You're either a laissez-faire traveler - oh, another bus will be along - or a planner who regards the day as an elaborate clockwork mechanism, the failure of any one part ensuring the collapse of the entire arrangement. So: plane leaves at 4:15, meaning of course it boards at 3:35; factor in security (unknown duration); check-in (unknown duration), transfer (45 minute to airport), and then the one variable: the shuttle from the hotel to the station. Pick-up between 12:45 and 1:15. So we have to be back to the hotel at 12:35 to get the bags. So if you leave the hotel at 11 AM to find a coffee shop, and you find one at 11:18, this means you should leave at 12:10 to get back, unless you want to walk fast fueled by frustration or anger or panic.

If you are this person, you are married to someone who is not. If you are not this person, you are married to someone who is.

Of course we arrived in time, and found the flight delayed. Everyone was giving me the usual look when the we got here with an hour to spare - because, of course, I had booked the transfers three weeks before, and had the tickets in hand for a 12:45 transfer, because I don't do that "I suppose we should see if there's a bus or something" routine common to the lazy traveller. WHO ALWAYS MAKES THE PLANE ANYWAY because there is no justice.

So what are we supposed to do now, with an hour? Browse the shops, have a civilized meal and a beer in Iceland's marvelous airport, that's what. And indeed everyone was happy after an hour of doing exactly that, because all of the tremulous energy that had occupied the previous hour like gamma burst from an exploding star has dissipated, and all is well. We're going to make the plane.

Wheels up and out over Iceland; goodbye. Three hours later, the roll down into the clouds . . .



We had begun the second leg.


This AirBnB thing works out nice, it seems: rather than pay nosebleed rates for a Paris hotel where you are just another collection of tissue and water walking in the door in search of a soft plank, you are treated with such assiduous concern that your lodging host texts you to make sure the room is fine, and then her boyfriend texts you.

That's if she exists. I had the suspicion that the owner of this apartment is a construct created by the consortium that bought the unit, since there are few personal touches in the place. No clothes, no photos. They invented an attractive young Parisian woman who's a chef at a restaurant, of all things. How perfectly Paris!

Well, she probably lives with her boyfriend. This, for now, is suitable to be let. The price for the duration is about one night in a good hotel, and you get a genuine Paris apartment, looking out on a classic courtyard:



Out front, a tiny balcony where one can have a glass of wine and think "I am having a glass of wine on a balcony in PARIS" and be happy. Why wouldn't you?

So. We arrived late from Iceland, took a cab in to this small street, named for Marguerite Boucicaut, a philanthropist whose husband founded the Bon Marche store. The building is silent and dark and it doesn't seem as if anyone lives here. We find the key under the mat, check in, are delighted, and head off in search of a cafe. Beer at midnight after a long day in a cafe with a few other folk; daughter begging us not to speak French, being mortified by our existence a bit more than usual. (My wife speaks good French.) We're hungry; there's a take-out joint across the street. Planet Food. Local chain, it seems. Double-decker hamburger called THE HUMMER. So you know this isn't haute. The man at the grill is scowling at everyone. Wife wants a Croque Monsieur but not the one with fries or a drink, so I say Croque Monsieur soulement si'l vous plaint, and then order the Poulet sandwich, which earns me "CHICKEN?" Yes. Yes, chicken. We get everything with fries. SO THERE. We eat at a rickety table by a light fixture that shows bare bulbs in a niche by a plastic tree. But it was really quite delicious.

When I woke the next morning I prayed it was late. That my sleep schedule was right. That I'd gotten over the circadian dislocation. Sorry, Charlie. It's 6 AM. Four and a half hours have passed, and now you're going to march over the whole damned city. Enjoyez-vous!

But we did. How can you not? Even Paris in its current form is full of delights. What do I mean by its current form? I'll explain later.

If you'd like to tour the neighborhood, we can do that.

Turn right, then turn left on Rue de la Convention, which sounds like some conservative views on the Cleveland event. It's named for the post-Revolutionary conclave that abolished the monarchy on its first day, then broke for smokes and canapes. The street intersects with Avenue Felix Faure, and there's a story. He was president of France in the last years of the 19th century, and had a very French end:

Faure died suddenly from apoplexy in the Élysée Palace on 16 February 1899, at a critical juncture while engaged in sexual activities in his office with 30-year-old Marguerite Steinheil.

(She was a real peach, by the way.)

If you wander around, you'll get the feel for the place. It's in the 15th, and a fine place to call home for a while.

Off on the day's jaunt. The first of many - we averaged about eight miles a day. We cut through the Failed Brutal Garden of Andre Citroen. Some people like it. I think it's hampered by the quantity of concrete, and was surprised to learn it was finished in 1992. It looks like it's out of 1972, and captured the broad swath of European political ideas - meaning, it was inaugurated by Socialists and protested by Communists.

It is not content to let trees behave as trees would prefer.


Trees atop stone tombs.

Am I supposed to worship it? Wait for it to walk down the steps and try to converse in some weird human-tree hybrid tongue?

The park must have had 30 fountains. All dry.

We walked up the Seine, or rather along a road along a train track in an industrial section along the Seine, and then cut towards the Eif on some side streets. This isn't what most people think when they think Paris:

Or perhaps it is. It's not all elegant stone blocks of flats with narrow windows. The best parts are. The worst parts are modern and shabby. In fact, a lot looks shabby. I know, I know, I'm from Minneapolis, and I'm calling Paris shabby, but as my sister in law said - oh did I mention? We ran into her by the Trocadero - Paris c'est fatigue. For a city about to host a huge soccer event, you'd think it would . . . pop a little more, but it feels careworn and trashed. There are weeds growing out of the statues on the Champs Elysee; soot covers buildings on the ground floor. The National Assembly's front yard is all weeds, and it seems to dismay the statuary:

Maybe he's just heard her enter the room and remembers he was supposed to vlean up around the house because visitors were coming.

Anyway. Destination et c'est obvious:


I never know quite what to think about it. Who does? Is it possible to have a fresh response to something so well-known and iconic? It says PARIS like nothing else, and yes, it has a grace that escaped many who objected to its presence at the time. But what if you think it's . . . silly? It serves no purpose, except to proclaim the brilliance of French technology. Compared to the Beaux-Arts architecture, it's plain and almost rude, with its unadorned girders. Being there is almost surreal, because you've seen it all your life. And now you're here.

As it happens, I like it. I like the way it says "a new era, a time of proud technology. The future!" It's so old now that we can't see it as a beacon of the future - now it's a symbol of a bygone era that was of course much better and civilized, etc etc.

We walked up. The first leg was trying. The view's nice. The floor is Astroturf. There was a cheap fountain of the sort you'd find at Home Depot, with a black plastic bag as a liner. We made the next assault to the 2nd stage, and along the way I encountered something mysterious: cigarette butts. Can't imagine anyone took the time to smoke on the way up, or felt it necessary to tarry on the way down and light up.

The view:


As if they'd leveled it with a scythe.

Our next destination: the Trocadero, where the fountains splash a gay refrain! Or would, if it was 1954, and they were working:


They keep the skyscrapers in the distance, like refugees they are obligated to tolerate but not embrace.

One of my favorites places, at least in pictures - high 30s severe classicism, and yes you've seen it. Remember the art for the VINYL feature, the last one before the hiatus? It was chosen intentionally. THE CLUE WAS THERE ALL ALONG


The fountains are turned off. In fact, most of the fountains were turned off. Everywhere. At the peak of the tourist season. But there aren't exactly throngs of foreigners. I'd bought some skip-the-line tickets, but they weren't needed. There weren't any lines.

Ah, get out of here, I'm sick of this bull:

She needs gilding, unless they're going for that Goddess of Leprosy look:

They're not building anything, as far as I can tell; it's just repair. Lots and lots of ongoing repair.

She doesn't care what you think of the new Ghostbusters movie but she can probably guess

The building that stood on the site was rather amazing, if you're curious. "The building proved unpopular, but the cost expended in its construction delayed its replacement for nearly fifty years."

After we'd found the aformentioned Sister-in-Law and her daughter (joyous reception for Daughter, who was already tired of traipsing around with GROWN UPS) we headed to the next OTD, or Obligatory Tourist Destination.


I've always loved this structure. It's so pointless and so necessary to French history and the Parisian psyche, right? What an extraordinary achievement - and since no one worries about neo-Bonapartism anymore, none of the passions and conflicts of the era attach to it.

The queue had a photo of the most astonishing thing, an absolute nightmare. It's like an altar to some horrid conquering god:


The funeral beir of . . . who? You can make out his letters if you try.

The photo hung in the visitor's entrance. It's underground. You can't walk to the Arc; traffic is hideous. You have to go down into a tunnel, marked by a sign with a few letters chipped off, then go up the stairs to the Arc itself. It's worth it:

You can get close to the art you've only seen in pictures. Wikipedia calls them Heroically Nude.

Man, those 40-hour weeks were grueling; I can see why they cut back everyone's hours.

It's quite the mix of sex and violence, war and nationalism. I'm surprised it isn't perpetually draped in tarps to avoid giving offense. People might get ideas and go on a rampage with swords and horses.

The view up top is impressive, as you might expect, although you think "this is Paris, where's the Arc de Triomphe?" The city has great architectural momunents, but the cumulative result, seen from on high, is a great plain of uniformity. More on that later, depending on whether I feel like praising it or finding fault. I go back and forth.

I took the tiny circular staircase to the ground floor and studied the slabs honoring the dead in various conflicts. For a medium-sized nation, let's just say that France got around.

There is no American version of this structure - nothing so central, so emphatically nationalistic, so unyielding - it is a stone in the river of traffic - so functionally useless, except as a reminder of national identity and character. Like the Eiffel Tower, you come to marvel, and having marveled, you look for some place to have a cool drink.

So we found a cafe and Daughter fell asleep while the rest of us chatted. My wife said she could just hang out in cafes all day, which for a hard-driving lawyer type is a really good sign: she's on vacation, all right.

That was the highlight. Daughter went with Sister-in-law to a dinner (one extra kid was invited; two extra adults wouldn't have fit) by Versailles, and she wanted to see Versailles. Wife and I wandered around the neighborhood looking for dinner, and settled on a little restautant that had to be good, because the menu was handwritten and it had duck testicles and butter-fried snail duodenums and other things you wouldn't eat if you weren't in France.

It wasn't very good. Now think about that. It was a restaurant in Paris, and it wasn't very good. But the menu was handwritten! Doesn't that count for something? Do they come up with average meals anew every day?

Will we find something more than Large Symbolic Structures and overdone meat tomorrow? Stay tuned.


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