Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Ground Floor: Paris 0

11 March

The Tucson airport was full of Wildcats (all of whom we knew) headed to watch this guy do his thing in Vegas.  Normally I would never dream to leave during this magical time of Conference Championships and first weekend of the Tournament but schedules can not be helped.

Due to circumstances we caught an upgrade to First Class for the first leg from Tucson to Dallas and enjoyed all the comforts associated there-to.

Super comfortable, as in so comfortable that I left Tina's iPad in the seat back pocket because I was too comforted to put it in my bag.  A mad dash back to the gate before the Paris bound plane and a crisis averted.

No actual upgrade for the Dallas to Paris leg but we did have the exit row which is a basic human right for a person over 6' tall. As the Revolution taught us: Liberté, égalité, fraternité and leg roomité.

T and I usually speak Spanish when in a crowd to avoid eavesdroppers.  If you have never heard me speak Spanish or attempt to whisper, I'm the best at both.  All the people sitting around us were from Mexico except a lady in the row behind us which led to the following scene:

CB: I'm tengo hambre
CB: La mujer over there tener una cara muy grande como un vaca
TB: Everyone can hear you and no
CB: Is the tiempo para comer yet?
LadyBehindUs: Pardon me ma'am, is this plane going to Paris?  I seem to notice everyone speaking a form of Spanish.

We whiled away the hours watching the movie about the jazz teacher who loves jazz super much (which makes this fiction I think) and punches people and the drummer who cares.....who cares is right.  It simply consumed 2 of the 9 hours.

I can't sleep on airplanes due to a fear of falling + dying, the suspension of disbelief of which I can not perform.  Whilst Tina slept I watched the equally bad Fury.  Fury is such a bad movie that I might re-watch it to see if it perhaps a parody that I sort of missed.  It is fun to watch faceless, hapless Nazis being blown up but overall a pretty dumb film.

We can however recommend the historical novel Paris by some dude.  It is not a good piece of prose (types the guy setting the record for run-on sentences) but it is a useful narrative line that captures some of the city's history in context.  The setting in time jumps back and forth a bit gratingly but if you lived in the century of paper and pens you should consider circling each place he mentions on the map for a little context when you visit.

I enjoy History and Herstory and frankly everyone's story and don't even require much that they are true.  What follows is the short version of Paristory that as the resident house history nerd I provided TinaB throughout our travels.  Some of it is even true.  Next post will be all about our actual trip I promise.
  • Cave dudes (called Troglodytes here) on the run from wooly mammoths in Africa get tired of walking and stop here (BCE  9 or 10 K years)
  • Un-Roman people make towns and feel pretty all right about things. The put up a little walled fishing village on an island in the Seine river.  The Seine flows in from the Atlantic coast so West to East.  If you are going down river, as you pass Paris you have a Right Bank and a Left Bank which will be important later for snootiness purposes. (BCE  250 - 52)
  • Romans roll up and 'civilize' everyone by killing them and building super fancy communal outhouses and gladiator arenas. They also plant the seed for the most famous comic none of us Americans know about. (BCE 52)
  • Jesus sent Denis to Paris (CE 250s) and the Romans cut off his head.  He becomes the patron saint of the headless in Paris.
  • Atilla the Hun swings by (CE 451) to burn down the city but finds this lady praying super hard.  Atilla was basically a nice guy and tried not to interrupt old ladies praying so he just kept standing around waiting for her to wrap it up.  After making the circular 'hurry it up' motion invented by the Huns (not the Huns who show up later..several times actually) he finally got tired of looking at his wrist-mounted sun-dial and had his gang head down the road to pillage Orleans.  She became the patron saint (also?) of Paris and is the most despised figure in what is left of Orleans.
  • French kings are invented late CE 400s and cruise along for a while (often named Louis) and then decide to make things more complicated by allowing (some) people to (sort of) vote around the CE 1400s.
  • At various points the Jews are killed/kicked out, the Protestants are massacred, the Templars are burned etc.  During this period it was never really wise to not be just the right sort of Catholic in Paris.
  • All the above sets the table for everyone to get eventually Enlightened and then mad about all of it and then to burn the whole structure down several times starting in the late 1700s.
  • Louis XIV (pronounced the Sun King) rules for 75 years as the sort of hose wearing monarchical tough guy you would expect.  He starts and wins lots of wars, builds things and moves most of the royal court out of Paris.  All of which preps things downstream for Louis XVI to get his head chopped off.
  • Louis XVI (pronounced Louie 16) shows up (1775 and despite not being particularly terrible just happens to be the guy in the chair when the modern ideas like Liberty etc. pop up.
  • As things are getting hectic he calls a meeting of the Estates General including Estate 1 = Priests, Estate 2 = Nobility and 3 = everyone else where 'everyone' = white, Catholic, uppermiddleclass dudes of course.  The Estates are literally asked to write down what they think is wrong with the country.  The process of writing all this down and getting together to argue about it lights the match.  States 1 and 2 lock the 3rd out of the meeting room one morning and so they rally (wink) at the nearby tennis court and invent a Tennis Court oath  (yeah) which is why you see a tennis ball so prominently displayed on the French flag today.
  • The next few years get super crazy and the Revolutionaries put the guillotine up in what is now Concorde plaza and start chopping off heads.  They eventually run out of priestly and noble heads to chop off so they start on each other.
  • Some of the Catholics who lost out in the Revolution got a little army together and came at the new bros in Paris.  The Directory guys asked if anyone knew how to fire a cannon down a narrow street and wouldn't mind aiming it as some fellow Frenchmen. Napoleon volunteered, naturally.  From there he more or less conquered Europe and the first 5 Coalition armies all the way to Russia before eventually losing to the snow and then later more decisively to the 6th Coalition.  As it relate to Paris, this is important because Napoleon had himself called the first Consul and then later the Emperor and commissioned a ton of art and building to commemorate (in Roman style) how fantastic he was.  My favorite is in the Louvre where he has the Pope come down to Notre Dame to watch him crown himself.
  • Later his nephew Napoleon III (confusingly the First President of the Second Rebublic and the the First Emperor of the Second French empire) takes over and gets this Haussmann guy to re-design the city into the format we now know.  He also picked a fight with the Prussians (Germans) who eventually besieged Paris and starved most everyone there to death.  The French gave them Alsace to go away.
  • In a little gap at the end of the siege before the Army comes back to Paris, a Communard group takes over the city and calls it the Commune of Paris.  They are slaughtered when the guys with guns come back home.
  • World War I is fought largely in France and everyone on all sides die.
  • The Germans come back in 1940 during WWII and take over.  The Vichy government is setup to collaborate with the Germans, ship Jews to concentration camps and deal with the Resistance who work to do the opposite of all those things.  There are small, white monuments all over Paris on the sides of buildings memorializing WWII heroes, many from the Resistance.
  • From the end of WW2 we pretty much have the Paris we see now with the addition of more immigrants from primarily Muslim countries and former colonies.  This changing social demographic is a favorite complaint of cab drivers in Paris specifically and France in general. Je suis Charlie. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mise en Place: Paris -1

5 nights in and we are finally pausing to rest at the Chateau de Verrieres (pronounced the usual way) (thanks Sivillis for the recommendation).  I'll walk back a bit to the beginning of the trip but at halftime we are in the lead.

The urge to be full-on type-A-first-born-over-do-ers is strong and Paris in particular will consume you if you let it.  The more I travel, the more I re-enforce for myself that checking off boxes of famous places to see is a dangerous business.  Some are under- and some are over- and I suppose a few are perfectly- whelming but as always it is the process not the product that ends up mattering. That is a long way to say that we have left plenty on the list of to-dos for a future visit and are viewing this in part as a reconnaissance for a future sortie (those are French words used incorrectly because French).

In prep for our 10 days we read all the blogs and guides and made lists and put off learning any French until it was far, far too late.  Our friends who had preceded us offered up the Common Wisdom:

  1. The Louvre is big and you should only see a part of it
    1a. The Mona Lisa is tiny, crowded etc.
  2. Just drink the house wine, it's cheap and great
  3. Bring shoes you can comfortably cover ground in
  4. The Metro goes everywhere
  5. You don't really need to speak French
  6. Watch out for pickpockets at the X.  Where X is everywhere tourists go which is everywhere.
  7. On the first day, walk up to the biggest, meanest guy you see and punch him in the face as hard as you can.  You may lose the fight but you will gain their respect.
  8. Dan Brown is the authoritative source for all the Parisian history you will need.
Some of that advice was good and some will get you arrested (#5).  At the midpoint I will add a few more.
  1. Learn how to wear a scarf, it is a real and actual thing.
  2. Free WiFi  (pronounced WeeFee) is a lie on several levels
  3. Drinking black coffee is for uncultured barbarians
  4. You are an uncultured barbarian
  5. You will be mistaken for British which is code for uncultured barbarian
  6. The dairy here is from some other species of cow that has never existed in the US.  It must be a closely held trade secret and so I have filled my suitcase with packets of butter.
To wrap up this introductory post I will say that much of the prep we did was useful and I'm glad I spent the time.