A tiny bit of vice to balance out all this virtue.

Trip Start Nov 19, 2010
Trip End Dec 25, 2010

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Where I stayed
Eiffel Capitol Hotel Paris
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Thursday, December 23, 2010

**IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:  I have been instructed in no uncertain terms that A Very Important Correction needs to be made to a previous blog entry.  Somehow I neglected to mention the fact that BOTH my parents attended the Sorbonne, which would mean my mother AS WELL AS my father suffered through classes with cranky French professors.  This was all seriously B.C. (before children) and I may have dozed off during various historical recountings of my parents' pre-kid Parisian adventures.  THANK GOODNESS my mother is on the job to correct my gross inaccuracies.  ;)  **

I think we'll have to do this blog entry in reverse order, for reasons that will soon become apparent.  I'm kicked back in my nice warm hotel room out of the ridiculously biting wind and blowing snow that have been my delightful companions all day, nibbling on sushi and sipping Perrier.  Ahhhhh... 

I had no better plans for this afternoon, so I joined up with a passel of Americans (Cincinnati, North Carolina somewhere, Los Angeles, etc.) and did a guided tour of the Christmas lights and historical context of the neighborhood around Place de la Concorde and the Garnier Opera House, which I hadn't yet had any excuse to visit.  We toured yet ANOTHER cathedral which was built by Napoleon in the style of a Roman temple, and learned that the Place de la Concorde was the site of the wedding celebration for Marie Antoinette and Henry IV as well as their eventual beheading, which is creepy.  We walked along beautifully decorated uber-fancy streets (this shop only sells caviar, this one only sells Dom Perignon, this one only sells truffles, etc.) and through the Place Vendome, a beautiful square a bit like the Place des Vosges, with a huge pillar built from the melted cannons of Napoleon's enemies following one of his more decisive battles.  We walked by the gorgeous old Paris Opera Garnier (not to be confused with Garnier Fructis, the shampoo), which was actually built on top of an underground lake and inspired the Phantom of the Opera story.  We ended up in front of the amazing (and a bit disturbing) animated stuffed animal displays in the windows of two of Paris' largest department stores.  I didn't take pictures of the teddy bears dressed like Abba freaking out to "Dancing Queen"--I hope one day you'll forgive me.  *twitch*  The tour was a fun way to spend a couple of hours exploring a new part of Paris, and I was very impressed that the extremely competent tour guide was actually a girl from Muncie, Indiana.

Prior to the tour, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill, so I took the Metro to the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre, figuring I'd roam around and see if there was anything redeeming about these lovely summer spots in the dead of winter.  You can kind of see the miserable tourists huddled against the wind in the little video I posted, but it was still really beautiful.  The Musee d'Orsay was QUITE enough conventional art for one trip, though, and the Louvre will have to join the long list of things I'm saving for the NEXT Paris trip (anyone??).  I grabbed a hot chocolate and sat in a cafe to thaw, taking in the scenery and enjoying the break.

Prior to roaming the grounds of the Louvre, I ducked into a cafe for lunch.  I had a Perrier, and a baguette spread with butter and Cantal cheese, my most favorite Swiss-like flavor.  It was simple, and it was perfect.  The Cantal was amazingly flavorful, the baguette was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside--it was just what I wanted.  I'm not sure exactly what happened at this point in the meal.  Suddenly, from nowhere, like 40 Parisian guys probably in their 30s flooded the restaurant--apparently their group of some kind had decided that 1:30 pm at this particular cafe was where they were all going to meet to celebrate Christmas.  Ahhh, check, please!  Now, please!  I didn't want to be literally the only female in the suddenly packed restaurant, so it was time to get out of there.  It was interesting, though, to see them all interact--I would have voted that they were a heterosexual group of guys, but the contrast between them and Moroccan men was extremely interesting.  From my limited observations, it seems that in countries in which there is a flourishing gay presence, heterosexual men take great pains to distinguish themselves from this community, examples of which are practically urban legend.  I mention this because homosexuality is illegal, as in you will go to jail, in Morocco.  As a result, there is practically no suspicion that you might possibly be gay, so you constantly see men holding hands in public, walking arm in arm in arm at protests--we were continually shocked by the way our Sahara driver would hold hands with our guide and even tap his inner thigh to get his attention while driving.  Uh....  Could these guys be secretly gay?  Of course they could, but there are SO many Moroccan men holding hands and practically snuggling in public that you really can't apply your American standards and judgments.  You can only stand back and think to yourself that once again, men make no sense whatsoever.  ;)

We have sufficiently re-wound now to the point at which you need to make a choice.  You can stop here and choose to believe that I went back to the Louvre and spent the entire day there being edified by great works of art, or you can accept a PG-13 rating and follow me to Place Pigalle, where I actually started my morning.  Everything looks very tame at 10:00am on a Thursday morning in what soon became driving snow, so I can't properly assess the neighborhood's nocturnal friskiness level (NFL) nor compare it to previous adventures in Bangkok's Patpong area, which is probably for the best

I received an email expressing concern about the amount of time I was spending in churches and I realized that the pendulum really needs to be re-centered, so a trip to Pigalle was just the thing.  (Every time I hear that word, I hear my dad saying "Place Pigalllllllllllllllle!!!" in my head.)  You have to love a place that actually has caused government officials to install a condom machine in its metro station.  I took a couple anti-climactic pictures of the Moulin Rouge and other similar establishments, ducked under the awning for one of several peep shows to adjust my scarf ("Can I help you, Mademoiselle?"  "Nope, thanks, though."  "Okay, have a good day!"), and was generally ignored by the few hardy souls assigned to lure tourists in off the sidewalk.  Perfect! 

A couple blocks later I happily reached my nice warm destination:  the Musee de l'Erotisme.  A lovely counterbalance to the Musee d'Orsay from the previous day, this was actually a really decent collection--possibly better than New York's version and certainly on a par with our beloved Kinsey Institute at IU.  The bottom floor was all ancient Greek, African, Aztec, etc. art--carvings and bowls and statues and masks and whatnot.  The next floor was Japanese and Indian (dot, not feather) paintings and carvings and sculpture

The third floor was really interesting, being completely devoted to the history of brothels in Paris, which, as you can imagine, is quite a significant topic.  Brothels were actually legal and regulated throughout the country from at least 1800 to 1950, if you can believe it.  In 1810 there were 180 brothels in Paris alone, and by 1925 there were _762_ throughout France.  The German occupation of Paris resulted in regular health inspections and stricter codes of cleanliness, which greatly increased business.  Most places had at least 10 girls on staff and many reported over _200_ clients each day.  The museum had tons of photos of incredibly opulent Versailles-style rooms and girls in evening dresses waiting on pedestals for clients to arrive.  People like Edith Piaf sang regularly and Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, and Marlene Dietrich were frequently seen in the front bar/restaurant section of at least one of the fancier places.  The museum had a big display of really funny handwritten bills from 1942-3 that were given to patrons who surely died of syphillis soon after, to judge from their extensive itemized receipts.  The receipts listed what the people had to eat (steak, apple tart), drink (champagne, specific vintages of wine), which girls were involved in their evening ("little Jewish brunette," "Negress"), and I'm afraid to speculate what the other line items were for ("leather vest," "party with Jacqueline," "morality play"). 

I was very surprised to see a sizeable collection of original Degas charcoal sketches on display that captured various aspects of brothel life just as he had done for his more famous ballerinas.  These were discovered posthumously and never quite made it to the Louvre, I guess.  There was also commentary from Toulouse-Lautrec and Verlaine and Malraux and other guys from that milieu--it figures you'd go to them for expert color commentary on the daily lives of prostitutes, right?  I guess you can't drink absinthe ALL day...  Anyway, only women were allowed to run brothels, so this was a legal way for savvy girls to become rather powerful and the secret influence of brothels on French politics was significant, to say the least. 

Upstairs from THAT was a couple of floors chronicling the history of French skin magazines (I felt like the museum's content really took a dive here--dullsville), although there was a rather amusing wall entirely covered in Polaroids submitted by readers looking for dates in the magazines' classified ads.  Because I'd TOTALLY call you if I saw that picture, sir/ma'am/other--what the heck.....  The top floor of the otherwise interesting museum was a truly regrettable exhibit of phenomenally creepy skeletons with huge cloudy eyeballs in compromising positions--as I told my brother, if I could excise the part of my brain that actually saw that stuff, I would be much appreciative.  Ew.  But the entire rest of the museum was so middle-of-the-road palatable that I suppose at least something should be a bit challenging.  Having checked off most of the "2,000 items covering 7 floors!" I headed back out into the snow.

My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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Kayla on

I don't care. Laurdee was worth it. Now, you have to go back. =)

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