Sunday, September 28, 2003

Postcard from Paris
(travel blog by Doug)

Alrighty, prizes for anyone who catches a spelling mistake. (A shout out to my mother who caught my consistent use of "Dodge" instead of "Doge" in entries about Venice, now corrected.)

A cheap hotel, in the right neighbourhood

So my hotel - the Residence Mauroy - is cheap, in a good neighbourhood, being just off the Bde Madelaine (easy walking distance to Musee D'Orsay, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, etc). The towels are more bare than thread, and the bathroom (which has an olfactory ambiance all of its own) has those pink and grey tiles of the 1950s, which also may have been about the last time anyone cleaned the grouting.

An 80s paisley beadspread hides the room's true colours, in the form of a blanket with a very 70s pattern of burnt-orange circles (think groovy hotplates). A seventies-style portrait of a peasant woman with a straw in her mouth looking drunkenly (I presume
"seductively" was the intent) over one shoulder completes the slight bordello ambiance created by the mirror occupying one entire wall of my room.

Still, given I am in the district of the Church of Mary Magdelene, and every third shop just back off the high-fashion strip seems to be a porn store, maybe the subtle nuances of my decor are appropriate.

The long, inward opening windows, are, however, very Parisienne. It's cosy, cute and mine. Cheap, clean and near all the big attractions and with friendly desk staff who let me use my French, just what I need.

First night in town - Thursday - I was pretty tired and did little more than walk around the neighbourhood, watch "Smallville" dubbed into French and fall asleep early.

Art-shock part I, and stereotypically "Parisienne" waitressing

Friday, I spent the morning at Sacre Couer, where I managed to get up to the tower and down into the crypt with absolutely no other tourists about. A very special feeling, being alone with that view of Paris' rooftops.

Then I completely did my feet and calves in at the Musee D'Orsay which was closed except for a special exibition when I was last here in 1993-4. The fact that it covers really the only period of art where I know my apples (1848 - 1950) proved a real liability: I was completely overloaded and went into art-shock pretty much by the time I got to the impressionists.

Had to bail before Van Gogh and bolt to the cafeteria for a bracing baugette before returing to the field.

My fellow art lovers seemed to be showing the strain also, towards the end of post-impressionism many looked as lively and coherent as survivors of Verdunne.

I went home for a little nap, then decided to hit the 5eme/Latin Quarter district for some dinner. Hadn't a clue what I was doing, but bumped into four Australians who took me under their wing. After walking all the way up to the Pantheon we desecended again to the Seine, where at 8.40 pm with exceeding ill grace a waitress seated us and condescended to allow us to order from the 15 euro tourist menu. The food was excellent, the service characterised by clearing a place through the expedient of flinging the cutlery across the room (I exaggerate, but not by much).

At half time a different waiter was called off the benches and service improved. Karma struck when we realised we'd not been billed for one of our meals. We paid up rapidly and got out, claiming the "karma discount on service" as I put it.

The journey of over 1,000 steps begins with a lot of climbing, and finishes much the same way

Saturday I climbed over 1,000 upward steps taking in the Notre Dame towers, the Pantheon, Dome des Invalides (Napoleon's tomb), the Eiffel Tower by the stairs (I took the lift all the way up last time) and the Arc de Triomphe. Each comes with a minimum 250 stairs. (Well, not Napoleon's tombs). Still you gotta love a good roofscape.

Also, after my dose of art-shock from just too many museums I decided I just needed a day of stuff I could climb and then go "ooh, pretty" while sweating profusely and cursing my limited water supplies.

Saturday night my will broke and I went to do some laundry, again in the 5eme arrondisement (there just isn't a laundrette near me), which involved taking the metro a total of 10 stops and changing train once. I should have put myself through too, as I was feeling pretty rank after all my stair climbing. Still, when I got home a bit after 10 pm, it was a good tired.

Just being a tourist (art-shock II), and an unexpected afternoon

Today has been a bit nervy, a little anxious. I think it's realising that by this time tomorrow I will be in Cambridge. I tackled the Louvre in the morning (and can I say there is a special circle of HELL reserved for those who take cheesy flash-photo portraits of loved ones in the ruck before the Mona Lisa).

Yep, I did the tourist hit-list of the Venus de Milo, the winged victory and the Mona Lisa. I had more fun though getting out of the tourist menagerie and into the state rooms of Napoleon III. "Sumptuous" is not the word (and that's probably not how one spells it either). They were still in use for government functions as recently as 1989 by the Minister of Finance, and if I could throw dinner parties there at government expense, I'd have hung onto it as long as possible too.

Anyway, despite the "day of stairs" I lapsed back into "museum shock" pretty fast after clocking up a measly 3.5 Louvre hours. It was nap time again, and the afternoon was a bit grey and miserable. Still, I needed to do something.

I thought I'd hit the musuem of Paris history in the 3eme arrondisement. On breaking into daylight out of the metro, I discovered myself in one of the prettiest areas of Paris. Admittedly, BMW owning upper-middle class, "the poor don't come here to spread litter and disease in front of our antique shops, thank you kindly" kind of pretty, but pretty none the less. I got distracted from my mission by the signs pointing the way to the National Picasso Museum.

Picasso was a childhood hero (and not for his prodigous successes with women). Like the Guggenhiem in Venice, and the Musee D'Orsay, I felt surrounded by old friends in a calm and airy environment. It was a real boost to the spirits, as was the coffee and cake I had at a patisserie afterwards. (Tip: when looking for a good snack, follow the trail of locals clutching baguettes back to its source.)

I was even complemented on my French by a salesman at the Louvre shop today.

So, not a bad day at all.

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