Fezzik In Paris

Two Americans, three cats, and too many places named "de Gaulle"

The last two weeks have, without question, been the least pleasant weeks that we have spent in France; what we had thought was a well planned exit has degraded into a hasty retreat. Where I had envisioned the ability to visit our favorite places one last time, we have found ourselves overwhelmed and constrained; we barely managed to squeeze in an (abbreviated) holiday meal. Still, we finally seem to have finished, and after this post goes up, I’ll pack my faithful Surface Pro up and stick it in my carry-on in anticipation of our flight back to the States tomorrow morning.

I’ve written several vignettes; an epilogue for the cats (Fezzik can fly), a description of my last day at work, the sadness of our last visit to the Louvre, scattered thoughts about the latest Star Wars (let’s hear it once more for VoSTF); the time for those posts, however, has passed.

Sitting here, I find that I don’t really know what to say; I’ve had a version of a final post in my head since we first approached the end of our original contract. It has changed, as my feelings towards France and my willingness to return to the US has waned, and now that I’m writing it, I don’t know that any of the previous versions address what it is that I would like to say.

I’m happy that we were here (particularly when one considers that the original one year turned into nearly four). I’m sad that we have to go back. I’d like to hope that we can find a way to come back.

Fezzik can fly; I suppose that there is no reason that I can not do so as well.

This morning, at 0530, we found that we had dug too deep, that things had gone too far. A chamber was broken into. We descended into the darkness, the absence of light so oppressive that the darkness felt like ink on our skins. We descended into madness.

This is how it felt, anyway, as we loaded the cats into their carriers, stacked the carriers atop one another, and descended the elevator. Once outside, we helped load the cats into the waiting van and handed over their pet passports. They will be taken for a final checkup and will spend the night at a boarding facility. Tomorrow, they will head to CDG at some ungodly-early hour, where they will be held in the pet facility before they are palletized, driven out to the runway, and loaded into the belly of an aluminum bird that is powered by liquid dead things. At 1010 or thereabouts, the aluminum bird. calling itself Air France Flight 636 (because these beasts are regarded as normal, and the fact that they fly by burning long-dead-biological material is not regarded as insane) will race down the runway and lift itself into the sky.

In the briefest of instants, Fezzik will no longer be present in Paris. In just over two weeks, neither will we; what started off as a one-year hitch became more than three-and-a-half years of our lives. Now we’re being dragged, resigned, away from the life that we had built ourselves. It feels much like descending into madness.

It probably looks like it, as well; for the nth time this evening, I’ve talked to a shadow flicking through the corner of my eye, a shadow which should be a cat.

None of the cats, however, are there.

Some three weeks have passed since we returned from our Italian adventure; flying into Venice, we then took a train to Florence, and a subsequent train to Rome.

It was a hell of a trip, and, as usual, I took a probably-ridiculous number of pictures (a thorough purge brought this number to just north of 400). This post does not contain those pictures.

I wrote drafts of three separate posts, one for each location, but I haven’t been able to go back to them, nor have I really had the desire to go through the photos with the intent of selecting and post-processing  those that are “worthy” of this blog. The whole memory seems oddly fragile, and I have been unable to move past the feeling that if I go back through and account for everything we did, the memory will simply recede, like a small village buried by a sandstorm.

When I flipped through the pictures for the third or fourth time this past weekend, I did find myself laughing at the lions. “Another leone” proved to be the motto of the trip, perhaps due to where we were, and perhaps because we “rescued” several more Marcos during our stay in Venice.

It is thus with this admittedly-unsatisfying backstory that I present everything that wound up tagged with the word “lion,” in all its disjointed glory.

Owing to its proximity and imposing nature, l’eglise de la madeleine was one of the first churches that we wandered into when we arrived in Paris. When we saw that l’eglise was often used for concerts, our collective interest was piqued, and thus nearly every version of The List, The Schedule, and finally, The Calendar, have come with some version of “concert at Madeleine.”

It was thus with genuine enthusiasm that on Saturday evening, I tucked our tickets into my coat pocket, confirmed that my heat-tech vest was interfacing well with my overcoat (I’m typically neutral on the subject of layering clothes, as I loathe the tangled feeling that often results from multiple layers of sleeves interacting), and donned my gloves as we walked out of our building and into the piercing wind. Arriving after our brief ride on Ligne 8, I hopped up a few steps, snapped a picture of the edifice while telling the Purrito that “I’m going to need a header for the blog post,” and then headed inside. Madeleine has no glass and a bit of a non-traditional layout; I had heard that the acoustics were excellent. The music, Le requiem de Mozart, was something that I know and love, and often occupied space on my World of Warcraft background music playlist (in the olden days before the world moved on from raiding Onyxia, after which I departed).

I was prepared to have a great evening. I was prepared to love this concert. I was prepared for a repeat of our experience with Orféo at Versailles.

I was not prepared for the orchestra to be fucking terrible.

It may be of note that things didn’t fall apart, but rather they began already-broken; after struggling to recognize even the introduction, I asked the Purrito if something was echoing strangely, or if the music was a near-unrecognizable mess to her as well. She confirmed that an entire section of the small orchestra seemed to be mysteriously off-time, and that it was not just me. As the intro ended, we looked at each other; I said “maybe they’re just in need of a bit more time to warm up.”

Nine minutes into Le requiem de Mozart, we quietly snuck out. In the end, the evening was saved by the discovery of a “Roman” bar (replete with tiled floors, chairs that look like they were stolen from the set of HBO’s Rome, and reproductions of various Roman frescoes) and a nice bottle of Crozes-Hermitage.

We thus had a subdued wake for the not-particularly-dearly-departed Requiem, uncomfortable in our newfound knowledge as to how concerts in hell must sound.

On Toussaint, (now some ten days ago…) we found ourselves at Fondation Louis Vuitton for their newest exposition, être moderne: le moma à Paris.

So here are the pictures that have been, shall we say, fermenting in my Lightroom export folder for the past week and a half.

I burned a day of PTO on Tuesday (I already had Wednesday off on account of it being Toussaint) and indulged in one of my ongoing obsessions; I returned to la basilique cathédrale de Saint-Denis.

While it is true that I had entirely intended to go back, hoping to perhaps take advantage of some of the new perspective afforded by two additional years of absorbing French history and culture, I found myself inclined to fairly exhaustively catalogue this return on account of this post from 2015; this short, poorly-formatted post is responsible for a surprising amount of our inbound traffic from search engines, and upon investigation, I found that there does not seem to be a walkthrough of the church.

I thus present what’s being searched for, in hopes that someone finds it useful, edifying, or even an interesting way to simply kill a few minutes.

To shamelessly plagiarize myself from the Projects page:

So as to prevent vomiting on the part of the site, I’ve broken the pictures up into sections:

  • Gisants is probably the reason you’re here;
  • Chappelles should be self-explanatory;
  • Crypte is an unfortunately incomplete walk-through of the crypt;
  • Cathédrale is anything that happened to catch my eye.

Access can also be had via the menu under Projects.

The name Rubens conjures mental images of soft, curvaceous women in various semi-historical settings; if clothed at all, at least one breast has broken free of its silken restraint, and the remains of the garment threaten to drop to the ground, the act of disrobing to be marked only the faintest of sounds.

Unknown to the Purrito and I, however, was the fact that Rubens had a nearly-decade-long stint as a mix of an artist a diplomat, and a spy. Further negligence on our part was in overlooking the title of the Rubens exhibition at le musée du Luxembourg; had either of us stopped to axctually read the damn title, Rubens, portraits princiers, we would have known that we weren’t about to see a series of gossamered women. Instead, we got exactly what was on the tin, which was a series of court portraits.

This is not to say that Rubens’ court portraits were not interesting; they were worth seeing in their own right, though I will admit to raising an eyebrow at the number of paintings which were only attributable to his atelier, as opposed to Rubens’ own hand.

Most surprising, however, was rounding a corner in what we both thought was the middle of the exhibit only to be greeted with a sortie sign; Luxembourg’s galleries are nowhere near the size of those of the grand palais, so one expects that the exhibits will be smaller. Our discovery of the exact magnitude (or lack thereof, to be more accurate) of the exhibit was met with disbelief. Had it not been included in our 2017 sesame+ pass, we probably would have felt more cheated and less blandly disappointed than we did upon exiting the museum.

The worst experience of the day, however, goes to the Angelina salon de thé that sits on the ground of the museum; the mont blanc may be their signature pastry, but I had no idea that I find chestnut cream as vile as I did. No weight would be gained there.

I had a religious experience on Friday.

Wandering through the Marais, our mission to procure more pants (ah, adulthood) complete, the Purrito stopped in front of the window of a Jewish bakery and pointed at a loaf of halle bread.

Having walked this road many times before, always refusing the offer, I was prepared to dismiss it immediately, but the bread called to me. Golden and shiny, I considered the rumbling of my stomach instead of dismissing it; we thus moved towards the entrance of the bakery.

The challah had served as my initial temptress, but upon crossing the threshold I found myself struck, like Paul of Tarsos, but it was a poppy-seed bagel that blinded to me, whispering only two words: eat me.

We paid for the challah roll, the bagel, and a pastry, and managed to walk a few meters from the shop when I bit into the bagel. Ecstasy overcame my tongue: this is a bagel, with this light texture, this almost layered inside, this more bread-like but still distinct taste? What the hell have I been eating all of these years?

The Purrito giggled as words failed me, as I struggled in vain to sing the praises of this newfound flavor, as the agony of the passing experience soon fell over my face: the bagel was now gone, its martyrdom complete as I finished chewing.

The enlightenment, however, endures.