Romans and Chinese

I had quite a full weekend! Saturday I journeyed to Lyon with a group from the Sweet Briar program.  The day started early with a 7:30am TGV (high-speed train) ride.  The TGV is, as my host-mother puts it, “The pride of France. We don’t get many things right, but trains we do right.”  Lyon is built on a steep hill (it’s near the Alps) so we started the day at the top of the hill, which offered gorgeous views of the city.  We had a tour of old Lyon, including a Roman theater ruins.  Lunch was a treat, a home-cooked-style meal in the basement of a crowded restaurant.  Lyon is considered one of the culinary centers of France, and after our three-course meal I could see why.  After lunch we were treated to a children’s puppet show starring Guignol, a character created in Lyon who is now well-known in the puppet world.  The puppetry was charming, but after the extremely filling lunch was not entertaining enough to keep me from falling asleep in the theater.  The rest of the day was spent walking around Lyon, seeing the second-largest city in France.  Yesterday was the Chinese New Year parade in Paris.  I Metro-ed out to the 13th arrondissment, aka Chinatown for this extremely loud and colorful celebration. Despite getting a bit lost and losing track of my companions, I had a great day watching the parade, and trying not to let the loud and frequent firecrackers freak me out too much.  My favorite part of the parade were the dragon and dog puppet-things that bounced around above the heads of the crowd.  The second-best part were the strings of firecrackers that hung from trees.  They would light the bottom, and as the wick traveled upward a meter-long string of firecrackers would go off, creating a prolonged series of bangs and gunpowder smell and smoke.  The third-best part was the food. The crowd was huge- apparently the awesomeness of this parade is no secret to the rest of Paris.  Check out the pictures I took!

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Lyon

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The Rhone River

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Chinese New Year parade

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La Conciergerie

La Conciergerie is a part of the palace on Ile de la Cité that Clovis constructed.  It was eventually turned into a prison after the royal seat was moved.  In fact, it is where Marie Antoinette and other political prisoners were kept during The Terror of the French Revolution.  Today I visited this historic location, which is also housing a temporary art exhibit called “Bêtes Off”, a play on the French word for ‘beast’.  It featured depictions of animals doing unexpected things or in unexpected ways.  For example, one of the pieces was a video clip of birds flying around, taking off from, and landing on an electric guitar, making it play random chords.  The exhibit was interesting, but kind of creepy, especially since the lights were mostly off and there was eerie music in the background.  The eerie music kind of lent itself to the place, however, since the rest of the museum showed things like Marie Antoinette’s cell and the room that prisoners were brought to to prepare for execution.  It was a little Halloween-y.  Also today I bought an over-priced lunch on the Ile (everything is overpriced on the Ile) and finished Paris Was Ours, a collection of essays by writers about time they have spent in Paris. I started reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, which is on my 101 Great Books list and is about a young American lady in Europe, so it seemed an appropriate choice.  Tomorrow I head to Lyon for a day trip with the Sweet Briar program.  There is snow in the forecast!

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those dots are bees- part of the exhibit            “Robespierre spent his last moments here July 28, 1794”           Marie Antoinette’s cell

Last words: “I leave you with my memory.

It will be dear to you and you will defend it.”

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The chapel where the Girondists (a condemned faction

of the National Assembly) ate  their last meal together the night before they were executed.

Musée d’Orsay

With another free drizzly day ahead of me, I set forth for the famous Musée d’Orsay this morning, free of charge thanks to my University of Paris ID card.  I spent all day there, and succeeded in viewing a third of one of the five floors of artwork.  I am a very slow museum-enjoyer, and have always known this, but I am reminded again of how fortunate I am to have months to cover everything the museums here have to offer.  Today I went through the Galerie Symboliste, Opéra, and Peintures de salon of the 2nd Empire.  My favorites were they huge murals by Courbet, as well as the Musée’s Cabinet de photographie which is full of early photographic self-portraits.  Some were comically awkward, while others were strangely reminiscent of Myspace selfies. I also ate lunch in the upstairs Café Campana, which my Top 10 Paris book says is one of the Top 10 features of the Musée d’Orsay.  The meal was good, if overpriced, but the reason it is a Top 10 feature is because it is on the top floor, behind one of the huge clocks of the old train station.  I’ve posted a picture of the other clock below.  The building  used to be an enormous train station, and was converted to a museum in 1977.  It’s original purpose gives the building interesting architectural features, including huge metal pillars that support the high arched ceiling.  I am looking forward to coming back and seeing more at the Musée d’Orsay, especially the famous Impressionist collection that I got a glance of on my way to the café.  Tomorrow I actually have class (shocking, as I’m a student and all), so that’s all on the museums for now! Here are some pictures from today:

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on the roof                                                                  the clock                                                                                       the roof

 

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view of The Grand Roule from the roof              view of the Seine through the clock                       Allée Centrale des Sculptures

 

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inside the Musée d’Orsay                                                             the ceiling                                                     train station timepiece

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Cultural Activities and Chihuahuas

I am officially in the University of Paris student orchestra! Last night I arrived at the building two hours ahead of time to avoid getting lost and in hopes of finding an empty classroom in which to warm up before my audition, as playing wind instruments is prohibited inside my apartment building (yes, there is a rule that specifically pertains to wind instruments because there are many musician tenants in this neighborhood what with the conservatory being down the street).  All of the classrooms were locked, but I did get lost trying to find the rehearsal room and ended up only waiting around for fifteen minutes or so.  The audition was casual and the conductor was very friendly and welcoming, so it was great from the start! We are playing Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.  It seems appropriate that my first piece in my first rehearsal with the orchestra be by a French composer.  Although it’s two rehearsals a week and one on Saturday mornings, I think it will be a good experience and worth the trouble.  After struggling simply to communicate with the people around me all day long, it was surprisingly relieving to play and be in sync with the group. Corny as it sounds, music truly is a universal language.

With my Sorbonne classes not starting until February and one of my Sweet Briar Classes being a once-a-week class, I had a free day today. Since it was rainy, I headed to a museum to keep myself occupied and absorb some of this culture I keep hearing so much about. The Musée Jacquemart-André is a small museum a few blocks from the Champs-Elysées.  It is a former home to French aristocrats who built the townhouse to house their massive art collection.  The collection now makes up the museum, and is comprised mostly of 18th-century artwork and sculpture, with a small number of Renaissance pieces as well.  While the artwork was lovely, the architecture of the house and the furniture was equally fascinating.  I loved seeing the rooms set up as they had been, my favorite being a tiny ‘petit salon’ (sitting room) adjacent to the madame’s bedchamber.  While a museum like the Louvre with its infinite number of paintings is impressive, I think I might prefer this more intimate type of museum, that also gives a sense of what life was like for the patrons of the collection.

Tonight I went to the theater with a group from Sweet Briar. The play was called Le Mariage (The Marriage) and was a comedy about a nineteenth-century Russian gentleman courting a bourgeois girl who was also being courted by three other men. While the first part was mostly dialogue and not much action, I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, however as the play went on there was more physical humor and shorter speeches that I could understand better.  In the end I thought it was a cute, funny story and well-acted.

One more thing before I go- I was in a café this afternoon killing time before the play when a Chihuahua which was running around loose lifted his leg and peed on the umbrella stand (and surrounding carpet). And no one did a thing! I’m just glad my umbrella was safely under my table.

Un Salon

Unfortunately I caught a flu bug on Friday morning and spent the weekend recovering from that, but this afternoon I felt up to venturing out and getting some fresh air. I discovered a beautiful park which I now know is le Parc Moneau. I will definitely be returning to this lovely spot, so look for pictures later! After returning from my afternoon stroll, my host-mother brought me along to a concert hosted by the Association de Musique de Jean Michelin. The Michelin family, of Michelin tires, hosts a series of concerts in which Paris conservatory students perform chamber music in their maison.  It was a truly old Parisian evening. This week a string quartet of faculty performed two pieces, one of which, Borodin’s Quartet #2 in D is one of my favorite pieces.  The salon was full, even the balcony, which Madame told me was most likely an original architectural element specifically for small performances like this one.  Apparently, the Michelin family has always been extremely passionate about supporting the arts.  One of the concert-goers told me that Jean Michelin, the grandfather of the current head of the Michelin family, passed away in the hospital the same day that a concert was going to occur in his salon. When asked earlier in the day if the concert should be canceled due to his hospitalization and dire condition, he replied “Absolutely not!” I also met a very elderly man who everyone whispered to me was a very brilliant composer whose first name was Claude but whose second name I cannot recall. He is also apparently famous for his dry wit – when my host-mother introduced me and mentioned that I play the bassoon and piano, but not at once, he replied “I am composing a piece to be played solo for bassoon and piano. It will debut in the spring and is commissioned for a talented young music student. It is called ‘Above the Piano’.” After debating at much length over whether or not he was kidding, we decided that he must have been. Although disappointing that the language barrier paired with his deadpan delivery prevented me from laughing at his joke, it was comforting that native speakers were confused as well.

A mixed bag

Today was a mixed bag (as most days are I suppose). Good things: beautiful weather, started one of my classes with a hilarious French professor, realized that I am better at French grammar than I thought, went on a tour of the Latin Quarter, saw the Luxembourg Gardens and Palace, adorable French children, and the Sorbonne for the first time, went to a creperie, saw Notre Dame and Saint Michel fountain, and beautiful alley-streets with the tiniest of cafes. Bad things: got a bit lost getting home, and a pigeon pooped on my head outside of Notre Dame. Some brief internet research has shown me that no one has calculated the exact odds of getting hit once (or twice), but I’m guessing that the odds of getting hit twice are less than once. At least I got it out of the way early. Hoping tomorrow brings a less-pigeon excrement-filled day!

Bus bus bus

Today, without the luxury of an alarm clock (for which I would usually depend on my cell phone, which is now not usable), I managed to sleep until lunchtime. Although I had a late start, it turned out to be a busy day. My host mother showed me to the bus stop a block away where I took the bus to Café Carlu at place du Trocadéro. With the a plaza looking straight at the Eiffel Tower sandwiched between the Musée Marine, Musée d’Homme, and the Théatre, it was a wonderful spot to get lost in. I located the café soon enough, however, and enjoyed galette de roi with the other students from the Sweet Briar program. For those of you who don’t know, galette de roi is a flakey cake that the French eat in the month of January in celebration of Three King’s Day.  In one piece of the cake is hidden a token, and whoever gets the token can either be king for the day, or pass the crown to someone else.  Although I did not find a token in my cake, I was did find a royal treat in viewing the outside of the Grand Palais, which I passed on a walk we took to the Roue de Paris- the giant Ferris wheel located on the Champs-Elysées.  We didn’t ride it today, but definitely will in the future.  I successfully rode the bus back to rue d’Edimbourg afterwards. On my way to mastering Paris’s public transportation!