Being in Paris

Ceiling in Napoleon III Residence

Ceiling in Napoleon III Residence

Welcome back to Paris! Fortunately for us, our friend James (we’re near Geneva now) had a card reader to get our photos to the computer, so continuing with this travel series will be much more fun.

The Hotel St. Pierre where we stayed in the Latin Quarter was a great location because everything is within walking distance: food, train, and interesting sights. On the day we arrived, I used my five-word French vocabulary to say hello and give my name to the front desk clerk. He found our reservation on the computer, pointed to my name on the screen to confirm who I was, handed me the key and that was it. No credit card swipe, no signing of papers or passports, no telling me about check-out or amenities. It was perfect.

hotel st pierre

After stashing our things in our tiny, tiny room (organizing a narrow path to the bathroom), we headed out in search of food. After passing approximately 250 patissieries, we ran into Restaurant Indonesia Paris, which looked promising. And it was! We welcomed ourselves to Paris with spicy coconut curry with vegetables, and a warm tofu salad with peanut sauce, both of which were entirely delicious.

The next few days were spent hoofing it all around Paris, on and off the Metro, in and out of museums, gardens, and restaurants. I’ll just include a few of my favorites here to avoid inducing a Someone Else’s Vacation Pictures stupor upon my gracious and indulgent readers.

Sainte-Chapelle (loooong wait to get in) and Notre Dame were pretty stunning. Sainte Chapelle is known for its 50′ stained glass windows, and for being built with steel supports instead of  flying buttresses. The windows are undergoing a restoration whereby each panel is painstakingly removed, and each piece of damaged or broken glass within each panel is meticulously cleaned/replaced/repainted before being reassembled. 

Sainte Chappel is known for its 50' stained glass windows and for being built with steel supports instead. of flying buttresses

Only three more years until this little renovation project is completed.

Notre Dame was huge and churchy and beautiful and you could watch other people confessing their sins to priests in glass cubicles. We tried not to stare.

I signed us up for a tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours after reading about it on Suzy Lindau’s Wild Ride. We stopped at ten different places over a course of 6.5 miles (around 3 hrs) and we had a great time, even with the light wind and rain.

bike

Look mom, no eyes!

The tour was fun, but the sights weren’t always easy to find.
eiffel tower2

eiffel tower

On the day we went to the Louvre, we had only about an hour, so I told Isabella she should choose what to see. She picked Napoleon III’s residence, which is located in the north, Richelieu Wing.

napo1

Living Room of Napoleon III

napo dining

Dining Room of Napoleon III

As you can see, Napoleon III preferred a clean, modern style favoring function over form, with little embellishment.

Napoleon III had some really large, surprised urns.

Napoleon III had some really huge, surprised vases.

Napoleon III's Ceremonial Bed".

Napoleon III’s Ceremonial Bed.

Why did Napoleon need a “Ceremonial Bed?” When people say that French “got into bed with Russia,” is this where it happened? Did they sign papers or make eyes at each other here? Did he have ceremonial sex? If anyone has any ideas on this, let me know.

Here’s something else we saw all around train stations and museums, including at the Louvre. We finally figured out what that green running man means.

running sign

Bathroom signs!! (White figure = average usage, green figure = diarrhea.) Fortunately, we never needed to follow the running man (or “runs”), not even once!

The Musee d’Orsay was also really good and much less crowded than the Louvre (open late Thurs nights, an ideal time to go). The featured exhibit through July 6 is Van Gogh / Artaud, a beautiful collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings, many of them lesser known. Unfortunately, no pictures.

I’ll continue  with Part II of this post tomorrow with Opéra, which was spectacular, and the artsy district of Montmarte. Bonsoire soup-son `until then!

Greetings from Paris!

I know, I’m kind of surprised too! Although I shouldn’t be. This trip has been in the works for quite some time now.

Brief History of Our Trip to Paris

When Isabella was 12, she decided that she wanted to go to Pairs when she was 16 for unknown reasons. I said okay, you’d better start saving up for your plane ticket (imagining this would be a passing fancy in the tradition of Tae Kwon Do and Bratz dolls). But no! The Girl Who Wants Nothing squirreled away more than $1600 which paid for her plane ticket back in November. So, here we are, propelled by the dreams of a 12-year-old to the City of Love for a few days. Then we’re off to a village near Geneva to visit a lovely friend whom I haven’t seen in… I forgot how many years, but lots.

Meet Jackie

Isn't she pretty? And she has a beautiful garden and lots of dogs, so this should be a fun visit!

Isn’t she pretty? She has a beautiful garden and dogs, too, so this should be fun!

Jackie and I bonded over margaritas many moons ago while working at a New Mexican restaurant in our 20s, my first waitressing job.  This experience was notable for my inability to discern one cheese-covered entrée from another for the first two weeks of my employment, an unfortunate dilemma I resolved by simply loading up my cart and asking the customers to pick out what they thought they had ordered, or what looked good. Surprisingly, I was not fired. But back to Paris… you might be wondering what we have planned? Well, in keeping with my commitment to an intuitive, stress-free vacation, we have nothing at all planned. Except for three things, two of which were added today:

Outline of Plans

  1. Meet my uncle, Cole, who happens to be in Paris for work, for dinner tonite.
  2. Have no spare change in my pockets, ever, on account of it’s all been spent on good coffee. This task will not be hard to accomplish, as there are cafes and wine bars on, and between, every corner here in the Latin Quarter, where our tiny, tiny hotel room is perched 6 floors up.
  3. Behave as UnAmericanly Touristy as possible in public
  • Do not wear jeans, collegiate sweatshirts, and gym shoes together
  • do not speak English in front of French people

No English? How so, you might wonder? Well, as Isabella will testify,* I’ve become proficient at suddenly leaping from English to a foreign-ish diction composed basically of French vowels that I’ve picked up from Isabella’s music, and whatever signage is in front of me (not that I can read French), pronounced in convincingly soft, lilty phrases that always end on a high note. While walking down the street and not pointing at things.

“Jour oui, oui oui oui soup-son, les cloches et vouz parlevouz cafe. Poulet. O! fromage! Rue boulevard san Michel frites et les alters……” etc etc.

*Isabella actually seems mortified by this, I’m not sure why, and refuses to indulge my conversation starters except with a very un-fun, “Mom, you can’t camouflage stupid (incomprehensible).”

I hesitate to call myself brilliant, but really, I am. I employed this same language technique in Haiti, when I utilized a dazzling mixture of Creole and Spanglish to politely request that my personal moto-taxi driver in Jacmel not kill me on the way from the beach to our hotel.

So far, we’re blending right in! And I haven’t even broken out the three striped shirts I brought, which I intend to wear all at the same time.

See what I mean? *Image pilfered from Jackie's Facebook.

This, but with my head and four limbs. *Image pilfered from Jackie’s Facebook.

But that’s fun for another day. Ouri vois for tonite, it’s late, I’m tired, and we have a whole day of nothing tomorrow. And by the way, I apologize for the lack of original photos — it seems that our camera USB cable disappeared from one of our suitcases (thanks, TSA). It’s doubtful we’ll be able to find another here, but hopefully, we can use Isabella’s phone for at least a few pictures in the next posts.  

Letter to My Neighbor

Thank you, everyone who took the time to make suggestions and give advice about the situation with kooky Neighbor! (And especially Theresa, Lili, Gabe, Jinxy, and mom.)

Between the comments here and on Facebook, I was able to craft a response that I think is pretty good — an appropriate reply to her ferocious late-night texting, that will hopefully neutralize the situation in its infancy. Before it grows legs and tries to swallow me.  (And by the way, I searched the pond and found no foreign objects, so I think what Isabella heard was a toad “couple”  jumping in cohaerentibus… big splash.) Because I can think of about 3,000 things I’d rather do than invest time and energy into a stressful situation with someone who lives 30 steps (64 hops) to the north, and will probably stay there forever.

I took action quickly, to thwart any chance meetings on the sidewalk with nothing but a lingering discord of sleep-deprived, toad-hating hysteria vs. wildlife affection between us. Awkward.

I decided a gift basket would be most effective. So I found an empty, plastic flower-pot in my yard and collected the following items:

1. A bottle of cheap wine
2. Sleepy Time Extra Herbal Tea
3. Hearos Ear Plugs (Xtreme Protection)

I put the items in the flower-pot (washed) along with this letter and left it on her front porch.

neighbor ltra

 

I noticed that the gift pot was gone by evening, but there has been no response so far. Thankfully, the toads were silent last night, so maybe it will seem like I’ve made an extra effort, above and beyond monetary expenditure (less than $15) to restore her sensibilities and serotonin levels.

ADDENDUM

This morning when I left to take Isabella to school, I found this in my mail box:

reply

So, I guess it’s over, yay! The toad drama has climaxed and been resolved!

Well, for now, anyway, until next Spring when she may or may not remain in good humor during toad mating season.

But one thing I can say for sure: she will never again hear that sound and think of toads in the same way.

ADDENDUM #2

The entirely wonderful Orwell essay about toads, Spring, and our relationship to nature (referenced in the letter) can be read here.

31 of the most terrifying Easter Bunnies you’ll ever see.

I came across this on happyplace.com and thought it was hilarious. I took none of the pictures and wrote none of the captions, but I did lovingly choose my favorites for you. Happy Easter.

bunny2

 As hard as shopping malls try to make “going to see the Easter Bunny” a thing, it’s never quite caught on like visiting Santa Claus. Maybe that’s because Christmas is a magical celebration of materialistic greed and gluttony while the closest thing to “fun” about Easter is showing off your new pair of church slacks — or maybe it’s because every Easter Bunny costume is a walking nightmare of soul-scarring horror. Here are some examples of why the image of a bleeding, emaciated guy on a cross rising from the grave is somehow not the most traumatizing thing about this holiday.

 

bunny1

Bunny1

bunny4

bunny6

bunny7

Bunny8

bunny9

Bunny10

Bunny12

Bunny13

Bunny14

Bunny15

Bunny16

Bunny18

Bunny17

Bunny19

Bunny 20

Bunny21

Bunny22

Bunny23

Bunny24

Bunny25

Bunny26

Bunny27

Bunny28

Bunny29

Bunny30

Bunny31

Bunny31

 

Bunny31

 

bunny32

Mr. Gummy

This is Linus.

Linus

It’s not easy making your eyes look in two different directions.

And these are his teeth.

My nieces can make protective amulets out of these.

My nieces can make protective amulets out of these.

Linus (aka “Anus”) is the most wretched creature you’ve ever met. He was an “impulse adoption” from Chihuahua Rescue. My sister’s first dog. She did not heed our warnings to research the dog and breed before adopting.

So now she’s got this diminutive beast with crooked hind legs and breath that could wake the dead, who loves to leave tootsie rolls all over the house because he won’t go outside in the cold. And he is always cold.

Linus's legs. I tried to photograph the real thing but he snapped at me.

Linus’s legs. I tried to photograph the real thing but he snapped at me.

The other day, my sister took Linus for a dental cleaning to deal with his bad breath, and now he’s minus 14 teeth. I picked him up because my sister and her family were stuck on the Navajo Res in their mini-van with a flat tire (whole other story).

I deposited the gummy, vicious, crooked-legged creature who’s lucky to have someone love him at their house with a bag of extractions and supplies from the vet, including tiny straws that my sister has to teach Linus to use in order to sustain himself with blended food. The vet said his lips will eventually curl inward, like an old man without his dentures. Which will only add to his charm.

Behold, a shining achievement in reckless inbreeding natural selection and modern dentistry. Lovable, perhaps even extra lovable, despite (or because of) his extra special needs.

Linus2

Home At Last: Denver, Trinidad, and Great Grandmas

[This is the last of a four-post road trip series that began here. I’ve actually been home for like, four months, but jumped right into a wood-fire (opening tomorrow, yay!) when we got home and didn’t have time to finish until now. Sorry to all of you who presumed us dead or otherwise incapacitated.]

We spent a good two-and-a-half days with Jessie and her friends at the assisted living.  On Friday, Isabella sang with a “jam band” that appeared in the afternoon and consisted of three violins, a recorder, a banjo, and a bass cello. In the audience and occasionally contributing a note or two was the shining Lucretia:  99, white hair, fuchsia lipstick. Jessie told us that Lucretia had never married, had no family of her own, and had lived there for many years. Lucretia had been a singer and sometimes still played and sang at the piano, but not for Friday’s jam.

The other tenants, mostly women, were also full of stories about careers, roles, families, friends. The residence itself was an enormous haven of stories, lives that had been lived to varying degrees of fullness now gathered under one roof, shrinking in on themselves. Lives now shaped more by winking memories than ambition, the limitations of which were governed by deteriorating and painful bodies.

Pie making lessons two years ago

Jessie once owned a cafe where she arrived at 5am every day to bake all the bread and pies.

My Italian Nana described old age as humiliating. But then again, her ambitions included shooting cats on New Years Eve when the gunshots would sound like fireworks, and winning the thermostat wars with my Nono. She was awesome.

I wish I had a better picture of her but she didn't like having her picture taken

Meeting Isabella. I wish I had a better photo but she didn’t like having her picture taken.

We left on Monday after breakfast with Jessie. She said she still thinks about flying down to see us but could make no promises; she will probably not be making pies with us anytime soon; and she won’t knit unless she feels like it. But she did offer, having grown up on a farm, to wring my chickens’ necks when the time came. So that was comforting.

From Scottsbluff we headed straight to Denver, where we stopped for lunch using our special technique of letting the gas light determine random highway exiting. And boy, did we get lucky! Thanks to Exit 206, we found Washington Park, a gas station, and The Best Middle Eastern Restaurant 2012, all on the same street (South Downing)!

mecca grill

Images swiped off Yelp

At Mecca Grill, “Lebanese food made from scratch every day”, we had an amazing fava bean appetizer and vegetarian special. Mecca Grill is relatively new and it wasn’t crowded that day, but the food was completely delicious, the service great, and the chef personally thanked us for coming in. Highly recommend.

After lunch, we headed over to Washington Park for a walk/goose chase around the lake before getting back on the road.

Isabella Denver

geese

Gangs of geese stalk the neighborhood tagging buildings and knocking over trash cans. And they have teeth.

This area of Denver, with its historic architecture and yuppie waft, reminded me of Lincoln Park in Chicago. The park, restaurant and gas station were only 10 minutes from the highway, so it makes a great stopping place.

The remaining eight hours home were fairly uneventful except for a stop in the old mining town of Trinidad, Colorado, where I was drawn like a Walking Dead to those magical letters, c-a-f-e.

Trinidad cafe2

Trinidad cafe

All lit up and nowhere to go. Such a cruel joke.

Only to find it closed. Boo!

Just when I thought my desperate coffee hunt would end at the Starbucks in Albertson’s, someone pointed us in this direction.

trinidad coffee

A former miners’ bathhouse, now Gourmet Healthy Coffee. The coffee was infused with something healthy (available through a pyramid scheme direct marketing opportunity) called… well I don’t remember because I entered a brief fugue state when the owner said that not only was the coffee infused and not fresh brewed, but there was no dairy on hand (talk about cruel jokes). This offended my purist latte senses to the point of running away, but that would’ve been awkward, so I got peppermint green tea instead. Also infused. And actually delicious.

tea menu

We left healthier and more robust than when we’d arrived, finished our four-hour drive home, and were happy to be back in the land of enchantment, sunshine, and intact chickens by 8pm. Thanks for coming along!

[Start this road trip all over again here.]

Road Trip Day 2: The Great Wyoming Whiteout and Finding Jessie

wyoming

So I was really hoping that my friend El Guapo was wrong when he warned me of “cold weather” on this trip.

We departed Cheyenne per our usual hour-after-we’d-planned, or after I find good coffee (whichever comes first). This turned out to be a good thing because of the road conditions, the treacherous nature of which I would soon discover. Before we left, a really nice stranger brushed all the snow off our rented Camry in the La Quinta Inn parking lot — quite a few inches had accumulated overnight, which should’ve been a clue as to what lie ahead. As we made our way toward I-25 North there were continuing flurries, so I expected we’d get into Scottsbluff a little late.

What I didn’t expect was that the view would look like this through the entire expanse of Wyoming:

also wyoming

Ninety-four terrifying minutes of prayers. That we would not be swallowed up. Spun off the road. Sucked under a semi. (If you look closely you can see my knuckles gripping the steering wheel there in the lower left).

I wondered how many days our food and water would last if we rolled into a ditch and remained undiscovered until Spring. I wondered if our rental car broke down, did I have it in me to cut open one of the quickly-whitening roadside cows for the three of us to climb inside and stay warm until help arrived? I wondered if I’d given anyone my WordPress password to let readers know of the grim road trip outcome. These were the affairs that occupied my mind as I navigated through the most blinding weather I’ve ever driven in.

And then we reached Nebraska!

The snow thinned and stopped as we descended upon the golden winter farmlands and sandstone bluffs of the area. The light was gorgeous but I didn’t stop to take a picture because part of me was scared that the storm was following us and would eventually catch up, find a way into the car, and kill me. Like the Smoke Monster on Lost. So, we kept driving all the way to Jessie’s new home.

We discovered Jessie’s assisted living residence situated between the graveyard and the hospital. Hmmm. Right turn or left? I guess Nebraskans are nothing if not practical.

We entered the building through the front door and asked for Jessie.

“Oh, she’s on the graveyard side, right through there!” Hmm.

As Isabella and I turned the corner toward Jessie’s apartment, I saw that she was walking down the hall toward us. She looked up, saw us, and just froze — later admitting that she thought she’d seen an apparition, but then remembered we are the only two tall girls in her life, so we must be real. And from there, it was all smiles and hugs. She was so happy to see us and said it was the biggest surprise of her life, which is really saying something considering the number of years she’s lived (rhymes with shmindey ticks.)

Here is the best picture we snapped of Jessie. Isn’t she fantastic? Unfortunately, I am also in the photo and my eyes were closed and I’m too vain to post an unflattering picture of myself so I took the liberty of enhancing it, using my sophisticated editing software, into a more naturalistic image.

me and jessie

And that wraps up Day 2, which also covers Day 3, because there’s not much going on in Scottbluff, Nebraska. Next post: spending time with the elderly and a long drive home. Thanks for reading.