Tuesday, June 14, 2005

the bionic tourist: Paris

Les Museums
Home base was Jim Morrison's old hotel before he expired. It was a bit seedy, but not bad for 20 euros a night with a view of the Eiffel Tower. The first night I got lost several times and cruised the Seine banks where every student in Paris seemed to be out for a party-picnic. Museums in Paris can add up, but on a Museum pass you can get a reduced rate, and more importantly blow by the lines. So on one pass on Saturday I took a long overdue trip to the Louvre (seeing at least its best stuff) and to the brilliantly arranged Musee d'Orsay where my impressions that Courbet was a genius were confirmed. Then to the Museum of the Middle Ages, a quick stop at the Conciergre (Marie Antoinette's old cell), the incomparable Saint Chapelle (fortunately I sported the necessary binoculars), and finally the Archaeological Crypt that shows Paris' multi-layered history - all fueled by a croissant and a shot of espresso.


Le Food
Then I enjoyed a multi-course Parisien dinner for, get this, 20 euros. Betraying my American-in-Paris status I said to the waiter, "Merci, Ca c'est ma premiere diner en Francais," the equivalent of "Thank you, that was my first dinner in English." But come to think of it, there is a degree of profundity in my error. It would be nice if we Americans learned to eat "in French," emphasizing quality over quantity and much more relaxed... a point underscored by some celebrities on MTV's Cribs who, presumably of super-abundant means, choose to have freezers stocked with microwave dinners. On the contrary it seemed in Paris all locals fathom that to live well is to eat well.

La Famous Street
After that it was to L'Arc de Triomphe (included in the pass), then a stroll down the Champs d'Elysees. In the famous Sephora perfume store a middle-aged man came in, well dressed for a night on the town, and doused himself with what seemed to be approximately 20 or so spritzes of a particular man-scent from (I kid you not) head to toe. They do it different there. But Quelle Rue! From the old Regime Louvre to the Revolution's Place de la Concorde to Napolean's nationalistic Arc all the way to the modern business district arch of La Defense - all western civilization seems chronicled in an eyefull.

Les Other Things
But the bionic toursit has limits. My feet were so blistered from Saturday that the following sights were done with a severe limp on Sunday: First to Notre Dame where the quality of the sculptures were so entertaining that one would think Pixar had bought the rights. One more nail in the coffin to the myth that art began with the Renaissance. Then to Sacre Couer church and to the old haunts of Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso, Renoir and the gang in that neighborhood (where rent was cheaper for artsy types in at the turn of the last century). Then a glance at the Moulin Rouge (which was sufficient), and lastly the obligatory stop at Pere LaChaise Cemetary - all fueled by some raspberries from an outdoor Parisien market. I got back to Mannheim via an overnight couchette (clausterphobics beware).

Berg Eltz
AND... my Euro-Rail pass was still hot for Monday (it carries over for overnight trains), so after class I toured the best of the Romantic Rhine by train and went to a picturesque German town where I hiked to (arguably) Europe's best Medieval castle, Berg Eltz. I got there right before closing. Er was Wunderbar.

Next week it's Amsterdam with Lenlow. Lots to see there too. Museums fear me.