Saturday, August 05, 2017

Roller Derby Queen


When Gimena gave Nina these roller blades, I wasn't sure where she'd use them, since Ada is not really big on sidewalks. Now we know.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 10: Paris, Tour Eiffel

On our first morning in Paris, we got up at 7:30 a.m. so that we could get to the Eiffel Tower before the lines got too long. For breakfast, we had croissants, a baguette and peach/strawberry juice (most of us agreed that the juice sounded better than it tasted). By 8:10, we were out the door and headed to the Bienville Metro. We made a transfer at Nation, and by 9:20 we were waiting in line for our tickets.

We opted the for the tickets that go to the second floor instead of the more expensive ones that go all the way to the top, and we took the elevator, though Emilio lobbied for the stairs. Before we got to the elevators, I was informed that I couldn't take my pocket knife inside. I was encouraged to hide it by the exit. I did, but it wasn't there when I got back.
The second floor is about as high as a 30-story building. The publicity campaign for Paris's bid to host the 2024 Olympics featured large banners hung from four skyscrapers.  That's the "4" of "2024" in the distance behind Mari's hand.
The trips I plan can often feel like trapeze acts. Between anticipating the next leap and managing the kids' interests, energy levels, hungers, conflicts, and curiosities, it is sometimes difficult to be entirely in the moment, even on an extraordinary trip like this one. But looking out over the city from the viewing platform of the Eiffel Tower was one of the moments from this trip when I experienced the greatest sense of satisfaction about how far we'd come to reach this point. It was a high point of the trip, both literally and figuratively. It's ironic, since standing on the Eiffel Tower, you're in  one of the few places in the city where you can't see the city's most iconic structure. (According to legend, the writer Guy du Maupassant--no fan of the Eiffel Tower--used to dine there every day for the view if offered: of a Eiffel-less Paris.)

That's Le Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre in the background behind us. We'd go there four days later.
According to my good friends at Wikipedia, when the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, it surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930.

Wikipedia, again, reports that designs for the Eiffel Tower were inspired by an octagonal 30-story high, iron-braced wooden observatory that was built as part of the 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in Manhattan. The tower was the tallest structure in New York City until it burned down in 1856.

We walked down the stairs from the second-level platform to the first level platform, which is 17 stories above the ground. The glass floor on this level was added in 2014. I was more leery about walking over it than my children were.

The painter Adolph Bouguereau and the musicians Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod were among the 300 prominent French artists who vigorously protested the construction of the tower, which was originally supposed to be dismantled after twenty years. They signed a petition that read, in part, "imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal." Twenty years was optimistic.
Wikipedia tells me that French saboteurs cut the elevator cables when the Nazis occupied Paris in 1940. In August 1944, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, to demolish the tower along with the rest of the city. Von Choltitz disobeyed the order.  The elevator cables were repaired in 1946.
After we walked the rest of the stairs all the way do to the Champs de Mer, and I learned that my Swiss Army Knife was no more, we took the Metro to the Catacombs.

We got in the line for the Catacombs around 12:20. The ticket line ended up being longer than any other line we stood in during our Grand Tour. While we were waiting, Mari went hunting for a healthy snack and came back with some expensive strawberries.
While Mari and I stood in line, the kids read on their Kindles and Mari's cell phone while sitting under tree on a nearby lawn. The weather was pleasant. Mari ended up putting put on her sweater. Around 1:45, we finally made our way to the front of the line.
After descending a spiral staircase that led five stories beneath the surface, we walked down several long stone tunnels like the one above, each one little different than the next.

According to my friends on the Smithsonian website, during the 13th century this extensive network of tunnels was dug under the streets of Paris to give miners access to quarries that provided limestone for the city’s new buildings, including the city's ramparts, Notre Dame Cathedral and the original Louvre palace. Eventually further extensions of this underground network were discontinued because they presented a threat to ground-level structures, some of which collapsed. The tunnels offered a solution for another city development problem in the 17th century, when Paris’s overcrowded cemeteries became overstuffed with corpses to the point where some of them became uncovered.
In 1780, when a prolonged period of spring rain caused a wall around Les Innocents cemetery to collapse, decomposing corpses spilled into a neighboring apartment building. Beginning in 1786, Louis XVI more ordered all the corpses in designated cemeteries in the old city to be transported at night into the quarry tunnels. Among the corpses that were transported were those of Montesquieu, the philosopher, and Rabelais, the writer.

At first, the bones were simple tossed into abandoned quarry shafts, but after 1810, the Inspector General of the Quarries ordered walls of decoratively places bones and skulls to be built up in front of the larger spaces where the other bones had been piled.
Many of those who died during the French Revolution were taken directly to the catacombs, which were used temporarily as a morgue. The remains of Danton, and Robespierre are buried somewhere in the Catacombs.
More than 6 million corpses had been moved into the catacombs by the time the process was discontinued in 1859.

In the photo above, Pablo is standing in front of a well used by the quarry workers. The well is called "The Fountain of the Samaritan." The inscriptions on the columns behind Pablo are from John, chapter 3, verses 13 and 14, when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and says, “Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again. For the water I give them will become within them a fountain of water producing eternal life.” (Omnis qui bibit ex aqua hac, sitiet iterum; qui autem biberit ex aqua quam ego dabo ei, non sitiet in æternum: sed aqua quam ego dabo ei, fiet in eo fons aquæ salientis in vitam æternam.)
The inscription on the left in the photo above, taken in the Crypt of the Ecclesiastes, reads, in Latin: "Memento irae in die consummationis." The English translation is: "Think of wrath on the day of death." The line is taken from  the 24th verse of the 18th chapter of the book of Sirach, written in 200-175 BCE by the Jewish scribe, Ben Sira of Jerusalem. The entire passage is:

22 22 Let nothing prevent the prompt payment of your vows;
do not wait until death to fulfill them.
23 Before making a vow prepare yourself;
do not be like one who puts the Lord to the test.
24 Think of wrath on the day of death,
the time of vengeance when he will hide his face.
25 Think of the time of hunger in the time of plenty,
poverty and need in the day of wealth.
26 Between morning and evening there is a change of time;
before the Lord all things are fleeting.


The insrciption on the right says: "Memento novissimorum, noli oblivisci." It comes from the 38th chapter of the book of Sirach. The English transation is: "Think of the end, do not recall him." the entire passage reads:
18 When a person is carried away, sorrow is over;
and the life of the poor one is grievous to the heart.
20 Do not turn your thoughts to him again;
cease to recall him; think rather of the end.
21 Do not recall him, for there is no hope of his return;
you do him no good, and you harm yourself.
22 Remember that his fate will also be yours;
for him it was yesterday, for you today.
23 With the dead at rest, let memory cease;
be consoled, once the spirit has gone.
We heard a tour guide tell his group that the catacombs became a touristic attraction as early as 1787, when the Comte d'Artois--who later ruled France from 1824 to 1830 as Charles X, brought the ladies of the court here. And on April 2, 1897, a group of amateur musicians staged an illegal, concert in the Catacombs late at night for about 100 people.

After we climbed out of the Catacombs, we sat at a table on the sidewalk outside "Le Petit Chez Soi," where we ordered pizza, pasta, and salad. We also asked for a plate of pommes frites, which were mentioned on the menu, but not as a separate side dish. We probably wouldn't have ordered it, if we'd known they would charge us 9 Euros for them.

Our brusque waitress told Pablo not to put his feet on the chair he was sitting in.

To get to the bathrooms in Le Petit Chez Soi, you have to climb up the narrowest spiral staircase in Christendom. Once you get to the top, there are two doors. Open the wrong one, and you'll be in someone's bedroom, looking at a cat, looking at you.

After lunch, we headed to the Luxembourg Gardens public park.

My good friends at Wikipedia tell me construction of the Luxembourg Gardens began in 1611. It was enlarged following the French Revolution, when leaders of the French Directory took land from the neighboring monks.

The Luxembourg Gardens is the largest public park near the Sorbonne, so it's a student favorite.

I didn't notice the two students who were cheesing in the background of this shot when I was taking it. The photo below is a cropped enlargement of the photo above.

The French Laverne and Shirley?


In Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, Cosette and Marius meet in the Gardens.


Mari got gelato for the kids, and then we headed for the Panthéon. That's the Panthéon behind Pablo in the photo above. Construction of this building began in 1758 and was finished in 1790. It was originally intended to be a church dedicated to St. Genevieve (the patron saint of Paris), but during the French Revolution it was repurposed as a secular mausoleum where French citizen heroes would be buried. On April 4, 1791, the revolutionary leader Mirabeau was the first citizen to be honored in this way. In later years, the remains of Voltaire (1791), Marat (1794), Rousseau (1794), Victor Hugo (1885), Émile Zola (1908), Louis Braille (1952--on the centenary of his death), Marie Curie (1995; she died in 1934), and Alexandre Dumas (2002; he died in 1870) and many others were also buried here. During the French Revolution, when popular views of Mirabeau and Marat changed, their bodies were dug up and moved elsewhere.

On the other side of the Panthéon is Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which you can see behind Emilio and Nina in the photo above. Built between 1494 and 1624, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont provided a home for relics of St. Genevieve. After being removed from the Panthéon, Marat was buried here. During the French Revolution, Genevieve's relics were thrown in the sewer, and the church was rebranded as a secular "Temple of Filial Piety."

We walked through the Latin Quarter (so called because so many of the students and faculty at the nearby Sorbonne spoke Latin), past the Université Paris-Sorbonne, and stopped in at the Paroisse de Saint-Séverin, whose construction was completed (mostly) in 1520.

We then crossed the Seine to get to the  Île de la Cité and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.Construction of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris began in 1163 and was, for the most part, completed in 1345. There is no entry fee.
Mass was being celebrated inside when we arrived. We took a seat and listened.

During the French Revolution, the cathedral was renamed as a temple to the Cult of Reason. On December 2, 1804, the coronation ceremony for Napoleon I was held here. Pope Pius the VII officiated.

Pablo was soon napping. When I took this picture, he was sound asleep.


Door handle for the Portal of the Virgin.


The north portal on the Western facade of the Cathedral--the Portal of the Virgin--was built in the 1210s-1220s. The four statues here were destroyed during the French Revolution, and replaced in the 19th century.The statues on the left door jamb from left to right are: Emperor Constantine; an angel; Saint Denis--the patron saint of France and Paris--holding his head (he was decapitated); and another angel. Denis was executed in the third century on the highest hill in Paris, which took its name, Montmarte (the Mount of Martyrs) from the event. According to the legend, after his decapitation, Denis carried his head in his own hand and walked down the hill, preaching as he went.


This fellow appears under St. Denis's feet.

This fellow appears under the angel on St. Denis's right.


This fellow met us outside the Cathedral when he got off work.


We followed Gerardo across the Seine to the Île Saint-Louis, which is one of two natural islands on the Seine along with the Île de la Cité.


In the early 17th century the Ile Saint Louis was actually comprised of two islands. The smaller of the two, Ile aux Vaches, was upstream, and the larger Ile Notre-Dame was downstream. Both served as cow pastures for the Notre Dame Cathedral. In 1614, the islands were merged into one island, which soon became a fashionable place for the French aristocracy to build homes. Between 1620-1650, the island was covered with new mansions, which had a unified architectural style.


The last stop on our tour of the Île Saint-Louis is the Place Louis Aragon. Across the river, you can see the 16-story Tour Saint-Jacques (a favorite for the No-Eiffel-Tower petitioners). It was built between 1509 and 1523.

After leaving the the Île Saint-Louis, we wandered through Le Marais ("The Marsh"), stopping only briefly to price Swiss Army knives in a department store before we took the Metro back to Pyrenees station.


When I came up out of the Metro this time, I took the picture of the Eiffel Tower looking down the Rue de Belleville. Before heading back to the apartment, we stopped at the Carrefour market to buy pasta, rice, guacamole, an orange, and--for Mari and Gerardo--lunch meat.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 9: Destination Paris

Though we had to leave our AirBnB by 10 a.m., our train to Paris was not scheduled to leave until 2:21 pm. Consequently, we took our backpacks and our two rolling suitcases down the long flight of stairs to the beach in a light, misty rain to find a place to eat breakfast.  By 11 a.m. we were in the La Croisiere chez Patxi, which was next door to the Hegoa, where we had dinner the night before. We were the only people in the Patxi, and both our server and the chef agreed to accommodate our special breakfast requests.


  Emilio and Nina had crepes with nutella, and I had a crepe with honey. We also ordered fried eggs, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice and a glass of milk. The milk, to Emi's surprise, was served warm! He was not a fan.

At around noon, we finished breakfast. Our server told us we could leave our bags behind the front desk of the restaurant, so we did.  We walked down to the port and across the bay towards Hondarribia (in Spanish--Fuenterrabia), which I had visited with Mom and Dad and Jaime and Maria Rosa twenty-three years before.  Mom had especially enjoyed the bougainvillea she saw in northern Spain, and we were thinking of her when I took the picture of Nina below.


After checking out the marina, we stopped at a Macaroon shop not far from the casino, and Nina tasted her first French macaroon.

Around 1 pm, we retrieved our luggage from the Patxi and headed to the bus stop, where we hoped to catch a ride to the train station.  By 1:35, we decided that we had misread the bus schedule. There were no taxis in sight, and the tourism office was closed for lunch (a 2-hour break!), so we decided to turn on our cellphones' roaming capability to see if we could order a taxi on line.  Then, to our great relief, the city bus arrived. By 1:42 p.m, we were at the station. Mari bought chips, Petit Ecolier cookies, water bottles, a Coke Zero, and a three-cheese baguette sandwich. The kids approved of two of the cheeses. Nina believed the third one--Camembert--might have been the most disgusting thing she had ever put in her mouth. Mari happily agreed to pull that cheese from the sandwich and eat it herself.

At 2:21, we settled down into our first class train compartment. Our Eurail passes required us to make reservations in first class cars in France.

Soon after we left the station, we were informed that we were in the wrong first class car. We quickly resettled and were very comfortable for the ride.

We had hoped that we'd have WiFi access on all the trains we took, but this was not, in fact, the case. I had also expected that I would know what towns our trains were passing through, but I didn't see this kind of thing posted on any train we took.

Eventually, I was able to get WiFi access in the stations we stopped in on the journey from Hendaye to Paris.  In this way, I learned that we were had passed through Bayonne (the Basajuan's target) and Dax.

Between Dax and Bordeaux, we passed through Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park. My good friends at  Wikipedia say that Landes de Gascogne was originally an inland sea. After the sea receded, a mostly infertile depression was left behind that remained mostly unpopulated throughout history.

Today the park is "a protected area of pine forest, wetland and oceanic coastline," which doesn't sound "infertile" to me. I remember lots of green.

I thought of Mom often on this trip because her imagination so often transports her to distant lands and times. But there were a handful of those moments that stood out. One of those was this train ride through the green forest and fields of Aquitaine in southwest France.


That's not a malfunctioning TV on the table in front of Mari. It's a light that illuminates the table when the train goes through tunnels.

Throughout most of the ride, the kids took turns eating snacks, reading on the Kindles, and playing escoba de quince with Mari.

I also trained them to put down their Kindles quickly and look thoughtfully out the window when I thought we were going through an area that might be photogenic. They got good at that, but I was never entirely satisfied with my ability to capture the beauty of the landscapes we were passing through.


As we were entering Paris, a friendly French man in a neighboring compartment asked where we were from. He told us he knew the tunes to many national anthems and proceeded to hum "The Star-Spangled Banner." Pablo countered by singing "La Marseillaise." Another French passenger commented that he had "une belle voix" (beautiful voice).

When we got off the train, we walked to the end of the platform and Gerardo was waiting for us. It has been a long time since Gerardo had seen Emi, Nina, and Pablo. We are all overjoyed to see him.

While we are in the station, Mari and I got photos made in a photo booth so that we could buy 5-day Navigo passes that we would begin to use the next morning. We could never have gotten them if Gerardo hadn't been there to do the translating for us, so we were very grateful to him for this assistance.

A couple of subway rides and some long subway tunnels took us to Pyrénées station. When we came out of the station, we stopped to admire a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, but I didn't get that photo until the next night.

It was a short walk from the metro station to Gerardo's apartment building and Paris's smallest elevator. We'd heard that Gerardo's fifth floor apartment was small, but we were perfectly comfortable there. Gerardo stayed in the apartment of a friend who lived nearby, and we made plans to meet him the next day after he got off work.