Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 25 2009

Paris: the Louvre and the river

I was feeling tired and a little cranky as we walked out of the metro and onto the huge courtyard of the Louvre palace yesterday morning. It was cold and unexciting. I snapped a few shots, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Paris is already beautiful, I thought to myself as Gordon and Ray took pictures of the palace a short distance away. What’s left for me to do? Anyone could take interesting pictures here.

Gordon wanted to go into the museum first, while Ray wanted to stay in the courtyard and take more pictures with his new G10, but I didn’t want to do either, so I just wandered out through the opposite gate of the palace and found myself on the bank of the Seine, the city stretching out in both direction along the bank.

Now this was more like it! All my imagined trips to Paris have had a common theme: walking along the Seine and standing on one of the many ancient bridges watching the boats go by. I did this now, and seeing the city’s spires and domes and hearing the bells ring, my spirits rose immediately. I crossed the bridge in front of the Louvre and walked down the ramp to the path by the river, looking up at the curious small rooms at the top of the nearby buildings. I’ve always been fascinated about those little extra bits of buildings, the cupolas and domes and the like, what kind of rooms they are used for, etc. In fact I’m kind of staying in one now, as my room was obviously some closet or other
out-of-the-way space when this building was first built.

Some empty boats were tied up on the bank, most likely restaurant boats. One of them had a statue of Monkey on the bow, looking ahead for
signs of trouble as he did in Journey to the West. How a statue of Sun Wu-kong came to be on the bow of a Parisian boat on the Seine is
puzzling at best, but it was nice to see a familiar face.

My teeth cold from grinning, I crossed the metal pedestrian bridge back to the Louvre, where I crossed another huge courtyard, thinking:
This was someone’s house! My mood was much improved, though, and I met Ray just inside the museum ready to see some artwork.

As a photographer, even an amateur one, I could spend weeks in the Louvre just examining and appreciating the artists’ use of composition,
color and light alone. It’s true that for many of these works, seeing the original is far more emotionally satisfying than seeing pictures of
it in books. The Mona Lisa, however, is not one of these, at least not in my opinion. It is cordoned off and covered with glass, a small and
indistinct thumbnail surrounded by people trying to take pictures of it with their digital cameras, as if nobody would know what it looked like

Many of the religious-themed paintings feature the most beautiful shade of blue. In fact all of the colors are striking and well-used.
Combinations of color that should be riotous, clashing messes somehow fit together perfectly.

The statues section was much more monochromatic, yet interesting in that each work is viewable from all directions and angles. I was ready
to be as unimpressed with the Venus de Milo as I had been with the Mona Lisa, but I found that in person, she holds an attraction I’d never
noticed before. I think it might be the asymmetry of her face, which makes her seem more like a real person. Whether this was on purpose or
by accident nobody knows, but it’s more than a little spooky.

It was early afternoon by the time we had to leave and get some lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant downstairs. My chicken couscous
was delicious. We then walked back to the river to look for a boat tour, something I wanted to do, particularly as I missed the last boat
tour in Osaka last month. The first dock we found closed, but there were obviously many different companies plying the river, so we just
walked along the river towards the Eiffel Tower looking for one. The sun had come out, producing a bit of warmth and wonderful light as we
walked by triple-parked boathouses and under metal bridges.

Eventually we found a riverboat company; the next tour was in 45 minutes. The interior was warm, so we got on the empty vessel and
enjoyed the heating for a bit. Gordon and Ray lay down on the seats and took naps, which was fine until a huge Japanese tour group all boarded at the same time.

The boat departed at 4:45 p.m., and I went up top to watch the buildings slide by, as well as the bottom of the bridges we went under.
It was a fine thing. People on the top of the bridges and along the bank waved at us; I wondered if there was some celebrity along for the
ride, but it seems that people just do this for some reason. There are so many boats I’m surprised that they are not just ignored, yet people
still wave. Maybe they’re also tourists who can’t find the dock and want to know where we got on board.

The boat traveled past the Louvre again and up around the main island of Paris, the site of the original city apparently. The Notre
Dame slid by, and then some modern buildings the recorded announcement described as a “beautiful examples of modern design” but looked downright ugly next to most original Parisian buildings. In fact, a lot of Paris seems to be slight variations on a theme, buildings all about the same shape, size and color, a restaurant with red signage on the corner, cobblestone pavement roads that make the cars sound like passing
trains. I’d think it very easy to get lost here as so much of the city looks so similar.

The sun was sinking in the sky as the boat turned around and headed back, the tops of the buildings on the Eastern bank of the river bright
yellow in its light. The wind kicked up as we changed direction, and at once it became noticeably colder. Taking out my camera to take pictures became more hurried as my hands got cold very quickly. By the time we passed the Eiffel Tower, the sun had set, but the sky was still light. The lights of the tower came on just as we docked, a striking sight against the skyline, tiny silhouettes of trains crossing the river
below it.

The tower was our next destination. It began to sparkle as we approached, in a display uncomfortably similar to the approach of a
migraine. It might have set one off for me, as my head began to ache shortly afterwards. Or maybe it was just the cold. The Tokyo Tower is
modeled after the Eiffel Tower and is the same size, though the Tokyo version looks tiny as it is surrounded by taller buildings. The Eiffel
Tower looks impressive because all the buildings around it are about seven stories high. I wonder if the people who live next door ever get
tired of the view.

We’d wanted to go up to the top, but the line was a daunting prospect. Gordon had already seen it and waited for us at a nearby bar,
so Ray and I walked along the bridge nearby. Annoying hawkers tried to press little lit-up models of the tower on us every few feet. I stopped
on the bridge to take pictures of passersby. If I had more time I could take more pictures, but it seems as if we are always on our way

Gordon wanted to go to a follies show later, so we walked back through the park to the bar to meet him. A metro station was supposed
to be five minutes’ walk away, so we set off. Ten minutes later we were told it was “five minutes away” and five minutes after that we heard
the same thing. It turned out to be fortuitous that we walked to that station, though, as we didn’t have to make so many transfers to Cadet
Station. The Paris Metro feels a bit like a roller coaster, going up and down and making many tight twists and turns along its path, and the
passageways between stations are labyrinthine. I love it.

When we found the follies theater, however, it was shuttered, closed for the season. I didn’t particularly care one way or the other as I am
not interested in them. In fact, I had planned to just walk around the area taking pictures while Gordon and Ray watched the show. We took one of the most odiferous cabs I’ve experienced in many years to the Moulin Rouge, but it was sold out. No follies for us, we walked to a nearby restaurant, the Buffalo Grill, for dinner.

I hadn’t had a bad meal in France yet. This was to be the first. I suppose it’s probably a bad idea to try pseudo-American fare in Paris
in any case, but the steak was tough and chewy and refused to be defeated by a mere five minute’s chewing. It was like abandoned bubble
gum in both texture and taste.

Today we’re planning to go see Notre Dame up close. Gordon wants to attend the apparently ongoing mass they have there in his Notre Dame
(Fightin’ Irish) shirt.

posted by Poagao at 4:24 am  


  1. Oh la la… I feel to cry after reading this. The reasons are:

    1. Why TF didn’t I take bateaux mouches while I was in Paris few years ago? It’s hard to go back for me now. 🙁

    2. I am traveling in Paris with your words. Ah…le metro and everything. I miss them.

    Comment by Daniel — January 25, 2009 @ 4:54 am

  2. Fascinating 🙂 I’m hooked

    Comment by Ashish — January 25, 2009 @ 5:46 am

  3. See, I just don’t get this. Why travel all the way to France and eat crappy American food? For that matter, when going to a foreign country, why eat anything other than the native food? If the person is going to be there for a long time, then yeah, I can understand that. But if they’re traveling only for a week or so, why in the world do people do this?

    Like my Lao teacher–the guy goes to freakin’ Cancun over the four-day weekend we just had, and he comes back complaining about how bad the sushi was. I honestly wanted to slap him.

    Comment by Prince Roy — January 25, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

  4. It wasn’t my idea, PR, but I hope those responsible learned their lesson.

    Comment by Poagao — January 25, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

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