I knew that if the conversation was lacking at some point, there was that some diversion was guaranteed here with its discotheques, bars, and cafés galore. Although I don’t remember the name of where we ended up, he chose the most quiet bar he could think of, you know, to talk, get to know me better (ha!) but I would have recommended the classic La Bastide. Not only is it reputed to have the most inexpensive beer in Paris, but it has an ambiance reminiscent of Old France.

On an evening later in the year and in a much different context, I would end up here with a ravishing half-Frenchie and half-Spaniard (my weakness) and it would tear the person who was so happily walking next to me apart. But we didn't know that now. I was nervously talking non-stop as my tongue felt dry and my throat was getting scratchy. He wasn't saying anything. Not like he had a chance...

He must have really liked me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Salut á Paris!


Since it is the week of Valentine’s Day, I thought I could begin only by talking about city of love, Paris (make sure you mentally pronounce this as PAR-eey for full emphasis). Not only have I had a tragic love affair with the city itself, but also a heartbreak that will forever associate Paris with a bittersweet taste. This seems only natural if you think of the abundance of inexpensive and delicious red wine at your disposal in this city!

I would wander through this city at least once a month since I lived only an hour away with the fast train--the TGV. In fact, it was exactly one year ago that I was making one of these monthly excursions.

Although each time was momentous and electrifying in its own way, this particular weekend was going to be unparalleled; I just knew it. A "special friend" from Ireland was coming to visit and I was ready for a dash of romance in my life, though I was not looking for what it would eventually become. Namely, I wanted a foreign fling during my fleeting time there, and hopefully with someone who was not going to pronounce his love for me on the first date (Oh Tomas, if only you didn’t have to be so French!) Don't get me wrong, the gesture was appreciated, just a tad bit strange for my American tastes. So, hopefully, Irish here would pick up on the alliteration and take a hint. Where better to have a rendez-vous since our first meeting in NYC?