Kat: On the eve of the last year of the world, according to the Mayans and Roland Emmerich, I’m sitting in a Paris apartment blowing my nose and watching the fog roll on and off the Eiffel Tower. There will be no fireworks this year due to austerity measures, a small note the French forgot to mention to all the tourists when they booked holidays in Paris over New Year. However, as the French bureaucracy is not always to be believed, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a light show anyway.
France holds a special place in my heart. I used to live here and have a degree in French. I didn’t realise how much I missed it until I spoke that first bit of French with the taxi driver from Gare du Nord. Only a sliver of language can make that longing come back in droves. I especially missed the food here; once you’ve eaten in France you never want to go home. The food is always very fresh, even when you buy home brand from the supermarket. And baguettes! As cliché as it is, I missed baguettes most of all. I still haven’t got myself a jambon crudites, but I’m waiting for Poitiers (where I used to live). However being the only French speaker among our petit tour group I have indirectly taken on the role of translator… which makes for some interesting three-way conversations. Just wait until we get to Italy. All I can say is “Ciao”.
Sacre Coeur and Montmartre is one of the more beautiful areas of Paris, made famous by the film Amelie. While Amelie painted a picture of charmed Parisian life, during the day it is taken over by tacky trinket hawkers jingling metal Eiffel Tower key rings shouting “Mademoiselle! Madam!” We made it up the steps to the spectacular views over Paris in the morning, interrupted by the countless other people doing the same thing. The Basilica is stunning; candles of Mary illuminate the mosaics and paintings throughout the church.
The Tuesday was the first day of our Paris Museum Passes, a decent value travel pass that gives you access to all the major museums. With fog on the horizon, we decided to hit up the big one: Versailles. Home to Kings, Conquerors and Leonardo Di Caprio. We packed a lunch of fresh baguettes (Poulet Crudites) and popped off the RER C line. It seemed a little busy; I’d been in Paris just before Christmas five years ago and visited Versailles. It was dead. No crowds, easy to get in and around. This time we waited for over an hour to get into Versailles. The line snaked up and down a courtyard that was once filled with revolutionaries. When we finally got in, it looked like the zombie invasion was waiting at the gate of Versailles.
Versailles is stunning and definitely worth a visit if you are in Paris. Just not at peak hour when hundreds of people are trying to look through a door designed for two people to go through. Or when there’s a queue to enter the Hall of Mirrors. I overheard a hilarious conversation on the way back with an American family: “I was a bit disappointed with the Hall of Mirrors. I expected it to be more of a hall and not have windows you know. Just mirrors.” LOL. For the uninitiated, the Hall of Mirrors is a stunning piece of architecture, the mirrors carefully placed to reflect the light. I can only imagine how it appears in full daylight.
We walked down to the Petit Trianon, a smaller mansion made of beautiful pink granite columns. The fog rolled down like a blind over the gardens. While some people don’t like taking photographs in anything but good conditions, I love weird weather. Everything had an eerie and mysterious presence, the long rows of manicured trees that went on forever and disappeared into the ether, the grand canal that blended perfectly with the sky until there was no line on the horizon.
While I’d spent a lot of time exploring Paris, my family have not. Despite previous visits it seemed everyone but me had failed to visit the major tourist attraction: the Eiffel Tower. So on Wednesday we took Mum off to see the Eiffel Tower. I should mention here that the Two Monkeys have been joined by the self-proclaimed “Two Baboons”, my mum and dad straight from Sydney, Australia. My Mum fits right into Paris life and is skilled at picking up the words she needs to get by. My dad on the other hand… think shorts and sandals in 3C weather.
After a quick tour of the Tour Eiffel, we moseyed on down to the Sewer Museum, which was closed due to a blocked toilet. I’m not kidding. Looking at a map we thought the Musee D’Orsay would be the next best stop. We could wander down the Seine at a gentle pace and watch the world go by. “It’s just down there,” I reassured my Dad. After half an hour of walking Dad needed a break and plonked himself on the nearest wall ledge. When the Gendarmes (French Police) ran up to Dad to move him along, we realised he’d sat down on Parliament House. When we finally made it to Musee D’Orsay we were met with incredible queues. It seemed like everyone else had come to Paris too.
So across the bridge we went to the Musee de L’Orangerie. Another queue. We waited in the windy and rainy queue for half an hour, before we realised our museum passes gave us priority access to the museum and we didn’t have to wait in queues! D’oh. I’d never been inside the Orangerie, but boy is it beautiful. It houses 42 of Monet’s waterlilies paintings, presented in the round under natural light. Underneath is another gallery with an exhibition on Spanish artists. A lot of artists I’d never heard of, but their paintings inspired with their impressionistic use of light and reflections on water.
While we were there we decided to hit up the Musee of Musees. The Louvre. Eh, why not? It was just down the road. With priority access we swooped right in under the pyramid making ner-ni-ner sounds at the suckers waiting in the queue. But try navigating your way to the Book of the Dead when between you lies a hundred tourists taking illegal pictures of sarcophagi, noobs looking for the Mona Lisa, backpackers trying to take photos of the Venus de Milo’s breasts and clots of Americans trying to figure out if there really is a body under the pyramid à la Da Vinci Code, one of the most overrated books of all time! (my mum loves Dan Brown…) So I did an anti-Mona Lisa tour, in which I went in the opposite direction to the signs pointing to La Joconde. I ended up in the Oceanic wing looking at well-endowed fertility statues and playing with their interactive art guide.
The following morning we made a plan. Get up early and get to Musee D’Orsay. And despite there being a smaller queue at the priority entrance, we got in and spent two good hours looking at the incredible collection of Impressionist masterpieces. The museum only collects between a certain period, the late 1800s to early 1900s. It’s my favourite period in art history. Impressionism, neo-impressionism, symbolism, naturalism and orientalism. I can’t get enough of my -isms. The museum featured one of my favourite artists, Renoir, and I bought a postcard of his Girl with a Cat. But I’ll leave the rest of our jam-packed week to Justin.
As for the end of the world, I plan to be on a very tall mountain somewhere. Drinking champagne. Happy 2012 everyone!
Justin: Paris, France. The city where people fall in love and even they don’t have anyone to fall in love with the city will do nicely. As Kat mentioned I’ve had a toxic dose of culture and art which really is a continuation of London and New York. The supremacy of their galleries and museums is undeniable, therefore smart art rationing and exquisite time management is needed to maximise an enjoyable experience.
I wanted to re-explore the Louvre so I went back a 2nd time during this trip, when returning again I hit it up really early in the morning. The sculpture and tapestry sections were near empty, while the inpatient hordes were running for the Mona Lisa (which in my opinion still deserves all of its mass attention and adoration) I was casually taking in greek and roman antiquity with glee.
Also, much to my delight the 15th century tapestries from Belgium were astonishing and barely attended to. I found myself standing there agog for 15 minute per tapestry. The detail and execution beckons deep admiration and awe, also a kind of whimsical longing for some Medieval culture and days of yore. I think I spent ten minutes in suspended disbelief at how a horses hind legs could be so exactly detailed and rendered on tapestry, this is craft and art of the highest order and proves us men can also sew with the best of them I tell ya.
Most of the paintings were devoted to illustrating parts of the Bible, in sometimes a little repetitive but sometimes brilliantly original ways. The previous power and institution (not that it always used its power in influence in good ways mind you!) the Church had the ability to shape, commission and craft a lot of content the painters of the middle ages and renaissance devoted themselves to. It has a legacy of rich Christian artworks with Jesus looking a little more European than Jewish.
Notre Dame is the gothic church to trump all gothic churches, replete with world first flying buttresses and gargoyles. This beast of a holy monument was developed for 200 years and like the Mona Lisa is the painting of paintings, this is, in my opinion the church of churches. It even houses a treasury which therein allegedly lies the crown of thorns, surely one of the most valuable, and spurious, Christian relics of all time. In the treasury I felt I was back in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, dozens of chalices were presented behind glass cases, couldn’t find the humble real one in there just all that glitters really.
I am a confessed cinefile, so was really excited to visit Cinematheque. It was mostly devoted to the formation of film and how it evolved from magic and techniques of image manipulation. The French were instrumental in the fascination and growth of the film industry. The Lumiere Brothers and George Melies, who as I discovered died destitute, relished in and pioneered this new and exciting media which is true synthesis of all art forms. The French really understand and appreciate the art of cinema – not just as a mass entertainment profit machine. It was a joy to see the evolution of this art form although the latter half of the 20th century was a little neglected.
I also got the opportunity to catch up with some friends from Sydney both whom either working in or studying the helping professions. Warren is such a cool guy, a multi-talented, education junkie, dancer with a thirst of knowledge and love of life. We caught up with him and a friend from Sydney and dined in Trocadero, good times. I also caught up with Alix, a Parisian who did an internship at Wesley Mission. She and her fiancé Jean-Marc invited us for some delicious chicken dinner, Jean-Marc gave me a so-called medium strength shot of coffee which sent me buzzing for the next four hours!
I love the French and can relate to the all-or-nothing attitude that seems be part of the mentality of many a European. French fashion is so chic and cool, if you are a guy, wearing a black or grey top with dark blue jeans is the unofficial French uniform. These are the type of clothes I choose to wear back home and felt like I’d found my clothes paradise. As I write this I am sneezing and sick, Kat the little Outbreak Monkey has transmitted a persistent cold that’s bugged her for week, naughty little critter, but a day’s rest means quality time for quality blogging.
So au revoir 2011 and bonjour 2012, we remain on the move, on the go and continuing to take in this whole wide world. We will eventually settle in Asia in the following months. Monkeys signing off for the year, we love you all and take care, hope the New Year brings surprises! Justin and Kat xx