Sunday, June 14, 2009

Parisian Puzzles and Playgrounds....

Right up the road from our (DIVE) hotel in Paris was the amazing Chez Papa-- the pictures below are from the web, because we were too busy chasing Irate Rosie, dodging our One And Only Rude PArisian Waiter, and going into Paroxysms of joy from the incredible food to take pictures.
The waiter was jaw-droppingly rude. It made me clap my hands in glee-- finally! A stereotypical waiter!
The food was meltingly amazing. It made me want to learn how to cook southern french food. The stewed fish, the bloody steak, the herby veg... lovely.We had several nice lunches in places like this:
Where the food looks like:Yum!
One night we went to a Lonely Planet recommended Indian place. We got off of the metro and we were suddenly in West Africa! It was amazing-- ALL African people, Africa-themed restaurants, hardware stores, beauty salons-- and hundred of people hanging out on the street. It was so fun to suddenly be someplace so utterly different from all the white-tourists-only spots we'd been in.
And then we took a left down a narrow ally, and suddenly we were in India!
about 10 amazing Indian restaurants and three Indian grocery stores, several Indian hardware stores, a barber, and a clothing shop. I stocked up on whole Indian spices that I can't get in Hawaii. (No, we have no Indian restaurant on our island. We also have no whole wheat flour in our local grocery store. It's a bit too "wacky", don'tchaknow).

We had an ASTOUNDING meal. Here's another stock photo from the web to suggest the meal that we actually had:
It was marvelous, and even though we made a HUGE mess (Rosie knocked a chair over, threw rice, spilled a FULL mango lassi all over herself, the table, and the floor) they were unfailingly kind and wonderful. Did I mention that EVERYONE we met in France was incredibly kind? (Except that one waiter, but he's like the sour counterpoint to make everybody else seem sweeter.)

So, happy and contented we decided to walk home. As we were walking back to our hotel, suddenly the level of noise jumped up, and then turned in to shouting and screaming, and then there were a bunch of African guys in the middle of the road beating another African guy with metal rods. Then people (aggressors? victims?) started running away at top speed, their batons in hand. One group almost collided with Matt and RJ in the stroller. I couldn't believe it!
It looked like this: (another Paris metro fight-- again, I was too busy huddling against the wall as people streamed past to take pictures). Check out that weapon.
It was CRAZY. What was the deal?? It was so frustrating not understanding anything-- the context, the history, the languages being shouted across the intersections... Suddenly all those reports of rioting in the Paris streets over the last couple of years gained a new vividness.

After a couple of minutes everyone involved ran away, we shrugged and walked home and puzzled these things in our hearts. Matt wondered if he should have tried to step into the fray, since it was 12 guys with scary weapons against one guy. I said, "No Way!" You don't know what that guy did-- maybe he deserved it, maybe he raped somebody's sister or embezzled somebody's savings! Or maybe he was an innocent victim-- Xosa instead of Zulu, on the wrong side of the street. Who knows!

Anyway, it's none of our business.

Woah. Did I really just say that? So is it our business? No, specifically! But... isn't it-- generally? The whole thing had me scratching my noggin.

It reminded me how in the city you are forced to answer Big Moral Questions much more often than in the country. You have to think about racism and violence and poverty because all of those things explode out in front of you-- homeless people expose themselves on the metro (also happened in Paris), homeless gyspsy girls try and con you with strange golden ring scams (at the Eiffel tower), and violence breaks out in all black "ethnic enclaves." What a term!

It's easy to feel all comfortably progressive and moral out in our Hawaiian village, but in the city you really have to test all those ideals of chivalry. Sure, risk life and limb to save the underdog! Or, no-- get you and your family far far away from the violence.

Anyway, as Marie Antoinette said, let them eat cherries and gourmet chocolates. So, that's what we did. Tra-lala!

The chocolate came from a little chocolate shop near the Notre Dame. Lonely Planet called it "The Best Chocolate..... In The World."
How could we possibly say no? Especially with a 5 foot high chocolate fountain and homemade ice creams and sorbets tempting us inside?
We've been eating these incredibly slowly-- taking little half-nibbles at a time. And they really are wonderful. Although I intend to take on a life-long survey to make sure that, yes, they really are the best.
Here's the weird Stravinsky fountain near the Pompidou Center. The water was briney sludge. Eeeew!
And the audio room at the Brandy's anthropology museum. The top floor was a display on "To mix or not to mix?" human cultural (and genetic!) exchange. Each of these tubes piped out a different "hybrid" music-- violins and amazonian flutes.

In the next room they had "hybrid" artifacts-- a text from the early colonization of Mexico with drawings of the Types of mixed people you may encounter, and little tidbits about their quaint and welcoming ways (hey, sounds like a travel brochure for Hawaii!).

The middle floors were all beautiful isolate artifacts, suspended like museum art in cases, with no context, no dates, no explanation. Just... a lovely asthetic collection.

This museum was another noggin' scratcher. The collections were stunning, and essentially completely arbitrary. Primitive, Eastern, Exotic, Tribal-- whatever it is, wherever it's from, just throw it in there! So ghost shirts across the isle from vietnamese grave markers, around the corner from Maori canoes, across from indonesian shadow puppets.

Bizarre. It wasn't an anthropology museum. It was an Exotic Aesthetic Objects Collection.
I'd rather have the creepy mannekins in peasant dress, or the recreated ships hulls, where all those artifacts are contextualized by time and place and importance and relevance.... But anyway.

We went to Notre Dame! It was a little like Disney Land-- huge crowds, all tourists. But it was still lovely. Especially since there was a girls' choir singing in that eternal space. I cried, again.

Is this THE Rose Window? Or just some other impossible feat of medieval artistry and engineering?

And... the Eiffel tower!

We found a playground at the Eiffel Tower, here's our kid playing blissfully in the (faded, sorry, cell-phone-camera) shadow of the Tower itself.
Here's Rosie reaching for the top, and...
Here's me, in 1986! See, if you wonder WHY I would think it is possible to travel to Europe with small kids, this might answer your question. My parents were INSANE.
We didn't intend to get this close (we could smell the crowds), but Rosie suddenly said, "make poops!!" Matt scooped her up and followed a WC sign to the right, which led to another WC sign to the left, and zigzagged him across the park, Rosie shouting, "POOPS, POOPS!!!" Back and forth, cross TWO streets, fight our way through about 8 bus loads of german middle schoolers, and then the last WC sign pointing AT THE TOWER. We gave up and let her go under a tree. Sorry Paris!
Here's the breakfast we had in the Eiffel tower park-- a huge heap of pastries and croissants and baguettes and a box of assorted scraps of cheese from a fromagerie (ARGHE, the mute frustration, enjoying every bite and not knowing what any of it IS! It's like the fisher king-- here we are presented with this astounding food, and we have no ability to completely appreciate it! We'll have to spend the rest of our lives approximating it to earn the experiences of our youth.)
Right after the above picture was taken, two things happened. Rosie dropped her baguette stump, which attrated a crowd of well-heeled parisian sparrows, and the clouds parted to reveal the Eiffel tower.

I said, "Rosie, look! It's the Eiffel Tower!"
She said, "Mommy, look! It's a bird!!"

Aaaaand... the Polar Bear in the Musee D'Orsay! (I always think of the SNL sketch, "bla BLAH, bla BLAH, Bla Bla!)

And... red pandas at the oldest zoo in the world!

Rosie standing like a flamingo at the zoo...
Yes, the Parks of Paris! This one is at the zoo. Notice the statue. A hunter has killed and strung up a baby bear. Now he is being mauled by the mother bear, who already has his knife in her neck. NICE!

Well, we had quite an adventure. I loved the so-fresh-almost-on-the-brink-of-destruction fruit from the fruit stands (stawberries, my children. Strawberries.) I loved the cheap and abundant and excellent breads and pastries and cheeses... I loved hearing the language and hacking my way through it and being able to communicate. I loved the reset button that is vacation... how it's intensified life (is that a Rick STeves-ism?) Your greatest weaknesses and most saving strengths all get drawn to the surface and played out.
And with this chapter, we're nearly done. So Long Europe! It's too sad to say goodbye, so we'll just say, See ya!


Ann said...

Almost over? No, please. NO! I could go on reading your day-at-a-time European travelogue for weeks and weeks. And looking at pictures of stunning food and ridiculously cute RJs indefinitely.

Keep writing. I love to read it.

Katie and Sam said...

Amen to comment #1, this is SO good.

Kj said...

The rose window is incredible. Even more incredible to me is the fact that the good people of Paris lovingly took out every piece of glass during WWII, or so the legend has it.


Kourtney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kourtney said...

I love the flow of this entry-- from food to big questions of our place in the world, back to food, then finishing off with cute kidness. I wouldn't have interfered with the fight either-- having kids has given me a sort of blanket excuse to not try to be a hero in such situations. But at the same time, some of the issues you brought up hit home for me right now. I would have thought that living in NYC and being exposed to so many different cultures, colors, backgrounds, would make our kids automatically not racist... but then Aaron blurts out with the fact that he hopes his doctor isn't black because he's "not used to black people." And Elliot points at a muscular black guy on the street and says, "Play basketball!" What does a white, upper-middle class hippie mother do? I try to talk through these things with Aaron and Ben, but in the end we just go home, eat good food, and enjoy our cute kids.

And every once in awhile, you need to relieve yourself at the foot of a historic monument-- it's every kid's right. (Aaron peed in the bushes in front of Trump Tower once... but I wasn't all that eager to stop him to be honest.)

Irene Tukuafu said...

It's now 11:30 p.m and I'm dogged tired, but could not stop reading your marvelous and funny journal...and the poop poop one was the most crack up one of all. THANK YOU SOOOOOOOO MUCH for taking this time to write and show pictures. love you...mama Irene