Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tourista, Book VII: Finale!

Our legs were on fire from hiking the steps at Montmartre but we had to squeeze in another famous Parisian spot: the Moulin Rouge. On this day, we decided to skip the Metro and just marvel at this great City on foot; the Boulevard de Clichy wasn't that far away. Before we saw the well known red windmill we spotted a long line of folks waiting for the cabaret inside. Apparently, the show is far less risque than in years past (dating back to the 1880s), especially at the turn of the century when saucy burlesque was the mainstay. The can-can style of dance is still performed, if with a bit less fishnet flaunting. We wanted to stay for a show but there were more sites to visit.

On the way to Moulin Rouge, I saw a sign that would certainly raise the eyebrows of an American.Ordering lunch in Paris can be tricky!

The final day, we managed to see the retail paradise known as the Champs-Élysées, looking quite a bit more modern than I would've imagined. Many of the storefronts looked like places I've seen across the U.S. I'm sure longtime vistors would explain how Americanized the long row of shopping has become. I remember my 9th grade French teacher telling us her madras blouse and funky purse had been purchased in a shop there. I also remember one of my smartass classmmates repeatedly calling it the "Champs (hard C-h) Ulysses".

That kid also tried to butcher the pronunication of the Arc de Triomphe, which stands west of the Champs-Élysées. This monument, completed around 1835, is a mammoth structure which celebrates the solidiers of the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. The names of many who served are etched inside the concave pillars of the Arc, with sculptures depicting battles of the Wars viisble on the outer rims. I took some pictures but the light was not with us, unfortunately.

I did manage to get a usuable shot of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands west of the great Louvre Musuem. Its sculptures depict the wartime victories of Napoleon.
Speaking of the Louvre....I'm speechless. More comprehensive or eye-filling a place I've yet to witness. The Palais du Louvre, originally a fortress built in the 12th century, houses the over 650,000 thousand square foot space. Here's a slice.The Musuem opened in the eighteenth century amidst some disorganization. Later, into the next century, collections and building wings were now arranged chronologically. It would take me several entries to detail what I saw that day in September of 2010, though the fact that we were only able to spend a few hours there (not nearly enough by a mile) would not provide sufficient data anyway.

The initially controversial glass pyramid, completed in the late 1980s, stands over an entrance to the Cour Napoleon, the main court. Some felt the more modern structure was a blight on the landscape, an insult to the structures which had stood through periods of the Restoration, the Third Republic, and so on.

Close to 35,000 items are housed in the Louvre, many dating from prehistory. I was endlessly fascinated as I examined primitive tools, cookware, furniture, and weaponry. Not just the intracacies (yet apparent functionality) of design, but that these artifacts survived untold climates over the centuries, including the metereological sort. It seemed impossible to stare at an item so ancient, one that had not yet turned to dust, like so many others had that were built so long afterward.

We of course had a mission to see the most famous painting of all, the Mona Lisa: Leonardo Da Vinci's 16th century portrait of an ordinary Italian woman named Lisa del Giocondo. I saw the crowd as I entered the room in which it was housed. It (canvas and frame) was much smaller than what I was expecting and is encased behind thick panes of bulletproof glass in response to multiple attempts at theft (including a successful one in 1911; the painting was missing for 2 years), and vandals over the years.

We also marveled at the famous Greek statue, the Venus de Milo, from several angles.We wandered the halls of the Louvre, often overwhelmed as to what to observe, what to study, what to pass by. I cannot say enough about this most essential of museums. If you create "bucket lists" this surely must be in the Top 5.

We flew back to the U.S.A. with a suitcase filled with goodies purchased in France and Spain. This would be my first experience with customs, and it was not at all bad. The agent spread cans and packages across a backroom table in the Charlotte, NC airport with a meticulous eye. My wife is a thorough packer and itemizer, ensuring we had no difficulties (or confiscations).

Since this, my first trip ever overseas, I've already formulated a return not just to Paris, but to many stops in Europe. Sorry it has taken me nearly a year to complete these entries! I look forward to writing many more in the years to come.

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