Monday, August 02, 2010

good morning, g'day, goodbye

I sleep with my hotel windows open in Paris because there is no AC. You run the risk of pigeons flying into your room, but it's a risk I'll take. It also means you may be awakened at 5:00 am to hear street cleaners, as I was this morning. I got out of bed and took the above picture for some reason, and then fell back asleep. Not sure if it's important or not, or if it has any cosmic meaning, but there it was on my camera.

Our last day in Paris felt in many ways like it was the first. I prebooked the group on a Fat Tire Paris bike tour as the conclusion of our long weekend here. What I should have done, perhaps, was make this tour the introduction.

This is my first time doing the Fat Tire tours, though I’ve read about them a little online and had several people recommend them. I can see why. They are run smoothly, professionally, and with a lot of enthusiasm and wit. We met our initial guide under the south leg of the Eiffel Tower, and he walked us to a little alleyway full of beach cruisers. We were allowed to choose the cruiser that suited us best, and I picked a plucky blue one named “Amigo.” Amigo he truly was, too. We spent four glorious hours together. Our guide was Karl the Kiwi, who had no idea what he was in for when he began tooling us all around Paris. We kept him thoroughly entertained, and I truly believe it will be hard for any group to top our energy (or irritation, depending on your tolerance level for thespians on bikes.)

Karl took us all around the city, and I should preface by saying that it was the balmiest, most perfect weather of all time. OF ALL TIME. We biked under tree lined avenues, past Napoleon’s L’ecole Militaire, past the Dome Church and through the Champ du Mars, where Karl was accosted by an angry French woman who blamed us for scratching her ankle days earlier. No one spoke French except me, and my French is super junior high, but I amply defended us against this angry harridan.

After crossing over the Pont Alexandre III bridge and into the Place de Concord, we learned all about beheadings and marshes full of blood. Karl taught us to use the “palm of power” when we cross the street to fend off cars, and if the PofP doesn’t work, the shaking finger “no no no!” We stopped at a cafĂ© in the Tuileries, where I had a quiche that was so good that it changed not only my life, but basically the progression of the world as we know it. While at lunch Karl played “most fun table” with us, and then partook of shaky face photographs.

Following lunch we moved back through town to the Eiffel Tower. At one point we dominated an entire street with our beach cruisers, and we sailed through several intersections cheering and laughing at how fancy we felt to be on bikes. Can I take a moment and recommend the Fat Tire tour? It’s pretty fantastic, and you can do it in London, Berlin, and Madrid as well. Many of my students said it was the highlight of their trip.

We had a few hours before train time, so we all split and did our own thing. You know me, I had some neighborhoods to explore, and so I set out for The Latin Quarter, home of the Sorbonne. This is where the students are. Not mine, they went to the catacombs, but the students who built barricades and waived flags a while back. I started at the Museum de Cluny, a Roman/Medieval Museum where I saw:

A famous tapestry where a lady frolics with unicorns:

A stained glass window with all kinds of dubious going ons:
Another stained glass, this one with eye gouging:
The Gallery of Kings, sculpted in 1220:
Old Roman baths!

Just as I was exiting the museum there was a loud clap of thunder and then a giant downpour in the courtyard! I luckily had an umbrella. I huddled under a door frame and worried about wet shoes. Luckily, I stayed pretty dry. Once the rain lightened, I wandered more around the Latin Quarter, where I saw:

The Rue Galande, which is very mysterious.
A cool window along the aforementioned mysterious Rue Galande:

The second downpour hit just in time for me to hide out at Shakespeare and Company, a quirky and chaotic bookshop that doubles as a haven for bohemian ex-pats:
Shakespeare and Company is a pretty fantastic place; very booky, very quaint, and somehow also very American. There was a children’s reading nook upstairs, and all the books up there were to be read, not sold. So all these people are huddled in chairs and benches reading, and there is an old piano in the corner that you can play, as long as some guy doesn’t hog it the whole time (I'm talking to THAT GUY.) You can type someone a letter on an old fashioned typewriter, but that was a little twee for me, so I just sat, read, listened some guy hog the piano, and waited the storm out. The storm broke eventually, and I started my sojourn back to the hotel, stopping at a very important place: The Thinnest house in Paris!

At 7:00 we regrouped and crammed onto a metro so full of rush hour travelers that you didn’t need to hold onto the pole. You were completely propped up by bodies all around you, with varying levels of hygiene. Which is fine, since those poles are, I assume, coated in swine flu and melanoma. It was a fitting way to say goodbye to Paris, a city that is also little too full, and sometimes too sweaty, but definitely always moving and alive.