16 November 2008

quelques dépêches de Paris

I just got back from a trip to Paris, and I really should be doing work... but writing about Paris just seems so much more fun than writing about the development of the state in post-colonial countries. So here we go:

General impressions. We had a crew of six Gates Scholars, three guys and three ladies. I endured repeated insults as the "old man" of the group throughout the weekend, mostly because Europe has decided that 26 is the age when one no longer merits free museum admissions, discounted train fares, etc. We took the high-speed train that goes through the Chunnel and connects London and Paris in less than three hours. It's all so easy it's a little hard to believe that you've gone to another country. Physically, Paris reminds me of nowhere as much as Washington, DC, which is perhaps not surprising because the latter was designed by a Frenchman. Both cities feature wide boulevards, with diagonal streets criscrossing the grid, and long parks that afford clear lines of sight between the major landmarks.

Bad art at Versailles. We spent the better part of one day at the palace of Versailles, the absurdly opulent home of a succession of roman-numeraled Kings named Louis. Versailles is best known for the Galeries Des Glaces, the mirror-lined hall that hosted the signing of the peace treaty that ended World War I. Being a French monarch entailed living in some pretty sweet apartments but also giving up any vestiges of personal privacy. Even royal births and deaths were witnessed by crowds of spectators filing through, to ensure the legitimacy of the line. Versailles is currently hosting an exhibition of the works of the modern artist Jeff Koons, whose work consists mainly of kitschy sculptures. So as we walked through the royal apartments we were treated to such masterpieces as a statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the monkey, giant balloon animals, and a bust of the artist himself. I love modern art and I'm all for subversion in art, and I might have enjoyed some of his stuff in a museum, but I found the exhibition to be pretty irritating, especially given the otherwise very earnest curation at Versailles. I asked our tour guide about the exhibit and she briefly rolled her eyes, so I was glad to know I wasn't the only one who felt that way. This is my favorite picture of the weekend:

Other staples of Parisian tourism. OK, I really should do some work, so I'll let the pictures do most of the talking from here on out. We paid an evening visit to the Louvre, which stays open late two nights per week and offers steeply discounted admission (and just as importantly, smaller crowds). Here's me and Mona, who is remarkably small in person and has something that looks like an altar and a communion rail around her:

On our last morning we went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which dominates the city much more than I had imagined. It has to be one of the most recognizable structures in the world, but I found that the closer you get to it, the more alien it appears.

We finished with a walk down the Champs-Elysees and the perfect conclusion, a stop into Notre Dame:

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