Friday, June 30, 2006

America, How I Love Thee


For the past few days, I have been giving France the double finger. I know flying the bird isn't classy, but I have been having so many problems with paperwork, housing, my work permit, and the people in general that I am pretty sure I can be forgiven. To top it all off, I burned my hand with boiling water because a FRENCH teapot broke while I was pouring tea.

However, all my bitterness ended on Wednesday with an impromptu trip to EuroDisney. I have never, ever been to any Disney park so this was especially cool for me. I felt like a little kid. I think I actually jumped up and down and clapped my hands a few times. I had to refrain from going into full park mode because I really wanted to buy the Mickey Mouse ears or a 8 euro hotdog.

Walt Disney Studios is there too, so I got to see some "movie magic." There is a trolley that takes you through the back lots and you can see how certain affects are created. This would have been more entertaining if there weren't about 7 kids who cried and screamed the entire ride. I don't think that stuff would have scared me at that age, but who knows.

Disneyland Park has the daily parade at 4 and I wanted to see it. I loved it. Most of the adults around me enjoyed it too because they got a short break from standing in line and buying candy for their young ones. I took lots of pictures-Beauty and the Beast is my all time favorite!

The best part about all of it is that it is America. Everything is in English and for a little while I didn't feel like I was in a country which obviously despises me. I liked the park so much I bought a year pass. I think I am going back every week.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Crazy Metro Behavior

Unfortunately since I live in the ghetto, I spend a lot of time commuting, on the platforms and in the metro, and I do see some crazy things. I endure the two most annoying behaviors (making out in public and people listening to music on their cell phones) more than I can to say; I see unusual behavior (people talking to themselves or to their imaginary friends) on a daily basis; and occasionally I see scary things (people getting mugged, or the homeless trying to "lift" things).

However, what I saw tonight tops the list of my "crazy metro behavior list." The was a female musician singing and playing her guitar on the platform. She was really good and there was a crowd around her enthusiastically applauding and dutifully putting money in her "tip" jar. Her most enthusiastic admirer happened to be a CRAZY homeless guy who works that particular metro station. I see him all the time and he always asks me for money, or at least I assume he asks for money. I never understand what he says; I am pretty sure he doesn't speak French or English or any language for that matter, he just mumbles, laughs, shakes his hand and pulls on his beard. If I was a director and was making a film involving a troll, I would cast him in a New York minute. Seriously, I am sure he would be perfectly at home under a bridge. I have never seen anyone in real life who has looked as fantastical or cartoonish as he does.

Okay, so this homeless troll was cheering on this folksinger like people cheer at sports games. I kind of think he was having some sort of religious experience. Every time she would stop, he would mill through the garbage can he was guarding, abruptly stop and cheer some more. Honestly, he was more of a show than the singer was.

Right before the end of one of her sets, the homeless troll made a big deal of drunkenly strolling up to her. I wasn't sure if he was going to attack her, hug her, ask her for money or what. He didn't do any of those things. Here is the crazy part, he gave her money. A homeless man who is always begging for change gave a street musician money. Irony and bizarre behavior wrapped into one...Thank you, my night is complete.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Versailles-Encore

Small palace in Versailles
Because I recently saw the movie Marie Antoinette, I felt I must see Versailles again. I went for the first time in the winter with my friend, Sasha. Our original intention was to see the palace, but upon arrival we felt the 20 euro fee was too costly. We opted to walk around the grounds instead. The gardens were pretty even in the winter, but I really wanted to see the fountains and the floral attractions which are only available in the summer. The weather was perfect on Saturday, so off I went.

Inner court yard in Versailles.
It was BEAUTIFUL. The kings’ and queens’ chambers are amazing. The d├ęcor is marvelous, but most of the rooms are unoriginal, having been through many restorations. The rooms are massive and intricate with a ton of very pricy artwork everywhere. It is amazing to think of how much money was spent on such things. There are “original” pieces which were specifically made for certain kings or queens.

Hall in Queen's palace.
However, the gardens are the best part! The fountains are unbelievable! I can’t even begin to imagine how they used to look when they ran all day. Now they only run on the weekends from 11-12 and 3:30-5:00. There is music playing throughout the gardens when the fountains are turned on to add to the atmosphere. They were really worth admission.

My future bedroom.
All the positive being said, I will mention the negative. I think 20 euros is a little excessive to see a palace. I have seen others just as impressive which cost less (Germany). Also, food is really over priced in the garden, and everything else is about 2 miles away. However, my biggest pet peeve was the fact I had to pay to use the toilet. I dished out a lot of money to see a palace and then I had to pay 50 cents to use the bathroom every time I needed to go. I know it isn’t a lot, but I just think the toilets should be free after you pay that kind of entrance fee.

Queen's Hamlet
I think I would definitely recommend Versailles for people on an extended visit of Paris; it will eat up a day’s worth of sightseeing and, for this reason, probably better visited on a Sunday. It isn’t a necessary visit, but it is worth it if you are going to be in the area for more than a week.
Fountains at Versailles. I wish I could post all of my pictures of these, but they would just take up too much room.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Longest Day of the Year


June 21 is the summer solstice and I don't think we do much to celebrate the longest day of the year in the U.S., but in Europe, it is an excuse to party. Paris has the Fetes de la Musique; musicians play throughout Paris in big arenas, on make shift stages, outside bars and restaurants, or in the streets.

I was really excited about the prospect of drinking all night, walking through the streets and listening to music. I went into Paris yesterday morning to look at an apartment (what a dump!) with the expectation of coming back on the first morning metro at around 6 in the morning after a joyful evening filled with booze and music. However, I ended up heading home around 11 p.m., getting stranded on a platform for almost 2 hours and arriving home at 3 in the morning. Let me explain.

First of all, it rains all the time in Europe. It is a light rain, but it happens more days than not and it is annoying. Last night it started raining at 10, a very steady, cold rain. The temperature was perfect for a dry evening, but the rain made it awfully chilly. I had on my flip flops and a thin shirt; not the best attire for the evening, I admit, but I didn't plan ahead.

Everyone in my party had been up since the wee hours so we were all tired. The girls and I had spent the day shopping, so we weren't in party mode. The rain just finished us off. I hated to call it a night; there were tons of people in the street, lots of music, lots of fair-like foods and it was still a little light, but my body just wouldn't let me. Especially after everyone else said they were heading home.

I fought my way onto the metro and realized after being shoved into the wall I needed to use the bathroom rather urgently. Too bad for me because I had at least an hour commute if all went according to the normal schedule. Guess what!!! Nothing went according to schedule. I missed my first suburban train because the stupid football fans were blocking the stairs. Then when I finally caught a train headed in my direction, it stopped in the worst possibly area outside Paris because of a bomb threat. I had to wait on the platform for 2 hours for the metro police to clear the area. 2 HOURS for another train. In the worst neighborhood in France. It was bad, real bad. Then, when my train finally arrived, there we a zillion people on it and I had to squeeze in. My face was actually pressed against the window. Everybody was drunk, loud and VERY smelly.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I kept thinking about using the bathroom and if it would be terribly bad to pee in my pants at my age. I didn't, but I thought about doing it. A lot. More than I care to admit. I made bargains with the train gods and my bladder; I sang songs; I recited books, just to keep my mind off the immense pain. When I finally got home, I wanted to cry. I hate not living in Paris! I hate commuting. It is a waste of time and it always puts me in a bad mood, and not to mention, it probably damages my bladder.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nothing Much


Water Lily in Giverny.

So far it has been a rather uneventful week. The weather is fantastic right now, sunny and warm. Today I am going to find shoes. I guess I should say I am going to try to find shoes. I haven't been able to buy any in France because my feet are too big, but I have found a store with "big, big, big sizes-up to a 43." A 43 is probably an American 11. If you have large feet, don't expect to find shoes in France.

After shoe shopping, I am going to a pub to watch the England vs. Sweden match. I like football and I like watching it in a pub because it is a lot of fun! I hope England wins, but it should be exciting either way.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Football and Other Gripes

Disclaimer: Whenever I say negative things about France, my friends are always excluded from the collective.

I think I have finally seen a major manifestation of the root of all things wrong with the French. Just in case you don’t know, the World Cup is in process this month and France is playing in the matches, as is the United States. Well, instead of French people supporting France (duh!), many of them are supporting Brazil. A frightening large amount of French are wearing Brazil t-shirts, shoes, colors, short, etc.

I might be wrong about this, but don’t most people usually support their country in these types of sports? I know France doesn’t really have a chance to win the World Cup; neither does the United States, but I still support my country. I will cheer for the United States even if they are losing miserably. I think most Americans will do the same, even if it is a long shot, because we are patriotic. Apparently, some of the French won’t ever cheer for their team, perhaps in anticipation that they will lose anyway.

This lack of support for fellow countrymen pretty much sums up the French attitude for me. Don’t get me wrong, jingoism runs amuck here, but it is not patriotism. French politics and French business are run with the belief that the only correct way to do things is the French way and any type of change, albeit positive change, threatens their culture. I think the French need a little less jingoism and a little more patriotism! France, support your team!

I don’t know; maybe it is just me, but I think when a large portion of a country’s population is not supporting its team, it says something major about the country!

While I am on the subject of pointing out France’s annoying aspects, I would also like to mention that air conditioning has not yet been invented here. I don’t know when it will be, hopefully in the next year or so, but in case not, I would greatly appreciate it if someone could send the patent for air conditioning to France. It has been miserable a couple of days already and we still have July and August to get through. The only place it is cool is in the frozen section of the grocery store, not the rest of the store, not in the mall, not in the schools, not in the metro. No where. I can never cool off!

I think not having air conditioning is how the government keeps a leash on social security. When it gets really hot, the old folks are the first to drop and viola, France gets another few years to think about how to deal with retirees. In 2003, more than 14,000 people died in France because of the heat! GET AIR CONDITIONING, YOU FOOLS! I know it won’t be used nearly as much as it is in other parts of the world, but please, oh god, please, don’t be afraid of progress. It only hurts for a bit.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Marie Antoinette

A left over from the Rodin post. The Thinker is very small but he is under the Eiffel Tower.

I saw Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette last night. I don't know if it is out in the States yet, but it definitely worth seeing. I am not saying it is a great film, but the cinematography is excellent. It is very colorful; the costumes are amazing; and Versailles is beautiful! And I have seen most of the setting in person. During the movie, I felt like hitting my French friends and telling them I had seen all that stuff until I realized they had seen it too. Honestly, it is magnificent!

Just a few quick notes on Versailles. It is not actually in Paris; it is located west of Paris, but is a relatively short train ride from central Paris (30 minutes, maybe). It was the seat of power under Louis XVI, supposedly so he could move all the nobility out of Paris and keep an eye on them. Before Versailles, the Louvre was the royal palace. Versailles remained the royal powerhouse until the beginning of the French Revolution.

I don't want to give anything away, but the movie is really ambiguous. One of the most noticeable things is Kristin Dunst's lack of acting (I have always thought she was a terrible actress), but I think maybe that is what Coppola was going for-a total lack of inference-in order for members of the audience to come to individual conclusions about the personalities and events. Most of the characters were like talking mannequins, but this really doesn't take anything away from the movie.

It is a good flick: loads of pretty colors, delicious looking food, awe inspiring shots, and lots of rock and roll. Go see it if for no other reason than the pleasure of seeing Versailles.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rodin Museum


A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to the Rodin museum. I really didn't know that much about Rodin before I went, and I still don't know that much about him, but his works are amazing! Here's what I know about him: his first name is Auguste, he was born in Paris in 1840 and he sculpted a lot of statues, including The Thinker and The Kiss. Among some of his other works are a few statues of Victor Hugo in disturbing poses and other philosophers, writers, and famous men from the time period. Apparently he also commandeered a room at the hotel which is now a museum and holds most of his works.

The gardens were gorgeous and possibly the best part of the whole visit. I enjoyed the statues, but the inside of the museum just looks like a dilapidate old house. Of course, the sculptures inside are very beautiful, but if I return, I am not sure I will go back inside.


For those unfamiliar with Rodin's style, he focused on hands a lot. I noticed in most of the statues the hands seemed very out of proportion with the rest of the body. I guess the reason why is because Rodin was famous for this aspect. Or perhaps that is why he became famous for his hands. I don't know. I do know that every time I saw a new statue, I would somehow be drawn to the hands.



There is also a video of Rodin at work. It is truly fascinating watching someone chip away at a piece of marble and turn it in to something like this. Although, most of the time he just looks like a sour, old grandma making a mess.





The Gates of Hell (also located in the garden and honestly, this was my favorite part) are massive and the detail seems never ending. I think I could look at them all day and not see everything. They are based on Dante's Inferno and there are tons of like sculptures reflecting the amount of time Rodin spent on this work. It took him more than 35 years to complete this.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Giverny

Since it finally decided to stop raining, I went to Giverny to see Claude Monet's house and gardens (http://www.fondation-monet.com/). Monet sort of retired to this village and it is where he painted many of his famous paintings. It is about a 2 hour train ride from Paris and definitely worth the journey. I wouldn't advising vacationing there as there is nothing much to do, but a visit is definitely in order if you visit Paris in the spring.

The house itself is not really worth visiting; it is just an old home, but the gardens...I have never seen anything like them. No wonder the man was inspired to paint. I was inspired to paint and I don't have an artistic bone in my body. There are flowers in the garden I have never seen before and the layout is fantastic!

The great thing about the gardens is that Monet's paintings are actually visual in the scenery. You can walk over the Japanese bridge, take pictures of the water lilies and see his little boats. There are a lot of tourists from all over the world, but not the normal brand of tourists. Most of the people I met there were either art or flower lovers.


Monet's gardens aren't the only reason to visit Giverny. There is also an American art museum which showcases art from American's who lived or studied in Europe. The layout is really interesting and after seeing the American artists next to the French artists, it is clear the American artists were greatly influenced by French Impressionists.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Modern Art

Warning: I talk about drugs, sex and violence in this post, so if you are easily offended, you might want to skip it. Mom, this probably means you.

Pompidou Center, Paris

A man stands in the middle of a room and lets a person shoot him, with a gun, in the arm. This same man crawls, or rather, worms, belly down, across a bunch of broken glass. In yet another stupid stunt, this same man lets a volunteer from the audience push tacks into his body in an elevator. Scenes from the next Jackass movie? No, it’s art. Or at least considered art by some. Performance artist Chris Burden produced most of the mentioned scenes in the early 1970’s and they are part of an exhibit, Los Angeles 1955-1985: The birth of an art capital, at the Pompidou Center in Paris.

View from 4th floor of Pompidou.
I looked up the definition of art and found this: “1. skilled acquired by experience or study, 2. a branch of learning, especially one of the humanities, 3. an occupation requiring knowledge or skill, 4. the use of skill and imagination in the production of things of beauty” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). I love going to art galleries and I love seeing beautiful and/or thought provoking pieces, but I do have a limit. At heart, I am just a country girl in the big city and although I wasted my time in college getting useless degrees, I never studied art. However, as an amateur art lover and a strong believer in the fourth definition, I cannot wrap my mind around the idea of voluntarily being shot as art. Maybe I am not intelligent enough, but I just think it is a bunch of hogwash.

Perhaps the first definition, “skilled acquired by experience,” would apply because now Chris Burden knows what it feels like to be shot. Then I guess I am an artist too, because I have been in a car wreck so now I have that experience?! They had running commentary from the artist and he said, concerning the crawling through broken glass (I wrote it down because it was so absurd), “I saw the broken glass as stars on the ground. I filmed it in black and white because I wanted everyone to see what I saw. And I got cut up pretty bad.” REALLY?! I would have thought crawling through broken glass with your hands behind your back would be a piece of cake. Art, shmart, is what I say.

Anyway, I have two points: some art is dumb and LSD is bad. Seriously, LSD is bad! I spent most of my time in the exhibit, thinking things like, “Why did I pay for this? Why did they waste all that ketchup? How are random words pieced together art? How did they get funding for this? Am I stupid, or is that just a chair?” I came to this conclusion: abundant LSD usage produced many morons and those morons got some kind of funding to make art. And here I am, working for money. I should just make art.

After I was finished with the L.A. exhibit, I went down to see the permanent collections. Some of it is really cool. There is a pink room with calming music, floating curtains, flashing lights and a huge red high heel shoe in the center. It is really beautiful. There is also a short film showing all the “damsels in distress” from the 1950’s. It shows how the house wife was a prisoner and victim of her/society’s making. Very thought provoking and beautiful.

And then, I found a photo/slide show room. The plaque outside the room described it (I am loosely quoting), “An intimate view of relationships.” It sounded really sweet and I love photographs, so in I went. The word intimate was slightly important in this title because most of the photos were of people having sex. Not simulated sex, but real people having real sex. The people were NOT models and they were not attractive. As a matter of fact, I think the artist went out of her way to find incredibly odd looking people. Some of the photos taken before the sexual encounters were charming; most of them were not. The pictures of the actual act were disconcerting; nothing sexy about them, I assure you. I wasn’t the only one in the audience troubled by the photos; a couple of my neighbors looked like they sucked on a lemon, too. I am sure I had the same expression. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude; I just wished I would have known that I was going to see such graphic photos. I would have liked to have been prepared. I am still disturbed by some of the photos. I guess if these types of pictures are in an art gallery, they are art and if they are in some corner shop in Montmartre, they are pornography.

Since, my journey through a modern art gallery left me feeling empty and more than a little disgusted, I think I will stick to the classics. Don’t get me wrong, I get modern art, I just don’t think I like it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Paris, Again

Heather, Amanda and I ended our tour in "Gay Paris" and as always, the French really showed their hospitality. On the first or second day we had an "incident" in the metro with some drunk man who repeatedly yelled at us and told us, in French, to speak French. Now, I am no genius, but more than likely, if we weren't speaking French, weren't the odds fairly high that some or all of our group possibly did not know French and in which case, would not be able to understand, or for that matter, care what he was saying to us? When we didn't respond to him, he decided it would be a good idea to poke us. POKE us, like we were some kind of exhibit. I swear, no matter how long I live here, I will never cease to be amazed at some of the behavior tolerated in this country.

Notwithstanding some of the mishaps, I think they enjoyed Paris. I have a love/hate thing with the city, so at times I can be its biggest promoter and at others, its biggest critic. On one of their first days in Paris, we went to the Arc de Triomph (all the pictures in this post are from the top), which is high on my "must do" lists. While we were at the top, we met some Americans and I made a donkey out of myself telling them all the sites they should see. It is times like that when I know I love the city and times like the metro "incident" when I think I can't wait to leave.


For the most part, I think Heather and Amanda got to see a lot of things. I revisited some previously experienced places (Arc, Eiffel, Notre Dame) and some totally new things like a river cruise at night and going to the top of Notre Dame. I also found 90 euros in front of the Eiffel one night, which is definitely a first for me.

This is the last post of Heather and Amanda's trip and I just want to take this opportunity to say what an awesome time I had with them and how glad I am they came to visit me. It really meant a lot to me and I can only hope they had as much fun as I did!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Amsterdam (He He)


Alright, I know everyone goes to Amsterdam to party, and if you want to party, Amsterdam does not disappoint, but it is also a fantastic city just to site see. Most of the locals are very laid back and tourist friendly. I don't know if it is because of all the elicit activities, but the city seems to be pretty easy going. Everyone was friendly and eager to help with directions or suggestions.


As I stated, Amsterdam isn't necessarily just a place to have bachelor parties; I think parts of it are pretty "family friendly." There is the red light district, which is an adults only zone, but other than that, I think Amsterdam would be a cool place to visit with the family.

There are museums, including the Rijksmuseum, canal cruises, flower markets, tons of restaurants and a lot of other things to see in Amsterdam. One of my favorite things was watching all the people on bicycles. They ride bicycles everywhere, at all hours and it just seems so much fun for some reason. I have a bike and it is not nearly as much fun to ride it as it looks to be in Amsterdam.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Last London Post (for a while)


Among some of the other cool things in London was Buckingham Palace. Royalty has never really meant that much to me, partially because I am American, but also just because I think it is stupid. However, the fact that there is a palace in the middle of a huge, modern city and someone lives there and wears a crown...well, that is just a little fascinating, isn't it? Although, looking at the palace, I felt kind of sad for the people locked inside the huge gates, like animals in a zoo. All those years of inbreeding, for what? To have men in red and big fuzzy hats walk outside your front door all day while millions of gawking strangers take pictures of the facade of your house.

However, on the other side of town, there is the Tower of London and it is much more interesting. It's been around since William the conqueror and the history behind it is amazing! From the kidnapping to the executions, it was a happenin' place

The Beefeaters live in the Tower and "guard" it and are locked in every night. They have their own doctor and minister. After buying a ticket, you can follow one of the Beefeater's around as he gives you a guided tour and tells horrible tales of the most gruesome executions. Once the tour is over, you can visit the museum, Bloody tower, or the crown jewels. All in all, it is a pretty cool experience!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sherlock Holmes


In case somebody doesn't know, I confess, I am and always will be, a book worm. Some of my favorites from young adulthood are the Sherlock Holmes stories. I like all the characters and the cheeky, tired phrases used in almost every story. To this day, when a new Sherlock Holmes "made for t.v. movie" comes on, I watch it.


So being a fan of Sherlock, I decided I had to go see the Sherlock Holmes museum, located at, you guessed it, 221B Baker St, London. Unfortunately the best thing about the museum was its facade and the gift shop. It was just an old house with period pieces in it, displayed to match descriptions in the stories.


However, some of the more interesting things inside the museum had nothing to do with the stories. There were several letters from fans displayed in the museum. Apparently, people still write to Sherlock Holmes. I have no idea if they are aware Mr. Holmes is a fictional character or that the author is dead; I am sure some of them are too young to know any better, but some of them...I don't know. They might need a reality check. I like this letter the best. I seriously doubt a 5 year old wrote it though; nonetheless, it is very cute.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge in London is awesome. It is right next to the Tower of London and it is immense. The view from this bridge has a wonderful vantage point over the rest because you can see most of the river views of London from it.


Everyone knows London Bridge is famous, but this bridge is incredible in comparison. It is majestic, busy, beautiful and really clean. I spent a lot of time on and near this bridge for two days because there are so many fantastic photographic opportunities.


Although I thought the bridge was gorgeous during the day, at night it is simply breath taking. A million lights illuminate the bridge and walking across it is almost a fairy tale experience. And the views of London Bridge and London are equally spectacular. During the day, London looks like a normal big city, but at night I could feel Sherlock Holms and Jack the Ripper and Shakespeare in the streets. (Yes, I know, I prefer the fantasy world.) I kept looking for Dickens as well. I don't know what it is, but London, while amazing during the day, is absolutely brilliant at night.


And at night, the banks of the Thames are lit up and people drink and eat along side it on park benches. Between Tower Bridge and London Bridge (the red bridge) there are lights in the trees and several cafes. I love how the lights reflect off the water! Amanda, Heather and I weren't the only ones to appreciate the view; there were a lot of people with tripods and massive cameras taking pictures.