Friday, November 19, 2010


In the middle of our trip to Paris, we went to Barcelona for 3 days. Barcelona and Paris are similar in that they are both cities in Europe. Where Parisians are polite, Barcelonians are passionate. From the moment we got off the plane we witnessed constant kissing. They like to show there affection. The city is a mix of interesting architecture and a language that is mixed. They speak Spanish and Catala, (to to me Catala sounds like Spanish mixed with French, which our red-haired waitress warned us not to repeat.) Some of the people were friendly, but others (those in the department store) were not. But the populous was redeemed when we got on the wrong train and missed the airport. A kind young man not only told us we were on the wrong train, but got us to the nearest bus stop and did not leave us until we were safely going in the right direction. The people of Spain have a rich history and a rich culture, and just like the French, have much to teach us. The food in Spain was amazing. I had paella the first day and thoroughly enjoyed it. We toured the entire city on an open tourist bus and stopped at an exposition built for the 1929 worlds fair to preserve Spain architecture. It was delightful to watch the children play in the medieval square. I also enjoyed conversing in a language that I can both speak and understand. The trip culminated with an evening performance of Flamenco dancers on a venue midway down Las Ramblas which was near our hotel. Clearly, this traditional dance, accompanied by Spanish guitar, embodies the passion with which they live their lives and maintain their traditions for generations to come.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Speaking French

If Spanish is your second language, it forever ruins you from speaking French. I do not understand French pronunciation. It is no wonder that when the Norman kings ruled England for nearly 200 years, the language never caught on. We did, however, adopt thousands of words from the French, many of which we still spell the same but pronounce quite differently. When I try to speak French, my brain goes into spasms. First, I want to say everything with a Spanish pronunciation. All of the words common to English and French have their roots in Latin. So my language cortex combines them at the Spanish grey matter and sends the message to my amyloidosis enlarged tongue with the end result being gobbledy-gook. They just don’t say it like they spell it (but neither do we, [ i.e. neither]). Boy, the Spanish got it right; Dígalo como se deletra.

To speak French ignore the consonants and nuance the vowels; the more vowels the better. You want water in a restaurant? Ask for ‘Un carafe du eau’. (Forgive my spelling, I don’t speak French). Nasalize the ‘n’, I have no idea what to do with the ‘r’ and the eau (water) may be somewhere between the ‘oh’ in show and the ‘oo’ in boot or the ‘u’ in put. That reminds me, English is a mess to, I mean two, no, I mean too.


Sacre Couer in Montmart

Saint Chapelle

Adventures in Chocoltae

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Museum Pass

At Versailles

Recently, Barbie, Jeremy, Caitlin and I successfully navigated the world’s largest corn maze in Dixon California. Little did I know that was only a pre-amble to an excursion into the maison du mazes of France; Versailles and the Louvre. I am all for saving a buck, (or a Euro which is 1.4 x harder). So we bought the two day Museum Passes. That means that you can see all of the museums you want for one prix fixe as long as you pack it in to two days. We chose Wednesday and Thursday because some museums are open until 9:30 PM, thus allowing oneself to meander until you are completely exhausted, while your brain and feet absorb the sum total of all French history and culture.

As we made our daily 45 minute train ride into Paris from Bailly-Romainvilliers, we saw the sun not only, break through the clouds, but a clear azure sky. We changed plans and decided to head to Versailles. This was the palace of French royalty until the French revolution which culminated in the removal of the heads of state. We first toured the palace which is larger and more opulent than any prior edifice I have seen. Satiated with golden gildings, we retired ourselves to the gardens. And I mean square miles of gardens. Immediately Barbie and I got lost since I took a diagonal right at the second fountain instead of the fifth fountain. We have been travelling with my brother, Harold, and my sister in law, Darlene. They decided to take the tram instead and meet us at Marie Antoinette’s estate house. Unfortunately, we didn’t clarify which house. The large mansion, the little mansion or the farm house village she built to recreate her childhood. It was a long walk for us once we got on the right path and never met up until hours later we finally found each other back at the palace.

Palace at Versailles

Hall of Mirrors


Nevertheless, our visit to the Marie Antoinette’s village was quite picturesque and was accentuated by the beauty of the sunshine and clear weather.

Marie Antoinette's farm village

Back together again, I expected Harold, Darlene and Barbie to want to ‘call it a day’ and head back to the resort. However, they agreed to go do the Louvre instead. While Versailles boasts miles of outdoor gravel paths, the Louvre offers miles of indoor marbled corridors instead. It remains one of the most celebrated museums in Europe, and with good reason. It has become a receptacle and guardian of some of the most important art pieces and artifacts in human history. We tried to see what small fraction of its contents we could before we were totally exhausted; the Mona Lisa, the winged victory, Napoleon apartments, French renaissance etc………

Mona Lisa and me

Napoleon's dining room

Finally, it was back to the ‘A’ train for the journey home. Time to rest up for the second day of the museum marathon; Rodin, Napoleon’s Tomb, Army Museum, Saint Chapelle and finally, the Musee de O’rsee.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the bridge

Finally, the clouds broke and the setting sun appeared for the first time today only with only 30 minutes left of light. At that moment we were crossing the Pont Notre Dame and to the east the reflected light in the trees along the banks of the Seine provided a golden glow. To the west the sky gave us the only splash of color that we witnessed all day. It was glorious. The day began in Paris after the 20 minute bus ride and 45 minute train ride to somewhere deep underneath the most dangerous traffic circle on the planet, Charles De Gualle etoile. As we ascended, we noticed the soaked shoes and umbrellas of those descending. Once on the street, the freezing wind inverted our umbrellas as we posed for pictures in front of the Arc du Triomphe. The proof of our presence there now digitized; we raced again down into the Metro with its dry warm, albeit stale air. We now headed for the Eiffel tower, but on the way we were sidetracked by lunch.

To find a good meal in France, go to a non touristy area, close your eyes, and walk until you bump into a building. Then look around to see if there is a café or restaurant is in your peripheral vision. Pick anyone that looks interesting, but it is even better if it is on a corner. At home it is an event to go out for a fine French meal. In Paris, it is all French food. Before you sit down, look for the chalk board to see what the specials are, this is a good place to begin. I started with an entree of saumon au fume with tzatziki sauce, pita and salad. Even the salad was unexpectedly delicious. This was followed by a parmesan risotto with jambon. Tre magnifique! Of course, I couldn’t leave without the requisite crème brule.

I noticed something about France today. Each culture has something that they may excel at. The French, after millennia of existence have mastered the art of subtle accessorizing. This is evident in their cuisine, their décor and architecture and the beauty of French women. The basic ingredients for delicacy begins in nature, however, with just the right modicum of accessory, food becomes fabulous, buildings become more than stone boxes and a woman’s natural beauty is accentuated while still appearing natural. Remember that the word delicacy begins with delicate. Sometimes in America we go to extremes in the loudness and quantity of our experiences. A burger at Carl’s Junior is not enough. We have to make it huge and throw on pastrami or cheese steak so that even the most undiscriminating palate will be satisfied. Somehow, here in Paris they understand that less is more and understatement can say it all.

After a long and leisurely lunch, we rambled to the Champs du Mars to view the Eiffel tower up close in a cold now drizzling rain while we waited for a bus to take us through the middle of Paris. Finally, we found refuge and dryness inside the Cathedral, Notre Dame. It is always mildly disconcerting to me to have a place of worship overrun by tourists snapping photos in an effort to somehow take a piece of that ancient beauty home with them. I was of course, no different. I know that the photos I will look at next month will in no way reflect the workmanship seen in the stained glass as viewed in person standing 20 feet below it.

Finally, back on the bridge, the grey drizzle ceased and Barbie and found ourselves on the same spot, on the same bridge, where ten years earlier a polite Parisian had taken our picture with the river Seine below. It was time to update ourselves in both remembrances and aspiration as we could see where we have been and where we are going. Before it can become a memory, it must first be an experience on our bridge from the past to the future. This is how we subtlety accessorize our lives.