Category Archives: paris

team mossot

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I know that I’ve made no secret about my desire to find an elderly friend in France.  I also know I have written a few times about the elderly woman who lives next door to us, Mme Mossot, however I haven’t given her nearly enough time on the blog to accurately represent how important she has become in our lives in France.  If you don’t remember the stories about Mme Mossot, she’s our 85-year-old next door neighbor who first wrangled the wild kittens living in our garden and after that, she convinced us to adopt JJ (I just can’t bring myself to call him Justin), our massive French street cat.

The history of Mme Mossot is as long as her long life and I could write a two part book about her.  Part I of the book would be about her past life as an artist, an art journalist, an interior decorator, and an animal crusader.  Part II of the book would be about our interactions with Mme Mossot and it would read something like Tuesdays with Morrie, with a lot less death and a lot more quotes and advice. Mme. Mossot is a highly opinionated woman and although I love her for it, but I can guarantee that it’s much easier to be friends with her than to be related to her.

In the early fall, there was a special exhibition in Paris that Mme Mossot wanted to attend and I promised her that the kids and I would go with her.  The exhibit was at the Musee D’Orsay and it was called Misia.  Misia was the muse and benefactor to many famous artists in France in the early 1900s and this exhibit pulled together all the paintings of Misia made by all the famous painters she knew throughout the years.  

Since Mme Mossot lived in Paris most of her life she knows the city very well and when she told me it had been a couple of years since she had been to the Orsay, I believed her until we got to the door.  At that point, I suspected that it had been a little bit longer than a couple of years when she tried to show her French senior citizen’s card to the security people at the entrance of the museum as if it were the ticket desk.  She also tried to write a check at the desk to buy the tickets and although there is still an affinity for check-writing in France, the young man looked at her like she was from another planet.

Part of the reason that Mme Mossot was so interested in seeing the Misia exhibit was because her husband was the nephew of Pierre Bonnard, a famous French painter.  Bonnard was one of the primary painters at the Misia exhibit and when we entered, Mme Mossot started pointing out Bonnard paintings that she had seen before in her life at Bonnard’s house and at other shows of his.  It had always been clear to me that she has lived an exceptionally interesting life, but that day at the museum further reinforced my belief.  

The exhibit was great, and afterward Mme Mossot told us she’d like to take us out for gouter at the new restaurant that had opened at the Orsay.  Once we were seated at the restaurant, we scanned the menu and each ordered a dessert-type snack.  However, as soon as Mme Mossot’s ice cream arrived, she called the server back over to the table.  Apparently the menu had promised a praline cookie on the top of the ice cream, but when the ice cream arrived, the praline was nowhere to be found.  Mme Mossot complained to the server about “false advertising” the server gave her the classic French eye roll and told her they had run out of cookies.  After the server left, Mme Mossot told me that she was a “crusader for the tourists” in Paris who don’t know that they are being taken advantage of by the French and who don’t have the ability to speak up about it.

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Being a tourist can be hard, especially when you live in a foreign country and have a tendency to feel like a tourist all the time.  I’m just glad to know Mme Mossot’s got my back.    

Here is the picture of us in Paris that Mme Mossot took:

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real arachnophobia

Hey ho, friends! Sorry for the hiatus. I was out of internet access for a bit – that, and I’m lazy.

Nearly every vacation in France for kids is two weeks long. Some people would argue that it is way too much time to have off, but not me. I love it and so do my kids. Here’s the way I look at it: with a one week vacation, you either relax or travel, but you can’t do both happily. The two week school vacation in France is the perfect about of time for doing both: one week of lazing about and one week of seeing cool things. Pair that up with the very generous vacation schedule for working adults and you’ve got the makings of a very nice time.

The first week of vacation turned out to be the lazing about week except that we need to do something somewhat interesting before I was completely absorbed into a giant Lego abyss. A Lego abyss which involves non-stop talk about Lego, many audio sound effects to go along with the Lego action and chatter about which character is stronger and faster, etc. Try as I might not to get sucked in, I have two boys constantly trying to draw me in to the vortex by asking me questions like, “Mum, who is your favorite Ninjago spinner?” and “In your opinion, who is cooler, Coal or Kai?” Although I strongly advocate having an opion in life, these conversations are way out of my league. Way.

So I finally told the boys that we were going to take a trip to Paris to get out of our (my) Lego rut and learn something new. I was trying hard to convince them the Musee D’Orsay would be a great museum to see, especially since they just completed a major renovation. No dice. Then I was on to the Paris Science Museum, but I heard from a friend that school vacations are hell in that place. Finally we reached an agreement that we would go to the Natural HIstory Museum in Paris based on the fact that there would be dinosaurs present – my friend told me so.

When we arrived at the Museum, we immediately saw some giant bones hanging from the ceiling. At that point I exclaimed,”Hey, look at the dinosaur bones!” Unfortunately, my kids are the direct descents of their smartypants father, to which they replied, “Those aren’t dinosaur bones, those are WHALE bones.” Hmm. After further inspection, I could see that they were right, which I might have realized sooner if I had channeled my inner Cape Codder, since I have visited nearly every whaling museum in the New England area as a school kid.

Despite Owen’s fear of spiders, we decided to take a hiatus from the dinosaur search to see the special spider exhibit. His fear of spiders is a recent addition to the “Scared of Our House” syndrome that had plagued Eamon since we moved in here. The house is big and old and a little bit creaky and Eamon refuses to go to a different floor without another person present. Owen, on the other hand, was fine in our house until he saw what I can safely say is the biggest spider I have ever seen sitting on our basement floor. Since that time, he had referred to the spider as “Dracula” and now refuses to set foot in the basement except under duress.

The spider exhibit started out pretty simply with diagrams of spiders and their webs and progressed in complexity to the finale which was made up of real spiders and an exhibit showing scenes of spiders in the movies. To be clear, the movies featuring spiders were not scenes from Charlotte’s Web, but rather, the exhibition was called “Spiders From Horror Movies.” There was a slight hesitation on my part. Does a responsible mother let her kids see an exhibit entitled, “Spiders from Horror Movies?” The obvious answer is no, but I mean, how bad could it really be? It is, after all, a museum for kids.

Here are just some of the movies we saw clips from (there were others that I think I’ve blocked out):

  • Arachnophobia (1990)
  • The Lord of the Rings – Return of the King (2003)
  • Tarantula (1955)
  • Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
  • Raider’s of the Lost Ark (1981)

The spider scenes ranged from seeing a giant tarantula loom over a city and devour a horse (think Godzilla) , to seeing a giant infestation of spiders take over a town. But the scene that really took the cake was the scene from a movie I can’t remember where a guy opens his mouth and a load of spiders come out and starts to crawl up his head and down his chest. I nearly had to scrape Owen of the floor after that one. Another parenting milestone surpassed – scare your kid’s shitless so that they never go down your basement ever again.

After that movie experience, we were rushing toward the exit of the spider exhibit, when a photo caught my eye. It was a picture that looked just like the spider in our basement and I read the name of the spider out loud, “French House Spider.” When Owen found out that Dracula was not some rare breed of spider that happened to find a way into our basement, but rather a typical type of spider that could be found anywhere – like even in his bed – he nearly lost his mind.

At that point, we had to put the spider exhibit behind us, so we resumed our quest for the dinosaurs. After a full day of seeing nearly every species of mammal and insect, we found no dinosaurs. Not a single one. Another promise broken to my kids. It seems like they should be used to it by now, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, there was a big dinosaur exhibit at this museum but it closed six months ago. Go figure. I did, however, track down some other dinosaurs in Paris on the web after we got home that we’re going to make another trip to see – once they recover from the spider exhibit.

Here is a photo of the stampede in the middle of the museum. I think they’re all running away from the spider exhibit.

bye-bye, lily

Our French driver’s licence issues have taken front and center stage as our one year anniversary of our arrival in France is nearly here.  That means that there has been a significant fire placed under our respective asses in recent weeks.  This fire is not only hot, it is also painful.  Since we really needed to pass these licence tests we ended up signing up for driving classes with “the sure thing” who is also known as Monsieur F.  He’s the guy that owns the only English-language driving school in all of France and he is making a mint off of desperate ex-pats like us.

In order to get a French license you have to pass both a written test which is called the “code” and a driving test with a French DMV employee in a car.  The last time I took a driving or road rules test I was 16 and even back then, I don’t remember breaking a sweat.  I may be too old to remember this things, but I’m sticking with my current version of reality which is that the US tests weren’t that hard.  Let’s just say that I was imagining that the French tests would be about the same difficulty as the US tests.  Imagining this would not be the first mistake I’ve made in this country.

Our driving prep started in December when Monsieur F. came down to Fontainebleau to teach the 4 Vermonters the driving code.  Prior to his arrival he had sent us the French driving code book translated into English, which I proceeded not to read prior to our first class.  About 15 minutes into the class, I knew I was in serious trouble since on our first practice test of 40 questions I got 12 wrong.  To pass this test, you need to get less than 5 wrong.  This was not a straightforward test, as I thought it would be, it was a multiple choice test which could have more than one correct answer, but all the correct answers must be chosen to get credit for the answer.  I knew right away I was in some serious caca.

Monsieur F. proved to be not only a brilliant entrepreneur specializing in the desperate American demographic, but also completely off his rocker.  He personality was like the combination of your worst high school math teacher with a thick French accent and your friend’s great-uncle telling repetitive bad jokes during a holiday dinner.  One of his favorite jokes/repetitive phrases was to say something like, “If you don’t stop when the railroad lights are blinking, you will see God in a pyjama.  Bye-bye Lily!”  At first I laughed, because the joke was so absurd, then I nearly cried because I heard a variation of that joke about 100 more times.

There was one fleeting moment at the beginning of all this that I thought I might try to take the test in French to avoid having to travel to Paris for the English translated test, but that plan quickly bit the dust as I realized that I could barely pass the test in English, let alone in French.

The first day Monsieur F. came to our house he stayed for 9 hours teaching us driving code.  Just when I thought my head would explode I realized that we had barely made a dent in the amount of knowledge it takes to pass the test.  I’ll fast forward through the details of two more nine-hour days of driving code, the seemingly endless hours of practice tests and the unending string of bad jokes to tell you about test day.

We were supposed to be in Paris at 8am for a last-minute test prep at the driving school before driving to the testing location to sit for the test.  My friend was kind enough to offer to take our kids at 7am so that we could attempt to make it up to the driving school on time.  Against all warnings, we decided to drive into Paris since we had two different locations to go to in a short amount of time.  This proved to be one of the worst ideas we’ve had in a long time.  After sitting in two hours of gridlock to get to the driving school, we abandoned that plan and decided to drive directly to the test site since we knew that we would never make it on time otherwise.  The test was scheduled to start at 10am and at 10:01am our car rolled into the parking lot.  Thankfully, nothing in France starts on time.  By the time we arrived, I was a doubtful, hyperventilating mess.  Sitting in three hours of Paris gridlock can unravel even the best test taker, so I tried to take some calming breaths and focus on the driving code.

When the lights went down in the room to signal the start of the test, I thought I was going to combust.  There was so much French driving code jammed into my head at that point, I wasn’t sure I could get it out successfully.  But when the lights went up to signal the end of the test, I was relieved because not only had we made it to the test, but it was finally over.

I know you’re wondering what my test result was…………..I PASSED (and so did Tim)!

Now we just have to take the driving test.  Bye-bye Lily.

I did take a picture of the sunrise over gridlock on the test day, but I decided that I’d rather share this one instead.  This is the Chateau Fontainebleau in the morning.

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me want bert

Nearly 20 years ago, my sister gave me one of my absolute favorite possessions. It is a large picture of Bert from Sesame Street. This is not just any picture, however, it is a monoprint from an artist who lived in DC at the time named Jonathan Blum.

One of the more interesting things about this picture is that, although it is surely Bert, it is a picture of him from the nose upward.  No mouth, no chin, just nose, eyes, unibrow and hair.  The story goes, that Jonathan Blum had some sort of obsession with foreheads and intellectualism, so he only made pictures of people from the nose up – the rest of the face was unimportant to him.  He chose Bert as one of his main subjects at that time because absolutely nobody has a better forehead than Bert.  Or a better unibrow, for that matter.

This piece of art that hangs in our living room in Vermont is large and although it is clearly Bert, googly eyes and all, it usually takes people a couple of glances at it to see the Bert in it.  It looks kind of abstract because Bert’s mouth isn’t visible, but then once people start to focus on the unibrow, within seconds they start to recognize the subject.  They usually exclaim, “Wait a second…………………..is that BERT?”  I would venture to guess that he has one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.

That’s why, when I was at the Louvre last week, looking at some great art, I stopped right in front of one of the giant Easter Island heads.  I was trying to ignore Eamon as he kept saying, “ME WANT GUM GUM,” in direct reference to the Easter Island head scene in the movie Night at the Museum (hilarious, by the way).  But because I am much too sophisticated for such sophomoric thought and behavior, rather than focus on the Night at the Museum reference, my mind went directly to Sesame Street and my favorite felt guy, Bert.  I realized that this Easter Island guy has a really great forehead and a great brow ridge – much like Bert. So, in honor of Jonathan Blum, and as a shout out to Bert back in Vermont, I decided that the Easter Island guy should be Blumified.  Personally, I think he looks great in this artistic rendering, what do you think?

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Here is the real deal back in VT:

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Thanks for the great gift, TT!

Side note:  I have a friend in Vermont who so loved Bert, he went to Jonathan Blum’s studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn to score one of his own.  Sadly for him, Bert is no longer a subject for Jonathan Blum – he has moved on to rabbis, goats, and animals with fruit on their heads.

forgive me

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I am not a line waiter. I am a line hater.  My maximum patience-o-meter doesn’t really allow for a lot of line waiting because I need to save every ounce of patience I have for dealing with my two kids. That takes a lot and therefore, I have no patience for lines.

When Tim told me that he and the boys were going to Paris for the day to go to the top of Notre Dame, my mind immediately went back to the last time I was at Notre Dame and saw the giant line snaking around the building for this exact event (which is a different line than getting into the cathedral).  Also, given that I’d used up my line-waiting annual allotment at “free museum day” a couple of weeks ago, I figured that I would take a pass on this line waiting bonanza. But……………………then I realized I would miss the view.  There is only one thing that I hate more than lines and that is the feeling that I missed out on something cool. So I sucked up all my remaining patience and joined them for their Paris excursion.

We got there about 20 minutes before the opening and there was already a line snaking down the side of the building. I could feel my desire to wait in this line plummeting. But the allure of the view kept me going – barely.

As you may have realized from previous posts, the French don’t know how to wait in lines. The good thing was that most of the people in the line were not French and therefore had a better understanding of line etiquette, however I was taking no chances and I  stepped up my Frenchified anti-line-cutting moves.  That meant gluing myself on to the back of the person in front of me.  I think he was a bit scared by my proximity to him, since he kept checking his pockets to make sure his cell phone was still there.

Finally, after about 1.5 hours, we made it in!  The walk up the tower was gruelling, with over 400 tiny steps to the top.  Once we got there, it was worth every second of line waiting.  In fact, it was worth every nano-second.

I busted out my camera, to take some outstanding photos of the gargoyles and the Eiffel Tower, only to find that my batteries were dead.  I then put in the back-up batteries, and guess what?  They were dead too.  I think it was my cosmic payback for being a line-hater outside of a holy place, since I had at least 1.5 hours to check my camera and buy new batteries at any number of shops around Notre Dame.

At least I had my iPhone and my memory.

marais

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So the Eiffel Tower is cool and so is Notre Dame, but the real “best” parts of Paris lie out of the downtown area.  We’ve been slowly winding our way through all of the neighborhoods and finding nice places a bit more out of the way.  One of the best places so far is the Marais – a hipster neighborhood that has some nice art, cool used clothing and some killer falafel.  A recipe for success every time – at least in my book.

Like any hipster place, it is fun to visit, but it would be challenging to live there. This is mainly because there are a lot of hipster-gawkers like me in the Marais. Hipster-gawkers are people hanging around trying to remember what it was like to be a hipster.  Now that I’m married with two kids, I am slowly coming to the realiziation that I’ve compeltely lost that hipster vibe that I may have once had (or at least thought I had).

Now, most of my clothing has butter or jelly stains on it and I haven’t had my haircut since I moved here since I’m worried that my rubbish French will have me leaving the salon a scarily unsatisfied customer. Frankly, I am looking more like a hippy than a hipster. It doesn’t make me like the Marais any less though. I feel like my presence in the Marais gives a fair warning to the hipsters – enjoy your hipsterness while you can because soon you, too, may have butter on your shirt. But if you live in France, at least it will be really good butter.

masterpiece

20110812-083611.jpgThere are so many times that I’ve waited to see a piece of art that I’ve heard so much about, only to be completely underwhelmed when I finally get to see it. Not that I’m not happy to have the opportunity to see great art, but sometimes I am left wondering how art is judged and how greatness is achieved.

And then there are other times when I am completely caught off guard by how beautiful a piece of art is, when I had absolutely no expectation of it at all.  That was how I felt when we saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace (see at a distance above) at the Louvre last week.  It was nearly impossible to take my eyes off of her. I realize that she has no head and no arms, but because of her lack of parts, she seemed very mysterious.  Like someone you’d like to know more about.

And you can see by the picture that I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time taking my eyes off of her.

We showed up at the Louvre for “free museum day,” which happens the first Sunday of every month.  Not totally sure I would recommend this, because what you don’t pay in admission, you pay by waiting in a giant line with all the other geniuses who thought they were getting a deal at “free museum day.”  But we got in eventually and had a great time.

At the Louvre, we stopped by to say ‘hi’ to the Mona Lisa, painted by one of my favorite guys Leo and she met all expectations.  Ok, so she’s smaller than you would hope, and behind bulletproof glass, and there are about a billion people standing in the way of a clear visual on her, but I could tell she was looking right at me.  I just know it.  She may have even winked.