Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Pensees De Paree - Les Surroundings"

When we arrived, we were courteously greeted by the hotel manager, in a lobby undergoing an upgrade.  Artisans applied fake marbling to pillars encircled at their bases with two-inch bands of fake gold.  This latter process is called “gilting.”  I wondered if it’s called that because they felt “gilty” that it wasn’t real gold. 


The walls of our commodious room were handsomely adorned in an elegant floral- print fabric.  Anna and Colby’s room was adorned exactly the same way.  And downstairs in the lounge, once again, the exact same wall fabric.  The hotel owner must have really liked it.  Either that, or they hated making decisions.

HOTEL OWNER:  “Stick it up everywhere.  I’m going to lunch.”  (FROM THE FRENCH:  “I’ve got a date.”)        

Outside, in the Montparnasse district where the hotel was situated, were rows and rows of apartments (mandated by law to stand no more than seven stories high), constructed during a massive Parisian refurbishment in the 1860’s.  There were two noticeable exceptions.  One was an entirely glass-built edifice whose sole saving quality was that it reflected the 1860’s building across the street, providing onlookers with a view of the good building twice, and the shiny one, not at all.

Even more incongruous was the area’s single skyscraper, modern in construction – it was put up in the 70’s – and fifty-nine stories in height.  This was immediately labeled “The Ugliest Building in Paris.”  And not just by visitors.     

On a later “walking tour” of the vicinity, our lively and informative guide Sophie informed us that Parisians consider the view at the top of that skyscraper to be the finest view in the city.  That is because, when you are standing on the top of the building, you can’t see it.

Ho ho hon. 

(But with the advantage of being true.)

Historical Note.  Realizing that the skyscraper marred the otherwise historic homogeneity of the city, a cap was placed on building heights, leaving only the famed Eiffel Tower and this architectural misstep to stand out conspicuously on the horizon. 

This proved enormously valuable to us throughout our trip, since, because “The Ugliest Building in Paris” was only two blocks from our hotel, which nobody including French cab drivers could locate, we could use this eyesore as a reliable compass point for recalibrating our bearings.  We’d be thoroughly lost, turn a corner, and…

“Oh!  There’s the 'Ugly Building.’  The hotel’s that way!”

And it always was.  It’s a good thing about big buildings.  They never move them.

A certain family member – she’s a psychologist, so confidentiality prevents me from exposing her proclivities – enjoys visiting department stores (and supermarkets) of other places to experience the comparisons with our own.  The “Ugly Building” housed one of these on its Ground Floor.  Its range of inventory quickly revealed it be the Parisian version of Target. 

We bought a tiny t-shirt with the words “Vroom Vroom” on it – baby Milo’s reaction of choice to passing buses and trucks. 

An authentic “Vroom Vroom” t-shirt from Paris.  Pretty cool, right?  Not quite.   On our return, it is explained that our special purchase is a promotional t-shirt from the 2005 Disney animated feature Cars. 

Old news.  And American old news at that! 

Grandparents.  We are entirely in the dark.

I once insightfully observed that landscape paintings inevitably reflect the skies of the geographical settings they are painted in.  (How could they not, Earlo?  A Dutch landscape artist painting an Italian sky?  How did that happen?  “It just floated in”?  I don’t think so.) 

As with art, similarly, I became quickly aware, with music.  As I strolled the almost alley-like back streets of Paris, I could distinctly hear the stirring, barricade-manning anthems from Les Miz.  The evocative rhythms resonated perfectly with the terrain.  I almost expected Russell Crowe to materialize from around the corner and arrest me for some trivial infraction.  Or, even scarier, sing.

During our first day’s casual cobblestoning through history, I spotted a sign in a long-established brazzerie, trumpeting the establishment’s possession of “Napoleon’s hat.”  I peered in the window, and…

There it was! 

My excitement turned to dubiosity concerning how exactly they knew that the hat was authentic.  Was there an inscription in the hatband saying, “Please Return To The Emperor of France”?  And if there was, why didn’t they?  Such are the events that change the course of history!

NAPOLEON  (PONDERING IN EXILE):  “How things might have been different at Waterloo if I’d only been wearing my ‘Lucky Hat.’” 

I am slowly catching up in my history book about Paris.  I have finally reached 1704.  Hopefully, I will finish before we leave.  The cool part is, we pass a church built in 1122, and I had read about it two hundred pages ago. 

And, of course, forgotten pretty much everything it said. 

But hey…

There it is.

Something I vaguely remember reading about.

Standing there, right before my eyes.  
Here's the dilemma:  A tragedy occurs resulting from an explosion, and billions are spent on an "anti-terrorism" response.  Twenty kids are shot down in Connecticut, and a large sector of our citizenry insist that we do nothing.  

I really don't get it.

1 comment:

Mac said...

Very cool, Earl. Am enjoying hearing about your French jaunt; your experience of France is much more pleasant than mine. Although the problem may have been me, not France, I dunno...