Saturday, February 23, 2008

Paris: Day 8

Today I took it easy (at least from my perspective). Slept in till 10:15 a.m. and then worked out in the hotel gym. It was nice to not have to pack up and walk somewhere like I had to in London. Took my time getting ready and then bought my usual breakfast --cranberry nut bar and chocolate milk -- from the café in the hotel.

First stop was the Opera House, which was built by Napoleon III over 15 years (1860-1875). I was really excited to see the Chagall ceiling. It's beautiful! There are different scenes of operas/ballets painted in the circle, and if you look closely, you can see Marc Chagall's signature and the names of each piece of work he painted on the ceiling (it's hard to see these in the photo I took, but the Swan Lake scene is sideways on the left-hand side). For example, I first noticed this when I picked up that one of the scenes is of Swan Lake. My neck started to hurt after a while from craning it to try and see the details. Oh, and the chandelier weighs eight tons!

I love Marc Chagall and have a couple prints of his paintings up in our bedrooms at home. He has an amazing stained glass piece, the America Windows, at the Art Institute in Chicago (also home to my favorite Monet water lilies painting from 1906).

The grand staircase is gorgeous, as are the richly decorated foyers, which provide audiences with areas to stroll during intervals. Lots of mirrors, natural light, tapestries and gilded decorations that fit the style I've seen so far for Napoleon and Louis XIV.

I poked around on the lower floor and found a cool exhibit of famous costumes and photographs from performances that have been held there. The dress for Carmen was pretty distinguishable. Someday when I come back to Paris, I'd like to go see a show to fully appreciate the entire experience.

Next was the Musee Marmottan in Montmartre...or so I thought. Because the names are similar, I thought they were in the same place. Turns out that the museum I visited is on the west side of Paris (Montmartre is in the northern district).

In any event, my visit was great! Lots of water lilies paintings (an exhibit just started Thursday), great furniture and works also by Renoir, Berthe Morisot and others. I liked the areas that featured portraits by Renoir of other artists and their family, like Monet and his wife. There's something about the way Renoir made his subjects' skin luminous and pretty.

The upstairs featured a video that showed the installations of the ginormous water lilies paintings at Musee d'Orangerie, so I felt like this visit really tied all my museum wanderings together. There also were examples of artists I didn't recognize who painted in similar styles to Monet and Renoir. I jotted down their names because I liked their work and noticed that both painters were from Ohio! The Monet lookalike, Theodore Butler, grew up in Columbus and died in Giverny, Paris, (same town that Monet's gardens were in) in 1936. The Renoir lookalike, Karl Anderson (same kind of luminosity in his subjects' skin), was born in Oxford, Ohio, in 1874. Pretty cool!

When I was poking around in the gift shop at the end of my visit, I noticed a poster from an exhibition last year that featured Japanese art that Monet collected and had on display in his home in Giverny. When I visited Giverny in 2001, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Monet had prints from Japanese artists that I liked too. Because, you know, we're best buds and all. OK, I promise, I'm done talking about Monet.

Oh wait! One more thing. So, the gift shop had everything Monet you could possibly want: earrings, umbrellas, tote bags, magnets, hair get the idea. That stuff has always driven me crazy...but I'm a hypocrite. You see, a few years ago when I was renewing my Discover credit card over the phone, the customer service rep asked me if I'd like one of their designed cards for my replacement. She mentioned there was a water lilies design, and I hesitated and then said yes. I couldn't believe it! When I got it in the mail, I remember feeling like the biggest sell-out ever and seriously debated whether I could use it. But, it...was...pretty. Really pretty. It made me smile every time I used it, and clerks routinely complimented the design (yeah, like a need another reason to spend money). Sorry, just had to put that out there. However, I hardly use the card in now in protest to very poor customer service from Discover when someone made a fraudulent purchase with my card several months ago. Now I usually use Phil's and my joint credit card with delight because I only have to pay half of the bill (just kidding, honey).

OK, by this time I was STARVING, but there were lots of green parks and no cafes/restaurants near Musee Marmottan. So, I took the metro to the real Montmartre, which was a long haul (about 30-40 minutes). The station I got off at was a couple stops north of Gare du Nord, the station I arrived at from the Eurostar.

I had been looking forward to visiting Montmartre because of its importance in the Impressionism movement. A lot of those artists, like Van Gogh and Renoir, lived and painted there. But, when I got off the train, the area seemed seedy and dirty to me, and I noticed police in the area. It turned out to be quite the disappointment.

Montmartre is situated on a huge hill. I took a photo of the Sacre Coeur, a white Catholic church at the top of the hill, from the top of one of the Notre-Dame towers. You can see how raised up it is in comparison to the rest of Paris.

I had heard that the walk up to the church is ridiculous because it's so steep, so I stopped in a patisserie and chatted with an older woman behind the counter as best I could while she grilled my mozzarella and ham baguette...mmmm. She wished me well, and I tackled both my panini and my steep trek. Turns out it's a bit hard to chew, swallow and breathe heavily, so that wasn't the best plan. I included a photo of the crazy climb (but not of me stuffing my face).

I went inside the church, which of course was beautiful, admired the view below of Paris, and then navigated through the crowds to Place du Tertre, which is the square where many of the aforementioned artists gathered to paint. It was ridiculously commercialized and congested...big disappointment. However, I made the best of it and chomped on a nutella crepe...gooey, delightful chocolate filling. Delish!

Headed back to the church and the crazy steps for my descent back to the metro and then encountered some of the aggressive French men my French friend Caroline warned me about (on several grabbing my arm tightly and making me promise not to smile :)). Thank goodness she taught me how to say I'm married. My stern utterances of "Non merci. Je suis mariee." (No, thanks. I'm married.) were met with, "Let me pick you up, woman!" I couldn't help but start laughing and then quickly weaved my way through the crowds to get away.

By the way, so you don't think I'm naive and crazy for wandering around by myself, I'm always packing heat... tear gas/pepper spray in my pocket (and a can of whoop ass, of course). I pity the fool who thinks I'm an easy target.

Back to Caroline's words of wisdom. She's been a great help with planning for my trip, and was sweet enough to give me some handy translations, including a post-it note that says in French, "Attention! I am allergic to...." It was very thoughtful and also is very embarrassing (our CEO suggested that I stick it to my forehead when ordering so servers don't miss it), but it's come in handy because I noticed those items (poppyseed, rye bread, kiwi) on menus I've been ordering from and was able to avoid them.

Took the metro to Galeries LaFayette for some shopping that I promised Caroline I'd do, but I was just too tired. I'm totally happy with the garb I snagged in London, but I walked a couple floors looking for something for Phil (OK, I checked out the shoes too) and struck out. I found stuff that I'd like for him, but most likely not his taste. That would be a sucky present like the bowling ball Homer Simpson gave to Marge with his name engraved on it. BTW, The Simpsons was playing on the TV in the store translated in French. Interesting.

So, took the metro to my hotel stop and then grabbed a sandwich before printing out my boarding pass and retiring to my room. I'm almost all packed and am ready for a good night's sleep. My flight's at noon tomorrow...long flight...and I land in Cleveland around 6 p.m. (will feel like midnight to me). Thank gawd Phil has offered to be my chauffeur. I've had a blast, but I'm ready for home.

Till tomorrow...Wish me luck getting to the airport (meaning, pray for few steps and a short customs line!).

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