31 August 2007

Another Good Day

Still no new socks, but the day was good anyway. I don't think I'll ever be able to wear red socks again.
Today I had four things on my list (I write a list of places to go with directions to get there so that I don't have to carry around a guide book and look like a tourist), and I saw three of them.
First I went to la Maison Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo's House), which was really neat. I like some of Hugo's poetry, but most of what he wrote is much too long for me to have the perseverance to read yet. Although, seeing the first editions of some of his books, I think we get off easy now. The first edition of Les Misérables was in three volumes, each the size of a very large hardcover dictionary. Before going, I knew very little about the place except that it was free and that you could see Hugo's desk where he wrote standing up, and the museum did live up to that description. It wasn't fascinating, but it was an interesting way to spend 20 minutes (small museum). I was struck by a few things though.
- Based on the portraits hung all over the place, Hugo's rather unusually shaped nose ran in the family on his father's side.
- He wasn't a bad artist: there were several of his sketches displayed.
- He wrote the libretto of an opera (my opinion of the great author rose when I discovered this connection to music).
- I like his taste in furniture.
- And, like in lots of castles, there is no way to get to most of the rooms except by going through other rooms. I don't really understand this design, since it would be quite awkward to have to walk through someone's bedroom to get to your own, but I've seen it all over the place. Hugo's apartment was virtually L-shaped, so there is only one room you can get to from the entrance, the rest are all lined up so you have to go through to get beyond. You have to walk through every single room in the place to get to the office.
- I didn't notice a bathroom anywhere. I wonder if you get to pass it if everyone is evacuated via one of the emergency exits, those are the only closed doors.
Here are two pictures, one of the exterior of the house, and one of his office/bedroom with the crazy standing desk.

There was a whole room of pictures of Hugo's funeral, which was absolutely ridiculous. More than the population of Paris showed up, there was a gigantic long parade to the Panthéon where he was put to rest, and the media wrote about nothing but Hugo and the funeral for weeks surrounding his death. One thing that struck me was a poster displayed in the funeral room, which advertises the sale of "tickets" to the funeral, specifically, the rental of 60 places on the Boulevard St-Germain, on the second floor (In European language, the first, i.e. the floor above the ground floor). Pretty interesting.

After that museum, I went to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal on Rue du Bac. It's a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine Labouré, who had several visions of the Virgin Mary. A lot of miracles have been associated with the medal. Fifty years or so after her death, her body was being relocated when it was discovered to be incorrupt: it hadn't decayed at all, she looked as if she was just sleeping. Scientists don't bother trying to explain incorrupt bodies. That was about seventy years ago, and now her body is kept in a glass case in the chapel for visitors to see and pray by. No preservatives, no special tricks.
I found the chapel around 12:50 (to my surprise, since I didn't have directions), but there was a Mass going on and the entire place closes at 1:00. I stayed for only a few minutes, but I expect that I will go back in December with my parents when they come to visit.

My third excursion of the day was to the Parc Monceau, which I chose because it's free and has Roman ruins. There are single columns all over the park, and one corner has the remains of what I think was a temple. I wish they would put up signs explaining what things were! Here is a picture of the possible temple ruins:

Other highlights were some old stone stairs surrounded by trees and flowers, a huge tree with a knobbly trunk and interesting leaves, and some tall, thin pyramids. I wish I knew what they were for, and where they came from!
Here are the pictures:

There's also a café in the park that has fairly reasonably priced food, including the best crêpes I've found so far! I can't see a Nutella and bananas crêpe being lunch, so I usually go for ham and cheese, even though I'm not a huge ham fan and don't like a huge amount of cheese. This place, however, had a bunch of kinds I hadn't seen, including my choice, chèvre (goat cheese) and tomatoes. I got the fixed price menu, which included a drink (Orangina) and dessert (flan). It was delicious, and eating a wonderful lunch in a beautiful park on a gorgeous day is about the most peaceful thing you can do.

On my way back to the apartment, I stopped to buy nail polish remover (guess where I packed mine?). The pharmacy guy was very helpful, and actually funny too. When he showed me where it was, he asked if I had a prescription. After I paid he advised me not to drink it all at once. I suspect his job gets rather lonely and boring. It was a fun French conversation though!

After lunch in a park, the next most peaceful thing is a nap when you're totally exhausted, which is what I did after going to the park. It was the kind of nap that feels like a full night's sleep squished into one hour, which I think proves I'm not totally adjusted to the time zone yet. I was tired enough that I managed to convince myself it was Thursday, so I came pretty close to missing the concert I'd decided to go to. Here's a translation of the description in the Pariscope:
"Hildegarde de Bingen, or the Divine feminine: With Catherine Bravislavsky, voice and dulcimer and Joseph Rowe, lute and percussion. This series of concerts is the beautiful presentation of classical chants and texts of the famous Benedictine abbess of the 12th century, known for her gifts as a composer, visionary, doctor and philosopher."
It was in a tiny little theatre, which probably could seat forty. There were fifteen people in the audience, so it was a very intimate concert.
The music was really neat. Lots of "extinct" instruments, as I like to call them, and some really interesting chants. De Bingen used a lot of trills and malismas (trills are little quick vocal twirls, and malismas are long stretches of melody all on one syllable-- imagine it taking 30 seconds to sing the word Amen. Things like that). In between the songs they read or recited texts written by or about de Bingen. She was a prophetess, and a lot of her writings were particularly powerful because they were dictated to her in Latin, which she had never studied. I was interested to hear that she used the informal version of "you" when writing to the king and the Pope, since I'm currently reading a French translation of Pride and Prejudice, where everybody uses the formal "you" with everyone else. It seems logical that language has become less formal over the years, but perhaps French has done the opposite.
After the concert, the performers came out to chat (I just said that the concert was fascinating and thanked them) and something rather adorable happened. A middle-aged couple was there, and they explained that they had met at the percussionist's concert three years ago in Spain! So they were excited to come to this concert. I think that's sweet.

Tomorrow's plans include (as always) calling the airport again and asking for my bag back, and then a museum, a big store (recommended by my guide book), perhaps a movie, and another concert. I really should go to sleep now, but it's the middle of the afternoon in the States and therefore I'm wide awake.

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