Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is there hope?

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the news again lately. On my flight returning from North Carolina, I read the Time Magazine cover story on coditionsinside of the Congo, after the supposed end of the civil war there. Today, CNN has a story regarding President Kabila's reaction to a CNN story on rapes and atrocities commited by the Congolese army. It has me wondering, when is it possible to truly start hoping in a place like the Congo? When can a Congolese citizen truly belief that the nightmare that they have been living for so many years is truly over?

I don't think anyone knows enough about Kabila the Younger to know if he really is a trustworthy character. At least in the CNN article he seems like he truly has compassion for the people who have been suffering in his country. Is that enough? At the same time, as a military man himself, how naive does he have to claim to be to say that he didn't know about widespread allegations of rape and other horrors.

I want to be able to hope for Africa. Last night, I was reading Paul Rusesabagina autobiography and it makes me more conflicted than ever. I don't know what I, as an American, can do right anymore with regard to Africa. I have this intense feeling of urgency to do something, but after so many misguided efforts, I don't know what the West is supposed to do to do things right. In college I thought I had all the answers, but I was just ignorant of the complexity of things.

I also read this article today in the Seattle Times about the murder charges pending against Lord Delamere's descendent in Kenya with a great deal of apprehension and a loss for what is right and what is wrong. Clearly it is wrong to kill someone. It is also wrong to be a poacher. I don't think one is any excuse for the other, but being a white person in Africa is so complicated these days. My whole love affair with the Out of Africa of Isak Dineson is what started part of my obsession with Africa, and now that just makes me feel like an elitist imperialist.

I wish I was still able to make sense of these things.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Grammy is no "Grandma"

A visit to North Carolina is like a visit to my happy days of childhood. When I was in elementary school, I picked out my future house on the corner of Sharon Road and Sharon Lane in Southeast Charlotte. Everytime I would pass that house I would say, I am going to live there someday. When I was in high school, I attended a college summer program at Davidson College. I was sure that its red brick campus would be the place that I would spend my college years. The July I spent at Davidson I felt like it was exactly what college was supposed to be like. So when, due to finances, I ended up in dusty Utah valley at BYU, it took me a while to make my peace. Of course, North Carolina is the home of my mother's family - who reside on the shores of Lake Norman, created by a dam in the 1960s. It is the one dam in the world I have made my peace with, at least in part because that lake is where I learned to sail and waterski and have about a hundred happy family memories associated with it. Grammy and Grampy actually got the land because he worked for Duke Power when the lake was created. Then, it was out in the middle of nowhere. Now, it is an expensive suburb of Charlotte, where the property values keep increasing, causing Grammy to complain about the constantly increasing property taxes, crowds, and traffic. In the past couple of years, the forest across the street from Grammy's house has been cleared to make the way for expensive homes. It is sad. The shade I always valued has been greatly reduced. My cousin Jordan, who lives next door to Grammy with my Uncle Bob and Aunt Tana, complains that one of these new homeowners is "Satan" because he gives her a dirty look when she takes walks by his house. It is truly unfortunate when rampant suburbanization brings the Prince of Darkness to your neighborhood.

I took a redeye plane Friday night not only across country, but miles away from the stress that consumes my days in Washington. Seeing the tall North Carolina hardwoods again was instant therapy.

It is quite a change from the evergreens of Washington State.

Mom and Melissa picked me up from the airport and we went out to Grammy's house, where we also met Sarah, who had driven down from Chapel Hill the day before. It was great to see them. As usual, one of our first activities consisted of shopping. Typically, in the past this entailed driving into Charlotte and paying a visit to Southpark Mall. We were able to see the shady oaks of Myers Park and the Queens College Campus on our way in. Of course now, driving to Charlotte always involves, "too much traffic", and lucky enough for Grammy and us, some developers recently completed Northlake Mall, complete with all of our favorite chain stores (once we confirmed it contained Anthropologie), which is located much closer to Grammy's house. Grammy possesses one of the most blessed treasures of any shop-a-holic, a lifetime 20% discount for anything she purchases at Dillard's. Grammy finagled her way into such a treat when she was forced into early retirement when Dillards bought out Ivy's, where Grammy had previously been employed in the accounting department. Since our childhood, our wardrobes are greatly endebted to this special credit card of Grammy's.

Most of the remainder of the weekend was spent at the lake. The weather was perfect for swimming - the highs were around 90 degrees every day, a real treat for a chilly Seattleite like myself. The water was much warmer than anything in the vicinty of the Pacific Northwest.


Mom bought an inflatable two person kayak, which we all enjoyed immensely, even if all I could do was go in circles. Melissa fared much better than I did - perhaps because of her upper body strength because of years of swim team training, or perhaps because Mom owns a regular kayak that she and Melissa take out in Pensacola.


I can't believe my cousin Greg, who used to beg for us to tell him ghost stories and was obsessed by dinosaurs is now in college. It makes me feel like I am two hundred years old. Jordan, his sister, is our only other cousin on my mom's side of the family and is turning 17 in July. I am eleven years older than her almost to the day. Here are Greg, Melissa, Sarah, and Jordan enjoying Grammy's Sunday afternoon lunch on Grammy's back porch.


Is this a good time for me to interject how much I love Grammy's back porch? Aside from the everpresent wasps, it is one of my favorite places to sit and read or just admire the view in general.


All in all, it was a great three days. I was sad to go home. I love my family and being the sap that I am these days, I always cry when I have to say goodbye. Isn't that true, Mom?


So when I headed out to the Charlotte, Douglas International Airport, I was sad. The only upside to coming back to Seattle was that I was finally able to see David again - who was back from his family vacation in Europe. The sadness of coming back to Seattle was magnified by the fact that while I was gone, due to the magnitude of rain Seattle experienced during the weekend, the sewer in our neighborhood backed up and flooded our house. Some of my things were ruined. The fact that you are going back to a home with raw sewage is never a pleasant thought. Particularly since I am moving later this week and alot of my belongings were in boxes on the ground. What a sad way to leave North Carolina.

North Carolina is the best, in spite of its ever increasing tax demands.

**Note: Why is it that no pictures of Grammy appear? Grammy is a lady who does not like having her picture taken. It is too bad, because she is one of the hippest grandmother's around. We cannot buy Grammy a card that says "Grandma" on it. And in these increasing casual times, it is hard to find a card that says "Grandmother" on it instead of "Grandma." Trust me, it just sounds different.

Friday, May 26, 2006

My new attempts to be social

So after feeling pretty terrible for my lack of social abilities, on Tuesday evening, seeking to prove that I am actually capable of carrying on a conversation with other people, I went over to see David's friends Hank and Tyson since I was in their neighborhood, after going to the gym. Proving that I have yet to evolve into a mature social being, I performed my old college "drop by" to see them at their house, without calling first. Yes, I know that is incredibly rude and annoying at my age.

Nonetheless, it was fun to see them. We watched the Country Music awards which was exactly how any person would expect the Country Music awards to be - full of tributes to soldiers, American Flags, pickup trucks and Jesus. Of course, there were also some scantily clad women mixed in here and there, as well. So much for those family values. The thing that I find so shockingly disturbing about the country music world is that the country music world will condemn the Dixie Chicks for saying it is wrong to bomb innocent people as anti-American and anti-family values, but yet will embrace some redneck who writes some song about "honky tonk bidongky bonk" or some such nonsense which is just a euphamism for sex (and whose performance includes a dozen 90% naked women dancing around him). The country music world is full of hypocracy. I did appreciate Reba's comment at the end of that performance though, something like "What a great humanitarian (insert sexist, redneck, country music singer's name here) is. He is giving all of those young ladies work so they can afford to go out and buy some clothes." Oh Reba.

The next day I went to my friend Natacha's going away party. She is moving down to San Francisco. So that was two social events two days in a row! I am making progress.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Communards have nothing on me

Sunday night, my roommate had guests over to our house for a sushi party. I thought, this would be a great opportunity for me to attempt to utilize some social skills around people that I don't know very well. Well, I made my sushi, and about ten minutes into dinner, I ended up retreating to another room because I felt this insatiable urge to continue reading the book, Seven Ages of Paris, by Alistair Horne. I don't know what is wrong with me that I feel this intense need to bone up on my knowledge of Paris under siege in 1870 by the Prussians or about the Communards instead of engage in actual human interaction. During the course of my reading, I started freaking out that I had totally forgotten that 1848 was a year of revolutions all across Europe (except England), and then I realized that I needed to call my mom so she could make sure that she brought all of my European History books from my AP class my sophomore year of high school for when I see her this weekend in North Carolina.

So I guess it is official. I have now moved into another manic European history phase, except this time it is more about French history than British history. David should have never taken me to Paris. I have four days in the city and look what happens to me . . .

I use French history to take my mind off of the three days in a row I have to go to court because I hate it so much.

On the plus side, I learned alot about the history of Paris which makes my recent trip mean even more. Of course, it also has the side effect of just completely making me want to go back and explore more. Usually trips to other places do that to me. I made myself watch the film adaptation of Les Miserables again on Saturday night (the one with Geoffrey Rush and Claire Danes, etc.), just because I couldn't remember what rebellion it took place during (it actually was an unsuccessful rebellion in 1830 launched after the death of revolutionary hero General Lamarque against the monarchy of Louis-Philippe) and I don't have a copy of the book here.

I don't know what is wrong with me that I cannot engage in polite Sunday evening conversation and that I prefer a book which describes wealthy Parisians forced to eat rats while under a year long siege or about how Louis Napoleon's master architect, Georges-Eugene Haussmann covered Paris's new streets with macadam, to prevent people from tearing them up and using the street as a weapon in the event of future revolutions.

Friday, May 19, 2006

David gets to go everywhere

About right now David is taking off for another international trip. I dropped him off at the airport about an hour and a half ago. He is going to Barcelona, Spain to meet his parents and brother there. They will head off for a cruise - visiting Sicily, Naples, Rome, and Nice. I am jealous, to say the least. I have nothing but annoying family law cases to look forward to for next week. I do get to take the red eye to visit Grammy and my family in North Carolina next Friday night, but still . . . I mean I have to be at work all week.

Hopefully, David won't face the results of this survey which was recently done showing attitudes of people in different countries towards America. It seems like they just don't hate George Bush anymore, but they are actually starting to hate all Americans. Who can blame them? On most days, I hate many Americans too. Sometimes I am embarassed to see other Americans when I am traveling outside of the US. I try to be especially quiet, and non-confrontational to contradict the loud American stereotype. Granted, I don't think it is fair that the world stereotypes all Americans, but it happens.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Everyone hated Da Vinci

Poor Ron Howard. It seems like everyone is protesting The Da Vinci Code these days. The critics hate it. The movie opened up to Cannes and heard the audience hiss instead of applaud. The Catholic Church is up in arms. Everyone is outraged at Tom Hanks haircut. Perhaps the funniest protest I heard about the movie was a Muslim man in India who was outraged at the movie because it depicted Jesus, a prophet in Islam. The BBC reporter who was interviewing him said, "but there is no one actually portraying Jesus in the movie." And the Indian guy was like, "Oh, I didn't know that."

The person that I feel the worst for in all of this is Audrey Tatou. I still think she is fabulous.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In the latest Plague news

Seems the bubonic plague has been detected again in Utah. It makes me want to go to Southern Utah again...sigh.

I guess things are back to normal after my return from Paris. . .

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mardi

Another morning in Paris, another start to the day with the delightful pain au chocolat at Le Meridien's breakfast buffet. That and the tasty blood orange juice were my two favorite morning treats. I wish that US orange juice was made out of blood oranges. They have so much more flavor.
Again, on Tuesday, I was on my own again for most of the day. I decided that I would spend the morning a little bit farther from the beaten tourist track, because when I came to Paris, I said I wanted to visit Parks and Cemetaries. Aside from a quick walk by the Cimetiere de Montmartre and a quick stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries on my way to something else, I had failed to accomplish this. So today, I decided to head over to the northeast side of Paris and go to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, where I could pay homage to Marcel Proust, Moliere, and Edith Piaf.
When I arrived at Buttes Chaumont, there was a light rain falling, but the Park was seemingly quiet, green, and serene. That is, it was quiet and serene until I noticed dozens of primary school children, all about five or six years old, out running through the park, apparently in their physical education class. They all screamed as they ran. Oh well, I infinitely prefer screaming French five year olds to lousy, American tourists any day. Here are some pictures of how beautiful that park is:


After exploring the park and its environs, I went to pull my cell phone out of my bag so I could check the time. Because I was supposed to meet David at 14:45 that day, and I lacked a functioning watch, I needed my cell phone so I could make sure of the time. Unfortunately, it was the day that I left my cell phone at the hotel. So, I was faced with a decision - continue on to Pere Lachaise and go retrieve my cell phone afterwards, giving up my visit to the Musee D'Orsay or go back to the hotel and give up my trip to Pere Lachaise. Since it was beginning to rain harder, I decided to forgo Pere Lachaise for the time being (there is always my next trip to Paris), and go back to the hotel before heading to the Musee D'Orsay. Of course, I probably could have gotten by without having my cell phone to tell time, but that would have required me instigating a conversation with someone else, which still put me in dire fear, even for asking a simple question.

After retrieving my phone, I made my way to the Musee D'Orsay. Wow. What a line. It was easily an hour and a half wait to get into the museum, and it was raining. Waiting in the line, I noticed my first college sweatshirt that I had seen in Paris - some guy wearing a University of Utah sweatshirt. About five minutes later I saw another guy wearing a Utah State sweatshirt. Leave it to those Utahans.

About 45 minutes into waiting in line, I realized that since I already had bought a four day museum pass, I didn't have to wait in line and I could go through the reserved entry door. Although I should have realized that forty five minutes ago, I was just happy to get out of the line and go through the door because I had only made it about halfway through the line.

The Musee D'Orsay's collection contains many of the paintings that most people commonly think of when they think of France. Its collection is focused only on the years from 1848 until 1914 and is pretty much divided into pre-impressionism, impressionism, and post-impressionism. The Musee d'Orsay is located in a converted turn of the century railroad station, so its main hall is open and full of light.


It is significantly smaller and not as overwhelming as the Louvre, which is definitely a good thing. It also houses some of my favorite paintings including, Renoir's "Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette" which he painted in Montmartre.


It also was the home of this van Gogh work which I didn't know before but is now one of my favorites because I love the cascading waves of green and blue paint.


I particularly enjoyed the exhibition on Art Nouveau design and decorative arts as well.


The museum also contains Rodin's "Gates of Hell", plenty of Degas's ballet paintings, and more nude routund ladies which again, do so much to boost one's self-esteem. All and all, I loved the d'Orsay.

After the d'Orsay, I had to hurry up to the Opera where I was to meet David at 2:45. He had a break from listening to his French focus groups, so we were going to do some shopping in the Opera district. David bought a shirt, but all I bought was some delicious chocolate. I realized that I had forgotten to learn how to convert my US size to French sizes and I didn't want to ask anyone about it and seem like a dumb American tourist. Oh well, the last thing that I need to buy is more clothes. Next time I am in Paris . . .

David and I had a late lunch at a bistro on the Boulevard des Capucines. Then, he had to head back to work, and I did a little more shopping to pick up some things for my new house where I am moving in a few weeks. I have decided on a new decorating scheme, so I found some little accents for my kitchen that should be nice.

I went back to the hotel to drop off my bags and take a quick twenty minute power nap. Then, I decided upon an evening walking tour of Montmartre. Even though I had already been there once, I decided it would be a lovely way to end my Paris experience and also try to find Le Cafe des Deux Moulins, where Amelie worked, which would make my brief Parisian trip complete. I had a guide book which featured an excellent walking tour of Montmartre which would take my by some of the buildings and studios where artists such as Van Gogh and composers such as Eric Satie lived and worked.

As I began my walking tour through the narrow streets surrounding Pigalle (home to many of Paris's famous sex shops and cabaret acts) I saw this on the street:

I really wonder what Provo means. Was it a gang of tough BYU study abroad kids marking their territory? I guess I will never know.

My path wound around up and down the Montmartre hill. I deviated from the suggested walking tour route hoping to find des Deux Moulins. Where could it be? I continued to walk and walk, until my feet no longer felt like they were a part of my body. I still couldn't find it. I stopped off at a pastry shop to buy a treat for David when he got home from work. I window shopped at cute boutique stores that I wished were open so I could buy fun Montmartre skirts. I kept walking. Finally, I decided it was not meant to be, so I headed up La Rue Lepic, towards the Blanche Metro stop. Then, in a moment, there it was before me - Cafe des Deux Moulins:My Paris experience was complete! I headed back to the hotel, and made it back by 9:00. David arrived shortly thereafter, preparing to make some conference calls for work. This is why there are no pictures of David for the past two days:

This is the way my feet looked after I made it back to the hotel.

We woke up the next morning and had to say goodbye to Paris. It was a sad day, and to add to the sadness of the day, the hostess for the breakfast buffet sat us at a table that didn't have pain au chocolat. It was a sad, sad day. We made our way to Charles de Gaulle airport and spent some time in the Red Carpet Lounge. We then said goodbye to Paris.

Here we are once again enjoying the comforts of business class on our way to Washington DC.

In DC, I said goodbye to David, who had to stop there fore work and transferred to my Seattle flight. This was of course, after the wretched experience coming through immigration and having Customs and Border Patrol people yelling at everyone. I missed France already.

Wow, writing this has made me sad all over again for having to leave Paris.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Le Troisieme Jour: Pour vous Gigi

Besides Amelie, I have another favorite movie that takes place in Paris. The time frame is entirely different, La Belle Epoque, Paris and it is based on a novella by Colette. Of course, I am referring to Gigi. If you can forgive the fact that Maurice Chevalier plays the part of a lecherous old man and that he sings far too much, Gigi is a delightful musical romp through art nouveau rich decor and the world of the demi-mondaine. When I was younger, I absolutely adored Leslie Caron because we shared a name and she was a beautiful French actress who I always viewed in films where she played upbeat characters that caused men to fall madly in love with her. She plays the precocious title character of Gigi who is coming of age and starting to understand what her family's chosen profession of a courtesan actually means right at the time that the sugar baron, Gaston is starting to realize how delightful she truly is. France has this tremendous history of courtesans and "kept women", even elevating the king's mistresses to ranks of national title. Kings were expected to have mistresses. Look at what happened to poor Louis XVI, the most chaste king, after all.

Despite my complete lack of relation to anything remotely resembling the life of a courtesan, through the years I latched onto Gigi and its Art Nouveau world. Gigi was expected to be beautiful and charming and to sleep with powerful and rich men who in turn would take care of her (in the words of Gaston - take care of her "beautifully."). Love was meant to be a business arrangment complete with expensive apartments and negotiated gifts. Of course, it wasn't meant to last and always had its tragic endings (which became the talk of the town). For a sixteen year old first viewing Gigi as a part of her study of Colette's short stories in her eleventh grade English class, it all seemed rather relevant.

On Monday, David had to work. Since his work in Paris is what led to my free trip, I couldn't feel too sad about that. I was on my own to explore the city that day.

I headed over to the Left Bank for a morning stroll in St. Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter, where the Sorbonne is located. My goal was to get to the Musee National du Moyen-Age, formerly known as the Musee de Cluny. It is beautifully situated inside of a medieval mansion which was completed in 1500. The site was purchased by the Abbot of Cluny in 1330 as it was the site of the ruins of Roman Baths built around 200 AD.



On the day that I visited, since it was the national holiday VE day, the museum's visitors were mostly French families. Consistent with so much of what I know about art during the Middle Ages, the museum mostly contained religious relics and paintings. Of course, I would have liked to have seen more devoted to the Plague that swept through France in the 14th Century, but I guess while a place is facing the death of a third of its population, there is little time for anyone to really pay an artistic tribute to what is killing you. The museum does hold one treasure which I completely adored - The Lady with the Unicorn, a series of six tapestries, which was also given tribute in a story by George Sand. The tapestries are remarkable - the first five each pay tribute to one of the five senses. The sixth tapestry is titled A mon seul desir, and features the lady relenquishing objects which gave her senses such pleasure in the previous tapestries. The tapestries also feature a mischevious little monkey who ends up in chains in Tapestry Five for his antics. The museum also contains a collection of 21 stone heads representing 21 of the Kings of Judah which were carved around 1220 and which were unearthed in an excavation only in 1977.


The Gallery of the Kings is located in the Gallo-Roman bath ruins. Overall, I loved this museum. It lacked the tourists crowds of the other museums that I visited and I love trying to decipher medieval secrets.

After the visit to the museum, I had a difficult choice to make: for a lunch break, would I stop at Les Deux Magots and pay homage to the Lost Generation American writers or the Cafe de Flore, located directly next door which hosted Sartre, de Beauvoir, and the existentialists of the 1950s? It was a tough choice because both groups of persons affected my epistomological and academic development during various points in my life. Since both places were crowded with tourists, I decided to stop at Cafe de Flore, since it had less to do with Americans. After enjoying my requisite cafe Perrier, I was back on the street again, deciding to head up to the Opera Quarter and get a look at the Opera National de Paris.


I took a walk over to La Place de la Madeleine and went inside the Church of La Madeleine, dedicated to Mary Magdalene (which also will be featured in the Da Vinci Code movie I am sure). The church was undergoing some needed restorative and cleaning work, as the exterior of the church seemed rather dirty. The area has some of the most expensive stores and shops and Paris, selling things that were far outside of my limited budget. I walked down the Rue Royale on my way to the Place de La Concorde (where Marie Antoinette was executed) and then suddenly - there it was:


It was Maxim's, the place to be in Gigi and during La Belle Epoque. Although its luster and mystique have faded in more recent years, its faithfullness to Art Nouveau remains and it almost caused me to break out in the song, "Ah Gigi! While you were trembling on the brink was I out somewhere yonder blinking at a star?" Or "I don't understand the Parisians! Wasting every single night on romance!" I still love Gigi.

My feet were starting to feel like lead inside of my shoes at that point in time, so I decided to go back to hotel for a break from walking. I met David back at the hotel and he was similarly in tremendous foot pain. We decided that we would stick closer to our hotel for dinner that night and so we ate at a tasty restaurant where I tried and enjoyed foie gras (I still feel a little guilty for enjoying something so tasty and yet so cruel to the little birdies), ate some delicious scallops, and topped it off with some yummy creme brulee. It was an excellent meal. Like a true French meal, the dinner lasted for hours. It was wonderful.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Les Endives En Gratin! Day 2

On Sunday morning, David and I arose bright and early determined to fit in a full day's worth of Parisian activities. Our hotel provided a delicious breakfast buffet which provided us with ample sustenance as we tackled our first challenge of the day - the entrance line at the Louvre on free admission Sunday. There were so many tourists in the tunnel connecting the Metro to the Louvre entrance, that I almost decided I would wait and see the Louvre while viewing the movie The Da Vinci Code (there were signs plastered all over Paris for the movie since it takes place in France and is opening at Cannes). After we finally entered the Louvre we followed the teeming masses to the Italian Paintings portion of the Louvre to catch a glimpse of the famous, seemingly eyebrowless Florentine woman, otherwise known as the "Mona Lisa." It was not the highlight of the day (maybe because I am not Tom Hanks and I couldn't decipher any codes hidden in its paint). So we caught the other "highlights" of the Louvre in typical tourist fashion. Hey is that the Venus de Milo? Let me take a picture like all of those Japanese tourists:


Sidenote: Visiting the Louvre and looking at all of those naked lady paintings made me feel so much more self-confidence concerning my own body issues. It seems that painters through the ages have preferred their models plumper and pale. I'll take their asthetic eye any day over our twenty-first century penchant for anorexic, sun-baked eighteen year olds...

Walking through the Louvre, it became apparent that David and I did have some Protestant American sensibilities - all of that excess decor! Those French kings really took their excessively gaudy decorating schemes seriously.


Finally though, we made our way to the basement of the Louvre (unlike the Alamo, the Louvre has a basement) which was away from the tourist crowds and the guilded rooms of the rest of the palace. And in the basement was my favorite part of the Louvre - the Medieval Moats that surrounded the base of the twin towers and the drawbridge support of Philippe-Auguste's fortress that have been excavated. It was dark and brilliant. Here is David in the excavated area (it looks like a dungeon and brings to mind heretics wasting away and medieval rats carrying the Plague and I love it!):

Here is a picture of the base supports for the fortress and the medieval moats:

Ahh the Louvre. . . coming soon to a theater near you!


After visiting the Louvre, we were in morbid moods and decided to visit the museum at the Conciergerie, which was the place where most prisoners were held during the French Revolution, including the aforementioned Marie Antoinette. Here is a picture of Marie Antoinette's chapel, which was added to the Conciergerie after the restoration of the monarchy in her beloved memory:


I think what I love most about the French Revolution is how they just killed everyone, and when they ran out of people to execute, they just decided to start executing the people that originally did the executing. Robespierre -if he wasn't so bloodthirsty, he might have almost been likeable or it might have been a tad sympathetic when he got his death sentence too.

We wandered over to the Rive Gauche and St.-Germain-Des-Pres and snapped a picture of ourselves in front of this lovely fountain, whose name I have already forgotten:


We were on our way to visit the Hotel des Invalides and Napoleon's Tomb. Now there is another French story I can't understand - Napoleon. He was exiled from his country in shame and then his remains in 1840 were interred in one of the most opulent and extravagent fashion's I have ever seen, inside the crypt at the Dome Church.


His body was finally placed in the crypt in 1861, inside of six coffins. I guess the French were still afraid of Napoleon coming back to order them back into more pointless warefare. It lies directly below the amazing Dome ceiling:


What next? Well, since we were in the neighborhood, we figured that we would stop by the place where Tom Cruise proposed to Katie Holmes (before announcing it to the world in a press conference), formerly known as the Eiffel Tower.


I have to say up front, the Eiffel Tower experience was my least favorite event in Paris. We had to wait in a tremendous line of tourists forever just to get to the first elevator which took us to the second floor before waiting in another line of people to take the second elevator up to the top. My feet were killing me and my patience was wearing thin. Here is our first line experience - a group of loud, what I assumed to be American men, were standing behind us discussing loudly various disgusting topics about French women's bodies and I wanted to turn around and give them all really swift kicks in the pants. David surmised that they were roadies for some lame band that was on tour in Paris. It turns out, they actually were members of the lame band, Hoobastank. Thankfully, it turns out after the collaborated with another group of loud English speaking tourists they were CANADIAN! Whoa, what a relief. In the second line up too the top we were in line behind a French mother, her friend and four of the most poorly behaved children I have ever seen. As they continued to fight in line, run into other people, and generally show a lack of self-control, the mother just ignored them and talked to her friend. Under normal circumstances I might not have been so annoyed, but my feet hurt and I just wanted to get to the top of that damn tower so I could snap a picture and then leave.


After the Eiffel Tower experience, it was time to do something that would make me love Paris again, so we went to Montmartre. Years later, I still adore the movie Amelie and everything about Montmartre made me smile and feel giddy with joy. Here we are in front of Le Sacre Coeur:

We took a hike up the Montmartre hill and peeked inside of Sacre Coeur. Since it was Sunday, there was a worship service going on. We sat and watched the old people and immigrants worship Christ as the tourists circled around the basilica, while being followed by ushers stopping them from taking pictures during the worship service. I love this place!


Outside the basilica, you barely thought it was Sunday at all with the crowds of people and the vendors hawking cheap souvenirs. We wandered around the narrow streets of Montmartre for awhile. The windmills, the hills, I loved it:


I completely understood why this place inspired so many great artists. I wanted to give up my practical lawyerly existence and recall my artistic sensitivites of youth.

We ate dinner at a restaurant in Montmartre before heading back to the hotel to take a break for the sake of our feet for a little while. Actually, this is the evening that I changed into the flip flops because my feet were in so much pain. The flip flops helped tremendously and we decided to fo the Ile St. Louis for some more icre cream (I had a delicious ice cream sundae) and take a walk along the Seine. It was beautiful, as was to be expected.


It was a delightful end to Sunday in Paris.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Deux - A Word on Speaking French

The few weeks before I went to Paris I faithfully studied French grammar every evening, hoping that by studying the subjunctive tense, I would channel the French language skills I once possessed. Unfortunately, studying French and actually speaking French are two entirely different things. I hate my own voice speaking in English, much less in French. So, I tried to avoid speaking at all costs. This was also done, because I realized until I opened my mouth, most people actually thought I was French. When I got on the plane in Chicago, the flight attendant said hello in English to everyone who was in line ahead of me, but when he spoke to me, I got a "bon soir!" In France, people were coming up to me and asking me for directions, like I was a Parisian native. I count this as a tremendous success, in part because I find there is so little that I associate positively with being an American these days. In writing these words, I realize I am giving up my chance of ever running for public office one day, but I am just so sick of living in a country with no universal health insurance, xenophobic immigration laws, and a go-it-alone attitude when it comes to foreign policy. When I came back to the US, the lines and the shouting just in going through immigration at Dulles were enough to make me want to walk up to the border patrol attendant and renounce my citizenship. But I am getting way ahead of myself here.

In France, I realized that to pass for French, I had to wear nice shoes, even if they made my toes fall off. Unfortunately, this and the combination of excessive walking left me with painful and even swollen feet. One night my feet hurt so badly I had to utilize my shoes of last resort - my flip flops. That night, people didn't mistake me for French. They knew I was American.

I should note, not everything about the French system I love. Just visiting Napoleon's tomb was enough to make practical me roll my eyes with its excesses. But I do love the 35 hour work week, and the universal healthcare, and the fact that in France every week someone is rioting or starting a revolution or calling for some politician's outster. It keeps things so interesting! It isn't a trip to France unless someone is rioting over something...

Here is a picture of me trying to look French in the basement of the Louvre (my favorite part coincidentally, which I will discuss more when I return to my daily narrative).


I have made my peace with Paris

So I am sure this will be my lengthiest post yet as I attempt to encapsulate in one blog entry all that I adored about my Parisian Experience. Sadly, I am not a Lost Generation American Writer who is able to spend hours in Cafe Des Deux Maggots and synthesize my four and a half days in Paris into something like "A Moveable Feast." But I can wax a little Hemingway-like and agree with his statement (I am paraphrasing here), "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then it will stay with you your whole life, for Paris is a moveable feast." Or something like that.

On a general note, I must say that I have finally made my peace with Paris. For so many years, the thought of Paris intimidated me, in part because I feared the French and I feared my ability to speak French no matter how many French classes I took. Then, in college I bore a resentment toward Paris for capturing the person who claimed my affections in a way that I could not. I hated Paris for taking away the person that I thought I loved at the time. But now, after visiting there myself, it all makes so much more sense and I couldn't possibly bear any ill will towards the city on the Seine. It is precisely the place where people are meant to fall in love and I nor any other person could possibly compete with Paris.

That being said - here is how my trip began.

David and I flew from Seattle to Chicago on Friday morning. Aside from the Minute Maid Orange Juice spilling all over my carry-on bag and nearly destroying my history books on Marie Antoinette and the Plague, the airport experience went fairly well. In Chicago, we transferred to our flight to Paris. David, who I adore even more for this reason, bought me a ticket to accompany him in business class which meant I was afforded the opportunity to have the business class treatment and a seat in which I could actually sleep on the overnight flight across the Atlantic.

We arrived in Paris on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. On the taxi ride into Paris from the airport, I caught my first glimpse of Sacre Coeur, and I was instantly hooked. We checked into our hotel, Le Meridian Etoile, located across at Porte Maillot. Our room was not ready yet, so we dropped off our luggage and made our way to the L'Arc de Triumphe. My freshman year of high school, the first French conversation which I memorized included the following bit of dialogue, ""Les Champs Elysees et L'Arch de Triumphe sont vraiment beaux avec leurs drapeaux." It was amazing, the image that I had of the L'Arch de Triumphe was exactly like my French I class:

Do the French really love their flag that much? The answer probably is yes, but it was also because Monday was the VE day celebration, so there were extra French flags out and about wherever we went. After we huffed and puffed our way up of several flights of stairs, we made it to the top. The view was somewhat marred by haze, but it wasn't enough to stop me from taking David's picture with a noteworthy Parisian landmark:


After we made our way down the stairs (much easier than going up), we made our way back to the hotel to drop our bags in our room and freshen up a bit. That turned into an hour long nap, but we finally made our way back out into the Parisian afternoon. Our next stop was the Ile de la Cite, and Notre Dame. Of course, we first had to pass by the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her last days before her execution. My latest obsession is Marie Antoinette. That obsession started because of the trailer for Sofia Coppola's latest film and because I particularly enjoyed the pairing of New Order with the scenes from 18th Century France. I decided to read the Antonia Fraser book upon which Coppola based most of her history, and since then I have been hooked.


We made it to Notre Dame and took a look around. David liked the stained glass which was quite lovely. My favorite features of Notre Dame were whichever Saint it is that is depicted as stepping on someone's head and the gargoyles.



Behind the cathedral there was a beautiful little garden where David and I took this picture:


We then walked over to Ile St. Louis and partook of some delicious Berthillon ice cream, a suggestion which came courtesy of Neil Bly. As witn most things, Neil was right about the ice cream. It started to rain, so we needed an indoor activity, and with most of the museums closing late in the afternoon, the only one that stayed open through the evening was the Pompidou Centre, which had an exhibit regarding my favorite place ever - Los Angeles. Needless to say, the Pompidou Centre was not my favorite place. I loved it so much I didn't take any pictures.

After the Pompidou it was still raining so we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel so we could rest up and enjoy a big day on Sunday.

Alright, I have decided I am going to write about Paris in installments because it is just too long to do all in one blog and include pictures. Therefore, the end of day one is the end of my first blog.

Too much information

I hate it when you find out that people have said horrible things about you, but then you can't even defend yourself because it isn't anything that you are supposed to know. It makes you feel powerless and silly.

I will post a long blog about Paris tonight. It is one of my two goals for the evening. The other goal of course is to watch The Office season finale which comes on tonight! I am so excited. If I had to come back from Paris to the U.S., at least I have some good comedy to console me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I can't save everyone

So I honestly feel really terrible, but I just met with a woman, who I think is a little bit crazy, and I had to tell her that I couldn't help her and take her case. I am having a serious "If ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me." In this moment I really hate myself. Not only was her case incredibly complicated and probably impossible to do what she wanted to do but it was quite obvious that she had no money and suffered from some sort of psychiatric disorder.

I feel like the worst person on the planet. The worst part is that she is standing right outside of my window waiting to catch the bus, and I have to watch her.