Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Paris Day 5 : Montmarte and La Defense - Monday

From the metro, we walked a couple of blocks, through the old
Chinatown. It is now a bunch of souvenir shops, selling Eiffel Tower
ash trays and such. We are down to considering buying souvenir gifts
so gaudy that they might be hip and ironic.

We used the funicular, a diagonal traveling box that crosses an
elevator with an escalator^. That brought us up to a landing. Around
the corner to the right were free bathrooms. Yeah! Thank you Rick
Steves guidebook for pointing this out. Up the stairs is Sacre-Coeur
(sacred heart) Basilica. It was finished in 1919. The foundations go
130 feet deep because of old mines in the area. The dome goes another
260 feet up. And it's already at the highest point in Paris, so the
view even from the bottom is great.

As we toured, we sat down. Singing started. Behind us, out of view a
mass was being conducted while we tourists wandered around. The sounds
were very beautiful, even without understanding French.

Lara noticed one of the paintings, in which many people faced Christ.
If you looked carefully, one of them was an American Indian with full
regalia and headgear. No other minorities were featured in the
painting, and France had known quite a few during colonization. More
European fascination with the American West?

Later, I went to the skyscrapers at La Defense while L did some
shopping. La Defense is the more modern part of Paris, which saves the
older parts from meddling. Exiting the metro at Esplanade de La
Defense, I saw a clear line down DeGaulle Ave to the Arch de Triumph,
a few kilometers away. This is kind of special because Paris does not
feature many straight roads; oh, the view was special too. Works of
art% dot the central area, kind of a small concrete central park,
between tall buildings. From the GPS, it seems the park is over a
freeway, like the Big Dig in Boston. One piece of art features
Corkscrews 30 feet high of various faded colors and white lights

A new building under construction, 50 stories high, is dwarfed by
another building beside it. Walking toward the Grand Arch and away
from the Arch de Triumph, I encountered Le Moreitti - 10 stories high
of varied colors of metal cylinders that form a bigger cylinder. It is
also a cell phone tower, with the antennas colored so they roughly fit
in. It looks even stranger in window reflections of the office
buildings, where the straight lines of the cylinders become warped.

Next I see a three story twisted mess of red iron that nothing
resembles. A merry-go-round is also here. Then comes a 3 story
concrete creation - it could be a crab and a one eyed smurf or nothing
at all. It is unlabeled, unclaimed by its creator.

Next comes a big surprise in an office park: a several story shopping
mall with Toys R Us, two McDonalds, one with free wifi, a cinema with
VOST matinees, and a supermarket. If you want to see a movie in
English in France, you need it to be labeled VO or VOST, original
version with subtitles. We saw a VO movie earlier, but no matinees
were available. This theater should be in guidebooks. Yes, we didn't
travel 3,000 miles to see Harry Potter, but a little Americana on a
long trip is nice.

Walking outside again, a giant 3 story lone thumb sticks out of the ground.

Difficult to ignore, Le Grande Arche is a little hard to contemplate.
Take a squarish 38 floor office building and hollow out a huge
rectangle in the middle. It houses offices for 30,000 people, but the
design makes the sides look like they are just structural supports. It
also houses www.museeinformatique.fr .
It is only 20 years old, proof that landmarks are still being added to Paris.

Lara's metro ride started when she waited for the train as a trumpeter
pulled up next to her. With his boombox blaring backup music (not
uncommon for street performers; sometimes you're not sure I the whole
thing isn't taped and they are lip syncing), he trumpeted away. She
was thankful to escape as she boarded the train. Before the doors
closed, he entered her car. Too tired to switch cars, she had 8 stops
to go. Our lower density in the suburbs makes street performers
unprofitable. Vetheuil doesn't have them, and I haven't seen any in
suburban Durham*.

On the way home, we caught the 4:10 express train to Mantes Jolie.
The schedules indicated that the train would arrive one minute too
late to catch the bus. We hoped for an early train. We weren't paying
attention, so we weren't the first out of the train. Oh well, even
though we're tired, we can spend an hour in the Internet café while we
wait for the next bus.
As we exited the train station, we saw our bus leaving the stop and
heading around the traffic circle. We walked toward it, eyes longing
for a ride home on the 9511. Somehow the driver spotted us and pointed
at us. He pulled the bus over. He said, "Vetheuil?" in several ways
(French might not have been his first language either). We tried to
say "Yes, Vetheuil" in several ways. We boarded, thankful that he
stopped when most bus drivers wouldn't. Or maybe he was lonely - the
bus was empty at the first stop and biggest draw, the train station.
We remained the only two people on the full size bus until we got off.
The bus drivers here can choose music, so we listened to Bob Marley on
the way home.


^Sadly the crossed offspring, like the mule is infertile.

%Someone said, "I don't know art, but I know what I hate." I despise
a lot of modern art because I have no idea what is means, and it is as
memorable as a Pepsi commercial (although the Superbowl one with Cindy
Crawford does come to mind as artistic). Some artists eschew meaning
altogether. However, I don't hate the Defense art because these pieces
of art are at least absurd enough and different enough to be memorable
and maybe even incite some pondering.

*although the Global Danpark ™ could change all of that

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