I am tired, so tired, even though I am sleeping so much more than usual.
Staying up mildly late but then sleeping until 11!!! What is that? I never do that.
Eating more bread than even I am capable of really enjoying.
Got three cold sores at once.
Walked past Notre Dame at 2 in the morning on Saturday night. Total brain-blower. Enormous, terrifying Notre Dame, with its carved gargoyles and saints and holy men and crosses, its two monolithic square towers, its gigantic ancient wooden doors closed, everything dark and echoing where during the day it is shoulder-to-shoulder tourists and pickpockets and guys selling pencil sketches of it. We were scared of getting mugged, but rounding the corner and emerging into the ghostly blackness surrounding Notre Dame we saw a big group of youngsters, drinking Heineken, doing crazy rollerblading tricks, and cheering and high-fiving. Right in front of Notre Dame–doing tricks off its stairs! Amazing and beautiful temporal dissonance. The cross-sections of Notre Dame throughout time are crazy to think about. 400 years ago what would have been happening in the middle of the night there? “Probably the same thing, with different technology,” said the old man, “…and we would definitely have been mugged.”
A few days earlier we went to “Quasimodo: the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” starring Charles Laughton, which was being projected out-of-doors in the park in front of Victor Hugo’s house. What, is that really a real thing I said? YES!
Went to a movie in one of the lovely cinema clubs still dotting Paris. There are like 20 seats and they show whatever the fuck they want. Crazy avant-garde stuff, films from the 70’s, whatever. We went to see an Italian film starring four Italian screen icons including Marcello Mastroiani, who play Italian guys inexplicably in France who go to a fancy chateau and commit suicide by eating decadently. There are a great preponderance of fart jokes, although the film is generally not a comedy and is steeped in creepy, disgusting ennui. Why are they speaking French even in private with one another? It is a mystery! Our French friend said he found them really hard to understand, so obviously the old man and I didn’t stand much of a chance. Luckily the language of farts is a universal language, as is that of Marcello Mastroiani’s face.
So much has happened! We have been all over this old town. Learning about the crazy hollow space underneath all of Paris, made by several thousands of years’ worth of different civilizations excavating for limestone, that will one day swallow the city bones and all. Learning about the archives. Today I thought I would make my very first archival discovery–an article I saw referred to in a letter, that has not been published, from a German newspaper sometime in 1828 or 1829. Amazingly the archive here has issues of this publication from 1824 to 1830. I would find it! I put in my little document request form. The lady came out and said they only have 1828, not 1829. At that point I KNEW the article would not be in 1828 after all, and indeed it wasn’t. Now I might literally have to take a train to Berlin. If researching in an archive in France is hard, how much harder will it be in a country where I don’t even have a kindergartner’s grasp of the language? Still, all for love.
It turns out that I will have to go to almost every department of the BnF while I am here, as opposed to just the one. This is so funny to me. Adventures! Watching the “orientation” videos for the various departments is amazing. They are like that video George Michael watches that’s in Japanese and tells him how not to operate his jet pack. The most incomprehensible thing I have ever seen. “Reserve your place, and the machine at the front will tell you if your place is reserved. Then, go get a see-through box for your lap-top at the desk on the first level of the second section of Area J. Now you’re ready to go through security! Show the card you were given at the fifth desk behind Area B. Go to your place, and look at your documents! Photographs are not allowed.”
One interesting thing I have learned about France is that the people living inside of it do not drink water. I have not seen a water fountain one single time since I have been here, in any building or any public place. There is a water cooler on the third floor of the archive I work at and sometimes I sneak out and drink voraciously from it, like a dog. One small water cooler for a 5-story building. I don’t know if I am allowed to use it or not. No one else seems to use it but me. I also drink water out of the sink in the bathroom with my hand. You aren’t allowed to have water bottles with you. It is crazy to walk around all of Paris and never once see a public place to drink water. You have to buy big things of Perrier, and you can tell the only people walking around with big things of Perrier are Americans. For all our terrible flaws, are we really so much better at drinking water than our French comrades? If so, I salute thee, native kinsmen of mine! Everyone here apparently just drinks wine constantly, and never water, which was a stereotype I had heard so much about Paris but never believed. How could a person be comfortable drinking no water and so much wine? I don’t know, but somehow it works for them. I think I am seeing the root cause of my explosive cold sore situation.
also, the French seem to hate the internet. There is hardly any internet anywhere. The archive where I’m working has no internet. The major international research library here has internet, but it’s been broken for 3 days and nobody seems troubled by this. Every once in awhile you see “wifi” but it’s usually super complicated and you have to pay for it or can only use it for an hour or something. Amazing!!! Another thing everybody told me about France and that I didn’t believe. “France is terrible at the internet,” said so many different people to me at various points. I thought, how can that be true? But the slow dawning realization hit me like a series of waves. First: the websites are impossible to navigate, which I learned while still at home. Second: this internet situation! i.e. that there isn’t any. Third: THEY CAN’T WATCH HULU. It is blocked! As are all the sites that let you watch stuff on channels, like Lost on ABC or whatever. We had to install weird firewall blocking thingies on my computer to get our 30 Rock jam on. The old man pointed out that no wonder they’re bad at the internet: they don’t know what it’s for, which is 30 Rock! Our French friend mentioned this unprompted the other day when he said longingly that he’d love to see Mad Men, but he can’t because it is blocked in France. My heart bleeds for these people.
We are mostly cooking at home to save money. I still think I am going to run out of money. Alas! I found dark chocolate with sea salt in it and I eat a little every day. We’ve been drinking a lot of armagnac, which you get for real cheap at the monoprix. All the dogs we’ve seen still have their balls. The métro is amazing, amazing, amazing. The Eiffel tower is so stupid. I hate the Eiffel tower so much. It is such a great feeling to see something stupid in the world that isn’t America’s fault. At the Musée de l’Homme my own vieux homme got a “gaufre,” which is a waffle with jam on it. “Gaufre” means “gopher.” He loved it so much, like a baby. Then we saw some gross pigeons eating gaufres on the sidewalk. In France even the pigeons are gourmands! GAUFRE TOWN
We rode the ferris wheel at the Tuileries gardens. It costs 8 euro and is thus morbidly expensive, but totally worth it. From the top you see all the landmarks of the entire city sticking up weirdly like it’s an animated movie. You go so high!! It seems very unsafe, but was awesome. They play terrible french pop about the “champs elysées” while you’re riding it. There is also a ride where you go past a giant bigfoot who would give me nightmares if I were just a little bit younger or drunker.
We stood on the very spot where the guillotine chopped off the heads of so many thousands of people. As you can imagine, that particular reason for the landmark is not super well-marked. There is a very old small plaque that says that here is where Louis XVI was killed, and a year later Marie Antoinette, but that’s it, then the main attraction is this weird huge obelisk Louis Philippe put up in 1836 for some reason, that has hieroglyphics on it. This is next to a beautiful water fountain filled with statues of Africans holding spouting fish.
We found a vegetarian Tibetan restaurant with a prix fixe menu. It’s true that there is not a lot of vegetarian stuff going on here, but still, I’m amazed by how many people told us “it is impossible to be vegetarian in Paris.” I think this is because of France’s well-known food snobbery (and food snobs apparently only love meat and think anything that isn’t meat is disgusting, thus I don’t understand how food snobs don’t all die of gout like medieval kings), which is fine, we all have our snobberies (mine also involves meat! the not eating of it!) but the most basic of google map searches reveals so many amazing highly-rated restaurants that are either all or half vegetarian. Buddhist restaurants, Indian restaurants, even a fancy French-food restaurant that is almost all vegan. We will visit them all. We were going to go to one for our anniversary, which was yesterday, but it was pouring rain all day and we were so cozy, and it was the Feast of the Assumption so everything was closed, so we just stayed home and watched 30 Rock and ate spaghetti and it was great.
I AM HAVING SUCH A GREAT TIME! It is always empowering to learn a new city, and when it’s one so amazing and epic and historical and ancient and complex and beautiful as Paris–and one I’ve read so much about and thought so much about–it is ten times as wonderful.
One week down, three to go. Crazy!
I wish I didn’t have a mouth full of sores. I wonder what is up with my mouth. Can a person just have a “weak mouth?” Like, can your immune system be super super robust EXCEPT with regard to your mouth? I constantly have sores. Tongue sores, gum sores, lip sores (outside and in), weird inflamed gums. I have excellent dental hygiene–flossing every day, many healthful rinses and brushes, hardly any sugar–and until this year no cavities, even! So what is going on? JEEEEEEZ.
“Je suis tombée malade du spleen”
I have taken so many pictures but am still too lazy to take them off my camera.