Friday evening in Paris
It has been a jam packed first evening in Paris! I met the 13 other people, all of whom have traveled extensively, some have lived in a variety of countries, a few know excellent or rudimentary French (I am among neither group), most are retired and either volunteer in inner cities and/or are involved with a Villager (?) project to enable elderly to stay in their homes. There is another consultant who conducts training and we’ re going to compare notes.
When we convened at 5:30 (17:30) Caroline introduced herself- she is vivacious, incredibly intelligent, perceptive and knowledgeable, and obviously loves giving tours. She is married to a chef who just opened his own small restaurant in Lyons. She said that her apartment in Paris is approximately the same size as our tiny rooms! In Paris, your choice is either location or size if you want to live downtown. We later learned that her small flat is a few blocks away from our hotel, right across the street from the Paris Opera house.
Side note: The Paris House was built over water and there used to be boat rides in what was essentially a cistern. The architect thought that the water would help with acoustics and would also be handy if there was ever a fire. The fellow who wrote Phantom of the Opera was inspired during a ride and went home to write the musical, with the setting in the Paris Opera House.
She went over our extensive itinerary, then handed out small amplifiers (on a cord that goes around our necks) and an ear piece- for the left ear- so we can hear her when we are off of the bus. She also gave us a map of Paris and extra batteries for our amplifier box.
Then we boarded the bus. I think it took us 2 hours to get to the restaurant! Since I hadn’t had any lunch and my typical dinner time is around 5:30 or 6, I was famished. The meal was quintessentially French. It began with wine, blanc or rose, then French onion soup which is called onion soup in France. I passed on that and started on the bread. Our entre was pork over potatoes and very nice. Dessert was crème brulee, which was very tasty- I’ve never had it before.
During dinner, we chatted with Caroline who told us regarding their politics:
There is no electoral college- the French would never stand for it- they want their votes counted.
The campaign is only a few months. It begins with 12 individuals and gets down to 2.
No individual can give more than $10,000 Euros and no company or organization can donate money to a campaign.
During the campaign, personal and political matters are separated- and only political matters can be discussed. If personal matters are brought up, the other candidate can sue the slanderer and that person will be immediately ineligible to run for office.
Does that sound civilized and exactly what we need in our country????
Our restaurant was right across from the Cathedral Notre Dame, which is exquisite. I’ll get better pictures tomorrow during the day. We went to see the Eiffel Tower. At 9-9:10 pm it has sparkling lights (although they didn’t come through in the photos.) It is 1000 feet tall and used to have 1789 stairs up to the top (1789 referring to the revolution). It took over 2 ½ years to build it and no lives were lost during the construction. Isn’t that amazing? It is just iron girders and thousands of rivets.
In anticipation of their 100-year celebration of the revolution, the government asked for ideas for something large and dramatic. One person proposed building a tall sprinkler that would rain on the entire city. Eiffel proposed his tower and they liked it.
However, after it was built there was an enormous hue and cry because people hated it- girders shouldn’t be in the open- they should be covered with stone; it was so much taller than the 600-foot-tall building- and so heavy, since it was made of iron, that people feared it would kill them all when it fell during a high wind or storm. They also thought it was ugly and would rust.
One gentleman conducted a letter campaign against the Eiffel Tower, but also ate his lunch there every day. When a news reporter asked him why, he responded: “This is the only place I can’t see the Tower!”
They call the Eiffel Tower the Lady of Paris.
Driving along the streets, you see- throngs of people shopping, eating indoors or at outdoor cafes, zillions of motor bikes (and ones with two wheels in the front and one in the back), and tall buildings that look triangular as one side goes down one street and the other a different street. There are tall windows and beautiful wrought iron trellises around the small porches, many of which have colorful plants. The street names and districts are written on small blue signs on the buildings themselves.
Caroline said that the left bank of Paris is where you are smart and the right bank is where you shop (I think I’ve got that right).
Plane trees border the streets on either side. There are monuments and amazing statues and friezes. There is a statue of Churchill, who France loved, and a statue of Charles de Gaulle walking- to indicate that France is moving forward.
And lots of Greek-inspired statues of Napoleon. A bit about his story. He was born into a pretty well off family that didn’t have enough money to send him to the military academy. Madame de Pompadour, using her own and Luis XV’s money, established another military academy for folks like Napoleon. He went there at 15, left at 17, and then quickly moved up the ranks due to the revolution (other countries wanted to take advantage of the turmoil in France). He became a general and eventually the Emperor.
It was his idea to remove 12,000 homes because the center of Paris was so crowded there were hygiene issues and the military could not walk abreast down the streets if there were revolts. So the streets were widened. Before he made this change, the inner city was populated by the poor and the rich lived on the outskirts of the city. After he widened the streets and decorated the city so it would attract visitors, the rich moved into the city and the poor, unable to pay the new rents, moved out.
Paris is divided into 20 districts. The first district is in the very center of Paris and the other districts spiral out around it-so the highest numbered district is the farthermost district.
Sorry, it’s almost midnight and my brain is fried.
To summarize, an AMAZING adventure!