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Monday, 16 July 2001

With our apartment rented and its furniture slightly rearranged, with Brennan registered for school and the other two in the works, with our bureaucratic obligations discharged as well as the French bureaucracy allows, and with the Tour de France come and gone, we were ready to travel. We used our return train tickets to Paris this afternoon after putting the apartment in order, and hopped on the Métro to navigate to Michèle’s apartment at the appointed hour. It is a fairly long ride on the Métro, but there are no changes and we got very close to her apartment at the appointed hour, but somehow missed the door and when we finally back-tracked and found the door, I messed up the entry code. Fortunately, Michèle was expecting us and came to our rescue.

We deposited our bags in the apartment and headed out for some touring. Because much of Paris was on vacation, Michèle decided on a driving tour, which would be unthinkable in the late afternoon during the rest of the year. We drove from her apartment in the 13th arrondisement up past the Bastille, around another monument or two, and up to Montmartre, where we were lucky to find a spot just below Sacré Cœur. Despite the obvious visual interest of the very white church on the hill above us, Ryan had only one famous Parisian monument in mind. We had to keep hiking higher until we could catch a glimpse of Eiffel’s famous tower, no matter how far away she may be. When we did, Ryan had to pose before his queen twice (because the first time, I didn’t account for parallax and got the Tower stuck right behind a bar in the fence). Little did we appreciate at that first sighting how obsessed our youngest traveler would be with the Tower, which would become over the next weeks his idée fixe.

After a treat of a chocolate-filled crêpe across the street from Sacré Cœur, we piled back into the car and drove around some more, past Place de la Concorde, where Louis XVI was shortened a bit in 1793, and where some of those responsible for that deed tasted their own medicine in the months that followed. We eventually made our way over to the Eiffel Tower and found a nifty parking place in a little cul-de-sac about as close to the Tower as you could hope for. We walked under the feet of the giant, and as we did a breeze came up, which Ryan attributed to the gigantic air conditioner in the Tower, much to his brothers’ amusement.

We walked down the Champs de Mars so the boys could chase pigeons and get out some of their energy, and enjoyed some of the lovely gardens that surround the park. It was getting pretty dark, and we were getting pretty hungry, so we walked back to the car and spied a café right on the corner that looked like it would serve something the boys would eat. After everyone was well and properly restored, we walked down to the Seine to look for les Bateaux-Mouches and a late evening boat ride. This introduced the boys to some of the famous monuments lining the Seine, including the Eiffel Tower (again!), the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Pont Neuf (the new bridge), which is the oldest bridge in Paris! It was 23:00 by the time our boat ride was up and everyone was happy to drive back to the apartment and see about bunking for the night. It was a little tight with 7 of us in the apartment, but we managed well enough and we had our respective sweet dreams of towers, subways, boats, and whatnot.

Tuesday, 17 July 2001

Michèle volunteered to tour us around today, but the boys were eager to get to the Loire and to bike riding. We thanked her for the kind offer, and took her up on her offer to make a reservation for us at an inn in Amboise, which seemed to us a good place to start a bike ride for several of the châteaux of the valley. This she did, and then put on her Minitel to check the train schedule (a trick which I should have studied more carefully; it would have been handy later to know how to do this). We had time to catch a late morning train, so we finished packing, thanked her, and hustled off to la Gare d’Austerlitz.

Off to the Loire Valley

Saturday, 21 July 2001

Brennan and I found a small store (2 small aisles) within a block from the apartment building, which was built in the 1910s by Michèle’s father. We found enough to get us by for the next day and a half, including some cans of ravioli, which turned out to be a big hit. When the sleepers awoke, we set out for Notre Dame de Paris, which was quite crowded on a Sunday afternoon. Because of the service, access to the main part of the church was limited, and the line to climb the towers was really long, so we just walked around the cathedral on the outside to make sure Ryan saw and understood the role of the flying buttresses. He did seem to catch on, but he was much more interested in the pigeons and bugs. I think pigeons are second only to the Eiffel Tower with Mr. 6-year-old.

At the east end of the island is a memorial to the Jews departed by the French to Nazi death camps. The location is ideal—right next to one of the supreme triumphs of Christian architecture. Whether the right mix of French and German responsibility is on display, I can’t say, but I think the layout is effective and I am impressed that the French located this memorial next to the most visited site in Paris.

After this Ethan and Ryan were tired and wanted to come back to the apartment; Brennan and Linda wanted to keep strolling, so I brought the younger two back. We called Aunt Suz on the morning of her shower, but she was out shopping. I left the number at the apartment with Dad (but forgot to remove the leading zero, which evidently caused much consternation, unfortunately). Ethan spoke animatedly with the folks about the Chambord castle and the bike ride; Ryan chased pigeons. Again.

Sunday, 22 July 2001

We got up lazily this morning and fumbled around to fix breakfast. Ryan and Ethan had some Special K (très américain, quoi!), and the rest of us had bread (baguettes). I managed to find some coffee in the freezer and Linda had spotted the coffee maker in the cupboard above the fridge. To plug it in I unplugged Michèle’s water pot and stretched the power cord across the narrow path between the table and the cupboard, as I could not find any other outlet. When Linda came in she confirmed that this was how Jean-Marie had set things up. After breakfast, we had to wait for the washing machine to finish, because we weren’t sure it would know how to turn itself off. Then we hit the Métro for the new (to us) science museum at Cité des Sciences et Industries. What a marvelous museum! Linda and I think it is the best science museum we have visited, including Toronto’s, Boston’s, and maybe even San Francisco’s Exploratorium. We arrived near noon and left around 19:00, with a brief interruption for lunch at a Quick Burger.

Among the great exhibits we saw:

After 7 hours, the boys were still going strong and we had seen maybe a third of the exhibits!

We headed back via Shakespeare and Sons, a foreign language bookstore on the left bank, but weren’t impressed with their books for kids. They do have a whole bunch of old, used books, and I suppose one can find any number of treasures there, but not what we had in mind to keep Brennan occupied. Oh well.

It was getting to be dinnertime and the Latin Quarter is a good place to look for reasonably priced eats, so we started strolling away from the river and got hauled into a Greek restaurant. The hustler on the street was really good! He handed Ryan a plain white porcelain plate and told him to throw it on the floor just inside the restaurant. Ryan thought he was crazy and looked at Linda, who didn’t appear to say no, so he chucked it. Well, once the plate had broken, it seemed that we were committed and in we went.

Brennan seemed a bit put off by all the « atmosphere » but the rest of us fared well enough. The boys and Linda had chicken brochettes, slightly burned, which caused consternation on the juvenile palette. Ryan enjoyed his soupe à l’oignon, but didn’t much care for the baklava at the end, so I got a second helping. We couldn’t help feeling slightly suckered, but really only slightly. I smiled at the thought of our sitting in a tight little restaurant on the left bank of the Seine watching the hustler dragging people off the street two blocks from Notre Dame to watch belly dancing, listen to loud Greek music, enjoy modest food, and soak in the happy and slightly tacky atmosphere. People here are from all over—Africa, England, America, Italy, Germany, and there seems to be a very easy and relaxed attitude towards different ethnic groups.

Monday, 23 July 2001

Today we started by getting a bit lost on the way to the Pompidou Center, thanks in part to the enormity of the Châtelet station, and so we ended up at the river instead of the glorious warehouse. Linda was delighted to point out to the boys that I, too, was able to get lost—and with the map, no less! Anyway, when we got to the Pompidou we learned that the roof terrace is no longer free, unfortunately. We weren’t in the mood to pay our way up, so we just settled for the glorious fountains, including a lovely one with a colorful and ample woman gaily squiring from both nipples. Naturally, this made for a lovely family shot.

Some observations on the French

Okay, time to get back to the narrative. From the Pompidou we walked down to Sainte-Chapelle, where the line was blissfully short.

Our tour of Sainte Chapelle

We were getting hungry but wanted to walk to the Latin quarter for cheaper eats. Ryan was losing it along the way and ended up sobbing at the sandwich cart we found. Fortunately, a cool drink and some hard-boiled eggs lovingly plucked form the sandwich by his mother, and he began to calm down and feel more at peace with the world. Hunger is a real impediment to morale. Thank god the SPCA hasn’t found us here...yet.

After lunch we went exploring Gibert Jeune, the largest bookstore around. We found a section with French books for foreign language speakers, and Linda spent a long time discussing the possibilities with a very helpful member of the staff. Meanwhile, Brennan, Ryan, and I mosied across Place St. Michel to check out one of the other buildings of this bookstore, so I could find some French literature to occupy my evenings, Métro rides, and time spent standing in line. Up on the 4th floor I found the paperbacks I remember well from Togo. I grabbed a copy of Madame Bovary (third time’s a charm?) and Hugo’s Quatrevingt-treize. I waited awhile at a desk in the history section for a suggestion from a young woman working there, but she was much too intent on flirting with a coworker, so I gave up on finding a history of the French monarchy and headed back downstairs to look for Brennan and Ryan, whom I had left riding the escalators. They were dutifully waiting on the ground floor, with no Linda in sight.

We crossed over to the store where we had left Linda and found her and Ethan engrossed in their conversation with the clerk. I kibitzed a bit and we ended up buying some books, workbooks, and tapes. Most of us were pooped, so we headed back to the apartment, where 3 out of 5 flaked out. Brennan and I headed out to the FNAC (an electronics store) at Place d’Italie, but it was closed when we got there. On the walk back, we discovered the Monoprix, a nice supermarket not far from the apartment. This will definitely come in handy, and it’s open until 21:00!

While Linda worked on dinner, I started the boys with the new workbooks. First, penmanship à la française. The French put a lot more emphasis on penmanship than we do in America, and they have different ways of writing many of the capital letters in cursive, some so different that the boys couldn’t even guess the letter! They found this very interesting, and a bit challenging at first, but they are making good progress.

Tuesday, 24 July 2001

We decided on a schedule of morning French lessons followed by touring. This morning’s work did not go well—Brennan and Ethan egged each other on and neither concentrated on French. We all got up to talk to the Monoprix to shop, and I delivered an angry sermon to the boys about their attitude towards French lessons, painting the picture of a classroom in which they understand nothing and in which goofing off is not tolerated. It seemed to work, because the evening’s lessons went much better.

Notre Dame

After shopping we made lunch and headed to Notre Dame, because the sky was beautiful and blue. The line to climb up didn’t seem all that long, but it didn’t move very fast either. No sooner had we parked ourselves in the line than the smallest member of our troop realized he needed to pee. Linda and the boys went off in search of public toilets, which turned out to be significantly payantes, and were gone for a rather long time. They were therefore amazed to find me almost exactly where they had left me on their return. So, the boys went off to stalk pigeons in the shadow of Charlemagne and Linda went off to look for a newspaper. Having invested in some lovely books to read just last evening, why is it that we left them at home??

After what seemed again like a rather long absence, Linda came back empty handed. It was my turn to look for a newspaper, but I had no more success on the left bank despite walking 4 blocks from the river, at which point I found a news kiosk that was closed. Oh well, back to the line. Thank god it wasn’t too hot.

After about 2.5 hours we were on our way up the stairs. Sadly, in the 17 years since I was up the towers last a network of restraining wires has been installed, spoiling lots of photos and views of gargoyles and grotesques. The spiral staircases get progressively tighter, spawning images of Quasimodo spinning furiously as he ascended to the heavens. The grotesques are still the treat of the ascent unless the day is exceptionally clear (ours wasn’t picture perfect by the time we got up there, though I suppose it was worth the wait). Besides the grotesques, we got to see the mighty bell in the southern tower in its massive timber framework—it’s just a shame the wait is so long.

After descending, I dragged everyone into the Lady to see all around without the “annoyance” of a religious service! To me, it is still a much more impressive building than Sainte-Chapelle because of the incredible soaring height, the massive vaulting whisper of the nave, its fantastic rosettes and graceful columns, its unbelievable majesty and magnificence. Without studying the sculptured panels depicting Old Testament scenes, we made our way around the body of the church and back out. Had I known how to say “shut up” in Mandarin, I would have spoken to a man chatting noisily to his group as he walked slowly around. It seems obvious to me that no matter how irreligious one may be, a low-lying circle in hell awaits those who chatter in Notre Dame or during a performance of Bach.


On leaving the cathedral we headed over to the left bank and the Latin Quarter in search of a cybercafé. We found a FNAC, where we were advised to take the Métro to Luxembourg. Instead, we walked up the hill several long blocks and found a place with fairly recent-vintage PCs and 17-inch monitors. This recent technology came at a rather steep price—we dropped more than 40 FF in checking e-mail and sending only a couple messages. According to Linda, while I was engrossed in trying to pay a Visa bill without knowing its amount (boy did I over-estimate!), Ryan was captivated by the screen of a nearby cybercowboy who was busy using the information superhighway to construct the naked woman of his dreams. According to Linda, he favored large derrières. When he realized that others were scrutinizing his aesthetic judgments, he switched to a more remote terminal.

We checked out of cyberspace and walked a block or two to the Luxembourg gardens, with Ryan virtually falling apart—evidently, he’s too immature at 6 to be truly captivated by cyberporn. Should we go back to Michèle’s or on to the gardens? The eternal question. We went for it.

Luxembourg Gardens

On entering the park, “This is boring! What a lousy park! ...” In a block or so, we came upon a giant map of France that you could walk on barefoot. Off came sandals and shoes, and around we all went, exploring the cities, rivers, lakes, and roadways. I set the boys to finding the 6 cities larger than Strasbourg and encouraged them to learn their names. They were impressed with how much larger Paris is than any other French city. I eventually had to drag them away to explore other parts of the garden. Once again, Paris delights at every turn.

Just beyond the map was a large pool and fountain, with lots of model sailboats gliding across. Given the hour and the amount of sun I had already “enjoyed” I resisted the boys’ pleas to rent a boat for an hour and 19 FF, and we set out for the statue of Maréchal Michel Ney which stands at the southern end of the gardens. The former Miss Ney and her progeny were duly photographed there and there was much rejoicing. [According to a blurb I read at Les Invalides, Maréchal Ney was known for his bravery, not his brains. He ended up being sent to keep Spain in line when Napoleon couldn’t trust him with more critical operations in France.] Then, back to the apartment for dinner.

Wednesday, 25 July 2001

Off to the Musée d’Orsay

Arc de Triomphe

After a museum it’s time to do something outside. We headed for l’Arc de Triomphe. There was a bus stop at Musée d’Orsay heading right up les Champs Elysées and our Paris Visite passes work on buses and trams, as well as Métro trains, so we took advantage of the convenient bus line. Linda told the story of Oma who tried to walk across the umpteen lanes of traffic to get to the Arc, and had to be called back to use the underground passage. We took advantage of said passage and emerged triumphant.

The intricately decorated arch is impressive and helps put a positive spin on the enigma that is Napoleon. Ryan wanted to know why there was a little fire under the arch and then who was buried there. We looked down the grands boulevards and admired the Eiffel Tower, before walking around to the front to sere the famous sculptures.

“Why is he naked?”

“I don’t know.”

“No, really.”

“No, really!”


We did not succumb to the boys’ need to ride the elevator to the top, and decided to stroll down les Champs to admire the expensive, fancy stores. Just when this was getting tedious and we were poised to hop into the Métro, we saw the Renault showroom and checked it out. The Scénic was featured as well as some more radical concept cars. No information on mileage, unfortunately, but a cool feature allowing the front seats to turn around facing the 3 rear seats. Fancy doors, too. We had to check out the Citroën showroom across the street, too, but weren’t nearly as impressed.

We took the Métro to the Luxembourg Gardens so the boys could sail a boat while we read. Given the very modest influence kids have over the progress of the boats, an hour’s rental is plenty. Linda read a magazine while I worked on ’93, which is captivating in the usual Hugo way. Not what I expected, since the king is already dead when it starts, but plenty engaging.

After returning to the apartment we spoke with both sets of parents and tried to get Suz’s wedding wishes, but she was out.

Thursday, 26 July 2001

Today we headed over to Trocadéro to have a really good view of the Eiffel Tower. Given the morning French lessons and lazy start, we decided to bring along picnic supplies and to improvise a lunch in the park overlooking Ryan's favorite monument. We found some nice shade on the lawn and made our usual ham or salami or turkey and cheese sandwiches, chased by “biscuits.” After chasing a few pigeons, we were ready for a museum.

One of the museums inside the Trocadéro is devoted to maritime history and features models of ships as old as 200 years. Despite the steep price, we went in, but were ultimately not excessively thrilled. This museum shares with many others the fault of not telling a story, of failing to guide the visitor through the history and the collection. So, we saw a whole bunch of stuff, including some wonderful sextants and other navigation equipment predating Harrison [but insufficient explanation of the principles on which they were based], some enormous Fresnel lenses for lighthouses [without attribution to A. Fresnel ??], some neat models showing how large wooden ships were built [without explanation how they were transported to the water and launched], etc.

On leaving the museum and heading back towards the Tower, we noticed a few kids frolicking in the Trocadéro fountains, but we resisted the temptation and crossed le Pont d'Iéna to see how beastly the line to climb the Eiffel Tower might be. To our surprise, the line at the western tower was virtually nonexistent. As it turns out, the Eiffel Tower is one of the few attractions at which the entry price for kids is just as high (20 FF) as that for adults. For a tidy 100 FF note we were on the staircase heading for the first platform.

I think we all found the hike up easier than expected, and with nary a rest we arrived on the first platform, where we saw a display showing how the Tower gets painted every 7 years and the various colors she has taken over the years. Then it was time to start climbing again, with almost the same facility. However, some of us arrived on the second platform knees atrembling. Although the day was not as clear as might be hoped, there was a cooling breeze most of the time and it was fun to identify the monuments as we strolled around the deck.

Of course, Ryan wanted to ride the elevator to the top, but the line was ridiculously long and I didn't even bother to inquire after the price. By some stroke of unhoped-for luck, while we strolled around inside the 2nd floor, we found a pigeon. For Ryan, this is as close to nirvana as he is apt to get for a decade at least, and we did our utmost to ensure he enjoyed it. On the other hand, he still wanted to ride to the top and surely felt that climbing to the second platform did not mean that we could check the Eiffel Tower off the list. At the risk of permitting Eiffel disease to run rampant in his system, we nonetheless started our descent and managed to arrive safe and sound, at the bottom, with four of us satisfied to have climbed the mighty Tower.

This page was last modified on Sun, Aug 19, 2001.