LAST Weekend Update

Paris Travel Blog

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LAST weekend (not to be confused with the time currently passing me by as I sit around watching Dr. Horrible for the 3rd time and pretending to write my art history paper so Madame will leave me the he-eck alone) Natalie came to visit me. Okay, so she was on a choir tour and just so happened to stop in Paris, but I'd like to think I held at least some geographical sway.

Jen and I went to her concert on Friday morning. As in... 9 days ago. Again, so sorry I haven't been keeping up with this, but homework is currently kicking me in the balls. Or at least it would be kicking me in the balls, if I had any balls in which to be kicked.

So Natalie. Her concert was at this really cool church, you might have heard of it, it's called Notre Dame. Jen and I being regulars, we headed pretty much straight for the altar and got third row seats early. It was hard to walk in a straight line though, as there was some amazingly beautiful high and resounding choral music playing eerily in the background. Me, weak in the knees, etc etc, found it to be a big distraction. The funny thing though was there was no choir to be seen, at least not yet as the concert didn't start for another 20 minutes.

Then I realized that they must play eerie medieval music for the tourists sometimes. Ugh, gross. Good bye classy Paris, hello Disney.

At first that made me sad and kind of ill, but as I can pretty much see the bright side in everything no matter how much bullshit it takes, I suddenly remembered this one article Casey sent me from the New York Times a million bazillion years ago. The article was about the caretaker of the bells at Notre Dame. As you can see, he's this funny looking fellow with a totally pimp outfit, and when I remembered his funny visage I couldn't help but picture him up in the arcade with a gigantic 1980s boom box hoisted on one shoulder blasting the holy music. Then it became alright.

New York Times

God Rachael, at this rate you'll be finished with this blog, um.. NEVER.

Anyway, Natalie's concert was so good to try and describe it would be taking the sacred and making it profane. I--and I know this is no longer news to you all--but I cried through like the entire freaking thing. I just can't help it. There were times when my eyes were a little bit damp, and there were times when my chin was quivering like a California quake, and then there were times like the last song, which wasn't even cool and medieval, it was a freaking American spiritual. Still, it got me. It got me good. I noticed the tears pouring down the face of a certain girl in the front row of the choir, and I basically lost it and had to wipe my nose on my scarf in front of FRENCH PEOPLE.

I have legitimate reasons though. Do y'all have ANY IDEA what the acoustics in a cathedral sound like? Can you even imagine? I couldn't. A hundred four year olds could bang on pots and pans for 30 minutes and I would still call it a wonderful concert. The sound, before it alights on your humble eardrums, strikes first the expanse of stone ceiling. Then, it bounces around the valuts a bit, which shakes out the unpleasant notes. It tosses itself un petit peu through the arcade until it's crisp and clear, and runs like a shiver down the piers until finally, finally it makes it into your skull. All this trouncing makes the notes sound like...

...well like stained glass. Actually, that is a surprisingly accurate description. I think if you have ever heard what I was hearing then you would agree.

After the concert Jen and I ran around the cathedral like poulets sans tetes looking for Natalie. A word of advice: never, ever tell anyone you'll meet them "at the cathedral". That's like telling someone you'll meet them at Camp Randall. Or the Sears Tower. Or the bowels of Hell: it's bound to be crowded. Jen and I eventually put our heads together and realized the best place to wait would probably be the exit, and fortunately, after many minutes of fending off beggars asking if we spoke English and many more minutes of me whining and being terrified that I wasn't actually going to get to see Natalie (the horror!), we found her.

Unleash Phase I: operation GINORMOUS hug.

Um, it was a little anti-climactic after said hug though. Before Natalie and I began our Parisian adventures she had to go eat lunch with her group, so Jenn met Jen and I for lunch (are you getting the hang of this Jen(n) thing yet? I'm not.) and we walked down to the Latin Quarter and got Grecs. Erm, yes.. again. Then we raced back to the cathedral (like you do) and I traded my fab Paris friends temporarily for the one, the only, the drumroll deserving King Natalie the Great, esq.

Le Musee Jacquemart-André

The first thing, and really the only thing, on Natalie's surprisingly anti-climactic list of things to see and do on her triumphant return to Paris was the Musée Jacquemart-André. At first I was a little outraged because I actually had to pay money to get into a museum, and frankly I don't know how cool I would have found the place without the help of Natalie and her counterpart, trusty British Audioguide Man, but the three of us together made it a wonderful experience.

Tasty, tasty ballroom. Goodbye walls.

So first of all, this house was built in the 19th century by a fashionable couple who loved collecting art more than producing offspring, so hense the museum. Lack of spawn plus an outrageous fortune allowed them to build this tasteful monstrosity off the Blvd. Haussmann, with rooms such as the one above, which according to Monsieur le Audioguide actually opened up into a gigantic ballroom with the push of a button. Gotta get me one of those.

Okay, so let me talk about some of the top notch art I saw there. Indulge me.

Above is the portrait by the tres celebre Vigée Lebrun which they had at the museum. The subject is a Russian countess that she painted while in exile after the revolution (You say you're a good friend of the queen? I'll be taking your head now.). Amazing Audioguide Man told me that Vigée wrote in her journal that this countess was completely uneducated and couldn't even hold a conversation, but her air was so sweet and her face so pretty she charmed every person she met. Natalie and I both decided we liked Vigée after all (can I call you Vigée?), even moreso after we heard that she acknowledged that this woman was an idiot but still recognized both her charm and the reason for her stupidity--a lack of education. Vigée sounds like the kind of woman with whom I would like to form an... aquaintance.

Not that sort of aquaintence. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Okay, let's do a 180 here and talk about the one painting that I think I want to take home from Paris in a duffel bag: Uccello's Saint Georges terrassant le dragon:

This painting is tastier than a pop up book. You really can't tell in this picture, but there is a quality to the actual painting that is absolutely three dimensional and so pleasing to the eye I soon began to impede traffic in the gallery. The astounding appeal, of course, is because it combines both the stylized Medieval look with all it's symbolism and deliciousness with the hip-to-perspective and friggin' gorgeous Renaissance skill. Add to that some beautiful color choices and a back story that is not only fascinating but an inside joke as well (baa, no! sad sheep!). Oh, and just so you know, the dragon in the St. George story represents paganism, so Saint George is stabbing it in the mouth for a reason. Blasphemous bastards.

Just kidding, I love pagans. Tasty, tasty pagans.

Another tremendous, and I mean tremendous work we discovered were these choir stalls, which I'm going to talk about for my own sake as I don't want to forget them. They were made in Italy sometime during the renaissance... specific I know... but the amazing thing about them--and this was worth the price of admission alone I shit you not--is that each tiny little detail, from various flowing locks of chestnuty Jesus hair to radiant jewels on a bishop's crozier, were not painted but pieced to-ge-ther out of different colored bits of wood. How did they do it?! Magic. Too bad you can't really tell how cool it is here, nor can you really imagine.

Okay, so the last thing I'm going to nerd-out about here is this one by Rembrandt called, depending on what language you are talking about, The Pilgrims at Emmaus. *Ahem* unless I'm mistaken, the story of Jesus appearing to to disciples on the road to Emmaus after he was crucified is normally portrayed with them all walking down the road together in the sparkly late-afternoon sunshine. It was a 40 foot stained glass window in the church I grew up in, actually. Oh, the sermons spent staring at this story...

But Rambrandt, being a genius, has moved the story off the street and out of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, and so instead we have the same story... after many glasses of absinthe. Jesus doesn't just apparate in as they walk along the road, they are just chilling out and feeling sorry for themselves in a darkened room one night, when suddenly.... he is there. But there and not there, all at once. He has... a glow about him. Something spectral. Is it even really him? Do we know? Is this blasphemy? Anyway, it's like moving an Aesop fable into one of Poe's creepiest, most raven-infested short stories. Jesus appears out of nowhere and, I mean, just look at the surprise on their faces. But he doesn't just appear *pooft* in front of them, glittering in the sunshine like the vampires in Twlight. Instead, he... I don't know... drifts... no, he wafts into coropreal Being (again, like you do). He comes from the shadows slowly.. not only surrounded by that light you see behind him, but probably emmanating from it. I am the way and the truth... and the light. Bitches.

But guys, that isn't even the best part.

So when we were at the museum I was looking around in the painting for the other disciple as there are traditionally two, but I only saw one (if you see two right away shut the hell up and don't ruin it for the rest of us). There's the servant in the background, yes, and then the one guy pooping his pants at the table. But where is the other disciple? Natalie was talking about how she hadn't seen him at first and it took a while before he just appeared, and of course I was smiling and nodding because I didn't know what she was talking about. I didn't see him.

Cut to me working half-assedly on this blog at about 2am last week Tuesday and I'm like... do do do, scrolley scrolley, type something, look half-way at painting... HOLY CRAP THERE HE IS!

I'm telling you guys, he wasn't there. I looked at it every day for half a week--I even bought the postcard. I'm telling you, he wasn't effing there. It really scared me for a while, until I concluded he must have radiated into existence like his savior did. Of course, when I told Natalie she took the rational POV and concluded that Rembrandt must have been a wizard. Whatever Natalie, always spoiling my fun.

After the museum we trounced around a bit. Normally trouncing is a fun activity, as well you know, but I was stupid and bought shoes that were too small for mes pieds, so of course I had many blisters. Eventually though, after strolling through les invalides we made it to her bridge:

We're so cute.

I should probably add that this is Natalie's own bridge as she lived right by it for almost an entire year, which gives her due ownership. Foolish tourists still call it the Alexander III bridge, but what do they know.

The story continues with Natalie leading and me limping after her for half an hour until we found a smelly, smelly metro to take us to the Bastille, where Natalie wanted to go to dinner. We got some chocolat chaud at a little tabac/cafe first, but when the sun went down we went hunting for her favorite moroccan restaurant, just east of the Bastille. The food was great, the mint tea greater, and the conversation divine. The waiter even told her that he couldn't believe she was American as her accent was perfect. She was all like, non mais merci, but I called her bluff and sure enough she did a pointy finger dance just about as soon as we hit the pavement.

By the way, one day I hope my French is good enough to merrit a pointy finger dance.

Sadly we had to leave dinner early as I had made plans to go to this Jazz club with peoples in the Latin Quarter. It wasn't sad in that I didn't want to meet them, it's just that I hate rushing through a meal. But 10 points to us as we were only about 10 minutes late to the rendez-vous, and some of the party had bailed on us anyway. So we rescued Jenn from the jeunes crowds of St. Michel and headed south where the roads are dark and winding.

And then we... and by we I mean I... decided it was too early to go to a jazz club, so we turned around and found a brasserie instead. Sounds totally lame in hindsight, but the time spent at the brasserie was so much fun I don't feel too guilty. The three of us just sat around and drank cheap wine and watched the fashion show on the television and told old stories. Jenn and Natalie clicked instantly, which was infinitely chouette. There were a few times when we were laughing so hard no one in EUROPE would have considered us Parisian, like when I told the story about Chris beating the crap out of some schnitzel with Tony's bookend and me trying to make a ham sandwich at the same same table. Or the story of how we aquired 300 2-liter bottles of soda sophomore year, or that time at the Halloween party when Chris discovered he'd been flaunting his ass all these years. Just like the last time I was traveling away from my friends, sometimes I forget just how absolutely awesome we really are.

At about midnight we parted ways with Jenn, and Natalie and I headed north to her hotel, right by the kind of sketch neighborhood between Gare du nord and Gare de l'est. There isn't much to tell other than we went to Le Cafe... the most pretentious cafe in France... and sat around with some people in her choir group and drank vin chaud. Vin chaud, I must add, is my favorite beverage in the world I think, much like that wassail we made last Christmas. France is a wonderful place.

After a while of just chilling and playing wingman (muahhah) we had an awkward moment on the street where I tried to stuff Natalie in my purse and force her to stay in France for ever and ever and ever. Not really, we just said goodbye and parted ways, and I walked.. er, limped... to the metro to catch the last train of the night.

Again, I could make some eloquent and awful closing remarks about friendship or life in general right about now, but I think I'll just skip it.


This blog is dedicated to Natalie, who complained that she was tired of reading about my angry pants.

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photo by: Sweetski