Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Paris...a la mode!

Through my internship I learned about Les Nuits des Musees, a night in which many museums stay open late and offer special previews, lectures, dances, and in the case which interested me the most…a fashion show!

I have been to two fashion shows in my life: The first was a Notre Dame High School fashion show when I was 12 and my sister participated as a model, and the second was a St. Pius elementary school fundraiser where my mom took the runway by storm (she took a few hints from America’s Next Top Model and looked great!) So that sums it up. Although I watch ANTM religiously and secretly hope that Tim Gunn will spot me in a crowd and ask me to be a guest model on Project Runway, I have never seen a professional fashion show. Last Saturday brought me as close to New York during Fashion Week, as I have ever been! The Hungarian Fashion Institute of Paris held a free fashion show for La Nuit des Musees in which, for the first hour, the students had the opportunity to showcase their work, and then after a pause for Hungarian wine tasting the professionals held a separate show in four sets. Ok, ok, so maybe it’s not New York during Fashion Week, but hey, it’s a fashion show in Paris! I was stoked!

The French are big on forming lines and waiting your turn, in the grocery store, at the taxi stand, at the check out counter of a department store, for the toilettes, to get on the bus, you name it. If you unknowingly walk directly up to the front you will get a very abrupt “Attention!” Followed by the most heinous scowl that person can conjure up, until you politely “Pardon” yourself and step back. Although, I must say that they are also very sneaky about jumping the line when at all possible, so stay on your toes! That said, this idea of a line completely goes out the window when the word “Avancez” is uttered. At this point, WATCH YOUR BACK!

It should be noted here that the Hungarian Institute of Fashion in Paris did not think to form a line for their professional fashion show, and the result was what I would imagine a rave to be like (without the music). As Darcy, her friend Laura, and I waited for the gentleman on the stairs to finish allowing those with invitations to enter we slowly began to feel the slight pressure at our backs as those soles behind us inched forward. This gentleman was not in the show, so I assume this was his fifteen minutes (more like 45 minutes) of fame. He savored his place on the stairs, as we all looked up to him, waiting for the magic words he wasn’t saying.

More waiting, the pressure at my back is only slight.

More waiting, the woman that was behind me is now beside me. I wish I had a chair.

More waiting, that woman is now in front of me…and where did that group come from?

More waiting, the air is beginning to get tight and I am feeling a little faint, please let us in soon!
Now I’m being pushing up against the back of the guy in front of me (um excuse me sir, did you forget your deodorant this morning?)

Close quarters…need fresh air…or an air freshener…must get away from guy in front of me….what is the gentleman on the stairs waiting for?

Finally: “Pas d’invitations? D’accord, avancez!”

Oh shit.

Laura somehow got ahead of Darcy and me and to the stairs, which was good because she ran upstairs and claimed the seats where we had left our coats from the previous student fashion show. Without her, those coats would surely have been shoved to the floor and we would have been standing for the next hour.

Wearing high heels was a bad idea, even if I did want to be fashionable at the fashion show. It is much more difficult to keep your balance when you’re being shoved from three different directions (forward was unfortunately not one of the directions or I might have gone with it) and wearing heels. Finally, I got separated from Darcy, but to the stairs, and freedom! Luckily, Darcy was just behind me in the next group that was let through.

As I passed another gentleman at the entrance to the fashion show, who bowed his head slightly as he greeted me, I turned into the bright lights and walked down the runway to my seat next to Laura. There it went my fifteen seconds of fame (if you can call it that). Had the cameras been on, the heels would have been a good idea after all…hey, I can always pretend right?!?

Watching the show was completely worth all the waiting and shoving! There were a few very different styles, which I cannot imagine to ever be worn off the catwalk. There were a few which I might have recommended to be accompanied by a bra, or bandeau of some sort, but then I remembered I was in Paris and nudity is much less controversial here. Then there were the outfits and dresses for which I would like to have a magic wand to zap them into my closet. I wonder what it would be like to have an endless selection of outfits in your closet. Maybe you could have a magic trunk overflowing with shoes, belts, purses, and every accessory ever created. Would you still rummage around and think that you have nothing pertinent to wear? Or maybe you would always end up wearing very simple things because there would be too much to choose from. No you would probably just always look FABULOUS! *Snap!* Sorry I was just dreaming there for a moment.

Now it’s possible that you are reading this and thinking, “Wow, Julie has turned into a materialistic snob during her three months stay in Paris.” You may be correct, although I have always liked to play dress up, ever since I was little and my friend Becky and I would open up a suitcase of her aunts’ old evening gowns, transporting us into another era. In my dreams, Clueless is my stage and I am electronically scouring Cher’s closet for the cutest new style. My feet however (which happen at the moment to be housed in a $15 pair of white tennies from H&M), are firmly planted on the ground and you might even say that I am “tight” with money. I assert that I have not done very much shopping during my stay in Paris and my credit card is safely stored deep in my wallet where the department stores and street markets cannot find them. If it’s possible, I am actually under budget (though I fear that by posting this, I will somehow enrage the gods responsible for Murphy’s Law and come home with empty pockets). Perhaps, instead of calling it materialistic, I will re-classify myself as a connoisseur of fine (read: pretty) articles within the fashion industry. I look, albeit with envy, but don’t touch 

That evening was nicely rounded out by a delicious crepe with goat cheese, French ham (which for some reason, just does not taste like the ham you find in the states) and salad. We also shared a chocolate, banana, and Chantilly crème crepe for dessert…yum!!!

Edith, where are you?

After visiting a friend in the eleventh district, I had some time before work so I decided to take a stroll and see where my promenade would lead me. I stopped for lunch at the Cat Cafe, mainly because I loved the name (the ravioli's weren't bad, the wine was watered down, but the chocolate fondue was very tasty!) Across the street from Cat Cafe is the infamous Pere Lachaise Cemetery...home to Jim Morrison, Proust, Edith Piaf among other noteworthy figures. I never made it to this cemetery when I studied here, so it has been on my list of things to see while in Paris. Ever since I watched the movie that chronicled Edith Piaf's life, I've been wanting to pay homage to her.

As I was walking up the steps toward the monument in the center of the cemetery, I paused at a bench to take everything in (Also I had just climbed one too many steps and I needed to sit and inhale air). A man was sitting on a bench next to me and he was crying. It struck me that Pere Lachaise was a destination for me, but for him, it was sadly an inevitable visit that it seems he would have liked to put off a bit longer. Many cemeteries in Paris are listed in the tourist books, so it is easy to think that those interred there have long since passed on, but for many French visitors, this is the final resting place of their very near loved ones.

I forgot about the famous people for awhile and just wandered through the tombs for a bit, looking at the family names on the gravestones and their descriptions. Eventually I saw a group of people gathered around one site in particular and I wondered if it was a funeral, it turned out I found Jim Morrison's grave. It was rather uneventful, and looks precisely like the others. At this point, I remembered my inclination to visit Edith Piaf's grave, but I searched and never found it. The space on the map doesn't correspond to her grave site. There is a large stone post where she is supposed to be buried. Oh well, some things are best left to mystery I suppose. It was an interesting way to spend a crisp afternoon. In peace and contemplation.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mon Anniversaire

I like the idea of the French word for Birthday. Happy anniversary of your birth!

Darcy invited me over to her place for dinner and a delicious dessert after which we went over to a pub/club called Coolin to meet up with some friends for drinks and dancing. Is that not the most awesome name for such an establishment?

I also treated myself to a little shopping, don't worry, I didn't go overboard, just one cute outfit. I gotta say, I am extremely proud of (and also a little surprised by)my self control in the shopping department. It's not easy, when you walk by a shoe store every other window on your way to the gorcery store, but I only look...and sometimes I go inside for a better look, but then I just say "Bonjour" to the sales person who looks like they might pounce on me for a sale, and slowly back away. The words "Prix Shoc!" (read "shocking price!") generally grabs my attention but I do not touch, because French sales people can make you think that a banana peal would make a fabulous hat. I may not know many things in the fashion department but I do know that fruit does not belong on your head! Anyway, they don't generally pounce on you until you touch the garment, so keep your hands to yourself unless you want to get out your wallet!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The wonder of a library

Date: 4/27/08
I went to a neighborhood library with my computer the other day in search of internet access zones. Unfortunately, although at this point I'm not even surprised at the irony, the internet WiFi was down. Ugh. I walked around a bit and decided to sit and read the new Jane Austen book, Sense and Sensibility (which I LOVED!) At one point, I looked up to find the girl across from me dozing over her enormous research book...ahh memories of the good 'ole days spent snoozing in the library at UCSB. It donned on me that this was the first time that I had been in a library without the stress of a paper/report/test/project looming over my head like a dark, heavy cloud preparing to unleash the wrath of the storm rumbling within. It was quite a serene experience. Who knew libraries could be so peaceful and relaxing?

The Flowers are a bloomin' in Paris!

Date: 4/25/09

Mom made it to Paris for the sunniest week I’ve seen in Paris thus far. It was so great to have her here and we walked EVERYWHERE so I wasn’t even feeling bad about the chocolate mousse we ate with dinner almost every night! Luckily the Fromont children were still on vacation and I only had to work at my internship twice so that left a lot of time for mom and I to do some exploring. As busy as we were, it didn’t feel at all rushed because she came to visit Paris (and me) when I was studying here two years ago, so we didn’t feel the need to see every tourist attraction, instead we just meandered through the streets and stopped where something grabbed our interest.

She arrived on a Saturday morning and while she rested, I went to the market to buy us some fruit for breakfast. I can’t remember how our promenade began but eventually we were at the Place de la Concord in the center of Paris and visiting the Madeline Church. We continued our walk to the Opera Garnier, where we were going to take a tour, but we had just missed the cut off. It did rain on Saturday, so we popped into the Galleries Lafayette to feel the power of French fashion first hand and view the beautiful stained glass domed ceiling. After a quick Café Crème, we continued and discovered the Trinity Church. It is under some construction but still a beauty. Mom also got a kick (or maybe that’s not the right word to use in relation to a Church) out of the Chapel of Saint Rita (the namesake of a friend of hers). As we continued we realized that we weren’t far from Montmartre and her favorite monument in Paris, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart. So on we walked, and then we were climbing (because the Sacré Coeur is at the top of a very steep hill in Montmartre).

Oops! All of sudden, we found ourselves in the red light district and quite a few men wanted us to come inside and see a different part of Paris! Well at least we got to see the Moulin Rouge. We continued our ascent through Montmartre and got to the Sacré Coeur around dinner time, so we popped into one of the restaurants at the Artist’s Square for some yummy French grub. Not a bad start to Mom’s trip.

The next morning we went to the American Cathedral for church. It is very beautiful and of course, the services were in English. Mom and I realized that it wasn’t actually a Catholic Cathedral about half way through when a woman reverend gave the sermon. Mom thought it was just European but I knew something was up. Welp, Episcopal services aren’t THAT different from Catholic services, and they had a baptism, so we got to see babies! I figure we’re all praying to the same God, we are just going about it a little differently.

One thing mom really wanted to see this trip was Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon (a much smaller home behind the main chateau) and Hamlets at Versailles, so after church we made our way in that direction. Since it was Sunday, they also had music playing in the gardens and a water show with the many fountains. The music helps you feel somewhat transported in time. Mom got a real kick out of the Hamlets too! I have videos of the hamlets and the end of the water show, so I’ll try to get that up on Flickr, if I can ever get an internet connection on my computer for more than 20 minutes.

On our return to Paris, the weather was chilly but clear so we had a little snack of chocolate and banana crepes and made our way up the Eiffel Tower! It just never gets old to look out over Paris and see all the monuments embedded into the skyline of the neighborhoods.

Another good day, but boy were we tired.

Monday took me away from Mom to ICOM. It was an interesting day for me, as my boss was let go from her post, and mom spent her day with one of her walking tours of Paris, after which we retraced her steps so that I could see all the little nuances that I would never have known about otherwise. We stopped for a late afternoon glass of wine and plate of cheese, in a very French fashion, while we looked out over the street and did some people watching. There was a very friendly pup that came to visit us and mom got to see first hand the insanity of Parisian parking!

We decided to have a rest when we got back…rest is a bit of an understatement. It might also be dubbed the BIG sleep because we didn’t wake up til 9:30! We settled for eggs and potatoes for dinner and laughed that even in Paris we fall to old habits of breakfast for dinner. Also, Mom beat me in Scrabble after dinner…some things never change!

I spent Tuesday morning playing with the kids. Interestingly, their English was exorbitantly better than usual. If only I got to watch them in the morning, when they are fresh and not tired, more often!

Mom and I met up and travelled out to the Bois de Boulogne so that I could show her all the beautiful flowers I had discovered the week before. If only Dad could have been there to tell us what we were looking at, since that’s his specialty. Mom knew a good deal of the names of the flowers. My knowledge is near nil, but I think they all look pretty!

With our picnic in hand we strolled along the path and stopped at a bench to eat our sandwich and chocolate éclairs while we enjoyed the scenery. A peacock stalked us for a bit and I thought I was going to have to throw down! Luckily, he strutted his way to other unlikely victims and sweeter smelling goods, so mom and I could enjoy our delicious treats in peace.

Side note: Peacocks have a very strange call. It rather reminds me of the cry of Cosmo (that’s my cat). It’s quite noticeable at first and then it just gets on your nerves. The sound definitely does not match the beauty of their colorful tails.

Fearful that we would run into the scenario of the previous night after so much walking, we decided to stay out until dinner instead of heading back home. Though this was a good idea in theory, perhaps we would hit the Andy Warhol exhibit, except it was closed on Tuesdays. Ok, so perhaps we would go to the Musee D’Orsay and take in a few Impressionist paintings, nope that was closed too. Hmm, well it was only 7pm and rather early to dine in Paris, but whatever, haven’t the French heard of Early Bird specials? There must be plenty of restaurants near the Musee D’Orsay…oh those are all closed too? Is nothing open in Paris on Tuesdays?!?!?!

Finally we stumbled on a quaint Italian establishment (there were 7 of us in the joint for the entirety of our meal), and enjoyed a tasty pasta dish.

We took advantage of the ability to sleep in on Wednesday but made it down to the Street Market before it closed, so mom got to see all the vendors (fish, meat, clothing, toy, purse, jewelry, flower…they were all there). We each got a new French top, which we sported while we took in the flowers, a scoop of chocolate ice cream and the general sights in the alternate universe that is the Luxembourg Gardens on a sunny day. It really is to be experienced this alternate universe where nothing exists but pleasure in the company of others. Time has no meaning. Gentlemen bring their chess sets, playing cards, or Petanque balls to challenge each other in a game of wits and skill beneath the Chestnut trees. Children can enjoy one of many activities, be it, sailing miniature boats in the fountain, swinging around the large play structures, riding ponies, building sand castles, kicking around a soccer ball…you name it and it’s probably an activity within the gates of the Luxembourg gardens. The bee keepers were busy keeping their bees, lovers were entranced, some people were reading, others were drawing, a few snoozed in the sun, but most were just engaged in conversation with their companions. Truly, this place is like no other. How can you have a bad experience in a place which exudes such peace?

Eventually, we decided to see a bit of the city, so we took a stroll, similar to one that I wrote about earlier on this blog. We saw the Pantheon, La Sorbonne, La Musee de Cluny (think Roman vestiges), the skinny streets of the Latin Quarter, and finally Notre Dame Cathedral. We ended up in the Latin Quarter for dinner (pizza and calzones…we couldn’t seem to get away from the Italian influence!) One man had the sole post to call people into the restaurant, a Siren, of sorts, for Italian cuisine. Every so often he would clap his hands and say…rather sing, “Piiiiiiiizzzzzzzzza!” It worked on us anyway, and eventually he filled the restaurant. Once this task was completed, he cut out. People watching in the Latin Quarter offers some of the best in town during the evenings. It was such a lovely evening, I hated the idea of going underground to take the Metro home, so Mom and I took in a few street performances on our leisurely walk home along the Seine. It took us about an hour to get home because I didn’t realize how far we actually were from home…Mom is such a good sport!

I went to ICOM again on Thursday for part of the day, after which, Mom and I decided to trek back up (via metro) to Sacre Coeur to see the inside during the day. The sun sets against the stained glass windows so that it ignites the air with a red radiance which fills your soul with a warmth which I cannot fully express. It rises through a set of blue windows which I can only imagine begins the morning with a coolness likened to purity. Truly awesome.

For dinner we went to a café at La Place du Trocadero. Scrumptious steak, wonderful wine, decadent desserts and candid conversation…this dinner was a wonderful end to a wonderful week.

The taxi came to pick mom up the next morning at 7am. Must every goodbye be so abrupt? Thankfully, Mom’s travel home was much less stressful than Anne’s. I feel so blessed to have been joined first by my sister, then by my mom in Paris. They made for two amazing weeks (almost as if I’ve had two separate vacations within Paris with Annie and then Mom).

Mom must have packed the good weather in her suit case, because with her went the sun. It’s been warm and rainy…wainy, if that word doesn’t sound pleasant, it’s because it isn’t. Aw well, c’est la vie!

I find there is always something to look forward to in Paris, up next…my birthday! But how shall I celebrate??????