Friday, June 21, 2013

Improvising Paris

Paris does not cease to surprise me. The most surprising part about it for me is that no matter how hard I try to get lost (you know, I am such a romantic), I always end up bumping into some famous monument, garden, or something. For instance, today I had a certain goal in mind for my day off work. The goal was to explore the Marais-Bastille region in the most impromptu way possible. Of course, the day cannot start without a trip to an awesome, intellectually stimulating museum. So naturally I chose something that has to do with the French revolution and a free entry for everyone – Musee carnavalet! Unfortunately, the French Revolution (that is, the first one) section was closed, and so were some of the others. However, the other sections were simply taking a break and they came back soon after "lunch time". I suddenly understood why so many amazing museums have terrible ratings in Trip Advisor; the tourists simply don't get that these century-something-old rooms need to rest and usually reopen a little bit later in the day - you just need a little bit of patience. 

When I entered the museum, there was a lot of focus on the "enseignes" in the 18th century, the translation of which I did not know directly but quickly deduced that it was simply shop signs (signages). In the 18th century and earlier many common folk were not very literate so the "eiseignes" were simply images of whatever was inside. 

The museum is inside a mansion, "Hotel Carnavalet", 
which began to be built in the 16th century!
Some examples of "eisegnes" -- signs
Marcel Proust's Room
I am generally obsessed with the Enlightenment. So I was super excited that there was a whole room dedicated just to Voltaire and Rousseau! Besides their famous busts, there were also really neat things like medallions and keepsakes with their faces, as well as a clock and a thermometer, as well as a souvenir to Rousseau from the Chinese leader at the time. A section of the rooms was styled to the fashion of the palace rooms of Louis XII.
Obligatory selfie in one of these palace rooms
I was amazed at the collection of a myriad of paintings, but also the influences of various cultures on the interior designs. For instance, in some of the rooms, one could see a clear oriental influence, as well as in much of the china, of course. I also loved the sections dedicated to the many Napoleons and the Louises that followed the revolution (so ironic). It was almost like watching a movie of the evolving French society, just with lots of walking. Another cool aspect was the paintings of Paris streets; it is eerie yet mesmerizing how similar yet how different the places I already have visited and walked through looked several centuries ago.
For instance, here is Place de la Bastille
back in the 19th century

There were fun things too, like funky match boxes, bread from the Paris barricade during one of the revolutions (don't actually know if it is the real bread or not), a prince's cradle (with a menacing crown hanging over it, sort of like a mobile but much heavier, made from precious metals, and hopefully well-attached), a decorative vase from the 1924 Olympics, a caricature statuette of Verdi (this is so not random! I studied his music, okay? :))... I still kept feeling bad for everyone though. For the Napoleons (especially the first one, even though he was a tyrant), for his wife, for his lovers, for the poor revolutionaries, for the poor, for the suppressed, for the hungry and the sick... Let's just say France had a lot of problems. But the richness of art and philosophy and thought from the old times just inspire me to no end and make me wonder what these great people were really like. They had walked on these very streets, spoke this language... 
Oh hey Moliere! I saw
your play last week! ;)
And here's me shamelessly
pretending to be French
with a scarf. 
 Okay I will stop pretending I am from the 19th century now. This neighbourhood of Marais is actually super awesome. Especially when its exploration is improvised. After all, after I left the museum, I just strolled through the adjacent streets and found myself in French book worm heaven -- "Mona Lisait".

Just one of the several sections in this store
This punny store is filled with books about art, food, craft, gardening, and travel, as well as a HUGE collection of literature on the second floor, and finally "des affiches" (posters) on the third floor. There are many; posters with popular things like the Moulin Rouge to paintings of Renoir and others. I got myself a poster, probably will hang it in my dorm. It is called "Deux Filles" by Renoir or something like that; I like the colors. I also bought a neat cook book for French House (us! :D) called "Cuisine pour l'etudiants" (should be yummy!). 

The streets of this part of the city in general are very fun too. There is a chocolate store which has a guitar (that looks quite real) made entirely of chocolate as well as chocolate shoes, Eiffel towers, etc. Anyway, to be chronological, I strolled around after the book store and found myself on one of the streets that leads to Place de la Bastille (Rue Beaumarchais); here, I bought some meat pie in a cute boulangerie. Then I heard music coming from EVERYWHERE. After all, it is the Fete de la Musique, an annual celebration of music in France (and the countries it inspired to have one, too)! Musicians gathered everywhere on the streets, from clarinet quartets to masters of exotic (I think) Irish instruments to a capella choruses to religious choirs to rock ensembles to things that just reminded me of karaoke. Any sort of music, you can find it just by roaming the streets of France on this day. 
A random rock band I found turning into a cute courtyard

These guys even handed out programs

I sang the folk song "Renaud" with them & the crowd
They handed out the words!


Really really cool Irish instruments
(oh and people dancing)
Of course there were also huge concerts with huge stages, loud music, and crowds, but I am a hipster so I went for small gatherings like these, which made me feel at home and warm. :)

However something I do not like is the amount of young people (especially girls) drinking and smoking. I noticed this especially drastically while I was near one of the punk-rock street concerts after it was dark. It was one of those concerts where all the teenagers are totally having a good time, dancing and screaming "encore" after each song and all. Also adults, who were closing their ears. Actually, drinking is not too much of a problem, but smoking... I just don't get it. It even says "Fumer tue" in big letters on the packages. :(

Also, should I get this for French House? I found it in Mona Lisait. Apparently it is used to grow herbs. I am not sure how exactly. I going to come back there and find out. 
Anyway, I should go to sleep now! It is 3 A.M.! But I just needed to share that another quirk about this city is that no matter where you go, you will find something very curious and surprising. In every little corner there is a small surprise. It is best not to use a map! :) 

P.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt is a really cool metro station. My goal is to take every single metro line, and know where it can be used (there are 14!). So far I have taken 1 (first time today!), 2, 4, 5, 6,7,8, 10, and 14. I will get the others soon! :) 
FDR is super international! ;) 

There are these cool lighting up things
that make the place feel relaxing
Well, that's it for now! À tout à l'heure!


  1. Ah you make Paris sound amazing!
    Wait... Paris IS amazing :D Sounds like you are making the most of your time there!

    1. Ah thanks! I am enjoying it lots indeed... :)

  2. What Kelly said. I'm really happy you've acclimated so well and are relishing that city in the way it deserves. :)

    Good luck on your taking-all-the-metros quest! It actually isn't that hard after spending a summer there. And you're right they all have different personalities.

    1. Thanks Sophie! I actually took 13 too, I realized. I will get all of them, just need 4 more! I won't do this for buses though. :P Hope you're enjoying your summer too! ;)