Monday, September 4, 2017

The World War II Tour, Part Three: PARIS!

from the Seine
I was struggling to reconcile my purpose for being in Paris with the harsh reality of the May heatwave. I felt compelled to explore this favorite city, but I struggled to stay moving in the steaming hot fondue that was Paris. Another conflict appeared: I wanted to learn about the Parisian experience in World War II, but my guidebook warned me that Parisians did not much want to talk about that war. Can we blame them? Their city was overrun by Nazis. Here's one World War II fact that I took away: Paris was not bombed. Its architecture survived so that I could gaze upon it from the rooftop of a department store in the scorching heat. Sure there are bullet holes in the Ecole Militaire, the German stronghold during the last days of the occupation. These pock marks for all I knew, could have been part of some fancy concrete effect. When I learned that these were bullet holes, after the chill in my spine subsided, I realized that they remained to serve as a subtle reminder of that dreadful time, but more importantly that this beloved city survived the war and its culture flourishes today.

Our group visited the Eiffel tower and walked through the Marais to a quiet courtyard garden where our Parisian guide, Christoph who had been with us since London, told us he takes his family on weekends.


What is that? Anybody know? Please don't tell me it's an artichoke.


Christoph pointed out subtle clues on the surrounding buildings that designated them as royal or governmental. He also brought us to a department store which is also kind of a mall called Galeries Lafayette where we ascended by elevators to a level where we could see a fantastic glass dome.
The glass dome and the upper levels of shopping
Then we ascended further, by stairs to that rooftop for an incredible 360-degree view of the city.
The famous tower right of center, and on the left...the Paris Opera!! (You can't tell from the photo how HOT it was up there!)
This is the back of the Paris Opera, a sign that I must examine the front and inside ASAP!
 It was hotter than fondue up there: I was now a noodle swimming in a boiling saucepan of water. The roots of this mega-shopping experience date back to the late nineteenth century, but the Art Nouveau elements, including that grand dome and the opera-inspired staircase, are from a renovation and enlargement in 1912.

I got to walk around the Arc de Triomph on this trip,

Kinda artsy.

This sign is telling you that you have to walk under the street to get to the Arch.
Photographic evidence that I was, indeed, there.
 and explore the neighborhood around Notre Dame.

When they are holding their own head like that, it means they were a martyr.

It was in this neighborhood that I found a pink Eiffel Tower for my cousin's granddaughter who is obsessed with Paris and I scored a purple tower for her sister. I ended up with three Eiffel Tower scarves because I couldn't decide which color to get, and I'm a bit obsessed myself. There was a relaxing cafe lunch near here, too.

There was a World War II site on our itinerary, the Shoah Memorial.

eternal flame
This site is a moving memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. In another section, names are carved into stone, and photos displayed with horrific stories attached. Visitors are moved and tears are shed. There was a display of World War II comics on the top floor. I was fascinated to learn how many comics were inspired by war, not just in the U.S., but other countries, too. The bookstore attached to the memorial had books on this subject but they were in French and I'd be kidding myself to think I could read my way through them. I could read the titles easily, though!

Many of my fellow travelers elected to visit the Louvre on our free afternoon, and we walked around this museum's fountains and pyramid to get the lay of the land ahead of time.

 There was a dog by one of the fountains who looked a lot like my Gladys, but at the same time she didn't really look like a Sheltie. But she kind of did.

She was friendly and took edible handouts from people, and my heart was breaking to think that this distant cousin of my loyal canine companion was having to walk the hot streets of Paris in all that fur scrounging to make a living. Alas, no. She had humans sitting by the fountain, but like most dogs in Paris is allowed to walk leash-less. Later we walked under the Louvre where there is a kind of concourse in order to learn where the Metro station is, and where to buy museum tickets without standing in a long line.

I learned most of this on a different trip to Paris ten years before, and toured the crowded Louvre, too. I decided on this trip to do something different. I remembered how much I enjoyed touring the Vienna Opera and seeing as how opera and ballet are traditionally so important to Paris's music scene, I planned a trip to the Palais Garnier (L'Opera de Charles Garnier). Christoph, our guide, showed me how to get there efficiently, by foot in the hot oxygen-less heat and since I arrived an hour before a tour in English, I bought some cold water and sat on the steps with many other exhausted Parisians and Paris visitors to rest my feet, drink my water, and people-watch. I can do that for hours in a good spot, and this was a great spot with vehicular traffic circling around the opera island of culture and no shortage of people walking every which way.

Finally it was time for the tour and I got to explore this monument to Paris culture. Our guide was exceptional--I think she came from Sweden--and told us stories about the building and its symbols. There's a lizard, a brass lizard, creeping up one of the staircases because to the French lizards are good luck. I actually did narrow down the collection of photos to this group, nonetheless you have a ton of Palais Garnier views coming at you right now!
L'Opera de Charles Garnier (He's the architect. There are other opera houses in the city, but this is the GARNIER.)

"Use the entrance under the eagles," he said, "because that's the King's entrance!"

IMAGINE attending a performance here!
Even the floors!

The floors! (detail of photo just above)
Good luck lizard

Marc Chagall painted the chandelier.

Even the seats in the auditorium are fancy. ('Abonne' means a subscriber sits here.)

This is where you hang out during intermission.
I was exhausted after this tour, but it was that happy-exhausted that comes from finally touring the Paris Opera. I found my way via the Paris Metro back to Notre Dame where our group met for a farewell dinner (duck confit) and dessert (Creme Brulee) and another kind of dessert, a cruise on the Seine! I did this on my ten-years-ago trip, too, but it was pouring and my photos were not so great. I'll end with the 2017 shots:

Pirate ship?

The Musee d'Orsay, formerly a train station.

Notre Dame

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