Sunday, May 31, 2015

Paris Diary part 11

Day 13
21°, sunny.

I had the day off, so I wandered around Paris by myself. Sometimes that's the best way to see a city. You can just go wherever the day takes you without worrying about what anyone else wants to do. This happened to be a beautiful sunny day, so I got lucky there.

I went to Victor Hugo's House at Place des Vosges and the Holocaust Memorial. Victor Hugo's house looked like an expensive place to live and ultimately told me nothing about the man. I liked Rembrandt's house in Amsterdam better. The Holocaust Memorial was close enough to our apartment that we could have easily gone there every day, but it was the kind of place that is too depressing to go more than once.

I went to the Pompidou Center and checked out the Musée National d'Art Moderne and saw some Matisse, Magritte, Picasso, Chagall and Kandinsky, among others.

I spent a little time at Arènes de Lutèce, an ancient Roman amphitheater, and far more time at Jardin des Plantes, the botanical garden.

I made dinner for my roommates with our new groceries in our big kitchen. It was neither the best nor worst meal any of us had in Paris, but it was nice to eat in for a change. If you're in Paris for a week, you can eat out every night. If you're there for a month, you either make a few meals yourself or rob a bank.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Paris Diary part 10

Day 12
20°, sunny.

Lily & I spent most of the day near the Seine before going up to Montmartre later on. We worked at night, so we had most of the day off to explore.

The highlight of the day was riding scooters around the short and winding roads of Montmartre and driving a 1960s Citroën DS. Lily & I both have limited experience with driving scooters in Hong Kong, but I've driven more in Mainland China.

The Citroën DS was something else altogether. It looks different on the outside and feels different on the inside. The steering wheel was attached to the column at a central point just like any other car, but rather than have several spokes that branch out like most cars, this only had one arm connected to the wheel. It felt strange and looked like the steering wheel was floating in air.

But the most unusual thing about this car, in my opinion, was that the gear stick was mounted on the steering column. This may have been common practice at the time, but I have always driven cars with gear sticks between the seats. When coming to a stop, my right arm automatically reaches down, even when I drive an automatic. It took a while to get used to reaching up when I wanted to shift gears.

The difference between driving in France and driving in China is like the difference between eating a handmade chocolate truffle from a maître pâtissier and eating a lump of dog shit off the ground. Pardon my French.

I don't idolize France or French people. They have their own share of problems. But when it comes to following the rules of the road and common courtesy, the French are a million miles above the Chinese.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Public Shaming Through DNA

An NGO that's been trying to convince people in Hong Kong to pick up after themselves called Hong Kong Cleanup has just joined an advertising agency in order to publicly shame the litterbugs of Hong Kong.

Through DNA tests from the trash they collected, they created digital posters of the people who don't know how to use a trash can. Some of these posters are now up on billboards in the city. The billboards basically say this person is wanted for throwing a cigarette on the ground or gum or whatever trash was tested.

On the one hand, something needs to be done about how much people treat this city like their own personal trash can. I don't mind the public shaming. If you spit out your gum on the sidewalk, you've already shamed yourself. The posters don't encourage the public to find the person and beat them to death with their own cigarettes. They simply point out that the person shown has committed a crime.

On the other hand, how accurate is this DNA testing? One article said that the digital images are never going to be 100% accurate. They are more like a “family resemblance”. There's also no way of knowing how old the person is through their DNA. So you could see a picture of yourself on a billboard accusing you of littering when it was actually your son or grandfather doing the littering.

This might be a minor issue. Especially in a country where no one gives a rat's ass about littering. But sooner or later this technology can be used for more serious crimes. If there's ever a billboard of someone accusing them of murder or rape, they better have done it. Close enough isn't good enough.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paris Diary part 9

Day 11
16°, heavy clouds but no rain.

After work, Lily & I went to an “American” restaurant. There was some discussion about the wisdom of going to a restaurant in Paris that specializes in American food, but it was actually a pretty good meal with very nice homemade cookies.

Lily thought we should go so I could have some familiar food from home. I assumed that it would be nothing like actual American food. The restaurant was supposed to have a New York theme, but all the signs and menus were in French, of course. It looked nothing like a New York restaurant, and nothing like an American restaurant that is supposed to be French.

In the end, there was nothing authentically American about it, but it was a pretty good meal at some very low prices. In Paris, low prices are not all that common.

After dinner, we took a walk around the 5th arrondissement. Despite the chance of rain in the early evening, the sky cleared up and it was a beautifully invigorating night. I can think of worse places to walk at night.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Paris Diary part 8

Day 10
20°, sunny.

Lily & I woke up early and went to Versailles, which is very easy to get to from the city and a nice place to spend the morning.

We saw most of the house in the morning – including the Grand Galerie, the Parade Apartment, the King and Queen's Chambers, Marie Antoinette's Apartment, the Royal Chapel, the Congress Room and the Opéra Royal.

After a nice lunch, we went to the Grand Trianon and the Queen's Hamlet. Even the smaller out of the way cottage was a mansion. The way these royals lived while their people were starving, it's no surprise how they ended up.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Paris Diary part 7

Day 9
20°, some clouds.

After work and a brief trip to one of the beaches on Cap d'Antibes, we had a simple lunch that was far less elaborate than our dinner the night before.

After lunch, what was supposed to be a quick dip in the swimming pool turned into a bit of drama. Another woman in the pool accidentally pushed me under water and then panicked, keeping both of us under longer than I would have liked. No one drowned, but I lost my breath and the other woman did a lot of crying. Lily and some guy pulled me out of the pool while some other people pulled out the woman who dragged me down.

When everyone was out of the water and breathing, I made a bad joke about Lily getting her hair wet, and the woman who caused all the commotion just kept on crying. I thought it was interesting how differently we reacted to the same situation, but to be fair, she was already panicking before anything even went wrong. So obviously there were some swimming issues there to begin with. I think I was pulled out of the water before I really had a chance to panic.

After that, Lily & I took the train back to Paris. Our roommate stayed because there was more work to do. Lily & I were originally going to stay for most of the day, but after the pool incident, a few people agreed that it would be better for everyone if we left. I didn't mind going back to our apartment. A later train would have only meant getting in late at night anyway.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Paris Diary part 6

Day 7
16°, sunny.

After a long day at work, Lily & I watched the sunset over the city from our apartment's rooftop terrace.

Later, our roommate and I went to a dance club in the 9th arrondissement. Lily didn't want to go, so she stayed in. I'm not a big fan of loud clubs, but I looked at it as a chance to get to know our roommate a little better. We would all be living together for a month, so I figured we might as well do some bonding. She mostly got drunk while several foreigners hit on us, and I took her home.

Day 8
18°, sunny.

Lily, our roommate and I took the train from Gare de Lyon to Antibes. It was a five hour train ride, which gets a little tedious after a few hours, but the scenery along the way was beautiful.

In Antibes, we worked and spent the night in a large estate owned by a Scottish expat. He spoke French, of course, but it was fun to practice my rusty Gaelic with him.

This house did not have a front yard and back yard. It had grounds. There was an English garden with landscape pools and fountains, as well as a modern swimming pool that overlooked the Mediterranean. The place was not a palace, but about as close as you can get.

Our dinner at the house was a big affair with more courses than anyone really needs and people in uniforms serving our food. If rich people eat like that all the time, it's no wonder that they are so out of touch with the real world.

After dinner, Lily & I spent some time in the hot tub, which is not the worst way to end the day. We had a nice international conversation with people from France, Spain, Canada, and the Scottish owner of the house.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Paris Diary part 5

Day 5 – Easter Sunday
12°, cloudy morning, sunny afternoon.

Work and a brief visit to Église Saint-Augustin and Tour Montparnasse.

Our first attempt at grocery shopping was made difficult by the fact that it was a Sunday – when stores are typically closed in Paris, and it was Easter – when even the smaller convenience stores are closed.

Day 6
15°, sunny.

We made up for our grocery blunder and discovered that our apartment was surrounded by Monoprix, Franprix and Carrefour all within an easy walking distance. Our apartment had a nice kitchen and this was the first time we really used it.

After work, Lily, our roommate and I went to a fashion show. Fashion Week was over, but there were still a few lower profile fashion shows throughout the city. I've never cared about fashion, but Lily was curious and our roommate was into it.

After the fashion show, we had dinner at a forgettable little restaurant. We had some great meals in Paris, but not every single place is going to be the best. Like any other city, Paris has plenty of mediocre and even terrible places to eat.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Paris Diary part 4

Day 4
12°, cloudy most of the day, clear at night.

More work and a trip to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and the Temple de la Sibylle on top of that hill.

From the park, Lily & I walked around Montmartre. After lunch, we went to Sacré Coeur and the 300 steps to the top of the dome. It was cloudy, but the view was still beautiful.

After Sacré Coeur, we rushed through the tourist neighborhood and went to Espace Dalí, which has some Salvador Dalí, but most of the art there is by other people.

We ended our day in Montmarte on Boulevard de Clichy, home of the city's most famous red light district and Moulin Rouge. We were there in the daytime, so it was not all that seedy.

Dinner was at an authentic French bistro on Île Saint-Louis.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Paris Diary part 3

Day 3
12°, cloudy, light rain at night.

Lily & I took our roommate to the Eiffel Tower. We were just there, but she had never seen it, so why not.

I was with two women who like to shop, so we walked down the Champs Élysées and over to Les Halles, passing through Jardin des Tuileries. My heart sank when I saw KFC and Pizza Hut in the Fontaine des Innocents area. With all the great food in Paris, I was always surprised to see so many KFCs.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Paris Diary part 2

Day 2
12°, cloudy morning, sunny day.

We all went to work early in the morning. This was not a vacation, after all. We were technically there for work. Though I'm sure we all went because it was Paris.

Dinner was at Sixieme Sens on Rue de la Roquette near the Bastille. The best thing about this restaurant was that the owner was also the chef and waiter. It was small enough that he could handle all the tables by himself. Rather than use the menu, we let him make whatever he wanted for us. I think we got a better meal that way.

After dinner, we took a walk around Place de la Bastille.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Paris Diary part 1

Day 1
12°, cloudy in the morning but sunny the rest of the day.

Lily & I arrived in Paris, along with our roommate, whom we met on the ride from the airport. We were taken to the beautiful apartment that we would all share for the next month. This apartment had everything we needed, but best of all, it had three bedrooms and three bathrooms. I like having roommates, but I love having my own bathroom.

Lily & I went to Notre Dame and walked around the 5th arrondissement while our roommate took a nap. It was a long flight, but there would be time to sleep later.

We went to the Eiffel Tower because you have to. We would end up seeing it a lot in the next month, but we figured we might as well go up to the top on our first day. We also did a quick walk through the Louvre since it was on the way back to the apartment. More or less. We spent more time there later.

Dinner was at a nice restaurant with terrace views of Jardin du Luxembourg followed by a leisurely walk around the Latin Quarter.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

An American in Paris part 6

I'm back in Hong Kong. Even a full month away has to end sooner or later. It felt more like sooner. If I had to describe Paris in one word, it would be delicious.

Paris was delicious. Le plats était délicieux.

I would have gained considerable weight in that month, but I exercised a lot. There was a lot of walking. I walked pretty much every street in Quartier latin, every tiny street on Île Saint-Louis and Île de la Cité, and most of Montmartre, Marais and Montparnasse.

I walked through Jardin des Plantes, Bois de Vincennes, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Bois de Boulogne and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and up a million steps to the tops of Cathédrale de Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and Basilique du Sacré Coeur. Fortunately, most of the taller sights have elevators.

I walked the length of Forum des Halles, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Boulevard Haussmann, Avenue des Ternes and Rue de Rivoli, plus more than a few museums, including Musée du Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Musée Rodin, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Musée Marmottan and Espace Dalí.

Of course, I walked up and down the Seine more than a few times. Our apartment was a bridge away from Quai de la Tournelle, which is a great starting point for a nice quay walk.

I also took a side trip to Antibes, so there was more walking there.

A month can be a long time or it can pass in the blink of an eye. Toutes les choses doivent passer.