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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Now we can honestly say, “we’ll always have Paris.”  I’ll always remember how nice H- was to come meet us at the airport, set us up with an apartment, show us all over the town…  Really, her generosity made me feel humble.  In my experience, Brazilians are very willing to go out of their way to prepare for and spend time with visitors.  The amazing thing is that they don’t seem to think of it as, “I’m going out of my way.”  I’m not like that at all.  I’ve prepared a bit before a guest arrived but never done so much for someone.  All the couch surfing from Switzerland to France made a big impression on me.

Back to Paris…  Our last few nights in Paris we had moved to a hostel on the outskirts of Paris.  The remarkable thing was how shocked we were.  I did have a few good encounters with other travelers there, but the place itself was so poor and uncomfortable.  The morning we arrived we found we couldn’t even go to our rooms until the afternoon.  It was raining and cold.  We decided to go walk in La Villette Park which was very nearby.  It was early on a Sunday morning.  I saw a bunch of guys lacing up cleats to play soccer.  So, I waited around and eventually got into a small game.  I got soaked and a little muddy (my shoes haven’t been the same since) and my legs hurt or the next few days, but I had a ton of fun.  I miss playing at least once a week as I did before the trip.  For me the soccer game was a highlight of Paris.

Another vivid memory I will of Paris is how many places smell like urine – particularly the stairs you take to walk down from Mont Martre.  There is something special about Parisians.  The park signs show you very explicit things that are allowed and not allowed but pissing is apparently allowed anywhere as long as you walk on two legs.

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New Part of Town

A festival of color, skyscrapers and sculptures, this post is just for photos!

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So we heard of a free walking tour that leaves everyday at 11:00AM in front of the fountain at Place Saint-Michel. We went there just to check, as we had no other plans for the day, but not too confident if that was a good idea as it was raining and we had already walked all over town on the last couple of days. It turned out to be a great surprise, the tour was very interesting and I highly recommend it for a first or second day in town. Halley was our guide. Highly motivated and spirited, he mixed jokes with historical information and current news putting Paris’ main sightseeing into perspective.

I feel tempted to described the tour in more details and share most of the stories but I am not sure if it is fair to our guide or you as it would be way more exciting for you to hear about it there – and as I know many of you have been, will come back or plan to visit Paris at some point, I will refrain myself from writing too much. From the medieval days (the smell still persists) to the Nazi occupation, to its heydays and current times, I will just mention three of the things I learned in the tour.

  1. The padlocks on the passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor are placed there by couples in order to represent the locking of their hearts. The idea is that you close the link and throw the keys in the river. The idea seems to have started in China and then it got exported to the world. Every couple of years the government removes the padlocks so you may want to keep the key to remove it yourself just before they do it so you can later place it there again (or that may be a good excuse to keep the key and recycle the padlock in case you have more than one sweetheart – padlocks with combinations are good for that too 😉
  2. As one might know, the Arc de Triomphe was erected in honor of Napoleon and on its ground level the eternal flame burns in honor of the unnamed soldier, in honor of those that fought and died at the WWI. The flame was extinguished in 1998 after the final of the World Cup by an outraged Mexican soccer fan that upset by the defeat of Brazil by the French team, went to the site, unzipped his pants and urinated at the flame – my heart goes with him.
  3. Hitler and his horror tales. Sensing that the war would soon be over to his defeat, Hitler deployed the General von Choltitz to Paris – the mission: burn it to the ground. The idea of turning so many historical buildings, monuments and pieces of art to dust seemed too crazy even to von Choltitz who allowed the message to circulate that if Paris was not going to be rescued by the allies quickly it would get destroyed. As a wicked kid can scream “if I cannot have it, neither can you” throwing candies through the window or breaking toys, Hitler demanded that Paris be immediately brought to the ground – Is Paris Burning?? – he would call, the answer is no. To learn more about the episode, check the book with the title highlighted above.

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Musee National De L’Orangerie

At this small but nice museum, the famous L’Orangerie, we found a place where I could see everything in a single visit. It has water-lily paintings of Monet as well as work from Renoir, Matisse, Picasso. I like impressionism! The only drawback of this museum is that most of the explanation texts are in French. I was disappointed because I bet that a breakdown of visitors by country would show that most visitors are not French-speaking. English, Spanish and German displays would be highly welcomed. Well, well … We also watched a video on … not sure on what, as it was all in French, but the photography was great.

Musee Rodin

We arrived at the Rodin Museum too late to see the exhibits inside. We walked around in the garden instead and it was great. Walking through the gardens, we saw the Thinker and The Bourgeois of Calais, among others. But my favorite was the Gate of Hell/La Porte de l’Enfer, which is thousands of sculptures in one. By looking through a telescope we saw more of the tiny details in the Gate than we could see with the naked eye. The Gate was created for the State that asked for a monumental door for the Musee des Arts. When it was commisioned Rodin was asked to base the work on Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Rodin choose the Hell and was also inspired by Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil.  He put together that gate and then many parts became an independent sculpture.

A bit of a trouble maker , Rodin got in trouble two times after the Gate. Once when commissioned to make a sculpture of Victor Hugo and he presented a nude surrounded by two muses. Pressed to make a dignified sculpture of Victor Hugo dressed and standing, he said we would do two – one of him naked and sitting for Luxembourg Gardens and one dressed for the Pantheon (this one never completed;-). Then there was “the Balzac affair”, where he spent 5 years researching Balzac’s life, clothes and home town to later present a bare Balzac that was described by some journalists as “a penguin, a sack of coal, a block of salt caught in a downpour, a gorilla”. It is an interesting story that caused a lot of noise.

We also saw the Kiss, which was first intended to be part of the Gate – representing Francesca and her bother-in-law Paolo, who fell in love with each other and were caught in the kiss that would condemn them to eternity in Hell. I pointed out to E- that The Kiss was a clear example of the results of a successful “Clima.” Upon researching more (Wikipedia of course), it is interesting to note that Rodin himself said he wanted to portray in this sculpture that the woman was an equal partner in ardor and not just submitting to the wiles of a man.

I wish I had seen the Camille Claudel room. I caught E- imitating L’Ombre. After all the effort of art viewing and appreciating we sat down in the shade and played backgammon until we were kicked out at closing time.

Musee D’Orsay

A beautiful building that used to be a train station. It is worth a visit just for the building itself, which has a wonderful ceiling and a great clock inside above the entrance. The museum holds great paintings from 1848 to 1914, sculptures and a model of the Opera House.

I liked the “La Siesta” of Van Gogh, the sails of Monet, the “L’enfant au chat” of Renoir (I missed my Bibi) and many others.

E-‘s favorite piece was the L’Origine du Monde, which H- and I agreed that needed some trimming.

Poor planning made us miss the chance to visit the Egouts De Paris.

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Our French Life

While we saw lots of Paris, we didn’t see as much as we could have if we had been more serious tourists. Somehow we let our sleeping schedule get out of control. A typical day while we were in Paris followed this general outline:

  • Wake up late – around noon.
  • Eat baguette and eggs for breakfast.
  • Visit museums and walk around.
  • Work on the blog.
  • Eat pasta for dinner.
  • Shower/Read/Play backgammon.
  • Watch Scrubs on the Internet.
  • Go to bed at 2AM or later.

I’m happy with the way we spent our time in Paris.  And even with this level of laziness, we still saw lots of museums.

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During our time in Paris I read the book I picked up in Geneva while visiting CERN called “A Zeptospace Odyssey, A Journey into the Physics of the LHC,” by Gian Francesco Giudice.  Most of the first part of the book, I was keeping up with the analogies and feeling like I was learning something about quantum theory etc.  Now that I’ve finished the book, I think I need to read it again, because I didn’t absorb all the information.  I had tried to read about some of the seemingly crazy phenomena that happen at the quantum scale (or in zeptospace) in another book.  And I thought that this book by Giudice did a better job of explaining some of those phenomena.  But after explaining the Standard Model, the book goes into the subjects that are still being studied; the unknowns that the LHC is to explore.

I think it is an interesting topic and the book lays to rest all the chatter about how the LHC may create black holes that will destroy the world and all of us.  I had a hard time believing that such a thing as the LHC could be real; that the technology and the observations are not all just fiction.  On the other hand, I am convinced that while there is huge expense of money and energy in developing and running the LHC it does have the capacity to advance more than just science.  There are so many other ways that a project like the LHC can contribute to society as the book does a good job to illustrate.

I am particularly interested in the idea that the GRID could be another development on par with the Internet and World Wide Web and that it builds on those technologies/ideas.  My main observation in regards to the GRID is that while it could improve access for more people to computing resources, I am, in general, inclined to think that decentralized resources are better for people in the long run.  I’m not sure my criticism of the GRID idea is really justified (maybe I don’t understand it well enough).  I thought of the GRID idea as analogous to the electricity grid that is used say in the USA and most developed countries.  While it is certainly reliable and has contributed a lot to development, it also breeds a lack of understanding of the resources being used and almost encourages wasteful usage (e.g. the energy consumption in the  USA).  The electricity company makes more money the more you use right?  So with regards to the electricity grid, I think that if each of us had to have and maintain our own electricity producing equipment we may be more conservative in our consumption.  Maybe the availability of GRID computing resources will encourage similarly wasteful usage of computing which would, possibly, also create more energy demand.

Well, I’m sure my reservations won’t stop the forward progress of the computing industry…

Anyhow, the book was interesting and like I say, I’ll probably read it again.

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Science Museums

Cite des Sciences Et De L’Industrie

Located in the La Villette Parc, this is a nice, interactive museum. It is a great choice for kids and interested adults as it has dynamic exhibitions showcasing the development of science and technology and its applications. We arrived there by mid-afternoon and got tickets for the main exhibition plus the Planetarium.

Our first stop was in the section on “Men in Jeans” or “Men and its Genes”. I took my sweet time there, reading every single post and explanation. E- moved on to the “Perspective” section before me and came back later to show me some of the optic tricks. It was fun playing around with the different examples they had, but at some point we lost each other and while I looked for him I missed the scheduled time for the Planetarium visit – when I finally gave up searching and ran to the entrance I was 10min behind schedule and was not allowed in ;-( Bummer.

I went on my own to the “Virtual” section and the “Construction Material,” where E- found me. He had seen the Planetarium show. By then, we had just a couple more minutes in the Museum so we went to the “Math” section for a few minutes. We left the Museum to go see I- and H- one last time before they left the next day. I was sad because I realized that I needed a day to see everything when I visit a Museum.

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Musee des Arts Et Metiers

This museum is free on Thursdays after 6PM. (T- does not miss free.) It is an interesting museum that covers inventions on the fields of science, transportation, industry, etc… We knew it would be good when we saw Foucault’s experimental apparatus that measured the speed of light for the first time and it was just across from some musical instruments. Nearby we saw the first particle collider, which was more interesting because of our recent visit to CERN in Geneva.

One section of particular interest had lots of looms; the machines used for manufacturing textiles. I remembered my grandfather telling me about how he and his father worked as loom fixers in New England; how my great-grandfather got his hand caught in a loom once and didn’t make any fuss about the pain.

There were a bunch strange old bicycles and even a Velib bike. There were interesting exhibits on construction. Near the end of our visit we also saw another Foucault’s Pendulum like the one we saw in the Basilica San Petronio in Bologna.

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