Paris, City of Bread
26 May 2019
Bonjour mes amis! Coming to you live from the Charles De Gaulle Airport, where we arrived approximately five hours prior to our scheduled departure time in order to send off the rest of our group on their earlier flight. I would love to now send myself off to bed at our hotel back in the city, but apparently that’s impractical.
On the plus side, we had the most wonderful week in Paris! We arrived last Friday night and met up with a group from Stephen’s work on Saturday. Most of the group was made up of undergrads doing research with his team and they stayed in a dorm at a college campus in Paris, where we got to have lunch on Saturday and a few other meals. After lunch, I think we all napped — their group out of necessity due to the time change, and me because I can nap at a moment’s notice, anywhere, anytime. That night, it was the Night of the European Museum, during which a bunch of museums across the continent were open late and free to the public. We went to Museé D’Orsay, the home of many famous impressionist works located in a beautiful old train station. Only the ground floor was open during the event, but we still got to see a lot of sculptures, their temporary exhibition on black models in art, and other less-hyped paintings. I went back on Sunday and paid admission because I reeeally wanted to see the rest of the museum because around cool art, I have no chill. It was so worth it! The top floor had a lot of the most famous works by Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, and more. It also had this really cool clockface window that you could look out of to get a cool view of the city and a great pic for your insta. I did not do the latter, unfortunately for you loyal followers!
After finishing that museum on Sunday, I walked through the Tuileries Gardens to the Museé de L’Orangerie. This is where they have the huge panels on which Monet painted water lilies, and holy carpal tunnel, that guy knew how to use a paintbrush. It was much smaller than Orsay and only took a short time to go through, but so worth it to get the ticket that includes both. Next, I walked down the river to the famous English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company, on which I have Some Thoughts. It was cute enough, sure, but I can’t say I get the hype. It was definitely the Parisian hipster capital, but since I didn’t like it, does that make me hipster-antithesis? Or am I just trying to be cool and different too??? If they’re going to give me an existential crisis, they should at least have a romance section in their store. There wasn’t one, by the way, which I was going to excuse with a “maybe they just don’t want too many subgroups within fiction,” until I saw the little sign hanging from a shelf that said, “Looking for Knaussgard? Check out our Beat Generation section!” My eyes rolled out of my head and onto the floor and it was almost as gross as literary pretentiousness.
I digress, and will spare you from hearing my 50+ other opinions on what a good bookstore should be.
I got to end that night, along with many other this week, in our nice hotel paid for by The Job in a fluffy white robe drinking hot tea. This is a big reason that I liked Paris so much. On Monday, we had the COOLEST morning. The group was invited to visit the apartment of the late painter Georges Rouault, where his grandson and great-grandson showed us around and talked about Rouault’s life and career. His studio is completely unchanged since his death in the 50s, dirty paintbrushes and bottles of who knows what still sitting around. There are also so so so many of his paintings and sketches sitting around, along with countless documents he left behind, such as correspondence between him and his bestie, Henri Matisse. It was absolutely incredible to get up close and personal to the life and work of this artist about whom I knew so little, whose works have fallen out of the spotlight in recent decades. His paintings are beautiful and fascinating, with subjects ranging from biblical scenes to political commentary to circus acrobats, so many bright colors, and mixed media. And his family members and others working with his foundation who showed us around were so gracious and welcoming, and had such amazing stories to share. It felt like a once in a lifetime experience even as it was happening, and I feel so lucky to have been able to tag along. In the afternoon, we went to the Paris Google office and learned about Google Arts and Culture, which has a bunch of cool AI that I don’t understand and fun features to play around with and learn more about art. One of the biggest takeaways for me was a can of delicious peach tea. Thx, Goog.
After that, we walked around Montmartre, this artsy neighborhood at the top of a hill with a pretty church called Sacré Coeur. It made me feel like walking around exclaiming, “Sacré Bleu!,” a statement of which I do not know the meaning nor how it embedded itself in my brain. It also had an artists’ market where I was thiiiis close to buying a print from one of the artists, but then I remembered that our house is nearly out of wall space because of how many times before when I have impulsively purchased art. The day wrapped up with dinner at Chartier, which was a “bouillon” restaurant that back in the day served the working class affordable food, and nowadays, serves both tourists and locals who want to enjoy an atmosphere and waitstaff that make you feel like you’ve walked into Ratatouille (sans rodents preparing the food, probably) or any other stereotypical depiction of “French restaurant.” It was unique and fun, and introduced me to profiteroles, for which I will never be able to adequately express my thanks.
On Tuesday, Stephen and co were doing something called “work,” so I went by myself to Versailles. On the way, some British people asked me for directions as if I was a local, no doubt fooled by the effortless coolness of my t-shirt with Cinderella’s carriage on it that I wore because I decided against going to Disneyland Paris and Versailles seemed like the next closest thing. Once at the ~chateau~ it became clear why the 18th century French peasants were so salty. When you can add an opera to your house because it “felt like something was missing,” you might have too much money on your hands. Not a good look when your subjects are starving and selling their bodies and souls for money and singing some straight-up BANGERS about it all but that’s not the point. Jean Valjean never would have stolen that loaf of bread if he was paid a living wage in the first place!!!
Anyway, the gardens were pretty. I was also perhaps even more fond of Petit and Grande Trianon, the other residences across the gardens from the Chateau Versailles, than I was of the main event itself. Something about seeing Marie Antoinette’s actual bed, bedroom, and other living quarters so close is so surreal and exciting. The 12+ times I read her book in the “Royal Diaries” series as a child prepared me well for the whole experience. It was an exhausting day but very much worth it. And just as I got back to the hotel and was ready to collapse, the boyfriend was like “u thought,” and dragged me out with everyone to see the Eiffel Tower at night. Like many things we saw in Paris, the Eiffel Tower was something where I thought, “Yeah okay, I’ve seen it in pictures, it will probably be underwhelming.” Reader, how wrong I was! That ish is amazing! So tall n pointy! All that iron! It was supposed to be temporary over a hundred years ago! How is it still standing! Don’t think about it too much, especially not while you’re in an elevator going up in it!
We made it onto the last elevator of the night and as such, could only go to the lower viewing area, but it was still impressive. Also impressive, I say begrudgingly, was when Stephen fit his head through the metal bars they have over the barrier so no one jumps/falls and he didn’t get stuck. Yes, going up in the tower with your love is incredibly romantic, especially if you both make it out without the authorities having to be called. We stayed until midnight so we could see the tower sparkling like it does at night every hour on the hour, then retired way past my bedtime. Because of this and the marathon that was Versailles, I let myself sleep in and be lazy on Wednesday. I didn’t do much of anything but recharging the ol’ batteries until dinner time, when we got to join a couple of Stephen’s coworkers at a fancy restaurant where Hemingway and his friends really ate all the time while he lived in Paris! Our visit didn’t involve the amount of absinthe that his probably did, which I’d like to believe made it all the more wonderful! That was definitely our biggest foray into ~gourmet French cuisine~ of the week. It also involved wine from Corsica, a place that I could not locate on a map but who makes wine valued at a higher price point than my life. Good for them, ya know?
Thursday was momentous, as I had my first ice cream cone since I’ve been in Europe. Even better, it was gelato and came with a macaron on top. That’s what they call living right. After enjoying that with my boo, I set off solo for the little island where Notre Dame is located. As I got close, I learned that I couldn’t actually get to Notre Dame. Assuming that has something to do with the whole nearly-burning-down scenario of a few weeks ago, but it’s still pretty from afar if you squint enough to block out the national guardsmen with machine guns. P.S., those are everywhere right now. It was rather startling and I needed to remind myself repeatedly, “Kaitlyn, the most dangerous thing you have in your backpack is your EpiPen. No one is hauling you off to French prison.” But moving past them, I made it to another church, Saint Chapelle, guided by my good buddy Rick Steves. Rick has never led me astray, and Saint Chapelle was mind-blowing. It looks like a somewhat dinky lil church when you first walk in (sorry, Jesus?), but then you go upstairs and your senses are assaulted with stained glass magic. Gorgeous, colorful windows nearly from floor to ceiling all around you. They (mainly my mom and Rick) told me it would be stunning and they were not lying. Secondarily, it had a fabulous gift shop where I bought all of my souvenirs.
That night, Stephen and the Cr3w (unofficial band name) presented some of their research at a symposium and they did so well! I have had literally nothing to do with their work but still felt like a proud mother filming in the audience! A single happy tear didn’t roll down my cheek irl but in my mind it did! On the real, though, Stephen is one of the best presenters I’ve seen. He comes out of nowhere with this perfect combination of seriousness and humor and he’s just so dang cute the whole time and no I am not at all biased why do you ask? Did I mention I’m proud? After that, we got to have celebratory dinner (luv celebrating a success I had nothing to do with, esp. when it involves really good prosecco) at a café outside the Sorbonne, and it was so happy and fun.
On Friday, we took a FieLd tRiP!!! We got up and took the train out to Giverny, where Monet lived and painted many of his flowers and water lilies and other subjects. The museum and gardens were so insanely gorgeous and very worth the trip, but probably even more worth it was the experience of riding bikes a few kilometers from the train station out to Giverny and back. Of our group of nine, I think roughly…two…are totally comfortable on bikes. I am not one of the two. I also got a bike whose seat, when adjusted, was not fully screwed back into place and therefore flopped backwards every time I hit a bump. This left me both grumpy and bruised in unspeakable places. It all came to a head when I hit a roadside barrier and knocked the chain loose on my bike, said a few choice words, and ultimately took Stephen up on his offer to trade rides. He had a better time with it, the little Tour de France-r that he is, and I recovered from my anger after a giant potato quiche slice for lunch. The ride back was even better, as we took a smoother route, and I handled my next crash (into the crosswalk of a street, mentally scarring two French drivers irreparably as I yelled a surely-unintelligible “I’M FINE! THANK YOU, EVERYONE!” and gracelessly remounted the bike) better.
That night, I finally saw the Louvre! It’s free on Friday nights from 6-close for those under the age of 26, and for my purposes, this was the way to Louvre. My buddy Rick Steves helped me again by guiding me to the highlights with his “Audio Europe” app. I was duly impressed by another thing the people warned me would be unimpressive, the Mona Lisa! They let you get so close to her??? And sure, she’s small, but not teeny tiny like the people had led me to believe. Worth the trip for that alone, but I also really enjoyed Winged Victory and Liberty Leading the People (the latter of which I’ve decided is needlessly shirtless, but I’ll pretend it’s under the principle of #freethenipple rather than, say, pandering to male art enthusiasts).
And lastly, we arrive at Saturday. Some of the students and I went to the Arc de Triomphe, another hugely impressive Paris sight! It was also closed and heavily guarded, probably due to all the yellow vest protests on Saturdays, but still pretty to view from across the street. Then we headed down the Champs-Elysees for a little more shopping/sightseeing, and somehow ended up at McDonald’s for lunch. But French McDonalds. On the Champs-Elysees. Also, I had a delicious salad that you can’t get at American McDonald’s. And they had macarons, which are somehow NOT being sold under the extremely obvious moniker McArons!? Truly, I should be a pun consultant for brands, letting them know when there is some play on words looking them straight in the face before they miss it. Anyway, went back to the hotel after that for a little nap before meeting back up with the group for a picnic dinner by the Eiffel Tower. It was one of the most pleasant evenings of a trip filled with pleasant evenings, as we sat for hours while the sun set, talking and enjoying the scenery on our last night. It was the perfect ending to a Paris trip that went so well, it kind of feels like a dream. Or maybe everything feels like a dream when you are as tired as I am right now from going going going all week long.
Aw, poor lil bby, say none of you. I understand.
So overall, if it wasn’t clear, Paris blew me away! I kind of thought I wouldn’t be crazy about a big city with a bunch of sights that I brazenly felt like I’d ~basically~ seen already, but Paris said, “I’ll show you some sights, b****!” Or something like that. I loved the art, and the museums, and the BREAD, oh the bread, I had baguettes every day and I didn’t even include them in my stories because you probably don’t care about 25 “and then I ate a baguette”s but know that these were integral to my France experience. Steph and I are now (since I paused and picked up writing again) in our latest destination and I am about to have a night of DEEP SLEEP, I can already tell. Traveling like this has made me feel older and more crotchety than ever, so I gotta stay refueling. Sometimes with foods other than bread, too.
Thank you if you took the time to read all of this, or if you didn’t, it’s not like I’m gonna know the difference. But for real, I appreciate anyone who reads even a little bit and hope it brings some sort of positive feelings and not just jealous green monster ones — I say this as I have been the jealous green monster time and time again while others have traveled, and it’s never been a good look for me. Where am I going with this? Idk. Slerp. Sleep. She is so close.
Alright, I thank you again and I love you and we’re about halfway through the Eurotrip of 2019 woooooo!
Night night sleep tight,