Sunday, May 15, 2011


If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium.

Not exactly true. It would be better stated as-
If it’s the Weekend, it must be Paris!

If you’ve been wondering where I have gotten to- since there hasn’t been a blog in several days, I’ve been in Paris.
Paris France, right on the Seine.

I have always wanted to be in Paris in the Springtime and now I have been.
It was a quick couple of days but well worth it.
What a beautiful city! History galore.

Walking towards the Arc de Triomphe
 I guess what amazed me the most, besides the simple fact of just being there, is seeing famous landmarks and works of art- in person. The language and signage is one thing but French is something I see- or hear, everyday right here at home- from road signs to cereal boxes.
Just walking up the street from the hotel, Tom- our friend Lisa and I passed café after café after café and then, right in front of us- there was the “Arc de Triomphe”. Awe-inspiring, as is the traffic madly going in circles before racing off down one of the half-dozen avenues- spokes, reaching out from the Arch which is rooted in the centre. I don’t think I could ever drive a vehicle in Paris. Maybe I’d ride a bicycle but walking is pretty straight forward and ultimately safer.

I had a mission in Paris. I had my heart set on going to the Louvre and visiting Mona.
The Mona Lisa.
La Gioconda.
The route up to the entrance to the Louvre passes through well-tended gardens, fountains and a pair of huge ponds that Parisians encircle in the spring sunshine tanning, chatting and reading a good book. As you come closer to the building itself you realize just how massive this place is. Then right in the middle of the courtyard a modern, glass pyramid. If you know the Tom Hank’s movie- The Da Vinci Code, you’ll know the pyramid. The exact opposite in design and scale of the Louvre but manifique
Those Parisians.
Anyway, somehow the glass pyramid works. I can’t explain it. It just does.

Once inside, we purchase tickets and head to the first floor Denon Wing. Mona is in the Salle des Etats where paintings of an Italian origin hang. I did some research before leaving home. Going to the Louvre website online, I could not only see where Mona was located but I took a virtual tour of the salon, online, to see who kept her famous person company.

After entering the main hall in the Denon wing, we looked for Salon 6. I knew just inside the door to the left we would find the largest painting in the Louvre’s collection- the massive Wedding at Canan by Paolo Veronesze. It’s the size of a large movie screen. Along the walls at either side were famous oils- from Rembrandt among others.

 Then I saw her.
Hanging all alone on a huge blank wall at the far end of the salon. I had heard she was small but seeing her in person was a bit of a shock. We could get right up close- about 10 feet or so away. Mona lives behind protective glass where the air is temperature- controlled. It doesn’t affect how you see her but when Tom took a non-flash picture, you could see a dull shine from the reflection of the glass.
I just stood and stared.
At her hands.
Her bosom.
The background.
The crack- just above her head, on the board she was painted on and of course- that infamous smile.
It was like she was hiding something.
She had a secret and wasn’t about to share.
Maybe Leonardo da Vinci told an amusing story as she posed.
Maybe he stood on his head to make her smile.
Maybe…just maybe she had eaten cauliflower the evening before and she had let out a small “puff” of ~ahem~ air.

Her eyes seemed to reach out and touch your heart.
She was beautiful and there she was sitting there right in front of us.
Mona was nowhere else in the entire world.
She was right there in front of us.
Breathtaking. Memorable.

Before we left the Louvre, we took a quick trip down a sweeping marble staircase to find the Venus de Milo. She stood- armless just like in every photo I have ever seen, naked to below her navel, perched atop a marble pillar.
She was bleached white.
She was beautiful, I must admit but she was “damaged goods”. I couldn’t help but wonder what she had looked like- with arms.
A guide nearby was telling a group of tourists- in French, that Venus was perfection of the female face- maybe even the human form.
“Eet ees Posse-bull”- he said.
I dunno.

Other famous paintings along with Greek and Roman sculptures too numerous to mention, lined the walls and galleries. The Louvre itself was an amazing building- once a palace for royalty, where it could quite possibly take a week to see it all- it’s that big.

Crossing the River Seine which runs alongside the Louvre, we saw it crowded with watercraft. Across the bridge was the National Assembly, home to the French Parliament. We walked along the banks of the Seine- for what seemed an eternity, to see La Tour Eiffel. It was much larger than I expected.
Overpowering really and all metal. The tower was rusty brown in colour, soaring upwards into the blue Paris sky. We sat on a bench- at the south side just under the tower’s edge, munching on Pomme Frites and sipping Café Lattes.

Tom's pic of La tour Eiffel
 Sounds very French- n’est-ce pas?
Okay. It was like a big plate of golden French fries and a coffee- with milk.
Ya just gotta love Paris!

The cafes and restaurants- looked like one big movie set filled with extras, with servers scurrying about in white jackets, black pants or skirts and long dark ties. Above the scene of culinary delights, window boxes were overflowing with geraniums from second story windows.

We had dinner at a corner café- “Le Relais de Venise”. Patrons were lined out onto the street. This restaurant was on a quaint little corner with tables both outside and inside- on two levels. We chose it for several reasons.
It was quaint. So French. So Parisienne.
The lineup- waiting for tables, stretched out into the street. That was a positive sign. It was a no smoking establishment. Museums and Charles de Gaulle airport aside, everywhere else the people of Paris smoked- poor or not. Not quite as in your face as being in Germany let’s say- but they lag far behind Canadians in regards to smoke-free air.

It took us about a half hour to get a seat but once inside we were impressed. It couldn’t have been more French.
A variety of people.
A charming atmosphere.
Warm and welcoming servers.
The food was good but simple.
They only served one item- steak and pommes frites- French Fries-remember? A fresh salad with simple dressing to start. Basket after basket of baguette bread.
Café au lait.
Wine- a red and a white.
The steak- its doneness cooked as ordered, came covered in a sauce. The restaurant was ‘Son Entrecote”- in English “all you could eat”. The three of us did- two helpings- but with all that glorious French bread- that was it. Anyway, we wanted to save room for dessert.

Our Server Bendite & Me
 The deserts were decadent- including a plate of French vanilla ice cream piled high between two meringue bisquits that were soaking in and covered with a rich chocolate sauce. All this was topped with fresh whipped cream!
Tres decadent!

I loved Paris.
We all did.
It was absolutely stunning.
Such history.
Such colour- gold everywhere on statues, bridges, buildings and more.
It leaves you wanting more.

We’ll go back. Soon.