All the Classic French Stuff

Centre Pompidou, Hotel de Ville, Notre Dame, L’Arc De Triomphe and La Tour Eiffel all in one day, like a one-stop tourist shop. All that and we didn’t even get up until noon after all the excitement the night before.

Sadly I didn’t get a chance to make it inside Centre Pompidou, being so late in the day. Still, it was definitely something to see if even from the outside only. The exterior was designed so that the guts of the building were all on display, something akin to “Inside-Out Boy” (remember, the cartoon kid on nickelodeon, maybe 20 years ago). Scaffolding, escalators, metal framework are permanently exposed on the outside. Truth be told, while its certainly interesting and a bold architectural statement for the center of Paris, I can’t really say its very attractive. While the building itself isn’t all that pleasing to the eye the surroundings are pretty cool. I especially liked these porthole looking structures that surrounded a concrete, gently sloping, plaza and a little wading pool filled with colorful, grotesque and odd animal-like sculptures.

Le Centre Pompidou is hosting a Herge, the guy who penned Tin Tin, exhibit that I really want to see. The rocket is a piece being shown inside.

Zaritchka in front of these great porthole-looking things that made the whole plaza in front of the Pompidou seem like the deck of a ship.

We grabbed a gelato at this super pretentious and overpriced Italian gelato place right outside Pompidou. The guys serving behind the counter were making these amazing flower looking designs with the gelato in the cones for everyone … but not for us, probably because “nous sommes Americains”. Man, I hate that bullshit; “I didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on me!” Anyway, we carried our gelato and walked past the Hotel de Ville area near Pompidou. The Hotel de Ville is a hotel built by one of the later Louis’ and looks something like a grand city hall. The city had setup some sort of winter wonderland; ice skating, warm beverages and a little sledding hill. It was cute to watch the little French kiddies running around with their little sleds.

Z eating her gelato in front of a bunch of truly creepy statues; it reminded me of those freaky toys in that kids room in Toy Story.

Hotel de Ville.

Children sledding on a mock hill setup right outside the Hotel de Ville. It’s so weird to see something so beautiful and historic not cordoned off but rather integrated right into the city life.

Z and me have to take our own pictures. They turn out all right after the 10th attempt, you can even see a little of Hotel de Ville in the background there.

The next destination was Notre Dame, which we had seen the night before, but only briefly while on a desperate search for a bathroom. It was late afternoon and the sun was already pretty low on the horizon when we reached it, throwing majestic shadows off the cathedral and lighting its façade a deep orange. I wonder if they built it in that direction on purpose, probably not. It must have something to do with some religious crap about which way god faces or something; what do they call that, feng shui? Sadly it was hard to capture on camera.

That me on a bridge on the Seine, with Notre-Dame visible as the tallest structure in the background. Notre-Dame is located on an Island that splits the Seine in the center of the city. That island made up the original Paris settlement.

Notre-Dame from the side.

The entire westward face of the building was adorned with intricate sculptures of important saints, Jesus, Mary and all those dudes. Plus there were many little how to stay out of hell storyboards sculpted into the walls and arches too. Demons and cretins on the lower parts of the walls lead a series of increasingly more holy things on the way up to the pinnacle. There were also lots of little depictions of various sins to avoid such as enjoying life. The best sculpture though was of someone who was decapitated and right below him was the guy who did it, ax in hand!

That’s the decapitated dude, and the fellow I think did it right below him.

One of the entrances to the cathedral.

Walking into Notre Dame is a little like walking onto the set of Lord of the Rings. The ceiling is something like 30 stories high (may even reach heaven) and light streams in through the stained glass windows, painting the walls in eerie deep colors. The smell of incense is pervasive (almost nauseating) but fills the air with a haze adding to the mysterious effect. Honestly, I couldn’t help but feel struck. Being in a place like that really fills you with awe and wonder, even living in a completely desensitizing society of special effects and Fox News. I can only image the impact something like it would have on people of a different age. In conclusion, Notre Dame puts the fear of God in you.

I’m telling you, Lord of the Rings man. Think the battle in the underground dwarves palace place, with all the orcs and the giant things. When the Hobbits drop the book into the well.

While we were walking around, there was a mass in session. Can you believe people actually go to Notre-Dame for mass. I feel like such a stunned little tourist.

A little prayer alcove in the back.

A view across the whole cathedral of the “Rose window” from behind the altar.

A truly frightening statue. I think its Christ being buried in his tomb. The figure behind the coffin is Death, with a skull face and hooded robe.

A cross on the way out.

The last must see tourist hot spots left on our agenda were L’Arc de Triomphe and Le Tour Eiffel. We walked the Seine for a bit then jumped on the Metro at Chatlet (one of the busiest Metro stations in Paris) and rode to the Champs Elysees to walk up to the Arc. It was here I realized my battery was dying. So the pictures from here on are weak, rushed attempts to generate some evidence that I had actually visited the sites. I haven’t much to add to the likely universal awareness of the oh-so-famous monuments, but here are a few quick observations.

Crossing the Seine again on our way to Chatlet.

Crossing the Seine again on our way to Chatlet.

First of all, the Champs Elysees is deeply disappointing. Man, of all the people I thought would withstand the homogenization of global culture and stand as a bastion of culture, it was the French right? Non! The Champs is an outdoor mall, plain and simple. Yeah, there are a few restaurants and cafes that provide it some character, but they’re totally obscured by the Toyota and Nike stores. Even the Louis Vuitton store was like the Nike store, but of course just filled with ugly bags not ugly sneakers. I mean honestly, I really love Paris, but this famously beautiful historic street doesn’t even hold its own against Short Hills mall in Jersey.

Now the Arc, well that was pretty cool. It’s not even that its some particularly stunning or beautiful monument (although it is), its more the history I felt like I was standing on. I mean Napoleon marched his victorious armies through there, as of course did Hitler, a little humbling to stand at such a spot. Le Tour Eiffel was pretty much awesome too. It didn’t really defy expectations or anything; rather it looked just as promised from countless cultural cameos. Still, it’s really a damn colossal mass of metal shooting into the sky. They do a great job of lighting it orange, with strobe lights going off all over the tower every hour making it sparkle like fireworks. We made the horrible mistake of going to the top though. Crammed in between obnoxious Greek, Russian and Chinese tourists, all pushing and shoving to get on the next elevator while on their cell phones (one Russian girl arguing with her boyfriend about sleeping around) was a little too much for me to handle. I think by the time we reached the top, Zaritchka and I were ready to start another world war. My advice, don’t go to the top. If you are dying to spend precious euro while there, stop at the first deck a third of the way up.

Me at L’ Arc de Triomphe.

Me at Le Tour Eiffel.

After so much of Paris tourism, we ended our night with some of Z’s friends here in Paris watching the Super Bowl at a restaurant/bar/strip club called the American Dream Café. Apparently the French have a complete misconception about the American dream and are in the dark when it comes to buffalo wings. The place was a very poor knockoff of a Ruby Tuesdays or something. Sadly, the stripping was modestly reserved for the second floor and football on the first floor and in a basement theater with a movie screen sized picture. Actually, that was pretty close to the American dream, football on a movie theater screen. We stayed until the end of the 3rd quarter, at which point most of us were sick to our stomachs from what we had seen. How could the Bears drop the ball like that (literally and figuratively)? Especially after that kickoff return touchdown? It was 4am by the time we got back to the room and the Bears had pathetically disappointed the city of Chicago and a few expats in Paris.

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