Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Last Day

Ah, finally, we all say...our last day in Paris.

About half the group went to Normandy, mostly to visit the D-Day memorials and museum--but I didn't go, so one of those folks needs to blog and post some pictures of northern France...

Many other folks used to the day to explore various other museums, shop, wander.  Me, I spent 6 hours writing the $%**!@#@#@ play [play, you say.  What is that?  Well, just come to Turkey with us next year, and you'll find out...], had leftover pastry for lunch, then went downstairs to the hotel desk to beg them to print one copy--which took a couple tries, with the distressed ink cartridge.  Then the manager pointed, and Sherrie led me, to the only nearby xerox machine in the adjacent shopping center, where the incredulous clerk banged and prodded on the machine to churn out 30 copies, and wondered about American travelers.  A steal at only 29 euros.  I managed to go next door while Sherrie and the clerk supervised, and had a pint of milk at a grocery store.

[This was relatively easy--in Fiji, we only had to wander around the main village asking for a printer for about 20 minutes, until we found a nice cybershop with a Hindi lady manager who asked no questions; easy, though I had spent the last night in Fiji typing, instead of laying on the beach watching the Southern stars.  In Athens, where everyone knew a cousin who knew someone who knew something about printers and copiers, it took two hours, before a hotel business center took pity on us...and I think I went through 2 laptop batteries, typing and bouncing in the back of the bus.  Paris, alone in my 6th floor hotel room, was easy, if not exactly nutritious.]

After the printing adventure, Sherrie and I called all the rooms to see if anyone else needed to go along with us to dinner--the most challenging part of the trip, I think.  The whole group, scattered across Paris, was to meet at 8:15pm, at the Pantheon, near by a British pub to go to dinner, using the Metro from wherever they were.  It seemed unlikely, but it happened! [and I tried to get a beer and cider for Ann in the pub while we waited for the last straggler, but it was 5 deep at the bar, with perhaps British lads half focused on getting to the bar, half on the blaring rugby games on the tellie...I did not succeed in getting to that bar.]

One last dinner together, with plenty of wine,  
a street singer, some blurry dancing,
and then back to the hotel for the grand production of the play.  Outside again, as in Lisbon, but farther away from the street.  Perhaps someone else has a picture or two.  Dead cameras, here.
But here's the Epilogue from The Tempest, Or, Very Bad Trip III:

                            Gilligan’s Epilogue:

If we travelers have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but drunken-slumber'd here
While these twisted visions did appear.
Excuse this weak and idle theme,
That had less plot than any dream,
For since I am an honest mutt,
A natural blond, hair softer than duck-butt--
Now to 'scape the critic's ire,
We’ll make amends and to home retire;
Else dear Bob a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Gilligan shall make amends.

[cicada, and out…]
                                        France 2011


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Dinner in Paris

Before the Louvre, everyone had scattered to search for lunch, in the southern district near our hotel.  David, Willy and I popped into a Lebanese restaurant, and had a great meal, though I guess my camera was on one of its dead zones, and so no picture.  Willy confidently announced to the group later that this was the best Lebanese restaurant he'd ever been to in Paris.  (They brought olives and the thin fried bread while we waited for food, were glad to get me a Kir Royal, and were even nice about bringing carafes of water!)

After the Louvre, the whole group was scattered throughout the city, some still at the Louvre, others at the Impressionist Museum, others shopping, or wandering the streets.  Sherrie, Willy, Kim and I got back to our hotel (a long way south on the Metro).  We went in search of dinner, and found a lot of places closing.  I couldn't wait, and bought a couple pastries from a bakery run by a nice Chinese couple.  The wrapping itself was worth a photo...
and one of the pastries was my main lunch for the traumatic 'morrow.  Dinner itself was various pizza, pasta, whatever, but Kim finally got to try snails, on her last free dinner in Paris.
They were swell.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Louvre, 2

Still in the Louvre, our small group went in search of the Vermeer that Kim wanted to see, but alas, it was in the 3rd wing away.  We saw quite a bit in passing, including the Medieval foundations of the Louvre, much more Greek art, including these small-scale carvings of Hercules...
another centaur,
a really extensive collection of Egyptian art, like this amazing blue stone, which is only about 9 inches tall...
though we were tired of crowds and cranky and searching for bathrooms by then and Dutch art and so Egypt, well, I've been there.  We motored right through several rooms full of amazing collections, which were probably stolen by Napoleon.   And we found
another centaur, another iconic painting, just sort of stuck in a room full of stuff, La Mort de Marat,
which I recognized mostly from the Peter Weiss play, The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, which I've taught once upon a time.

But we pressed on, ignored monumental art on all sides, and got Kim to her goal:
After, we made our way out of the Louvre, stopping to gaze up throught the pyramid, no Tom Hanks in sight,
found me some coffee at Starbucks, a souvenir statue for Willy, got a bit lost searching for the right Metro stop, and so, lost, took photos outside,
and with the help of folks I stopped with some very proper French, who turned out to be British, found the Metro station...

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The Louvre, Part I

We left Tours, drove the 3 hours to Paris, stowed our luggage in a couple rooms, since ours weren't as a whole ready to check in, and then split in several groups, depending on who would be going to Normandy Saturday morning, and who could see museums then.  I went with a group straight to the Louvre, via Metro, of course--the only way to travel in Paris.  We got our tickets in a shop in the underground, Metro-connected mall--miles, I'd guess, of various stories and cafes heading to the Louvre.  I noticed a store for our friendly perfume makers, from Eze--
and eyed a Starbucks for later in the day.

The Louvre itself, the building, is quite grand, though as Liz told us, never intended to be a museum. 
It started as "a dark fortress" in the 12th century, had a few kings live there, and only in 'recent' times became a museum--which means it isn't set up to display paintings, or to move easily between the 3 major wings.  Still, it has so many iconic works of art there.  Such as this, in a stairway...
and this 14th Century Madonna, which I recognized from a passage in my ESOL text--
Willy took this to show the scale of various paintings.  "The Wedding," I think.
But all this is leading to the most celebrated work, well, you know this one...
Notice, as much as anything, the hordes of people, all here to snap a photo.  It is an odd thing.  Somehow the photo creates our reality, more than the direct experience--but Lee, our traveling art expert, is going to blog about that...

Leaving the Mona Lisa, our small group wandered toward the other "must see" things.  Along the way, one of the many, many centaur-inspired pieces of art (I decided "centaur" was the secret theme of the day).
And this bit of marble, I believe from the Parthenon, though Keats' "Elgin Marble" would have been in London (other pillagers).
And let's get out of this blog with one more nice little artwork...

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chateau d'Amboise

After Chenonceau, we visited the sprawling Chateau d'Amboise (map).  This, of course in France, is another place with a long and twisted history.  Our guide talked about inhabitants back to Gallo-Roman times, but more about the Chateau itself.  It's in a strategic place between provinces, on the river, and has been the barrier or the site of many bitter struggles.
Let's see--what stood out--that the Chateau was confiscated from a rebel, who kept his head, but lost his property to the Crown; that Charles VIII secretly married his true love Anna there in 1491, avoiding some more politic, less appealing arrangement--curiously, in the year before the world changed in scale and center. 

It's a place complete with gargoyles...
vaulted ceilings,
and suits of armor (Sam posed by one, and well, would have needed 4 sizes larger)...
I found a house between the Chateau and the river that I'd be happy to vacation in...

Some rooms were still furnished, and we got an exhaustive (-ting) account of every rug and chair from our local guide, who much needs to watch Love Among the Ruins.  But nice touches, with some flowers there in a royal chamber.
It helps to imagine what luxury might have been here in richer days.

We got a glimpse of what once would have been extensive grounds and gardens.  Our wiki-guru tells us that, "Amboise was the site where a garden laid out somewhat in the Italian manner was first seen in France: the site of the origin of the French formal garden," and that "King Francis I was raised at Amboise, which belonged to his mother, Louise of Savoy, and during the first few years of his reign the château reached the pinnacle of its glory. As a guest of the King, Leonardo da Vinci came to Château Amboise in December 1515 and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, connected to the château by an underground passage."  And that may have been the most exciting thing here, the chapel...
where Leonardo is now supposedly buried.
They aren't sure they moved the right bones, from somewhere nearby in the courtyard, but perhaps this is as close as we will come.  Sadly, we had no time to go visit the nearby house where Leonardo lived out his last days...

Maybe one more trip to France.  I didn't get anywhere close to the Lascaux cave paintings this trip either.

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The Chateau de Chenonceau

After our first night in Tours, we explored the Loire Valley the next day (Thursday, May 26).  We made two major stops, the first at the Chateau de Chenonceau.  The Chateau itself is spectacular, but we have to do just a little history to get the feel for why this is so impressive.  I abandon my scattered notes, and just give you this first bit from Wikipedia :
The original second edition[clarification needed] manor was torched in 1411 to punish owner Jean Marques for an act of sedition. He rebuilt a castle and fortified mill on the site in the 1430s. Subsequently, his indebted heir Pierre Marques sold the castle to Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France in 1513. Bohier destroyed the existing castle and built an entirely new residence between 1515 and 1521; the work was sometimes overseen by his wife Katherine Briçonnet, who delighted in hosting French nobility, including King Francis I on two occasions.
   Eventually, the château was seized from Bohier's son by King Francis I of France for unpaid debts to the Crown; after Francis' death in 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who became fervently attached to the château along the river. She would have the arched bridge constructed, joining the château to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.
   Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle, but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. However, after King Henry II died in 1559, his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de' Medici had Diane expelled. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright, but forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont. Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.
There is a rather long walk from the bus parking lot and the outer gates to the Chateau itself.  We strolled past all sorts of imported trees, many of them several stories high, others growing with the twisted limbs you'd expect in Fangorn Forest from Lord of the Rings--but not gloomy, and no wandering Ents. 

And there was a old style "vegetable garden," which we didn't have time for--it looked like a combination of flowers, herbs, and maybe some vegetables.  Some plant person needs to write about that...[Ah, I forgot to mention--even from the parking lot, the breeze coming past us was full of flowers--roses, mostly, and many others blended in.] But then we got to the Chateau itself, this odd structure sprawling right across the river.


It's hard to get a full view of this from any one angle.  Here's Charity in one view:

The history of the chateau is marked throughout, with the emblems of various kings and ladies.  The salamander emblem of Francis I hung over the main doorway,


while tiles inside existed for decoration, and to commemorate.  I just liked the rabbit.  Someone else has photos of the interlocked initials of, I think, Catherine and Henry.

The Chateau (hmm...why do I always mistype chataue?  over and over again...  I even had French in high school, and know that 'eau' = long o combo) is still furnished.  The bedrooms are striking--

One was the black mourning room of one of the Queens, though without flash, I didn't get any good photo there.

Outside, we had enough time to visit the formal gardens, first of Diane, the King's mistress...


then, on the other side, of Catherine...


One more view of the Chateau:

My favorite part, of course, was the remaining 11th C tower in front.  I'll claim that as my tower.

Two of my favorite poets, Yeats and Robinson Jeffers, each lived in towers--in Ireland and Big Sur, CA.  Someday, with that burst of wealth, from lottery or Hollywood script, I'll build my own tower here in midMissouri, about halfway between the other two....

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Tonight, avoided studying my GIS, and went to see Midnight in Paris at Ragtag Cinema.  Exactly what I needed to see, two weeks after our return.
I recognized most of the iconic buildings in the opening montage, remembered bridges we had crossed, a stroll along the Seine, the halls of Versailles, the Louvre pyramid.  All that.  Very nice. (see the official trailer)

And, the pleasure of recognizing those iconic artists and writers who have been part of the magic of Paris.  Ah, you all should have taken my 'Hemingway's Paris' class.  A moveable feast, indeed.

I didn't even hate Owen Wilson, as I usually do, and even the sometimes harsh Rotten Tomato audiences gave Midnight in Paris a 92%.

But I need to leave Columbia.

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Lunch in Saint-Emilion

Still on our way to Tours, driving through miles of vineyards...
we stopped for lunch in the small and ancient village of Saint-Emilion--there are some bits of the prehistoric here, lots of the Romans, but a focal time in the 8th Century, when the wandering monk, Emilion, came to live here in a cave, and gradually drew followers.  I didn't like the statue they had in front of the town, so no picture of that.  Just a curious wall, which I guess needed no comment...
The village itself winds around the hills, as do the narrow streets.  Beside the church, we could look down on the rest of the town, and the central square where most of us would have lunch.
I wandered off a bit, looking for just a glass of wine before lunch.  I was directed into a fairly dark establishment, where I tried the "cheap" house wine, only 9 euros a glass.  It was just fine.  More notable was the house wine menu, some 20 glossy pages:
You might notice some of those per bottle prices over on the right, like that one for 1650 euros.  It went up.  A few pages later, I found the 1961 Lafite Rothschild for 4850 euros a bottle.  Well, I knew then it was time to go back to the sunny tables where the everyone else had ordered food.

Ah, I should mention how serious wine is here, in the heart of the Bordeaux region.  Saint-Emilion itself has a centuries old wine guild, which jealously protects its wine and their traditions.  No Wal-Mart wine in town...

But lunch.  Someone ordered snails, and was it Charity who had the smoked-duck strip pizza?
While Ann posed, shyly, with her omelet.

As lunch was ending, one of the waiters came over and dropped a card for me, directing me to a place around the corner to taste wine.  I guess my 9 euro glass at least signaled an interest.  We were running late, but about 10 of us went to find the "cave" = cellar, tasting room.  It was worth the stroll.


A generous selection, and a few bottles for friends and family...

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