Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Uniquely Paris

This will be our last blog entry for our month-long trip to Paris, so we are going to use it as a catch-all for some of the things that make this city unique.

Paris is an incredibly beautiful city with a special  "look."  Even trash receptacles and public benches are all color-coordinated in a distinctive Parisian green.  And the architecture is all about grace and elegance.  A good example are the many grand townhouses called "hôtel particuliers" like this one:

When Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann designed the Grand Boulevards of Paris for Napoleon III, he created some interesting architectural challenges that resulted in these intriguing skinny buildings with a footprint that was often not rectangular, but wedge-shaped:

On the streets of Paris

Anne's favorite building in all of Paris is the Louvre with its distinctive Mansard roof, a common feature in French Renaissance architecture.  Here is a view of the Louvre across a small pond where ducks swim and children sail wooden boats (just like at Luxembourg Gardens).  These peaceful little sanctuaries are all over the city, and are reminiscent of idyllic turn-of-the-century lifestyles, when women in bouffant dress sported lacy pastel-colored parasols, and on a sunny day, walked arm-in-arm with their men along the grassy pathways of these very same retreats.

The famous Louvre in Paris

Of course, trying to shoehorn modern conveniences into old buildings like these is no easy feat.  You may remember the skinny elevator in our apartment house.  Here is a picture of the two of us jam-packed like French sardines into what is supposed to be a three-person elevator!

Negotiating our tiny apartment elevator was always fun!

Even our lovely, modern apartment had some challenges.  The French are artists and great lovers of beauty, no question about it, but when it comes to practical matters, it's not their strong suit.  For example, our dishwasher produced sparkling dishes, but the wash cycle took over 3 hours!  And when the dishwasher finally finished (usually in the middle of the night), it would beep 5 times, wait 5 minutes and start beeping again, and then again another 5 minutes later.  Why? 

If you are a light sleeper, you will not be happy with these machines and their beeping in the middle of the night.  We saw no reason why the dishes couldn't wait quietly to be retrieved in the morning!  But if you want to get any sleep, you must roust yourself from bed, open the dishwasher door, and turn it off to disable the beeper.  It's lots of fun at 3:00 in the AM!!

The combination microwave/convection oven was also tricky.  (We never did master the convection oven operation completely.)  But at one point, we did "break" the microwave -- at least it appeared that way since none of the functions would work.  After Anne spent some time trying to decipher the French Operation Manual, it turned out that we had inadvertently triggered a special function to "lockdown" the microwave to prevent children from using it. 

We were very fortunate to have a separate washer and dryer (French apartments often come with a kludgy washer/dryer combination all built into one nice neat machine; it seems a brilliant idea at first, until you go to retrieved your still-damp, wrinkly clothes).  Once again, these appliances worked just fine -- if you had half a day to wait around!  A load of wash took well over an hour and the spin cycle seemed to be optional -- sometimes it ran, sometimes it didn't.  The dryer required at least 2 hours to produce dry clothes (most of the time, we gave up and air-dried them).  Frank concluded that "system design" courses with an accent on speed, simplicity, and efficiency do not seem to be part of the university teachings for the French engineer.

Our beautiful, but sometimes challenging, French apartment

One of Paris's charms is that you never know what to expect.  Each day is filled with surprises.  Like this bit of street art -- a clay figure half-buried in the gravel of a walkway in the Tuileries Gardens, one of the many parks around Paris.  We actually met the artist who planned to move the little sunburned guy around the city (notice the yellow lip balm) -- just to see what kind of reactions he would get.

Sculpture at the Tuileries
Paris is also known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, and it's great fun to window shop -- what the French commonly call "faire du lèche-vitrines" (literally it means "licking the display windows"). 

Here is one of the most colorful windows we saw (doesn't the dress remind you of one of those multi-colored lollipops?):

High fashion in Paris garmet shop

And of course, shoes are a huge part of haute couture.  This shoe is a creation of Christian Louboutin, perhaps the most famous of all French shoe designers.  His shoes start at about 450 euros (almost $600 U.S.).  Louboutin once commented that putting on a pair of fabulous shoes was like being sprinkled with fairy dust!

Famous Christian Louboutin high heels

Anne sported an unusual fashion accessory -- one that definitely discouraged any kind of high heels (see below).  Unfortunately, Anne got a bad case of "Paris Foot" (or more accurately "Montmartre Foot").  Montmartre, the section of Paris where we are staying, is known for its hilly, sometimes steep terrain.  Apparently all that walking, especially up and down the hills of Montmartre, caught up with her.
Luckily, Frank came to Anne's rescue and found a snazzy colorful cane at a local Pharmacie.  At first, the woman in the Pharmacie brought out some ugly grey masculine-looking canes, but Frank told her, "J'ai besoin d'une belle canne pour ma femme."  (I need a pretty cane for my wife.)  And she came up with this beauty.  Wow, those French lessons really paid off!

Anne shows off her colorful Parisian cane

The French sense of style also extends to transportation like this strange looking motorcycle with a covered cab and lots of storage space:

Anne eyes up some transportation to ease her sore foot

Of course, more that anything else, Paris is known as a city for lovers.  And nowhere is this more apparent than on the Pont des Artes (bridge).  Even from a distance, you may be able to see strange twinklings on the fence of this foot bridge.

Pont des Artes

Look closer and you will see that the railings on the bridge are covered with padlocks left by lovers who purchase a padlock, then attach the lock to the fencing, and throw the key into the Seine.  No one knows where this "love lock" craze originated -- Florence and Moscow have also been "padlocked."  Two years ago the city of Paris threatened to remove the locks, but apparently true love has won out, as the locks still remain.

Padlocks adorn this pedestrian bridge across the Siene River in Paris

Haaaaa!  And, if you look carefully here, you may even see two names that you'll recognize.  Paris, je t'aime!

Our very own padlock!

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