Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Time to Reflect

We are in the Netherlands. I wrote a brief update about how much we love this quiet and comfortable place in the Veluwe... it was brilliant, so naturally it got scrambled and lost when I tried to post it last night. Wish me luck as I compose a second post... this time reflecting on our last day in Paris. You see, it is so calm and relaxing here, that I am beginning to process all of the sights, sounds, impressions and highlights of our days in France.

We got brave our last day in Paris. Since half of us wanted to go back to the sailboat pond in the Tuileries Garden, and the other half wanted to walk under Paris in the Catacombs, we decided to split up, take different Metro lines and meet later at the Louvre. Geoff, William and Alex left first and they took the camera. Max, Maria and I left soon after and our first stop was a last visit to the Marche San Quentin... where we could buy beautiful fruits and fresh baguettes and even chicken... feathered-severed head optional. We bought bread and cheese and fruit, juices, and cured sausage... all for a garden picnic. Maria makes a friend in every shop and marche stall. She collected a small breakfast she could eat as we walked around the small open stall market. She and Max shared cherries and petite croissants, then we made the brisk walk to the Metro Station Gare d l' Est for our ride to Palace Louvre on line 7. Max learned to keep track of which line we needed to catch and which stop was best for our destination.

The walk from the Louvre station to the Pond is fairly long, especially through crowds and with a four year old, who's knee is all better by the way. We took our time. We walked down the Rue Rivoli, then cut across through the Louvre, near the Pyramid. Every language can be heard walking around Paris and we were surrounded by school groups and vendors, a bride and groom posed for portraits, and of course there are cars, buses and bike and motorbikes in the mix too. It's a rush. Either exhilarating or exhausting, sometimes both. Never dull.

We were lucky and grateful to find chairs in the shade. We parked ourselves in view of the ferris wheel, near the statue of Cain... poor Cain stands in utter shame and remorse after slaying his brother. How does an artist carve grief out of marble?

We unpacked small toys for Maria to play with, we talked about how long it might be before William and Alex and Geoff joined us. We looked for the man with the sailboats, and we knew he would not come around as long as there were still storm clouds... the thunder, lightning and rain came heavily in the night, just as the boat man had said it would. We ate berries and shared a croissant, then munched on baguette... is there a better breakfast? We enjoyed bird watching and people watching. I think we were enjoying the last cool day in Paris... all reports since have been about heat and humidity. We were fortunate. Paris may be beautiful, but I can do without heat and humidity while staying in a noisy hotel without AC.

On our way to our shaded chairs we were walking steps behind a vendor. Every where we went there were men carrying rings of Eiffel Tower key chains, souvenirs they sold in every size and color. It cannot be an easy way to make a living, and Paris is an expensive pace to live or visit, so these people must struggle to get by. The man in front of us carried hundred of shiny towers in his hands and a pack on his back with more inventory and... and an open pouch. Thinking and worrying about pickpockets and opportunistic thieves is a constant preoccupation in any city, Paris is certainly no exception, so I got his attention and in my highly qualified French (gestures and sympathetic mutterings) I explained that his bag was wide open. He looked stunned and took immediate action, he was only quietly grateful, but it was plain to see his relief, I even recognized the look of speculation as he considered what he might have lost. He turned his back and took a tower from his large hoop of dangling key chains and he slipped it in to Maria's hand, nodding his head, smiling. Maria loves her small treasure. I love that our souvenir is a memory of making contact... crossing the barrier between sightseeing and being engaged.

When the rest of the family came walking towards us from the direction of the Louvre, we could see they had enjoyed a good adventure. William wanted me to see the pictures they took and he described the images, the dark rooms beneath Paris where bones were amassed to empty the cemeteries that were dangerously overcrowded, beginning in the 1700's. It is a fascinating history... with stories still unfolding to this day. They had walked a long way beneath the city and came to the surface in an all together different part of town, but they made their way to our meeting place safe and sound and full of new impressions.

Now for the Louvre! Just as we packed the remains of our lunch and watched the giant pigeons enjoy our crumbs, we saw the sailboat man arrive with his boats. Geoff took Max and Maria for a last bit of sailing while William, Alex and I went to get museum tickets. The long line moved quickly and it was no problem walking in to the popular Pyramid entrance. The escalator takes you down below the pyramid and into a very modern and sunlit courtyard... as busy as the streets and courtyards above. We waited for the sailors in the book store... what a treasure room the book store is! Every art subject, in every language... surprisingly few nick-knacks, but loads and loads of books. I could have spent as much time in there as the actual museum.

What do you see at the Louvre? What don't you see at the Louvre? We knew we were never going to get the total package. The place is probably miles worth of art... miles and layers and corridors and levels and separate buildings... it goes on forever. Geoff decided we should see Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. I thought he was nuts for choosing two of the most popular pieces, but I was also grateful to have a plan... this place can easily stop you in your tracks just in the planning phase! And his plan turned out to be just fine. Yes, it was crowded, but we saw breathtaking Greek and Roman marble statues and we saw hundreds of Italian Renaissance paintings and we saw Her, "the lady," as Maria called the Mona Lisa.

In a very big room and surrounded by larger works sits a quiet and unassuming portrait of a pretty lady. She sits serenely and completely at ease with the crowds waiting for their turn in her presence. You can tell when someone finally focuses on the Mona Lisa, when they realize that their search is over and they are actually seeing La Gioconda... they gasp or sigh... no matter what language they spoke there were reverent utterances throughout the gallery.

Maria had been getting tired and losing interest, so I made a game. Sitting in a quieter corner, near the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I patted Maria's back, rubbed her little legs and let her tell me all of her woes...
“I'm tired and my feet hurt and this is just so long!
I sympathized on every point and then I sighed. I took a deep breath and said, “I want to go too, but we haven't seen the lady yet...”
She perked and asked “What lady?”
“Mona Lisa. She's here somewhere and we want to find her, because she is so beautiful. It would be sad if we could not see her pretty dress and long hair. She is smiling and she looks like a nice lady, but where can she be?”

Maria saw the print of the La Gioconda on the wall, with the arrow pointing in the direction of the gallery where we would find her. Having a mission and purpose, she led the way. We looked in to a lot of faces, Madonnas and angels, ladies and saints and Maria kept the pace eagerly looking for Mona Lisa. Success. Not only were we seeing art and moving along without dragging Maria, but Maria was completely engrossed in the search, and when at last she found her... Maria was enchanted and pleased.

William helped me get a picture of the crowded gallery, the people amassing in front of the tiny portrait. Alex reminded me that it's painted on a piece of wood, not canvas.

After Mona Lisa, William asked to see the rest of the Italian Renaissance paintings, so Geoff thought of a new theme for Maria's game... find ladies dressed in blue! Ladies in blue, in a gallery of Italian Renaissance paintings... brilliant! She loved this game very much and all of the lovely Madonnas and angels seemed as pleased and willing to play as Maria. Max and I sat together and talked about religious themes in art, about art patrons and expressions of faith. We saw a small painting of St. George slaying a dragon. Max sympathized with the dragon. Alex studied the guide and found an area where we could see Medieval Paris. Maria counted 42 ladies in Blue.

We found Venus de Milo. And Maria made up her own theme...find statues missing limbs. There were many examples of these and we explored more and more of the museum, without complaint.

Next Alex directed us down, below, where original buildings below the Louvre were excavated. Suddenly we were in Medieval Paris. The thick walls and dark recesses... it was a moving and almost chilling view of the hard life in those days. Walking through the rooms I could not help but feel the oppression, the struggle it must have been for most people to get by in Medieval Europe.

We needed air. On our way up and through the gallery of Greek and Roman statues, Maria decided on one more theme: Naked people. Max found this rather embarrassing, but given the art before us, I found it an entirely appropriate and observant theme. We found lots and lots of naked people.

Goodness... I am ready for a break! Just thinking of our last day in Paris has got me ready for a stretch and fresh air. We walked to Place de la Concorde. We rode a Metro to Ecole Militaire and walked to the Eiffel Tower. This time Alex and Geoff climbed the Tower. William, Max and I watched Maria play in her sandbox, in the playground beneath the southern leg of the Tower... this is where she played and made friends when William and Geoff climbed the Eiffel Tower. On that first visit to the playground and after two hours playing with other children, as we were leaving she said, “There are so many people talking French here!” Geoff and Alex joined us and we realized it was already after 9PM... that tricky non-sunset fooled us again. No dinner, exhausted and a very long way from our hotel, we did the only logical thing... we stayed to watch the sun finally set and to see the Eiffel Tower shimmer and sparkle. We sat with hundreds of Parisians and tourists, with rowdy revelers and picnicking families, with sweethearts drinking Champaign, and tour groups on Segways...

and we waited

and then we saw the Eiffel Tower light up the night... our last Paris night.


CrazyCris said...

What a lovely and lively post! You found a great way to get your child interested in the wonders around her! I think my parents did something similar when we were children and the effects lasted a lifetime!

I love the Louvre! But unless you want a guaranteed migraine there's no way you can take it all in during a single visit. It was designed for repeat offenders! Last time I went I discovered the "Empire" section of which I knew nothing about!

Teresa Stenson said...

You blog in such a friendly and interesting way. It's a delight to read about your interpretations and findings as you make your way through Europe.

I backpacked around Holland, France, Italy, Germany and Czech Republic when I was 20 and I did it on my own. People said I was brave, but I think you with your whole brood are much braver!

Quite inspiring. Keep it coming.

Kaiserin Sisi said...

I enjoy reading your blog which I stumbled by was listed as one of the "Blogs of Note" :-)

Reading & looking at your family pictures taken in Paris really makes me want to go there again. My first & only trip to Paris was when I was still a student studying in Switzerland and that was 20 years ago!!!

Tracy said...

Look at all you LOVELY Chickens Abroad...Delighting in every photo, Natalie! So glad you are having a wonderful time...Be Merry-Happy Days ((HUGS))

Laura Jane said...

Woo-hoo chickens! Lets hear it for the Louvre!

That's a REALLY good game to play at the Louvre.

I'm loving that we were following each others steps.

We're home now, photos to come.

big hugs

judy in ky said...

Lovely story about Maria's treasure. When she's older, she will remember all of this with fondness, I am sure. She is delightful, the little beanerina in clogs.

judy in ky said...

Uh, I meant "crocs"... !

Jessie said...

looks like you're all having a blast. reading and looking at photos brings so many memories of my trips to europe. i want to go back!!

Kara said...

I love Maria's favorite pose :)

Mari said...

Wonderful! It made me remember my trip to Europe.

Frogdancer said...

One day I'll get there....

Lauralee said...

Hello, just checking out new blogs, really like yours. Come check out mine if you'd like.

Donna Gotlib said...

How very charming. What a beautiful family. Thank you for taking us with you! I had a very lovely time.

Surg said...

I stumbled onto this blog as well, from it being listed in "Blogs of Note". Truly, your blog is inspiring.

It's like I'm reading a book, but in a blog! You must put a lot of time and effort into your posts.

Sara said...

It's wonderful to see how much fun you are having....seeing, learning, enjoying the food and people and sights, and each other. Love your red hat, by the way!

This post brought back many memories from my one and only visit to Paris in 2001.

Irma's Rose Cottage said...

Love reading your posts. I hope to one day travel there. How exciting that your whole family will have such lovely memories to share.
Please come and visit whenever you get a chance. I just recently acquired a few girls(chickens) of my own.

Hugs :)