Wed 30 Apr 2008
There is nothing attractive about gang graffiti. It’s careless, sloppy, angular, gross, and mean-spirited. I almost bit my sister’s head off when she tried to defend urban graffiti-which is not what I’m talking about. I’m not referring to beautiful, bubbly letters filled in with gorgeous colors and witty characters. And I know that often graffiti is immediately assumed to be gang related when it’s not, (a point my sister was trying to make). I’m not talking about railway art, murals done in alleyways, or rouge graf artists scouring the urban landscape with stencils. No…I’m talking about idiots coming into my neighborhood from a rival gang, crossing out existing tags and scrawling their own on top as a form of intimidation and take-over. They tag fences, sidewalks, and actual houses. If you have a fence right now you’re in big trouble…at least in my hood.
There’s a retaining wall holding up a sloppy rental house opposite of the corner of my street. It’s been hit three times. It took a long time to get covered the first time. The second time the writing was so big and profane it was covered promptly but poorly (white spray paint was used to cover the letters which remained visible despite the attempt). A week ago a nasty black tag covered the wall from head to tow. It remained there, a shocking ugly sign of the recent deterioration of our neighborhood (‘Highest rate of graffiti in 10 years,’ according to the cop at our block watch meeting). Pulling out of my alleyway in the morning, that tag ruined my day.
On Saturday, we participated in the Block Watch clean up. It turned out to be a poorly attended neighborhood clean-up sponsored by the city. I immediately snagged the little red wagon containing a drum of paint and rollers. While Josh struck out alone with a garbage bag and tongs I made it my mission to stamp out gang graffiti. I enlisted the help from the only neighbors I’m on regular speaking terms with. ‘J’ and her husband, ‘K’, knocked on the rental property’s door with their two-year old in tow (nothing neutralizes a situation then a toddler). The woman wouldn’t even answer her door, instead she spoke to us through a screen window. “You can paint over it but they’ll just come back,” she said uncertainly. My neighbors and I attacked the retaining wall with our rollers and neutral gray paint. It was incredibly satisfying and fast.
While we were painting an old woman came out of her house and approached us. She was wearing a robe and slippers. “What are you doing?” she asked curiously. J explained that we were part of a neighborhood clean-up. The woman had brought tiny bottles of water and an orange for the toddler. This simple gesture completely melted my heart. I was so overcome I couldn’t even pause from my painting to properly introduce myself to this woman. This act of kindness carried me throughout the day when we took our red wagon down to Rainier and painted out random tags. People stared at us from dilapidated businesses, car repair places, and the beauty salon. I felt like: Watch out! Here comes Whitey with her “stamp out graffiti” mission! Don’t get in the way of my oppressive paint roller.
We passed a ravine where two of our neighbors were hauling out junk: mattresses, car batteries, tires, it was disgusting. The ravine backs up into their property and the woman mentioned they’d actually found a dwelling down there. “Someone has a pretty nice set up with couches, a mattress, and furniture.” I learned that this space has recently been declared a wet land–which makes building difficult on this property. The woman said she wants it to remain a green space, a park that could be cared for by the city, instead of condos that would bump up into her backyard. I was torn. On one hand we need more green space in the city, but on the other hand we need viable development in our neighborhood. This space is two blocks away from the water and would make gorgeous property with water views. What to do? “I’ve watched trucks back into this ravine and dump garbage, I’ve gotten their license plate numbers and took pictures…the city did nothing.” These stories are all too common. It also fills me with despair and a desire to give the finger to Seattle.
I dragged the red wagon up the hill, dropped off my neighbors, and sat on the front porch of the Presbyterian church that holds services in Tongan. I drank one of the tiny bottles of water given to me by the woman in slippers and chatted with the organizer of the day. “Keep the paint,” she said after learning about my graffiti crusade.
Sat 26 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under TravelNo Comments
When we arrived in Dijon, France my brain felt like it was finally clearing. For days I would try to write long passages in my journal and was only able to eek out small sentences, (i.e “There are streets where only cars park and nothing else” or “macaron is a sandwich cookie.”). I think my brain was really overwhelmed and the effort to write complete sentences was too much for me at times. My spelling lapsed into something you might find on a first grade spelling test and I kept flipping words around in my sentences–I’d love to blame it on my immersion into a foreign country but, really, I barely knew what was going on.
I was really excited to visit Dijon because my cousin, Jessica, has lived and worked there for 14 years. She has a husband (a French National) and a kid. Dijon was so nice–almost quaint after Paris.
Taken almost directly from my travel journal:
The French are fastidious in Paris. In a park a gardener came after a piece of our sandwich wrapper that accidentally fell on the ground. He speared it with a poky stick and said something abrupt in French. Another woman was patrolling the lawn. Whenever a group of people sat on the grass she would approach them and explain at great length that they had to get off. My Mom said the plaque near the grass translated in English read, “the grass is resting.”
In Monmarte we walk around the oldest part of the city. There are tons of little bitty parks everywhere. Lot’s of casual boutiques. I even check out a thrift store with the hope of coming across a second hand Versace sweater or something. It has some cute hats and a really terrific red leather jacket. But here’s the thing, most of this stuff I wouldn’t give a second glance if I was at home. All the cute trench coats I have at home discount the trench coats in Paris. We peek into a designer outlet store and find it way too pricey for us.
My cousin says the French are not known for their hospitality and I would agree. They are also not very patient…or perhaps they’re not patient with our American fumbling. My cousin dismisses the supposed difference between American English and British English. Her school books claimed that Americans don’t use ‘and’ when saying ‘one thousand and seventy-two,’ they just say ‘one thousand seventy-two.’ I had never thought about whether I used the word ‘and’ like that or not. “Well, my family does, “Jessica insisted, “It’s the British that have a problem with our English.” She also said that the French can’t decipher between different accents, whether it’s Australian or British. She’s actually claimed to be Australian before to avoid the associations of being English or American. I noticed this when walking past a store in Paris, there was sign that read, (I assume) “We speak different languages!” and there were pictures of different flags: Italian, Spanish, French, and British. No American flag. I suppose it makes sense, there are probably more British tourists in France due to proximity and English is more readily associated with Britain. Still, it was kind of interesting not seeing the big, always-in-your-face American flag slapped everywhere.
My second cousin is five. Her mother speaks only English to her and her father speaks only French. During our time with her she switched seamlessly from English to French when both parents were in the room. She is very firm about my French pronunciation–which is terrible. I make the mistake of asking her the names of different things on our walk to her apartment (“how do you say car? Bird? Mushroom?) She answers and I can’t understand her at all. Patiently she breaks down the word ‘mushroom’: ‘Champignon’…sha (nasally)–pee–nu-on (nasally). I say it again and again and each time my little second cousin says, “No…no…no.” I say, “Really? I have to make the sound come out of my nose like that?” She sighs. It’s not until I sputter most of the word out of my nose that she nods in approval. “What’s harder, French or English?” I inquire. She thinks about it seriously before saying, “French.”
At my cousins house we eat the most delicious, multi-course meal…it breaks down like this:
Appertives: Vegetables, nuts, chips, champaign.
First Course: African shrimp, rice, red wine.
Second Course: Cheese platter with eight different cheeses–from the really stinky to the super blue. Another bottle of red wine is uncorked. I notice that some of the cheese is almost crawling off the plate, it is so moldy!
Dessert: Coffee–and then my cousin plunks down the most enormous platter of desserts. There were too many, from little custard pies to layer cakes to truffles. Oh my…
Here’s a picture of the cheese platter:
Fri 25 Apr 2008
While sending in a proposal, I found this awesome photo from a show I choreographed four years ago…
Tue 22 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under TravelNo Comments
3 stories about the metro in Paris:
Three models stand around one pole on the train. One speaks very good English, she seems to be Russian–but that’s just a guess. The nervous, concerned, model is American. The third girl is French. The American is telling her companions how she told these French men that she could, indeed, drink them under the table but then, what a shock! They tried to hold her to this claim and kept giving her drinks! She is incredulous, but the other girls are unfazed. The American expresses concern that she’s been up all night and now she has bags under eyes and here she is going to appointments looking like a mess. “It’s so hard,” she stressed, “Getting up every day and having to put on make-up and look fashionable…some days I just don’t want to do it.” The Russian, who is dressed impeccably, says, “I don’t worry about that; I just wear what I like.” The American responds, “But you have to be so conscious about what you wear, how you dress, every day…” The Russian repeats, “Yes, I know that’s what you’re talking about but I wear what I like.” (She doesn’t realizes her sense of style doesn’t come easy–that not everyone can get away with the slamming purple mini-skirt she’s wearing). The American is looking at her reflection in the window and comments on the dark circles under her eyes. The French model says in a beautifully heavy accent, “Can I give yoo sum advey-ce? It’s all about the pers-oh-nal-ity!” The train stops and my parents and I squeeze past the beautiful models and out the metro door. When I get home I quickly sketch out the scene from memory:
It’s 8am, we are taking the metro to the main station to catch an express train to Dijon. Two young men, obviously returning from a night of carousing, are still drunk and returning home on the train. Every time the metro slows down they say in French, “Slow down, slow down.” They are very cute. One of them keeps trying to catch my eye. He wants to talk to me so badly, even though we are a good 10 feet apart. All it would take is a little attention and I could probably hear this man’s life story. They reach their stop; I watch them exit the metro and my eyes linger a little too long. On the way out the man catches me looking at him and gives me a wave. I smile and toss a wave back…(yup, still got it).
On the train during rush hour returning from the Louvre. I’m far from my mother, pretending that I live in Paris and am catching the train home like everyone else. A chubby fellow in his twenties is sitting across from me. He produces a candy bar from his pocket and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like milk chocolate with marshmallows resting on top; two long sticks that can break apart into four pieces. The sticks are wrapped individually. The man catches me staring at his foreign candy bar and puts his hand out, gesturing for me to break off a piece. I’m embarrassed. I shake my head quickly and look away. The man stares at me while intently chewing on his snack. I realize that I’m really hungry and tired and what a nice gesture: being offered a piece of someone’s candy bar on the train.
Mon 21 Apr 2008
A break from talking about France…
Since becoming a full-on, professional (i.e. paid) company member at a local improv theater company I’ve been lucky enough to get a few gigs:
1) Was a Green Lake Power Walker for a local insurance company. Their marketing ploy is presenting various Northwest stereotypes (i.e. The Pea Patch People, The Compulsive Recycler, The Extra-Long Coffee Drink Orderer), and then saying ‘we’re a lot like you.’ For those of you in Seattle you’re all familiar with the women who cycle Green Lake with their strollers, bottled water, and smart conversation. They’re a perfect target for a marketing ploy. I arrived at Green Lake on the one nice day of the year: last Saturday. (I had to actually put on sunscreen). I wore a horrible visor with a Hawaiian print, a fanny pack, and black yoga capris. I was armed with a broom (in order to sweep up the pathway), promotional bottled water, and dog treats. I wore a white shirt with my stereotype on the front and was joined by two other improvisers. We walked Green Lake for FOUR hours, two and a half times around, when the lake was like Lollapalooza–wall to wall people trying to get out into the rare sunny day.
Now, no surprise: people don’t want to be bombarded by a marketing campaign while they’re trying to exercise. They are open to their dog getting a treat–which was the most successful tactic. The NW stereotype trading cards the insurance company gave us to pass out were not received well–but no matter, we found other ways to entertain: I made a big deal of running up ahead and sweeping up bits of debris from the walking trail. I led our group in a series of stretches on the grass. I approached a pony-tailed man having lunch with his kid and asked if he’d like a bottle of water. He was totally thrown, trying to figure out who I was and actually asked, “Where is it bottled?’ I said, “Gosh, I don’t know let’s look together…hmm, Cedar Rapids…does that work for you?” One of the improvisers I was working with snorted under her breath, “Where was it bottled…such a northwest response.”
2) Second gig was being an audience member for a local northwest talk show. We sat in the audience and cheered, asked the guests questions, and clapped politely on command. I have to say I enjoyed the experience immensely but the whole broadcasting thing was so cheesy, so painfully saccharine I wanted to barf. A mother gets on stage and tells how she took out loans to pay for her obese daughter’s 6,000 a month tuition at a glorified fat camp. “Obesity runs in my family and I didn’t want her to go through what I went through as a child,” the mother explained. I kept thinking, that’s fine but what about you? Couldn’t you have spent that $6,000 on a gym membership and then committed yourself and your daughter to a program together? Are you really throwing in the towel for yourself and sacrificing it for your 15 year old?
The second guest was far more interesting: the homeless tree house builder. You know, the guy who built a huge house in the trees under the Aurora bridge? The city, stuck with visions of the whole thing collapsing on a pedestrian and being sued, shut the man and his tree house down. The fellow was there with a few neighbors who find the whole thing quaint and not a problem at all. I had been prepped with the question: “Do you have a history of building? Construction? Foraging?” and during the comercial break pause they were rushing around. “Mara? Where’s Mara? OK, we like your question, you’re going to ask it when prompted…can we get the boom mike? Can you hover the boom mike?” My big moment! I asked the guys around me if I looked okay and if I should take off the natty red scarf I’d tied around my neck. (“Are you ready for this?” I asked the man sitting in front of me who would undoubtedly be in the shot).
Turns out I didn’t get a chance to ask my question. The homeless builder was far too compelling to be interrupted. He launched the interview by stating, “I get along with animals better then I do with people…animals only attack when prompted, people lash out in all sorts of ways…I built my tree house at the hands of God.” There was a ripple as everyone recognized: “Oh, this guys is CRAZY.” It would have been funny had the man not broken down and started crying half way through the interview. You could see the producer waving furiously at the interviewer trying to get him to move on–crying homeless men on talk shows are only good for a few seconds before it starts becoming uncomfortable. Even a segment on an Ambush Make Over couldn’t uplift the audience after that.
Despite the tragedy, it was a lovely experience. Turns out being in the studio audience is just as fun as I had expected…even if I didn’t get to ask my question.
Fri 18 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under TravelNo Comments
The typical French woman wore tight designer jeans tucked into knee boots, a beautiful trench coat tied at the waist, a large piece of beautiful material wrapped around their neck, and a cigarette dangling from their fingers. The typical French teenager wore tight, tapered, jeans, a small trench coat, slip-on sneakers, and smoked a cigarette. I limped behind a group of them on my way to the Picasso museum in my slightly flared American designer jeans, canvas trench coat with no belt, and a pink and white striped scarf. I wore a pair of navy blue New Balance classics, my hair was puffy from the climate, and I stubbornly applied make-up even though in the Rick Steve’s guide he claims one should “take a break from make-up while traveling.” The men were prone to wearing suits to work, ties, Italian shoes, the works–no Casual Friday here. It was incredibly sexy seeing all these men walking to and from work with their ties flapping, designer trench coats open to reveal a fabulous suit underneath. My policy on no-tapered jeans was dwindling. No one had boot cut jeans…no one. Everywhere you looked you saw stove pipe pants, skinny jeans, and slim cuts. As a person who is used to being slightly up on fashion, it was disarming to look noticeably out of style compared to everyone at the Metro station.
How do the French do it? Are people drawn in by the numerous stores with gorgeous shoes, hats, and scarves in the windows? Is fashion a value like brushing your teeth and paying taxes? While trying on clothes in a store I was baffled by what size I was. Tops were okay, I mean, you can tell pretty easily if a top might fit you. I was relieved that I seemed to be a medium in European sizing. But I knew I was setting myself up for failure when I decided to try on a bunch of tapered jeans. If I was lucky I found the British sizing on the tag and, damn, what a way to make a girl feel huge. I wasn’t quite a 14 but a 12 seemed a little funky. I never got ‘designer enough’ to see if my standard 30-32 sizing would translate but I doubt it would have. Obviously the British don’t feel like pandering to the American standard of sizing clothing really big (hence I’m mysteriously a size 8 now).
I suppose I don’t need to state the obvious: Paris does not have a weight problem. I’m sure other parts of France are dealing with the curious phenomenon of an increase in French obesity. I did not see any of this. It’s safe to say that their moderate levels of weight are maintained by a few things: the absence of constant soft drink guzzling, smaller portions, the commitment to a lunch hour, and the passion people have for food and drink. The French are committed to food. Businesses will give their employees meal vouchers worth five euro to be used at local cafes and restaurants. They don’t want to see their little shops give way to large chain stores so they put their money where their mouth is–literally. Little tiny Walgreen-like stores that sell a variety of food and canned goods might be popping up randomly but that doesn’t mean their publicly scorned by the Parisians. The idea is simple: buy what you need from the deli, produce stand, and bakery–all are readily available on any given street. I can’t tell you how excited I was by this concept. I’ve wanted to live this way consistently for YEARS. Depending on where you live in the city, sometimes you can keep this going…but often time you’re resigned to weekly trips to the grocery store to save gas. Slowly the frozen food starts piling up and it becomes more and more intimidating to make a pot of soup from scratch.
Tying in with this concept was a ridiculous segment on Oprah about challenging people to ‘do without.’ We’re talking about America’s really ugly, consuming, wasteful side exposed for all the world to see. Families were challenged to not eat out, not use any of their electronics (except for homework and one hour of tv a day), no shopping, etc. Of course they chose the biggest, greediest, wealthiest family they could find and paraded them around like the pariah’s they truly were. Here’s Mom dumping a full box of cereal in the garbage because ‘it had been open for a few days.’ Watch big sister curl her hair, listen to her i-pod, text friends on her cell and instant message on her computer while watching TV, (Hello, big electricity bill!). Witness a five-year-old go through withdrawals because he was coming down off of five hours of Guitar Hero a day (one for each year of his life). The show was almost too unbearable to watch. Not just because I was still coming from a sense of smug, I’ve-seen-how-the-other-side-of-the-world-works, but because I’ve been raised on a pretty minimalist lifestyle of leftovers and homemade spaghetti sauce. I know this is the latest in our Green culture splash: exploiting our wasteful American attitudes, (and hurray for Oprah for banning paper cups in her monstrous production company). I’m very aware that she used extremist tactics to get the attention of the slothful, but I had a hard time seeing the other side and found myself shouting at the TV.
I know that it is the fear of all conservatives that we’re gonna get all French and dislike War, boycott China, and drive tiny cars. However, I do think we could take a page from the French and support minimal buying, push for more food education and preparation, and maybe think about where our garbage goes when we toss it. Besides, we can spend the money we save on designer, French made, shoes, right?
Thu 17 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under Travel1 Comment
Let’s talk about Paris fashion and shopping. You all know that France–specifically Paris–is one of the fashion capitals of the world. (The cast of America’s Top Model went there for Cycle 1, remember?). I had no delusions that I would walk into a couture shop and purchase $1,000 jeans. I WANTED to, but the crushing impact of the dwindling dollar and the fact that I was going to France on a wing and a prayer kept me from spending my hard earned cash. Window after window of smartly dressed mannequins shouted out at me in their silky blouses and double lined slacks. High waisted jeans threatened to make a come back in every other store display. Silver and gold sneakers–specifically Converse–beckoned as the metallic craze continued in Europe.
Before I went I told everyone I wanted to buy one really nice piece of Paris fashion, “just something simple that I can take home and wear, something that when people ask I can smugly say, ‘oh this? I bought it in Paris…” I imagined myself in a sexy mohair sweater, something with an over-sized neck, draped in all the right ways, that I could wear in my freezing cold house in the winter while sipping tea. The problem with my fashion fantasy is I’m really bad at Math. 30 Euro seems like a great deal for a sweater, but I didn’t have the capacity to guess-timate how much that would really be in dollars, ($47.77 according to the currency calculater on 4/17/08). Because I’ve my Math-phobia I was certain that I would accidentally spend 100 bucks on something thinking it was, oh, 50.
The other challenge was fighting my money management side, the part of myself that switches to survive-on-the-bare-minimum mode. This mode is amazing: I can walk around from shop to shop, try on clothes for HOURS, and not buy a thing. I have this mantra in my head: Do you need it or want it? Would you really wear it? Does it have a hood? No? Well then that flunks the criteria for new coats. Does it have arch support? No? Well, then it flunks the new shoes test. I become SO practical that everything becomes virtually unpurchasable.
I bought two things. We were in Montmartre and had just walked past the cafe where the movie “Amelie” was shot when I saw these little black flats. I liked them, they were ‘only’ 20 euro and I didn’t know when and if we would ever slow down enough for me to do some real shopping. It was halfway through the trip and the entire time had been spent traipsing from one museum to another mixed in with the occasional boat tour. I felt like if I didn’t jump on it, I would leave Paris empty-handed and that would be more tragic then the money saved. Now, Montmartre is a little seedy…this is the neighborhood where famous painters went to die and the Moulin Rouge is still up and running. Up until then I had only seen fancy clothing stores with expensive prices neatly recorded on cards and placed at the mannequins’ feet. I was pretty excited when I saw the cost of these shoes and I dragged my parents into the store. The Asian lady running the joint spoke no English, only French, and my Dad helped me negotiate the purchase of these simple shoes. I didn’t like this lady. She was brisk, rude, and impatient. I walked around the store in the flats trying to figure out if I could deal with the fact that they were a little big. “Oui or non?” She shouted. I paused, “Oui.” She told my dad in French that they were really 25, she had marked them wrong because they were new. My dad laughed politely. None of us said anything. The lady gave up and sold me the damn shoes for 20 euro.
Later that day we were returning to the metro and my Dad almost threw me into a store that was having a sale. What I mean is that during all the craziness, all the chaos of navigating Paris rush hour, and the full day of walking my Dad still had his sale radar turned on. He graciously stopped and said, “it looks like this might be your sort of place,” or something like that and I ran with my arms outstretched into Etam. Paris doesn’t seem big on sales, which is why this was extra special. For a moment I wasn’t some English speaking tourist in Paris, I was one of the girls, one of the dozens of young shoppers eager to get my hands on this sale. Together we attacked a pile of Madrid-made sweaters on a table, frantically searched the racks for our sizes and stuffed ourselves into little dressing rooms to try on our wares. I was consumed with joy, pawing through pants, checking labels-wary of anything made in China. The styles were edgy enough to look Parisian, not like something I could find at the mall, and yet I was fighting with myself. Why should I buy a sweater? I could buy a sweater exactly like this in Seattle and pay less for it. Sure it’s made in Europe…but it’s a boring old sweater. Fine, I’m going to look at this gorgeous red jacket…oh no it’s in that horrible bulbous style that’s ‘in’ right now where the waist of the jacket is under your armpits and the sleeves are too short. Then I found it: a tiny little top made out of t-shirt material with a mock turtleneck and a long piece of fabric, like a scarf attached to the neck. The fabric was made up of geometric purple, white, and black circles…really unusual. I snatched it up, and I knew it was right when I thought: “I don’t care how much this is or if it’s on sale: I’m buying it anyway.” The top was a total of 12 euro, which translated to about 20 dollars. I was thrilled. The sales girl chattered at me in French and I smiled at her, beaming, as I plopped down my visa (3% charge impending).
Stay tuned…I’m not nearly done writing about French fashion.
Wed 16 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under Travel Comments
The D’Orsey is the gentle younger sibling of the Louvre. It houses the later works, the more impractical impressionists, the smooth easy-on-the-eyes Art Nouveau, and a single work of Gustav Klimpt (a practical flower painting versus the trademark voluptuous redheads I had hoped to see). There are reproductions done by Rodin of his own sculptures, black and white photography from the turn of the 20th century (an installation), and old pieces of marble building hanging from the ceiling.
For some reason I keep calling this museum the D’Orlee…I can not put D’Orsey in my brain and have it stick. However, I was so hell bent on seeing a Klimpt that I returned on my own two days after my own visit. I walked there, photo-copied map in hand, all by myself feeling very French. On the way there I spotted the most painfully obvious Americans: bright white sneakers, polar fleece (a material I never once saw in Europe), and big cameras hanging from their bulbous necks. They stumbled in front of the cannons guarding the military museum, their hands flapping around, their large English words shouting to each other. (“At least I don’t stand out like them,” I snottily thought to myself, a true Parisian).
I slipped past the lines and flashed my handy four day museum pass. I put my purse in a tray and handed it to the screener while I went through the metal detector. It started beeping and I embarrassingly dumped out several heavy 1 and 2 Euro coins from my pockets and into the tray. “Parlevous Francais?” the security asked, he had been speaking to me but must have realized I wasn’t listening to him accurately. I shook my head, ‘no,’ and inside I thought, “He thinks I speak French!”
When I had gone with my parents, my mother and I had gone straight to the fifth floor, (sans Dad of course) looking at the most recent work. We saw a few weird jungle paintings from the turn of the century mixed with Pointillism , a series of dots creating an image. I stuck my nose as close to the painting as I dared, staring at the little points that made up a circus performer riding a pony around a ring. I carefully aimed my camera, and crap! The flash went off! I received a horrible look from a fellow museum patron who had one of those audio tours stuck to her ear like a leach. I apologized and disappeared into the dark rooms that housed the pastels–which are quick to fade and always sheltered in dim light.
Impressionism was gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I cheered when I saw Degas’ “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years;” Look at her real little hair ribbon, the gentle tufts of her real tutu, and the casual way she stands in a lax fourth position. I devoured Degas, especially his dance sculptures, the famous paintings of ballerinas at rehearsal, and his self portrait oddly facing away from the viewer. You could tell, you could really tell that he had been sitting and observing dancers. Missing was the cheesy, bad, posed ballerinas one sees over and over in everything from poster art to graphic design. I can’t tell you how much I despise the terrible dancer tableau of a girl in a tutu balanced precariously on a turned in foot while her back leg is bent in an anatomically impossible position. Instead Degas sculpted the image of a dancer checking the back of her foot–something you see all the time in dance class–repeatedly. And he got it right! Again and again…
Monet paints flowers, and women with parasols, and people having picnics. I thought he would be a little edgier but must have confused him with the radical Manet. This man painted a naked woman hanging out at a picnic with a bunch of clothed men (“The Luncheon on the Grass“). Instead of getting all gushy and painting voluptious goddesses, Manet painted a prostitute lounging in bed with a ribbon tied around her neck (“Olympia”). Dang! Even in the present day this painting is a bit shocking.
Van Gogh’s, going-crazy-portrait he painted while in an asylum was so simple and yet so fantastic: Sadly, unlike many of his fellow painters who were huge womanizers and drunks, Van Gogh was simply crazy. He famously cut off part of his ear, was epically depressed, and shot himself in the chest at age 37 (although he didn’t realize he was fatally wounded and went back home where he died in bed two days later). If you look real closely at this painting of “Starry Night Over The Rhone” you can see each and every paint stroke:
Outside the D’Orsey I write in my journal: “I miss Josh terribly as I watch all the young couples embrace. A bunch of French teenagers lounge outside The Orly on the steps. One of them crack jokes into an enormous bullhorn. You can hear him burping from a mile away. I’m concerned he is insulting me in French when I walk by. It’s nice to know that bodily functions are funny in any foreign country.”
Sun 13 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under Travel Comments
I love museums. I remember as a child walking through a museum in Detroit where they had all these old timey automobiles, buses, and then a real dining car from a train. My little brother and I sat inside and pretended we were on the train and ordered made up food. I bought a t-shirt in the gift shop of a woman in the early 1900’s riding a bicycle–big skirt and all, (I wore it well into my teens). Anyway, this was the first museum that really made a big impression on me: museums were fun! They could have real cars indoors and no one cared! Now, whenever we’re in a new place I always hunt out the museums. From the obscure little museum preserving Port Townsend history in an old house to the beautiful Seattle Art Museum–which is free on the first Thursday of every month.
It was with great excitement that I purchased a four day museum pass for 45 euro in the ticket office of Napoleon’s Tomb. Later we hiked to the D’Orsay (more on that later) but the real challenge was the mother load of ALL museums, the very epic, extremely special: The Louvre . This museum is incredible: it houses the Mona Lisa, the Venus Di Milo, AND the crown jewels. It took 800 years to build, receives 8,300,000 visitors a year, and is 555,000 square feet (roughly). Believe me, I was READY to conquer this museum. With my New Balance Classics, camera with the flash turned off, and layered clothing we entered the Louvre with trepidation. Immediately my Dad went off to wander on his own, leaving my Mom and I in agreement that we would navigate the map as a team. We decided to tackle The Greats first–while we were fresh.
Because it was April there were tons of tours–mostly filled with kids who were on their spring break. (Sadly, you could tell who the American tours were by the substantial girth of the teenage students). We waded through a sea of tour groups from all over the world, and it was in this environment that my Mom and I fought our way to see the Mona Lisa. Like a rock concert set in the Italian Renaissance, Mona was blocked off by a friendly fence and encased behind layers of glass. She was small, only 30 × 21 in, and discreetly guarded. The hysteria surrounding her was incredible, it was like attending a punk concert in 1995-without the mosh pit. People elbowed their way through the mob, aimed their cameras, and flashed her repeatedly (an act that occurred over and over again in the Louvre which shocked me; perhaps security has bigger fish to fry then people stupidly using their flashes?). I barely took the time to digest the fact that I was seeing THE Mona Lisa before I was swept away and in another room.
When visiting the Venus Di Milo, I was a little more aggressive. Irritatingly, a tour group of elementary students were lining up and posing in front of the legendary statue. A mass of about 40 nine-year-olds smiled and said cheese while the rest of us stood on our tip-toes. When the class finally disbanded we surged on the Venus Di Milo with our cameras, a throng of celebrity statue seekers. I loved the Venus Do Milo, she was super hot. I did not love the crowds and Mom and I slipped away and explored the Medieval paintings, the Italian Renaissance, and even found the crown jewels.
We took a lunch break somewhere and headed back in (we ordered cappuccinos and received Americanos with whip cream on top). Around and around we went, until my feet cramped and my eyes stopped bugging out of my head. My father only lasted an hour and a half in the Louvre before throwing in the towel, returning to Rue Cler, and subsequently going to the laundromat. You have to understand that the Louvre almost becomes a lifestyle: Everything is so big, so beautiful, so magical! Every ceiling is decadent with statues coming out of the walls and gold paint everywhere. There are statues that existed before Christ, before plumbing, before the plague wiped people out. Sure, the descriptions are all in French but a lot of times, it didn’t matter, you simply admired and moved on:
At some point we had to leave…we knew we had to. Unless we wanted to put down a sleeping bag and camp out there was no stopping the Louvre. (I’ve heard it would take four months to look at every single piece of art in this mega museum). I limped behind my mother as we headed to the Metro. Our train never came…we hobbled six block to another station. “Can’t we just walk the remainder of the way?” Mom asked. She had brought better shoes then I, she must have, otherwise I wouldn’t have sprung the extra euro to get us on another train. Sure, it only went a few blocks but I was deliriously happy to be able to put my feet up.
I think this was the night my dad bought food from the nearby outdoor market and made a one pot meal in the apartment’s tiny kitchen. We drank wine and snacked on a baguette and fresh cheese while we waited for everything to cook. After dinner we went to our local bakery and my mother picked out the closest thing to pecan pie she could find. It was adorable.
Fri 11 Apr 2008
Posted by MS under TravelNo Comments
The driver of the van should have driven down the cobble stone alleyway and dropped me in front of #17 (not to be confused with #17bis). Instead he dropped me off at the edge of the alley, blocking a large truck, inciting angry honking and scooters to jump up on the curb and go around. I hastily gave the man 29 euro–which was dumb because the shuttle company had my visa and was going to charge me. I suppose I reverted to my CO days when I used to take the shuttle back from the airport and then pay upon arrival. I had no idea.
What I did know is that I lost my yellow piece of paper. You see, my parents had called the morning of my flight to Paris and my father had given me detailed instructions: “The apartment is located in the alley, do not go to #17bis–we did that and it took forever to figure it out–and when you locate the door you have enter this secret code (are you writing this down? Here’s the code…). Pull on the door when you hear the buzzer and then walk up the winding staircase three flights. We should hear you and get the door, but if we don’t, the apartment has three locks on it. All of this is on the itinerary I gave you. There is no apartment number so just remember: three locks, three flights.” I scribbled all of this down on a small piece of yellow paper and packed it…where? I didn’t know…I fumbled in my overstuffed backpack, I checked my money belt, I rechecked my backpack, I searched and searched. I was in the entryway of the alley, my suitcase propped up on the cobblestone, feeling more and more frantic. I was so close but so far away! I tried to call the apartment from my cell phone but I got a recorded message in French and the call didn’t go through–shit! (I dialed as if I was still in the states, it’s an American phone, right? Shouldn’t I dial as if I’m from the states?) Finally, I found an itinerary with the apartment information on it. I hauled my suitcase over the cobblestones and looked at the numbers on the alleyway doors. I picked one and dialed the code…crap, it didn’t work. Oh, wait this is #17bis…I need #17. The door buzzed…I was ecstatic!
My parents had coffee, a baguette, and chocolate croissants waiting for me. The apartment was small, painted bright white, and decorated entirely in Ikea. I plopped down on a vaguely familiar Ikea chair and chowed while telling my parents about my flight, Flavia the chihuahua, and my adventures in the airport shuttle. I was surprisingly coherent so we hit the streets. Mom and Dad showed me the little bakery where they’d been getting food for lunch:
My stream of consciousness started to slow down as the enormity of my travels began. I started thinking (and writing) in short little bursts: We bought narrow sandwiches that they flattened on a grill (my Mom called them “smooshed sandwiches”). The French don’t provide plastic bags for goods–people are expected to bring their own or carry their groceries in their hands. People don’t take their coffee in paper cups, instead they pause to sip their espresso out of tiny ceramic cups on the patio with a cigarette. They charge you more if you sit down in a restaurant–I think the extra goes to the server so you don’t have to worry about a tip. Everyone wears scarves, boots or fashion sneakers. The Eiffel tower is massive and beautiful and just as impressive as you would think. The walk signals are different: a little red man or a little walking green man instead. I am reminded of New York as the lights change and the people surge onto the streets, a hungry mass of industry and haste. And this is only the first day!
That afternoon, I found myself lying on my parent’s bed in the apartment with a very genuine thought: I’m just going to rest my eyelids. I knew that I must push through, but I was desperate. I forced myself awake in one hour. We went out to dinner and the server patiently listened to my father’s French–he tried to slip in a few English words, but honored the fact that my Dad was making an attempt. I wasn’t hungry at all–a side effect from the jet lag I assume–but I ordered a salad decorated with vegetables and hummus. We picked out a single decadent pastry on the way home and split it three ways. Sleep came swiftly as I relished the feeling of lying down on my Ikea fold-out couch.
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