Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paris, etc

On Saturday Max’s class had arranged a group trip to Monet’s gardens at Giverny. My mother plastered the house with Monet prints when I was younger, so I looked forward to this, although we had another early morning. (5am for Friday’s train and 7am for Saturday’s…what is my mini-break coming to?)

Monet’s garden is beautiful beyond imagination. The selection and arrangement of plants are perfectly suited. Everything was in bloom, and the famous water lily pond provided us some wonderful photos.

But what surprised me was Monet’s house. I’m not much of an art buff, but I figured that his own art collection would be something similar to impressionism. But every room in his house is filled with traditional Japanese paintings, women in kimonos, samurais, mountains, blossoms. I can see the connection with reverence for nature, but all in all not what I expected.

I would recommend this site, but only for 1.5-2 hours. It’s not particularly big enough to occupy a day trip, although it is a distance from Paris itself. There is an itty bitty village around the house, mostly overpriced cafes and a few galleries. We had some nice takeaway sandwiches and got thoroughly sunburned.

Saturday night was Paris’ annual “Fete de la Musique”, one of 3 nights that you can legally make as much noise as you want without fear of police action. (The other two are New Years and Bastille Day.) It was a really cool event. Nearly every café and every metro station had bands playing, ranging from Big Band to angry screaming (is that a genre? Or is it part of a larger, even less desirable genre?) We ate ice cream and wandered from band to band until our feet hurt.

Before we left Sunday evening we were determined to see a few more things. Rick Steves recommended The Marais District, and since it is the Jewish district, it is one of the few areas completely open on Sunday. Starting at the Place de la Bastille, we walked to the Carnavalet Museum, which was fascinating if a little chaotically arranged. Still, has helped considerably in making sense of all of France’s revolutions and republics (we’re on what, the 5th now?) We ate falafels on Rue de Rosiers, very delicious.

At the end of the Jewish Quarter we stopped at the Holocaust memorial, a massive and moving site. There are memorial walls, a crypt for those who have no graves, and a resource centre about the history and effects of the Holocaust. They had actual Nazi propaganda on display—leaflets with pictures of Aryan kids and Jewish kids, cartoons, stuff you know about but don’t know how to feel when confronted with. As I took it all in, feeling the revulsion and amazement, I wonder about the capabilities of ordinary men and women to help and hinder such evil. We always say “never again” but how many times since those dark days have we failed to keep our promise?

We walked quietly along the Seine. We crossed the bridges, by Notre Dame, and over to left bank. A stop at Shakespeare and Co. was necessary due to a lack of English books in Munich that are not written by Candace Bushnell.

There was a small emergency on the way back to Max’s dorm, due to the fact that unlike Munich, Parisian restaurants will not let you use their bathrooms. I was relieved to find a pay toilet at the metro, fumbled hastily with my change and stepped inside the disgusting little room. In attempting to lock the door handle, I reopened the door and the automated bathroom decided my turn was over. I yelled at Max and Ryan to get more change, but we had none. Ryan offered to shove the door closed and I peed in the dark. Probably the grossest bathroom experience I’ve ever had. Be warned tourists!

Despite the inadequate bathroom facilities, Paris is always lovely. And even nicer to see Max and enjoy his antics for a few days. But it was surprisingly wonderful to be back in Munich. It is just the right size of city and the people are delightful. And cooler, thankfully.

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