Friday, May 14:  Canonical Paris

Breakfast in the apartment, with a stop for a noisette at the closest bar. A quick five-minute walk to the Louvre brought us to the underground entrance from last night’s dinner, slightly in advance of opening. Forty-five minutes later we’d made our way through the metal detectors and automatic ticket machines and were following Rick’s suggestions for a route through the most interesting items. The Mona Lisa was mobbed, but many of the other paintings were much more interesting to see and learn about. Eventually the tour groups got to be too much, including one Japanese fellow who used David’s head for a tripod. We went upstairs in search of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” but never found it. Probably because it wasn’t even in their collection? (Photo 128)

With no clues other than a finger pointing at a Boticelli painting, both boys correctly named one other Boticelli they had seen in Italy (a different one for each). I told them they had both passed their Art History course for the semester. Robert was expert at first locating the real versions of the paintings shown in our guidebook. We exited about 12:30 PM and began the long march up the Champs-Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. I only found out later that the Place de la Concorde had a marker where Marie Antoinette (and many others) lost their heads during the French Revolution. The broad boulevard was at first lined with a park, but eventually gave way to commerce and we stopped at the first cafe we encountered, Madrigal Cafe. (Photo 129) Prices were within expectations, but the day was sunny and the occasion memorable, so we splurged. A super-sized beer, a plate of escargot (everyone sampled and none regretted it), cafe afterwards. 150 Latini units for lunch. Of course, I spent much of the time imagining the scene as the Tour de France concludes with eight or so laps on this most famous stretch of Paris roads.

At the Arc de Triomphe, the three males used the subterranean passage to gain the center of the roundabout and inspect the military monument closer. We passed on actually climbing to the top of the monument, since we have climbed so many towers, and had one in particular to climb later in the day. Then it was into the Metro for our maiden subway journey, headed for the Eiffel Tower. (Photo 130)

If the Mona Lisa disappoints, the Eiffel Tower does not. It still strikes the eye as an engineering marvel and the ride up (in two segments) is plenty creepy. Like the Space Needle, you eventually get comfortable with the height while wandering around the top. We stopped on the way down at the first level, to visit the Post Office. The snippy clerk (outdone only by the cashier at the souvenir shop next to the Arc de Triomphe) was little help, but we got postcards, addressed them, and left them for their Eiffel Tower postmarks. When my grandfather visited Paris in 1909 (part of his Chateau Figeac trip), he went up the tower and obtained a card with his silhouette on it as a souvenir, which my mother has framed. I sent her one postcard with all our names and a date, as a best attempt at something parallel. (Photo 132)

Our plan was to ride a Batobus home. These are boats that run up and down the Siene and we’d been of the impression that they were a form of public transportation, in the mold of Venice’s vaporetto. Wrong. They’re really just a low-grade version of the Bateaux-Moche, which are the full-fledged river cruises with commentary. For half the price we got no commentary and about six lengthy stops as we traveled up river and around the islands that form the heart of the early city. It was more than we needed and probably a waste of time and money, but it was good to get out onto the river.

Back home, we puttered some and ventured out late in a vain attempt to get a cheap and quick meal. At one abortive stop, David left his pack behind, necessitating a long backtrack to locate it. Fortunately, it was safe in the back of the smoky, smoky bar.