Eiffel Tower

Friday, February 25, 2005

After a walking day of sightseeing, we’re resting in our hotel room, our feet and legs throbbing. Dinner is in an hour if we can’t convince GWEC to postpone it. We’re exhausted. The jetlag battered Doolies and me at different times during the day. By the end, neither of us had much left. We napped after I wrote this morning, leaving the hotel around 9am. Our first stop was the dreary Notre Dame cathedral. Its only redeeming feature was its dark architecture and musty smells.

Sleep smacked us upside the chin after I typed the first paragraph. Will telephoned at ten to six, twenty minutes after we were supposed to meet in the hotel lobby for dinner. We went to the quaint dinner place that didn’t have a table for us yesterday. We called for a reservation, but it was unnecessary, as we arrived early with plenty of open seats. GWEC enjoyed the food, while Doolies and I thought it simple and salty. The owner cooked and waited all seven tables in the small restaurant, with only the help of a young woman, who arrived after we finished our first course. The food tasted of the French countryside, with simple ingredients and an easy cooking style. The restaurant catered to the many Americans who visited the restaurant; most arriving after “discovering” it in Mr. Steven’s guide. If I were Rick, I’d demand a bigger cut of the business he sends to these small places.

I’m writing this late. I have many notes from the day, but I’m tired and I’m not sure I’ll get through them all. We finished a wine nightcap at the fancy bar Room 126, also known as Erik and Gloria’s hotel room. It seems Doolies and I received the small stick. Except for the double-high ceilings, our room is tiny compared to GWEC’s rooms. From what they tell us, however, it’s a nice change from the hotels they stayed when they visited London and Amsterdam. I don’t think I mentioned this, but we’re catching them on the tail end of their European vacation. With Doolies having five days off from work and me having had enough of traveling to London while living in Houston, we decided to skip the beginning of their tour and meet them in Paris.

After leaving Notre Dame, we spent the next couple of hours wandering the cold streets, looking for a few neighborhoods. The weather was warmer than yesterday, but when outside for too long, the cold seeped into us. At Doolies’s urgings, I bought a reasonably priced black coat to replace my ratty green one. I’m happy with the purchase, except that the zipper is on the wrong side. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to zipper when reversed.

One of the neighborhoods we went to was the Jewish quarter; the part we visited consisted of two blocks with kosher delicatessens, Middle Eastern food, butchers, kosher pizzerias, and a few Jewish art stores. A class of young children sang loud French and Hebrew songs from inside the pizzeria.

We next visited the Jewish museum of art. The museum, which was also difficult to find, was a few blocks outside the Jewish quarter. They built it from two converted mansions. The museum was empty, containing more attendants than visitors. There was good reason for that. It was a dark, dreary museum, following the history of the persecuted Jews in France and parts of Europe. There were not enough French exhibits, and they imported many items from other parts of Europe. The items on display included tarnished silver Torah covers and menorahs, and faded cloth, mostly Torah covers and old clothing. They wrote most of the descriptions in French, and except for the free (well, relatively free when you consider the entrance to the museum and “special exhibit” was twelve euro per person) audio machine, there was little to understand, particularly in the special exhibit, which followed the Jews as they fought in Europe during World War I. This included a floor dedicated to the German Jews with great irony considering what happened in the next world war.

I left the museum with an uneasy feeling. The museum portrayed the Jewish religion as ancient and dreary, and most of all a persecuted people. While there has been much bad history in Judaism, there is much more that we should celebrate besides our survival of persecution. I’ve found this disheartening theme repeated in many Jewish museums I’ve visited.

I heard that the Parisians are hard workers but I now have my doubts. As an example, many of the people we purchased tickets from always seemed to be talking on the phone. We stood there waiting for them to acknowledge us, and when they did, usually with a quick hold on or the French equivalent, they looked to us as if our interruptions were insulting. This was before we they even knew we were American. Doolies tried to charm them were her attempts at French; the ones that spoke English switched quickly to English (which insulted Doolies since she wanted to show them how well she spoke French); although, she did rather well with the ones who did not speak English, which either says something about Doolies’s French or their patience.

After leaving the Jewish quarter, we walked over to the Pompidou, a delightfully modern art museum. The architecture is brilliant, with many pipes and gates surrounding the main building. The exhibits were fun and decidedly modern. I’ve grown to enjoy modern art. I heard an explanation of it that I loved: Paul was viewing art with Vivian (I made up the names—ain’t I clever?). They staring at one of those scribble pieces; I’m sure something similar to Cy Twombly’s work. Paul says, “My seven year old son could draw that.” Vivian, an avid art lover, says, “But he didn’t.” That’s the beauty of modern art. Sure, after seeing the art piece, a seven year old might be able to copy it. But the idea to create art in that fashion is what makes art of any type special.

I’m a subway person. I adore local transit, having traveled often on the New York subway, Washington D.C. metro, and London underground. The first day we arrived, we walked to all our destinations. After finishing at the Pompidou (unfortunately, we left before seeing most of the exhibits because of jetlag-induced exhaustion), we decided to brave the Paris metro service. While I’m embarrassed to admit it, the first station we went down into intimated us, and we skulked back to the surface to find our bearings. After walking to Notre Dame, we remembered how long it took us to walk there in the morning, and decided to brave another metro station. This time we were successful. Doolies struck up a conversation with a Frenchman who was looking through the map, and once he told us where we were on the map, we (okay, Doolies) figured out quickly where we wanted to go. Once you understand the starting and ending points (which is not easy because of the language and the Parisians’ deliberate obfuscation), the colored and numbered routes are easy to follow. We used our Metro knowledge to impress GWEC later. They thought we (viz., Doolies) were quite worldly.

Before heading for drinks in Room 126, we made our pilgrimage to the Eiffel tower. Doolies had her misgivings on the flight over, her family telling her about terrorists’ plots to destroy the tower, but we decided it’s wrong to visit Paris with visiting its most famous landmark. I’m not a height person. It turns out Erik is not one either. After traveling to the top on the ancient elevators, we climbed the final stairs that led to the outside top portion of the tower. At first, Erik and I hugged the walls, afraid to step toward the rickety balcony. It’s not that we were technically afraid, it was more because we’re both educated men that understand the physics and engineering principals that hold up the tower, and know that, having been built in the 1800’s, it’s not the safest of structures. We did eventually brave the fence to peek heroically over the side. We took many pictures of the tower and us and the tower. Hopefully a few of them came out.

I’m exhausted, and I’m sorry for the laundry list of accomplishments. I hoped to share some insights, but my mind and fingers are barely working, and this is the best I can do. Until tomorrow.