Sunday, June 22, 2008

Paris Je T'aime

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
~ Ernest Hemingway to a friend, 1950

I happened to be lucky enough as a young woman to visit Paris one winter with a friend (my first trip abroad) and then in the following year, lived there for a semester studying apparel design. Although it was a winter session, meaning the term wasn't very long, and it was bitterly cold that winter, I tasted enough of Paris to know that it was a city that would be in my heart forever.

Ironically enough, after returning from my first trip there, which had lasted only a week, I felt a bit disenchanted with the city. I thought too much had been made of its romanticism, and left wishing it hadn't been built up so in my imagination. However, when I returned a year later, along with classmates and professors from my university at the time (The University of Delaware), I found a city fresh with possibility. As I stumbled wearily off my plane, my first encounter was with an American man, heading to Paris to model. He was absolutely beautifully, and with Paris as our background, I could only find him more so. He only stayed there a few days before deciding to move on to Paris, but in that time, he took me up the Eiffel Tower and we had one of those movie moments.

My friend, Tim, headed to Paris about a month ago, and I promised to send him my list of must-do and should-do activities. He's leaving very soon, so, as a procrastinator, here is my list at last minute:

1. Visit the aforementioned Eiffel Tower. It was completed in 1889 for the Paris World's Fair of, well, 1889. Interestingly enough, just three years later, the Americans created their answer to the Eiffel Tower for the Chicago's World Fair of 1892: the Ferris Wheel. Although Ferris Wheels happen to be more ubiquitous (unless you count all of those Eiffel Tower souvenirs they sell), the Eiffel Tower just can't be beaten in terms of elegance, memorability, and overall representation of that fair city. And yes, it's touristy, but I think it's worth the wait in line to ascend to the top-- especially if you're with an attractive member of the opposite sex.

2. Say hello to the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. I would assume that anyone who has spent any time in Paris would have already encountered both the Arc as well as this famous stretch of road, but, if you haven't already, the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe is quite nice. Just make sure you use the underground stairways to get there, or else you'll get run over by those crazy French drivers.

3. Have your picture taken with a bona-fide gargoyle. One of the things I enjoyed most was visiting the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Construction began in the 11oo's, and it is a fine example of Gothic architecture, complete with flying buttresses. The interior is quite beautiful, but I also loved climbing the stairs of the bell tower to see the gargoyles, a la Quasimodo of Victor Hugo's great novel, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Hugo wrote his novel in an effort to preserve the great Cathedral which, at that time, was being considered for demolition. The original French version was entitled "Notre-Dame de Paris" which reflects Hugo's belief that the cathedral is the main character of his novel. Click here to get directions to the cathedral. It is Monday through Friday from 8:00am-6:45pm and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00am-7:15pm. For other service times and other information, look here.

4. Pay homage to a great writer in a crypt. The Pantheon is a beautiful building which originally served as a church, but now is known more for the important and famous deceased that lie within. For instance, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas (author of "The Three Musketeers"), and Emile Zola (author of "Germinal" and other stories) are some of the authors buried there. Great thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau repose there as does that important figure of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, who was stabbed to death in his bathtub (as seen here in the famous painting by David, a friend who had visited him one day prior to the murder.) The inside of the Pantheon is quite cavernous, making it the perfect place for Foucault, in 1851, to construct his 272 feet long pendulum, which he used to demonstrate the earth's rotation. You can still see it there today, tracing patterns in the sand. Tourist info is available here.

5. Let your spirits sour at Sacre Coeur. This is actually the one place that I didn't make it to in either of my trips. It's also one of my great regrets, as it is supposed to be amazing, but I keep telling myself that I'm saving it for my next trip-- I'll have something new to see when I return to Paris. I did wander around the maze that is Montmartre, the neighborhood it sits in. The neighborhood itself is full of charm, with winding streets climbing Montmartre hill, and cute little shops. Keep climbing upward and you'll come to the Basilica, where you can rest and enjoy the tranquility that these ever-white walls bestow. The outside is quite grand (and has famously been captured in the 2001 film Amelie), but apparently the inside should not be missed either. Don't be like me-- go whilst you have the opportunity! Click here for hours and costs-- the Basilica is free-- as well as metro info. In both French and English.

6. Contemplate life and death amongst piles of bones. Below the bustling city streets of Paris lies something a bit more sinister: the catacombs. These former quarries received new life in the late 1700s when the city cemeteries were overflowing and a new place was needed to inter bodies. It was decided that new cemeteries would be built outside of the city limits, and that the bodies in the existing cemeteries (whose crowded conditions had led to open and mass graves, which, in turn, were creating disease and unsanitary conditions) were to be discreetly moved to the quarries. Nowadays you can tour the catacombs, which are pretty awesome. It's dark down there, and it provides a nice respite from the summer heat (or so I imagine-- I was there in winter). Also, be a good citizen and respect the remains of these poor disinterred souls-- and if that's not good enough reason for you to leave them alone, the catacombs police patrol the area as well as check your bags before you exit. I wanted to post visitor info but the English site seems to be down. The French site is here.

7. Continue your tour of all things macabre by visiting a famous cemetery. Besides the catacombs, the other thing I really enjoyed doing was visiting Pere Lachaise Cimetiere. I seem to have a thing for cemeteries-- they represent to me the circle of life and death and seem to possess a strange beauty. This one in particular, however, seems to be more beautiful than most. Beautiful tombstones and mausoleums are crammed packed into the spacious cemetery that is hidden behind a tall stone wall. It seemed me that they were shoved in there without uniformity in any way that they would fit, which gives it the appearance of an earthquake having moved and shuffled these resting places. Consequently, you find yourself climbing over tombstones and squeezing through small spaces as you try to find any deceased in particular. Some of the luminaries you might find buried here? They range from singer Jim Morrison of the Doors, to star crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard (who are apparently buried together-- see my prior post for their story. By the way, it's kind of gruesome-- he gets castrated before it's all over), to the great author, Oscar Wilde (bring some lipstick-- it's customary to honor his grave by leaving a big smooch mark on the white stone.) In fact, the list of greats goes on and on: Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, impressionist painter Pissarro, Balzac, Chopin, and Bizet are just a few of a much longer list. Therefore, if you're looking for particular people, you will need a map. Also, a word of warning: cemeteries have long been known as places for the nefarious to hide and do their work. It is always a good idea to visit cemeteries during broad daylight and in the company of others as robbers and their kin have been known to hide behind tombstones and prey upon innocents. This cemetery is quite touristy, so you should be okay, but it is always good to have your wits about you. (It is free enter, and maps can be bought in the neighborhood. This website has visiting hours. Give yourself plenty of time to explore.)

Shakespeare & Co 04
8. Have tea with a lovely old man. I haven't been there in ages (seeing as I haven't been to Paris is ages), but when I was passing through, I "discovered" an old bookshop called Shakespeare and Company, which is a bohemian delight. The proprietor at the time was a lovely older gentleman who invited me back for tea. I don't know if these tea parties still go on, although I am sure they probably do. The bookshop, which is crammed floor to ceiling with books, also has beds for the weary traveler. It is my understanding that anyone may stay there as long as they make their bed, help out in the bookshop each day for a few hours, and they read. What a wonderful world it is we live in when we can find places such as this. I have been warned about the fleas, but otherwise, visit, enjoy, andread your heart out (in English, no less)! Oh, and don't forget to ask about tea. It is located at 37 Rue de Bucherie, near Place St. Michel.

9. Let the sunshine in at La Sainte-Chapelle. Best visited when the sun is high in the sky and the clouds are few, this chapel on the Ile de la Cite becomes a veritable kaleidescope on sunshiny days. Feeling a bit blue? Then visit what some have called "the most beautiful church in Paris." The main chapel seems to have stained glass windows for walls, and it is an absolute treat to visit. On a side note, I once heard that the reason the early Christians (this church was built in the 1200s) used stained glass was that they wanted to replicate the jewels that will line the streets of heaven. When the sun shines through, it casts bits of colors onto the floor, making a room gleam as if it were full of emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. It is located next to the Palais of Justice on the Ile de la Cite and appears to be open at this time of year from 9:30-6. I believe that entrance is free, but be prepared to wait in a line, as you must go through security.

10. I need a number 10 so... Actually, I do have more ideas, but I need to finish and get this posted. I will hopefully be uploading some of my own pictures from my time in Paris (I gotta dig those up), but, I did find this blog by a guy who traveled to Paris. I didn't read his journal portion, but if you scroll on through, I think you'll agree that he takes beautiful photos of the so-called "City of Lights."

If you haven't already, do take a stroll along the Seine, eat crepes, gaze upon Venus at the Louvre, visit Versailles. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy the rest of your time there, and I look forward to seeing you back in New York.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Things to do with a baby raccoon (or when nature calls)

Here's what I learned in the past 24 hours or so:

*Raccoon is spelled with two letter Cs.  I don't know why I keep wanting to type it with only one c.

*Baby raccoons found in the wild have been abandoned by their mother and need help.

*Baby raccoons can be fed dog or cat food.

As mentioned in a prior post, I am taking some time off from the real world and taking refuge at my parent's house.  Right now I have my 12 year-old cousin, Cody, and my 14 year-old niece, Morgan, staying at the house with me right now.  My parents work all day, so it's up to me to entertain and reign in the youngsters.  Usually I don't have access to a car, but as my dad was home yesterday, so I loaded up the car and drove over to the local nature area, Middle Run Natural Area.  Cody had never had a picnic before, so I made chicken salad sandwiches, and after finding a nice secluded spot along one of the trails, we relaxed and enjoyed our food.  Then we continued along, wandering as our whims led us.  We had Oscar and Siegfried with us, our Dachshund and Miniature Pinscher, respectively.  All of a sudden Oscar grabbed something in his mouth and began to violently shake it back and forth.  To our dismay, it turned out to be a little baby raccoon.

We delicately removed the raccoon, who promptly scurried away, and I pressed on down the trail with the two dogs in tow.  Near the head of the trail, I stopped to wait for Cody and Morgan who seemed to be taking a long time to catch up with me, when both appeared with a small bundle wrapped in a t-shirt: they had decided to take the raccoon with them.

What followed was a small-ish argument (filled with pouting faces) between my parents and the kids.  They honestly thought they could keep the raccoon as a pet, while us grown-ups argued that we must do what is best for the raccoon-- return it to its natural habitat.

I, of course, "googled" it and found a website that said you should take the baby raccoon back to where you found it, placing it in a cage that keeps the baby in, but allows the mother to open it.  You check back the next day and if it is still in there, then you know the raccoon was abandoned.  However, you should NOT follow this advice.  Instead, call a 24-hour vet and ask them what you should do.  They will most likely give you the number of someone who deals with wild animals.

The reason, as I learned the following day when we returned, is that flies will be attracted to the animal, and, sadly, will lay eggs that grow into maggots.  Yuck!  Our poor baby raccoon was covered with maggots when we returned to fetch him.  We did take him to a woman named Hilary Taylor who got very distressed over the condition of the poor guy.  If only we had known!  She told us that we may have waited too late, and if the maggots are too severe, she would have to put him down.

It was all very sad.  Very, very sad.  I'm spreading the news though, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.  And remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day and other activities

Aunt Celeste, cousin Cody, and little Casper sandwiched in the middle
My brother, Ryan, and cousin, Alex, at graduation
Nine week old Casper, a chihuahua
Left to right: Casper, me, Lillie, Cody, and Cole
With my Aunt Celeste at Monster Mile in Dover, Delaware on race day.
Enjoying the race while rooting for Ashley Judd's husband, Dario Franchitti

At the beach enjoying ice cream
Mmmm, beach fries at Delaware's Rehobeth Beach
"Eat Mor Chikin"-- with my cousin at Newark Nite
Cody follows Jeff Gordon on the race track at the Arcades
Caricature at Newark Nite
My niece and father together on Father's Day
Hamburgers and watermelon for Father's Day
Cody clowning around on the roof-- they can't figure out where that window leads to
1st cousins, once removed
1st cousins, once removed (AKA Imitating Cole)

It has been pretty chaotic around my house lately.  Immediately after returning from my dogsitting adventure in NY, I found myself drafted into a major house cleaning project in preparation for a host of relatives who were about to descend upon us for my brother's college graduation.

They're a loud and rambunctious crew, which, by the way, I am not, so I left our time together feeling a bit worn down.  I enjoyed our gathering, and love my family dearly, but there were times when I just wanted to stick my fingers in my ears to drown out the noise.

I had to leave before the end of their visit in order to make it to NY for a job.  I wanted to leave the night before, but my uncle protested because he wanted to spend every possible moment with me.  They live in Charleston, South Carolina, and we rarely get to see them.  I ended up catching a 4:30am train the morning of the job, and heading straight to work.

On the last day of my job (which was modeling in a showroom-- see my friend Christina's post for pictures of the green jumpsuits we had to wear), I hopped back on the train and returned to Delaware, where I found a 12 year-old boy anxiously awaiting my return.  It was my cousin, Cody, who had decided to stay behind here whilst his family returned to Charleston.

I've had a blast hanging out with him.  We went down to my sister's creepy, creaky farmhouse for a week, and also spent a couple of days at the beach.  He has his Nintendo Wii, and loves to watch movies as well.  Last Saturday, his cousin, my niece, also came to join us, so now I have a 14 year-old to hang out with as well.  They're a hyper lot, but at least they entertain each other so that I am able to get more done on my own.  They both like to spend time at my house (and it's no wonder since the only thing we make them do is attend church with us on Sundays.  Otherwise, they're pretty much free to relax and enjoy summer), and have decided they're moving in.  I'm not so sure about that, but I am happy to have them.

Last night, my brother returned home reeking of alcohol.  He is kind of a mean drunk, so after lambasting me for a while, I decided to head up to bed.  Morgan, my niece, usually sleeps with me when she stays over, so she followed, and we left poor Cody on his own downstairs with my brother.  It wasn't too long after that we found him racing into my room, hiding behind the door, fearful that Ryan was after him.  I told him he could stay, so it ended up being a big sleep over, with elbows and knees and other appendages playing bump in the night.  It wasn't terribly restful, but was quite fun.

Yesterday was Father's Day, so my sister drove up from Laurel, Delaware, and we grilled hamburgers.  It was a beautiful day: we set up a picnic table outside and enjoyed the sunlight and the shade under our Osage Orange Trees.  It was fun family time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Absolutely Enchanting

I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching the Disney movie, Enchanted. For those that don't know, it is a clever little film that takes the Disney princess-happily-ever-after story and turns it on its head, by imagining what would happen if a fairytale princess (animated and all) was suddenly dumped in modern day New York City, where she is no longer a cartoon, nor is she, as they say, in Kansas anymore.

During the course of the film, the poor girl is mugged, drenched in dirty rain water, homeless, and yet despite it all, she manages to retain her perky, upbeat "dreams really do come true" attitude. She keeps singing through all of her troubles, runs around in beautiful ball gowns, and never loses faith in the idea that her true love will find her.

I have to say that I absolutely loved it. I'm sure that this sugary film turns off some viewers, but I reveled in the cleverness of this film. It makes reference to scores of Disney films from the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast, to the obvious apple from Snow White, and the scheming villian who turns herself into a dragon in order to defeat our hero.

Moreover, it is full of positive messages. We see a girl who stays true to herself, not allowing others opinions of her influence her choices. She stays true to her ideals and continues to save herself for her true love, despite other pursuers. She never loses her hope, nor her unflagging confidence that everything will turn out for the best.

In a larger picture (and echoing Tolkien and Lewis), I believe that Myth can be useful to us as a framework in which to view the world. We want Good to triumph over Evil, are touched to the deepest part of our souls when a friend gives his life for another. We root for the weak and oppressed, believe in one true love. I think we identify and long for what we see in movies because that's what was intended for us. We want to find someone who knows are true name, and speaks our language. We desire someone who loves us so much that He is willing to die for us. We long to return to Paradise.

It's a lovely film. It warms my heart and leaves me longing for my Home. You should watch it, and maybe it will warm your heart, too.