Musings and Mirth
Not soon after I woke up this morning, the so-called controversy rang through the Twittering class of loudmouths and shriekers. Of course they would hate the choice. After all, the Wingnut plan to discredit Obama was kind of working. Even The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live were on the attack. But along come the Swedes. And now what, more worldwide acclaim?
And then the crying and the whining:
BUT HE HASN’T DONE ANYTHING YET! It’s funny – someone says something and then it is repeated by people over and over until everyone thinks that’s what they’re supposed to say. No one stops to wonder whether it is true or not. So I started tracking Wikipedia for a few minutes, knowing the wingnuts would be out in full force. And they were. I quickly started editing and deleting – finally it looks kind of right. Controversy should not mean a while bunch of whiners crying because the ball went on the roof. It should be reserved for actual controversies, like when a mass murderer is nominated for the prize. Here are some of the pics. You can read the variations.
I think it’s really weird that the press is poring over details of the Stephanie Birkitt/Dave Letterman love affair. I have an idea that Letterman will divorce his wife Regina and marry Birkitt. What do you want to bet. See, here I go, joining the choir. This Letterman thing is far from over. Sure, he did put himself in a good light by coming clean on his show but it is just too juice for the press to ignore. It will not be let go by the wingnuts either. Finally they have something really big on Letterman to invalidate any objective commentary he might have given over the years to help the Democrats.
But Birkitt is in a stew. The only hope she has of making things okay in her life is to write a tell-all book. She is infamous now and perhaps un-hireable (is that a word?) as a result. Her best bet is to make Letterman marry her and they can travel the world together. He’s probably too old now to cheat on her. Merill Markoe famously said that she always thought she would be the only woman Dave ever cheated on.
The weird thing about these women? They all look alike – they all have that pointy nose, weak chin thing going on. They are also probably smart and funny – well we know Markoe is funny:
Anyway, I wish the Dave story never happened. I wish he hadn’t pretended to be with someone a long time because it made him look like a good guy. I wish the sweet, honorable midwestern Dave still existed.
On the other hand, perhaps we put way too much on our celebrities to be better than human, better than us. And maybe that isn’t fair, and maybe it is what drives people like Letterman and other politicians to have to lead double lives in the first place; why can’t we like them as they are?
Memories fade if they aren’t retold in some way – either you retell them again and again, sometimes unreliably in your own mind, or else you repeat them to someone, write them down in a journal (I’m really bad at that, but I do write on this blog occasionally) – photographs help greatly. So where were we? We were finding our way, at last, to the Louvre.
We knew we had to go; we didn’t want to go. I knew it was supposed to be big and crowded. Since we got there late in the day, with just two hours to see the whole thing, it wasn’t as crowded as expected. There were late-comers but most had wandered the halls already and seen what they had to see (Mona Lisa and the Venus) and still had time to see everything else. In my mind it was a bunch of old paintings Emma would not like very much, or else be bored looking at. One day she will have the context to really appreciate what she was seeing – this wasn’t going to be that day. We both knew the idea was to go to say we’d gone.
But like everything else in the Paris, the Louvre exceeds expectations on every possible level. It is modern and beautiful and full interesting, non-boring art. The only catch is that you have to have the time and energy to wander around. If you don’t you will be able to say you went but that is all. My advice to anyone going with a younger kid, don’t try to do the Louvre – it will be boring for them. But for a kid 11 and older? Absolutely take them. Give the a camera and let them take pics of the art (non-flash).
We did not have sufficient time and we were already dog tired. It was our third day – we had one more day left and we’d crammed as much tourism as we possible could into those first two days. We were so tired that we both felt like we had been swallowed by a giant whale when we tried to see the Louvre in just a short hour. We ended up parking it at a cafe (not Cafe Marly, which I couldn’t find, alas), for a croissant, a coffee and a hot chocolate. The first drops of rain of the day started to fall. Around us were tired tourists. One woman was laying her head on the table as she waited for her order to be taken. You know how French wait-staff are. They are slightly more motivated to serve Americans because they know we (stupidly) tip them. It is the only (slight) benefit to being an American in Paris.
Emma had ordered an apple tart but got served an eclair instead. That was okay, though. I told her not to bother the waitress about it since it had already taken many long minutes to get served in the first place. I enjoyed my coffee but need I say it again that Italian coffee whips French coffee’s ass – and I’ll say it loudly and proudly that American coffee whips both of their assess if I’m the one making it. Italians corner the market on capuccino, though. You will never find a better one than in Italy. Never.¬† Ever. Paris coffee is okay. It’s perfectly fine. Nothing to write home about, even though here I am writing from home about it.
Sitting in that cafe, surrounded by tourists, in that old and beautiful building, with rain falling outside and a view of Paris around I had another surge of brief happiness about where we were and what we were doing.
There was probably no greater moment for me than that. I spent a fortune, I nearly ruined my life upon arrival back in America, but those brief moments frozen in time in a place where romantic dreams turn into fully blown realities — we were caught in that elusive atmosphere of happiness.
We saw the Mona Lisa – the poor thing. She hardly looks under siege, though. She smiled wrly back at the throngs as if to say – “you can’t touch me; I’m locked away behind glass.” It’s funny – she is like Paris herself. One has to see her – everyone wants to be near her but she’ll always be kind of remote, mocking you with her bemused expression. It’s a strange experience seeing something so famous. The Venus De Milo, like Michelangelo’s David, is breathtaking.
And that was that for the Louvre. We headed out in the rain and found our way back to the shuttle boat where we would attempt to head to the Latin Quarter for dinner — as it turned out, not the smartest idea. I stupidly thought the Latin Quarter was where the students hung out and therefore everything would be cheap. But in August, in Paris, there are no students. Parisians hightail it La Plage and out come the tourist prices. So good luck finding anything cheap in Disneyland – I mean fake Paris, I mean the Latin Quarter. Yes, it is still beautiful, of course, like everything in the city of lights.
We walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked through the Latin Quarter trying to find a cheap restaurant. Our funds were dwindling and they were already borrowed as it was. I knew we had just the one more day there and we needed enough money to get back to the airport and at last home. Being broke on your own is one thing. Being broke with a kid in tow is a whole other thing.
She did, however, take a few snaps of the area – they have kid’s eye view:
With the kid in full whine mode about being tired and hungry, we had no choice but to pick this one restaurant. Of course, the kid’s menu was like $12 Euro, which is around $16 or something like that. So Emma tried her luck at a hamburger (it was served Atkins-style, with no bread) and I had some kind of chicken and frites that was just about the most tasty thing I’d ever had in my life.
The real thrill of it, though, was meeting a fellow American who was there hanging out after taking his adoptive son’s brother back to Romania. It was a harrowing story but he and his wife were doing this great and charitable thing. I briefly thought about being ten years younger and child-less and would I sleep with this dude if given the opportunity. I didn’t know the answer but I kind of liked thinking about it. He was attractive, southern, and his eyes undressed every woman that walked by – I figured he was on-the-make. I am pretty much past my sell-by date so it wasn’t even a consideration – but we enjoyed chatting across the small restaurant while fielding angry looks from the Parisians nearby – it was a sign of the times, though, that the restaurant was nearly empty.
Both of us Americans agreed that everything was too expensive and that we both needed to get back to America where things are a tad more manageable.
Dinner was delicious, memorable, expensive. We found our way back to our shuttle bus in the dark and we took our last boat ride down the Seine to the boat’s last stop, the Eiffel Tower. We got out of the boat and walked underneath the lit up Eiffel Tower, which twinkles around 10pm. It is so lovely to walk under – and there are so many people there, even late at night. We wandered down the neighborhood and took our last walk through the park to our hotel. At that hour Paris comes to life – Europeans are funny how they like to eat so late and stay up at night. I guess they must sleep late too.
We made it home and crashed. We had one more day, one more night and then … home.
The Paris in my mind was different from the Paris my daughter and I met. I saw crowded streets full of students and artists bustling around town, a baguette lodged under their arm, a beret perhaps, lots of beautiful women in vintage dresses, somehow music playing softly somewhere, fast little cars zipping around … a rat as a chef… no, of course, I’m describing the Paris in movies. The Paris in movies is not the real Paris, just like the Italy in movies is not the real Italy. If you’re traveling to popular destinations during August you have to prepare for two things. The first is that the locals will have vacated — this is true of most cities in Italy and it is most certainly true of Paris. Those frogs—er, French people—vanish for the seaside because, you know, they can. And so what’s left? Tourists, tourists, tourists, and more tourists. What do the remaining Parisians do? They jack up the prices, yo. It’s like being dropped into the middle of Disneyland for a few days.
This is only sort of true. You CAN find cheap places and by cheap places I mean, they are about, on average, double what you pay in LA. When Emma and I had our morning cup of coffee – we had two croissants, cafe au lait for me and a hot chocolate for her. That ended up being 10 Euro. But ten Euros is like $15. So that’s an expensive (cheap) breakfast in LA. That’s like going to Whole Foods and getting the same. The thing about French people too is that they seem to relish taking advantage of dumb Americans. They can tell you whatever the hell they want and they know you’ll be too embarrassed to argue, which I was, which is how I ended up flat busted by the end of our four days in Paris.
Tourists be warned — there are going to be things you don’t understand — if I’d had it in me I would have mustered up my courage and asked directly, what’s this extra charge on my bill if it’s not the tip, for god’ssakes? If you can do it in French all the better — but if you aren’t fluent in French you’re kind of screwed lest you want to be obnoxious and argue.
We’d lucked out so far. The first dinner we had was at a local bistro with only French people eating there. We couldn’t read the menu but we pointed to something that looked good. Emma had trouble chewing a bite of her steak, however, and chewed that sucker for around ten minutes. She asked if she could spit it out and I said, “CHEW IT AND SWALLOW IT!” So she took a sip of water, chewed, took another sip of water, chewed, and chewed, and chewed, and chewed, and chewed. Finally, the blasted thing made its way down. After that I switched plates with her because she’d gotten just a tougher cut. I think we both sweared off red meat after that. Thirty Euros total, including wine and bread. A great deal (even though that’s like $45).
The second night we had the best dinner of the trip. I had a whole fish, Emma had salmon – great company, incredible food, Emma had creme brulee and a cheese plate to finish it off. $60 Euros. That one hurt. That’s like $75 or something, maybe $80. We just don’t pay that kind of money for dinner. Ever.
Our money, needless to say, was dwindling. We’d bought a two-day boat shuttle, which turned out to be a pretty good deal because you can hop on, hop off anywhere up the Seine. We took full advantage because when we were tired out we’d simply hop back on the shuttle boat and sit for about an hour as it made its stops up and down the Seine. Day Three meant we had to go to the Louvre. We’d been avoiding it thus far for many reasons. I personally wanted to skip it. Emma only really liked modern art at this point, we’d been to the Musee d’Orsay, which is incredible. But if you go to Paris you have to go to the Louvre, right? Still, Emma didn’t want to go.
Oh, the other problem was that this was Monday and the Louvre was closed on Tuesday, as were a lot of other museums – Tuesday was to be our last full day in Paris so we had to do the Louvre on Monday. We planned on it being our first stop but wouldn’t you know we got kind of sidetracked, as one often does in Paris. One does, doesn’t one? We also had plans of checking out the Latin Quarter for dinner (thinking, stupidly, that students hung out there so there had to be cheap eats). We meandered up a ways to the Pompidou. Emma had wanted to see what she thought was the “lip sculpture.” She went on and on about it — insisted that we go.
Full disclosure: much of Emma’s desire to see Paris and goals while there was to fulfill a gamer-girl fantasy. She used to play (until she scratched the CD to hell) a Nancy Drew game called Danger by Design which apparently takes place in Paris. Most of her reference points had something to do with this silly game and I have a feeling that’s how the whole lip sculpture thing became such an obsession. Nonetheless and be that as it may, we were determined to find it.
On our way up to the Pompidou somehow it was lunch time. We’d had our cafe and chocolate already but for some reason, up by the Pompidou, we were hungry again. We were walking on this lovely little streets that lead up to museum and they are probably closest to the Paris in my imaginings. We found a sweet little shop that sold sandwiches and breads — might I say now that the little shops with sandwiches and breads are far more sophisticated in Paris than they are anywhere in Italy, even Rome. The French have a way with beautiful things – it is just a fact that we all have to live with.¬† We decided to try, in honor of Julia Child, a Croque Monsieur. It was, after all, on the list. The list was like, baguette, croissant, cafe au lait, coq au vin (never got around to trying it), and crepes. The Croque Monsieur was, I might say, kind of nasty. I mean, despite the lovely shop and the nice people who worked there (some French people are nice), that thing was almost as hard to choke down as that steak. It wasn’t that it didn’t taste good – it was that it was too rich. But our funds were dwindling I forced Emma again to eat the damned thing. This is a good photo of what one looks like (I did not take this photo):
Kids are funny that way. They have no problem tossing their food and then asking for something else to eat a half hour later.¬† But poor Emma, I made her eat most of it. She’ll probably remember Paris for two things. Being forced to chew that steak and having to choke down the Croque Monsieur. I knew that it had such a high calorie count it would easily hold us until dinner (do you know how often kids want to buy food?). Oh, and the lip sculpture. She’ll remember that too.
Here is Emma choking it down.
It was so filling and so rich neither of us could even think about food until late that night. This is, I’m convinced, why Parisians eat so late. They’re way too sick after eating lunch.
Then it was off to the Pompidou, one of the major highlights of our trips. My brother-in-law had suggested this museum, even though it isn’t on the list of must-sees (I also wanted to see the Picasso museum but I’ll have to catch that next time). The Pompidou is a modern art extravaganza – full of great old Picasso paintings and the like. But the real draw was that they were having this exhibition on female artists called elles@centrepompidou and it is really the coolest thing – all female artists on display as a reaction to the idea that most of the world’s most famous museums are full of male artists. This, I thought, was the best lesson for Emma of the entire trip (even more than the whole “eat your goddamned Croque Monsieur – it costs a goddamned fortune!).
The exhibit opened with large buttons of male names morphed into female names.
I really liked being able to explain to Emma about what it means to be a female artists. It was probably one of the high points of my entire experience as a mother. It means so much to me personally that women are able to connect with their artists within and express themselves. Yes, it just so happens that much of this is vaginal-oriented. Why is this – well when you think about it, it kind of is a big deal – this is where babies come from. This is the entrance and the exit. It is the worst curse word. I feel like Yoko Ono all of a sudden. ANYWAY — so, yeah, we had to deal with a lot of that but hey, we’re women, we can handle it. Listen, after childbirth anything is possible.
Much of the art was disturbing, some of it very funny, some of it sad — all of it provocative and interesting. No, perhaps women don’t lead the charge where movements are concerned — not yet anyway (although I think performance art kind of started and stopped with Laurie Anderson).
After the Centre Pompidou, we found the lip sculpture, at last, the lip sculpture! We hung around a bit and then we knew we had to get to the Louvre before closing time, which just a couple of hours away.
We got ourselves back on the shuttle bus and rode it around for a while in order to rest ourselves. At some point it got us back around to the Louvre and we took our chances. By now, clouds had rolled in. Two bright cloudless days in Paris were coming to an end; we didn’t mind, though, Paris is somehow more lovely when it rains. Being from California, we don’t get rain much anyway so that in itself is exotic. Summer rain even more rare. It was all good.
Saving Part Two for later because I’m all typed out.
While watching PBS’ pledge drive yesterday, I was given the opportunity to see some of Julia Child’s old cooking shows, The French Chef. Child was such an original. And weirdly enough, she looked a little like Meryl Streep when she was younger. They both had those high cheekbones and thin lips. I watched her make omelets and lobsters and stews.¬† At the end of the show, they had an interview with the older Julia who gave the following advice about being able to eat well and stay healthy: no snacking and no seconds.
I was also thinking that Julie & Julia would have been a much better story if there had been something wrong with Julie other than “I’ve done nothing with my life and I’m turning 30.” If she was dying of cancer and had one year to cook those recipes, or was trying to woo a man by cooking the recipes — something. I know, how horrible. But fiction is preferable to the truth most of the time.¬† Except when it comes to Julia Child.
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