If by long night, it would mean waking up at three in the morning after only six hours of sleep, well I aced that test. I was in a fugue state between wakefulness and tiredness. I thought about wandering the streets but I wasn’t sure how far I’d get. Even with my eye mask and ear plugs and insomnia resistant pills I knew it was going to be a few hard days of dealing. I jumped on the computer looking for some semblance of my old world, something to connect to until I could connect with the world around me. With the single tall window open and the cool air coming in a noise arose, that sounded like a cross between a whippoorwill and a demon pigeon. It was so throaty and deep like a sound a gargoyle would make. Very loud and every bit as creepy.
After unsuccessfully laying in bed for another two hours, I gave up the ghost and made breakfast.
The months I had to plan the trip were all laid out in Microsoft OneNote with links to maps, schedules, Yelp reviews and color coded by proximity for convenience as well as reminders to do what needed to be done and when. It was all very systematic, but still I had a feeling it would need to be adjusted once I was out and about getting the lay of the land.
The one thing I noticed is using Yelp was great to alert you of what metro or bus could get you to your destination. Google maps does essentially the same thing but even though it burned up more energy on my phone I liked Yelp for it’s convenient direction and reviews.
Quick Tip #1: At the time of this writing public bathrooms were pretty rare in Paris. Between where you are and your destination’s bathroom you might think about having handy links to all the Starbucks locations. Oddly enough they’re almost spaced equidistant from each other. That and hotels often have restrooms in the lobby. Keep the link handy in OneNote where all you have to do is click and load.
Quick Tip #2: All bus stops have phone recharging stations built into the seating area. It’s usually on the outside post where all you need to do is slide the small door open to reveal a USB port.
Speaking of maps…want to go to Paris for free and see everything? Seriously Google Maps will almost ruin your experience if not for the fact it conveniently gives you a literal inside look of every museum. Here’s what you do:
- GO to Google and TYPE in the museum you’re interested in.
- CLICK on the map on the right side of the screen.
- Now ZOOM into the location.
- GRAB the little Yellow Navigator Figure and drop it on the Museum. Suddenly, you’re inside.
- Now see that old map in the lower left? CLICK the brackets [ ] to EXPAND THE MAP.
- Now you have a split screen and you should SEE the blue lines that run through the museum.
- ADJUST the window by grabbing the frame and pull it down so you can see more of the inside of the museum.
- Now CLICK along the BLUE LINE or USE the NAVIGATION WAY points inside the museum frame. VIOLA!
- Best thing about not paying is that there are impossibly NO CROWDS. You can be that armchair traveler you always wanted.
Now back to the show…
Though if you’re up for the challenge like myself, first things first, I hit the closest museum on the Museum Pass list. Oh wait, you don’t know about this? The Museum Pass was something I needed to pick up at the Musee Quai Branly or any participating museum or tabac stand (smoke shop). You can buy the pass for 2, 4 or 6 days of consecutive use. Meaning, you write the date that you start using it and that’s when the clock begins. At best, two museums a day seems to be a nice pace and having bought the six day pass for 74euros I was determined to get my money’s worth.
Unfortunately the Musee Quai Branly wouldn’t open for another two hours. It wasn’t far from the Eiffel Tower, which loomed over the nearby neighborhood. I passed by a gleaming gold onion domed building with a wavy surface that I think was a Russian Orthodox church. It looked very minimalist and modern, but now I was getting hungry again. I stopped into a patisserie for a pain du chocolat for 2,30euros. I wolfed it down like it was nothing. I could easily have eaten a couple more but instead headed over to the Northeastern part of the entrance to the Eiffel Tower to sit on a park bench and draw. A photographer and fashion model were doing a shoot in the morning chill. They were both real pros. In fact, I saw a lot of shoots going on, impromptu that morning. Many looked professional while others looked like some eastern bloc version of a fashion photography. But hey, the sitting was going to compliment anyone’s looks, no matter how boorish.
Within minutes I was set upon by two types of tourist hunters: The EIFFEL TOWER miniature seller and the DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH women with British accents. I found that Obi Wan’s hand gesture for “These are not the droids you are looking for” works best. Wordless and to the point. In my mind though, I would still say, “I am not the tourist you are looking for.” Come on, I had to!
The drawing of a Haussmann building is probably one of the hardest things you can tackle. I can’t imagine coming up with one, let alone paint one. Often you can lose you place in measuring and counting and accounting for all the layers and outcroppings. It requires a patience that middle-age has afforded me…maybe the only thing at this point. But soon, the chilling breeze was doing it’s worse despite being in partial sun. My teeth started chattering and now I had to pee again. And it’s still a half hour before the museum opens! I needed to move again and quickly. Thankfully the drawing came out and had taken my mind off of needing a bathroom at least for a little while. I shivered the whole two blocks to the Quai Branly where a line was starting to form.
Since the bombings and attacks in and throughout Paris over the last couple of years all the museums now have security checkpoints and bag scanners. Even still, some have a military presence like at Les Invalides and the Musee Armee near where Napoleon’s Tomb lies. Even though the Museum Pass will speed things up and pass by the ticket lines, the security lines are non-negotiable. This one moved quick and there wasn’t really much of a line at all. I bought the Museum Pass and headed in.
What I’d read about and eventually sampled on Google Maps was the quality of the displays in the museum. It’s like it was designed by a National Geographic photo editor. Everything was laid out and lit beautifully. It covered similar material too, world cultures from Papau New Guinea and Oceania to the American Natives. It was “anthropology porn” if one were to be so flippant and hip about it. I can’t remember how many hours had gone by but by the end I was hungry again and wanted to head over to see the Musee Rodin.
I found a little cafe further away, trying my best to avoid the convenient tourist restaurants. Les Deux Abielles (The Two Bees) looked quaint and welcoming enough and the price was fine. I found a table, albeit short, where I felt like a giant leaning over it. Service was slow, so I pulled out my sketch book and started looking around for subjects. Where I was seated facing toward the back of the restaurant was a giant mirror which was perfect to snag quick glances of those eating nearby. The room was entirely lit up by natural light coming through chunky glass blocks embedded in the ceiling. Everything was white and glossy bouncing the light everywhere. Eventually, I was able to order what I thought would be tasty; avocado stuffed chicken with vegetables and an apple tartin.
My previous visit to Paris I wasn’t a big fan of the food. I’m not sure if it was because of the proximity to where we were staying in St. Germaine (tourist ground zero) or what. But this dish didn’t fair any better. I think it was at that point I realized that maybe the French hate vegetables. Maybe they put so much into their cured meats, cheeses and wines that vegetables are an afterthought and fruit is something to use in desserts only. The chicken was wrapped in prosciutto, somewhat dry and stuffed with avocado. Thankfully there was whipped avocado to help get it down with. The peeled potatoes covered in stone ground mustard were fine. The zucchini suffered in the same fate as the green beans and limply went along for the ride. But the hero of the meal was essentially an apple pie tart. I’m a huge fan of apple pie, and take no exception to what country it comes from. I’m compelled to try them all. Maybe it’s because they remind me of my mother, and the best parts of growing up in the apple growing region of northern New York.
Now I was off to Les Invalides and the Musee Armee to see what was so damn great about a tomb and war. Walking across the green space where Parisians dotted it with their supine forms the grandiosity of space was only shadowed by the architecture that decorated its horizons. It made me think about urban design, about how perhaps Parisians were saddled by the majesty of old history and were probably tired of looking at the same colored buildings throughout an entire city. How this ostentatious long-game was an investment that would pay dividends for years to come and yet, cheapen the very elegance that it displayed. As less off-the-beaten path restaurants and hideaways are to come, it still manages to rise above it quite literally, like the gold domed spire of Les Invalides. I’m not going to go into a history lesson of the place. Suffice it to say, I didn’t pay attention in school, I was there for the light, color, shape, and paintings! Man alive, they had very large paintings of battle scenes from the Napoleonic Wars. What I found interesting about them is their simple palette: Black, Red, Blue, White, and maybe some Yellow Ochre. It reminded me how Russian Realist painters were “encouraged” and prone to using the red color of their flag in all paintings whether they were bucolic rural settings or images of industry. Here was no different.
Outside of the cannonade courtyard there were several areas dedicated to wars. I saw all but the arms and armory section where I was ushered out the entrance 30 minutes before closing. Something I would have to rectify later. By mid-afternoon I’d seen so many costumes and guns and walked so much that I noticed my hip was flaring up something fierce. While my feet were fine in my Eccos, it became increasingly painful as the day was long. And yet, I had this wacky idea that I wanted to hit a comic shop I knew about a twenty-five minute walk away. I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.
As the sun cast its long shadows I hobbled to a nice little shop called BD et Compaignie which was one of the other reasons I love Paris: French Comics are just gorgeous! Even if you don’t like them they still feel like little jewels. Beautiful hardcovers with sophisticated art. The writing…well, that’s one of the reasons I started studying French was so I could read all the books I have. But french store owners are more in tune with the authors than the artists. They no what is good and what they like and maybe its not much different than US comic shops. But at least my LCS know who I’m talking about whereas the nice owner at BD et Compaignie had nothing but blank stares and proceeded to show me something albeit he liked immensely but did not interest me in the least.
It was a hard walk back. I needed an anti-inflammatory and a painkiller, anything to offset the pain in my knees and hip. What the hell? Aging sucks. At least I felt good knowing I had some self control when it came to buying any books. Well, the fact was, there wasn’t anything in there that interested me but still, I chalked it up to willpower and self control. Yeah…right. France’s premier shop is Album. They stock some of the finest and largest selections of Franco-Belgian comics. Something I would hope to avoid until the end of my trip. Unfortunately, like a magnet I would be drawn in purely by accident. No really…trust me on this! Like a moth to a flame.