Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Art, the essence of Frenchness

I'm just back from a journey to Paris and London.  Although I've traveled extensively, have visited Nice and Monaco, and am a self-proclaimed Francophile, I have, oddly, never been to Paris.


We rented a beautiful, sunny, 3rd floor flat in the 12th for 5 nights for a steal.  The neighborhood was perfect, cozy, and packed with lovely little shops which we shopped daily for our grocery needs. Browsing the fromagerie, patisserie, boulangerie and epicerie are the gems of life that made our decision to go with an apartment versus an hotel a no-brainer. 

Days were jam-packed with touring.  
With 5 days to cover so much, we were on the run for 12-15 hours, drinking in the flavors and aromas, the wines and the hospitality. Hours and miles were banked visiting the museums and  monuments and wandering the crooked little streets for hours on end.  It was HEAVENLY.

From a double-header at the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay (we were pleasantly surprised to find a visiting Degas exhibit including his sketches and The Little Dancer!) to our French "day of the dead" visiting both Pere LaChaisse cemitiare, final resting place of so many famous artists including Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and Jim Morrison, and the Catacombs, a morbidly beautiful gallery of some 6 million Parisians past whose bones and skulls have been artfully arranged into dizzying patterns marked with grizzly reminders that you have truly entered the "Empire of the Dead", we were on the move to do it all.

What struck me most profoundly, at every turn on our trip, is how tirelessly French the experience of evoking beauty in everything truly is.   

From the plating of the charcuterie boards to the elaborate detail of the sarcophagi to the arrangement of the wares in the street side markets, everything in France is, well, more beautiful. It's no wonder I have always wished I had been born Parisian.  It truly is a life made of crushed red velvet where every moment is drunk in slowly, as though it was 90 seconds long.

Travel notes , if you go... We got our tickets CHEAP.  Because it's February and not so warm, 3 round trip tickets with direct flights into CDG and out of LHR (I'll get to my London post later this week) were only $1800 for all three, including insurance.  The AirBnB was only $650 for 5 nights, but the area would be tough if nobody in your party spoke any French (I do). But look at flats, it'll save you all around. Most museums in France consider anyone under 17 a child, and offer free entry.  Also, there is no charge to enter Notre Dame.  

The Big Bus Tour is a great way to see a LOT of monuments in one day and learn a ton about what you are seeing.  The routes cover a lot of ground with both a red line (Paris proper including the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Champs Elysee) and a blue line (Montmartre with Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge).  

The Metro is VERY easy to navigate and will save you both a bunch of dough AND the hassle of traffic you'd suffer in a taxi or Uber. Plus, the French, apparently hate to drive in rain or snow so these New Englanders were stuck in a cab for an hour because of the drizzle, not uncommon in winter.  A light down coat will keep you warm and not burden you with carrying a bulkier one.  Also, pickpockets are a real thing, especially in crowded museums. Pay attention to your surroundings.  The French are friendly, despite what you've heard.  Make an effort to at least greet servers and merchants with a pleasant, "Bon Jour" - it goes a long way.  

A Bientot!