Why I Love the French

Trip Start Mar 12, 2005
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Trip End Mar 20, 2005


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Visit Klenske, Ink.

The Louvre, one of the world's largest museums, a daunting task that many actually purposely avoid. Now on a resurgence due to The DaVinci Code, we headed that way on Friday morning. To enter the compound, you now enter through a large glass pyramid which sits in the courtyard that dates back to the 1100's. The modern pyramids are a stark contrast to both the surrounding buildings and the art that is inside. Yet, the mere symbol of the pyramid sends a resounding signal that the past is still very much part of our present day lives. Of course, all this modernity amongst the preserved causes the Parisians to dislike the pyramids (do you see a theme here??). Personally, I liked them. You walk in, look up and see the ancient fortress shining in through the angled glass. You look down, and you see the beginning of one of the world's greatest museums. For a moment, you seem suspended in mid-air, half way between the future and the past, stuck in a pergatory-like present.

To try to cover the entire museum in one day is an impossibility (it is estimated that it would take an entire nine months to see every piece on display). To enter and run right to the Mona Lisa is a travesty. To select certain bits and pieces and pretend the rest of the museum does not exist is the way of the wise, and so that is what we did. (Actually it wasn't our great wisdom that lead us to this idea, but our handy guide book. Otherwise we'd still be running around in there). We covered the Roman, Greek, French and Italian sculptures and the French, Spanish and Italian paintings. Just this scratching of the surface took half a day. But even with this cliff-notes version of the Louvre, we were able to see the famous Venus de Milo, Michelangelo's "Two Slaves", numerous Raphael paintings, and of course, daVinci's Mona Lisa. Mona is actually in temp housing right now, since her home is being renovated. Instead she's just hanging behind glass on a grey wall. You turn the corner and before you even realize what you are looking at, there she is. Smiling now that crazies can't stab her with a knife anymore (which really was attempted and the reason for the renovations of her permanent hanging place). Our last museum of our trip, where we saw hundreds of works by the various masters. Somehow it seemed fitting that we ended with one of the world's most famous pieces of artwork. Now, we were museumed out.

Tina had the day off and so we met up with her and headed towards the famed Avenue des Champs-Elysees, a wide and crowded boulevard full of high-end shopping and cafes, all leading up to the mad-roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. We took our time walking up the street, looking in shops, etc. I knew it was a pricey street when all the Arc lapel pins were going for five Euros a piece. Even a pinhead like me wouldn't shell out that much, even if the arc was covered in gaudy sparkling sequins. We ended up going through the tunnel, under the eight lane (with no lines) roundabout and into the arc. We got a few pictures, watched a tourist dig in his nose for some green treasure and, frustrated with not being able to pull it out, blew it out all over the sidewalk, and then watched the crazy traffic makes its way around and around and around. My favorite cars are the 'smart' cars, about a quarter of the size of the already small minis. Of course, they're smart in that they get 100 miles to the gallon or something, they fit on sidewalks, and you can squeeze into any parking spot. What's not so smart about them is that, well, they're small and therefore there's not much sitting between you and the oncoming SUV. But then again, the French don't have many SUVs. In fact, everything here seems smaller, more efficient, and generally more simple and relaxed.

And that's why I love the French.

I love that here the work week is only 35 hours and everyone gets seven weeks vacation.

I love that you cannot walk ten feet without seeing a cafe, full of outdoor seating. Just the fact that everyone walks everywhere instead of driving makes life better here.

The French aren't large. I don't think I saw one obese person in all of Paris (not counting tourists). I love that when I go shopping for jeans in a Paris store, the sizes start with 30/30's (my size) and one has to dig for the larges and the extra larges don't even exist(the exact opposite of my shopping experiences at home). In fact, nothing comes in large sizes. The food comes in small yet filling proportions. The French eat and drink in moderation and their coffees are the size of a shot glass (Big Gulps don't exist here). In fact the term "diet" is a turnoff. Diet Coke doesn't exist. You'll have to settle for a Coke Light. But of course this makes sense, there's no need to diet. Instead, they can just enjoy all the natural taste of life.

Further, there are no big supermarkets. There's the small fish market, the small butcher shop, the small pastry shop, sandwich shop, crepe shop, fruit stand...You shop daily and everything is fresh.

I love that if the weather is nice and the mood suits you, you can find a seat at an outdoor cafe, order a bottle of wine in the middle of the afternoon and then just sit there until close. No one pesters you about wanting to order more and tries to get you to leave so a new customer can come in. Once you order you also reserve your seat for as long as you want. Relaxation is always on the menu.

I love that you actually see the French walking through the streets carrying a loaf of French bread. I love that they take care of their poor and allow people to take their dogs everywhere, including on the subways and into the stores.

Most of all, I love how the French take life at a slowed down and enjoyable pace. Work is not an end in and of itself, it is merely a means to reaching an end: a happy and content life. When the weather's nice, why not take a little longer at lunch and just sit in the park, playing with your kids or enjoying a glass of wine? Perhaps a game of bocce ball with a long-time friend makes more sense then sitting locked away inside a cubicle? In essence, the French know how to live, and that is what I love the most: the French way of going through life.

And this is exactly what I was thinking as I was spending the evening relaxing in a park, watching two men play bocce ball and a mother chase her kid as he ran towards the airborne bocce balls. Everyone seemed calm, content, happy, and, well, French. I think I could get use to being French.

So French we were during the remainder of our time in Paris. That evening we went with Chris and Tina for free couscous, but it seemed that all of Paris showed up for free couscous. Instead, we settled for a beers at a couple of French-townie bars and some food at a local kabob shop. Kara even became a hero as she saved a local girl's purse from being carried off by a sly pickpocket. The next day we slept in and then went shopping along the Rue de Rivoli, had coffee and lunch at a cafe, ate tarts, eclairs and crepes, ordered the wrong thing at dinner, and split a last bottle of wine with Chris and Tina. Then it was time to pack and prepare for our long journey home. Strangely, on this journey, it felt that we were packing to leave home. Perhaps someday we can come back and "be" French. But until then, I plan on enjoying my Iowa spring days with a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a set of bocce balls in the park along the slow flowing and relaxing river.

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