Hippos and the Mona Lisa

Status report #2 from Paris: still vive-ing and aime-ing everything here.  The weather for the past couple of days has been pretty cold and dreary, but that is nothing that Nutella and crepes can’t fix (still trying to find a food in Paris that I don’t like.  Besides shiver shiver tartare.) Anyways, as we make our final preparations before taking the Chunnel across the Chanel, I was thinking this would a good time to share some more reflections on my time in Paris.

Another entry about, among other things:

Some Glass

The Mona Lisa

Hippos

Biking

The Waltz

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Some Glass

On one of our free days in Paris, a small group of us decided to go on a mission to see as many churches as possible in one day.  Exclusively using public transportation.  So we bused, tram-ed, and subway-d our way around the City of Lights, on a mad hunt for churches.  We made it out to Sacré-Cœur (which itself was a 45 minute subway ride in the jam packed and pickpocket friendly Paris underground) to Notre Dame (as beautiful as you would expect it to be times two) and to Saint Denis (actually in a very sketchy neighborhood).  All beautiful, but the church that literally took my breath away was Saint Chapelle.  After grumbling about the lines and a nine euro entrance charge, we climbed some stairs and were completely dumbstruck by the chapel that surrounded us.  The walls were just panel after panel of stained glass.  It was a rainy day, so before entering we were worried about the lighting, but being inside the church was like walking through a kaleidoscope.  If you turn around 360 degrees and study each panel you can read the story of the New Testament, but it was hard to notice small details because the sheer scale of the chapel tricked my eyes into a stupor.  This was perhaps the most magical place I had seen in Paris, and no camera angle could ever do it justice.  So another lesson: don’t underestimate the beauty of (and don’t question entrance charges to see) colored glass.  I would pay nine euros any day to find myself back in a bejeweled music box like Saint Chapelle.

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The Mona Lisa

Before we went to the Louvre, I was warned about the crowds.  And I was told not to waste my time trying to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. Because it is small in person.  And it is protected by glass so it’s hard to take pictures.  So I had no expectation as I wandered through the overwhelming galleries of the greatest art museum in the world.  I shuffled through a castle that has walls coated in paintings by Botticelli, Raphael, and Caravaggio.  And I was rounding a corner freaking out about the scale of the museum and a need to see everything within 3 hours when I saw it.  The Mona Lisa.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Debatably the most famous painting in the world, and there she was with her mysterious smile and knowing eyes.  There was a small crowd gathered around the painting, but I was soon against the little gate keeping visitors from getting too close.  And it was impressive and beautiful and not underwhelming at all.  I experienced the world’s most comprehensive collection of French painting, and I still am not going to forget seeing the Mona Lisa.  For better or for worse, it is the painting I grew up learning about, and it is ridiculous that I got to visit a place where a person can turn a corner and casually catch sight a da Vinci masterpiece.  So again, be careful with expectation.  Because the Mona Lisa is pretty spectacular in person.

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Hippos

One night, after a full day of walking and taking in the sights of Paris, a small group of the UF in Cambridge group decided to seek out the perfect evening café.  So we took a subway out to Notre Dame, and walked around for about an hour trying to find a café or bar or club that fit what we were looking for.   We met a couple unfriendly French people, fought our way around a couple crowded bars, and ended up being seated at a café called Hippopotamus.  Which we soon learned was the French version of an Applebee’s.  The standardized menu and decorations made us frustrated, and we felt that after all the searching the entire night was a bust.  But before long we were joking around about crazy French driving and our somewhat sketchy hall showers at the Cité U, and walking back towards the subway station we crossed the Seine, sparkling with river boats and lined with idling Parisians.  So while we ended up spending time at a generic chain restaurant, it ended up being ok because we were still sitting in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Have no fear of Hippos, readers, they pose no real danger to your overall experience (Paris is a beautiful city at night regardless of where you are sitting).

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Biking

Turns out that the Tour de France was ending while we were in Paris.  The iconic finish around L’Arc de Triomphe would be occurring only a few miles away from we were staying.  And it worked out so that the race finished on one of our free days.  So our little group of gators again navigated the subway (trickier than usual because some stations were closed for the race), and we ended up finding the barriers that marked the course.  We found space against the metal fence and readied ourselves for the blur of bikers we knew was coming in a final sprint for the finish.  There was a huge parade with crazy floats and excited advertisements, and we jumped at every police we saw speeding around the corner thinking it was a final patrol before the caravan of athletes.  Eventually a kind French old man turned to us camera-happy Americans and told us that bikers wouldn’t be passing for another two hours.  We blanched at the news, and then started taking shifts holding our place at the barricade.  And we marveled at the crowds, toting flags from all over the world and pushing their own prized racing bikes.  The only atmosphere I can compare it to is game day in the Swamp, and by the time the bikers rounded the bend my heart was pounding wildly with excitement.  The crowd swelled as the bikers zipped past, and even though I couldn’t tell who was in the lead, or really process what I was seeing before the multicolored mass had flown by, it was one of those jaw-dropping sports experiences.  So we waited 2.5 hours for 30 seconds of excitement.  So worth it.  If only Americans were so into biking…

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The Waltz

On the last day in Paris, a couple of my classmates were walking around Notre Dame finding souvenirs for family members (and avoiding the rain) when we chanced upon Shakespeare and Company, the famous English bookstore.  Formerly a hangout of Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, and Eliot, the bookstore is saturated with history, and aspiring writers can still spend the night there for free among the bookshelves.  It was an amazing place, with narrow passageways lined with stacks of books of every genre and old typewriters and whole rooms of rare books.  We found some seats on the second story, and settled in reading books that caught our eyes.  I was just starting to recognize the novelty of my surroundings when this little old lady turned the corner and settled down at a little out-of-tune piano in the corner.  And she started playing quick little marches and waltzes.  And before long, she had me and my friends out of our seats and she was teaching us how to waltz.  And then we were dancing around a room blanketed in books in the center of Paris to the music of this little Swiss woman.  It seemed like a scene out of a romantic comedy, but I couldn’t stop smiling it was so surreal and fun.  A cat contemplated us from the corner and other tourists peered at us curiously and we obliviously spun our way around the bookshop.  Just a chance encounter and lucky timing made this experience possible, and it just made me all the more grateful to have the opportunity to spend so much time in Paris.  And now I can dance a rough waltz and I am all the more excited for the amazing, small, unplanned moments coming in Cambridge.

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Pictured:

  1. Notre Dame (avec les fleurs).
  2. Beautiful Saint Chapelle.
  3. The view from Sacre Coeur (wow there were a lot of stairs).
  4. The UF in Cambridge crew, waiting outside the entrance to the Louvre.
  5. Enjoying a beautiful view of le Tour Eiffel.
  6. LE TOUR DE FRANCE! (please excuse my shaky camera: I was super excited.)
  7. Waiting for the bikers to turn the corner- you can find us smiling in the middle (the Invalides is the gold building looming in the backround).
  8. The whole UF in Cambridge family in front of Cite U, where we are staying during our time in Paris.
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