Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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Off to the Pyramid and the Train Station Art Gallery
Drawing of a trike
Tuesday morning in Paris, I got out of bed and had a lovely Parisian breakfast in the hotel I was staying in - Hotel Picard, more in it later. Croissant and some bread and an egg. All very civilized. I got chatting to a woman who I assumed was English, based on her accent. She might well have been, but she lived in North Melbourne, not five kilometres from my house!

Said hotel was very nicely located, so I grabbed my tourist map of Paris and headed off in the direction of the Louvre. Actually, I aimed for the Pont Neuf (litterally "New Bridge", which is 400 years old - go figure) which is near one end of the Lourve. It was actually a really nice and short walk, got to look at lots of lovely French streets and so forth. I came across one end of the Lourve - it's large and quite hard to miss - and wandered into a courtyard. I knew, roughly, that the entrance is in fact in that glass pyramid they built in front of it a few years back, much to a number of people's annoyance. Eventually I located the entrance, and was delighted there was no queues... Until I realised this is because the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays! D'oh!

I ended up sitting on the edge of a sculpture in the forecourt decided what to do, and talking to a pair of Americans who were also looking for the entrance... And telling them that they were wasting their time. I studied my map, and realised that the Museum d'Orsey (am I spelling that right?) is more or less just across the river. So I thought, damn, lets go see some art today.

Paris has three major galleries, the Lourvre, the Pompidou Centre and the Museum d'Orsey. D'Orsey houses the pre-impressionist through to the post-impressionist (roughly). The Pompidou has mostly twentieth century up till now, and the Lourve has everything else. Literally, the Louvre has ancient Egyptian and Assyrian stuff for example. The divisions are not hard and fast, but that's more or less how they've split up the Art they have lying around. So in actual fact, it was likely the d'Orsey and the Pompidou would hold more pictures of interest to me.

So I wandered across the river, and eventually found the front door to the Museum d'Orsey. It was the one with the queue snaking around and around... in the rain... Luckily, I had packed a piece of serious rain gear, a hiking rain jacket which I proceeded to put on. I'd got chatting to two poms behind me in the queue, and ended up lending one of them my umbrella. They'd driving their van there, or at least had popped it on the train and were driving around Paris in it. I scandalised them with my opinion that Van Gogh was a crap painter - which he is my my humble opinion. Mind you lots of painters were crap on a given day, there are a lot more "Minor" Picasso's out there than there are major works by him.

Eventually we made it inside the place, and I more or less abandoned them to dash off into the gallery. I'm a bit hard to impress with Art, as I may have mentioned, and so sometimes looking at it with people a bit slow and tedious - I've dismissed an entire room full of pictures whilst they're contemplating one picture! In actual fact by that stage it was already lunch time, and I was mighty hungry, so I dashed upstairs to the cafe and stuffed my gob with various yummy French food.

As I sat at a relatively uncomfortable table, I watched with interest a group of three people sitting next to me, two men and a woman, who were having an involved discussion about the availability of good coffee, and their mate who was off somewhere else. No doubt having a good coffee experience. They looked a bit weather beaten and at least one of them was dressed in blue shorts. And... They had very strong Australian accents. Not just an Australia accent, but a that old fashioned nasal Queensland accent. I didn't let on that I could tell exactly where they were from, but then before I left I offered them my table. Then I turned to them and said "Queenslanders, right?" I wasn't far off, turned out they were from far north NSW, so close enough :-) When I told them I was from Melbourne, they said they went there every year for a week around the Melbourne cup. They know what they like...

So I finally when and looked at some art. I had a detailed plan of the place, and was most interested in the post-impressionist area on one of the upper floors - well, in fact, that was the area that most grabbed my attention near where I was in the building.

The Museum d'Orsey was a train station until relatively recently - relatively recently on the kind of European time lines I was getting used to! In the 1980's it'd been turned into a gallery, quite well in fact. Looking at it, you could see where the trains had stopped and the tracks must have been. But it did make it a bit of an odd shape, so finding one's way around wasn't always easy. Some of the galleries I'd been in the US were so vast I probably only managed to see some 60% in the time I had (not to fellow travellers out there, make an early start!) So I mapped out something of a plan of attack for this place, circled the rooms I particularly wanted to see and crossing off the rooms I'd already seen.

The post-impressionist galleries were great, full of Seurat's and other painters I like a lot. Guagains and indeed some small sculptures by him - I didn't know he even did sculptures. There were also a number of painfully famous pictures like Degas' The Absinthe Drinker.

I worked my way down the floors, past some great shadow puppets from the famed Chat Noir (Black Cat) theatre.

Other things I saw: some Rodin sculptures, at least one of which they have a copy of at the NGV. There was also a whole set of Daumier miniatures, which I found highly amusing, because I'd seen bronze casts of them in a gallery in Washington (I think) where they were terribly proud of them. And here were the originals!

Other things I was really pleased to see: a lovely old pictures of a very early aeroplane flying over clouds. Also a rather great life-sized sculpture of a polar bear rendered in white marble. Also "The Gleaners", by... er, someone famous! And a couple of other famous paintings the names of which I can't now remember...!

So eventually I wandered finally out the front door. One of the great things about being in Europe in early summer is the that there's lots of daylight. The sun goes down quite late, after 9.30PM some nights, so one can go for long walks of an evening and see lots of a town, at least from the outside. Also great when you don't have long in a city.

So I went for a wander along the bank of the Seine. I came across a great little gallery that had some pictures which has been drawn on to cardboard boxes. Pictures appropriate to the writing on the boxes. Although of course now I can't think of an example. Then I wandered across a bridge on to the Ille de la Cite - you know, the one with Notre Dame on it! I found said cathedral, which didn't excite me as might since I'd seen a lot of damn cathedrals already on this trip! I also wasn't willing to to queue to see inside it, so I took a whole pile of pictures of the outside.

Then I wandered over the little bridge that connects Ille de la Cite with Ille Saint Louis, an island apparently manufactured in the seventeen hundreds. Apparently the buildings on it haven't really changed since they were built. I found (yet another) cafe, this one with a great view back to Ille (which means Island by the way) back to Ille de la Cite. I had myself my umpteenth hot chocolate - Europe hasn't discovered Chai - and a rather ace omelette, and struck up a conversation with an American family at the next table. The youngest, a teenager, had just learnt about Australia having compulsory voting and said he thought that a very good idea. I agreed!

Actually, they were an interesting family. The older sister was living in Europe, possibly Spain, and they were visiting her. They hailed from Atlanta, so I said I hadn't made it quite that far south on my so far one and only trip to the States. It also seemed the younger kid, the teenage boy, had been in a major accident relatively recently, and was only just recovered. Anyway, it was interesting to chat to some folks from the US, especially since I didn't meet to many of them when I was there.

Somewhere there my dad called me, and I chatted about the fantastically beautiful spot I was sitting in.

Lets see. I continued my wander up the middle of Ille Saint Louis, where there were shops selling the most delicious looking cheeses and other very very french things. Then I wandered off the island - sounds like something from Survivor - and wandered through what I found out later was called Le Marias, the old Jewish quarter. I did encounter a delightful - and again very french - series of connected courtyards, in a block of buildings which had Paul in their name. I wandered through them, and eventually found a train station called... Saint Paul! They like me there in Paris :-)

The train line from there ran west through Paris to the Arc De Triumph. Well, of course it went further than that, but that's where I was headed. Because I clearly hadn't seen enough in one day in Paris already!

The Arc is, again, somewhat larger than I expected. I was thinking it was kinda like an arch you might encounter in a door way. No my friends, it is at least eight to ten stories high. My legs were buggered by this stage, and even though I discovered you could walk up inside the thing, the number of stairs quoted - something over 280 as I recall - seemed a little too much for me. Too much lugging of suitcases.

Going back a bit - the train station disgorges you close to, but not next to the Arc. It in fact towers over a manic round about, which must have been five lanes of traffic wide (my memory may be exaggerated here). A family of bemused looking American tourists were standing on the edge of the road next to me, presumably having also just jumped out of the train. They wondered out loud how they might get to the Arc proper. I pointed out the entrance to what was clearly an underpass. The experience tourist can give directions even when he has only been in a location for three minutes!

The Arc is still an active memorial, there's an eternal flame burning under its arch. Although it's hard to see how it could be a quiet place of contemplation with four hundred mad French drivers spinning around the area not twenty metres away...

I have a confession. Before I'd even made it to the Arc, I spotted a mobile phone store across the road. So I darted over there, and had a conversation which went a bit like this:
Me: "Hi I need a prepaid SIM card for my iphone".
Orange Guy: "Is it unlocked?"
Me: "Yes. Mostly I want it for data."
Orange Guy: "It's is very expensive on the prepaid plans."
Me: "I know, but I need it anyway."
Orange Guy: "How long are you here for?"
Me: "Er... three more days."
Orange Guy: "Really, it's too expensive, it might be one hundred Euros. Perhaps this might be a good way to get over your addiction."
Me: "Addiction! Wait, I have to twitter about this..."

Damn it, it's not a good sign when even folks you have barely met are giving you a hard time about being on the iphone too much!

After wandering around the Arc for a bit, I decided I'd done more than my fair share of sight-seeing for one day, so I hopped on a bus down the Champs-Elysees, which is a great way to see it. Eventually the bus dumped me back near the Museum D'Orsey. I ended up finding a train line near the Siene on the RER, which is the suburban train line, as opposed to the Metro, and taking a very long and involved trip back to my hotel. Well, it wasn't that involved, but it did take me way out of the way.

I took myself out to dinner at one of the local cafes - probably the Cafe Du Republique, which quickly became a particular favourite, then dragged myself off to bed.

Not bad for one day in Paris!


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