Arc de Triomphe, gai, gay, gay and lesbian, Haussmann buildings, homo, Jacques, jour férié, l'Etoile, La Défense, La Table des Gourmets, meals, musée du quai Branly, napoleon, pédé, pédéraste, traffic, war
Monday, after the terrific thunderstorm described in my last regular post, was a jour férié (holiday), the Monday after Pentecost. (You couldn’t make this stuff up!) I felt a bit under the weather, and hardly went out at all. I probably am working through some sort of bug, but it also seemed that there was a psychological aspect. In general I am thrilled by extreme weather: downpours, hurricanes, blizzards, etc. But the intense pelting of hailstones early that morning scared me a little. I wasn’t afraid for my immediate safety, but it seemed to me that someone caught out in that storm without a place to shelter could have been seriously injured. The forecast was for more thunderstorms on Monday, and I just didn’t feel like going outside! I did make a run to the grocery store, but just ate a frozen dinner at home.
I did do one important thing on Monday: Our landlord in Cambridge had sent us a proposal for an 8% increase in rent. We are used to annual increases, but this was more than usual. I made an appointment for a Skype conversation and was pleased to have been able to talk the landlord down to an increase of less than 5%. My roommate and I promptly signed the lease electronically, so my happy home is secure for another year.
I also spend some time with the book I’m reading for my book club, and I put up a post on getting into Paris. But I suppose that even a dedicated flâneur occasionally needs a day of rest!
Tuesday was again rainy, but not as threatening, so I set out for the musée du quai Branly, which I had visited with my nephew Andy in 2008. It collects non-Western art that nobody today would ever dare to call “primitive.” Much of the collection was looted — I mean to say “collected” — from France’s far-flung colonies.
The museum grounds are lovely.
The interior layout of the museum, however, is the most confusing of any museum I have ever visited. You never know where you are, where you should go next, and whether or not you have seen everything. I enjoy art-that-must-not-be-called-primitive in much the way I like contemporary art, because it sparks rich and complex feelings. I don’t really have an interest in memorizing which tribes particular types of masks come from, however.
One Australian aboriginal painting especially appealed to me.
There were also two temporary exhibitions, one on the plains indians (which fascinate the French) and the other on tattooing. I was ambivalent about both, but found them worth a look.
Tuesday evening I got together again with Jacques, first for an apéro at my place, then for dinner at La Table des Gourmets in the Marais. The restaurant served good traditional French food but the truly amazing thing was the dining room, a 12th century underground chapel.
It was a lovely meal, with a great friend.
This morning (Wednesday) I set out to visit the medieval town of Senlis, but disruptions in train service changed my plans and I decided instead to go up the Arc de Triomphe, which I had never climbed in all my years here. Jason and I had been turned away in 2010 due to a demonstration (though we did see one of the demonstrators fall from the top, fortunately not to his death).
You climb up a spiral staircase which makes for a giddy view.
The most impressive view from the top is of La Défense, the modern high-rise cluster just outside the western boundary of Paris proper.
I was also intrigued by this perspective on the rooftops of a typical street of Haussmann buildings.
Many flues on Haussmann building rooftops.
Notice the narrow chimneys with many flues. You need one for each fireplace or coal stove, so even at just five stories that’s a lot of flues!
I had been traumatized in May by traffic in l’Étoile, the traffic circle that goes around the Arc de Triomphe. It turns out that most circles in France give priority to cars already in the circle, like everywhere else in the world, by specific signs. But the general rule in France is that the driver on the right has priority, and this still applies to l’Étoile. This means that drivers entering the circle have priority over those already in it. Not knowing this nearly got me into an accident! But when you understand the rule the traffic flow makes excellent sense, and is even surprisingly calm. Here’s a short video clip of traffic in l’Étoile.
The militaristic sculptures on the columns of the Arc were being renovated the last time I visited, but are now good as new.
(I posted my definitive picture of the Arc de Triomphe itself in 2012.)
Mot du jour: homo. Jacques explained to me that homo, which has insulting overtones in American English, is an inoffensive shorthand for “gay and lesbian” in French, similar to “gay” in American English. He also noted that in contemporary French gai still means happy and carefree, while gay means “gay male.” The rude term for gay in French is pédé, short for pédéraste.