I Love Paris in the Springtime

Okay, the Paris pictures have been uploaded. There are a lot of them. But then again, there was a lot to see.

The Café Procope
This is the world’s oldest continually running café. It has been serving coffee and spirits to Paris’s most notable patrons (among them Voltaire and Victor Hugo) since 1686. According to The Essence of Style, by Joan DeJean, “The walls are hung with tapestries, elaborately framed paintings, and on the back wall, mirrors. There are comfortable armchairs, flowering plants; the room is softly lit by a posh chandelier as well as candles. The exotically dressed garçon, carrying a silver coffeepot, completes the picture.”

Johann ordered a drink that was made from pastis and absinthe (modern-day absinthe, though, without the psychedelic stuff). He was served a glass with the alcohol inside, accompanied by a multi-spouted contraption bearing the ice water, which he dispensed over a flat spoon holding the sugar cube (pictured). Everything about it was exquisite.

In fact, it’s important to mention that when we first walked in, we felt as though we didn’t belong there. We both felt as though it was much too fancy and much too historic for a mere tourist to just come in off the street and take up table space for a drink and the chance to soak up some atmosphere. Not the case. The staff were exceedingly polite, even delighted, that we had stopped in to visit the place. It was a beautiful joy. They were even nice about our picture-taking, pausing to light the crèpes suzettes they were preparing just in time for my photo. If you are ever in Paris and up for some culture and drinking at the same time, we highly recommend it.

The Brasserie Lipp
This was different. The Brasserie Lipp is where Hemmingway used to hang out and write, which is why I wanted to see it. It was also the home of Proust, Chagall, Camus, and more modern-day celebs like Harrison Ford, Gérard Depardieu, Gregory Peck and President Jacques Chirac.

We got a table on the terrace and ordered a drink. Then I went inside to inquire about the restroom. A thin, balding waiter told me in French that there were none there. I’m ashamed to say that I stared at him dumbly until he took pity and admitted that it was down the stairs. As I walked down, I wondered why he was so rude. Did he think that I just walked in off the street and hadn’t taken a table? That I was some kind of know-nothing tourist who wandered in looking for a bathroom and hadn’t intended to order anything? Or perhaps the Brasserie Lipp just gets its name from its waiters, who appeared to be a bit lippy.

The service was fine back out on the terrace, though, and once there I could actually see why the waiters might be a bit testy. Foreigners there snapped their fingers at the waiters or yelled to them across the room when it was clear to everyone that the terrace was small and the waiter could see them clearly from where he was and was just about to make his way to thieir tables. There were some pretty obnoxious people there. That bald guy still didn’t get a tip out of us, though.

Père Lachaise
If you are ever in Paris, I just cannot emphasize enough how wonderful this is. Okay, it’s a cemetery. But it’s like none you’ve ever seen before. Johann has told me in the past that he likes American cemeteries very much because they are so beautiful in their peaceful greenness. But I like French cemeteries for the exact opposite reason. They are crowded and ornate and filled with meaning and symbolism.

There are people who have chosen to have their monuments adorned with sculptures that they completed themselves, in their lifetimes, and others who commissioned sculptors erect weeping women alongside the tombs containing their ashes. Still others have left a ceramic portrait of themselves at their most handsome on their gravestone. There are also those who chose gigantic tombs (bigger than some Parisian apartments we’ve seen) and others who have chosen simple monuments. If you ever plan to visit, though, here are the sites to see , in my opinion:

Héloise and Pierre Abélard

These two are said to be the patron saints of the cemetery. Their 12th century love affair, which was forbidden by their families, ended in a secret child, endless love letters, her tenure as a nun and his castration. Ouch.

Monuments to WWII
This was, for me, the most moving part of the experience. Please look at the pictures (at right, in “Photos”). Johann’s grandfather knew resistance hero Maurice Thorez personally, but the other tombs erected in this portion of the cemetery were just as moving as if we had known them all personally. Every monument to the fallen heroes of the death camps tugs at the heart and turns the stomach, just as it was meant to. You cannot leave this place without feeling as though you need to make an effort in the small time you have on earth to do some good, to make up in some way for the monumental evil that has been done to those in the past.

Jim Morrison
Yes, this is the famous Parisian cemetery in which he was buried. And unfortunately, visitors deface his grave so often that now it has a permanent gate around it and its own guard who watches it around the clock. But if you ever wondered what it looks like, here it is.

Oscar Wilde
His grave, unfortunately, does not have its own guard. And as you can see, it has been defaced to a considerable extent, so much so that you can’t even clearly read his name on it. But for the most part, the visits have been friendly. Most of his visitors have chosen to pay their respects by leaving lipstick kisses on his considerable headstone, which I think he would have liked.

Parc de la Vilette
What a beautiful place. It’s true that most Parisians have small apartments and live primarily out in the city. But what a life! This park has it all. An Imax theatre in the shape of a giant dome. A grounded submarine to visit. Lush, green parkways to frolic in. Carousels and slides for the children. Canals to walk and bike beside. Activity centers for children to run and shout and play within. A mirrored forest in which to create your own fairy tales. And don’t even get me started on the pony rides… Again, please check out the pictures at right.


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