“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To Be (A Tourist), Or Not To Be...

Le Sénat, in the Jardins du Luxembourg
So I have a confession to make: although my philosophy lately has been to try to be as French as possible and fit in as one of the locals as I am, after all, a resident of Paris now (haha I love being able to say that!), I do like playing the occasional tourist. It's funny though, because like the locals I now find myself getting annoyed with all the tourists who clutter the neighborhoods around all the famous monuments - I am fortunate to live on the outskirts of Paris where tourists don't generally wander - even though I've been a part of the same masses of people which get on my own nerves, if that makes any sense.

As a general rule of thumb, I am a firm believer that you should take advantage of all the cool cultural things at your immediate disposal, and thus, I continue to slip into "tourist mode" for at least a few minutes of each day. Our weather has been so nice here the past few days that it has been rather pleasant to aimlessly wander through a random neighborhood and see what sorts of things I can find. Although I haven't officially "toured" anything yet, this coming Saturday & Sunday are "Journées du Patrimoine" (Heritage Days) where nearly every monument, museum, church, park, etc. is open totally free to the public, thus I am planning on squeezing in a few "real" visits then!

For now, here are some of the places I've been "touring"...

10-story replicas of the Twin Towers at Trocadero
A bunch of my friends and I headed out to the 9/11 memorial ceremony that took place at Trocadero, just across the river from the Eiffel Tower. There were different events going on all day, but we happened to catch  the start of the main ceremony (including a concert of patriotic music, a few speeches, etc.) and then the rain came. Torrential down-pouring rain. Unfortunately we had to cut that short, but it was nice to see a display of solidarity between the two countries on this solemn day.

I had some spare time one day and decided to take a stroll around the 6e (meaning 6th, for my non-Frenchies) arrondissement near my school to see what I could find & came across this church. You might recognize its name from the "Da Vinci Code," even though the movie wasn't allowed to be filmed here as the book was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. It's only a little smaller than Notre-Dame de Paris, making it the second largest in the city.

Replica of the Shroud of Turin
Upon entering the church, there is a large display of a replica of the Shroud of Turin (in negative form, to enhance the outlines), which is said to be the piece of linen that Jesus was buried in. The original is in Turin, Italy, and both depict the image of a gaunt man who seems to have suffered trauma consistent with that of the Crucifixion - there are marks corresponding with the stigmata & the crown of thorns, but there is much controversy around it and its origins and real age remain unknown. Still a pretty cool thing to stumble upon in a random church!
The Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice
Also inside the church is the Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice. This large stone obelisk is designed and positioned to cast a shadow on the ground in order to help determine the position of the sun in the sky, and thus also the dates of religious feast days like Easter which vary from year to year depending on the sun. Few still exist as their rather primitive technology was surpassed by the advent of the telescope (see below for a diagram explaining how this all worked). From this particular gnomon, a brass meridian line (running North to South) has been inlaid into the floor between blocks of white marble. In any case, those of you familiar with the "Da Vinci Code" book and/or movie will recognize these structures as they marked the way for Silas, the albino monk, to find a certain spot in the floor where he thought an important clue was buried.

The Louvre
Did a quick fly-by of the Louvre on Tuesday when I woke up early, took the metro downtown and, upon exiting the metro, remembered that it is indeed closed on Tuesdays. Whoops! Got to go back this afternoon though and checked out the statuary wings from Ancient Greece, Italy & Egypt. One can only spend so much time in there before needing to leave, as you totally suffer from sensory overload due to the overwhelming size of the whole place and all the amazing treasures inside it. The best part: it's free for students with your student ID! Something tells me I'll make it back there to finish up the other 5/6ths of the museum that I missed today...

"Cupid & Psyche" by Canova
And now, it's time for some fun travel facts. I have been extremely fortunate in that I have traveled in Europe a few times before arriving in Paris, and it makes me appreciate certain random things that much more. Take this commemorative arch, for example:

L'Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel 
Built by Napoleon from 1806-1808 to celebrate his previous military victories (and yes, I know it's shocking, but France actually has a few military victories under its belt...), the arch faces the main entrance of the Louvre & all its glass pyramids. It's about half the size of L'Arc de Triomphe de L'Etoile, its more famous relative, but is still equally impressive. It's rather a bemusing composite piece, and here's why: 

1. It was designed after the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Napoleon, as Emperor of France, wanted his Empire to emulate the greatness of the Roman Empire, so he copied their arch:

Arch of Constantine, Rome (2008)
 2. Napoleon was a thief. After the sack of Venice by Napoleon in 1798, he snatched the bronze horses right off the top of St. Mark's Basilica, one of Venice's most famous landmarks, and brought them back to France as a trophy. Upon completion of his new triumphal Arch in Paris, he placed the horses atop it so all of Paris could see the booty he stole from the Venetians. Thankfully, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, France decided it would be best to return the horses to their rightful owners, but not until after they made replicas to leave in Paris. The original horses are in a museum in Venice, and a newer, more modern version sits atop St. Mark's today.

Bronze horses sit above the central mosaics of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice (2008)
The main reason I find l'Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris so interesting is because I happened to take pictures of each of its components while traveling in Italy. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but when I later went to Paris and saw the composite structure, I asked my tour guide about it, who then sparked my interest and caused me to do some investigating of my own, leading to this bounty of useless knowledge that I am now passing on to you! But at least now you can say you learned something today.

Stereotypical Paris: flowers, statues, & those quintessential Parisian buildings in the background
After learning that the Louvre was closed on Tuesdays, I strolled under the Arch & into the Jardin des Tuileries which faces the museum. Lots of fountains and flowers there, and makes for a great afternoon walk!

The Panthéon
Located just down the street from my school, the Panthéon is today a secular mausoleum housing the tombs of famous French people. I didn't have time to go inside, so more about that later.

Notre-Dame de Paris
I've done my fair share of wandering around Notre-Dame and its surrounding neighborhood in the middle of the Seine River on Ile de la Cite, but again, have unfortunately not had enough time to wait in line to go inside and walk up lots of steps to enjoy the views from the towers. Another day!

4euro mojitos in the Marais!
And of course we can't forget the local cuisine! I am very happy to report that Happy Hour does exist here, although one cafe had a large sign saying it was "Hally Hour" instead...however they want to spell it, they make deliciously cheap drinks if you happen to stop in at the right time!


  1. Hi Rach,

    I think that you just have to leap into tourist mode every once in a while! Pull out the camera and the over-sized map and have at it like the rest of the Americans there! Can't wait to get touristy with you in just 5 weeks and 1 day-I'm so excited to give you a squeeze.

    Miss and Love you Rach and keep those posts coming. See you soon!

  2. Hey Kid-
    I can remember a long time ago when you lived in the "states", and were not a Parisian resident. Yup- a longgggg time ago.
    Love you- can't wait to be there with you.
    Aunt Wen

  3. Half price drinks - Indiana bar - 5-7pm each night - Place de la Republique - now THAT is useful information!!