Tuesday, July 29, 2008


(Part Four)


After going our separate ways this morning (Newman joined the Old Marais Quarter walking tour, while i checked out Musee d' Orsay and Musee de l'Orangerie), we met up 3:00PM at the Notre Dame Cathedral, another one of the most visited tourist spots in Paris.

Except we weren't going
inside the cathedral. Instead, we were in line outside, for the tour of the cathedral tower.

The Notre-Dame tower visit is a trip through all of the upper parts of the western façade, dating from the 13th century. The main attraction is the Galerie des Chimères, where the cathedral's legendary gargoyles (chimères) can be found. These were built by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century and the 17th century Emmanuel Bell.

It costs EURO 7.50/pax; and alarmingly, the path to the top of the South Tower takes something like 422 steps. (No, there is no elevator, obviously!)

Only around fifteen or so people are let in at any given time, so the queue can be very long. After more than 30 minutes of waiting, Newman and i were finally climbing the narrow, round stairs to the top.

Below are some pics of the gargoyles. In the spirit of fun, i've decided to make some funny [fingers crossed] captions for each pic:

"Yum! This steriod-laden, commercial chicken is much more tasty than that free-range, organic shit!"

"Oops!! Don't tell the Pope i accidentally spit on that 300lb loud American tourist wearing red and yellow plaid shorts, okay?"

"Yes, Bossing."

"This view of the Eiffel Tower is so boring. Perhaps i should invite the missus to go on a holiday to Amsterdam this summer?!"

[Sigh] "When will the equities markets ever recover? Only my APPLE stock is in the black....."

These eerie-looking (some would say "demonic") half-man, half-beast monsters are carved out of stone, and adorn the gutters of the Cathedral. The word "gargoyle" is derived from Latin, meaning gullet or drain. So that's what these creatures are, drainpipes.

Each grotesque figure has a passageway inside that carries rainwater from the roof and out through the gargoyle's mouth. But since the 16th century, when lead drainpipes were invented, the gargoyles are now only used for decorative purposes.

Of course, not everyone is satisfied with such a prosaic explanation. Superstition has it that the gargoyles are meant to ward off evil spirits.

Which doesn't really make sense, if you think about it. A Catholic cathedral needing demons to ward off evil spirits??! I don't think so.

(Check out the official website, http://www.notredamedeparis.fr, for more info)

Yet again, thanks to Newman for the pics. Click here for his post about climbing up Notre Dame Cathedral.

Friday, July 04, 2008


(Part Three)


Finally, the main reason for taking the long flight to Paris was here!

First, a brief background for non-tennis fanatics. Roland Garros is one of professional tennis' most prestigious tournaments, which comprise the "Grand Slams", the others being the Australian Open (Melbourne), Wimbledon (London), and US Open (New York).

It is played on this red clay surface (crushed brick, actually), which has a slow bounce; therefore, matches tend to be full of long baseline rallies, as players try to pound each other into submission. For mens' singles, which are best-of-five sets, it is not uncommon for matches to last beyond 3 hours each.

The tournament itself runs for two weeks, but we were watching only the first 3 days.

The French, being the French, named their home Slam after a real person, the World War I aviator and war hero Roland Garros. Click here for a brief account of his career.

Of course, no one except tennis purists cares about this; and everyone refers to the tournament as simply the "French Open". Click here for Newman's vivid account of how he got our tix, through the French Tennis Federation's website.

It was an unexpectedly smooth and easy journey via the Metro, from our hotel going to the Roland Garros complex. As we entered the tennis facility during the first day of the tournament, Newman remarked that compared to the US Open, the grounds of Roland Garros are quite compact, making it very easy to walk from the big stadiums to the smaller, outside courts.

And the prices being charged at the food concession stands were expensive, but not quite exhorbitant; unlike the US Open, which he described as shameless [with matching shake of the head].

The merchandise store was another matter, though. Imagine, 30 EURO for a cotton T-shirt with the Roland Garros logo?!

For me, it was quite an experience being able to see all these world-class tennis players live. Watching tennis on TV can be very misleading, as the ball travels so slowly on screen. But in real life, all the pros (even the willow-thin, teenage girls) hit the ball quite hard and flat and with great consistency.

Check out below photos of the grounds crew as they prepared the courts in between practices and matches:

This beefy guy looks like he could be a bouncer at the Moulin Rouge during evenings, no?

Sweeping with Gallic flair makes all the difference.

We were a bit unlucky though, as during our 3rd and last day, there was a continuous drizzle and play was mostly washed out for the entire day. Yeah, quite a bummer, with nothing to do but wait and wait for the rains to stop. . .and eat Haagen-Daz ice cream while at it. Haha....

Again, thanks to Newman for the pics. Click here to see his post regarding the crazy tennis action at Roland Garros.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

(Part Two)

(The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls)

Newman and i arrived at Paris within a few hours apart of each other, me from Manila and him from NJ, and met at our hotel. There was some delay in checking into our room, not least because the hotel's old-fashioned elevator was capable of carrying maximum 3 persons only; and could hardly contain the two of us and our luggage.

Our first order of business was to join a walking tour of Paris' Montmartre district. This area is a hill with the highest point in the city, and is rather bohemian in character; or at least, was. After all, this was where artists like Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh spent parts of their lives, attracted by the cheap rents and artistic vibe.

In fact, the windmill depicted in Renoir's "Le Moulin de la Galette" (1876) still stands, albeit now converted into a restaurant.

At present, Montmartre has been gentrified a bit, with lots of sidewalk cafes (the Parisians are no. 1 in terms of people-watching!) and souvenir shops selling "J'aime Paris" T-shirts. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of interesting sites to see.

According to our guide, Michael (an American transplanted from Los Angeles), Montmartre originally wasn't part of Paris. In fact, until now, there are senior citizens who talk of "going down to Paris" for the day.

Check out the Basilique Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) below, with its distinctive white finish. This is due to a certain type of stone used, which constantly weathers out its calcite, so that it bleaches with age to a chalky whiteness. In fact, this basilica never needs exterior cleaning!

There is also a plaza with lots of cafes, and lots of local artists selling their artwork, and some of them can paint your portrait right on the spot. I liked this artist's works the most:

But for me, the highlight of our walk was this statue, and the fascinating story behind it.

From my memory, here's how the story goes:

There was a man, who worked as a clerk in an office, doing the same things day in and day out. He was completely nondescript in every way.

Then one day, he discovered he had the ability to walk through walls. He consulted his doctor, who prescribed him two pills. He took one pill, and put the other one in his medicine cabinet, completely forgetting about it.

One day, a new boss was assigned to their office. Unfortunately, he fell out of favor with this man. Thus, the new boss demoted him to a dark broom closet, right beside his own private office.

Our protagonist was hurt, and angry, and looking for revenge. One day, he stuck his head through the wall and into his boss' office, and heckled him, calling him all sorts of names. Naturally, his boss couldn't believe what he was seeing; and thought he was having hallucinations.

This went on every day, until finally his boss went crazy, and was finally brought by ambulance for confinement into an asylum.

Our hero, pleased with himself, realized that his life up to that point had been a waste; and resolved to change. So, he turned into a life of crime, and became a notorious thief (while maintaining his day job, take note).

Pretty soon, all the newspapers were full of stories about this thief who simply could not be caught. Bursting with pride, and unable to keep his secret any longer, our hero reveals to the police that he was this thief.

Disbelief and derision greeted his revelation, much to his dismay. Resolving to finally get the much-deserved recognition and fame he felt he deserved, he deliberately arranged to get caught during one of his heists.

Of course, shortly thereafter, it was a simple matter of escaping from behind bars.

He decided to settle down to a quiet life. Then, one day, as he was walking along the street, he saw this beautiful lady, and it was love at first sight! For both of them!

Unfortunately, it turned out she was already married, to a brute who locked her in her bedroom every night while he went out carousing and drinking with his friends.

No problem for him. Every night, he sneaked into her bedroom where they made wild, passionate love.

One day, he felt a terrible headache coming on, and rummaged inside his medicine cabinet for some aspirin. Feeling better, he went to the woman's house for their nocturnal rendezvous.

As he was passing through the walls in her garden, he suddenly couldn't move further and became stuck inside the thick wall. Then he realized that he must have taken the pills prescribed by his doctor by mistake, instead of aspirin.

So there he is to this day.

Check out this site for the complete (and official) version of the story, and see how (in)accurate my memory is.

(Check out www.paris-walks.com for more detailed info on Paris Walks)

Thanks to Newman for the pics. Click
here to see his post regarding our Montmartre walking tour.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

(Part One)

(This is a series of rambling posts regarding my trip to Paris in May with Newman. Funnily enough, we were able to visit the tourist spots on our list, except for this certain popular monument named the Eiffel Tower. Hence, the title of this series)


Bonjour, everyone!

A must-see in Paris, even for people not inclined to visit museums, is the Louvre, the world's largest museum.

The Musée du Louvre has been open since 1793, and houses 35,000 works of art drawn from eight departments, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space dedicated to the permanent collections, ranging from Egyptian antiquities, Islamic Art, sculptures, paintings and the like.

Yup, you could say it's a repository of really ancient stuff. How ancient? Well, the cut-off point for the Louvre's collection is 1848, so if you happen to have been born during this era, you should feel right at home.

Experts and hardcore enthusiasts would say that it would take one week to fully explore and appreciate the Louvre's collections. One week! Of course, 99.99% of tourists have no such inclinations, and prefer to go direct to the "star" attractions.

Check out the pic above of the Louvre's main entrance. The pyramid, completed in 1989, was by I.M. Pei; and stands about 66 feet tall and made of clear glass about 3/4" thick. Of course, it doesn't really blend it with the building's exterior architecture, but what the heck, no one's really complaining.

The management is smart enough to post signs with directions to the main attractions. Let's check out one of them, shall we?

Take a guess what all these people below are gawking and taking countless photos of:

Any guesses? Nope, its not the Venus de Milo.

Okay, okay, here it is:

Yup, it's the world-renown
Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda), a 16th century portrait painted during the Italian Renaissance by Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 - May 2, 1519), who was by all accounts one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Whew! (Unfortunately, the present generation knows him mainly in relation to that crappy best-seller, Da Vinci Code)

Interestingly, over the years there has been huge debate on who the subject of the painting was. According to Wikipedia, women such as Isabella of Naples or Aragon, Cecilia Gallerani, Costanza d'Avalos —who was also called the "merry one" or La Gioconda, Isabella d'Este, Pacifica Brandano or Brandino, Isabela Gualanda, Caterina Sforza, and Leonardo's mother Caterina had all been named the sitter. It was even believed to be a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself!
(in drag, perhaps? hehe ;-D)

Thankfully, at present, the subject's identity is held with certainty to be Lisa del Giocondo, a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany, and the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. The painting was commissioned for their new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea.

The Mona Lisa is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bullet-proof glass. About 6 million people view the painting at the Louvre each year.

The expression on her face has often been described as enigmatic and mysterious, and scholars have puzzled over the years about what she was smiling about or whom she was smiling at, why her smile didn't show any teeth (sore gums from too much eating, if you ask me), etc.

My good friend, R., in her visit to the Louvre some years ago, wrote on her postcard:

"I always thought she was overrated and when i saw her up close and personal, i thought, "That's it?" But then i kept looking at her and she became more beautiful every second until she became mesmerizing and my nephew had to pull me out of her gaze. Maybe it's the hype - or maybe it's what captivated millions of people before me. Dunno."

Well, yours truly was NOT one of those millions who were captivated by her, that's for sure. She's a bit. . .umm, on the plump side, don't you think? And rather mannish-looking, too. And those eyes?! Her gaze seems to follow you everywhere; it really creeps me out.

(Check out the Louvre's official website at www.louvre.fr)