Sunday, September 19, 2010
Oops! Looking back on the previous post, I made the mistake of saying that I met Fernando at Sainte Chappelle after I was the Musee D'Orsay. That was wrong because the Sainte Chappelle is not across from Deux Magots, that would be St. Germaine du Pres. I apologize for the mistake, hope you can forgive me and not be distrustful about anything else I write. ("What is this shit? He's LYING!")
DAY 8 - 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KISS THIS GRAVE
This was the day that proved to be the most exhausting. I think it was the combination of having done so much walking and sight seeing already combined with one helluva day. I was really excited about this day because we were going to a place I had been looking forward to exploring: the cemetery of Pere Lachaise. So many famous people are buried here: Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Abelard and Heloise. But it was Gertrude Stein's grave that I was dying (ouch, bad pun) to see. She and Alice B. Toklas are buried together up in the northern area of the cemetery and I was ready. I had brought my old paperback of Stein's writings with me and at a flower shop, I bought a rose that I wanted to place upon her grave. (Stein did say, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.") Pere Lachaise is huge and I guess the best word to describe it is "French." This was no US cemetery with its clean lines, cut grass and shining headstones. These were mossy sepulchers, long forgotten bouquets and stone canopies. This was a place that was thick with solemnity. I mean, how much more moody can you get when huge crows are flying and cawing over the crematorium? Yeah, it was that kind of place. I loved it.The graves are interesting at who has a big place and who doesn't. Edith Piaf has a very quiet grave whereas former president Thiers has a huge Greek mausoleum. Abelard and Heloise had scaffolding around their grave site so for somebody living in Manhattan for 8 years, that seemed almost normal. Fernando stumbled upon the grave of Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. We didn't even know they were a couple. Jim Morrison's bust has been removed and his site is tucked into a very tight fit. Oscar Wilde has a very large headstone that is covered with lipstick kisses. I'm not sure how that tradition started but it's defaced the monument. You can see where they have tried to remove the traces only to be left with what looks like ghost kisses.http://www.traveladventures.org/continents/europe/images/perelachaise10.jpgFinding Gertrude Stein's grave was a highlight. I placed the rose on her grave (and there were a few other new flower arrangements there as well) and then touched my book to her headstone. Yeah, it's a bit dramatic so sue me. It was because of an article on Stein six years ago in "The New Yorker" that gave me the desire to visit Paris in the first place. It took me longer than I thought to get there but I had finally made it, and was at her grave. Back in New York, I wrote in the book that I had touched this book to her grave on May 15, then realized it had been May 16th, so I had to cross it, correct it and then wrote "Shit!"http://www.theflews.com/Paris/Week06Pictures/Paris0740Gertrude%20Stein.JPGAfter the cemetery, we stopped to eat (I ordered and omelet but got scrambled eggs but it was delicious nonetheless) and then walked down to the Sainte Chappelle (this time, I'm sure this is the real place) which is renowned for its stained glass windows. It was an overcast day but my god, those windows defy description here. You just have to see them for yourself. And to think that before we went there, I was thinking to myself, "Oh god, do I want to see yet another church?" It turns out that yes, yes I did.http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3438/3185477852_ea205946cf.jpg
And as this was Saturday, we were in the right place at the right time for the citywide "Night at the Museum" night where the Parisian museums were free from 6 to midnight. So we went to The Louvre for free. And of course when one goes to The Louvre, you just follow the crowd and head right for the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini aka Mona Lisa in the Denon wing. My feet were killing me at this point and there were even more stairs to climb but I wanted to see her. Fernando noted that these crowds of people were running by all the other famous DaVinci works just to see the Mona Lisa but The Louvre keeps pointing you to her and by the time you're outside the gallery here the painting is located, you're so excited that you just barrel on in. Even better, it was in the newer gallery (not the one mentioned in that novel everybody read a few years ago) and Fernando said that he'd never had a better look at her. We were able to get relatively close. And not long after that was the Venus de Milo and the Etruscan works. Now it was getting almost impossible to walk, but I stayed the course. Ain't I a trooper?? The Louvre shames any museum merely because of the sheer size of it and to cope with that weird sense of inferiority, I kept telling myself that "Well, the Louvre wasn't BUILT as a museum and that's why it's so big whereas the Met was built as a museum." Funny how those little insecurities come out. http://static.guim.co.uk/Travel/gallery/2007/may/08/france.travelnews/Louvre_JimZuckerman1-1209.jpg
Okay, now I was so tired I could barely think. So what better way to rest than to walk another mile down the Rue Rivoli to the place where we here meeting people to have dinner? The place we went to for dinner was - you guessed it- Marronniers. I ordered a Caesar salad and the waiter dropped part of it on my lap but I didn't care; I was fascinated because he looked just like Jean Paul Belmondo in "Breathless." Plus, he had a great name: Florian.I don't remember much but I did make it back to the hotel and rested my feet.
DAY NINE - LET THEM EAT BREAD
It was Sunday and Thierry was off work. On this final full day, Marc and Thierry joined us for a bit as we came upon the bread festival outside of Notre Dame. I cannot expound enough on how good the French bread is there. We crossed over to the Left Bank and Marc was very excited to show us a little bookstore he thought we'd like. It turned out to be "Shakespeare and Company" which I'd been to twice already. Marc was disappointed because he thought he'd be showing us something new but in my book, you're still okay with me for showing me a bookstore. We went to the oldest Mosque in Paris (and I am sorry, I cannot remember the name) and they have a nice little garden where we had mint tea. Yes, I did not have a Coca Light there. Isn't that amazing? Except for the old beggar woman who cursed us for not giving her money, that was a nice little side trip. Sunil, Marc and Thierry headed back to their part of town and Fernando and I once again headed for The Louvre to hit the bookstore. I found a great picture book for kids that listed all the places I had been too with great illustrations, but I figured I could find it in the US. But I can't. Dammit! Just as Fernando and I were heading back to Marc and Thierry's place, something miraculous happened. The sun came out and the clouds went away. We had rainy weather in Paris for most of that week, and here we were toward the end of that last full day and the sun was shining. Sigh. It was beautiful to see Paris in the sunlight finally. Another thing I really like about Paris is that Sunday feels like Sunday. I remember sitting around my folk;s house on Sundays when I was growing up, and everybody seemed to be quieter and more relaxed than usual and that's how Paris felt that day. After a nice final dinner with the group, I went back to the heights of Montmartre and looked at the city from one of its highest points. There's the usual melancholy when you're on the final day of your vacation and despite my earliest misgivings about my hotel room, I found I was even going to miss that. And with even more time, I'll probably be telling people that I loved the hotel and it was wonderful because that's how memory works.And so there isn't much more to tell. The next morning, I got up and headed down to Marc and Thierry's one final time. Marc's vacation was over and he had to report to Marseilles for work so he was gone. There was a sort of "the circle has been broken" feel by his absence. I had one last meal of baguettes and Nutella and we headed to the airport. I shouldn't have waited 15 years until I took a big trip. I shouldn't have been so wimpy about traveling alone but it was worth it to experience Paris with friends, especially those who had been to the city before and knew the layout. So now the long awaited trip is a memory and I've probably forgotten to add little things about it in here, but I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.
Continuing my story of my trip to Paris from last year, reposting it here in my blog from Facebook.
Some of my flaws (and I have many) come out when I am traveling. One is that when I get hungry, I become very, very grouchy. It's only appropriate that Mr. Hyde's first name is "Edward." Yet I never seem to prepare for it in advance because I never feel it coming. It just happens. God help you if you're with me and I haven't been fed in a while. I lose all sense of rationality. Thankfully, Paris has plenty of places along the way where I can grab something to go, especially if I start to crash while in a museum gallery. Another is my ridiculous addiction to Diet Coke. It tastes different in France but it's available in abundance. I tried and tried not to be silly and drink wine but I couldn't do it. Wine just doesn't agree with me and I have to go with my own comfort. It's hard to not feel declasse in that case but it was my vacation.Funniest thing was when I would respond "si" to a question when I meant "oui." It's even funnier because I am not proficient in Spanish so where the hell did that come from?
DAY FIVE - A COUNTRY HOME
The weather in Paris was iffy at best, so we took advantage of one of the clearer days to go to Versailles. Marc had taken the week off so he drove us out. I need to say here how generous Marc and Thierry were with their time. Marc drove us to Normandy AND to Versailles. Thierry wasn't on vacation, so he did not accompany us this day. Thierry found it very funny that Fernando and I always asked him, "How was your day?" when he came home from work.Versailles is huge and a complete optical illusion. The view from the gardens is stunning, like you're staring into an impressionist painting and it goes on much further than you'd think it does. Heck, we parked in the back near the gardens and the walk to get to the ticket line up and around the buildings took a good thirty minutes. And when we were there, we bumped into an old friend who was visiting for the day from London. How weird is that? Versailles is great, the hall of mirrors is gorgeous but the one place I really loved was the old "play village" Marie Antoinette had built where she would pretend to be a shepherdess. It's really beautiful, like a living museum but no play actors like at Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village.Those who have been to Versaille before will be interested to know that it's undergoing improvements and the exterior gilt edging is being polished back to a shining gold. It's quite stunning. Versailles pretty much took up the entire day and we were exhausted by the end of it.
DAY SIX - PRECIPITATION
Paris in the rain. It sounds so romantic, doesn't it? It's not. The rain started and of course while I had bought an umbrella my first day there (It said PARIS in big letters on the side), I did not bring my jacket that day and it was POURING. So of course I had to complain that the rain was dripping down onto me. Really, what was anybody going to do? Was I five? But the rain did subside a bit and we headed on our day. I do understand now why the leaves are so, so dark green in Paris. Those trees are well watered. In one of my favorite French movies "Cleo from 5 to 7," (1961) poor Cleo is wandering through the streets in the daytime, and some are very shadowy. I was happy that the streets still are just as well-shaded as they were back then.One of the out of the way museums Fernando wanted to see was the Musee Nissim de Camondo museum near Parc Monceau. It was the family home of Turkish Jews who emigrated in the 19th century. The father had two children. The son died in WW1 and the father was stricken with grief and willed his home to be a museum in his son's name. Even worse, the daughter and her family were rounded up during WW2 and died in the camps. It's a very Thomas Mann-like ending to the family. But the house remains and it's stunning. I think I liked it more than Versailles. Anybody who goes to Paris should visit.http://www.facebook.com/editnote.php?draft¬e_id=104494381577&id=1045965374http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_Nissim_de_CamondoFunnily enough, the part of the museum that fascinated us the most were the servant's quarters and kitchen. It was like something out of "Gosford Park."It had cleared up and it was time for me to come face to face with the experience I was waiting for: The Eiffel Tower. Yes,it's touristy and blah blah blah but it's touristy for a reason. That thing is amazing. I had been reading in a guidebook (one of those beautiful Knopf guides) that one of the best ways to see the Tower was to climb up the first few levels. It's cheaper AND you get a sense of how the edifice all comes together. The only time I'd ever seen anybody climb the Tower was Lois Lane in "Superman 2." Well, those first two levels are much, much higher than they look, even from the ground but I did it. Sadly, they do not sell "This Man Climbed the Eiffel Tower" bumper stickers at the top like they do Mount Washington bumper stickers in New Hampshire, but I did it. The Tower is amazing. And they have toilets up there, even better!From there, it was back to Marc and Thierry's for dinner and then a walk back up the hill to the hotel for me.
DAY SEVEN - YOU SAY MUSEE, I SAY YOU SAY?
I spent the morning on my own, going to the Musee D'Orsay - a converted train station -which was wonderful. One of my favorite parts of that museum was all the Art Nouveau furniture. It surely wasn't their lame cafe. It was one of the few places in Paris where the sandwiches were of subpar quality. So if you go to the Musee D'Orsay, stay for the art but not for the food. They do have a very elegant restaurant there, the very type of restaurant you'd dream of eating at, but I couldn't afford that so I shuffled up to the sixth level mezzzanine for a soggy sandwich and no seating. A real surprise greeted me there as among as the amazing Cezannes, Lautrecs and Renoirs was none other than Whistler's Mother. How fun to meet a fellow American!http://www.gothereguide.com/musee+dorsay+paris-place/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WhistlersMother.jpegFrom there, I wandered down to the Saint Chappelle to meet up with Fernando. It is across the street from Deux Magots which I'd been hoping to see, but now it's very expensive and in a ritzy neighborhood. Quelle dommage!We went back to Le Marais and Marronnier and had some drinks at the outdoor cafe before heading to dinner. It started to rain again while we were at the cafe and we were at the very edge of the awning so we tried to creep back as far as we could. It was hard because the cute boys behind us wouldn't budge. How very rude of them!Here is a picture of Marronniers (I just realized I haven't been spelling it correctly but won't go back and correct it) but when I was there, everything face out, nobody had their back to you.http://www.parismarais.com/gay-guide/gay-bars-paris/les-marronniers-gay-bar-mar.jpgDinner was in a neighborhood near the Bastille Opera House. Oh that poor Opera House. I guess somebody thought it was nice but the main entrance looks like the front of a Community College. And I went to a community college so I know of what I speak. It was a Moroccan couscous restaurant and it was delicious. I loved that everybody who walked in there seemed really happy to be there. The bathroom was across a small outdoor patio but it was growing dark and I almost walked up the stairs and presumably, into somebody's apartment. Good thing I looked more closely. The Bastille area is very lively at night. We ended up back in Le Marais and I finally felt confident enough to take the Metro on my own back to the hotel. It let me off in Pigalle which is a short walk and for blocks it's "Sex Shows" and Girls. It must be somewhat what Times Square was like in the 70s and 80s. There was even a Boulanger on the corner right next to a shop that advertised live sex stage shows. No thank you, I'll buy my bread elsewhere.There was also a McDonalds. And it was packed. sad!http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/jwss/bath2004/images/Place%20Pigalle%2001.jpg
Then I went to bed.
Two more days left!
This was- I am very ashamed to say - my first major vacation in 15 years. That's pathetic enough. Unlike the last time, as enamored as I am of Paris now, I know enough that loving a to visit a city is not the same as trying to move there. We always hear about those expats but ya know what? The majority of them came from money. There's always other visits and I would go back in a heartbeat. I need to go back. I loved this place! But it didn't start so smoothly ...
DAY ONE - LUTETIA AT LAST!!!
It was a little rainy when we got there. My friends - Fernando and Sunil - were staying with their Parisian friends- Marc and Thierry- on the Rue Geoffroy Marie. At the top of their street was the Folies Bergeres. (O'Briens, ask your mom about her Folies Bergeres story!) They lived in a beautiful little apartment in a very middle working class neighborhood. Anybody ever been to Paris and been amazed by all the green neon cross pharmacies?
One of the first things we did was traverse all the amazing covered passages all the way to the Louvre. That's where I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Far from being a delicate spindle, it is actually a rather muscular structure. A man tried to sell me something, I said I didn't speak French. He asked (in English) where I was from, I said the US and he was excited. He is Kenyan so we slapped hands over Obama. I still didn't buy what he was trying to sell. We walked in the Palais Royale gardens before going back to the apartment where Marc. We were exhausted and after a rest we went up the hill to the Blvd Rochechouart and my hotel. Well, for 42 Euros a night, I shouldn't have expected much more. I knew the bathrooms would be shared but didn't know the toilet would be one floor below me. Or that the shower would be in a closet with no ventilation and a pervasive mildew scent. Bleh. Later in the week, the handle on the sink in my room came right off in my hands. The area I stayed in was right below the hill of the great Sacre Coeur. You could see the people on the upper steps from far below. http://www.partenia.org/images/200702/SacreCoeur5.jpg
We went to Le Marais and met another Thierry for drinks are Marronier, THE place to see and be seen. I love how the cafes in Paris all have the chairs facing out so you feel as though you're performing for an audience as you walk by. From there, we walked back to where Marc had made us dinner (what a guy!) and then I went back to my hotel for a fitful sleep.
DAY TWO and THREE - THE NORMAN INVASION
I awoke with one of the worst headaches I'd ever had. I tried in vain to find an open pharmacy but when things are closed in Paris, they're CLOSED. The guy at the front desk gave me an aspirin which helped. Thank god, because this was the day when we took the two day trip to Normandy. How cute is it to drive through those little villages and see people carrying around their baguettes? The French love their bread and boy, it's been hard to get used to the American stuff again.I was relieved to get out of the mildewy hotel and go on a road trip through the French countryside. I felt much better as the day wore on and by the time we arrived at our first stop, the town of Etretat, I was ready to scale those amazing cliffs. We walked and walked and walked. Those cliffs are STEEP and there are no protective barriers but it was wonderful. And yes, I held my own despite the steep pathways and constant climbing. http://www.freemages.fr/album/normandie/etretat_falaises.jpgFrom there, we went to the towns of Deauville and Trouville. I loved Deauville which is the site for the climax of the great film "Bob le Flambeur." Side note: I am very grateful that you can find Diet Coke in France; it's called "Coca Cola Light" there. From there, we went to the gorgeous seaside town of Honfleur http://www.domainedevillers.com/images/tourisme/honfleur_clic.jpgand had dinner by the water. I wanted escargot but it wasn't on the menu. Thierry said "bulots" were the same thing. Thierry was wrong. Bulots were served raw in the shell with mayonnaise. I gamely ate about half of it, Fernando helped me with the rest but for the record, bulots are NOT escargot.We stayed in the most beautiful B&B I'd ever seen, with a thatched roof and delicious breakfast. I slept on a creaky, fold-out couch but unlike Elaine Benes, the bar didn't throw my back out. The next day we journeyed to the amazing Mont St. Michel and this was truly one of the highlights of the trip. An old neighbor of ours used to have a picture of it on her wall and I never could reconcile myself to such an amazing looking place on the water, but there it was, rising out of the horizon like a fairy tale.http://www.tyeliorn-bretagne.net/images/Mont.St.Michel.jpgAnd hey, the ham and cheese sandwich I bought there for lunch was swell. See, it was because of that bread again. God, that stuff is good.
Hey, know what there's a lot of in France? Steps! Mt. St. Michel is no exception. But to be there, in such an old place was almost overwhelming. After a nice, long day at Mt. St. Michel, we drove back to Paris just in time for Marc to make us another dinner. Then I grudgingly went back to my hotel room, although this time, it didn't seem as bad as it had. I passed out.
DAY FOUR - THE AUTOMYTHOLOGY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS
Now I've been in the country for a few days, I have seen so many things, now it's time to really be let loose in the city. We had established a routine that I would walk down the hill every morning to have breakfast with Marc, Fernando and Sunil at their place. This was a day I'd been looking forward to because this was the day I was going to see The Left Bank among other things! That included Notre Dame, the expat bookstore "Shakespeare and Company", the Rue Dante where all the comic book stores are (yay!!!), Contrescarpe where Hemingway lived during his expat years and writes about in "A Moveable Feast", the Luxembourg Gardens and most exciting for me, the Rue de Fleurus where Gertrude Stein had her famous salon and lived first with her brother Leo and then the incomparable Alice B. Toklas. I was worried I wouldn't find it but there it was, and there was a plaque out front. To think of all the art and people who came and went from that building. God. The mind reels. I didn't want to leave the front of it. There are bookstores and stamp shops everywhere in Paris. It's nice to see a city where the bookstores aren't all closing down.After that, a high end Parisian department store to use the bathrooms (and they had a bookstore and a film exhibition in the basement. Why can't we do that???)That night - Montmartre. Oh god, I talked about steps before and climbing up the steps in Montmartre to the Scare Coeur and then the streets was a task unto itself. Again, I made it and the views of Paris from up there are amazing. US schoolkids, this is also the area where "The Red Balloon" takes place. Remember that? This is where the little boy lived with the steep steps. I found the old cabaret I was looking for, Au Lapin Agile, and was amused at the beautiful plaza full of tourist gouging "artists." Really, this was like nothing I'd ever seen and I loved it. I think the only time I'd ever seen such cute streets was at a Disneyland like place which recreates everything. This was real and so amazing.
Ah, I miss it already.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
What I had overlooked at the time I made my Facebook post is that I was 19 in September of 1991 and I am 38 now. That's half my life. My first 19 years were interminable, the last 19 have gone by in a flash. I still feel as insecure and unhappy and naive as I did at 18, other times, older than a fossil. But that wonderful, madcap era of college still feels as new and fresh as it did then. I posted a profile pic of me on Facebook recently from that era and a zoo coworker's comment is that in it I look "genuinely happy." And I guess I was. You know that song from the Rankin-Bass "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" when Jessica the schoolmarm lets down her hair and sings, "My World is Beginning Today?" That's exactly how I felt back then, sans the psychedelic imagery and stop-motion animation.
I've been thinking about this time even more these past few months as I am now in a job where I am quite a bit older than most of the other employees. What few other gay kids were there are gone or left for school. Once again, I feel like the lone gay guy in a roomful of straight people. It's as though I am back at square one, as tough the ensuing years have never happened. Maybe I am a mystery to these zoo coworkers, not always happy, sometimes in a bad mood. But the truth is, I have gone so long feeling one way that to go back to feeling another way - alone- is terrible. And I'm disoriented. I can always come back to reality when I am back in my apartment, talking with my friends. But I also have this insane need to be liked by everybody. It's not as intense as Neely O'Hara in "Valley of the Dolls" with her "mass love," but it's close. But why would these people have any interest in be friending a guy who's almost 40??? I think I'm a cool guy but I'm an anomaly now. I've never really wanted to be back in this position, it can be a bit alienating but I do like these people quite a bit. And, embarrassing to admit, even feel a little protective of them sometimes.
This time is not completely the same as when I was young, though. This time I can speak my mind, unlike in high school when I was afraid of my life. I can assert my opinion if I feel people are misinformed. And quite a few kids are. There was a wonderful moment when one guy was going on about what gay people. I said to him, "That's how you think gay people are, huh?" He said yes and I said, "Do you know you've been sitting next to one for the past half an hour." Dead silence.
Ah, score one for Big Fuckin' Ed. I've still got it.