Wish You Were Here

So, continuing with my vacation re-cap: Paris.

We caught a train from Stuttgart at 6:55 in the morning, which required us to actually be up a few hours earlier. I love trains, and one of my favorite parts about being in Europe is that I have an excuse to take them all the time. Of course, most of the ones I take regularly are not of the highest quality, but the ICE to Paris was wonderful. Also, it was a lot faster than driving.

One of the great advantages of leaving so early in the morning was that we arrived in Paris shortly after ten in the morning, giving us plenty of time to find our hotel, sit down for lunch, and then start seeing some of the city. Since we saw so much, and I really only want to touch on a few of the things that struck me, I will sum up the next two and a half days quickly. On Thursday we saw Notre Dame Cathedral (I got to go to confession, which was awesome), walked along the Seine till we got to the Eiffel Tower (which was a heck of a lot more impressive, awesome, and everything superlative than I had ever imagined it would be), and then took the Met up to L’Arc de Triomphe, which we climbed to the top of, so as to better view Paris from above (just as the sun was setting.)

Note on Thursday: I had always thought the Eiffel Tower was kind of tacky. This is not true. For a giant iron structure that I would not normally consider incredibly tall in this modern day and age, it still manages go be both impressively massive (it is apparently the tallest building in Paris, and it helps that the other tall buildings are no where near it), and surprisingly beautiful.

On Friday we spent over nine hours in the Louvre, where we saw many cool things.

On Saturday we spent time in both the Orsay and the Pompidou, where we saw many more cool things.

On Sunday we parted ways and went home.

As you will notice, most of both Friday and Saturday were spent in art museums. Between the three of them, I am pretty certain we saw just about every famous artist in the world, and usually we were seeing their most well-known works. The general consensus amongst our group was that if we had not had a Fine Arts major among us (my brother Eric), we could not have spent so must time in the museums. As it was, Eric’s genuine pleasure and enthusiasm for the subjects we viewed became infectious. As someone put it (John or Tim, I forget who), “A tour guide might be able to give us more information, but no one can present it the way Eric does.”

As for the artwork itself, much like my reaction to the Eiffel Tower, I was surprised by how much more impressive it all was when viewed in person. This is probably because I am used to seeing pictures of paintings in text books. Turning around to behold David‘s painting depicting the coronation of the empress Josaphine by Napoleon, a painting that stands over twenty feet tall, is impressive indeed. Not only that, but to be able to walk down hallway after hallway, watching art progress through history, ads and entirely new aspect to the experience. I never understood why people were so fascinated by the Mona Lisa until I saw it after a few centuries of previous Italian paintings. Correct body proportions were suddenly impressive, instead of just taken for granted. Also, she looks right at you. No matter where you are in the room. I be that creeped folks out back in the day.

And yes, we did see all the ninja turtles, thank you for asking.

Overall, we saw so much incredible artwork, that I am afraid to try listing any of it for fear of leaving something important out. For instance, I might forget to mention that among all the paintings at the Louvre we were also able to see a great number of sculptures, such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace. In the Orsay we saw a whole lot by the Monet, Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec (“what a wreck”), Van Gogh, unsoweiter, unsoweiter… in the Pompidou we saw some of the more modern artists, such as Picasso, and one of my new favorites, Kandinsky. We also saw some more unmentionable atrocities, in all three museums.

I will not mention them, because otherwise they would not be unmentionable.

One of the most amazing things about being in Paris, besides a) Paris, and b) art, was the food. Most notably (for Eric), the coffee, and for me, the croissants. I do not think a meal went by without us all ordering either café au lait or an espresso. As for the croissants, I can never accustom myself to the sheer quality of French pastry. The Germans make good bread, but their croissants are dry and crumbly. A good croissant has vanishing qualities akin to those found in cotton candy, and furthermore, must be eaten within a few hours of being baked. Naturally, in the United States, this is difficult to find. Our croissants are probably made in a factory, baked, deep frozen, and then shipped hundreds of miles to be de-thawed and left in a display case for a couple days. Or, if we are lucky, only the dough has been deep frozen for shipping, and it gets baked upon arrival. Nevertheless, it bears no comparison to those croissants which are made by hand and baked fresh every morning by bakers who have been making them by hand and baking them fresh every morning for years.

Also, I tried the crème brûlée, because I needed to compare it to the one I make back home. My recipe is chocolate, and therefore better, but I could probably stand to temper the chocolate before adding it to the custard in order to keep it from curdling the chocolate. This should create a smoother, more homogeneous mixture.

Also, I need a blow torch.

Overall, my vacation had only one disappointment, and that was that I never got to hear my brother John play the guitar. I kept meaning to have him sit down and play something for me, but I only remembered at times when there was no guitar available. There are certain songs that I listen to, or occasionally hear on the radio, that remind me my various musically-oriented family members (my dad and “Country Roads” share an unbreakable connection), and some of these same songs are ones that I like to sing to Damaris a lot. Consequently, over my past eleven months away from home, I have found myself missing John and his guitar more than I would have expected.

I’m not sure I know what else I can add to that, other than: Thinking of you.

4 thoughts on “Wish You Were Here

  1. As should not be surprising about the French, a group of authors and artists of the time wrote an open < HREF="http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Lettre_de_protestation_des_artistes.JPG" REL="nofollow">letter of protest<> against the tower, saying that it marred the view of Paris’ other superb monuments, and that it would be viewed as a stain on the city’s history. One of the authors, Guy de Maupassant, began his next < HREF="http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Maupassant_vie_errante.JPG" REL="nofollow">short story<> (in first person) with the sentence (roughly translated):“I left Paris, and in fact France, because the Eiffel Tower depressed me so.”I have heard that he later recanted though, and once even said that he loved the view of the city from atop the tower, because “it’s now the only place in Paris from which you can’t see the damned thing.”Glad to hear you had a fun trip! Maybe you should learn to play guitar 🙂

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  2. Aww, shucks. < HREF="http://icanhascheezburger.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/funny-pictures-hugging-cats.jpg" REL="nofollow">I feel loved.<>The thing about the Eiffel Tower is that it is really the Math incarnated. Math made flesh. Math with us. It is the avatar of Math. As a “math person,” that’s pretty cool and something that you sort of have to see in person. I did not realize this beforehand, and as such did not realize how awesome it is.The croissants were indeed amazing. The French pastry ability was not overstated.Sexy. Dance. 2. So hilarious.

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  3. Ha, I know Guy de Maupassant! I was assigned his short story “The Necklace” to read for my intro to literature class.Bravo, John. For me, a large part of seeing the Eiffel Tower was that I had seen it so often in miniature that I really had absolutely no idea how huge it was. I had some idea that it was just a glorified radio tower or something. But yes, as the one Math from true Math, I can definitely appreciate it’s awesomeness.

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  4. I always did wonder what was so amazing about the Mona Lisa, but your explanation makes a lot of sense. I’ve discovered, too, that having images of amazing art all over tends to cheapen the general opinion of them, since people often don’t realize that the reproductions can’t equal the original.

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