Thursday, September 3, 2009

Paris: Part Deux

We slept in on Sunday morning and finally made it out of the hotel around 10 am.  The weather for the first three days of our trip couldn't have been better, bright blue skies, mid 70s and brilliant sunshine.  We wandered over to the metro and purchased tickets for two days from the very friendly and helpful man behind the counter.  It should be noted here, that when we were deciphering the map the day before a nice person, who was not employed by the public transportation authority,  rushed over and offered to help us figure out where we were going and happily switched to English when he realized our French was limited.  So, a word to all the people I have heard say they have no interest visiting France because they heard the French are rude or snotty. From our very limited experience, I would say this stereotype is utter garbage.  In fact, the only rude behavior I experienced or witnessed the entire trip was from Americans, in particular the very short tempered Boston flight attendants who treated the French passengers very rudely.  There is no way a city known as being for lovers could get that reputation with an undercurrent of rudeness and disrespect.  Love abounds there and everyone we encountered was friendly. In fact, the French culture and social etiquette is exceedingly polite with tourists and with each other.  Over the course of this trip I reflected on this stereotype and came to the conclusion that the tourists are likely the ones who are very rude and this negative attitude is simply mirrored back at them. 

In any case, after the very nice encounter with the subway ticket man, I remarked to Evan how different it is if you try to ask someone behind the counter at a NYC subway a question.  I think I'd feel lucky if I got more than a grunt and an annoyed sneer.  The other socio-political observation I made was the refreshing absence of obvious social classes.  I imagine that when the people run the government, everyone is taken care of, and family and leisure time is honored, there isn't much left to be bitter and angry about. When the subway employee is afforded the same basic right to health and happiness as a doctor, I imagine it helps someone's feeling of self worth. When people are valued and feel good about themselves, then they bring their best self to their role in the world and I think that would benefit everyone in the end. 

We took the train down and meandered through Tuilerie Gardens, while Evan enjoyed his morning coffee from a street stand, we sat around the fountains and took it all in. Lots of people were doing much the same as we were, families were strolling, pairs were sitting chatting. The atmosphere was relaxed and peaceful.  The bright blue of the sky and the charming apartments with the wrought iron balconies made me want to break out into a chorus of "Who will buy this wonderful feeling?" as the scene reminded me so much of that scene in Oliver. It was one of those periods of pure, ecstatic bliss and I savored every second of it. 

From there we walked around outside the Louvre before heading over to the Musee d' Orsay, as recommended by our friend Keith The World Traveler.  This museum was a much more manageable size for spending just a few hours and he mentioned that we would probably recognize more in this museum.  We got a few photos inside while studying the sculptures and paintings in the main hall before our camera battery ran out.  There were a few great pieces and, of course, I absolutely loved all the paintings that prominently featured beautiful breastfeeding mothers.  However, the most provocative piece in the whole museum, was without a doubt Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du monde, The Origin of the World.  In person, this was absolutely stunning and very tasteful.  Though I think the title really added to its integrity. If I were a midwife, this would so be hanging in my office. 

If the human body were so tastefully and artfully apparent in our every day life here in the USA I think we'd be a lot better off. Gone would be the discussions of whether mothers should be able to breastfeed in public.  Something else I noticed was the classic style of Parisians. There was no butt-cheeks and thongs hanging out of low cut jeans, there is no draping saggy pants showing your underwear, or anything  tightfitting and/or sleazy. The style of dress there is classy, often very sexy, but very tasteful.  I think this is because sex in the French culture is very artistic, respectful, and classy and that translates to a respect for human sexuality, sensuality, and romance.  Sex in the US culture is anything but cultured. It goes to either extreme here, both hidden and considered wrong and something to be ashamed of leaving people to rebel against that and sensationalize it in a cheap way devoid of sensuality and romance.  The French neither hide it nor exploit it. I loved that.  

We left the museum about 4:30 and decided to head back and eat at one of the charming sidewalk cafe's on the way back to the hotel.  We found one and enjoyed a lovely slow-paced meal while people watching.  We both got the warm goat cheese salad, which came already dressed. The goat cheese was not directly on the salad, but melted onto crostini which were placed on the salad. It was divine.  For the second course, Evan chose the trio of pastas, all of which were obviously made fresh and not from dried pasta and each dressed with different, very flavorful sauces.  As for me, for my whole adult life since my interest in the culinary world took a sharp turn into being a complete foodie, I had wanted to try beef carpaccio. This is very hard to find in any restaurant in the U.S., I personally have never seen it. But here it was, so I had to try it.  It was delicious, but that was much more a tribute to the lemon, capers, olive oil, garlic and artichoke hearts than it was to the raw beef.   It was good, and now I can cross that off my list of things I want to try in my life.   For dessert, Evan chose the caramel flan which was soupy and disappointing. I chose the chocolate mousse....and I am not sure you can really go wrong with that choice. I certainly didn't.  

Evan was starting to get a sore throat from all his travels so again, we were asleep by 9 pm. (to be continued....)

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