Good Days

July 30, 2007

I just added some great pictures from a variety of things that I’ve been doing in the last week. These include pictures of our trip to Bath and Stonehenge, as well as some great pictures of exploring Oxford. Only one more week to do that, afterall!

PICTURES OF THE LAST WEEK

Today’s task is writing an essay on why Methodism was able to challenge the established church to dramatically in the 18th century. I also have about a hundred pages of reading from the legends of King Arthur. So, enjoy the pictures!

Christina recently pointed out some strange things that she has learned about me from being around me so much this summer. “Oh goody!”, I thought. “I love being odd!”

So I guess I am particularly fond of graveyards, clean pillowcases, fresh cherries, squirrels, mushrooms for breakfast, clean feet, lint-free clothing (and hence, lint rollers), and exploring! Oh, and sheep.

The clean feet thing became really apparent in Paris, where our feet got really dirty from walking around the subway and streets all day. I started carrying around anti-bacterial wipes and constantly asking Christina “Do my feet look dirty to you?” Haha, she was so annoyed. It was a losing battle, though. I think the last straw was when I asked her what she thought about me washing my feet in this bidet-like thing in our bathroom that looked more like a low sink and was maybe broken. I didn’t though, don’t worry. But I was tempted to.

Every morning here at Univ they serve a “full English breakfast”, which consists of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, mushrooms, cooked tomatoes, baked beans, cereal, yogurt, coffee, and orange juice. The mushrooms seemed like the best source of protein in that bunch so I have them every morning and they are delicious.

Also, there are graveyards (more specifically, graves) everywhere here! There will be one or two gravestones stuck in a corner of a garden, or next to a random sidewalk. Of course, there are also graveyards next to every church and more besides. Cool! It is so interesting to read the inscriptions, especially with the old ones. In the oldest graveyards there are lots and lots of children, I suppose because the life expectancy was so low and medical knowledge was lacking. Most of the gravestones I’ve seen list the name, dates of birth and death, age of the person when they died, closest relatives- sometimes even how they died. Fantastic!

OK, those are just some thoughts for now. I just got back from tea at The Rose, a great little tea place right down High Street. Classic Cream Tea is two just-made hot scones with fresh clotted cream and strawberry jam and a pot of tea. I had Earl Grey…mmmm. The pots of tea have the leaves right in them, so the bright yellow tea cups come with little strainers to pour your tea through. It’s fun. There is no way you can have a bad afternoon once you’ve had Cream Tea.

Blenheim Battle Prom

July 29, 2007

I just returned from the Annual Blenheim Battle Prom. Battle Proms (short for “promenades”) are a tradition in England, and they happen at various famous sites throughout the year. SMU-in-Oxford goes to this particular prom every year. It is basically a huge patriotic concert and fireworks show with lots of cannons going off and flag-waving. Your basic July 4th celebration at any major park in the U.S. minus the dirtiness and the national holiday.

Overall, it was pretty great. As I said in a much earlier post, Blenheim Palace is one of my favorite places in the world. We visited it within the first week of arriving here and I was literally speechless- it is a beautiful, beautiful place. The property is seven acres, and the prom took place on what was essentially a very large field surrounded by forest and within view of the palace itself. Another giant field nearby was designated for parking. A huge stage with speakers were set up, and to the left there was a large area roped off with probably two dozens cannons set up, ready to fire. Between the parking lot and the prom area were just a few booths. One sold hamburgers, another ale, another Free Trade and handmade goods, and yet another sold prom supplies: rugs (blankets), lanterns, hats, lawn chairs, England and UK flags, and glow-in-the-dark lightsabers and such for the kids.

It was a very neat and tidy affair. Prom goers brought tables and chairs, portable gazebos and tents, and lanterns. The tables were covered in table clothes, and real wine glasses and cutlery we packed into real wicker picnic baskets. Of course, there was threat of rain, so everyone had umbrellas. When it did begin sprinkling, all the British picnickers calmly opened their umbrellas and continued sipping wine and eating their dinners. A funny contrast from the smelly, drunken, and rather un-classy crowds at your usual American patriotic public gathering. The tickets were expensive at 32L ($64), but our British PA, Jamie, insisted that the crowd was working class. “Not middle class at all!”, he exclaimed when I protested that a working class crowd at such an event in the U.S. would not normally bring decorative candles and table centerpieces to a picnic in a wet field.

It was so heart-warming to see this big crowd get so into the old and wonderful patriotic hymns that were performed by the full orchestra on stage. I absolutely love songs like “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory”. Wonderful sound, too! They had the most amazing soprano performing, and all the Brits around us knew all the words to all the verses and sang along quite wholeheartedly. Lots of flag waving and swaying back and forth. It was so great! I love it when people are excited about their country and know the words.

Though there was food and ale at Blenheim, a lot of people brought their own liqueur. And by brought their own I mean the liqueur store down the street from Univ was out of plastic cups and cold beer by the time that we pulled out of Oxford. It was really quite ridiculous how much people brought with them. If there is one thing that has consistently bothered me during this trip it is the drinking. Without exaggeration, it is as if drinking is though of as an essential and integral part of the SMU-in-Oxford experience. Very annoying and low-minded, if you ask me. I felt like kind of a snob tonight because I wasn’t drinking and was getting very, very irritated with the silly behavior of my friends who were. Those who know me know that I have little patience as is, and that isn’t a good trait to have when surrounded by trying behavior.

Anyway, I just hate that judgmental, superior feeling that I get when I am in these situations. But I do feel somewhat justified. Man, I just wish that it wasn’t such an acceptable thing, to get drunk and act embarrassingly.

We left for Blenheim at 5pm, so before that I went on some fun little errands with Christina. We went to a few shops that we have been meaning to go to, including a wonderful, hidden little bookstore specializing in rare and antique theology books. Right up my alley! It was wonderful, but expensive. Being there reminded me that there is so much left in the world for me to read- a wonderful sort of realization.

Funny, in this short post I have mistyped probably a dozen words by spelling them the British way. Gah!

Why Monarchy is Good Thing, according to my Oxford tutor Leslie Mitchell, a Royalist and Tory and a historical genius.

1) Tradition and constancy. A monarchy represents something that has been around for 1,000 years. A republic can never have that, as any head-of-state it has will be relatively new. A monarchy is also imminent, meaning it has weathered storms and endured through even the biggest crises. For example, the threat of that “little man with a strange mustache” (Hitler) is actually very small compared to the historical weight and constancy of the English monarchy.

2) The monarchy doesn’t cost very much. Her Majesty the Queen is only the 50th richest person in the United Kingdom, and costs the taxpayer only 57p a year. The Prime Minister costs the taxpayer far more. Though the royal family’s wealth originally came from the fact that they owned and taxed all the land in England, now the “civil list” is voted on in Parliament every year. This list basically agrees that the nation will support the Queen, her husband Prince Philip, and (while she was alive) the Queen Mother. Prince Charles is supported by the proceeds of agricultural rents in the duchy of Cornwall (Wales), as per his position as the Prince of Wales. And, the monarchy actually brings in money because they are such a huge tourist attraction.

3) The Queen can never be corrupted, because she is too rich to be bribed or bullied. She has around 500 million pounds of personal wealth. So while a Prime Minister or elected official can be corrupt, at least the head-of-state can’t be.

4) The monarchy is the basis of the Commonwealth. There are 83 countries currently in the British Commonwealth, and the Queen is the head of the Commonwealth. Every four years, all 83 countries send representatives to a meeting to have an intellectual exchange. The Queen, of course, is a very experienced politician, having been in power for about 60 years. It is very useful to have a forum for international discussion, and so the Commonwealth is a positive thing.

5) Monarchy is one of the only uniting factors in the United Kingdom. Few things actually unite Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, and the monarchy is one of them. Unity is a good thing.

One of the main objections to the monarchy is that it is the very pinnacle of a class system. If one is uncomfortable with the idea of a class system, especially a blatant class system with things such as titles and peerages, one is uncomfortable with the monarchy. Silly Americans, says Leslie Mitchell.

Our Sunday in Paris

July 24, 2007

So, I finally get to the third and last day of Christina and my adventure in the vast and magnificent city of Paris. It was interesting being in Northern France this weekend and seeing how incredibly different it is from Paris.

PHOTOS OF DAY THREE IN PARIS

It had been quite the night, what with the huge crowds and the adventure getting back home from Bastille Day, so we ended up sleeping a little later than we intended. But after cleaning up, dressing packing, checking out, and grabbing the fruit that we had packed to eat along the way, we were off to the Sacre Cour Basilica for Sunday Mass. It was a beautiful, clear day… but in the mid-90’s. What a change from Oxford, where it hovers around the 60’s and 70’s on the sunniest of days.

It didn’t take us long to get there, and when we did we were a little surprised to realize that in order to actually enter the basilica we had to climb, oh, several hundred steps. The Sacre Cour is on a huge hill that overlooks the whole city of Paris. This is the “hill of the martyr” for which Monmartre is named. At the entrance to the steps, we had to walk past four African men dressed in all black. At first I thought they were guards, but as we walked up to them the blocked our path. One of them actually grabbed my wrist and tried to tie some colorful string onto it. I had to say “Please don’t touch me!” and pull away rather violently. This is after he yelled “Acuda matata, man! No worries, I’m Jamaican!” Yeah, I don’t care who you are, you aren’t tying random strings onto me! I guess the idea was that they would braid them and then expect you to give them money, but they were very intimidating.

We walked up the steps that had been cut into the hillside, and when we got to the top we were rewarded with the most amazing view of Paris. It stretched out around us like a gray and green carpet… and went all the way to the horizon in every direction. And the cathedral itself- words cannot really describe the beauty of it. It is a bright, pure white and it’s style is very different than all of the other cathedrals that we had seen. sacre courOn the (many) steps up there were various buskers, specifically a harpist who drew a rather large crowd. One wonders how he got that huge harp up so many steps. There were also merchants selling fake designer purses off of blankets on the ground. Like I said in a previous post, these people are everywhere.

The service was beautiful, though of course it was in French and Latin- not a good combination if one is wanting to actually understand what is going on. But the music was great and very echoey in such a huge space. Like all the other cathedrals we had visited, the service goes on despite the constant flow of tourists. They simply block off the main floor of the cathedral and set up a couple hundred chairs. I wonder if people actually attend regular mass at the Sacre Cour. I don’t think there are any youth groups or anything like that, so you would kind of be missing out. But what a beautiful start to the day!

We grabbed some amazing Nutella-filled crepes from a stand nearby for breakfast (I had bananas added to mine- heavenly), and I finally got my three-day Metro pass re-printed at the nearest station. It had only been working about half the time all day Saturday, which was a little scary since it was really our only way around and, well, I had paid for it already. Christina and I had heard about this flea market called the “the biggest flea market in Europe”, that was only a few miles north of our hostel. It has ten miles of booths. I pictures antiques and handmade jewelery and all sorts of cool stuff.

In hope of finding all of the above, we set out on the Metro and got off a few blocks from where this flea market was supposed to be. It was a pretty bad part of town: trash everywhere, homeless people everywhere and, worse still men walking about with fake designer wallets and sunglasses approaching everyone in sight. Considering how uncomfortable it makes me when strange people come up to you wanting something, this was not good. But we ignored them all and soldiered on, following the crowd that had gotten off our train. We arrived at something very different than what we had imagined. Mile upon mile of cheap club wear, fake Nike shoes, fake American “ghetto” clothes and stripper outfits. We walked around hopefully for about 30 minutes, but it didn’t get any better. The high point was the owner of a stand selling old records saying “I alvays knew you would come to me! I haf nayver seen a girl like you! Are you staying here vid me? You must stay!” Shucks, I bet he says that to all the American students that stop by his booth.

That was quite enough of that, and Christina and I hopped back on the Metro (we were by then experts) and headed to the Latin Quarter. This was a last-minute addition to our plans, but after the horrid sweatiness of the flea market, we wanted to get somewhere that we knew would have, oh I don’t know…civilization. In our desperation we indulged in delicious frappacinos at Starbuck’s. starbucksWhile relaxing and cooling down we suddenly realized that we had only three hours before we had to get to Gare du Nord and set off for London! AHH! We quickly scanned Lonely Planet for interesting things to see in the Latin Quarter and set off. Luckily, we planned for Sunday to be an open day so that we could cram in anything we wanted to do. Pat on the back for our foresight!

Our first stop was Eglise (Church) St. Germaine, a cathedral built in the 11th century and still in use! Quite amazing actually. All the columns and walls were still painted in bright colors and gold from when the church was originally decorated. I just love old churches- they have an amazing feeling of permanence and solitude about them. Especially the huge ones, you can just imagine God filling up the whole space. The amount of work that went into these places is amazing- much more than goes into the building of a church today, with modern machines and materials. Every stone here was laid by hand, every column individually painted.

Next we stopped in at the Village Voice, a famous little Anglo-American bookshop. It was founded in 1982 as a place for Anglophiles and expats to get the best in English-language literature and media. It has two employees plus the owner. As we went through it I thought to myself, what a life. What a wonderful life to own a small, vibrant bookstore in a beautiful city and have it all to yourself. To live for books! How wonderful.

It was only a short walk to Eglise St. Sulspice, another beautiful church with the distinction of being where the murder scene in the movie The Da Vinci Code was set. The whole thing was lovely, and huge. And there were rose petals on the ground around the door, which makes me wonder how one goes about getting married in such a beautiful place. Oh, wait, one needs to be engaged before one is married…and a boyfriend before that. Oh well, St. Sulspice is going to have to wait until I care about things like that! Haha. This cathedral was home to a cool obelisk that is used as a sundial. It is apparently very accurate, and works because of a small hole in a stained glass window way across the church and 20 yards from the floor. When we were there there was cardboard over the whole, so there is no telling how good of a sundial it really is. But it plays a large role in the book upon which the movie is based, so that was neat.

The next stop on the route that we planned in Starbucks was the Pantheon, France’s great burial place for her most famous and treasured citizens. Its residents include Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie. Sadly, we didn’t make it in time to go inside. Too bad because from the pictures I have seen it is simply breathtaking. On the way there we got sidetracked by Eglise St. Etienne, yet another beautiful cathedral. It’s cool how they are all so different yet all so intricate. The Pantheon was just right across the street, and it was huge! We took a bunch of great pictures (scroll up and click on the link) and then decided it was time for dinner.

For our very last meal in Paris we sat down at a cafe called Le Luxembourg after the lovely Jardin du Luxembourg which is right across the street. In Paris all the cafe chairs are turned the face the street- the street is the theater, the cafe patrons are the audience. dinnerIt’s fantastic because there really are very interesting people walking about in Paris. Christina ordered a panini sandwich and I had a crepe with fried egg and salad. Our meal was tasty and filling, the weather was sunny and crisp- all in all it was a fitting end to what had been a very pleasant and full weekend.

We got back to the hostel as quickly as we could to retrieve our luggage from storage, and set off for Gare du Nord to meet the Eurostar. This time we actually knew how to read our French tickets and got the right seats. It was a long and uneventful ride back. There were actually several other SMU-in-Oxford students on the train. For the ride back to London the Eurostar had 17 cars and two restaurant cars. On the way to Paris it had only had seven cars.

We arrived in London at the Waterloo station, and needed to get to the Paddington station in a hurry to catch the train to Oxford (which we had already paid for). But as soon as we went to buy tickets to Paddington we learned that the whole Bakerloo line (the line we needed) had been canceled! We had no idea what to do: though we had recently mastered the Paris subway system, the London underground seemed vast and confusing. We took a chance and got on another line that we hoped would get us to Paddington in time, but with only two minutes and 5 stops to go we cut our losses and got off at Victoria, where we knew we could catch a bus to Oxford.

The only problem? We were on the underground, not a bus, so we got out at an underground station. Everyone we talked to worked for the underground, not the bus, and so could not tell us where the coach station was exactly. This led to us walking several times around the huge downtown London block in different directions at midnight, carrying what felt like 50 pounds on each shoulder. Everyone we asked pointed a different way. When we finally asked someone who seemed to actually know, we ended up walking several blocks on an abandoned downtown street. It was very frightening- there was no one about and it was very dark. Plus, I had no idea where I was in relation to anywhere else that I had been in London. We were trying to catch what was the very last bus of the night, and as we walked past the underground station and eventually into the coach station, the information counters and ticket stand were being closed and locked up. So there was a very real chance that we could have missed the bus and spent the night in downtown London.

Fortunately, we ran around the coach station fast enough to catch the last coach right before it left. We had to buy tickets right from the bus driver, but were two pounds short of enough money for two tickets. I was that much more bitter because we had already paid for tickets for the train that we missed. A really nice girl on the bus gave us the money we needed and we sat down. It was the most stressed we had been the whole weekend, and it was the very last leg of the whole trip.

I then stayed up several more hours to begin writing a paper that was due at 11am the next day. What an adventure! The weekend went so well (London doesn’t count!) and it was just a great, great experience. This is the last time I detail a day in such a long-winded way, I think! You can see how we really did see so much. Thanks for reading along.

Knowing myself as I do, I knew it would be a huge mistake to pass up a chance to visit numerous war memorials and cemeteries. This is one) because I love graveyards, two) because I love history, and three) because I am endlessly fascinated with the First and Second World Wars. So this weekend was dead on as far as my interests go.

I won’t say much about the details of the trip, mostly because the pictures are rather self-explanatory. I did lots of detailed captions, so please read them. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and one I wish could have been longer. With that said, it was a rough night trying to get 90 pages of reading done for 8:45am class after getting in at 1am from a 3 hour bus ride.

The Wednesday and Thursday in London were great, too. The best part by far was the National Gallery, home to more famous stuff than you can imagine. And (very importantly) home to the best gift shop I have ever been in. I got some pretty fantastic stuff. A couple friends and I also spent some time goofing off in Trafalgar Square, where the pigeons love people and the people love pigeons. So there are some great pictures of all of those things, as well.

Pictures (and captions!):

London (Wednesday and Thursday) and France/Belgium (Friday and Saturday)

France/Belgium (Sunday)

I took many more pictures but just don’t think that a huge online album is quite the best place to appreciate them. Thank God for my wonderful little camera, and for lifeguarding last summer, which, though sweaty and tiring work, earned me enough to buy it.

Oh, and I just picked up my pre-ordered British version of the latest Harry Potter. Adam, you still need to get the U.S. one, because this one doesn’t match!

Dusty the Porter

July 23, 2007

Just got in from France and Belgium for the weekend- what an amazing, educational trip. We went for the sole purpose of exploring WWI and WWII memorials, sites, and cemeteries. And boy, did we- we traveled an immense distance in just two and a half days. More on that to come. Boy, do I have a lot of blogging to catch up on! Now worries, tomorrow will be a lovely free afternoon. Plus, I probably won’t be doing any errands due to the immense amounts of flooding that happened here in Oxfordshire while we were gone.

Our trip was led not by one of our professors, as are all of our other activities, but by Dusty, the former head porter of University College. Porters are really important: they are in the lodge by the gate 24/7, answer all of your questions, sell stamps, report issues, guard the gate and are generally indispensable. Dusty, who is 66, became a night porter at Univ 12 years ago and eventually was promoted to Head Porter. He retired from that just this year.

I got a chance to talk to him while looking down at Omaha Beach from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial (more on that amazing experience later). Apparently he became interested in WWI and WWII a few years after leaving the Royal Armed Forces. He set about doing some research on a great-uncle who had been a soldier and on his father, who died a few yards from where we spoke in the battles following the invasion on Normandy. He found out all about them and along the way became an expert on the wars- seriously, an expert. He was our guide and go-to answer guy for the whole weekend. He has done all of the research on his own through reading and visiting war sites.

One of the coolest things I learned is that he has taken his three weeks off each year for many years and traveled to different WWI and II sites around Europe. He never goes to the same one twice, except for when he leads this weekend trip for the SMU-in-Oxford program, which he has done for the last 12 years. How did this random guy, a porter no less, get asked by the professors to be completely in charge of a weekend trip?

One night during a summer soon after Dusty became a porter, Prof. Orlovsky was talking with him in the lodge and Dusty shared his plan to begin working on a book about all the students from Univ. who died in the two wars. One thing led to another and Orlovsky asked him to lead the first-ever SMU-in-Oxford trip to France and Belgium. The first year, 1995,  there were 8 students willing to go and according to Dusty it was quite an adventure, with several flat tires and one Pakistani student who was stopped at every border because of his bright green passport.

I had a chance to read a manuscript of Dusty’s book on the bus as we toured about. It’s at the printers now and will be out for sale in the fall. It’s great! The names of those Univ. men who died in the two wars are memorialized in huge plaques on the walls of the University chapel. Dusty basically went through the whole list and researched each man, his family, where he went to school, and his military history. He also found out how, when, and where each died. The coolest part of the book is that he went around to every British war memorial (which are all along the Western front), took a picture of it, and listed underneath the names of any Univ. men who are listed on that memorial. Fantastic.  He says that his second book will be “much more X-rated” because it will be about his own experiences, and that his third will be about his experiences at Univ. He was a porter when Clinton came around for a long visit with Hillary and Chelsea, so that will be included.

Despite my seasickness (lesson learned: Chunnel beats ferry every time), I had a chance to chat with Dusty on the ferry back to England tonight. Actually, I leaned over and asked, “So, what do you think of Gordon Brown?” Dusty (and his good friend, travel mate, and former Head Groundsman, Ian) are both Tories, and so hate any Labor party member. Too bad for them, I guess. I learned that Tories are for free enterprise while Labor is for state control. Wonder how accurate that analysis is from a Scottish nationalist (Ian) and an avowed Diana-hater and Royalist “through and through” (Dusty). Both also think that Bush is an “ass” and that he wouldn’t be nice to them if they met him. They met Clinton and thought he was very nice, so there you go. They both also hope the next President is a Democrat and made fun of Bush for his poor public speaking. It was nice to be among like-minded folk, let me tell you.

Interestingly enough, both favored Hillary for the next President because she “has backbone, that one”. Eh. Apologize for your vote for the Iraq war and maybe I’ll like you a little better. They weren’t too keen on that idea, though, saying that politicians should havea stiff upper lip and not apologize but just fix any mistake. Interesting notion of how politicians should act, you know?

What a cool guy, right? I mean, I got all of this from him (and Ian) just from asking. Goes to show you what you can learn. But it was just so curious that a former porter would be leading, teaching, and directing this entire (very complicated and minutely planned) operation. After 12 years of doing it, and after many more years of teaching himself about it, I have to say that there was no better man for the job. What an amazing story.

A phrase I used all day Saturday in Paris, when my three-day pass only worked after exactly four tries every single time. GAH! And yes, Mom, your French phrase book was great help.

I am writing from a internet cafe in SouthKensington, London and will be in France and Belgium for the next two days…more after that including the rest of the Paris trip!  

On this past Saturday, Christina and I woke up to our second day in Paris. What an great feeling! I took a shower in this crazy shower that turned off every 30 seconds. I had to keep pushing the handle in to get the water back in. It turned into a little dance: scrub, scrub, hit shower handle, scrub, scrub…

PARIS DAY TWO PHOTOS (part one)

PARIS DAY TWO PHOTOS (part two)

As with the first day, we had already made a to-do list for the day. Saturday was Bastille Day, so Paris was rockin’. There were tons of people at all of the major sites, and red, white, and blue French flags hanging from lampposts and monuments around the city. Oh, and lots of tourists. It was kind of funny actually because Christina and I kind of felt like the only tourists in some parts of Montmartre- it was just so relaxed and chill. Another funny thing: people seemed really surprised to find out that we were American. Maybe it was because we both have dark, curly hair and olive skin. I don’t know but it was kind of fun. It was very, very strange to be able to speak in English on the Metro and be sure that no one could really understand you. We did meet a lot of people who spoke a very minimal amount of English, but, surprisingly, most Parisians we talked to did not. This is surprising not because I think everyone should know English but because I thought that it was taught in the public education system. Guess not.

Our first destination took us out of the Montmartre area that we had become used to the day before. We hopped on a bus to the Ile de la Cite, one of two small islands in the middle of the Seine River. riverThis was the island upon which Paris was supposedly founded, and is still home to many government buildings and such. We just went to see Notre Dame, but ended up walking around a bit and taking some great pictures of what is surely one of the most beautiful areas of Paris- if you like water, great old buildings and lots of history. (And if you don’t, you are a sad person.)

Notre Dame was beautiful! The best part of it all was the fact that we found our way ourselves and only asked directions from a really cool French policeman once. (“Um…Ou et le Notre Dame?” “Well…it’s pretty big…” “Um…”) There were lots of French flags all about, and street blocked off for some sort of parade that was to be held later. While we were there there was also a caravan of police on motorcycles, driving down the street in formation. I also saw a tank driving down the street! Very cool vibe, being in France on their biggest national holiday. It was neat seeing how much the French Revolution is built into the city completely aside from the holiday. For example, the interior of the Concorde Metro station, one of the biggest in the city, is completely tiled with the text of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, one of the most important documents of the French Revolution. Very cool looking, even though at first I thought is was some sort of homage to the crossword puzzle. I had to write down the words I saw and Google them to figure out what it was.

We walked all around inside the cathedral and it was beautiful. I think these huge cathedrals are amazing- every single detail in the whole enormous place is focused on the Catholic faith. Nothing is just there- it all has a meaning. How wonderful. Even the huge reliefs and just gigantic stained glass windows tell stories. dogIf you inspect them well enough you can actually recognize famous Bible stories, or stories from early French history. Fun!

As at all the huge tourist attractions, there were a lot of beggars in large open area in front of the Notre Dame. As soon as they hear you speaking English, they assume you are a wealthy American or Brit and ask you for money. It’s a problem because if you give money to one, the rest see and come up to you. Some of the men will even put their hands on you and try to physically block your path if you won’t respond to them. It can be kind of frightening, even in very crowded areas like Notre Dame and it is certainly disorienting. I kind of wonder what the government is doing to curb this problem in what is 1) their capital city and 2) one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. It was hard because I did feel for these people but, though I am rich in comparison to them, I truly did not have any money to spare at all. On Sunday I actually had a man curse at me, inside a church no less, for not giving him any money. Very saddening.

But, back to Saturday’s events. Christina and I found our way back to the Parisian mainland north of the Seine and followed some arrows along a very roundabout path to the Musee D’Orsay. We ate lunch on the steps of the museum and then waited in a long line- kind of surprising since it was one of the museums not free on this national holiday. We paid the extra 1.5E for the Renoir/Van Gogh exhibit- well worth it. It was crazy seeing paintings that I had seen many times in books and on posters, in real life. Wonderful. The museum itself, much like the Royal British Museum in London, is itself a work of art. It’s a converted railroad station and is massive. The interior is very open with walkways and exhibits on multiple levels and a beautiful glass arched ceiling about four stories above the floor. We spent a couple hours there- including in the gift shop which, as with any gift shop, Christina was really excited about. Sillyface.

It was only a short Metro ride to the Arch D’Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees. The exit to the station sends you right to the sidewalk across the street from the arch. What a breathtaking sight! We had a “I can’t believe we are here!” moment before dodging about four lanes of unstopping traffic on the unmarked circle drive around the monument. I really did not realize how huge it was! archIt was very moving to think of the meaning behind all the words and reliefs carved into the arch. It has over 500 names of French generals from the Napoleonic wars carved into the underside, as well as the names of important battles, and reliefs full of symbolism. In the picture to the right you can see two of the most famous sculptures on the arch- the right is an allegorical depiction of a fiery France leading patriots into battle. Look in my album for a more detailed picture. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a postcard.

The day was really only half over- it was around 5:30 or so when we began strolling down the Champs-Elysees. Talk about tourist traps! The whole street is lined with outdoor restaurants charging 4 times the prices that cafes in Montmartre charge. But every table was full! Of course, all of the huge stores were packed too, especially since it is sale season. So we walked down and stopped in a few places. We tried on some sweet Ray-Bans and Christina bought a “Paris dress” at a store called Zara. It was a good experience (a requirement for anyone visiting Paris) and beautiful, but not for me- I prefer the historic stuff and quiet streets. Our poor feet were yelling in protest at the beating they had been through for the last day and a half, so we stopped at a park right off the the Champs-Elysees and took a quick nap. No worries, we were perfectly safe: the entire lawn was covered in people taking naps and picnicking. Walking around Paris is no easy business! The dogs were barking, let me tell you.

At this park Christina and I saw a very ordinary 60-something-year-old woman picking up trash off the ground and placing it into a trash can. The trashcans in Paris are more like trash bags: There is a metal hoop with some sort of clasp, and city employees go around replacing the bags that hang from the hoops. Seems pretty economical, and many of these hoops are connected to pre-existing lampposts and such. These are all over Paris, in every neighborhood and on every street. Anyway, we watched this woman and though “How nice, she is helping clean up the park”. But then she started digging through the take away bags that she was throwing away, and soon enough had gathered a sizeable amount of leftover salad from several containers into one plastic bowl. She rummaged around, found a fork in the trash, and then found an unopened thing of salad dressing. As she stuck the fork into the salad and brought it to her mouth, Christina and I both whispered “Oh nooo…” and covered our eyes. Pretty funny, actually. As she was leaving the park with her dinner she handed an unmarked bottle of water to a Pakistani family that was sitting on the lawn. We thought that they would surely throw it away, but when we walked by their two-year old kid was drinking it. There is just no accounting for…well, for a lot of things.

Anyway, we decided to spend the rest of the beautiful sunny weather relaxing before the big fireworks show, so we walked towards the nearest Metro station and I took some more pictures of a monument to Charles de Gaulle and the Grand Palaid de Beaux-Arts. We went back to the hostel so I could change my camera batteries, dump my memory card, and wash up. It was just so hot and of course the subway is very germy and you have to hold the railings while riding. So I constantly felt like I needed to wash my hands. Christina made fun of me because every time we were back in the room I washed my face and then put my makeup back on. But it was hot! I was sweaty!

While we were in the room these guys who lived in the apartment across the narrow street spotted us through our open windows and began singing and playing guitar in our direction. I ended up leaning out the window over the street, trying to communicate with one of the guys who didn’t speak any English. He kept leaning back into his apartment to get the English words for what he wanted to say from a friend. “Do you want… (leans into apartment)…to… (asks friend)…come with me…(excuses himself for a second)…to birthday of my cousin?” Hahaha! Of course we declined, but his English-speaking friend Sebastien came to the window and chatted for a while and that was fun. Before we said goodbye, our first new friend leaned out of the window with his guitar, strumming and singing in broken English: “Je t’aime, my girl-lover, you are on fire”, in Christina’s direction. Charming!

Next was the big event of the day: fireworks at the Eiffel Tower in celebration of Bastille Day. It didn’t occur to me that the ride over would be crowded, but it definitely was. It was standing-room only on the Metro, and the stairs from the Metro station to the street were ridiculous. Once we got to the street (the stations near the Eiffel Tower are above ground, unlike most of the rest) we simply followed the huge crowd of thousands of people to the Eiffel Tower. There were people everywhere: on the wall of the Seine, on the grass, on the dirt, walking around, in line at the few cafes that were open and selling sandwiches.

By the way, if you are picturing a July 4th/Houston Rodeo scenario with food and souvenir booths and vendors selling water and cold drink you are very wrong. There was not a single booth or vendor to be seen. One or two people were selling water bottles out of small coolers- but in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, that makes but a little dent. The closest foods places were several long blocks away and of course very, very overpriced. We each paid 5E for a very boring sandwich, which is a little less than $10. We had definitely been expecting a festival type thing, but the air was festive enough with the amount of people there.

We found a comfy spot on the grass, but as soon as it got dark and the fireworks began literally hundreds of people stood up and moved closer. towerSo we had to, as well. We stood for the whole show, but it was OK because we were able to get some great pictures and videos. The young Arab guy standing behind me, Amin, was really nice, too, and wanted to know I where my cowgirl hat was and why I left it in Texas. Overall, it was a beautiful show and I was super glad that we went. Especially cool was the glittering lights running up and down the Eiffel Tower for most of the show.
The worst was yet to come though. We waited in McDonald’s for 30 minutes hoping to miss the huge crowd at the Metro station home, but it made no difference. We got in a line/mass of humanity to get into the Metro, but it was literally at a standstill for 30 minutes. By standstill I mean that every inch of my body was pressing against the people around me and, let me tell you, Christina and I were by far the best smelling in the crowd. The line was backed up from the turnstiles, which for some reason didn’t seem to be working. After 30 minutes of fearing for my purse and general health the police came and opened the exit gate to just let everyone in. No one had to swipe their cards or buy tickets to get in, presumably because there were so many of us (hundreds in our line) and it was getting close to the last train.

After that long of a day- and that wonderful of a day- there was nothing left for us to do but go to sleep and try to recuperate. We took hot showers, tried to stretch our muscles, quickly reviewed our goals for the next day (the secret to our success) and went to sleep. Thank God it was much quieter on the street than the night before, when (as we now know) our friends from across the way threw firecrackers outside of their window until the wee hours of the morning.

I have a few videos of the fireworks, which I will try to post, and of course another post about our third day in Paris. Meanwhile, scroll up and click on the links to my albums- there are some great pictures! I promise that this is the last time I go through each day in such detail, but it was such a weekend…

Street Art in Paris

July 18, 2007

Paris has lots of great graffiti and street “art”. These are some examples from my three days there. I thought it would be cool to put them all in the same place instead of leaving them scattered around my various online albums. From what I can tell, Paris makes little to no effort to clean up any kind of graffiti, especially in the bad areas of town. I actually like this because nothing I saw was obscene and if you know me you know I am strange and think that graffiti is actually really, really cool. So, enjoy!

1Graffiti on the railing of a freeway over a crowded (and raised) graveyard in Montmartre.

2

On a rotating billboard on the way to the Dali Museum :”Visual Pollution”.

3

Near the Two Windmills

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Wandering our way back from the Museum. One wonders what this means.

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Near the square with all the painters, pictured in the post below.

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The sign above the Dali Museum…is nothing sacred anymore? Haha.

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Two different pieces on a small side street in Montmartre.

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Even trucks get decorated- it’s hard to tell what is graffiti and what was supposed to be there.

9

OK, now how did they get up there?

12

This mural/poem is on a building on Rue Descartes near the Pantheon. It’s a poem by Yves Bonnefoy and begins: “Passer-by, look at this big tree…”

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A public park a block away from the Eiffel Tower, in a not so good part of town. Compare this to parks like Jardin de Tuilleries in the city center. Notice that even the goals of the soccer goal are graffiti-covered. Kind of beautiful, no?

10

Taken while speeding through a Metro station. I appreciate that the artist made sure to match the retro seats. I think this a political satire of the most recent presidential electee?

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And finally, a shot inside just one of the many Metro tunnels that we rode in this weekend. Every tunnel is decorated from floor to ceiling in graffiti of all sorts. I imagine that some is many, many years old, since they make no attempt to clean it up. Most is in white paint for maximum visibility.