Monday, April 09, 2007

France, or "Bonjour Ya'll!"

Bonjour! We have just returned from a week in France.

I have to say here at the very beginning, that I apologize to the people of France for all the things I thought and believed and said about them before ever even visiting their country.

We never bought into all that stupid garbage about 'Freedom Fries' and boycotting Yoplait, especially considering that we were on record with NIMN as opposed to the war in Iraq even before France objected to it, but we were guilty of a generalized prejudice concerning the French based on other people's assertions and experiences.

Perhaps we are too easily pleased, perhaps we are too childlike in our approach to people, perhaps we are just clueless and don't notice things that other people do, but from the very first guy who flipped through our passports, looked up at Coop, shot him a big grin and said, "Coop-air?" we were treated very kindly and patiently by the French people.

And believe me, we needed a LOT of kindness and patience from just about everybody. We had resisted this vacation for a long time, based in part on our irrational bias, but there were a few things Coop had mentioned that he would like to see in France, and we finally agreed to this trip on the condition that he act as translator for us (with almost two years of Lincoln Community School French under his belt).

Apparently he thought we were kidding.

Ted had beaucoup years of French in high school, complete with a trip to Quebec his senior year, but soon after our arrival it became apparent that he knew about as much as I did- which, in his words, was enough to make any Frenchman's ears bleed.

Swell. Every time we asked Coop how to say something or to translate a one word sign for us, he would get this pained look on his face, roll those teenaged eyes, and with a big impatient sigh say,

"I don't know!"

Our fourteen year old tour guide was a bust.

Our only hope for translation and understanding was a slim phrasebook with pictures. And the French are a proud people- the amount of English they use in their public signs is practically nil. We accept this- it's their country and the lack of language skills entirely our own fault- but it still made things...interesting.

So the first 48 hours were set aside for Paris. We napped off our red-eye lack'o'sleep and then boarded the Metro train for Notre Dame. We got off the train, took the escalator up, and popped out right in front of the Cathedral. Not too shabby.

I know you have seen millions of shots of this cathedral, but never one that I took, so here you go...

and the famous rose window around the right side, facing the river Seine...

I have lots of pictures of details (the saints and gargoyles carved on the facade) that I will spare you, but it is a swell place, loaded up with flying buttresses in back and everything.

After Notre Dame, we got on a boat to cruise the Seine. Even though it was chilly, we sat outside at the front of the boat. Here's my guys enjoying the view...

and here is our first view of the Eiffel Tower (from the boat)...

After the boat ride, which was really informative and gave us a good overview of Paris, we just wandered the streets of Paris until dark, stuffing our faces and exclaiming over how good everything tasted.


The French definitely get food.

The next morning we got back on the train and headed for the Louvre, and its "side door" entry- one we had read about at an online tourist site where people share tips. There was a line about a bazillion miles long into the main entry, and by using the carousel entry way we managed to avoid it completely. Yay us.

Here is the plaza where the line forms at the main entry...

There is no way to see all the Louvre has to offer in less than a week, so we made deliberate choices and set off to see what we could see, concentrating on paintings. We discovered that the way to interest a teenaged boy in Renaissance paintings is to show him evidence that the painters were once teenaged boys themselves.

To wit, this painting...

and the detail from under the first woman rowing...

That image got Cooper to laugh out loud, and caused him to scrutinize a lot more paintings a lot more closely, just in case they too had 'good bits'.

Hey, everyone appreciates art in their own way.

Here's a shot of the courtyard inside, from one of the higher floors- the place is massive...

After a couple of hours, we agreed that we probably needed to try to see the Venus de Milo, if for no other reason than she was there, so we joined the teeming masses and made our way to her.

Ta Da!

After the Greek Antiquities last summer she was less than awe inspiring, but it was nice to get a close look.

Then I was forced by my engineer husband and his progeny (read: man who avoided all Art History and Humanities classes clear through graduate school and his chip off the old block son) to endure the walk of shame to the Mona Lisa.

Let me say right here, for the record... puke.

The Mona Lisa is probably the most overrated painting on the planet- it's nice enough, but hardly Da Vinci's best or most important work. Nice shading, enigmatic subject, blah blah blah.

9/10ths of the people who were there to see it only wanted to see it because it's one of the only paintings they know. I agreed to accompany Ted and Cooper into the crush of people streaming to see the painting, but stayed back at the entry waiting for them to get their close up look in order to keep myself from cold cocking the first moron who was sure to say,

"Gee, I thought it would be bigger."

No pictures here of La Gioconda- you'll have to find them somewhere else.

That was the end of our trip to the Louvre, which we enjoyed (overall) pretty well, but at risk of offending the French people and lovers of the museum itself, I have to say I think the Prado in Madrid has a much better collection, at least of paintings. Just one woman's opinion.

Our next idea was the Musee'd'Orsy (much of Monet's work is there) and the Rodin museum (Cooper is familiar with 'The Thinker', so it seemed like a natural), but when we emerged onto the plaza in front of the Louvre and took a good look at Coop, we just couldn't make him endure any more culture that day.

He was dazed and mute.

Too much art, too much history, too much book learnin'.

He's young, he'll get another crack at artistic enlightenment in Paris someday, I'm sure.

Onward and upward.

We headed down to La Place de Concorde and walked the length of the Champs Elysee to the Arc'd'Triomphe. Lovely views, terrific people watching, and great fun to be in the middle of something that we had seen pictures of all our lives...

I know, yet another one-of-a-kind photo. But we liked it.

From there, we had to complete our collection of less-than-unique vacation photos by going to the Eiffel Tower, so here it is, up close and personal...

And for sticking with me this long, you get the bonus shot straight up from underneath the tower itself...

Pretty cool, eh? Well, we liked it.

As I mentioned, it was chilly, but the day was bright and sunny and we were pretty comfortable most of the time, especially when we spotted the many early blooming flowers all over the city...

Our day in Paris was approaching the twelve hour mark and we were pretty much touristed out, so we headed back to the hotel, stuffing our faces again all along the way.

Next time, France outside Paris, and maybe even some pictures of places you haven't seen a million times before. :-)