Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fête nationale française

For you, mom, because you asked for it.

Lundi, 14 Juillet

Happy Bastille day! On July 14, 1789, the French stormed the Bastille, effectively spending a day in bloody battle to free.... six prisoners. But more importantly, the event sparked the beginning of the French Revolution. My last day in Paris was on this significant day, which was on the one hand exciting, as all of France turned its eyes to Paris as the site of this monumental event as well as the site of the heart of modern celebrations. However, the holiday also created several difficulties in accomplishing all I hoped to - with stores and metro stations closed, and roads blocked off.

Regardless of the importance of the date for modern history, there were a few things I wanted to do that could have happened on any date. After hearing a few friends talk about watching the sunrise over the city, I decided I wanted to see it for myself. But just as the sun didn't set until about 10:30 pm, it also rose far, far too early. So I got up at about 4:15, so that I could leave my apartment by about 4:45. I began walking towards the Seine - the metro hadn't started running yet. It was about a 45 minute walk to get to the Pont Neuf, the bridge at the Western tip of the Ile de la Cité.

I was not disappointed.

Looking to the West:

This video was taken from the Ile, looking towards the West. The bridge visible at the beginning is Pont Neuf. Each of the round extensions on a leg of the bridge has a semi-circular round bench. I sat at one of these benches to watch the sunrise.

I had sat at another of the benches the previous evening, facing the opposite direction, to watch the sunset. The sunrise was infinitely more appealing to me. I prefer sunrises in general - they feel more intimate, and they require some effort on your part. Anyone can watch a sunset, but you have to be up early to watch the sun rise. Whereas I had missed some of the best of the sunset in trying to convince some Parisian named Sammy that No, I wasn't sad, and No, it wasn't his fault, and No, I definitely did NOT want to go get a drink, it was so refreshing to be alone for the sunrise. Magnifique.

Here's one last view from the bridge, looking south towards the island:

Around 7:30, I decided to leave the bridge. To celebrate the holiday, there is an annual défilé militaire, a parade of the military with an appearance by the president along the Champs Elysées to the Place de la Concorde. I had read that the défilé would begin around 8:30 AM, so I decided to head down towards Concorde.

Passing a majestic monument by early dawn light in the 1er arrondissement:

Little did I realize, the parade was definitely a site where many roads were blocked off. So I followed the balustrades along a path through the open streets, which probably took me at least a mile out of my way. I managed to arrive at the entrance to the viewing area for the parade at maybe 8:40 AM, just when they opened the gates to let people through to the front of the viewing area. I arrived when the gates opened, and yet there were still probably a good 4 or 5 rows of people in front of me to see the parade. I waited for quite a while for the parade to start, but all I saw were empty military buses (driving in both directions down the street) and some military officers wearing these sweet hats:

It is hard to see, but in there is a tall brim that comes up on the hat.... but only directly in the front and back, not all the way around. Once again, Paris lives up to its standard as a fashionable city.

Well, as entertaining as those hats could be, by about 9:00 I was wondered when we would be getting this show on the road, literally. I had been awake over 4 hours at this point, and already walked a couple of those hours, and my feet were tired... not to mention my discomfort at being surrounded by an ever growing throng of strangers. So just past 9:00 I decided to leave the barricades and start heading back home. As I passed once again through the path to direct the traffic to watch the parade, this time in the opposite direction, I am certain I passed THOUSANDS of people heading towards the parade. Some of them were running. If there were already 5 rows of people when I arrived 5 minutes late, I could only guess how crowded it would be by 9:30. Ultimately I am very glad I left; the défilé didn't actually begin until 10:30 (8:30 was just the time to get in.) Too bad no one had told me that part.

After leaving, I decided to head home, as I was tired and, by this time, hungry. Due to the fact that my metro pass had run out (as a new week had started) paired with the fact that I was unsure which metro stations were even open, I decided to walk home.

In doing so, I passed Les Halles, a famous shopping district, and for the first time I really understood how they got their name:

The walk ended up taking about an hour and 20 minutes. So by 10:30, I had been awake 6 hours, and walked about 3 of them, and eaten nothing. I had hoped to stop at Du Pain et Des Idées, my favorite bakery, on the way home... But it was closed for the holiday - Lame. Instead I stopped in a different bakery nearer my apartment that was in fact open, and got a baguette, of which I intended to eat half that day and keep the other half for the next day at the airport. (Note: baguettes really, really are best eaten the day they are made. And if you must eat them the next day, do not eat them plain - they invented "French Toast" for a reason.)

In addition to my half-baguette, I made crepes in an attempt to use up some of the flour and sugar I had left over.

After resting for a short while, it was time to head out again. I wanted to visit the 3ème arrondissement one last time to say goodbye to the area I knew the best, all around the gallery. Here is the rue St. Claude, the home of Galerie Eric Mircher. The Galerie is the building closest in view on the left.

And here is the galerie straight on:

Pretty much every business has a fence or other barrier to pull down when it is closed, as the gallery has this Monday.

Leaving the gallery, I walked south on rue de Turenne to visit the parks where I often took my lunch, such as this one:

Such a lovely escape in the middle of the city!

Next I headed over to Le Loir dans le Théière, my favorite restaurant, for one last lovely lunch. I ordered the same plat principal as I had at my first visit, a tarte salée aux oignons rouges et tomates (savory tart with tomatoes and red onions).

For dessert, I figured I better try their iconic masterpiece, the tarte à la citron meringuée (lemon meringue pie).

See the lemon? It's the tiny strip of yellow above the pie crust at the bottom. It was tart and perfect to go with the gargantuan mound of meringue, which was too sweet even for me. Delicious, but I would have been sick if I had eaten the whole thing. That is not a tiny dessert spoon, that is a large, soup size spoon, to give you some idea of dimensions.

After lunch, I stopped in a nearby bakery, Boulangerie Malineau, to pick up some dinner for later, a quiche au chèvre et aux épinards - a quiche with goat cheese and spinach, a classic combination. I headed home again for a little more rest before my final goodbyes.

After Killian and I had made a rhubarb crumble a few weeks before, his host mom complained that we had not left any for her. I had some left over frozen rhubarb, so I decided to use the last of it, along with the last of my sugar and flour, to make one more crumble to offer to her. After some packing, baking, and eating my quiche, I bought a couple of metro tickets, and headed off across the city once more. First I brought Killian and host-mom the crumble, and then we headed to another metro station to meet up with a few other friends. To celebrate the holiday, firemen all over the city were hosting balls in their fire stations. A friend of a friend worked in one of those stations, inspiring a trip to said station.... which was unfortunately out of the city limits, and required a train rather than the metro... And feeling cheap, and tired, I opted to skip the festivities (which I heard later were not, in fact, very festive - good choice...). Hence began a long walk to the Seine to watch the sunset one last time. However, in contrast to my wonderful sunrise, the banks of the river were even more crowded than usual, as people lined up to watch the feu d'artifice - the fireworks, held over the tour Eiffel on the Champs de Mars. Walking along the bank, past the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries, the Louvre... it was all very nostalgic, and for a while the majesty of the city overwhelmed me. I don't think there are words for what I felt, but it was a mixture of gratitude for the incredible opportunity and immense sadness at the prospect of leaving. I really, really do hate when things end.

I stopped to watch the feu d'artifice for a short while. However, they didn't begin until it was dark enough, around 10:45 PM. (Just as for the défilé, you could get a seat much earlier - I think beginning 6:30 at the Champ de Mars!!) The feux were pretty, but they were pretty much just like any other fireworks. The one exception was that they could also light up the tour Eiffel in conjunction with the explosions, which was beautiful. But by 11:00, I had seen enough, so I walked home, arriving around 11:40. What a long day. Eight hours of walking in all!

I may as well finish with my last few hours of my trip - I had planned to wake up around 4:30 to finish packing and take my time in the morning before the airport shuttle came at 6:30... However, after getting only about 10 hours of sleep the previous three nights combined, I managed to sleep through my alarm and not wake up until about 6:00 - oops! I managed to hurridly get through almost everything I meant to (although I forgot to take a picture of my room). At the airport, I ate the rest of my baguette - not good the second day. Good thing they served me a "three course meal" en route from London to Baltimore. I should note that in Heathrow airport, I made my first and only purchase in pounds - and if the Euro is bad, what a killer THAT exchange rate was - about $7 for a coffee and a muffin.

The flights were pretty uneventful. I watched "Horton hears a Who," and I'm sure other movies as well, although I do not remember anything else specifically. Baltimore was hot, and the sun set before 9 PM - what's the deal with that, anyway? (Of course, when I wrote this today in January, the sun set at about 5:10 PM, so I suppose I should appreciate the summer light - and be glad I was in Paris in the summer and not the winter - today, their sunset was at 5:20 and their sunrise was not until 8:30!)

It has been 6 months since I have been back. Perhaps I will write again about some of the differences between the states and Paris, and some of the things I miss the most (that is to say, the food, of course). But given that it has taken me 6 months just to finish with the day to day, I would say don't count on it.

Paris, tu me manques. J'espère que je reviens assez bientôt.