Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A visitor

This last week in Paris has been difficult. I have never been good at goodbyes. Is anyone really? I doubt it. Add to that I am a weepy person who is sentimental about nearly everything. Knowing that this week will eventually end, and I will in fact have to board a flight, which will leap into the air and take me away from here, has made how I look at the city come sharply into focus. At every turn I am struck by her beauty and grace. Even though I have been living on her streets for 12 weeks now, I continue to be enchanted by her sounds and smells. This is a city for those who truly love to live and to some extent, live to love.

My children, who have now grown annoyed with my teary eyes, have started to advise me that, Paris isn't going anywhere and that we can always come back to visit. Well, see, that is the thing. I don't want to come back to visit. I don't want to be a visitor. I like being one of her people. Her residents. A person with a key, and address, a boulangerie she likes and a fromagerie she loves.

At the age of 20 I lived in Florence, Italy for 3 months with an Italian family I came to adore. Franca, my Italian house mother took me in with the kind of Italian fervor you would expect. She wanted to help me understand what it was like to be Italian and worked on my language skills with me, gave me hugs when I needed them, and cooked me food that I will never forget. Everything she does comes from a heart the size of Texas.

If you have ever been to Florence you know that the city has a beauty that will enchant you. Not just the buildings, but the people, the food, the sounds, sights, and smells everywhere. When I had to leave that December in 1992, I remember crossing town on foot to the Santa Maria Novella train station. I was in love with Florence the way people are in love with each other. But with my full heart and my eyes leaking, I thought to myself, I will always have her. Florence will always be my city. I will bring my husband here. I will bring my children here. When I come back I will feel this again.

In 1999 I brought my husband to Florence on our first vacation as a married couple after our honeymoon. In 2002 I came back with our then 5 month old Sweet Pea. It was never the same. I looked around at the swarms of tourists I used to cut through to get to my classes all those years ago and thought to myself, Oh my God, I am one of them. I am a tourist. I am here visiting, not living.

You see, there is a difference. I am happy to have had the experiences in life to know this, but at the same time, this last week in Paris is a bit scary for me because I know when I come back I will be one of them. A visitor.

On Wednesday day nights we often will head to the Louvre for a Nocturne visit. Their evening hours. The crowds are fewer and the admission charge is lower. On this last Nocturne visit, we came into the courtyard of the Palais Royal from a different direction. We came in the back way and this was our view. It was dusk and the clouds were amazing. I just stood there and let the view seep into my soul. Then I reached for my camera to take these pictures of my family enjoying their beloved Louvre for the last time on this trip.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day at the Museum: Part 34

Le Penseur......

Boom, Boom, Fire Power!

The gardens at the Musee Rodin are beautiful as you can see. They are calm and peaceful with a big wall that surrounds them shutting out the noise and chaos of the city. The only hint of Paris is when you look up and see the rising Eiffel Tower which resides quite nearby.

A special thanks goes out to all Paris museums for helping engage my children with the magnificent treasures this city holds. As you can see below, my kids go to museums and look. They look at the objects and art and think. Here Sweet Pea is listening to the audio guide chapter on Rodin's Gates of Hell bronze doors while Buddy is using the telescope to find the miniature Thinker at the top of the doors.

Oh yeah, and also for letting us ALL in for free this time. Apparently anyone with a child under 7 gets in free to the gardens. The entire group - no matter the size. How cool is that?

Life imitating art...

After we toured the gardens we walked back in the direction of our bus stop and grabbed some dejeuner a emporter (take away) and then did a quick scan to find a parc to eat in. This is what we found. This is the view from my parc bench seat. There is never a shortage of open spaces to sit and relax in Paris.

Then a quick stop at Parc Monceau on the way home so Buddy could climb the tree.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Have you ever noticed that the trees, of the tree lined streets of Paris are Chestnut trees? Come September all those beautiful trees drop their nuts all over the parks and boulevards in this beautiful city. Children and adults alike can't help but reach down and collect these beautiful brown nuggets. Each day we came home with thousands of them and they started to take over the apartment. That was until SJ said these magic words...Hey, do you guys know how to play conkers? The three of us looked blankly back at him and he got the picture that we had never even heard of conkers. After a quick explanation, I was instructed to go secure string and a tool to punch holes in the chestnuts. So one day while out on the town, we stop in at the hardware section of BHV - the everything store in the 1st - one day while SJ is at work. We get our goods and on this Sunday morning, SJ enlightens us on what is apparently a common British pastime. So common that there are hundreds of competitions all over England at this time of year. Some take it so seriously that they feel the need to create new rules to prevent cheating. However, it does seem by a few accounts, that it is a dwindling past time and that the youth of the UK is not as keen on the game as were the generations that came before them. Well, in an effort to buck that trend, SJ has educated at least two little Brits who were born in the US but now residing in Paris.

So, how to play the game? Each choose a conker - a chestnut. And choose wisely. You want a strong one that promises not crack under the pressure of this game. literally.

Use a thin nail to hammer a whole through the nut. Thread a string through the hole and tie a strong knot on the other side large enough to hold the chestnut on the string.

Then, my advice would be to encourage your players to take it outside!
Each player takes a turn trying to whack the other player's nut with their nut. So the person being hit holds their string upright and very still. The hitter then takes his best swing with the nut and tries to hit the opponent's nut hard enough to break.

If you are the one holding the string to be hit and you drop your conker, your opponent gets a second try. So hold tight!

Once a nut has been hit, inspections are made to see if it is still intact enough to continue.

The game is played until all but one person's conker has been broken to bits and can no longer remain on its string.

If the winner's conker is still in great shape they will realize this is a strong nut and will keep it for future competitions. As SJ said, some conkers have histories.

In this three-way game, Buddy was the first to be eliminated. Then it seemed that each time SJ thwacked Sweet Pea's conker it was his that cracked, not hers.

So in the end, Sweet Pea was victorious and we have kept her winning conker for future games.

Just when we thought we'd seen it all...

Today marks the beginning of the end. With only 6.5 days left, we know it will be all business from here on out. Souvenirs have to be shopped for, last stops to museums have to be scheduled, and of course, each meal will be a last supper of sorts.

This morning we decided to start with the beautiful market road of Rue Montorgueil near Les Halles. Most of Paris shuts down pretty hard on Sundays. Most retailers, including grocers, are closed on this day of worship except in the very high traffic shopping areas. Rue Montorgueil is one of the few areas in town that is in full swing on Sundays. This particular day at the end of September was beautifully sunny and warm. We came to this area of town because momma needed to do some recon work in regards to what souvenirs she was bringing home. No t-shirts or sweatshirts for me. It was cooking equipment all the way! So I wanted to take a swing by stores like Mora and E. Dehillerin on the off chance they were open today. We took the metro from Malesherbes to Reaumur Sebastopol and then walked through the Les Halles pedestrian district to Rue Montorgeuil where we decided to have lunch at one of its bustling cafes. We found one that suited us because it was not terribly expensive and its outdoor tables were well enough in the shade to allow us to be comfortable. The kids and SJ had a burger while I enjoyed some wine and a small salad. The food was delicious but it was the atmosphere that made the meal. The quiet banter of the French couples around was a sound I was desperately trying to etch into my memory. Most of them were here having a brunch of sorts and there was a mix of couples, guys clearly having been out late last night and women enjoying a birthday celebration. We ate our lunch and lingered over wine while we watched Paris stroll by. There was a man across the street selling saucission sec and fromage while playing a game of chess with anyone who would play. Each time I looked up he seemed lost in concentration on his next move and his opponent was different from the last time I glanced in their direction. It seemed that people would stop to play for a few moves and then move on themselves. It was probably how this gentleman passed his sundays each week and perhaps his opponents were regulars.

This is the sweet cafe where we had lunch. During lunch I asked the waiter where I might find the carafe bottles he used to serve water. He thought for a minute and told me there was a restaurant supply store nearby named Simon and I should try there.

Since the end of the French vacance which lasts from about August 1 - August 31, Paris has seemed to throw out one celebratory event after another. First there were all sorts of things going on to mark La Rentree which technically means the start of school but I like to joke that it really means the reentering of life after a month of vacation. Then we had the weekend of La Patrimoine which was a gold mine for anyone wanting back stage access to all of Paris' landmarks. This weekend is a two-day garden festival where all of the Jardins in Paris are holding events. We decided it would be a good weekend to head to Les Jardins des Plants so we crossed the park that sits between Les Halles and Chatelet to get to the bus stop we needed to head to Les Jardins des Plants. When possible, I like to travel above ground. Half way across the park we noticed a crazy looking section with steep concrete paths, grottos, and wooden bridges. We decided to check it out and it turned out to be a crazy kids maze/playground that was for children 7 and up. It was open just for the Festival des Jardins this weekend. The kids gave us that pleading look of Can I? Can I? So we said have at it and they bolted in yelling follow us! Well easier said then done. I was in high heals trying to negotiate steep, narrow concrete paths and follow the children through open mouths of alligators and into tunnels.

Take a peek at our little mid-afternoon adventure. Looks like fun, doesn't it!?!

To my 3.5 readers who have been faithfully following my blog all summer I just wanted to warn you about a few things.

1. I dropped my computer a few days ago and feared the worst. After dragging the children to an "Apple" store here in Paris (and I put it in quotes because there really are NO Apple stores here in Paris. There are Premium Apple Resellers who hide out and are damned hard to find) only to burn out more than a few brain cells trying to figure out a) what condition the computer was now in and b) what in fact to do about it in FRENCH, I discovered that it is just the screen that is damaged - the hard drive and its contents are a-ok.

2. A special thanks goes out to my mother who scoured the internet to find this Premium Apple Reseller. Though the days of her scolding me are over, I did get a tisk-tisk from 6000 miles away for not having backed up my photos from the trip. yup. You heard that right, I did not back up a single picture from our 3 months in Paris and my mother rightfully gave me her motherly advice that PHOTOS NEED TO BE STORED IN AT LEAST 2 PLACES!! While she did use my first name after doling out said advice, she did not use my middle name so I think I am good. Nevertheless, I am a moron for not backing up these precious memories and once I knew that the hard drive was in good shape, and that the screen could actually be seen in very bright sunlight, I ran straight to Monoprix for CDs and backed up all my pictures. All 2300 of them.

3. Like any computer obsessed person, I have more than one. I have an older Mac laptop here with us as well so I have been transferring info back and forth between the two computers however, the old one is so old that some of the software doesn't work all that well. I am managing. Email can be received but won't send out. Internet works only if plugged into the ethernet. But the photos are safe and we are coming home on Friday so I will manage.

4. And for a small programming note- this blog is being used mostly as a trip journal. I am thrilled people have joined along with me by reading it all. I haven't always had time to post things when they actually happened so I've done some catching up. I back-date the posts to the day they actually happened so if you have been casually reading the blog you may want to go back to see if there are posts you might have missed because I added them much later. This post will be dated for today, Sunday September 27th but I have to add things that happened last week right before the crash and will back date them so they will appear below this post even though they have been added after.

a bientot mes amis.