Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Isabel's Paris, part I

On Wednesday, May 18, our first full day in Paris, we gathered ourselves up, trudged down the hill of Montmartre, and met our local guide, Isabel, for a whirlwind tour of the city and its complex history.  We climbed on the bus, nicely parked in a lane of traffic across from the Moulin Rouge, and began.  Some highlights--which could only be traced with a great street map, not a linear timeline of French history: 
  • there the cafe where the can-can, the then-scandalous dance, was created
  • there across the street where the character Amelie worked in the movie, though not no longer with a tobacco license
  • we learned about the bike system in Paris--city-wide access to bikes, at numerous racks, for 29 euro a year (hmm--wish my keyboard had a euro sign, instead of just a $.  It's a new world, here in the old world.)  Anyone subscribing can check out a bike with a card, and the first half hour is free.  [Does anyone recall when Walt's Bike Shop in Columbia tried a version of this?  Totally free bikes around the city that anyone could use.  But they never reached the critical mass of bikes to offset theft.  Maybe time to try the Paris system...]
  • building after building showing examples of Haussmann's architecture, both the distinct style, and the design of buildings with businesses at street level, nice apartments one floor up (in the days before elevators and loud street noise), smaller apartments going up, until the servants' quarters with those dormer windows at the top.  And balconies, so often now full of bright flowers.
  • past the Opera House, where the Phantom of the Opera is set.  Isabel tells us there really are streams below it, but didn't say we could visit (though there is a tour of the city sewers, if one had brought appropriate duck-hunter boots.  Alas, I did not pack those.)
  • And here, we circle round in front of the Ritz Hotel and another series of huge Vuitton ads.  This one of the hotels where Hemingway is mentioned in the creation of the Bloody Mary:  that he complained to the hotel bartender that his wife could always smell the alcohol on his breath, and the bartender responded with the familiar tomato juice and vodka concoction.  It worked.  Hemingway--'that bloody Mary didn't notice a thing."
  • We zoomed past a small marker on the side of a building where Joan of Arc was killed?  buried?  Not even time for a bus-window photo op.  On we zoomed.
  • Past another courtyard where cavalry soldiers would perform for Napolean, and somehow that gave us the word, 'carousel.'
  • And we zoomed along, past many sites associated with King Louis IX, also later known at St. Louis (which wikipedia asserts is why we so named our city in Missouri), who had purchased the Crown of Thorns and bits of the True Cross from a crusader, and who left a bit of land for poor students on the Left Bank, and so gave us the word 'college' (though I missed just how this happened).
  • Past the island in the river Seine where the city of Paris originated, Isabel telling us of Celts who worshipped Isis (though this seems unlikely to me), then of the Roman outpost and governor's palace on the same site, and places where we might glimpse, under current buildings, bits of Roman structures still in place...
Ok, this blog is long enough.  To part 2 of Isabel in a moment.

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