I visit the Trocadéro and the Eiffel Tower. I'm impressed by the métro.
As I drink my coffee this morning and reflect on last night, I've been thinking about how much fun all the French people were having, in a way somehow different and more intense and immediate than the way we "have fun" in the States. I thought about the phrase "joie de vivre" and what it might really mean. So I googled it. Google gave me French hits, one of which was the French wikipedia entry for joie de vivre, where I read the following:
La joie de vivre est plus humble, plus accessible, plus compatible avec les inévitables hauts et bas de l'existence, que le bonheur, et plus durable que la possession du bien-être, car elle peut être goûtée au cœur même de la souffrance. Ce qui peut contrarier la joie de vivre, ce ne sont pas les épreuves, mais seulement le désespoir inhérent à l'être, les chagrins, l'inquiétude, la jalousie, la haine et la colère.
Here's my attempt to translate this:
The joie de vivre is more modest, more accessible, more compatible with the inevitable highs and lows of existence, than happiness, and more lasting than the possession of the feeling of well-being, because it perhaps feels to the heart the same as suffering. That which is contrary to the joie de vivre is not hardships, but just the despair inherent in being, the sorrows, anxiety, jealousy, hatred and anger.
I think it's independent of happiness or sadness, it's a state of mind and attitude during both good times and bad, to enjoy the moment to the fullest extent possible. Or something like that. I'm not really a philosopher, I just sometimes give my pretensions free reign on the Internet.
That's all very existential, isn't it? Does it help me understand what I'm trying to figure out? Not really, but maybe a little bit. Quite interesting. Perhaps you had to be there to understand it, except I was there, and I don't really fully understand it at all, certainly not well enough to describe it adequately. Quite the experience in any case. Similar in many ways to what I experienced 7 years ago when I was in Place St. Michel and the French were celebrating the victory of France over Portugal in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Whatever. I guess it's just a case of these people really knowing how to party on. Why try to figure it out? Can't help myself, that's why, being who I am.
OK, a parade just went marching down my street with drummers leading the way followed by several hundred people of all ages. I leaned out my window and smiled and exchanged waves with des gens (the folks), and that was nice. My best guess is that this was all part of la Fête de la Musique. When I was looking for apartments the web site described this neighborhood as "animated". Guess so, based on my first few days here. I like it.
It's a bit reassuring to know that everyone has problems with other languages. The people at the Sorbonne spoke nearly but not quite perfect English. For example, I was exhorted several times to "check your spam box" so I didn't miss their emails. We would say "spam mailbox". The word for "mailbox" in French is "boite aux lettres", literally "box of letters". So while this was such a very small thing, a native English speaker notices almost immediately. Interesting to me, maybe not so much to you. I love this language stuff. It's so intricate and difficult and messy. Not at all clean and precise like math and computer languages, my personal "métiers".
And in the French version of Apple's mail app on the iPad, the title of the "all mailboxes" pane is "Toutes les BAL", where "BAL" abbreviates "boite aux lettres". Took me a while to figure that one out.
My apologies for all the French. Can't help myself. As my daughter Andrea put it with her usual brutal honesty, I'm going to be completely insufferable when I get back home in the fall. So be it. Some might say that I'm already completely insufferable, and they'd be right, of course. In your face!
I found myself thinking in French today, even swearing in French. It's the Borg I tell you. I'm being assimilated. At step 701 out of 704 climbing up the Eiffel Tower I paused and muttered to myself "je peut le faire!" (I can do it!). The French gentleman in front of me heard me, turned around, and smiled. He was tired too!
European money is hard to get used to. They have so many coins of different sizes. Shopkeepers get annoyed with Americans fumbling around endlessly trying to come up with the right combinations to pay for things. I've found a solution to this problem. I keep the 2 euro coins, but anything smaller I just give to the omnipresent beggars.
I've already experienced the shop keeper just taking the proper coins out of my outstretched hand filled with a small mountain of change. Perversely, this made me think of feeding a pet. I prefer to pretend that I know what I'm doing and am trying to learn how to avoid such obviously embarrassing situations.
Colorful euro banknotes. The smallest denomination is 5 euros. Instead of banknotes, they have 1 and 2 euro coins.
Planning my trip to the Eiffel tower today. I'm going all meta on your asses and posting a picture of a picture hanging on the wall of my apartment. Cute kids, n'est-ce pas? Cute old dude holding up iPad to take photo visible in reflection, n'est-ce pas?
Let's see. Best time to go is at sunset, which is 10 pm. Check. Best (not closest) métro stop is Trocadéro across the river, and I get there by taking ligne 7 from Place Monge south to Place d'Italie, then ligne 6 west to Trocadéro, which takes about 32 minutes. Check. When I get there I go up the steps to the Palais de Chaillot, visit the Trocadéro gardens, and cross the Pont d'Iena bridge to the Tower. Check. So I guess I'll leave around 8:30.
I'll be getting the cheap 5 euro ticket to walk up to the second level. It's "only" 704 steps and avoids the long lines for the elevator, which are probably outrageous this time of year.
I'm giving my poor feet and legs a break today. At 64, I'm happy to be able to do lots of walking, but it's not as easy as it was when I was 20, that's for sure.
Went back to La Contrescarpe restaurant for lunch. Sat inside this time because it was chilly. Had a Croque Monsieur, a simple open face hot ham and cheese (gruyère) sandwich. Came with fries and salad. Very good. I've made croques at home and had them at a French bar on Montrose in Chicago, and I was curious to see what the "real thing" was like. It's the same. Actually, I think the ones I make are better.
On the way to eat I came across this plaque at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, a few streets down from my corner. Here's a translation:
James Joyce (1882 - 1941) british writer originally from Ireland a guest of Valery Larbaud, finished here his novel "Ulysses", a major work of literature of the 20th century
Valery Larbaud was the French writer who lived in the house.
I know this is sinful and hopelessly self-indulgent, but this is going to be my dinner before going to the Eiffel tower this evening. Chocolates and wine just purchased on rue Mouffetard at outrageous prices that I'm sure were tourist rip-offs. Rue Mouffetard is much more touristy than I had expected, still a very nice street but perhaps just a bit of a disappointment. The wine is a red from the Loire valley, in honor of my French teacher Élodie who was from that region. The lady in the chocolate shop who helped me spoke to me in French and I mostly understood her. She spoke to me very slowly and clearly, pronouncing each word distinctly, because she knew I was a foreigner. God bless her soul. I told her I was trying to learn her language and at my age it wasn't easy. She told me I spoke very well. Very kind of her to tell that little lie. I'm tasting a glass of the wine right now and I think it's pretty good, although I know nothing about wine. It's a 2011 Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgeueil.
One thing I'm going to do soon is go to Ô Chateau, a wine tasting and wine bar on the right bank run by my favorite French blogger Olivier Magny. They offer classes and tastings for beginners like me. His blog is called Stuff Parisians Like and it's hilarious, sarcastic, and very French. The blog is in English, by the way, so don't hesitate to go check it out if you're interested in a laugh or two, all at the expense of the Parisians, whom he skewers mercilessly.
A shot of rue Monge, the main street in my neighborhood, at dusk, as I was walking to the métro to go to the Eiffel Tower. It actually goes straight for more than a few meters. Pretty, no? The kid's hotel is on this street, but in the other direction a little bit.
The Paris métro is as efficient and easy to navigate as its reputation says it is. Piece of cake, even for a first-timer like me. You can go from any place to any place in the entire city simply, quickly, and cheaply. If we had a system even a tenth as good as this one in Chicago it would be wonderful. Extremely civilized. Not used to that where I come from.
This is my station at Place Monge, under ground.
Métro is the abbreviated name of the company which originally operated most of the network: La Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris, shortened to "Le Métropolitain". That was quickly abbreviated to métro, which became a common word also used to designate all subway networks (or any rapid transit system) in France or elsewhere (a genericized trademark). The Métro today is operated by the Régie autonome des transports parisiens (RATP), a public transport authority that also operates part of the RER network, bus services, light rail lines and many Paris bus routes.
One half of the Palais de Chaillot in the Trocadéro. The buildings currently house museums.
This famous picture of Adolf Hitler with the Eiffel Tower in the background during WWII was taken from the esplanade of the Palais de Chaillot.
A gigantic statue in the Trocadéro, typical of the statuary found in public places throughout Paris.
The Eiffel Tower at dusk, shot from across the river at the Trocadéro.
Fountains in the gardens of the Trocadéro.
The Seine at dusk, shot from Pont d'Iéna.
Flat on my back looking up from the second level of the Eiffel Tower, just after the lights came on as night fell.
The City of Lights, from the second level of the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower at night, shot from the Champ de Mars.
The trip was worth it despite the huge crowds, long lines, and hour wait just to climb the stairs.
The Bir-Hakeim métro station, the one closest to the Eiffel Tower that I used when I came home. This station is above ground.