Friday, April 29, 2011

An Open Letter To Prince Andrew

This. This is what is making me take a break from all Paris, all the time.

Dear Prince Andrew,

It was a lovely wedding earlier today, wasn't it? The stuff of fairytales and dreams: a lovely commoner marries her handsome prince. I had those kinds of dreams a long time ago, Andrew, back when your forehead and my waist were both significantly smaller. In my fantasies, it was you, not your nephew, who broke with royal tradition and married outside the aristocracy.

And so you should have, because I would have put a stop to those hideous outfits your daughters wore to the wedding. I would have looked into it weeks ago and shrieked in horror when I was shown those getups.

I'd have put my maribou-slipper-shod commoner foot down and said to the girls that under no circumstances were they going to their cousin's wedding looking like a can-can girl from a cheap belle epoque musical revue and a consumptive Dress Barn manager circa 1993. They would have wailed "MOM!" and I would have followed up with "And furthermore, I don't care if those forehead protruberances are by Philip Treacy, they make you look like you're being attacked by monsters."

At which point, they would have flounced off in a huff and I would have said "That's right. You go back to your apartments and think about it. Call me when you get to the east wing of the castle so I know you made it all right." Then, you and I would have gone back to our morning tea and toast.

Later that day, I would have taken the girls shopping and explained the difference between "dated" and "vintage," and between "costume" and "edgy." This morning, I would have checked to make sure that Beatrice was not applying her makeup with a palette knife again.

Don't think I couldn't have made all that happen, Andrew. I come from stern stuff. My mother can still shut me up with one glance of the hairy eyeball, and not only am I forty-seven years old, I'm also a lot bigger than she is.

Clearly, the Duchess of York did not do any of this. She is probably, as I type, sitting on a beach topless somewhere while holding a drink with an umbrella in it. I, on the other hand, would have been by your side throughout the festivities, wearing something subtly fabulous by Chanel. Because Chanel is my everything, Andrew. It could have been you and Chanel, but alas, we all make mistakes when we're young and foolish.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chateau de Versailles

We were lucky to have a gorgeous day to explore Chateau de Versailles, GHQ of the French court and government from 1682 until the French Revolution in 1789.

I know I've been saying this a lot, but Versailles is big. Seven hundred rooms big. To put it another way, the design of Newport's Marble House was inspired by the Petit Trianon, a small chateau on the grounds of Versailles that Marie Antionette used as her country getaway. (That is, her getaway from the palace located on the same enormous grounds. Think on that for a moment before you scroll down.)

This is the view from the back door of the palace. The Grand and Petit Trianons are back there somewhere, along with a hameau (literally, "hamlet") -- a little farm where Marie Antionette liked to play farmgirl. As I mentioned in my post on the Louvre, Louis XIV through Louis XVI are known for their "more is more" philosophy -- and nowhere is that more apparent than at Versailles.

What you can't really see in the photo is that the grounds are not allowed to be natural at all. Every area is manicured, neat, and kept within a border. All 19,800 acres of it. Back before the invention of the combustion engine, that represented the work of a lot of serfs.

I didn't take any pictures indoors because flash photography was discouraged. People were taking flash photos left and right, but I figure it'd be my luck to start an international incident.

The gardens were in springtime glory. This is just one of them -- the gardens alone cover 977 acres.

Here is another, at the Petit Trianon, in the same formal style -- although the plants themselves are a little different. Notice the gaggle of nuns having a great time.

In the Petit Trianon estate-within-an-estate are the Temple of Love and the more naturalistic English-style gardens that were popular in Marie Antionette's time. By the time you walk this far into the grounds, you can't see the palace at all.

The statue in the temple is of Cupid cutting his bow from the club of Hercules. It's a replica of the original statue by Bouchardon, which was moved to the Louvre.

The temple was designed to be beautiful in every detail so as to be a fitting home for the priceless work of sculpture it housed. This is the inside of the dome.

Not far away is the hameau. According to my research, having these rustic garden constructions was fashionable among the French nobility. Which kind of goes to show you that living in those giant palaces was probably not all it was cracked up to be.

The buildings are like something out of a fairytale, aren't they? It's what they're meant to be -- an idealized image of rural life.

The goats, rabbits, chickens, and ducks have a pretty nice life on the estate, considering that nowadays there is no danger of them ending up in a cooking pot.

I saw this girl as we were walking to find the train that would take us back to the main palace (it was a ten-minute ride that cost us $5 each, and was worth every penny). I admired her moxie. Why not wear an over-the-top outfit to Chateau de Versailles?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is famous for having a lot of famous people buried in it. For most Americans of my age group, however, its famous for being the final resting place of Jim Morrison. It is also the final destination of Edith Piaf, Colette (she wrote Gigi, which became the movie musical with the most disturbing opening song ever), Sarah Bernhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Isadora Duncan, Getrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Marcel Proust, and many others.

Marcel Marceau is buried here. Whether or not he is doing "I'm stuck in a box" for all eternity is unknown.

This is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, covered in graffiti and lipstick kisses. I hate that he died at the age of 46 due to ill health and alcoholism caused, at least in part, by having been imprisoned from 1895-1897 for homosexual behavior. I love that among his last recorded words is the statement "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go."

Victor Noir is another famous person, but he is famous more for the manner of his death (he was shot by the great-nephew of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte) and the fact that after his death, his tomb became a fertility symbol because of the way the sculptor of his statue depicted his genital area. Apparently, women believe that by leaving flowers in his hat, kissing him on the lips, and rubbing his "business," they will be ensured fertility. That's why part of the statue is shiny and the rest has a patina.

I took a picture of this guy because he looked like he would have been a fun person to know. As it turns out, after a little research (I love Wikipedia) I discovered I was right. This is Leon Thery, who was a famous French race car driver at the turn of the 20th century. He drove his first race from Paris to Bordeaux in 1899 at the breakneck speed of 19 miles per hour.

The cemetery is huge, with boulevards and lanes cutting through its 118 acres. Even so, you are pretty much guaranteed to get lost.

It's also easy to wander off the designated paths. At least, that's the excuse I gave when my map-reading skills caused us to walk all over the place.

I was glad to see that Portuguese people were well represented, displaying the quiet good taste for which Portugal is renowned.

I did not break into this little prayer chapel, I just took a picture of what was inside: a picture of someone's grandma and a little plaque with a remembrance poem on it.

The Foodie found my interest in the insides of the chapels creepy, but I thought this one was lovely.

Speaking of creepy, The Cop drew my attention to this grave. I get that the couple is supposed to be together forever, but hands popping out of the top of a coffin are a bit much. Also, she's wearing a watch. Why? Does she have an appointment?

I thought this particular spot looked like a little patch of heaven. Not a bad place to spend eternity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jardins Tuileries and the Louvre

Gentle readers, are you bored with Paris yet?

When I left new England, rain and snow were pelting down at me out of a gray sky. I woke up on my first day in Paris to sunshine, warm weather, and flowers in bloom all over the place. It was lovely. We took a walk to Les Invalides, across the Pont des Invalides, and then over to the Jardins Tuileries.

Nobody has been able to explain to me why the weather is milder in Paris than it is in Rhode Island even though Paris is approximately seven degrees north of us. Someone said something about the Gulf Stream warming things up over there, but the Gulf Stream flows right past us too so I'm thinking that can't be it. Must remember to ask The Fisherman.

Whatever the reason, we thoroughly enjoyed walking in the sunshine. We stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe right in the gardens.

Seeing kids sail boats on this little pond made me want to be a kid again -- or at least borrow one so I could sail a boat and pretend it was all for the kid's benefit.

At the end of the gardens is I.M. Pei's Pyramide du Louvre, and the Louvre itself. You already know about the Louvre, don't you? Of course you do. You read about it in The Da Vinci Code.

Okay, fine. The Louvre massive, and it's gorgeous. The building we see today was completed during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, two guys who were not known for restraint in design. There are what I came to call "Harry Potter stairs" all over the place -- meaning that when you go up or down a flight, you don't always end up where you expect.

I didn't take any pictures of paintings for one simple reason: I saw the Mona Lisa. I've probably seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of images of that painting in my lifetime and not one of them ever did it justice. I figured, if professionals with fancy equipment can't really capture paintings, how can I do it with my cute little point-and-shoot camera? So I didn't even try.

I got a couple of nice shots in the sculpture gallery, however, and I am happy with that.

The Foodie and I ended our tour with a look at Napoleon's apartments. Napoleon was another guy whose tastes ran to the opulent. I also got a good look at the crown jewels of France, which were awfully pretty. One crown that I really loved was surprisingly simple and elegant, decorated with pearls and diamonds.

I had to push my way through a big crowd to get to see the bijoux, but get through it I did. It's not for nothing that The Foodie refers to me as The Magpie.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Seine

These are for you, Mom.

On my first full day in Paris, our group (consisting of The Foodie, The Cop, The Former Farmer, and me) took a walk along the Seine. I kept looking around in a daze and saying "This is so awesome. I can't believe I'm here."

The Seine is truly the heart of Paris. Fun fact: the distances shown to various major European cities on all the signs in Paris are measured from a certain spot at Notre Dame cathedral, which is on Ile de la Cite in the middle of the Seine. (Thanks to Emily of Tomato Kumato for that fun fact.)

My mom wanted to see pictures of the Seine and advised me to pick out my favorite bridge. Here it is: Pont Des Invalides. I like it because it's fancy, obviously.

I mean, it's really fancy. I has gilded sculptures in the middle and gilded monuments at each end.

There were pretty vistas everywhere I looked.

Not to mention interesting people-watching opportunities.

The Pont des Arts is the place to go in Paris if you're in love. Couples attach locks with their names on them to the ironwork on the bridge. These locks are conveniently sold in the little kiosk shops along the Seine.

It makes me wonder if Parisians threaten each other with bolt cutters instead of divorce. (Hopeless romantic, that's me.)

On our last night in Paris, we rode up and down the Seine on one of the Bateaux Mouches. Paris is lovely during the day; at night, it sparkles.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's Hard To Keep Them Down On The Farm

Just outside the front door where I was staying in Paris

I know that my gentle readers have been patiently waiting for details on my recent trip to Paris, but this week, I have found myself in kind of a funk.

The view from the end of the street

I had a wonderful time in Paris. How could I not? We had perfect, sunny, warm weather almost every day. The one day that it did rain was perfect in its own way because the umbrellas and the puddles provided atmosphere.

The park at the Place des Vosges

While I was in Paris, it was easy (well, relatively easy) not to think about life back home -- about dealing with Unemployment Insurance and finding a job. Now that I'm home, I'm a like a little kid who came home from a party hopped up on sugar and wanting to sleep in her party dress and patent-leather shoes.

The dining room at the apartment in the 7th arrondissement

It probably doesn't help that I went to Walmart two days after I returned. It was, in retrospect, a stupendously bad idea, but I needed cat food and paper towels. So I went. And if that didn't convince me I was home, dealing with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and realizing I'd found it easier to communicate with people in Paris using my limited French certainly did. So where does this leave me?

Paris was awesome, and I realize that a steady diet of awesome -- like a steady diet of birthday cake -- is probably not healthy for me. And my life here is good, it really is. But "good" has come with a price, and I guess my point is, if I'm going to pay a price anyway I'd like a little more awesome, s'il vous plait.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Heart Paris

I got back on Sunday from a 10-day trip to Paris (yes, the one in France). It was a wonderful trip and I had an awesome time.

Part of what made the trip so wonderful is that the people of Paris are so nice. Really, they are. Forget everything you've heard about them hating Americans; it's just not true. Or at least, that was not my experience.

If you walk into a shop that sells clothing or fine linens while you are carrying a cup of coffee from Starbucks (yes, it's available), you don't say "Bonjour" to anyone, and you begin to demand immediate attention, you will get the stink eye. And you should. In America, where the customer is always right and the shops are staffed by people who are often trained only to use the register, that behavior is tolerated. (It's still horribly impolite, however, and please note that if I am in the shop at that time, I am judging you.) In France, where shopkeeping and waiting tables are professions, and people are proud to do an excellent job, it is not.

I found that making an effort to speak French (and my French is very, very limited) was appreciated. Most people switched to English immediately and seemed happy to do so. Maybe they wanted to practice their English, maybe they wanted to make things easier -- or maybe they just couldn't stand to hear me butcher their beautiful language. But they were polite and friendly about it, and I appreciated it.

Bottom line: in this, as in so many other things, your mother was right. Manners count.