Hot! Hot! Hot!
Returning to Paris this week, we found a very different city than the one we left 6 weeks ago. It was raining and cold the first week of our vacation and we wondered if we would ever see the sun here. Of course, we knew better than to complain. At least we weren’t hot and uncomfortable… until now. Though it only rose to the high 80’s for the last few days, which seems like nothing when compared to the 100+ degree temperatures we experienced for so many years living in the desert, it was HOT and (worse) humid. Nevertheless, we did our best to enjoy the last items on our vacation “to do” list.
MONDAY we arrived back at our same apartment in the Montparnasse neighborhood, checked in with the owner, left our luggage, and then made our way back to the airport to turn in our car. It was our last GPS challenge of the trip. It was a huge benefit to have a car for 5 weeks and really get to know many parts of France in a way that we would not have otherwise been able to do. The only thing we really missed about having a car this week was the air conditioning which we hardly used as the weather was cool and pleasant everywhere else.
TUESDAY we made a rather long but worthwhile trip out to the Musée Marmottan which houses the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world including Sunrise, his first painting done in the Impressionist style. It was thrilling to have the opportunity to see so much of his work at one time. While there, we also discovered a huge body of work by Berthe Morisot, a woman from the same era as Monet whose mother signed her up for some art classes simply for the purpose of painting a gift for her father’s birthday and ended up making it her career. She hung out with all the bigwig Impressionists of the time and married Edouard Manet’s brother keeping it all in the family. Her work was outstanding as well. This is a museum not to be missed if you are a fan of the Impressionists like we are.
WEDNESDAY we went on a special tour — “Behind the Scenes of the Eiffel Tower”. Since we had been to the top of the tower on a previous trip, we wanted to do something different and avoid the crowds at the same time. Our guide informed us of many interesting details about Gustave Eiffel and the financing and building of the monument which was constructed for the 1900 World’s Fair. Like many entrepreneurs who pursue grandiose ideas, he was very successful but died penniless due to constantly having to support his marvelous endeavor with his own money. We began with a tour of the underground bunker located just beyond the tower that was originally used to conduct and monitor telegraph communications and later as a military bunker twice occupied by Charles de Gaulle in times of emergency. It now serves as a galley and service area for the employees of the tower. Then we went below the base of the tower itself to see the workings of the elevator lifts. Finally, we ascended to the second level where we climbed a few more stairs to the roof of the restaurant for our own private view. Right now the tower is functioning with only one of its two elevators making the wait in line to get to the top longer than ever especially in summer months. Some people had waited 3 hours in the hot sun with very small children just to get to the entrance for the elevator. We thought this was kind of crazy as simply planning ahead would have avoided this basically painful experience. Our tour ticket permitted us to bypass these lines and go directly up with our guide. Something new is always brewing at the tower. Currently, they are installing a glass floor on the first level so you can look down at the emptiness below. Actually, you will be looking at a lot of people who are looking at you. No dresses for the ladies please. When it was time to descend, we decided to bypass the elevator lines and walk down… that’s 720 steps from the second level to the bottom!
THURSDAY we sought out one of many hidden gardens of Paris. Thanks largely to former president Jacques Chirac who served as mayor of Paris for 18 years, there are over 400 gardens, parks, squares, and woods. He endeavored to make this his legacy to the city especially turning small hidden, out-of-the-way places into green havens of peace and tranquility. We explored the Vallee Suisse garden near the Palais Decouverté — smaller than we expected but definitely a great escape for Parisians who need a brief respite from the city sights and sounds. From there we walked to the Tuilieres Gardens to visit the Musée Orangerie, another museum mainly dedicated to Monet. In fact, he designed the space specifically for the work there on display. The museum consists of two large oval galleries each featuring four extremely large canvases titled Water Lilies that Monet painted of his gardens in Giverny from different perspectives. Each one is unique, some appealing more to one viewer than another. We found our personal favorites and savored them for a time.
By FRIDAY we had had enough of feeling hot and sticky so I knew it was time to enact the same strategy we always used on those super hot, humid days in the desert when the evaporative cooler in our house was not going to keep us comfortable… Head to the nearest air-conditioned mall to hang out and then catch a movie until it gets dark outside. Skeptical that we would be able to pull this off with the same level of satisfaction as we did in the U.S., we nevertheless set off for the most modern part of Paris known as La Defense where there is a 4-story shopping mall and cineplex. The source of our skepticism is the fact that the French have never stepped up to employing air conditioning as a way of making life more bearable during the hotter times of the year. Every other European country is much more on par with the U.S. on this topic and it’s unclear why the French have not accepted this technology as progress. They seem to prefer to sweat. Perhaps air conditioning seems excessive since they mostly only need it in July and August or maybe they fear it will somehow make them less French if they adopt one more universal habit. Who knows? But what we do know is that we had experienced very little cool air anywhere we went, be it department store, restaurant, or, heaven forbid, the Metro. So we thought we’d gamble that one of the more recently built structures would have unquestionably installed air conditioning. When we arrived, we did notice a slight improvement in the ambient temperature inside the mall but nothing like we are accustomed to at home. We sat for a while at a sushi boat-type restaurant (run by Chinese) and had a couple of cold beers and some snacks finding some relief from the heat and heavy French food. Afterwards, we purchased tickets at the cinema to see The Dark Knight Rises “VO” — very important! This stands for “original version” meaning it’s in English. We were craving that. Ah, three hours of English in a comfortable seat and a cool theatre. You know how you sometimes have to take a sweater to the movies in the summer? Well, don’t worry about that here. It was about the same temp in the theatre as the mall — only slightly cooler than outside. Norman swore the cement floor was even somehow being heated as he feet were getting hot. Fortunately, we were sufficiently entertained by the movie to forget about it all for a while and, at some point, I almost felt like we had teleported home. Once enmeshed in the darkness of the theatre, watching a movie in another country is no different than at home as long as it’s in English though I did notice that the French, who were forced to rely on subtitles, didn’t always get the jokes like we did. It was nice to have the upper hand for once.
With Paris clearing out as almost everyone goes on vacation for a month, it seems an appropriate time for us to head back home to our own little chateau the Silicon Valley which we are certain to enjoy with a new level of appreciation. After all, that’s what vacation is for.