Paris in December

Wow.  So many people out this Christmas season.  The tourists have certainly picked up. I met several Americans while in various lines.  Here in Paris from our Embassy in Niger to meet Sacramento parents, from Canada to California, New York.  They are all here.

But I had my quiet time at the Musee d’Orsay.  As a member of the museum and holder of the Carte Blanche, I can go in at 9.  The public enters at 9:30.  And what an experience that is.  To walk in and behold, it is empty.   Oh, occasionally I see a docent/guard, but usually not.  In fact, I scared two of them once who walked in to find me alone in a room of china.  I guess that was not a popular destination for the early hours visitors.  I waved my carte blanche and they smiled.

Immediately I went to the Van Gogh room to see all my old favorites.  Starry Night was there in its usual place.  Sometimes it goes traveling.  Earlier this year it moved across to the special exhibit area for an interesting Under the Star expo theme.  Other times it goes far away.  Once to Russia this year.  I recall years ago I went to London and the National Portrait Gallery to see Richard the Third.  He was GONE!  I found out he was on tour to Washington DC.  I learned to always call ahead if I plan a trip for a certain painting…

There were some Van Gogh that seemed new to me.  But the d’Orsay owns so many paintings it can do that – just walk through the attic and pick this one or that one.  Wouldn’t that be a spectacular tour?  Les Greniers d’Orsay.

Notre Dame has had long lines again.  But I went to an evening of Gregorian Chants there and it was wonderful. First, though the line was long to get in, in fact the church was not totally full.  It can accommodate so many people.  And unlike the concert at St Germain des Pres, this concert was awesome.  The acoustics amazing.  There were maybe 9 singers total and several musicians playing instruments from the time period including a bagpipe.  At one point four of the singers walked up the center aisle.  Only one man was singing and his voice filled the entire cathedral.  Goose bumps.

Speaking of lines… that will be a culture shock for me next week.  (OMG NEXT WEEK!)  The British are excellent at queuing.  The Americans too.  We stand in line pretty politely.  The French – not so much.  And I must admit that on the Metro, I am as French as you can get, slithering past people – turn your shoulders to slide between if you must – to get to the coveted seat in a crowded car.

On Sunday December 31 the town was a zoo.  I needed more duct tape (Scotch American) so I headed off to Leroy Merlin again.  It’s open on Sunday!  And apparently it is ALWAYS open on Sunday.  Sounds like any of our home improvement stores.  They realized people need hardware stuff on the weekends.

But all the boulangeries were open and open late!  Usually those that open on Sunday close by 2.  Nope.  7 on NYE.

And other small stores were open.  I discovered Flying Tiger, a Danish store much like the Dutch Hema.  Ah but it’s so sad.  Even if I wanted to, I can’t buy anything – duty or weight holds me back.  It’s a good thing.  I don’t need anything more at this point.

Today, Monday New Year’s Day may be the opposite of yesterday.  I think everyone is staying home recovering.  Besides, it’s raining.  I have more packing to do.  (Just realized I didn’t put my Tile tracker in the suitcase that will be shipped so I have to find a way to open it.  Did I say I repacked it yesterday?  Much better arranged and it looks thinner too which helps meet the required dimensions and saves me additional charges.  I am starting to pack all the things on the shelves…  this is a dreary task.  I try to visualize opening it in Sacramento.  Of course, I then try to ignore the time in between at the airport, changing flights, etc.

Miscellaneous

The title is in honor of the French woman next to me on the bus who saw me reading English and asked if I was British or American and could I help her with a definition – the word was miscellaneous…

I walk down the sidewalk thinking and suddenly I have to push Andy Rooney back into a box in a recess of my mind.  My blog makes me think in Andy Rooney speak sometimes… did ya ever….

It’s a tense time right now.  Nope, not terrorists.  My last days in France.  I find I am consciously trying to avoid any catastrophes….  I have slipped and fallen twice and am being so careful to not a third time.  But other catastrophes rear up in my mind.  As I was leaving the apartment today and holding my keys in my hand, I had this image of the keys slipping out of my hand as I was pulling the door shut, falling inside the apartment while the momentum closed the door and thereby locking myself out of my apartment.  I must have a special little man in my brain (see previous blogs for explanations re the little men… and the French and American/English librarians…) whose only job is to be fearful.  With an active imagination!  Fortunately, he is usually back in a nice room with ice cream and he rarely comes out to worry me.

I am also discovering a relaxation of a tension that I wasn’t very aware of.  It’s the “get out of speaking French free card!”  And I thought I loved this experience.  I DO love this experience.  But my brain is apparently looking forward to a few months of just one language.  HA!  Little does it realize – I still have TV 5 – the French channel on Xfinity and I have 3 French novels I want to finish.  There will still be French spoken!  And I might join Alliance Francaise again too.

I have a birthday upon me.  The reality is that I am actually older than the day would suggest – meaning that when you reach your first birthday, you are actually starting your second year of life.  It’s funny because centuries are done the same way – we are now in the 21st century.  I don’t like this.  Makes me feel old.

It has been cold here still.  Yesterday in the Metro, I saw my breath.  Yikes.  That just isn’t right.  Well, not on the platform itself, but down the corridor to get there.  Brrrr

I was sick with a bad cold over NYE so my plans to spend it with a friend evaporated.  Instead I sat on the couch hacking and coughing but I did stay up for midnight.  This year Paris had a light show projected on the Arc de Triomphe followed by fireworks.  It was televised so I enjoyed.  Then I suddenly remembered how the airplanes flew over my apartment on the 14th of July for the Parade down the Champs Elysees.  And I rushed to my window and yup!  I could see the fireworks!  It was sooooo cool.

My cold is almost gone.  I am meeting all my friends for the final conversations for this visit.  And in the midst of that, I am trying to get to sites I have not seen and pack.

I hate packing.

Terrorists… Parades And Fireworks

 

Hard to combat terrorism when it’s done by lone wolves.  IMG_4291Oh wait, giving wolves a bad name.  Lone crazy idiotic evil fools.

I heard the news about Nice when I got back to my apartment last night (very early this morning as the fireworks show was not over until 11:40pm).  Overnight (my night – your afternoon and evening) I got many Face Book and texts from friends.  Well-meaning and I do appreciate it!  But a bit geographically challenged for France – Nice is on the Mediterranean about 600 miles south of me.  It’s horrendous.  Callous.  Evil.  Death toll keeps rising as hospital patients don’t pull through.  Now it’s at 84.

Last year after the Nov 11 attacks, France declared a state of emergency.  It’s been renewed every 3 months since then.  And was just going to go away.  No surprise and actually a reassurance, it’s been renewed again.  That means continued bag and sometimes body checks and the continued presence of police and army on the streets.  Someone told me that their Kalashnikovs (or whatever their assault rifles are) are not loaded.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  And even though the officer may sometimes hold the gun a bit too high so it might point at my thigh not the ground, I would prefer to think they are loaded.  No one here complains about the body pat downs.  And yes, they have two lines – women officers and men.  Although last night getting into the Eiffel Tower area, the line was longer for the women and several of the women all decided that there were enough cute male police that they might change lines.  But no.  That would have caused a commotion and commotions are to be avoided in the security areas.IMG_4239

Same security at the Military Parade going from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde.  This year I watched it from home on TV except for a quick trip out to get photos of the aerial parade.

But no watching fireworks on TV!

2016-07-14 23.37.47The fireworks display was as fabulous as last year.  And I was in almost the same spot.  There was no security at all last year.  Just walked around and picked a spot.  This year we were 4 days after the final of the Euro 2016 football.  And for that entire competition, the Champs de Mars (green space between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militarie) was enclosed in fencing, with specific entry points and three levels of security screenings.  They left all the fences up and had two security screenings.  And in addition, the streets around the Champs de Mars were all closed to traffic.  (No trucks able to drive through like in Nice.) 2016-07-14 23.30.09Last year a friend went about 1 in the afternoon and staked out a spot in the middle of the lawn and had a great view.  This year the space was not opened until 4 pm.  So we wined and dined in her apartment (2 blocks away) and then went over at 9:45pm – fireworks start at 11pm.  We finally found our spot – over by the side again because the entire grassy (but now bark chippy) space was packed!  And then stood for an hour til the show began.

Awesome.  It’s so much fun to go see fireworks with people who love them as much as I do.  One friend had a 6 year old grin the entire show!

But there was a blip.  Well, a couple.  As we waited, some idiot had fire crackers which he would set off – just one big bang at a time but several of them!  And of course, we all flinched.  With all the police and army about, no security personnel were close enough to figure out who it was and stop him.

And then about 20 minutes in, the crowd in front of us suddenly turned and started to push back.  We were standing bunched together, with space on either side – not because there were established lines to stay within – no, it was dictated by the view.  10 feet to the right or left and the trees blocked the Eiffel Tower.  And there wasn’t a lot of space in-between anyone.  Suddenly the people in front were turning and trying to move in our direction.

Yikes.

My friends turned and jogged back.  I stepped on a back pack and picked it up – thinking it belonged to one of my friends.  Then I stepped back a few steps but by that point the push back had stopped.  Everyone stood for a moment, trying to figure out what happened and if there was any reason to leave.  The guy next to me told his girlfriend, Avance.  Go forward.  So I joined them and ended up with a little bit better view.  My friends had moved much farther back so I figured I was alone for the rest of the night.  Five minutes later, two of them joined me.  The other two stayed back.

2016-07-14 23.40.00No one knows what sparked the moment of panic.  Not sure why I stopped to get the pack – maybe for my friends but also to get it out of the way for people tripping on it.  And in an instant your brain has to say stay or run.  This time I chose correctly.  I don’t need any more practice in such decision-making.  Thank you very much, Universe.

I ended up dropping the bag – someone would be looking for it later.

After was the long walk home.  I learned last year that taking a metro near the Eiffel was not possible – closed or long lines.  So I walked across the river to the Champs Elysees metros.  So much trash all over!  Wine bottles, water bottles, beer bottles.  Amazingly, it was all cleaned up by the morning.   Cleaning crews must have started working by 2 am.  And I walked.  And walked.  And walked.  Down Ave. Montaigne with the tres chic stores – Chanel, Valentino, etc.  And still some idiot was setting off the explosive firecrackers with the BIG BANGs.  Everyone still flinched.

Then I got home and found texts from family and friends – was I ok?  I hate those texts.  That’s how I found out about the November 13 attacks.  Switched on the BBC news to hear all about Nice.  And I can’t help but think those folks were out to enjoy the fireworks just like I was.

IMG_4281Today as I was coming back home, I saw a French flag hanging out a window.  Unheard of 2 years ago.  It came out some after Charlie Hebdo, and it was everywhere after November 11.  I love the Bleu Blanc et Rouge but I’d rather see it for other reasons.

So why France?  Someone sent me an article about France being a breeding ground for terrorists.  I actually think that is Belgium.  They pick on France.  Do they see us as any easy target?  Easier than Germany?  I don’t know.  But I can’t see myself leaving anytime soon.

On the Eve of the 14th of July

Last year I posted this explanation of the 14th of July that I found on a French friend’s blog: “Today is the ‘Bastille day’ …but do you know that in fact it’s maybe not the Bastille Day, the 14 of July 1789 that we celebrate in France. Maybe it’s the ‘fête de la federation.’ ”

There was another event on the 14th of July 1790 celebrating the unity of the people. French law does not indicate which is being celebrated as far as I have been told. It’s formally called Le Quatorze juillet. No one here calls it Bastille Day. Mais c’est fantastique!

So twelve months later and  it’s still not Bastille Day.  French friends are amused to hear that we call it that in the US. Then they shrug their shoulders in the quintessential Gaelic shrug and say, But why not?

My plans have changed several times – all based on the weather.  And now, maybe influenced by security.  It was supposed to be a beautiful high of 71 day and evening.  Now the chance of rain has moved in, with the time of the rain sliding up and down the hours of the day.  At this moment, there should be no rain at 11pm, time of the show.

The show… doesn’t do it justice.  Just the most awesome fireworks show I have ever seen.  Here’s a link to a video of 90 seconds from 2015.  And realize this went on for 35 minutes!  BBC Paris Fireworks 2015

But it’s not all that simple this year.  An American friend invited several to join her on the Champs de Mars – the field in front of or behind (depends on your location) the Eiffel Tower. I loved the idea – she was willing to hang out from 3 pm to hold the spot for the rest of us.  And when I arrived last year about 7 or 8, there was no place left on the grass!  But if it rains, it won’t be pleasant sitting on the wet grass.  And maybe not even grass!  This is where Paris established a Fan Zone for the EURO 2016.  And they covered the grassy area with bark – perhaps more accurately, large wood chips!  The last game was Sunday night.  I wonder if they have removed the chips or decided to leave it for the fireworks.  And also, what about the security?  The Champs de Mars was totally fenced in for the Euro 2016.  It would be simpler to leave that up in order to check bags, etc.  But I don’t know.  I did see an article that listed where there would be security checkpoints. Not at all sure how this will play out.  Last July no one was thinking about checking bags – it was before the fateful Train Incident and the November 13 attacks.  Still, the government is finally going to let the state of emergency lapse. I wonder when the stores and shopping centers and museums will all stop checking bags.  If ever.

Another important aspect of the 14th of July – most things are closed (and I have been surprised that some stores are going to be open for part of the day!).  About 6:30 this evening I suddenly panicked – BREAD!  So I rushed downstairs to get to the corner bakery.  And laughed to see that almost everyone I passed in the street was carrying a loaf or two of bread!  I bought two – going to freeze one.  And it’s also coming up to that dreaded month of August when Paris closes.   No surprise – a note in the bakery: “Closed from July 30 until August 31.  Desole.”   No, they are not “desole” or sorry.  They are looking forward to vacation!

On a side note, the roof work is complete and they are finally taking down the scaffolding on the roof and the scaffolding in the courtyard that goes from the ground to the roof.  It will be nice not to see scaffolding or workers when I look out my kitchen window.

More about what did happen tomorrow when tomorrow becomes yesterday.

And on another note, look for a travel blog in the next few days – I have been out visiting chateaux!