Friday, June 15, 2018

Ubiquitous smartphones

Ryan and I have taken plenty of smartphone selfies over the years, and this trip is no exception. But it seems smartphones have supplanted our brains when it comes to travel. Or at least that's what I've been ruminating about during our Paris experience.

Ryan snapped this shot in the Metro where most people were absorbed by their devices. (This is obviously not limited to Paris, of course.)
On Friday, we got caught in a late afternoon rainstorm at Roland Garros. We crowded under the shelters, with Ryan plotting our journey home using the guidebook and me doing a crossword puzzle while slyly (I hope) people watching. The couple one table over ignored each other for almost the entire 30 minutes, as both were glued to their phones.

The next night, we went to the top of the Arc d'Triumph to shoot the Eiffel Tower at sunset. Ryan was utilizing the camera, and I was people watching and eavesdropping. As the 10:05 light show commenced, I was suddenly surrounded by upthrust cameras. And I wondered, do they actually appreciate what they're seeing?




This feeling culminated in the Musee d'Orsay on Sunday morning. I was disheartened to see this bag in the shop.

Nothing like a tote bag to celebrate the decline of civilization. 

It seems, to me, to be the wrong message. I know the science indicates that capturing the moment doesn't necessarily detract from living it, but sometimes I wonder.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ryan loses his way, more than once

Paris was kryptonite to Ryan's internal compass. He struggled mightily to get us around town. At one point, he nearly missed his 30-minute entry window for his Louvre ticket.

Ryan navigating in Reykjavik, which is exponentially easier than in Paris. 
Several city planning decisions contributed to his struggles.
  • The city embraced one architectural style and stuck with it, meaning every neighborhood looks the same. 
  • Like D.C., the city seems to have regulated building heights tightly. Yet somehow it was impossible to see the city's monuments (such as the Eiffel Tower) even when you're close by.
  • Names are reused or similar. Sometimes you think you've gotten to the right location (Pte du Clichy), only to realize you actually needed Place du Clichy
  • For its emphasis on uniformity, no one could decide on a single subway sign. Finding the stations is that much more challenging (when they existed at all - sometimes you simply had to walk down a staircase to find out if it was a metro stop or a parking garage). 
The cool gothic style entrances were easy to spot. 



Toward the end of our time in Paris, Ryan admitted defeat and began making decisions based on what was the opposite of his instincts. Even he will agree that we were more successful after that.

Ryan trying to get reoriented.
At least we knew which direction
the Parc Monceau was, although we weren't looking for that.
Ryan and another American tourist commiserated about never figuring out which direction was north in Paris. That was comforting for him (perhaps because I was not at all sympathetic. My exact words: "This is how I feel when navigating everywhere, all the time. It sucks.")

Ryan without his superpower did make me a little nervous about picking up the rental car within metro Paris and successfully driving it out of the city to head to our last destination, Bayeux. 

While Ryan might be stubborn, he's also smart. He bucked his deeply entrenched aversion to GPS and requested it in the rental car. The constantly recalculated routes were a godsend as we tried to get on the A13. The GPS also allowed us to add an unplanned side trip to Mont-Saint-Michel.

Ryan was effusive in his praise of this GPS experience, much to the surprise of his mother. So he added the caveat: "Only in Paris. They're still totally ridiculous everywhere else."

Outmaneuvering the tourists d'Eiffel (and elsewhere too)


"I love Paris in the spring time" as the classic Cole Porter song goes. So too does the rest of the world, it seems.

That's one of the reasons that we posed with the Eiffel Tower as opposed to waiting in the hours-long line to tour it.
The line to tour the Tour d'Eiffel just kept going. And going. 

But skipping that in no way diminished the Paris experience. In fact, we would find a more memorable way to incorporate the Eiffel Tower into trip later that day.


We walked to the Arc de Triumph after dinner. And we climbed to the top in time to see the sunset. 

The view of the sunset from atop the Arc de Triumph with the Sacre Coeur in the distance.

What would this view be without a selfie?
Quick side note: traffic in the circle around the Arc de Triumph is baffling. Twelve streets, including the Champs Elysees, empty into the circle. And as best I can tell, the traffic in the circle is supposed to yield to cars entering the circle and cutting across to the left. I think. That's the only way I can explain so many cars and buses that seem to end up going perpendicular to the traffic in the circle.

What is happening down there? I don't understand Parisian traffic patterns. 
But back to the Eiffel Tower ...
For five minutes after the sunset, the Eiffel Tower displays a light show. On this evening, it was twinkling white lights.

Elizabeth got the twinkling light show on video. 
Continuing with the obligatory tourist stops, I had to see the Louvre. Elizabeth, who visited Paris for a weekend during her London study abroad trip in 2011, already took that tour and decided once was enough. Plus, Paris is bursting with museums, so she went to the Musee D'Orsay instead. 

Is she amused or bemused by the constant attention? 

For the record, I did work my way to the front of that crowed and got this shot too. 

The Louvre is huge. It's actually two palaces that ultimately were connected (before one part burned down.) This hall seems to go on forever. 

Beyond priceless pieces of art, the Louvre also contains decadent artifacts from French royalty, such as crowns and scepters and the like. This is an extreme gravy boat. (Or something.)

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I skipped the Louvre and was happier for it

The Louvre is a once in a lifetime experience, and I mean that literally. I'm still recovering from the Louvre crowds of 2011, and so I politely declined a return engagement with Ryan this year. Instead, I toured the Musee d'Orsay and I loved it.

If you're not familiar with the Musee d'Orsay, it displays art created during the period 1848-1914. That includes several Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, including works by Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh.

This group of artists were truly rebels. I really admire how they challenged the establishment.

Rick Steves' audio guide to the museum was helpful once again, though it took me about 30 minutes to find his starting point, a painting called "La Source" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and two of his pupils. Considering it took Ingres 30 years to finish the painting, that seemed appropriate.

I took very few pictures. So many Impressionist paintings are truly works that one has to view in person. Neither prints nor photos do them justice.

The museum is located in a former train station and hotel. It was going to be demolished in the 1970s before it was rescued to house this collection.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the museum's copy of "Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles." A print of this work,  a hand-me-down from Ryan's grandmother, hung in our bedroom in Lexington, . 
These ghostly reflections caught a man sketching Degas' "Small Dancer Aged 14".

I snapped this photo of Daumier's "The Celebrities of the Juste Milieu" for Ryan. Daumier was a political cartoonist and this collection of 30 caricatures of politicians (mostly). You never know when Ryan will need a new project. 

The museum collection also celebrates sculptures, architecture and decorative arts. This is a model of the Paris Opera House





Je suis perdue, but Ryan is not

Ryan took four years of French across middle and high school. He says he was a solid B student, but that he mostly survived on three phrases (and his charm):
  • Je ne sais pas (I don't know).
  • Je ne compress pas (I do not understand).
  • Je suis perdu (I am lost).
I am biased, but I think he did remarkably well communicating in France. It helped that we mostly got patient waiters who were willing to answer his questions and speak slowly. He even was complimented on his accent by a waitress Bayeux. Our friend Gena's loan of a French phrasebook was clutch.

Our first hour in France and Ryan is trying to figure out how to say "lid" so he could ask for one for my paper cup of tea.  "Lid" wasn't in the phrasebook. So he improvised and settled for chapeau, which means hat. It worked. 

Celebrating our anniversary a few months late, with a special dinner at Au Ptit Bistrot in Bayeux. This dessert included white chocolate, cayenne peppers and raspberries. 
Ryan's favorite thing he ate: A braised pork dish at a Paris restaurant he found on the European version of Yelp (La Fourchette).
A pear and sorbet dessert was my favorite dish of the trip.
Trying to figure out the country of origin for Pelforth Brune. (It's French.)
Ryan even successfully navigated in French how to handle a lost parking ticket (my fault). Mastering perdu was amazing foresight by his younger self.

I, on the other hand, really struggled. Most unfortunately, my one year of college Spanish seems to have overridden any other foreign language skills. I perplexed several clerks and waiters by answering their inquiries with "Si." This prompted one kind waiter to switch to Spanish briefly - before seeing my expression of sheer panic and rephrasing his inquiry in English.

Elizabeth trying to navigate a French menu. 
Waiters always knew I needed the English menu - but Ryan bravely accepted the French one in most restaurants. I also made him do all of my food ordering, which made him feel sexist. I offered to do his ordering for him one day in Spain or Germany (three years of high school German for me, apparently superseded by the Spanish.) He declined, so I told him he is sexist. We'll see if he has evolved in his thinking when we visit Germany next year.

The true low point for me came in Normandy, where I simply merged si and oui together to reply "swee." Ryan was most amused. Luckily no one else witnessed my mortification. 

Our inaugural round of Parisian Theatre Bingo

Parisians have made a sport out of sitting in cafes and watching people. In fact, many cafes and brasseries along busy streets set up their chairs and tables on the porticoes to be like stadium seating. Elizabeth dubbed it “Parisian Theatre.”

Parisians (and maybe some tourists too) enjoying the drama of passing pedestrians and the anarchy of the city's traffic. 

Plenty of seats available in the front row here. 

On a hot Sunday afternoon, we decided that when in Paris, we should act Parisian and found a comfy table outside CafĂ© le Quartier General. 


And from there we developed our game of Parisian Theatre Bingo (patent pending).


Le bingo!!!! We won. Here’s some – but not all – the proof.

So. Many. Man purses. (This was one of at least 6.43 million we saw that day.)

Rolls Royce. 

Hen party on the move.

Also, there was a random parade of mostly roller bladers and some bikers. I got video of that.


We also spotted quite a few pairs in matching outfits (a faux pas in the Alessi-Price household). That included the young couple in the same Levis t-shirts and jeans and the mother and daughter wearing the same sandals and shorts. But this duo were, by far, the most coordinated. (Elizabeth snapped this shot in the Musee D'Orsay.)

Though not technically from our Parisian Theatre Bingo expedition, this deserved making the blog. 
Finally, the staged wedding shoots were prominent in Paris, but it's clearly not limited to French sites. We also noticed it in Iceland. 

Walking to the Eiffel Tower.  
On the hillside beneath the Sacre Coeur. 
Another couple at the Sacre Coeur. (These shoots were happening at the same time. I actually shot them by standing in the same spot and turning 180 degrees.)

In Iceland a week earlier, beneath the largest Lutheran Church that overlooks the city of Reykjavik.