August 13

The take a number machine wasn’t working at the Thalys ticket office, the powder blue uniformed clerk was kneeling at it as if in prayer, We waited while he and the woman next to him flipped the paper feeder roll a number of times and then we went to the next open counter.

Counter person: “You need to go to the counter that is on your ticket number.

Us: But we don’t have a ticket because the machine is broken.

Counter person: Then you should go to counter 21- because that is what should be on your ticket.

We didn’t ask- we went. There we were sold tickets to Paris for about $150. But, they could not assign us seats since the train was oversold.

Counter person: If they have no seats they will place a folding chair in the aisle.

Me: For $150 we will sit in folding chair for 4 hours to Paris?

Counter person: yes

And then I decided to shut up since it is a long walk to Paris.

We had comfortable seats. We passed through Belgium, a ferris wheel sits alongside the Antwerp station and the French countryside and four hours later we were in Paris.

Through the miracle of modern technology and SMS we found Julia who showed us how to buy sandwiches at a Paul Bakery and we ate them on the grounds next to the pyramides of the Louvre. I’m finished complaining about map reading skills so suffice it to say we strolled through the Tuilleries towards the Champs Elysee before we decided that we were to meet Julia in front of Center George Pompedou in the other direction. Julia marched us down an avenue crowded with street vendors and shoppers, over Pont au Change – onto Ile du la Cite. There we visited Sainte-Chapelle a large church where floor to ceiling stained glassed windows illustrate the stories of the bible in more than 1,000 vignettes. (I suppose for the illiterate masses of the middle ages when the church was built).

Eric sat on a portico and looked at the stone carvings, making more inferences about theology, the masses and the middle ages.

Exhausted-we returned to the hotel- the Best Western Opera Galion tucked on a little street off Rue D’Opera. We had a little windless room perched behind an inner courtyard. When we checked in the desk clerk asked us if it was our first time in Europe. I assumed it was just a friendly question, but later I thought it was perhaps a way to judge if the tiny enclave behind the glass doors was going to freak out our double-queen-sized beds, window with a balcony American minds. It was great, pull the curtains and time and the city disappeared. I think we finally recovered from jet-lag.

Warning- Paris distances cannot be judged using an Amsterdam Map scale. We took a long walk to Hotel Du Ville where we met Julia and Suzy. We marched and marched some more around Marais looking for an appropriate restaurant.

Suzy: “Julia always thinks she is going to find something better, so she has to check every one.”

Me: Its an inherited trait, she gets it from her father (and maybe also her aunt Myra- a double whammy) its on both sides.

So after a stroll through the Jewish Quarters (falafel, even the best falafel in the world according to the NY Times, was rejected and we ended up in a forgetable restaurant. Two hours of sitting in the basement cave- the fact that the waiter took our order after a half hour and then returned to take it again an hour later should have been a tip off that this was not the fastest service ever.

An even longer walk home. Time to master the Paris Metro.

August 14

Paris.

The Louvre. The last time we went to Paris we spent 48 hours and didn’t attempt it. This time ( with just about the same 48 hours) we did.

We slept late. We finally figured out how to eat breakfast in a “cool” Paris brassiere. What was left of the morning was spent buying Railroad tickets to Clermont Ferrand and gazing over Paris from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette.Tres Bon! A Spanish woman took our picture and we will try to post the gorditos (little chubby ones) with the Eiffel tower growing out of Eric’s shoulder.

Ah the Louvre-

I’ve read that Louvre fatigue is a real syndrome causing tourists to collapse among the eight miles of artwork. That said, one wonders why everyone tries to crowd into the room with the Mona Lisa. I got to see the top of her head as tens of dozes of flashes continously popped. The “do not take flash pictures” sign, is roundly ignored in the Louvre.

I will do my best to prevent Louvre fatigue by recounting only one Louvre story.We paused by one large painting of David slaying Goliath. The Renaissance painter gave it his own interpretation, two canvasses show David wrestling with Goliath and attempting to slay him with a golden sword while the sling shot lies abandoned in the foreground.

A Spanish woman asked us if we knew the story- and Eric responded in English and I translated that it was in fact a Bible story. (if not exactly as we recall it)

Oh she responded she had never heard of it. What I meant to tell her was that Christian belief states that Jesus is from the line of David and that David was the first king of Israel and that this is a story where he demonstrates that he is worthy of leading the Israelites. But hey- I was in the early stages of Louvre fatigue and it was Spanish- so she got the condensed version of even that much. She thanked us, wrote down the names of David and Golaith and told me she was going home to read up.

Dinner (organized by Julia and Suzy) on a blanket(okay- sarong and plastic poncho) by the Eiffel Tower. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and thee. (And sushi for Eric and some other stuff and lots of drunk company- perhaps it is the only place in the world where people come up right to your picnic and offer to sell you bottles of wine, beer or a pack of cigarettes. After dark, the Eiffel Tower twinkles for 3 minutes. We watched it twinkle and took lots of pictures to document the experience.

August 15

Paris to Clermont Ferrand

No cool breakfast this morning. The brassiere closed. Breakfst at the hotel with the ferocious cafe machine that shoots steam in every direction when we press the button for cafe au lait.

We did get to meet Aza, an Israeli who was in town to book performance dates for her choral group. She also had taught Hebrew to Russians (a fact I found out when I tried to translate Eric’s attempt to tell her that his Hebrew name was Israel and did so incorrectly.) And also she had been a history teacher (I forget how that came up). So we related our journey’s into Eric’s father’s past, she told us how her father had been in the Jewish Brigade as well as the Haganah and she complained about how difficult it was to do business in France. And then she invited us to get in contact with her when we came to Israel and she would take us to a performance of her choral group.

We split up for the morning. Eric- visited the George Pompidou Center and I aimed for the Musee Carnevelet. But alas it was closed today. So I sat in the park in Place Les Vosges, Paris’s oldest public square- looked atVictor Hugo’s house and hobbled over to the Bastille- which for what I could tell was a traffic circle with a monument in the middle. The most discernable reference to the French Revolution are the tiled depictions in the Metro Station. Without Eric, to carefully frame he photos, my rushed attempts to capture them are unworthy of the experience.

A hot train ride to Clermont Ferrand and dinner awaited us on Wendy’s balcony, watching the city twinkle in the twilight, while eating and drinking copious amounts for  3 hours.  I am thinking of writing a book titled under the Central Masif Sun, or a Week in Clermont –

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