I downloaded this album by Gary Numan for our trip to Paris this week and we listened to it on my laptop, in the hotel. With the lights out, the window ajar, and the iTunes visualizer on, this was one of my favorite moments in Paris. Reading more about the Pleasure Principle today, I learned it was a phrase coined by Freud to describe the carnal urges of children.
I don’t remember my last trip to Paris, in 1994. I know we went to the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower, but nothing looked familiar to me this time.
Dawn and I had three days and two nights without the kids, to celebrate her 40th. We stayed at a hotel in St Germain recommended by Gilles, and the location was perfect, right around the corner from many cafés, restaurants, and boutiques. Dawn said it reminded her of the West Village, with none of the dangerous parts.
We had five meals out, which amounted to around 10 hours spent sitting, eating, and people-watching. I have two favorite meals: one, at a restaurant that specialized in frog’s legs, and another, where we had raw oysters, fish soup, and a pichet of Rosé.
The owner of the first restaurant had a kind of warmth about him that made us feel immediately welcome. It may sound cheesy, but I made the observation that real success in restaurants comes from a good product and good service. You need both, or neither matters.
When we arrived, he offered us “Kir or Champagne, directly?” We enjoyed Champagne, raw radishes, and olives as we looked over the menu.
The other restaurant (where we spent Dawn’s 40th) was more formal, and I got myself worked up and intimidated, feeling under-dressed and intimidated by the menu. It was all expensive, and I couldn’t understand any of it. I asked the waiter for help and he said no, you need to work on your French. Luckily he was kidding, and we had a good laugh about it.
The couple next to us ordered in English as well, but didn’t apologize about it. I found out they were Swedish; it’s interesting that sometimes English is the common thread between cultures. We saw this on the train coming back, where some Phillipino kids had to ask a French girl to get out of their seat.
I was nervous at this more formal restaurant, as the people on either side of me were in suits with cuff-links, and I was wearing a wrinkled Rayon shirt I’ve had since my last trip to Liverpool, in 1998. Dawn reminded me that people like us are probably more like the wait-staff than the other people who come to the restaurant, and so I relaxed.
We dipped our toe in the Louvre for a few hours, but I was overwhelmed by the volume of people and art, which doesn’t allow for real intimate moments. It’s funny that the Mona Lisa has such status, and it makes me wonder if that’s due to the arbitrary nature of art, or the fact that da Vinci said it was his favorite work.
We did see a temporary exhibit there that compared four Venetian painters from the 16th century. Christ is an obvious theme from this time, but he’s not as interesting as the other figures in many of the paintings. The others are more life-like and fluid in their movements, while he’s often portrayed with this air of divinity that has him frozen, as though he’s in the middle of receiving a message from above.
At the Musée d’Orsay we had more time and space to connect with the paintings. I’ve never been much of a museum-goer, but I did have a few moments where I could feel it in my chest. It may be that the artist was able to capture a moment that reminded me of something in my past, or a future that I longed for. One painting reminded me of our times in Tuscany at the beach, and another, of the quiet, country moments in the south of France – where old men are slouched at tables, and sunlight is filtering through the trees.