Allow me to pause here and say a few words about the monumental difference between me and all the tourists in Paris. I've already touched on the fact that we did not set out each day with the aim of going to a tourist destination, but rather of going to work, like regular residents of Paris. In addition, after only 2-5 days of clinging to Jen like a scared child while traversing about the city, I felt more than comfortable navigating the Metro system, shouldering past all the tourists standing around with their maps, and occasionally displaying a disgusted sneer or disdainful sideways glance. Furthermore, I went running in the city a few times, like a real Paris resident, loping along confidently on streets that began to feel as familiar to me as my own neighborhood, overshooting the turns on my selected route only about 75% of the time. Finally, and most importantly, I wasn't one of those tourists (even saying the word is distasteful to me) going around speaking English and expecting the French to speak it back to me. In fact, I didn't speak at all, letting Jen handle all communication with her ability to ask questions and order things in French. You will note that I used the word "monumental" at the beginning of this paragraph, and that term was not chosen randomly. As the French clearly erect public works of art for almost anything, it is only fitting that a new sculpture be commissioned to honor my non-tourist, good will-heralding visit to Paris. I just can't be expected to deliver an acceptance speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
|Being very helpful to Jen by not getting in the|
way of the picture
The sculptures we were viewing surprised me with their level of detail. For example, the sculpture pictured below is in honor of a man who worked to essentially improve the standard of living of mentally disturbed individuals, who until that point were locked away like criminals. A passerby would just see a statue with several figures on it, and may even know the name of the individual being honored, but upon closer inspection would find that the figure is holding a chain and leather strap (now broken), and has a hammer and other implements at his feet that would have been used to break and remove the restraints. The sculpture is much more thought-provoking once you become aware of these details, which aren't really hidden, but aren't obvious either.
To offer another example, below is a picture of the primary work Jen is studying (you can get an idea of the scale from the picture). The details you might miss on this one aren't necessarily symbolic elements, like on the sculpture above, but rather very fine craftsmanship that you don't see unless you get up close.
Here is another, closer picture that shows the detail of the hair, the dress, and the eyes on one of these massive figures, all creating a rather life-like effect that only becomes apparent when viewed at close range.
After staring at these figures for awhile you almost expect them to blink or shift their gaze to look directly at you all of a sudden. I must admit, I developed a bit of a sculpture-crush on the gal pictured above, although she's about 10 feet tall, so it would be a poor match.
It seems to me that sculptors must have had a lot of fun (and perhaps still do) making these highly detailed works, knowing full well that many people may never see the detail. Or perhaps people in times past did notice the detail, and today we're just too busy trying to get to work or home from work on time. I say all this having had the benefit of going around with Jen, when there may be things in Columbus that I've passed every day and never noticed, although I'm pretty sure there's not a gigantic bronze lion anywhere on Neil Avenue.
Speaking of getting to places on time, let me just pause here and say that the people driving in Paris seem to be in a tremendous hurry. Using the powers of estimation, I would say that the average car or motorcycle driving the streets of Paris is traveling at around 75 miles per hour. This may seem excessive to you at first, especially when considering that the streets in Paris are barely wide enough for one car, are basically a cobweb of 100-meter long alleys, and there are thousands of people biking on the streets along with the cars. But there is a good explanation for the pace of traffic: frustration. We all know that people drive faster when angered, and driving in Paris must be infuriating. There is nowhere to go if you get stuck, and we witnessed one traffic jam caused by a trash collection truck going down the street, pausing every few seconds to collect trash. The drivers behind the truck just had to wait it out. Not surprisingly, there is nowhere to park either (the cars are small, but parallel parking in Paris must require ninja-like skill). The motorcyclists get to avoid this to some extent by simply parking on the sidewalks, and in fact, they frequently take advantage of the sidewalk when heading out on their bikes by getting a sort-of "running start" and driving down the sidewalk for a bit before launching out into traffic. The drivers in Paris would probably serve themselves well by slowing down a bit and, you know, looking at the detail on a sculpture or something as they drive past.
You can see in the photo of Chopin's grave above that the inscription across the top says "Fred Chopin," which is amusing, and makes me wonder whether or not I would have had an easier time playing Chopin's stuff if I had thought of him as my good friend Fred. However, this shortening of Chopin's name raises another, much more serious issue for me, and that is the issue of the well-known musical Les Miserables, jokingly referenced in the title of this post. Unlike the common shortening of Frederic to Fred, I have never understood why people continually refer to Les Miserables as "Les Mis." It doesn't make any sense!!! It's like calling the impoverished "the povs," or something absurd like that. Hearing people talk about how they're going to see "Les Mis" very nearly drives me to madness. Do the people who do this know Les Miserables on a casual basis? Do they grab lunch occasionally with Les Miserables? No? THEN DON'T CALL IT BY A NICKNAME.
Moving on, not all of our time in Paris was spent outside. We visited both the d'Orsay and the Louvre to see the many fine works of art that are housed inside those two museums. In the Louvre you can find things like...
Lions hungry for horseflesh,
Marble sculptures by the great Michelangelo,
And lions making off with babies.
Indeed, while there are a vast array of works that leave little doubt as to why they "made the cut" to get into the Louvre, there are others that leave you wondering whether or not someone slipped a fiver to the bouncer to unhook the velvet rope and look the other way for a minute.
Speaking of bouncers, let me pause here and say that getting into France is surprisingly easy. After landing at Charles de Gaulle, I was expecting a rather extensive process of checking luggage, answering questions, and verifying documents, or at least for someone to give me a good hard look to see if I had a trustworthy face. But none of this happened. Instead, the process was as follows: get off plane, walk up to "security checkpoint" and hand over passport, wonder if security guy is going to look at you before stamping your passport, receive stamped passport back without even a glance, proceed into France. Jen and I were amused that the security to get into some of the museums and other sites seemed more thorough than the security to get into the country.
Then again, maybe the French only do the rigorous security checks on people who are there as tourists.
|"C'mon in!" (Marble), Louvre|
This sculpture was commissioned in the late 1600's and is representative of the standard French border security check