Monday, November 19, 2007

Beers and Kirs... and New York Gypsy Punk!

Paris was such a whirlwind... between having way to much to see (and having to walk there thanks to the metro strike) and sharing the computer I have fallen far behind on my travel rambling. Currently I am resting up in Barcelona, but let me finish telling you about our week in the city of lights.

The first day of the metro strike we decided to pretty much stick close to home. We walked to the Marais and wandered around a bit. We met back up and went to the Musée Carnavalet. It's a free museum about the history of Paris. Not a stop on everyone's list of top things to do in Paris. But for me it was a must. You see, I have a really special place in my heart for the design work of Alphonse Mucha, he mostly designed gorgeous posters, but I happened to know that Carnavalet is the place to find the actual jewelry store interior that he designed in 1901. I didn't really mean to bring the whole group with me but we all pretty much stuck together. It was a little bit bittersweet to not be able to let it sink is quietly and slowly alone. But oh my god, what a moment. It was almost unreal being there. I was inside the photos I had looked at so many times! Mucha's work is so beautiful, and some people might find it too much so, in fact, I myself can't stand overly fussy and frou-frou things. But his swirly lines and beautiful women, I don't know, they just never seem to be trying so hard, they're just natural and wonderful.

For lunch we got take-away falafel sandwiches made by a man with the fastest hands I have ever seen. He expertly tossed the ingredients into the pocket of pita breads in about 10 seconds flat! We ate in a park and then walked to a new gelato place. Apparently it was started by an Italian who couldn't find ice cream in Paris that fit his taste so he started importing the ingredients and making his own. Afterwards we walked through the Louvre courtyard and through the gardens. The sun was setting and the sky was just beautiful. My happy camera snapped away. Our intended destination was Musée de l'Orangerie, the home of Monet's huge waterlily paintings, but because of the strike and transportation problems for everyone involved, they were closing early. So there we were, 5pm and stranded far from home. We went downstairs to check out the metro situation. The train pulled up and the sight of it basically made me want to cry. It was so packed and there were a ton of people trying to get on. I turned to CF and said, "I can't do it!" And he said, "I don't want to anyway." So we decided to walk all the way home. We parted ways with the rest of the group and climbed back up to ground level.

Chaos, mass chaos! Traffic was terrible, a taxi never once crossed our minds. We just headed in the direction of home and figured we'd finally get to really see the city and do it while working off some of the glorious food we'd been partaking of for weeks now. Something a little unexpected happened then, we were suddenly having a fantastic time. We were just another couple trying to get home on a crazy evening in the city. I loved seeing all the people, trekking in so many different ways. Taxis, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, rollerblades, and of course... us pedestrians. Eventually we got a text message from the group. They had given up and decided to walk as well, but they were now a ways behind us and we had no keys. So we stopped by a coffee shop (No, not a coffeeshop, we're not in Amsterdam) and bought some more coffee grounds. The poor salesgirl asked CF for a tip on speaking English, "Should I ask 'Anything else?' or is it 'Something else?'" He rattled off more advice than she could possibly have needed, at a rate faster than she could possibly understand. I tried to step in and help out. But the moment was absolutely charming. We stopped by a cheese shop and picked up some more fromage for the apartment. Next up was a cafe where we had a beer and a kir royal (champagne and cassis). Then we picked up some more eggs and yogurt for our breakfast feasts. I was getting a bit hungry so we swung by the crepe stand near home. She made the pancake fresh for me right then, I was so happy! I had it topped with Nutella. Heavenly! We were home but hadn't heard from the group. So we went into the bar just downstairs where we had gone for dinner two nights before and had another beer and kir. It was after 7 by then, and we had the bar to ourselves. We sat in comfy arm chairs and enjoyed the music they had playing.

And then, whoops, the text message finally came through. The gang had actually been home since about the time I got the crepe down the street! Oh well, I was so content with our little adventure and experience shopping and drinking our way home, I wouldn't change a thing.

D's mom was totally wiped out from the journey and stayed home for the night. So the five friends wandered out to a nearby recommended restaurant. Before dinner Ms. D gave a wonderful toast. "Here's to good friends. We're lucky to have each other." And we all agreed as we clinked glasses.

The next morning we all woke up a little tired and cranky. The city (and strike) were taking the oomph out of us. And this was the morning I wrote that bit about “Why do you travel?” The strike was still on, but more drivers were giving in and going to work. We managed to get a pretty good ride on the metro to Musée d'Orsay. D had been to the museum several times before, and CF was feeling a bit museum overloaded. But the rest of us went in. I enjoyed my visit, but maybe I was tired and/or distracted, nothing really grabbed me or moved me. There was a great little exhibit on the Paris Opera, the building itself was very interesting, and really, even if you've already seen more than your share of Monet and van Gogh they are incredible. Afterwards we grabbed some lunch at a cafe named after Mucha and made our way back to the other museum to see those Monet waterlilies finally. They are huge and they are very impressive. The rooms are large ovals and you sit there in the middle and just let them surround you.

The Z's, CF and I had to trek home so we could get prepped and make out way out (somehow) to the concert we had bought tickets for months ago. We managed to get metro part of the way, there was one leg of the ride that got just crowded enough that I started to feel every so slightly panicked, but just then the crowded thinned out and pretty soon it was time to walk the rest of the way home. Certain trains were running more than others, so sometimes you just cut your losses and used your feet.

We decided to try metro first to get to the show, and then check out bus and taxi options, the temperature was dropping so walking had become our last resort (plus it was a couple miles each way). Metro was a no-go. There were more people waiting downstairs then could possibly fit into a metro train if it pulled up empty. These were all people trying to get home in the further reaches of the city. I felt really bad for them and even if it were a real possibility I wouldn't have wanted to take one spot away from them. So we gave up on that. It was a bit of a hassle but we did manage to get a taxi. The drivers were all crazed from the extra business and demand. We lucked out and got a really nice driver who put up with the traffic and took us all the way up to the concert venue, even if his chances of finding a return fare weren't great. He wished us good luck as he dropped us off. Boy, this strike is really getting to the city!

We got an extremely fast sit down meal of schwarma sandwiches, frites and beer and made our way to the concert venue. We fell in with the crowd, but found ourselves facing a building labeled with the wrong name. PZ checked out what the scalpers were offering and we found out we were at the venue where Vanessa Paradis would be appearing! I made jokes about wanting to see "Johnny Depp's baby mama" sing. But we did have tickets for the other show so we asked a bouncer where to find the other venue. Up some stairs and over a little pedestrian bridge was the answer. This was such a weird adventure! CF was loving it, of course.

We found our concert, went inside and got set up standing in a great spot on an upper level along a rail. We had a great view and weren't far away from the stage at all, but we'd be out of the craziness if the down-front crowd got wild. There was a DJ playing some great tunes, a very amusing French punk band opened the show, and then finally, Gogol Bordello took the stage.

A few months ago PZ was spending the night at our house, which he sometimes does when working back to back days in the Bay area, and asked if I had heard of a band called Gogol Bordello. I said I had not but my laptop was, well, in my lap, so I looked them up on iTunes and as soon as I saw the track listing I remembered that I had indeed heard of them. The lead singer actually played a large role in the movie Everything is Illuminated, the rest of the band made a small appearance in the movie, and their song "Start Wearing Purple" played over the closing credits. I remembered the song because I remembered thinking that PZ would like it, and so he did, ha! They were playing in San Francisco and he wanted to go see them. I had to work but CF was going to go instead, but then it turned out the darn show was sold out. But somehow I managed to find info online about their European appearances in the fall, and that's how I found out they were in Paris at the same time as us. And that's how this crazy night came to be.

I don't even know where to begin, how do I describe this band? Well, a souvineer t-shirt read, "NYGP -- New York Gypsy Punk" and that's a pretty good way to describe everything that goes into their sound, look and stage presence. There's the tall, skinny lead singer. One of the most authentic gypsy looks in the band comes from the violinist with a large beard and busted bow strings flying. I also liked the accordionist and slick looking guitar player. Adding to the mayhem were two back up singing girls, who at times carried fans and at others wielded tambourines, and ultimately one ended up with a marching base drum and the other with cymbals. I suggest looking them up on YouTube so you can get a better sense of what I'm talking about. The show was incredible. I am not usually one to dance during a concert but I basically didn't stop moving. The show ended with the mosh pit crowd on stage, holding the singer up above their heads. Wild!

We somehow managed to catch a metro most of the way home pretty quickly after the show. The four of us were flying high from the concert. My poor tired feet could barely carry me home from the metro stop. CF stopped for a midnight snack at another doner kebab place, they're everywhere in Europe, and we got home around midnight. We had left around 5:30pm! The metro strike wasn't totally ruining anything, but it was sure sucking a lot of time out of our day! We headed to bed quickly. The week was getting away from us and so was our amount of sleep!

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