July 30: Last and Highest Day in France

It's our last day in France! We have some very important things to do. Our first objective is to pack everything up, and make sure everything we've bought while in France for a month will fit into our suitcases. One thing about traveling around in the van the whole time that is simultaneously a benefit and problem is that we accumulated a lot of extraneous bags. As long as we were still able to stuff everything into our vehicle, we just merrily accumulated. So we have a lot of stuff that we didn't start out with, for example: a Tour de France umbrella, multiple Tour de France road signs, an iron bell from the Pyrenees, etc. Since this promises to take a bazillion years, we decide to go straight to the top of the Eiffel Tower and sit there until the world ended, thereby circumventing the necessity of packing. Brilliant!

Ostensibly, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower on our last day in France because the time the kids went with Dan the top level was closed, so they wanted to go back and go all the way up. I'm aware, however, that the real reason was that they hadn't had the opportunity to subject poor, shaking, quivering me to one last final staggering height, the final of many staggering heights. I survived it. There's a lot of wire mesh around the very top, so you don't feel like you are going to fall over the side like you do in some of the less reasonable locations in France.

After the Eiffel Tower, we fargled around trying to get on the right RET or Metro or whatever, and ended up at the Louvre. Our intention was not to go inside at all, but rather to walk around the outside and look at it, and just imagine it as a palace as it was during the 17th century. Here's Benny outside the Richelieu Wing:

The major excitement happened when a team of security people began to materialize around the ledge of this fountain. As it turned out, someone had left their completely nondescript grey handbag sitting there, and it was a potential bomb. We had a lovely time dipping our toes in this beautifully ice cold fountain, watching people wander over and get swept out by the security guys (after they first asked, "Is this your bag?"

Some Louvre pictures:

After we had perused the amazing underground entrance/mall/food court under the Louvre, in all its completely modern and unadorned straight edges, glass, steel, and tile, and after we had eaten a late lunch and bought me a new water bottle to replace the one I'd left three weeks ago at Chateau Chambord, we moved on to the Tuileries Gardens, where the children rode rides and we used a pay toilet that was just a trailer someone appeared to be constantly and industriously cleaning.

At this point, the boys went home on the train, and Sadie and I decided to "wander." We set off from the Louvre and I told her she could pick our directions at every corner. This was excellent fun and landed us in many little shops and down many side streets. We ended up in a magically wonderful children's clothing shop, where we bought the clothes we had been seeking all week, including a gorgeous brown trench coat and lots of other clothes including this silk and linen dress:

At the end of the day, we took one last long stroll down to Pont d'Alma, and stood in Joyce's favorite spot, and watched the river run. And saw this:

I'm not sad to leave France -- we have been here long enough that I feel satisfied. I will miss it, but I miss home too. We are definitely changed since we arrived one month ago -- we're stronger as a family, more confident as individuals, and have seen many interesting things that have enriched our lives. It was tough, strange, fascinating, and wonderful. We are very lucky to have been able to come.


a little bit of french

I knew some french, but after our trip to France, I learned a lot of new words! Here are some french words I know:
  • Garçon=boy/waiter(garSON)
  • Fille=girl/daughter(FEE)
  • Glace=Ice-cream/Ice(GLAS)
  • Sortie=Exit(SORtee)
  • Entreé=Enter(ontRAY
  • chien=dog(SHYEN)
  • chat=cat(SHA)
  • homme=man(UM)
  • femme=woman/wife(FAM)
  • salon=lounge(SALon)
  • á=to(A)
  • et=and(Ey)
  • moi=me(MWA)
  • un=1(UN)
  • deux=2(DOO)
  • trois=3(TWA)
  • quatre=4(CKATR)
  • cinq=5(SANK)
  • six=6(SIS)
  • sept=7(SET)
  • huit=8(HWEET)
  • neuf=9(NEF)
  • dix=10(DIS)

July 29: Sacre Coeur, Pere Lachaise, and a Dinner Tour on the Seine

Every day in Paris should start out with a violin practice on the balcony:

We set out today with a brutally ambitious schedule. And we brutally accomplished everything. After hunting down the only dinner cruise on the Seine that would allow us to wear casual clothing, we had no idea where that was going to take us, but it was in that direction we were headed, via Montmarte and a revisit to Notre Dame.

First we took the Montmarte funicula (fun to say, claustrophobic to ride):

We got up to the top of the hill and visited Sacre Coeur. This is a beautiful, amazing basilica:

One thing I loved about Sacre Coeur was that they were militant about making people hush inside the church, and take off their hats. Though we had been in a bazillion cathedrals and chapels throughout France, this was the first time the children were moved to light a candle and pray at one of the altars.

We did a bit of shopping in Montmarte and then jumped on the Metro to Pere Lachaise cimitiere. This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip:

The children were not at all amused or interested by Pere Lachaise cemetery. They were pretty much dragging the entire time we were there. However, we inspired them with the promise that we'd revisit the sparrows of Notre Dame before our dinner cruise, and they pressed on.

Pere Lachaise is hilly and strange, and walking along its weird and winding paths I really finally *got* the whole idea of the Parisian cemetery. It really is like a little city of the dead, and they have their houses, and their neighbors, and where you "live" after you're dead is important, you're going to live there forever. I mean, it's not exactly how I feel about my mortal remains, but I do understand it better, having been to this cemetery. It was very beautiful, and you could really tell a difference in character between certain parts of it and other parts -- some more fancy, some more homey, some more gloomy, some more formal, etc. Like neighborhoods in a town.

Here are some pictures I took:

Chopin's grave:

Robertson, grandfather of special effects:

Yes, we found Jim Morrison's grave. It was sort of nondescript and uninteresting, compared to many others. For example, Colette's grave is covered in cat food. This one I found super weird:

This is a place where Dan and I could have probably strolled around for a day, but we had promised the children a date with the sparrows, so...

Then it was time for our dinner cruise. We really had no idea what to expect, but the experience was actually very nice. We each had our own little table and all of the chairs faced outward toward the glass sides of the boat:

Inside was nice:

But they liked outside and upstairs better:

We went home. I finished my novel. I finished it in the dining room of the Paris apartment, with my husband writing a work email in the next room, and my children sleeping in the room beyond that. Not surrounded by the ghosts of Proust and Joyce and Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Colette. Which, in retrospect, was the whole thing. Doing it that hokey "following in the footsteps" way would have been antithetical to the novel itself. So, great. The novel is done. And I only cried a little bit.


July 28: The Catacombs, The Luxembourg Gardens, and a Change of Plan

This is what I posted on Facebook this morning as a plan for the day: Today we're going to the catacombs of Paris (unsuitable for young children! perfect!) and then Dan's coming home to bike while we play at Luxemburg Gardens. I'm coming home with the kids to meet Dan; they're going to see a movie in French while I go stand on Pont d'Alma where Joyce often stood to watch the river run, and then I'm going to sit in les Deux Magots and finish my novel.

Yes, when I woke up this morning, I was full of spunk and vigor, because I was charging down the finish line on the novel, and determined to finish it in some spectacular way, with fireworks, angel choirs, and a pantheon of Parisian writers looking kindly down on me from the rafters of one of their favorite haunts. This did not happen. I think that was for a good reason.

We wanted to get an early start for the Catacombs because we knew there was going to be a horrifying line. As it turned out, there was a horrifying line anyway. However, it was extremely important that we go to the catacombs, because that's just the kind of people we are, to prioritize seeing miles of bone piles over seeing the Mona Lisa. Did I mention we are skipping the Mona Lisa? Well, we are. But we are not skipping the catacombs.

We took the Metro down to Montparnasse and wandered through the cimitiere there on the way. We saw this incredibly creepy sight. This is the grave of Charles Pigeon, who apparently wanted to be remembered as someone who was just about to get out of bed:

I found this one super creepy too:

Here's a view from the grave of Camille Saint Saens, who we looked up in order to pay our respects:

Lots of people had left mementos and notes, or ticket stubs or drawings:

Benny wanted to write one too:

Here's his note:

I love this line: "I am very joyed to know even that you're dead, your music still lives on." It's so incomprehensible and yet comprehensible, quintessentially Benny. And he used the correct version of you're and your, which makes my homeschooling heart proud.

The cemetery was very beautiful, each grave so unique, and the labels so interesting and personal. It was to be a stark contrast with what was going on down below.

So we got in the line with our own bottles of water, the kids DSi games, and all our hopes and dreams for a better world. It was hot:

Someone was selling suspiciously unsealed looking water bottles along the line out of a pickle bucket, and the dad in front of us thought he'd be a hero and buy cold water for his teenaged girls. One of them spat out, "I'm not drinking THAT," and the other one poured it over her head. We were all very cheerful in the line, because we could see other people walking past us to get to the end of the line, and we irrationally felt very superior and scornful of them, and that got us through.

First you walk down, down, down, and through miles of tunnels. This was the stone quarry from which the stones were pulled to build Paris:

The gateway to the Empire of the Dead:

Then miles of bones, relentlessly anonymous:

It's difficult to show the scope of it with the camera and such low light. Plus the tunnels of bones just went on and on forever. The bones were removed from public graveyards and placed in the quarry tunnels when plague and disease was spreading from the cemeteries into the drinking water. They have marked which bones came from which cemetery, but for the most part they have no idea who is who. When you come in, there's a list of known people who may or may not be fully or partially interred in the catacombs.

The thing that got me most was the way they had engraved bits of poems and literature throughout, in Latin and French, and the altars. I loved the gritty plaintiveness of the artwork -- skulls arranged as crosses, as hearts, embedded in piles and piles of femurs. I expected it to be creepy and hokey, it was actually very somber, meditative, and religious.

After we came out we had a bracing diet Coke, some ice cream, a fabulous crepe, and a big drink of sunshine. And some hand sanitizer. Yes, I let the children touch and hold the human bones. It was very somber down there. And we heard rats. But up on the surface, it was warm and bright.

We parted ways with Dan and the children and I headed off to the Luxembourg Palace. Once there, we wandered around in the gardens for a while, me having my Hemingway moment, the kids immediately attracted to the ducks, the fountains, and the sailboats. We patiently waited to get our boats, and then the kids launched them into the pond:

You rent a little sailboat and a stick, and then you shove it out from the side with the stick, and you just keep on doing this as the wind blows it across and across and across the pond. The weather was perfect for this, so beautiful and sunny and breezy and wonderful. The children had the best time with their boats, and Sadie was actually very good, very determined and purposeful with her stick. Benny wandered a bit and sometimes lost track of his boat, but also enjoyed himself.

I even wrote a little as I sat there, in the same place Hemingway sat. And later I put the scene of Sadie with her stick and boat straight into the end of the novel.

When our time was up we made our way over to the playground, which did not disappoint. Unsupervised zip line, crazy spinny things, lots of water play and sand toys and climby things.

On the way home we shopped a bit in St. Germain and picked up a stellar Three Musketeers costume for Benny. We ended up being two hours late to meet up with Dan, which freaked him out to no end, since my phone had died and we hadn't checked in. In the end, it was all fine. I did not get my Pont d'Alma and my Deux Magots, but I had an inspiring day nonetheless, and the whole thing was very interesting.


July 27: The Charming Sparrows of Notre Dame

Today we set out to visit Notre Dame cathedral. Anticipation was high -- Benny read a sanitized version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame before we came to France, so he knew the basics: hunchback, creepy priestly dude, gargoyles, and bells. Sadie also had a strong desire to see Notre Dame, whether she just liked the pictures she'd seen, or just its prominent place in brochures and web sites... I'm not sure. We used the Metro to jet over to the Chatelet stop. This meant we could cross the river at Pont Neuf, where D'Artagnan tried to protect Constance from the Duke of Buckingham in The Three Musketeers. Which was awesome for *me* but no one else has read the book at this point.

For all the sight-seeing we are doing in Paris, we have been warned balefully that the lines will be long and the waits intolerable. We are, after all, doing Paris in the absolutely worst possible month/week/whatever to do Paris, so we should just decide now that we're going to spend the week in a line. Notre Dame was not too terrible though. After gazing for a while at the facade, we went inside very quickly.

A million people better than I am have taken pictures of the inside of Notre Dame, and I refer you to them for spectacular photography. Of the ones I took, this one is a favorite, however. Sadie sat down on this little curve on a pillar, and she said, "This is a good seat for a little girl" and I said, "It's possible that a little girl sat down on that seat a thousand years ago." I mean, not REALLY, right? But almost. She was sufficiently awed by that.

We went back outside and Benny won the "find the guy with no head" contest, and we located the line to climb the towers, which stretched right down the block on the side street on the opposite side from the river. Wow, it was a real throat-stabber of a line. Benny and Dan sat in the line while Sadie and I rummaged around in the conveniently (?) placed souvenir and ice cream establishments across the street.

We finally got in and started up. I thought the most beautiful part of Notre Dame was the eastern end of it, the exterior of the apse, where you can really see those flying buttresses. I didn't take a picture of it, but here's one someone else took. As we climbed the towers, we had a view of these statues, which I thought were just lovely:

Here's my picture of the famous gargoyle that people like to think is Victor Hugo's narrator:

Here's the entrance to the bell tower, where Quasimodo would have ducked inside to climb up and operate the bells:

Here's Benny with the big bell, not the same one that would have been there when Victor Hugo toured the church, but of a similar dimension:

But the best thing of all happened when we got back down and outside, because we found these amazing clouds of sparrows that would sit on the children's hands and eat. It was so interesting and delighting that we stayed forever. However, Sadie was not able to get one to light on her hand -- she was a little afraid and didn't really stretch out there. Here's Benny holding a bird:

Here's Sadie on the subway going home. She loved, loved, loved the Metro and insisted on standing up all the time, hanging onto the pole like a real urbanite. It was pretty adorable.