Before we get going with this little river-non-voyage tale, I want to say a few things, in our defense.
Steve and I are not “ugly Americans.” At least, I don’t think so. I mean, look at that picture, up there. We’re adorable. And also, we took seriously the reputation that Americans have in Paris, of being loud, of being demanding. We’ve traveled a fair bit, and we’ve seen this reputation in action. So here, we took extra care to “do as the natives do.” We said “bonjour” or “bonsoir” at every establishment we entered. I conversed in French every opportunity that I could, because I’d been told that the French appreciate that. And if I couldn’t, I’d resort to “Parlez-vous l’anglais?” and earnest hand gestures, always with plenty of “s’il vous plaits” and “mercis.” In other words, we tried really hard. And everyone, without exception, has been extremely pleasant.
I remember traveling in Spain by myself, and calling my dad a couple of time because I was lonely. During one conversation, I told him about the gypsies that tended to congregate around major tourist sights. At the Seville Cathedral, I even saw a guy with a monkey, dancing to a street organ.
“Stay away from them,” my dad almost yelled. “Do you hear me? They’re thieves, all of them. Stay away from them!”
My dad lived in Milan for a few months, when the Italian government requested his help with upgrading their national air traffic system. He contends that most people didn’t get to work until 10, and they took off from noon to 3 p.m., so it was impossible to have meetings, but that’s an aside.
My dad gets animated about a lot of things, but he was worried about his baby daughter, knocking around Spain by herself and possibly being overwhelmed by a band of gypsies. It was a legitimate fear.
What was interesting to me then, and still is now, is that the gypsies have long been a reviled population. Hitler exterminated them during World War II. They were persecuted in Eastern Europe — women were forcibly sterilized in Czechoslovakia starting in the mid-1970s. In July 2008, Italian beachgoers seemed indifferent to the bodies of two dead Roma girls laid out in front of them.
This will piss off the Art History majors of the world, but I was sort of dreading our Louvre visit. I knew the place was enormous, I knew it got crowded. But I think actually visiting the Louvre for the first time is akin to becoming a parent for the first time: You have no idea what you’re in for until you’re there.
First of all, it was the final day of Fashion Week, which happens at the Carrousel du Louvre, so as we crossed the Pont des Arts at 10 a.m. we saw loads of paparazzi, fleets of black Mercedes and painfully thin people dressed in elaborate costumes. This is haute couture, not street style. And we had blundered into the middle of it. Steve got some pictures.
When we finally got ’round to the entrance, we had walked about a mile and we were sweaty. It’s warm in Paris. We brought all the wrong clothes. Anyway, we duck under an arch, to the Museum Pass entrance, and there we are, in the immense square with the famed glass pyramid. And a huge line to get in. Unless you have a Museum Pass. Again, $50 for a four-day pass. So we sauntered right past the line, and into the Louvre, toute de suite. C’est magnifique.
Anything we may have done previously to today was just a warmup. Today was the big guns: Musée d’Orsay, déjeuner avec beaucoup des Americans, le Tour Eiffel, Rue Cler, shopping along Rue Saint-Dominique, Napoleon’s tomb, part of the Rodin Museum, le Métro and finally, shopping for dinner in our neighborhood. I’m tired just thinking about it.
First, I know it may seem obnoxious that I keep veering into French. But I’m not just being pretentious, although that may have something to do with it. I studied French for eight years, and being in France has dislodged some long-dormant remnants. I’ll be walking down the street, see a dog and think “chien mignon!” Steve will say something to me and I’ll reply “d’accord.” I know it’s annoying but I’m sure I’ll stop doing it once we land at Sea-Tac.
By the way, the Musée d’Orsay was amazing. Why don’t we have museums like that on the West Coast? The Seattle Art Museum will get, like, one van Gogh and plaster bus shelters with advertisements about it. At the d’Orsay, it’s wall-to-wall awesome. Though the Impressionist room and the Cézanne room are jammed with humanity. I stumbled into the Orientalism room and it knocked my socks off. I particularly loved the “Evening Prayer in the Sahara” by Gustave Guillaumet.
OK, so then we had an unremarkable lunch near the museum surrounded by other Americans. There was a very loud group behind us and I was prepared to hate them with French disdain but then they started talking about how stupid the Republicans were that had shut down the government. And yes, the shutdown made the news here. I just couldn’t understand what they were saying.