Saturday, January 15, 2011

Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite

Rick told us that if we could only see one palace, we should see Versailles. Well, we’ve seen plenty more than one but it seemed we’d better see the big one. Versailles is the palace that all the kings wanted. It made the rest of the kings green with envy. In the 1700’s, France was THE place to live and all because of one man: Louis XIV.

Louis XIV was the IT man of the times. He was handsome, athletic, accomplished and charismatic. He was already king when he was just a little guy but had spent his younger years being ignored and shunned by the court at the Louvre. As he grew older, he came into his own and decided he would never again be shuffled off to the side. He moved the whole court from Paris to Versailles. He had the palace built in such gargantuan proportions that whole new industries started up just for the purpose of palace building. He was the equivalent of Ramses II in Egypt. He was blessed with the qualities of leadership and lived long enough to make his name felt.

Versailles was built in order to “get away” from it all…except Louis took it with him. At any one time there could be upwards of 5000 nobles living at Versailles. He entertained lavishly and set up government so that the nobles had nothing to do but par-tay. It is interesting to contemplate the reasons Louis may have done this. He was an unhappy child so possibly he was working to be accepted by the people who had snubbed him in his youth. The upshot of the whole thing of course, was that the nobles gave up their power to rule. Louis took over it all. Seemingly this was a generous gesture but possibly it was the hand of a micro-manager, or even more manipulative, the work of a man bent on revenge by usurping the power of the court by making them irrelevant. While they played all day, he played God, making all the decisions for his rather large country of about 18 million subjects. He even made up a little rhyme about it: “L’etat, c’est moi” meaning, “The state, that’s me”. Doesn’t rhyme so well in English. The thing was, he was rather good at doing it all. He had a knack for being a good listener and any one of the 18 million could come to him at any time with a problem. Where did the man find the time, I ask you?

Louis XIV ruled for 72 years. That is a very long time. He outlived his wife and some of his children. It was his great grandson who took over the throne when Louis died. This is when things started to go bad. Louis XV wasn’t interested in doing it all by himself. He didn’t have the same charisma or strength of purpose that his great grandfather had. He enjoyed the good life and relied on others to take over tasks his grandfather had previously handled. In behind Versailles, way back in the gardens (it is a 40 minute walk from the palace) is the Grand Trianon. Louis XIV built it earlier as an escape from Versailles (which was an escape from Paris). Louis XV spent more time out here and became more disconnected from his people. This sowed the seeds of discontent.

By the time Louis XVI took over the throne, things were brewing. The country needed a strong leader but they got a shy intellectual instead. Louis XVI married a nice Austrian girl named Marie Antoinette. They made a fine pair. Both had been raised in a world completely disconnected from that of the average human of the time. Neither was a bad person but rather a bit naïve. They spent even more time out at the Grand Trianon and had a summer house and Petit Trianon built to escape the escape that was the escape for the first escape. Each of them was so engrossed in their own egocentric world that they failed to notice not everyone was happy with the status quo. While the people of France starved and the gap between the rich and the poor widened ever further, Marie Antoinette built a little hamlet in order to pretend she was a peasant. She gave herself the largest cottage in the picturesque little grouping so she could oversee the running of the small farm. There was a dairy, a miller and several farm animals. She never actually tended the animals but she did like the sheep as she had them fluffed and perfumed.

In 1792, the revolutionaries stormed into the palace. This was perhaps easier than it might have been. It was always open to anyone who followed the dress code. Anyone could be in the gardens, the palace corridors or even the King’s bedroom. In fact, in the days of Louis XIV, there was a gate around the bed because nobles would frequently be present while the king retired or when he arose. I’m not sure they hadn’t tightened up security a bit since then, especially given that those holding the reigns knew what was going on outside the palace gates. I’m also pretty sure the revolutionaries didn’t adhere to the strict dress code but regardless, they did get into the king’s quarters and arrested both the king and the queen and hauled them off to the Conciergerie in Paris.

The revolutionaries wanted a new system where people were equal regardless of birth and the leader was chosen by the people instead of just stepping into the role because of birthright. This new idea came from across the Atlantic Ocean in the fledgling country of the United States of America. It worked there. Why not here? In order to help it along, however, it was decided the ruling class had to go. Those with the wealth and power had to relinquish these titles in order to create space in the government. They congratulated themselves on devising a humane way to dispose of these people. They called it the guillotine. They set it up in a central location in Place de la Concorde, just a hop, skip and a jump from the Conciergerie. They got so good at it that they could do 30 people in one day.

Naturally, the king and queen had to go as well, though if you look for their names on the wall in the Conciergerie, you won’t find them under King and Queen. They were written as Louis Capet and the widow, Marie-Antoinette Capet; just your average citizens. With all the bloodshed, this time became known as “The Terror” and for just over a year, the people lived in fear they would be found too noble. Over 2,700 people died during The Terror, including some of the revolutionaries themselves. George Danton, the man who was instrumental in leading the revolution in the early days, eventually spoke out against the numbers being executed and found his own neck on the guillotine block. Apparently, his last words were, “my turn”. He was a fairly charismatic man, after all. The man who condemned him to death was Maximilian Robespierre, another of the leaders. He had attained a fanatical level before the tables finally turned and he was executed, bringing the reign of terror to an end.

The next four or so years were uneventful with a deliberately weak government. Enter the leader the French had been waiting for: a young general with charisma oozing out his pores by the name of Napolean Bonaparte.

What really irks me about Napolean is that he crowned himself emperor. I mean, he was a brilliant general and was so charismatic in the field that his mere presence could mean victory. When he was in exile on Elba he founded hospitals, created roadways and set up systems to improve community. He made a difference in a good way to the lifestyle of the people of France. So, after all the political-speak about equality and so on, he is given the power by the people and he turns around and calls himself the emperor. Is that not the most hypocritical thing you’ve ever heard? He wouldn’t even let the pope crown him. I guess he didn’t think the pope was important enough? And his tomb! Talk about megalomaniacs. The man’s tomb is HUGE!

So why emperor? He was dubbed “the upstart” by the surrounding monarchs and he was. He could have given France the democracy it was crying for but he set them right back into the monarch age by claiming the throne for himself. Basically, he believed that absolute power was fine…as long as it was his. Did the people truly want democracy or did they just want a bigger piece of the pie for themselves? France waffled back and forth for another century between monarchs and republics and France was only one example of the struggle. It is almost as if Europe couldn’t let go of its monarchist ways and so slid into facism with dictators as an in-between step. During the 20th century Europe was overflowing with the nasty little tyrants and look what happened then!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Today we went to Disney land. It was so much fun probably the MOST fun we’ve had … yet? So as soon as we entered we got to the ticket desk, my mom said “we saw you had an add for Disney Land that said 30 euro’s per person. Is that true?” The lady returned her question with “No, it is only if you do your tickets online.” So there was along discussion. With ‘hmmm…’ or ‘well…’ meanwhile I was thinking ‘Let’s just PAY and GO!’ and after a while that’s what we did.

We walked in and headed strait to Frontier Land. My whole stomach was doing flips and stuff. I wondered if it was being scared to go on the rides (I get that feeling a lot but then I just force my self to go on and it is so fun) or excitement. We first go on a Haunted Mansion ride, you should know I don’t remember the first thing about Disney land in California so this really shocked me, the actual ride was boring, it was the stuff you saw though. Dad said it was very different when we turned around the first corner. I was surprised he remembers it that well. It was what like 7 years ago?

I think in the end the end the haunted house was one of my least favorite rides, because it was sort of boring. Nothing jumped out at you. Also in Frontier Land was the main ride our first rollercoaster of the day. It looked so fun and I really wanted to go on it. I was expecting mom and dad to stay behind but they came on almost every single ride! The rollercoaster was so fun a calmer rollercoaster with no loops or big drops. It was still a long, twisty fast rollercoaster though. Once we left Frontier land we headed for the Indiana Jones ride. Placed in Adventure land, the roller coaster set up was AMAZING.

Once we got on it was just a big twist-turn upside down. So much fun there was a well hidden loop in it too! Mt first loop on a roller coaster, by the way. It was just crazy. There was also a pirates of the Caribbean ride…after that we went into Fantasy land I went on the rides I remember living. The tea cups and flying Dumbo’s. Nothing to scream about…literally. There was also a peter pan ride. It grew on me. It was very, very cool, in the flying boat and all. Then we had lunch around 1:20 or so. Once we were done we moved on to Discovery land (my personal favorite).

I bolted over to Space Mountain I was so exited! I should have done it last though, because after Space Mountain mom and dad didn’t go on ANYTHING. Boo. Space mountain was the best though, after we went on Buzz light year laser blast (he he) It was basically like you were in a video game. Rhys was amazing at it (no duh). I sucked at it. My mom beat me. There was also a simulator that was cool. The Parade at 5:00 was very cheesy but I liked it any way, there was also a 5:50 spectacular. It was also super cheesy  the cheesier the better.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Disneyland in Paris France

Hello! It's Rhys, I'm gonna tell you about Euro-Disney.

First of all, we got burned. We saw advertisements for 31 euros for the 2 parks. Here's what the price list looked like:
look for the lowest price on the board that fits our ages. Das is the price we paid. The now screamin' deal was only available online, and it was over an hour to get out to Disneyland.

Inside, they did an excellent job of making it look great. They have real materials for things, I bet the designer was beside themself with joy having infinimoney and a amusement park to make, and not having a computer screen in front of them and roller coaster tycoon in the CD drive.

In Euro-Disney, there are 5 main places. Main street, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Discoveryland, and Frontierland. Adventureland was my personal favourite, Julia liked Discoveryland. I liked because. Julia liked Discoveryland because Space mountain Mission 2 was her all time favourite, and she also liked the Buzz Lightyear laser ride. By the way, you can look up any of these rides on YouTube, because there was a very strong urge to film the rides. I got a horrible video of the Indiana Jones ride. Theres a hidden loop! you can't see it from outside the ride, and you don't notice it in the line.

At the park, the lines were surprisingly short. Each ride was usually a 5 minute wait, which was mostly the walk through the empty queue. We went to see this parade, and it interrupted me exploring a cave. The cave was the only part i hadn't explored yet. Disneyland was a lot of fun, and I would go again.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Clock and the Obelisk

In Place de la Concorde there is a huge Egyptian obelisk. It is a beautiful object, tall and well kept, capped by a gold top and sitting on a base also decorated in gold. The base tells the story of how they brought the obelisk across the ocean to erect it here. It sits in a place of honour in Paris, around the same spot the guillotine sat and we all know how the French felt about their guillotine. If you come to Paris you will see the obelisk but I bet you won’t hear the same story we heard in Egypt.

This obelisk is from Luxor. It is one of two obelisks that stood on either side of the Luxor Temple entrance. If you go to Luxor you can see the other obelisk still outside the gates as it has been for over one thousand years and you can hear the story of how the Egyptians lost the other one. You see, around the end of the 19th century things Egyptian were all the rage. Everyone in Europe wanted a piece of Egypt to decorate their living room. Many countries sent envoys to Egypt to dig for artifacts and bring back treasures and you can see these treasures in museums all over Europe.

The French wanted a treasure as well. They negotiated with the Egyptian government to trade an obelisk for a beautiful French clock. At the time, mechanical clocks were items of interest. In Egypt they didn’t have one and the Egyptian government agreed this would be a good deal. I’m not sure why they figured the one outside the Luxor temple was the one to give up but that’s the one they agreed to let go. So, the French sent down a big clock and the Egyptians gave up the obelisk. The clock is at the Citadel in Cairo. From the moment it arrived it has NEVER worked. The Egyptians are quite bitter about this and you’d think after two hundred odd years the French would have sent a repair guy down to fix the thing but alas, no. I suppose it could be argued the obelisk doesn’t work either. It was supposed to provide the protection of the Gods to temples and tombs.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weekend in Paris

We have spent a lovely weekend in Paris doing the museum thing. We went to the Louvre Saturday morning. We followed Rick Steves on our ipods and saw all the important Louvre residents.

The Venus de Milo was gorgeous. We spent some time contemplating what her arms were doing and admiring the curve of her spine before moving onto the Winged Victory. Did you know they found the Winged Victory's hand in Turkey? The French actually negotiated with the Turks to get the hand. It isn’t on her body. It is in a case nearby. It is all quite odd.

We admired Mona but it was difficult to get a good picture given she is now encased in a glass box. She actually wasn’t my favourite piece. I liked “Le jeune martyr” by Paul Delaroche better. She was so calm looking. All right she was dead but peacefully dead. She had a serene look. It was haunting and I wished I knew the full story. I couldn’t read the French very well. We saw many gorgeous paintings here. Some of them were absolutely HUGE! I wonder how painters painted on such a large scale. What if you forgot what was down below? Did you have to redo it? Or did you just turn it into a tree or something? Have you every been painting a wall and it was really high and you didn’t feel like moving the ladder so you just got creative and reached or extended your brush in interesting ways or kind of just…threw the paint? Maybe that’s what separates the masters from the others. If you’re willing to move your ladder, you must be good.

We found a sculpture of Julia so had her pose with the sculpture. It was called “Julia”. Good, strong Roman name.

The last piece we admired was Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave”. I’m sorry but this man does NOT look like he’s dying and if that’s dying then we are all missing out. This statue is REALLY enjoying his stay at the Louvre. What was Michelangelo thinking calling him “dying’? Another name is “Sleeping Slave”. Uh-huh. Right. I think we all know what Michelangelo wanted to call him…

We had some lunch before heading out to the L’Orangerie. This is a smaller museum with quite a few Impressionist paintings. It was quite exciting to see them. The stars of the show were the large wall paintings by Claude Monet of his garden. They were gorgeous and our pictures just don’t do them justice. I love the colours and the way they blend together. I think I would like to live in those paintings. Rhys loved the rooms too but he was more taken by the oval shaped walls.

From the Orangerie we strolled up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de triomphe. The Champs was okay. It was more fun to see it when we had strolled up so many other major boulevards in other major cities that compared themselves to the Champs. The Champs itself was just a really wide street. The Arc de triomphe on the other hand was really cool. We climbed to the top and the views were spectacular. Napolean built it and although I am not impressed with him overall, this was a neat accomplishment. From the top you can see the twelve streets that run like spokes out from the Arch. The Eiffel tower looks like it is just down the street and the Champs Elysees looks far more impressive. Julia was disappointed we couldn’t see EuroDisney from here but the weather wasn’t that great and I think EuroDisney is still some distance away.

Today we started our day at the Orsay Museum, yet another museum filled with amazing art. Julia felt this museum was better than the Louvre. We followed another Rick Steves ipod download for awhile but they had moved so many things so many places, we wound up just going our separate ways and meeting back later. The museum is in an old train station and one has the opportunity to stand on the mezzanine to look back over the entire lower floor of statuary laid out under the glass domed ceiling. Julia said she could tell it was an old train station the moment she walked in. There were lots of Impressionist paintings here. We saw Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet and more. We saw paintings I knew and paintings I had never seen. One we all enjoyed was “The Gleaners”, a copy of which hangs at the cabin at Shuswap. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in this museum, unfortunately.

We spent our afternoon wandering the left bank, stopping at various famous French hotspots. We saw a statue of Voltaire, the apartment of George Sand and Richard Wagner and the hotel Oscar Wilde died in. Apparently, his last words were, “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.” We went inside the oldest church in Paris, St Germaine de Pres. We also saw Saint Sulpice, the church that played a “key” role in the DaVinci Code. It was where Silas recovered the keystone. The best part was that the church has posted a disclaimer trying to refute the author’s assertion that the PS in the window stands for the Priory of Scion or that the obelisk that shows the summer and winter solstice actually hides a keystone. Perhaps too many tourists were trying to lift up stones in the floor?

We ended our day at the Pantheon and saw the tombs of some famous French people, like Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo. We passed by the tomb of Marie Curie but didn’t actually see it. It is truly amazing how cold some of these enormous stone buildings are. The Pantheon was built as a church but was never used as one since the revolution occurred about the time of its completion. It is huge, empty and very cold. There was a space heater in one corner but that was like a cruel joke in light of the size of the place.

We came home to pick up some groceries again for dinner but alas, Sunday the stores all close early so we were forced to go out

We're Here!

I somehow imagined it would be far more difficult to get into France. In my mind’s eye, I had us being grilled by the custom’s officer about where we were going, for how long and when we intended to return home. I watched him study our passports slowly, carefully and with some concern, flipping pages back and forth while mentally calculating numbers; glancing back at us periodically as if to ensure we were still there. The reality of course, was that we handed over the passports, waited the 10 seconds for him to scan them and then waltzed on through. No questions. No discussion. No stamp. Does this mean there is no record of when we actually crossed into France?

We arrived in Paris at night on the subway. Naturally I had studied Google maps earlier so had a pretty good idea of what our street looked like and how to get from the subway station to our apartment. I tell you, Google street view is the best. The apartment is in the tenth arrondisement. For you non-Parisian’s, the French divide up their city into little sections called arrondisements. We are very well located with a major subway station just around the corner.

The apartment is in a very old building with smelly plumbing but since our arrival I have noticed much of Paris suffers from smelly plumbing syndrome. Must be why they enjoy perfume so much. I look forward to our Sewer Tour tomorrow to explain all. The apartment has enough living space but has odd room dimensions. The toilet is in what amounts to a closet. The sink and shower are down the hall in another very small space which makes washing your hands a bit odd. The kitchen is about the size of a pocket bathroom back home and only one person is able to move in it at a time. Even then, you bump into things. The living room and bedroom are quite comfortable. It look slike the apartment used to be different dimensions because the walls have weird features. One wall has hinges covered with plaster and another wall has a light switch covered with plaster. The floors look like maybe they are the original ones and are completely uneven and very squeaky. It is funny how each place we stay has its good and bad points and the things we lament in one are the things we rave about in the next.

Friday, we dragged ourselves out of bed and bounced out to enjoy “Holly’s Day One in Paris” itinerary. We wore our ipods and followed Rick Steves around Historic Old Paris. We saw the Notre Dame, the Ile Saint Louis, the Latin Quarter, Saint Chapelle and the closed doors of the Conciergerie. At the end, we were going to hop on a river tour of the Seine but decided to call it a day and go home instead.

It was pouring rain when we arrived at Notre Dame. It was everything I could have hoped for. I felt like I had been there already because I had read about it in so many novels. I stood on Point Zero, the very centre of France; the point from which all distances in this country are measured. I looked at the amazing sculptures on the front of the church, marveling at the fact the people who built it had donated their time and skill to its creation: just like the pyramids. You’d never see this happen today. All the Christian greats were there on the front including my favourite, Saint Denis, who lost his head but carried on anyway. This trick impressed the Parisians and he is credited with starting Christianity in Paris.

The interior of Notre Dame was a bit lackluster, I thought. The cavernous interior was exceedingly gothic and a bit cold and austere, with grey walls and dim light. This was the gathering place of the townspeople and they didn’t even have chairs back in the day! They were a hearty lot, for sure. My favourite part had to be climbing the tower. We huffed and puffed our way to the top after waiting in about an hour for the honour. The view was glorious and we saw the Eiffel tower for the first time. We could also see the Arc de triomphe way off in the distance and what we thought must be the Louvre but we weren’t sure. Closer in, the gargoyles were fabulous. They perched as they have for centuries. Some looked rather bored with the whole thing and some still seemed entertained by the view below. All of them were so different from each other and it was easy to imagine them coming to life. The bell tower was wonderful. To get in, you had to bend over revealing the source of Quasimodo’s back problems. We saw the bell which had been raised centuries ago and still called the tower its home. We also heard the bells ringing from the other tower. We stood on the top of Notre Dame and listened to the bells ring.

We toodled around Ile Saint Louis a bit to look at the homes of the rich and famous in Paris but saw no one of substance. As we crossed the Seine to the left bank, we crossed a bridge with tons of locks locked on with brightly coloured ribbons and such. This is the new thing for lovers to do. They lock a lock with their names on it to the metal of the bridge to symbolize the solidity of their love. I suggested Tom and I give this a go but he seemed underwhelmed by the idea. What do you suppose the twist-tie lovers were thinking as they wrapped their semi-permanent love token on the bridge?

We wandered through a park that held the oldest living resident of Paris: an Acacia tree planted in 1602. Then we walked through some really cool narrow streets and around to the most beautiful church I have seen to date: Saint Chapelle. It has two floors. The bottom floor is for the peasants but it was beautifully painted. Apparently, Notre Dame was also beautifully painted in the middle ages but has since given up its flashy coat. The ceiling was painted deep blue with gold stars that reminded us a LOT of the tombs in ancient Egypt. I was quite taken with the little space but when we got to the top of the stairs where all the beautiful people worshipped, WOW! The church is again gothic in design but they got it right this time. The walls are almost entirely stained glass with narrow stone beams between supporting them. The glass windows soared high over our heads and the whole effect was simply stunning. Saint Chapelle was built by a French King to house the crown of thorns brought back during the Crusades. The crown now sits at Notre Dame and comes out only once in a while. One of the more striking features of this church, in my opinion, was the holly adorning one of the columns. Very symbolic, don’t you think?

We had fun grocery shopping at Monoprix that evening. It is a large grocery store and there are three aisles of cheese. Yes, cheese. There are also five different kinds of baguettes, and two aisles devoted just to wine. And you know those little assorted crudite plastic dishes at Costco and Safeway; the ones with carrots, broccoli and cherry tomatoes? Well, this store had one with marinated button mushrooms, baby artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes marinated in oils and stuffed olives. The whole place just reeked of gourmet! Naturally, we bought pasta and red sauce.