July 2, 2007

Today was a significant march, taking us through Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur cathedral. We began our morning a shade late, and by "we," I mean "the person who responded to the knock at their door asking, "Jim, it's eleven o'clock." The end of my battle against jet lag was taken with a sizable retreat. We didn't get out of the apartment until noon.

Julie had our day structured, but I still don't know how to get out of the way and just follow somebody. I managed to march forward on the Metro in a forthright and authoritative manner, but realized I had no idea where I was going and didn't recognize the language the signs were in.

As an accomplished student of underground public transportation, I stood in awe of this gentleman for a moment. Right there, behind the stroller.

You've never seen this train station, but looking at the arrows, you get how it works, right? The people getting off the train are going to go down the middle, and the people getting on will stand to the sides. There were maybe 20 people on this train platform, and it's about a quarter-mile long. Our man decided that standing in the VERY place he WASN'T supposed to was a swell idea.

Overall, the crowd is no ruder than you would find in any other city. There were some features here that distinguished this place from others, such as:

Now it's a busy train station and the suboptimal quality of this picture is due to the fact that I couldn't stop to take a picture of a full-on fruit and vegetable stand in the tunnel while walking quickly, or I'd be trampled. Maybe you need a couple pineapples or a dozen oranges on the way home from work; our man on the Saint-Denis line has you covered. It did lead to the train station losing the eminently recognizable smell of drunkard's urine.

We came out of the tunnel into the middle of Montmartre, home of the Moulin Rouge, and another crazy-picturesque plaza.

I said early on in the trip, "Thank God for digital film; I would have gone through about seven rolls already." Now Montmartre is translates as "mountain of martyrs." I didn't realize there would be as much climbing involved as there has been. Here's a good look at some of the streets:

We wandered into an art fair, which may have been there that day or has been there every day for the past 200 years; I'm really not sure which. After a couple miles of climbing we were certainly ready for lunch. Ken ordered a club sandwich, which was a foot long, served on baguette bread (remember, tough outer crust) containing ham, cheese, tomatoes, gobs of mayonnaise, and deviled eggs.

I knew that this place was just a little tourist-oriented when I saw the menu:

Right there where it says "supplement chantilly?" That's "extra whipped cream." The price? 2 Euro, or about $2.72. The exchange rate here is a killer. Plus, to my untrained eye, the money all looks like Chuck E. Cheese tokens and I don't trust it. The Metro passes all look like Skee Ball tickets, so ultimately it's just one big carnival ride, and it's a good thing that I have the language skills of a four-year-old.

We were also charged 9 euro for a Coke, thereby breaking the record for "Most Ridiculous Price Paid for a Beverage" established drinking Sapphire and Tonics for $11 apiece during Mark's bachelor party. That, however, had liquor in it.

After wandering the art fair with hordes of other tourists, I noticed there were about eight caricature artists in one section.

I asked Ken if he'd ever watched those situations on television where you could see a monitor showing what's being telecast behind the television itself, kind of giving you the impression of two mirrors I suggested we accomplish the same thing by hiring four or five different caricaturists and line 'em up. One would sketch Julie, the next would sketch Julie and the first guy, the next guy...and so on. They each kept moving.

Then it was off to Sacre-Coeur, a 150-year old cathedral at the top of Montmartre. I noticed that there was red paint on it, which you can see on the left side of the cathedral and in a close-up on the right side:

We walked to the top of the dome, about 15 stories up, up a rounded medieval staircase to look out. I took the standard "Rules For Pictures of Europe from High Places" set, On our way to buy the tickets, there was a gentleman standing near the ticket machine, helping the befuddled. I asked Julie, "While I get the tickets, you ask what's up with the paint."

She did. Apparently, on Election Night, the French elected Nicolas Sarkozy, a prime minister of more conservative vintage than the last one, the oily Jacque Chirac. Well, the sorts of people who throw paint threw it at Sacre-Coeur and a number of other landmarks, screaming that the newly elected people "are going to kill France as we know it."

The man telling the story was very angry. He said that it can be cleaned, but they were waiting for the paint to arrive from the United States. What made me angry was making a "statement" against a 200-year-old church when you lose a rather trifling election. I understand some people get caught up in the moment. But as Julie said, "your problem is not with Sacre-Coeur."

Now since I'm following Regulation Tall Place Picture Rules here, I'll spare you the zillion cityscapes and just say, "Hey! Look! It's the Eiffel Tower!"

We walked around a little bit in a small park and along a staircase that takes you down a hill. African beggars attempt to tie a string around your wrist and will make you a bracelet on the spot; they then attempt to intimidate you into buying it. Julie was very quick about making a point to us to not let them do this. I and Julie made it through unscathed, but Ken snagged a marlin and was able to throw it back.

See what the guy's doing with the string? They think this is fascinating, until they're asked to for over about 10 euros for a string bracelet.

After Sacre-Coeur it was back to the Metro to visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery. There are lots of above-ground crypts here, as well as the graves of the rich and famous, and I can save myself a lot of typing by suggesting you visit the Wikipedia entry and make a couple remarks of my own.

Number One: Jim Morrison is still dead, and I'm not sure if the drugs have worn off.

There's a real nice picture of "the-guy-who-would-go-on-to-be-played-by-the-guy-from-Top Secret!-in-the-ground" on the Wikipedia entry, and yeah, I took my own, and it's the same as the one there (funny thing about grave sites, they're kinda, you know, permanent). What I'm showing you is:

-the crowd of about 20 assholes, most of them American, babbling on about "what it all meant"

-the parade fencing that surrounds his grave and about ten others near him, to prevent vandalism, which was still there (you'll see in the picture on the left, some jerk with a red pen felt compelled to write some poetry on a grave that had been there since the 1840s, and the owner's family paid for perpetual care)

There's a cemetery in Paris called the Pantheon, only it's not really a cemetery. It's where the country honors people who have meant a great deal to its history. Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and others have their accomplishments celebrated. Cardinals during the Revolution. Heroes of the Resistance. Hardcore stuff.

This guy wrote "Light My Fire." And when Chopin and Oscar Wilde are on the same piece of real estate, well, color me unimpressed.

(Wilde's grave had similar Sharpie-based handiwork, by the way.)

Most of the dots are lipstick kisses. The statue is, or was, anatomically correct and yes, there were lip prints there too. By the way, the plaque at the bottom reads in two languages:

This was declared a historic monument in 1992 and is protected by law. Please do not deface.

Guess that one didn't quite work out.

Number Two: Life finds a way.

In about another fifty years, thanks to the roots of the tree pictured below, someone's going to be terrified beyond reason, and I hope I'm around to hear about it.

After that we made our way back towards the apartment. A great deal of restaurants are closed on Sunday and Monday, We found one that was not and had chicken that was so free range, it probably called itself a cab, came to the restaurant, asked about the plats du jour and was hit on the head with a mallet.

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