Photo Essay:
Paris, Part IV: The Seine, Paris after dark, & miscellaneous thoughts

First posted in February, 2005

[ Click here to view the previous Paris photography essay. ]

February 8, 2005, 7.20 PM
Top floor, l'Arc de Triomphe
(Continued Yet Again)

Having mailed the post cards, I left the Eiffel Tower and took a one hour boat tour through the center of Paris.

Manicured trees leading away from the Eiffel Tower...
... but not in the direction I was going

The Batobus, as well as a number of other companies, will give you a reasonably-
priced tour on the Seine. It was a great way to learn the history of the city,
see the sites, and rest my feet, but because the dialogue is translated into
so many languages, you have to hold a device to your ear to hear the commentary.
This made it extremely difficult to take photographs.

The open-air boat tour was very economical and appreciated by my increasingly angry feet. We floated past the many of the city's key cites, including the Louvre, which I figured I would save for my next trip due to its vast size. Later in the day I decided that I might go tomorrow anyway, if only to see the Mona Lisa; I then found out that Mona takes Tuesdays off (the museum closes only one day a week, that day being the last day that I'm here), and so I'll save it for my next trip after all.

The sun was setting as my boat docked, so I decided to walk back the way I had come, past the Eiffel Tower, to l'Arc de Triomphe.

Common sense would dictate that if someone asks you to take
their photo in front of one of the world's most famous monuments,
you might consider including the entire monument in the photo.

L'Arc de Triomphe is lit beautifully at night,
as are all of the Parisian monuments.

I climbed the lovely winding staircase to the top of l'Arc de Triomphe...

... and took in the view from the top of l'Arc de Triomphe after dark.

I thought it would be the perfect roof top from which to take some shots of the City of Light. As you can see, it was indeed that, but a bit more.

The museum near the top of the arch presently contains autochromes of la Grande Guerre (the exhibit runs through May). I was unaware that color photography was available during that period, and at first thought that surely all of these photographs must be retouched. Fortunately, there is a very large exhibit on the history of autochrome technology (those interested in photography may want to check out this PDF, a pamphlet from the exhibit, though I can't find the English version, unfortunately).

At any rate, color photography was available during the first World War, but it was expensive, heavy, and took seconds to expose; thus, the photographs in this exhibit, though taken during the war, are somehow not genuine - everything is posed. Many of the photographs are of the daily life of soldiers, taken by government-sponsored and -sanctioned photographers who were told what they could and could not capture on film. The goal being to portray the war in the right light. It's not as if the French people were oblivious to the war - it was happening in their homes, destroying their businesses, killing members of their family - so I'm not entirely certain why such careful censorship was necessary. But of course, it didn't last; soldiers went against orders and took cameras to the front lines, capturing images that were eagerly printed by the papers of the day.

It is absolutely amazing to me to view the destruction unleashed upon this beautiful city less than a century ago, beyond anything I have ever experienced. It makes my heart go out (yet again) to those innocents who are presently enduring conflict elsewhere in the world, and makes me feel all the more fortunate to never have experienced bombs being dropped on my home.

I wonder if we will ever live in a world where war does not exist.

It smells of honey in this room. It's no one in particular - people are coming and going - it's just the room.

February 8, 2005, 8.15 PM
Café Roma

Yes, I know it's probably wrong to have Italian food if you're only in Paris two evenings, but they have the tagliatelle carbonera that I've been unable to track down for two weeks (or is it three?), ever since an acquaintance of mine, Jake, mentioned it. If it's of any consolation, I'm drinking a bottle (a tiny bottle) of Sauvignon Bordeaux.

So. Some thoughts on Paris after the first twenty-four hours. It's a bit difficult to collect my thoughts with the Italian couple less than two feet away from me arguing, but I shall try.

A few things have struck me. First, Paris is perhaps the most personable and yet altogether impersonal city I have ever encountered. You are expected to greet a shop keeper upon entering and ask them how they are. Similarly, you are expected to thank them and say goodbye as you exit, even if you haven't purchased anything. You never walk into a restaurant and think of saying a word about what table you'd like without first engaging in a bit of polite small talk. However, if you're not somehow engaged with someone though commerce or friendship or what have you, then you are pretty much expected to avoid all eye contact. This goes beyond the normal Big City prohibition; I've always felt okay exchanging a polite smile with the (right sort of) person sitting across from me on the Tube in London or the subway in New York, and in certain large cities it's sometimes even okay to engage in conversation about, say, what that person is reading. Here, if you breach this etiquette, particularly as a woman with a man, you seem to invite uncomfortable conversation. I have accidentally made eye contact on two occasions in the past twenty-four hours, and in both instances was greeted with salacious tones of voice and wide eyes. And so, because I am traveling alone, it's a city of extremes - forced pseudopoliteness or complete isolation. People are everywhere, but I feel quite lonely.

The in-my-personal-space-Italians (granted, it's not their fault that their table is so close to my own) are loud and unhappy. I don't understand a word they're saying, but I think she hates him and I think he hates her for hating him, and I think I'd hate him, too. He's arrogant, speaks not a word of French beyond merci, and is being an ass with the waiter because of his language frustrations. The waiter is returning the sentiment, then turns to my table and is as polite as he can possibly be to me. The rumors must be true, that Parisians are rude if you don't even attempt to speak their language but are extremely polite otherwise. Yes, the waiter just smiled at me after glaring at them. It's no wonder the couple are on edge.

Hm. Also worth noting is that I am seated in non-smoking. A rare thing in Paris, thus far, and it's the entire floor of the restaurant.

I can't imaging these two next to me ever having liked one another.

My tira misu is gone, and so am I.

February 8, 2005, 10.00 PM
Irish Corner Pub, Place de la Nation

Get out. They have Welsh rarebit on the menu here. I had to go to France to see it on a menu, after having spent nearly two and a half months in the UK, and as luck would have it, I've already had supper. They have no dry martini either. I shall have a margarita.

Anyway. My guidebook (Lonely Planet) was a little misleading on a couple of things. Not totally off the mark, but not spot on. English does seem to be the most popular second language, followed by Spanish. German seems to come in third, despite sharing a physical border (and closer by far than Spain is to Paris). Whether or not this is a holdover from the war or something I'm not certain.

At any rate, don't think as a Frenchless Anglophone you'll be fine in Paris so long as you can manage a weak Pardon, je ne parle pas le Français... parlez vous anglais? I speak a great deal of French. Here and there I've not known a critical word and it became evident that I knew far more French than just about anyone knows English. So a warning - the end result, unless the door of the restaurant or store clearly states that they speak a language you know, might well be extreme frustration. Case in point - the Italians at the previous restaurant. You won't be completely helpless, mind you; I've encountered many menus in restaurants and signs in the street or in museums that were written in both French and English, but the second you need to ask a question, prepare to use French as much as possible.

My guidebook also implied that the French know the fine art of making a cocktail. This too is a lie. Or at least, in my experience so far it's been a lie. Many bars claim to be 'cocktail bars,' but when you look at their cocktail menu there are perhaps ten or twenty options. One bar I saw today claimed to have a wide variety of beers. There were four on tap. At this current pub, I tried ordering what I thought would be a simple request here, a dry martini. Bombay Sapphire Gin is on the menu, but they don't carry vermouth. So I went for what would surely be a safe option: a margarita, priced at eight euros. In the States, that would be a decent sized drink. This is what arrived:

Quite possibly the frilliest margarita ever, but it was only about five sips. None of these sips were very good. I could make a far better margarita with my eyes closed, and I'm no Mexican. I suppose living in a country adjacent to Mexico carries advantages in food and drink. I wouldn't be upset were it not for the price; it's not like we're still on l'Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Then again, my half-bottle of good wine on the Champs-Elysées was a mere ten euros earlier this evening, so even the locale has nothing to do with it. (I'm only in this pub because it's right next to my hotel, I wanted a place to write in my journal, and I wanted to be able to get home quickly afterward.)

Anyway, where was I? Impressions of Paris and preconceived notions from my research done before the trip. On the metro, I was told two lies. The first, and more egregious, being told to me by my hotel, who put me on a circuitous RER route when a direct route via the metro was available. The RER and Metropolitain are sort of joint subways that occupy many of the same stops; a bit confusing at first, but easily enough figured out. Fortunately, I had to speak to a ticket agent when I first arrive at Gare du Nord, and he told me the proper route to take.

The second metro lie, more of half-truth, really, was that it's totally refurbished after the recent centennial. The first train I was on, the 2, felt antiquated and utilitarian and a bit dirty. The initial stations I encountered struck me similarly. But it seems that once you enter the center of the city things change. Notable exceptions include the stops Louvre-Rivoli and Bastille.

While some outlying stations are unadorned, utilitarian, and even
a bit dirty, the metro at the center of town is clean and efficient.

Manu Chao just came on the video screen at the pub - it's the first time I've seen him and he's nothing like what I imagined in my head.

February 8, 2005, 11.25 PM
Chambre 54, L'Hôtel Camelia

I just caught the last three men on a television show called Le Plus Bel Homme du Monde. The top three were all American, chosen by French viewers. The French must not hate us as much as we thought. They chose Tom Cruise as the most handsome man on the planet. The French must not have as much taste as I thought. (For those curious, second runner up was Richard Gere, first runner up was George Clooney.)

Okay, I may joke, but America is everywhere you look here. Less obvious than in England, but very much omnipresent. Les Experts, for example, was just advertised on the television. That's their translation for CSI.

Now there's a very interesting show on, Appels d'Urgence, about female members of the Paris police force. I've noticed the police here everywhere, generally never in groups of less than two officers and quite often in groups of three. I realize that many people (including my guide book) think this appears militaristic, but as an officer myself, it just feels safer. It's good to see that they have the funding to protect the safety of their officers so that they can go home each evening to their families.

[ Click here to view the next Paris photography essay. ]