By the time you read this it'll be two weeks since it happened. And what's IT? Being on a train, going somewhere very fast. Better than being at the station looking with stunned dismay as the train pulls out, which I thought might well happen, since we were only an hour early.

To explain: it was a nightmare drive to the train station. We left from Rue Boucicaut to Gare Du NORD, the station you can't say without sounding like a bumpkin. There's no way across Paris. I'd say there's no good way but there's simply just no way. Everyone is trying to get to opposite destinations; there are millions of scooters like minnows among whales. Everyone hates everyone else. All against all. Our Uber driver did not drop us off in front of the station for reasons inconnu, but drove to the drop-off point under the station and took us backward through car rental, before leaving us a security stop that turned out to be the place where you stored your baggage. This gave me contrusions. Unwilling to find the elevator, because that would take TIME, we bumped our suitcases up a flight to the main level, found the right part of the station, and joined the first of many queues. It's not well marked. It's not well-designed. It's miserably hot, too. People sweating in a train shed, holding their papers, waiting for the stamp of authority - why, it's Europe, Classic Style!

But that was this morning. Yesterday was the day of Not Attending the Louvre as Much as I'd Like.

It's a long story. Sister-in-Law proposed taking the girls shopping on the Champs Elysee. Great! Louvre tickets are for 1 PM, I said. (They weren't, but it was a way of setting some sort of structure.) Meet me here at this enormous, pointless Ferris Wheel at 1:15, and we can walk through the Louvre gardens and be there by 1:30 and have four hours to explore everything.

You know how that went, right? Right. But I was still living in hope. They went shopping; I went exploring. Took a look at the details of the Place de la Concorde, which I present for your interest. It's a grand space both inert and frenetic - cars whirl around the center, no one dares cross the lanes. There's a big Ferris Wheel with a dispirited shopping area - cheap trinkets, ice cream, and the best Coke I've had in weeks. Ice cold. I was so very, very grateful for its existence.

Here is the Place. Of the Concord.

Wikipedia:

During the French Revolution the statue of Louis XV of France was torn down and the area renamed Place de la Révolution. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.

If there are any markers, I didn't see them.

Other important figures guillotined on the site, often in front of cheering crowds, were Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess √Člisabeth of France, Charlotte Corday, Madame du Barry, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Antoine Lavoisier, Maximilien Robespierre, Louis de Saint-Just and Olympe de Gouges.

In 1795, under the Directory, the square was renamed Place de la Concorde as a gesture of reconciliation after the turmoil of the French Revolution.

Awfully nice of them. Let's take a look at those nice ladies up on the stone boxes.

 

She's feeling fine and sassy. Her uptight sis, not so much:


Nante's official website says "Regularly quoted in newspapers as being one of the nicest cities in France." Well, that settles it.

Could stand a lick of paint and some maintenance.

 

Then I took a narrow corridor of park, completely unpopulated. It's one of Paris' oldest parks, created in 1616 by Queen Marie de Medicis. It's a dump. There's a statue dedicated to King Albert - do not email me and ask if I have any pictures of him in Cannes - and has this nice piece of 30s design.

 

 

I liked the 30s style of the monument, even if things related to kings and the 30s have that mad wan smile of death about them. The park was a mess - all weeds and busted benches, spattered with bird crap. At the end, the magnificence of the Pont Alexandre III, spattered with the scrawls of savages.

The bridge is part of a spectacular set of Beaux-Arts / Nouveau structures built at the end of the 19th century for the 1900 Exposition, and it's named for the Tsar. An alliance had been secured a few years before, and it would last until 1917, when the Bolshies ripped up the paperwork. The bridge was blown up after the pact ended, as per the treaty's stipulations, and rebuilt for a Woody Allen movie four years ago.

No, of course not.

 

The wikipedia entry for the Pont Alexandre II says "the bridge is widely regarded as the most ornate, extravagant bridge in the city," which understates the situation a bit.

Pictures don't do it justice.

 

The bridge leads to the two palaces, the Grand and the Petit. Nothing I show you will do them justice, either.

Well, perhaps this helps.

It's quite the shed. Used for exhibitions and shows, some of which damaged the floors: decades of horse shows produced sufficient urine to degrade the structure, and staging demonstrations of steam locomotives didn't help. Also, the ground shifting because of a change in the water table. Other than that it's fine. Now restored and shored. I didn't get inside. There didn't seem to be any compelling reason to enter; nothing inside could match the exterior.

Some of the statues have a vigorous, rough appeal - not entirely finished to the demands of the earlier 19th century, perhaps, but apt for these new times with their dazzling sense of speed and change. Oh, I just made that up.

It's by Jack Lou Bob Villenueve, and he got the Bronze meda;l for this. For some reason it's known as "Industrial Art."

Again with the big allegorical figure holding a Mini-Mi:

 

The tiny versoion is wearing the Cap of Liberty, I believe. Or, if she has a knife in her hand, it's a tribute to Charlotte Corday. I'd tell you who did it but the grandpalais.fr website is a piece of junk, so no.

Marvel, if you will, at the stagecraft of the facade, the way it combines light and dark into a light-dark combined thing. (Sorry; I need so coffee. Heading off to the club car now.)

An early 20th century painting, which I saw at the Orsay, gives you some context. That's the Grand on the top. On the bottom?

The Little Palace! The Littlest Palace that could. It lacks the restraint of the Grand. It's gorgeous. It's fall-on-your-knees-weeping gorgeous. If only this world still existed. If only this world had ever existed.

Alas, the stones are getting a bit leprotic.

 

Inside it's all light and glass, the hope of a serene new era:

 

You notice anything missing from these pictures? Me. In the garden of the Petit Palace there was a synthetic woman of indeterminate age revolving around, trying to get the best picture of herself in this location. Everywhere you look, there are young women with cameras on sticks looking at themselves, as if they will be required to produce evidence of their presence in these places. It's harmless. But after three days I stopped worrying about whether I was walking into anyone's shot, because these days it's impossible to avoid. I especially enjoy the photographers who put ten yards between themselves and the subject, and expect everyone to notice and stop.

Back to the meeting point to get into the Louvre after 1:15! No one here. They said they'd meet me at the Louvre, so I went through the gardens - hot, dusty - and entered the grand realm of kings.

 

 

 

 

While waiting - and there was much waiting, grrr - I took some pictures of the ceiling in the passageway to the main palace.

Frozen music everywhere.

Let's just say everyone showed up around 3.

But I got what I came here to do: walked around with Daughter and showed her my favorite paintings, the stories behind them, met old friends I hadn't thought about in years, did a crash course in Italian painting and personalities - well, at least as Vasari set them down - and hey, here's a Vasari!

This guy made a living out of big paintings that had small pictures of smaller paintings. He also did a massive account of some play celebrating the first solid bowel movement of the third prince's baby, or something -

 

Everyone here was someone, you suspect.

Then the sculpture garden.

 

This dude, he's seen things. Horrible things.

Don't know who he is - I mean, I do, but the name means nothing to Google. The sculptor was Christopher Veyrier, who was a guy who did stuff like this. That's pretty much the sum of his life on Wikipedia.

 

The last picture I took of the Louvre. The last picture of Obligatory Tourist Destintion in France. Haunted and old.

 

 

 

When it was done we wandered our neighborhood looking for a restaurant; wife had seen one that served cassaroles, or the French version thereof - cassoulet. Sure enough. Chez Papa. We got a seat, and were handed menus that had a story. About Papa. Who didn't exist. Something about the menus and the story made me think this was a chain, and a little googling revealed that there were 11 in Paris alone. Yes, it's a chain. So much for your hole-in-the-wall authentic joint, eh? Well, it'll be different. Basquey.

We waited 35 minutes to place our order. They were short-handed, because France was playing Germany in the European cup, and half the staff had called in sick, and of course you can't sack them for obvious shirking of duty. Finally I stood to leave and the manager ran over and grabbed my hand. I said we had been here trente minute, no, quarante minute, and he said "one minute. One minute." He looked back into the bar. "Two minutes." I got out my phone and set a timer and put it on the table and he was back in 90 seconds.

I had the tuna casserole. It was okay. My wife had something rough and full of strange meat. It was okay. Everything cost too much. Every meal has cost too much. But it's an experience! A once in a life-time experience, and I got a great shot of Daughter from outside the cafe.

 

As we walked back to the apartment it was apparent that France had won. The Eiffel Tower went up in the French colors; the streets were full of - well, this.

 

So ended our time in France. Almost. I got up the next morning before everyone else, turned on the hot water for espresso, went down the block for fresh croissants; we had eggs and ham and cheese, then cleaned up with brisk efficiency and called an Uber to take us to Nord.

We got on the train; it gave that satisfying lurch that says another journey has begun.

Where to next? We'll see on Monday. This is the part I'm looking forward to the most. And it's two parts.

 
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