Pauline, the Louvre, Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle

Day 44: Wednesday November 23rd, 2011

I woke up and was pleasantly surprised by the breakfast spread, as it featured solid baguettes and real juice (OJ and apple, natch) instead of watered down or powdered shit. Or it was just good powdered shit.

Then I had my first French misadventure trying to get to Pauline’s. She works every weekday until late at night, so I was on my own to find her place and put my stuff down. She was in the perfect location, a central downtown spot near the Louvre, but I somehow went the wrong way down the street the first time, and then when I reached what I assumed was her apartment, the door was open so I didn’t have to enter the code to affirm my location. And, like a real dumbass, forgot that the first floor in European buildings are zero, and not one, so miscounted the floor. I got to what I thought was the right floor and flat and looked out the window for the keys that Pauline had left out for me, nowhere to be found. So of course, I walked up and down twice before realizing my mistake, now completely sweaty, until I found the right room and the keys, struggled with the locks, and then made my usual swarthy first impression on girls with Pauline’s roommate Claire.

I mopped up my sweat, and then was off to the Louvre. I had texted Matt that I was late, and the poor guy probably waited a half hour to an hour for me due to my mishap. I told him I’d meet him inside, which is easier said than done.

Once I got there, I got the Museum Pass. For 35 euros over two days, you get in most everywhere, including the Palace of Versailles (which is 25 euro alone). Normally I regret such splurges, but by having it, I was willing to explore a lot more of Paris because of it, and got a ton of use out of it, as you’ll see. Over the next two days, Andy rapes Paris. And loves it.

What to say about the Louvre? Christ, it’s huge. For me, you could subtract all the art from the Louvre, and the building would be worth the price of admission on its own. It’s a maze, a cathedral of art (and there are probably a couple cathedrals within it), an architectural marvel and a zoo of tourists. Pauline told me that she studied art history there for college (um, good location) and that there was still so much that she had missed. You could live your whole life in the Louvre and not have seen it all, can be surprised and see something new, or get a different perspective on a fresco, a sculpture, a painting, a toilet seat. So basically, when I say that I “saw” the Louvre in four hours, you know I’m full of shit, and completely speed-touristed it. But I don’t feel too guilty about it, since it’s almost impossible to do the Louvre justice no matter how much time you have. And even the Louvre, after awhile, becomes redundant and exhausting, at least for someone so unlearned in the arts and impatient to see what else Paris has to offer by day (turns out, more art and museums). Matt was a bigger art guy, clearly. He was still going nuts hours after me, and he bought a pass to be able to return back to the Louvre over a whole year. For me, when I return to Paris, I will go to the Louvre again, and am sure I’ll have a completely different experience.

The Mona Lisa? Kinda lame. It’s fucking small; it almost seems greedy to give it it’s own wall, and the entire time there is a horde of people snapping photos, because that’s all anyone comes to see (idiots). And, I mean it’s not the same as seeing it in person, but we’ve all seen it. I hate saying it, since it kind of makes me into one of those checklist travelers, but it’s one of those things you see to say you’ve seen.

The Venus de Milo and Winged Victory were cooler, and there was some great Rafael and Botticelli works and 3.4 million sculptures (after Italy, I won’t need to see another sculpture in my life). Inbetween, there were great exhibits on Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and I eat that shit up. I love rusty golden things.

Then I went to the Sainte-Chapelle, the Holy Chapel (included with my pass), which ranks up there with any of the famous and most beautiful churches I’ve seen on my entire trip, and that is a shit load. On the Isle de la Cite along with Notre Dame, it is a brilliant gothic creation with the best stained glass on the interior that I’ve ever seen, which was restored in the 19th century.

Throughout the entire chapel, the stained glass tells the story of the New and Old Testament in clockwise order, which is explained by a handy English tablet when you enter, though I’ll admit I couldn’t tell which story was which half the time even with it. Those that are religious will hold way more importance to the Sainte-Chapelle than I (Louis IX created it to house all of his valuable relics, like the Crown of Thorns, though it’s not there now obviously), but it’s still a must see in Paris. I just sat down and gaped at it for awhile, and it’s almost as cool on the outside.

After that, on a whim, I checked out the Conciergerie (again, included in my pass), which was a former palace turned prison for the likes of Marie Antoinette and Robespierre during the French Revolution, who both spent their last days in this place. The museum itself was pretty lame, except for some kinda cool info on Marie Antoinette and a list of all the people beheaded during the revolution (no Greene’s), but there was also one of the most disturbing art exhibits I’ve ever seen, that was taking place within the museum, most of it animal related. There was a video with a horse in some sort of cage running in its own piss from the looks of it, a stuffed deer keeled over from massive amounts of horns on its head and other shit I blacked out. It definitely added to the spookiness prison vibe though, but it was weird to see children running around playing in it. I’m glad I didn’t spring extra for it.

Then, I went to probably the most famous church in the world, the Notre Dame. You may have heard of it. I hear they have a good football team. The building was free to go inside, but I narrowly missed my last opportunity to walk up the tower (which costs extra unless, wait for it, you have the museum pass). It’s an iconic Gothic building with tons of religious history, and of course inspired a classic book and subsequent mediocre Disney movie (Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo. Added to my reading list, especially when I do make it to the top). While much of the significance of the place was lost on me, it was an undeniably cool experience to see Notre Dame at night with a Christmas tree out in front, in Paris.

Matt and I walked around St. Louis, looking through the shops and the charm of the place, and I was about to go get gelato when I realized it was Italian, so it would have to wait. Though, I stupidly bought a cheesy sun-dried tomato panini at a bread shop later, even if it was delicious.

Then I returned to Pauline’s, and got to her apartment no problem, but this time, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights. Literally I was flipping lights like crazy, and even considered fucking with the generator. I didn’t want to be chilling in the dark when Pauline and the roommates arrived, so I went out for dinner to a place with wi-fi. I found some fancy overpriced bar with a funny waiter who wanted help with his English.

This was where I had escargot. It wasn’t cheap, but I got six snails in this greeny garlic sauce. You use silver pliars to hold the shell, and then scoop it out with a crab fork. I think when I envisioned escargot I thought they would just be those huge gross snails you accidentally step on in the garden, chilling on your plate. But the reality was much nicer, and delicious. I could’ve eaten several more plates of the stuff. It basically just tasted like garlic.

After that I had to get a crepe, and the waiter recommended the one drizzled in Grand Marnier. He came over with the cooked crepe and just poured it on in front of me, and then lit it on fire. For presentation’s sake, the crepe rocked, but it basically just tasted like alcohol. Needed sugar and lemon as well.

Then it was time to return to Pauline’s, and this time I finally met her! She was basically what you’d imagine with a French girl, cute, dark brown hair, stark eyebrows, she smoked, and she was super nice. She offered to make me dinner or something, instead we did laundry, and I regaled her about my trip on her balcony that overlooked the city. Yeah, her place had an amazing location. She smoked, we both shared some wine, and just chatted. Turns out, after making such a big deal about all these UNESCO locations in my blogs (albeit facetiously), that Pauline actually WORKED for UNESCO. She was also soon off to NYC to look for work, so I may see her in the states at some point.

Then it was sleepy time. At around 2-3 AM, the elusive 3rd roomate, who goes by Susu (sp?), stumbles in drunkenly and loudly. She was HOT.

NEXT: Versailles.

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