Monday, August 31, 2009

A Life More Ordinary

After a summer of European adventures and tricycle races, I find that the back-to-school season leaves with me less time and less material for posting.

Less material mostly because I am trying to be a professional and not rant about my department, my students, my colleagues, my frenemies, or the state of academia. And I don't feel like writing about health care reform.

* * *

It feels like fall outside, and I am reminded for the umpteenth time that no matter how beautiful I think the desert landscape is, or how much I love the feeling of sand under my feet and the sound of the ocean, I have to live somewhere that has four seasons. I think I would get so bored if my wardrobe and my lifestyle didn't change at least four times a year.

Now that the air is cooler, I'm in the mood to make risotto and roast vegetables. I'm ready for new TV shows. I want to drink hot drinks (not too hot, mind the arm). I want to throw another blanket on the bed and maybe even start to think about flannel sheets. I want to curl up in my red chair with a puggle and a fleece blanket and read. I want to knit a scarf.

Or prep for teaching class. Which is what I need to be doing now...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Girls' Night In

A couple of girlfriends joined me for a VM viewing party the other night.

And I introduced them to Veronica's four-legged fan:

Evolution of a Scar

I unveiled my scar-from-the-removal-of-the-scar Saturday night at a party with friends. I wore a low-cut shirt, thinking that my boobs might distract people from the scar. Which didn't work because two of my friends decided to make my scar a conversation piece but also decided that we should refuse to tell anyone who didn't already know what really happened. Which was, you will recall, that I spilled hot tea out of a travel mug and scalded my arm. That was obviously too boring and since the scar is no longer a burn, it seemed like the possible explanations for its appearance were endless:
  • - knife fight at a bar (PCHers vs. the Fighting Fitzpatricks, of course. The River Styx is a dangerous place. And if you know what I'm talking about, you are awesome.)
  • - saving a baby in a runaway carriage
  • - alligator wrestling
  • - botched boob job
  • - Little Mac
  • - fly fishing accident
  • - saber-toothed tiger attack
as the night went on, the list went on and on, and we found ourselves more and more amusing.

Only one dear friend (and he really is a good friend) told me that I looked like Frankenstein's monster and then when he saw the expression on my face quickly tried to recover by insisting it was a compliment because Frankenstein's monster is the obvious hero of the book who is good and true and interesting and blah blah blah. Your literary analysis will not save you now.

But really most people were very kind and said that yes my cleavage was distracting so they barely noticed the scar! And yes they were sure my arm would heal really nicely by next summer. And yes it sure looks a hell of a lot better than what was there before. And yes it does make me look interesting and mysterious.

So with no further ado, I present, the evolution of a scar:

Hours after the splash of hot tea, I develop arm herpes!

Arm herpes really hurts.

The blisters pop and things get ugly.

Really ugly.

Finally healed over, but still tender and painful.

And, inexplicably, shaped like a velociraptor.

The last we will see of the burn scar.

* * *

Introducing: The surgical incision. Can you even SEE it?

Up close and personal.

So that's the new scar. In all of its slightly-bruised glory. My recovery has been great although I can still feel the bruising when I stretch out my arm. I actually have to remind myself not to lift too much with it because sitting around it feels totally normal.

The weather has been beautiful and fall-like, so it has been easy to wear sleeves as it heals. But I am already looking forward to next summer -- sleeveless shirts and no stupid arm band!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Lovin': The Winner Is

I managed to get a lot of reading done this summer. Some dissertation-related, some just-for-fun.

In fact, some of it was so fun, I had to cut myself off (Sookie Stackhouse, you and I will meet again, but you and your vampire boyfriends suck away my will to do anything except read, so I must gain some willpower before I request the next four books in the series...).

Some of it I slogged through and I almost dread teaching it (ugh, Moll Flanders! I don't care if you were the novel start of the novel, your string of husbands and abandoned children and petty crime somehow did not interest me. Must read some more criticism and reframe my attitude so that I can convince college students you are actually awesome.).

Some of it inspired me to learn more (Guernsey and the Literary Potato Peel Society was so not what I expected -- better than expected! -- plus I am a sucker for the epistolary novel).

Some of it I still haven't gotten to (Drood will be the perfect book to dive into on a dark, cold winter's night -- same goes for Sarah Waters's new book. I never got my hands on that hedgehog book, and I'm not sure it still interests me as much as it did... we'll see).

Some of it I returned to, unexpectedly, but with much enthusiasm (David was reading Harry Potter Book 7, but it became my great escape on the transcontinental flight when my TV sound wonked out and I couldn't watch any more movies).

Some of it lived up to its literary hype, even though the ending was sort of, well, awkward. Actually, I don't know if it was awkward, or if it just made me feel awkward. Either way, The French Lieutenant's Woman was worth the read and damn I like that guy's prose style.

Some it confirmed what I already knew: G. H. Lewes was a fascinating and unconventional Victorian, and Rosemary Ashton's G. H. Lewes: Unconventional Victorian is quite aptly titled.

Some of it was totally fun and at the same time made me feel like I was getting smarter (The Historian has so many scenes that take place in libraries so it was almost like actually getting work done... plus there was so much geography interspersed with all the bloodsucking!).

Some of it took me back to those post-Anne of Green Gables, pre-Jane Eyre days with that same feeling of optimism and angst. I Capture the Castle was surprisingly bittersweet and after I read it, it felt so familiar even though I don't think I had read it before.

And there were others that I've forgotten or just temporarily overlooked as my feeble brain tries to remember what I've done with all my summer days.

But there was also a clear winner this year! My favorite summer read! The book I did not want to put down, even on a European vacation, the book that I thought about when I was not reading it, the book that made me want to finish right away because I had to know how it ended at the same time I wanted it to go on and on:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I saw it recommended on another blog, and then the nurse practitioner at Barnes who saw me for my burn when I was first referred to the hospital recommended it to me. I saved it for my summer vacation, and it did not disappoint. Written by a former academic, it's a gothic mystery set in England and I declare it un-put-downable. It is the winner.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Secret?

I read the book The Secret ages after it had come out because I would occasionally hear people referencing it and it drives me crazy not to get references (hence my interest in literature. I'm afraid unless I get a PhD in literature, I might possibly miss a clever literary reference somewhere that everyone else will get and then I will feel really stupid or maybe miss something that would have been funny).

So anyway, I read The Secret. It did not change my life. But I didn't absolutely think it was absolute rubbish or anything. I felt sort of neutral about it. Yeah, it probably doesn't hurt to set clear goals and send positive energy out into the universe. I bet those things are good things to do. I'm not someone who is great about doing those things, but I generally feel like pro-active people make good things happen to them.

When we get scheduled to teach writing classes in the fall, we complete a survey requesting the time of day we'd like our class and approximately when during the semester we'd like our visiting writing to come lead a week of class (early, middle, or late in the semester). The administration team does its best to accommodate our scheduling requests but of course there are always a few people who wanted to teach at 1pm but end up teaching at 3pm or whatever.

Anyway, I started putting together my syllabus and course calendar before our trip because I wanted to have a head start when I got home. Since the official scheduling hadn't yet been done, I went ahead and typed up my ideal semester plan, assuming I'd change dates and times of things as necessary.

But would you believe that when I got my official schedule on Friday, my teaching time and the visiting writer week I were assigned were exactly the same as the ones I had already entered as my best-case-scenario.

So I dunno. Maybe there is something to this idea of writing things down and putting them out in the universe...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life in Plastic, The Conclusion

I had my surgery on Tuesday morning (blogs conveniently scheduled to publish without me. I live to serve my reading public.).

I got up at 4:45 to be at the hospital at 5:30 so that at 7:30 my scar could be cut out of my upper arm and my arm-skin could be stitched back together, leaving a small straight seam instead of that gnarly velociraptor-shaped burn scar.

All my doctors were ridiculously super nice and my nurse was pretty nice even though I think maybe she was annoyed with me at first because she said that she was going to take me back to get me ready for surgery and then page David to meet me but I insisted that he accompany me the entire time. But once she got over that, we won her over with our charm and good manners.

And everything went smoothly. The IV with saline was absolutely the worse part but I think the anti-anxiety meds had kicked in because instead of fainting or dying, I just said "Ugh that feels so nasty I hate it IhateitIhateit." To Hottie McHottie, the anesthesiology resident who was so lucky as to get to insert my IV.

Hottie McHottie kept assuring me it wouldn't hurt or it would only hurt for a minute and I told him, "Dude, it's not the pain. It's the grossness of you sticking something in my veins when I can feel it." But once it was in, I just didn't look at it and it was fine. They didn't do a general anesthetic, but just gave me IV drugs to keep me groggy and did a local nerve block on my arm.

I am not sure what those IV drugs were, but as they got ready to wheel me to the operating room, Hottie McHottie was like, "OK, so I'm going to put this in your IV and then you're going to feel like you've had a few drinks." A moment later, I was in the operating room and things were kind of swirling and I was thinking that if this was what having a few drinks is like then it would appear that I had been roofied but I never got the chance to say that because then I was waking up and it was all over.

I still felt a little loopy. They gave me water with a lid and a straw and a graham cracker and I snacked like a preschooler until David came in to pick me up. I felt fine, just groggy.

We were home by 11am, and I had a conversation with my mom that I don't really remember. Then I basically slept the day away and then went to bed early and slept the night away.

They gave me pain pills and told me not to drive or make important decisions while I am on them. Also, they require a stool softener which for some reason I find totally embarrassing.

I took one pain pill the day of surgery but haven't taken any since then. Yesterday I did tylenol and ibuprofen and today I haven't had anything at all and I'm not weightlifting or anything (I am not supposed to lift anything for six weeks!), but just sitting around, I feel absolutely fine which seems miraculous to me because it's not like I have a high pain tolerance or anything.

My arm is still wrapped up with its post-surgery bandage as I had to leave it on there for 48 hours. Which means I haven't showered in almost 48 hours and I am feeling disgusting. It also means that I haven't actually looked at the scar/incision since it was a dinosaur-shaped burn.

I am totally nervous about unwrapping it and even though I know everyone is right when they say it can't really look worse than it did, it feels so final and I am worried that somehow it will look terrible.

I might do pictures later. If it isn't too gross.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Homeward Bound

We knew that traveling home would make for a long day, but I don't think I realized exactly how draining it would be.

Our day began at 6am in Paris. We packed up the last of our belongings, zipped our filled-to-capacity suitcases, made sure the apartment was back in its originally pristine condition, and took out the recycling (just a few wine bottles...).

By 6:45 we were at the Vavin metro station, heading for Charles du Gord to catch the Eurostar train back to King's Cross Station in London.

We got to Charles du Gord and the signs were so damn vague that we got off track. I was not in the mood for wasting time, so I marched straight up to an information window and said "Bonjour. I need the Eurostar." The information window worker sent us up three flights of stairs to the train station. Fortunately we'd had lots of practice stair-climbing at the apartment:

This is what the stairs to a fourth-floor walk up look like after you've made the walk up.

With our quads in such good shape, we made it on the Eurostar train with plenty of time to spare and settled in for an uneventful trip across the English channel. Or under it, as it were.

We arrived in King's Cross and it felt like a homecoming. I loved Paris, but it was kind of a relief to be back where I felt like I knew where I was going. So I was all: Look how familiar this is! Look how everything is in English! Mind the gap! God save the Queen!

We followed the tunnels from King's Cross (the train station) to St. Pancras (the attached tube station) and knew we needed to hope on the Picadilly line heading for Heathrow.

We managed this with no problem, even dragging our rolly suitcases. I was so proud of myself for packing light -- it really would have been a nightmare with a huge suitcase. So we settle in on the Picadilly train, feeling like seasoned travelers and London natives. I even grabbed the free Metro newspaper with one hand as we passed the newsstand so that I could read the celebrity gossip and news headlines that the Brits combine in a free paper to hand out to people on the tube everyday. Brilliant!

So we know we're on the right line, heading in the right direction, but instead of the friendly British voice saying "This is the Picadilly line to Heathrow," she's saying "This is the Picadilly line to Knightsbridge" which is like several stops before Heathrow. So we're not sure what the deal is, but we're thinking that we'll maybe need to hop off this train and hop on another Picadilly train that is continuing to the airport.

We discuss this for a few stops and at Knightsbridge the announcement is like totally muffled and we can't figure out what we're supposed to do. Fortunately the tube is not at all crowded at this point. It's just me and David and this other American dude. So I tell David we need to get off the train and we follow the American guy off the train. He asks me if the train across the platform is going to Heathrow and I say, "I don't know, but that's where we're headed too."

I glance over my shoulder to make sure that David is behind me, and he's right there, pulling the handle out of the orange suitcase to drag it on its wheels. So I follow the other American guy as he asks a station worker which train is going to Heathrow. Sure enough, it's the train on the other side of the platform. So we only have to walk about six more feet, and I'm chattering to David about how smoothly this is actually going and how our timing for making our flight will be absolutely perfect and then I get on the tube and turn around just as the doors are sliding closed behind me.

And David is not there.

I am all by myself (with that American guy and a couple of other people) on the London tube, hurtling toward Heathrow and David is evidently still hanging out on the platform.

I blurt out "Oh my God! My husband isn't on this train!" and the three dudes all stare at me and the American says, "He ddn't make it?" and I tell myself to be cool and I say, all nonchalantly, like I lose my husband in large metropolises where neither of us have cell phones on a regular basis and we're both totally cool with it, "Well, I guess I'll see him at Heathrow!"

My nonchalance does not (I think) betray the fact that my heart is beating a million miles an hour and I'm thinking, Do I get off at the next stop? Will he be on the next train that comes through? But how will I know which car he is in? I won't have time to check and see if he's on the next train before it leaves the station! Do I circle back? But what if he's no longer there?

I finally decided that the only thing that made sense was to continue to our previously decided destination: Heathrow, Terminal 4, and hope that David showed up eventually.

Meanwhile, David had evidently ignored my conversation with the American and the station worker and had paused to look at a map as though he would be able to figure out what the train schedule was based on a freaking tube map.

And he didn't even see me get on the train.

So that train left the station and suddenly David realized he was there alone and I was no where in sight. He walked the length of the platform, down the stairs, and back up, searching for me, wondering where I possibly could have gone and (for a moment) fearing that I could have been kidnapped into sex slavery like in the movie Taken. (Am glad to know I am not the only one in this relationship who sometimes is crazy and irrational.)

Finally he decided I must have gotten on the train that had pulled out of the station, so he hopped on the next train, hoping I would be waiting for him at Heathrow.

And I was. For twelve long, agonizing minutes. The next train pulled up and I scanned all the windows trying to see him but couldn't and I didn't know what I was going to do if he didn't get off that train but I was suddenly imagining myself having to go to the American embassy and demand to know how my husband could have just disappeared in a civilized Western country.

Then I saw him walking toward me, pulling his suitcase, and I ran up to him and we had an emotional reunion that might have suggested to those around us that we hadn't seen each other in twelve years instead of twelve minutes.

I told David it was a testament to our marriage that after being together 24/7 nonstop for two weeks straight that when he was out of my sight for twelve minutes, I really really missed him. And actually we were probably separated for closer to half an hour because it was a long and lonely tube ride before I ever got to Heathrow to wait for him.

After that little incident, the rest of the trip home was exhausting but uneventful. Our Delta flight was very nice (much nicer than American Airlines, I have to say) with individual TVs in the seat in front of us so we could select movies or TV shows to watch. (I watched Sunshine Cleaners and thought it was great. David watched X-Men: Wolverine and Star Trek which he persists in calling "Star Track" much to my undying annoyance even though I am not a Trekkie.)

We landed in Atlanta and it felt pretty good to be on American soil. I immediately noticed the decibels increase -- Americans talk so much LOUDER than Europeans. But I still felt this sort of jovial sense of camaraderie with my fellow countrymen. Two hours into our layover, I realized I'd been awake for nearly 20 hours and I was trying to keep my eyes from glazing over as a very chipper and very perky seventh grade science teacher from Illinois told me every detail about her trip to Costa Rica. And honestly, she was nice, and it was interesting, but I was so tired.

I sort of slept from Atlanta to St. Louis, which I thought would be impossible at first, as the girl in front of me kept bashing Lindsay Lohan for being too skinny in her extremely loud American voice. Fortunately she turned it off after a while and I managed to doze off.

We arrived in St. Louis without incident, and found two puppy dogs who were very happy to see us!

I really missed them. I really did.

Their greeting when we got home was wonderful -- the anti-social Little Mac wanted to be petted and loved on and she ran back and forth between us, standing up on her hind legs and putting her front paws on our knees so we would pet her. Cooper joined in the mix, carrying a tug-of-war rope and repeatedly whacking us and his sister with us and he ran back and forth. Then Little Mac got sort of annoyed and started growling because Cooper was smashing into her with his big body and whipping her in the face with the knotted rope. We took the rope away after he got David in the shin with a knotted end.

But it was still a nice warm welcome.

David's g-parents house-sat and dog-sat for us while we were gone. His g-ma said the dogs were good while we were gone: "Little Mac even got to where I could say good night to her when she was in her bed and she wouldn't growl at me."

Yes, sad to say, that is good behavior for Little Mac.

She's back to her same old attitude these days, but we love her anyway.

It's nice to know they missed us too. We are so thankful that David's g-rents stayed here and took good care of them. We are so glad we had the opportunity to take this trip. We are glad we found each other at Heathrow, Terminal 4. And we are really glad to be home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Paris IV: Let Them Eat Cake!

On our final day in France, we took the train to Versaille.

Well, first we took the metro to St. Michel stop. But the RER (train) there was unexpectedly closed.

So the nice girl at the information desk sent us out to wait for a bus.

We were not clear on whether we needed to buy tickets. So we didn't. We just got on the bus and then got off when everyone else did. At some other stop. And then got on a train going to Versailles.

At the train station, we tried to buy the package deal that was supposed to cover train fare and admission to Versaille.

They stopped selling that package in January.

So we bought regular train tickets and hoped we had enough cash for the day.

When we got the Versailles, we felt sassy and daring and also poor (maybe it was the gold gilded gates).

So when we went through the line, instead of buying a ticket for admission, I handed my two-day (expired) museum pass to the ticket-taker, planning to be all confused and apologetic if he sent me over to the other line to actually buy my ticket. He took it, looked at the front (where it clearly said 2-day), looked at the back (where the date of purchase was clearly written) and sent me on through security. Same for David.

We felt rather smug and only a little guilty about ripping off Versailles. Let them eat cake, indeed!

Versailles was breathtaking, awesome, out of control. I did not burst into tears at the beauty of the Hall of Mirrors like the crazy lady who sat by us while we were on our layover in the Atlanta airport on the way home and was evidently moved to tears by Versailles. It was, however, very impressive. It was just the sort of palace you imagine when you imagine a palace.

Evidently the palace at Versailles was just a hunting lodge until Louis XIV decided he wanted to get away from Paris and chillax as king so then he built two huge-ass wings onto it. But I will say the "lodge" itself was pretty impressive to begin with.

I was impressed by one room that was created specifically to hold Louis XIV's daughter's wedding reception -- all gilt and marble columns and fancy wallpaper. I am not sure why my dad didn't have the 3M Clubhouse similarly outfitted for my reception. Perhaps it had something to do with our status as royalty (still pending).

It seems as though Louis XIV was possibly the last king who really got to rule as though it were his divine right without anybody questioning him. Which explains why the chapel was built so that Louis sat on the second story, everybody else stood on the first floor facing him, and they worshiped him while he worshiped God. Although I would argue that maybe he just worshiped himself, since he seemed pretty certain of his divine status.

The queen's chambers were all decked out in Marie Antoinette's "summer pattern" -- apparently they changed the canopy and bedspread and wall tapestries and curtains on a seasonal basis. I would like to do this at my own house, but unfortunately I lack the household staff to assist me. There was a little door built to blend in with the wall that led to King Louis XVI's room. I overheard a tour guide telling her group that Louis really got around but that he really made an effort to sleep with his wife a few times a week. What a standup guy.

The Hall of Mirrors was quite lovely and I told David that he should consider that as an option for the venue of my PhD completion party. It seems appropriate for such an occasion.

But really even better than the Hall of Mirrors, I thought, were the gardens. They were just so colorful and symmetrical and tidy and stretched on for miles (the grounds go on for 8 miles). The flower gardens led to tall hedges with paths that went to different fountains or sculptures or fake Grecian/Roman "ruins" where all the courtiers would have playdates. One path also led to a restaurant, but I think that's a more recent development.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like to stroll those grounds while Louis XIV was king and just felt like it would have been hot in those dresses and wigs. But really it must have been so amazing filled with people bustling around and participating in all sorts of aristocratic frivolities to occupy their time.

We ate lunch overlooking the grand canal. David was disappointed that the fountains weren't on, and I was too, actually, because I bet the fountains spewing out of Apollo's Basin are pretty freaking cool. Evidently they only run them on weekends. Probably have to save on costs since people like us sneak in on expired museum passes.

After lunch we walked through the gardens a little more. There might have been some skipping involved.

Then we had to choose between going to Versailles's cute little downtown area or scooting back to Paris to see the catacombs. Deciding that I didn't really need to do more shopping or eating, we chose the catacombs, so it was back to the train station. (I did pick up a Christmas tree ornament in Versailles so that was my major souvenier purchase for the trip. Christmas ornaments are the best souveniers because they make decorating the tree that much more fun.)

We managed to get off the metro at the station that put us right next to the catacombs and we walked across the street and got in the queue. It was about 3pm and the guy working there told us that they close the doors at 4pm. I asked him if he thought the line would move fast enough for us to get in and he couldn't say for sure.

So we debated whether to stand there and hope for the best or go do something else.

I reminded David that Monica had said this was one of the coolest things she did when she was in Paris.

David reminded me that Monica also recommended the movie Talladega Nights as the funniest movie EVER and we both thought it was totally the opposite and we fell asleep halfway through (there were a couple of funny parts, but I will never understand why she saw it in the theater three times).

I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, plus we were standing in a nice shady spot, so we chose to wait it out. And we made it! Down 143 stairs on a claustrophically narrow, winding staircase, through dark, dank, damp tunnels winding under the city, into the "hallowed ground" where they had moved the bones of thousands and thousands of Parisian citizens. And arranged them in artistic fashion. Femurs stacked so neatly -- like firewood -- with skulls arranged in heart shapes or crosses within the pile. It was so macabre and yet kind of cool.

The Catacombs -- these be scary!

I was a little confused by the signage because it said that they moved the bones because the graveyards were causing illnesses but I wasn't sure if they really were making people sick or if people were getting sick for other reasons (like because they lived in filth, for example) and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before they had germ theory, they believed in things like "miasma" where illnesses would sort of waft over from cemetaries. So I still don't know the answer to that. But I do know they must have dug up a gazillion graves because there were so many bones.

It was sort of weird to imagine what an nineteenth-century citizen of Paris might think about their bones being on display for tourists who wait in line for an hour and then pay 8 euro to walk through 1.3 km of tunnels and look at them.

Another sign warned that this display might be disturbing for children and people of nervous temperment. I wondered if slightly high-strung and occasionally neurotic counted as nervous temperment, but decided I would be fine.

We came to the end, climbed up 83 tightly winding stairs to get out of there, and emerged in the bright sunlight, blinking our way to the nearest metro. Then it was back to the apartment for... you guessed it! Dinner, gelato, and the Luxembourg Garden!

Back at the Luxembourg Garden -- not quite in the Baroque style of Versailles, but still quite lovely for an after-dinner stroll.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Paris III: Tres Bien

Day three in Paris began with one of my all-time favorite things: a street market! (Maybe I like them because it is the only shopping I can afford in Europe). This one was at the Edgar Quinet metro stop, which was a short walk from the apartment. This one was much, much smaller than the huge market at Spitalfields in London, and it had fresh fruits and veggies in addition to lots of clothes, bags, jewelry... I could have browsed for hours. I bought an inexpensive top and a pair of earrings and then we headed down the street to the bakery and bought lunch -- mozzarella and tomato salad, a baguette, and a raspberry tart for dessert. Magnifique!

After an early lunch, we began our walking tour of historic Paris. We started at Notre Dame, peering up at the gargoyles and the buttresses. Last summer I read Ken Follett's book Pillars of the Earth which wasn't exactly my very favorite ever but was still extremely interesting and talked a lot about medieval architecture -- particularly gothic arches and buttresses that redistributed the weight so that buildings could go higher and higher. So I checked out the flying buttresses while our handy-dandy audio guide talked about the people who began building Notre Dame, knowing that they would never see it finished -- they relied on the generations who came after to continue their effort to honor God (and Mary, obvy) with this ginormous building. For some reason I have an affinity for gargoyles, so I tried to find the most photographed gargoyle in Paris -- that little guy on top of Notre Dame who kind of leans on his elbows. I don't have a picture of him, so here is a picture of me instead:

Oh look, I'm wearing a romper at Notre Dame! And also awkwardly trying to hide my bandaged arm for this picture, with the result that I appear to be an amputee only needed one shoulder of the conveniently one-shouldered romper.

We got in the enormous queue to go inside but it moved very quickly so soon we were blinking to adjust our eyes to the dim light. It felt super medieval inside -- kind of dark and spooky. Tourists are never quiet, even in places that are supposed to be holy (ie. the Sistine Chapel) and Notre Dame was no exception. (Tourists also never stop taking pictures even when signs clearly ask you not to or at least ask you not you use your flash because many, many tourists are total asshats.) But despite the din from the crowd, there was a different kind of atmosphere inside the church, with dim light swimming in through the stained glass windows and candles flickering in front of different little chapels on the sides of the church, each dedicated to a particular saint. We saw a person I believe to be a cross-dresser praying fervently to a picture of Mary in one of the chapels but most people were content to light candles and then move on.

The churches in England were pretty spectacular, too, but there is something about a Catholic church that just has way more drama. No matter how much I disagree with the Pope, Catholic churches -- especially those that are all gold-plated and stained glass with the actual body of Christ writhing on the cross -- just kind of make me catch my breath when I step inside them.

View of Notre Dame from the Left Bank. Check out those flying buttresses.

We left Notre Dame hoping to cross the park and go to the deportation museum. I had just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which mostly takes place on the Guernsey islands between France and England during the time they were under German occupation in WWII. So that was fresh in my mind and I was really interested in seeing the museum but unfortunately it was closed.

It was interesting to me, although not really surprising, that while lots of sites in London might have mention of whether or not it survived or was built after the Blitz of WWII, there was very little mention of WWII at the places we saw in Paris. I am sure that there are memorials and such (after all, we obviously didn't come CLOSE to seeing everything) but it seemed a memory that Paris was not eager to dredge up, having actually fallen to Germany, while Britain's pride (and relief) at resisting a German invasion was still obvious all these years later.

We walked across the Seine to follow our tour of le Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and walked by all the used book sellers and the paintings and prints and vintage advertisements and everything they else they sell along the river. Our audio guide led us to the Shakespeare Bookstore which is an English bookstore and absolutely darling -- a series of rooms organized by subject, tall bookshelves, quirky staff recommendations -- everything you would want from a bookstore except I didn't see a cat.

How cute is this place?

I resisted buying a book and we walked from there through the Latin quarter. That is Latin as in the language of university-educated intellectuals, not Latin hip hop music. Place de Michel is the core of Left Bank's artsy boheme district and there is a fountain there and lots of cafes where I imagine all sorts of brilliant conversations have occurred over the years.

We felt like Notre Dame had filled our church quota for the day, so we opted out of the Sainte-Chapelle tour, mostly because the queue was miles long and our Rick Steves book told us that the museum pass allowed us to skip the queue but just as we were walking up to ask, another (rather irate) woman was getting turned away and told to go to the end of the line because it was for security not for tickets. So we admired the outside of the Palais de Justice (French Supreme Court) which looks rather like a fairy tale castle. Then we moved on to the Conciergerie, which was the gloomy prison famous for being last-stop for those on their way to meet the guillotine. We saw the cell where Marie-Antoinette was kept, and the little chapel created in her honor. The velvet curtains have silver teardrops embroidered on them which was sort of surprisingly poignant, I thought. It was such a quiet little room and it had portraits of her hanging and I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her.

We walked from there to the Place Dauphine which is basically just a park on the tip of an island in the middle of the Seine. The only green space in Paris it seems is in designated park and garden areas, but those spaces sure are pretty. From there we crossed back over the river to the Cite Metropolitain metro stop which is evidently one of the few remaining from the early 20th-century subway entrances.

By that time we felt like we had walked miles, but we had miles to go: The Louvre.

Here we are in front of the pyramid!

Massive, overwhelming, the sort of place where you could spend weeks instead of hours. We kept our visit focused on the highlights, which basically meant following the crowd. We saw Mona Lisa's lovely smile and the Venus de Milo's lovely boobs. However, the crowd was intense, so David had to settle for a picture of him with Venus's buttcrack.

She's mooning him.

I didn't know before we went that the Louvre had been the palace for kings of France pre-Versailles. Explains why it is so freaking huge and still feels lavish and ostentatious (but, let's be honest, it doesn't even begin to compete with Versailles!).

I have kind of a soft spot for medieval frescos because they seem so earnest and well-intentioned and I really liked the scene of St. Francis of Assisi (my favorite saint) feeding the birds (none of which looked to be pigeons because pigeons are sort of gross).

We moved on to the Renaissance gallery and paused for a while in front of da Vinci's paintings to decode them, obviously, and then went to the special side room where the Mona Lisa was on display and saw this:

Where's Mona Lisa?
Oh there she is. Waaaaaaaay in the back. Behind all of those people and all of their digital cameras.

Once we'd made it through the Renaissance, we really felt like we'd already covered our art quota at the Orsay (not to mention the National British Gallery, National Portrait Gallery) so we checked out the French Romanticists (there was a big Gericault display) and then made our way back out to the courtyard to the fountains and the big glass pyramid.

It was a hot day and people were sitting with their feet in the fountain and even though I was sort of grossed out by this and I thought it was sort of tacky, we had been doing so much walking and my feet were so freaking hot and tired that I slipped off my shoes and dipped my feet in the nice cool water (hoping I wouldn't end up with athlete's foot or something similarly gross).

And then it was back to the flat for our normal evening routine -- dinner, gelato, Luxembourg Gardens.

Quite possibly our favorite place in Paris: Amorino's Gelato. Magnifique!

Tomorrow: our final day in Paris!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paris II: Mon Dieu!

We got up on our first full day in Paris and breakfasted on croissants and bananas and Nutella. (Oh how we love Nutella).

Then we metroed over to the Arc de Triomphe, built in 1809 to honor Napoleon's soldiers. It looked to me like the ceremonial arches we saw near the colloseum in Rome. And I was right, because evidently it was patterned after them only bigger. It did seem a swarthy and fitting tribute to France's military victories -- and a memorial to their losses, as we observed another Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. Now all of their major parades start and end at the Arc de Triomphe.

The nearby traffic was killer and we were glad to be on foot -- even after all of the walking we'd done in London.

So then we trotted down the Champs-Elysees where David bought me birthday presents at Louis Vuitton and Cartier.

Not really.

But I did do a little window shopping and we toyed with the idea of going to see The Hangover (renamed, inexplicably, "Very Bad Trip") to see if it would still be funny in French (I really thought we'd be able to get most of the jokes, but we had some serious museum-going to do that afternoon so we skipped the cinema. I did do a little bit of shopping at the world's largest Sephora store (I'm a sucker for that place anyway).

I read that the French are very polite (this was true in my personal experience as well) so we were careful about saying "Bonjour" and "Au revoir" and "sil vous plait" and "merci." So I smiled and said "Bonjour!" in reply to the guy working at Sephora and he rattled off something in French and I panicked and instead of saying nicely "Je suis desole, je ne comprend pas" as I had practiced with my little conversational French CD, I gave him a blank stare and sort of blinked until he said, "Uh, are you enjoying your shopping today?" To which I replied, "Oh, oui!" like an idiot.

Shopping behind us (as we are really too poor to buy anything in Paris except the tacky Eiffel Tower key chains that street sellers tried to push on us every time we turned around -- no, we did not actually purchase any), we walked with purpose toward the Musee d'Orsay. We'd decided to get a museum pass for our sightseeing, which was basically one chunk of change for all of the museums and often let us miss the long queues as well as save some euros. This was a brilliant plan and I tried to get David to buy one from a kiosk in a park on our way there but they didn't take cash and he didn't want to pay the 3% charge on our debit card even though I kept telling him that it would be less than $2.

So we got to the Orsay and waited in the neverending queue that we could have skipped if we had the pass to go inside and buy the pass. C'est la vie! We got paninis to eat while we waited so that helped pass the time.

The main gallery of the Orsay -- formerly a train station.

And the Orsay was beautiful and made me feel cultured and a weird sense of gratitude toward a crazy teacher I had in eighth grade who made us memorize the names of paintings and their artists based on terrible black-and-white photo copies of the paintings glued to index cards that we had to carry around until she quizzed us on them. But it meant that I could point at things in the museum and say, "Oh my gosh that's Cezanne's The Card Players!" without having to read the sign.

Cezanne - The Card Players

They were having a huge impressionists exhibit and although I have always sort of sniffed over Monet's waterlilies that hang in the art museum in Forest Park, I was suddenly all about Renoir and Degas.

Again, I felt sort of ridiculous taking pictures of paintings but everyone was doing it and I found myself suddenly compelled to document David next to Van Gogh's self portrait.

Van Gogh, c'est moi! Except for the suicidal bit. And the beard. And the ear.

I have to say that whatever ups and downs our five-year marriage has seen, David and I are great vacation partners because we are both go-go-go high energy for about 10 hours and then we both are perfectly happy to sit (in a park, in a flat, at a cafe, wherever) and eat and drink until bedtime. We are well-suited to traveling together and I think we helped to push each other to keep going and see more of all that was to be seen even though I had moments where my feet were so tired I thought it might be preferable to simply amputate them and walk on my ankle stubs (and I was wearing comfortable and sensible shoes -- we just did that much walking).

So we scooted out of the Orsay after, I dunno, three hours of art-gazing and reading aloud to each other from the Rick Steves Paris book about the highlights of the museum (I delighted in finding other couples who were doing the same -- we saw at least five couples referencing the book and doing the same walking tours that we were while in Paris). The book was a lifesaver and even though Rick Steves can be super cheesy, it certainly helped us navigate around the museums and pay attention to striking pieces instead of letting everything blur together like fancy wallpaper the way it could have in such massive collections.

And we ended the day with a tour of the Rodin museum (got the museum pass, gotta get our money's worth!). David has decided he is really into sculpture so he was all about it. I was sort of intrigued by the back story of Rodin's affair with his talented assistant, Camille Claudel. She was 18, he was 44, and he took her as his "pupil, muse, colleague, and lover" according to Rick Steves. Several sculptures of her head are with his collection, but most interesting to me was the room that displayed her work. There is a beautiful sculpture called The Waltz that she did in 1892 but just three years later she began a work called Maturity that seems to document their break up and Rodin's devotion to his wife. Maturity depicts an old, haggard woman dragging an old, haggard man away from a beautiful, smooth-skinned girl who is kneeling on the ground, reaching after them. Such an artistic way to express one's emotion and depict one's lover's wife as an old hag for all eternity. I thought it was quite clever and kind of snarky.

Surely not the first (nor last) woman to portray her ex's current love interest as death warmed over.

The Rodin gardens were divine -- all green and floral and sunny and shady with a dramatic bronze sculpture waiting around every corner -- omg! The Thinker! It was bigger than I had expected.

The Thinker, thinking. As he is wont to do.

I am absolutely taken by English and Parisian parks and gardens and I don't know why the U.S. doesn't sprinkle its parks with Grecian-esque sculptures and border them with neatly trimmed hedges.

We spent some time just sitting on a bench in the gardens and resting and watching tourists of every nationality do the same stupid poses with the same sculptures, each of them giggling about it. It was like a testament to the notion that we're all the same inside no matter what our cultural background. And also that we're all kind of stupid goofballs.

Me in front of the back of the Rodin museum (I think my eyes are closed).

We dined in for dinner again and then strolled down the street to the Luxembourg Gardens. On our way, we made the find of the trip -- a gelato shop just a few steps from our flat! Having falling deeply and irrecovably in love with gelato last summer in Italy, we were so freaking excited about this. We went inside with our "Bonjours!", ready to attempt to speak French in order to get gelato. Fortunately the girls working there spoke excellent English as I not only mispronounced everything, I'm sure, but fumbled with counting the change as well because I had only just gotten used to pounds and pence and now was trying to count Euros and the coins are all the wrong sizes!

Anyway, we managed to order two petit cornettos and then proceeded to select our flavours. They had all the usuals and one that was called something like l'inimitable but looked like chocolate (but wasn't -- chocolate was labeled elsewhere). We were asking each other what that could be when the gelato scooper behind the counter helpfully piped up, "Nutella!"

OMG Nutella!

I proceeded to order Nutella gelato from that same shop every day we were in Paris. With different complementary flavours -- cararmel, vanilla, coconut. It was heaven on a cone.

Armed with Nutella gelato, we proceeded to the Luxembourg Gardens. That place is amazing. It wasn't touristy so we pretended to be locals strolling through, eating gelato. It was bustling with people but not overly crowded. Everyone sat on park-provided green metal chairs on the pathways (the grass is for looking at, not sitting on). When we first went in David was like, "What are they all looking at?" because everyone's chairs were arranged along the path like a show was about to take place but they were just looking at the flowers and grass. Some people had ice cream and some people were reading but most people were just sitting in groups of two or three, talking softly. A lot of them were dressed for work and seemed to have come to the park not to exercise or picnic or whatever, but just to hang out and enjoy it. It was sort of inspiring. I did not see one single person on their cell phone in that park the entire time (we went back every night).

One of the flower beds at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

We sat and watched some old men playing a very serious game of Bocce and from our seats there we could see kids playing on the most fantastique playground I've ever seen -- it had a jungle gym made partly out of bungee cords that went up far higher than any jungle gym you'd see on a playground in the states. (I kept grumbling about a litigious society). There was also a zip line track and a merry-go-round and the place was swarming with kids. It was a fenced in area that cost 2 euros for kids to go in and 1.60 euros for adults to accompany them. So the parents all sat around on metal chairs outside the fence, watching but in a very laissez faire sort of way. The kids self-regulated and David and I sort of wished we could try the zip line but decided to save our euros (and our dignity) and buy more gelato the next day.

Once it started getting dark, we headed back to the flat to have another glass of wine and wind down before getting started on our next big adventure: walking tour of Historical Paris and The Louvre!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Paris I: Plat de Jour

After my dutiful and detailed daily posts in London, we were cut off abruptly in Paris as our flat had wi-fi but we neglected to bring a European converter plug for the laptop so the battery died. I am sure that all my readers were simply at a loss to begin their day without an update from me, but it was sort of a blessing, honestly -- no e-mail, no fantasy baseball stats, nothing to do in the evenings but wander the Luxembourg Gardens, eat gelato, and drink wine. Which are three ingredients for a pretty perfect vacation, if you ask me.

Of course I kept a written record of the trip so I will recreate each day for you in the present tense as if I had posted it while we were there (you are thrilled!).

And so it began with the Eurostar train ride from London to Paris. Relatively uneventful, we were dropped of at the Gare du Nord train/metro station and suddenly felt like we were in a foreign country. Which we were. Obviously. It was a little overwhelming and I suddenly realized that we were taking the metro to an apartment and I really had no idea where it was located (I did know it had a blue door -- thanks, Google Maps Street View!).

David in front of the blue doors of #5 Rue Brea. Looking cute with the man-bag (I insisted that lugging around camera, maps, guidebook, etc., was an equal opportunity job).

So we hopped on the (slightly stinky, slightly seedy, not nearly as nice as the London Underground) metro line #4 and hopped off at Vavin. We are staying at an apartment that belongs to the woman who was our tour guide in Italy last summer. Or, as I like to say very casually, "We're staying at our friends' Kate and Markus's flat. It's on Rue Brea, near the Luxembourg Gardens."

We managed to find the apartment (hey blue doors!) and Markus was there to meet us and help lug my suitcase up four flights of winding stairs (Paris apartments: not for weenies). It was a 4th floor walk up with no air conditioning and it was the most beautiful place. Huge windows with real shutters thrown open to see the bustling little shopping area of Rue Brea and Rue Vavin and the Jardin du Luxembourg. Lots of cafes and tiny markets and ridiculously expensive boutiques selling soap and perfume and clothing and especially children's fashion.

The living room -- isn't is so cute?

Once we settled in, we were a little giddy about the fact that we'd successfully navigated our way from London to Paris and we busted open the bottle of champagne that our lovely hosts had left for us "A bit of fizzy for you in the fridge!"
View from the living room window.

Then we walked down the street to the grocery store to buy some necessities (ie. cheese. wine. baguette.) and I marveled at how many children's clothing stores there were. And how darling all the little clothes were. We couldn't figure out if we were just in a super family-friendly neighborhood (our proximity to the Jardin du Luxembourg and its vast superplayground suggests yes) or what, but then I read that France is the only country is Europe who is not currently experiencing a population decline. The French are averaging two children per family while the rest of Europe is averaging 1.6. The success of French fertility is evidently due in part to extremely generous tax breaks that families get for having two kids -- generous enough to dress them in the latest fashion, evidently. And don't even get me started on the shoes...

So once we made it back from the store and ate something, we decided to hit the Eiffel Tower. We timed it to be up there at sunset (which isn't until 9:30pm-ish) and would have been early except for -- you guessed this -- the ridiculously long queue.

We met a lot of Americans in line for the Eiffel Tower and wandering at the top, which was covenient for asking someone to take our picture. I felt like the signage was sort of shabby (we were constantly asking each other "Is this the elevator to the very top? What do you think this queue is for? Why are people standing here?") but maybe the signage was very good if you spoke French. Which no one touring the Eiffel Tour did, it seemed to me.

We splurged for the tickets that went all the way to the tip-top. I don't have a huge fear of heights, and once we got up there we soaked in the view and I insisted on saying things like "Isn't this soooo romantic?" and "We'll always have Paris!" and then making David kiss me as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a zillion other tourists, bumping into us and squeezing by to take pictures. We were so far up that it almost didn't seem real. But the elevator ride up was stomach-dropping. We just kept going and going and going and finally I started clutching David's arm as the ground just kept dropping farther and farther away from us and finally I had to quit looking out and just focus on the sign that said "BEWARE OF THE PICKPOCKETS."

I guess views like this are worth the price of admission.

But really it was like a dream to be at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I was surprised it was not windy. After freezing in London, Paris was like a summer dream -- all sunshine and warmth with a splash of body odor now and again just to keep it real.

At the top -- a perfect example of some nerd-o tourist way up in our personal space.

We went to the second floor and were able to recognize some of the major landmarks from there, thanks to helpful wall signs, of course. Otherwise I would have pointed to everything and said "Is that Napoleon's tomb?" as I did until David directed me to the wall signs.

When we left the tower, we crossed over to the place de Trocadero and mingled with the people who were hanging out. There was some singing and a big crowd of people gathered around what looked like an entrance to a theater. Someone came up to us and asked (in English) what was going on but we never found out. Then the crowd broke into song and I don't know if it was planned or spontaneous (I would guess planned, as many of them seemed to have music books). Either way, it seemed sort of strange and French.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from there was amazing and just as we decided to hike back to the metro stop, they did some sort of crazy light show where the entire tower (which was glowing already) just started sparkling and glittering and everyone stopped and looked and oohed and aahed. It was impossible to get a good picture of the sparkle, but we asked some very nice Canadians to take a picture of us in front of the glowing tower.

OMG we are in Paris!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire

Or; if you claim to own it, then takin' it ain't stealin'.

We visited the British Museum today. A stunning collection of goods pilfered from other nations. No wonder the American settlers robbed the American Indians of their land. They had learned this style of vanquishing from their British ancestors.

In spite of any misgivings one might have about the methods by which these treasures were acquired, the museum was beyond impressive. Standing in the center of a huge room, surveying the Elgin marbles (innocently ganked from the Parthenon in Athens) I thought about John Keats looking at these ruins and writing his "Ode to a Grecian Urn."

We joined the throngs of tourists clamouring (do you like my British spelling?) for a look at the Rosetta Stone. It made me remember a gift I got from my g-parents Vance when I was a kid -- a hieroglyphic stamp set that I thought was very awesome.

Hey, guy. Nice sarcaphagus.

We knew that we didn't have time to see everything in the museum so we decided to focus on the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Greeks, and then go upstairs to check out the Romans. I did not expect to find the mummies as fascinating as they were. As much as I've read or heard about mummies (not in specific studies, more like in the episode of Scooby-Doo where they are being chased by a mummy) I just felt sort of nonchalant about them going in. But seeing the actual freaking Cleopatra was pretty cool. They had her out of her sarcophagus but of course she was all wrapped up in the yards and yards of linen. However, they had an x-ray on display so you could see how her mouth was open (so her soul could enjoy food in the after life) and all of the trinkets wrapped up and buried with her. There were also mummified cats and bulls.

Welcome to my tomb. Here is a door that doesn't open so graverobbers can't get in but my soul can conveniently come and go and look for statues of me in which it can take a nap. Seriously this is my understanding of how these things worked for the Egyptians.

There was a preserved body of an Egyptian body older than Cleopatra who was buried in the sand without a casket of any sort and the dry desert sand preserved him so well he still had some of his reddish hair and basically his skin looked like cooked chicken skin stretched over human bones and it was actually really gross. He was next to a skeleton that had rotted away in a coffin (to demonstrate the loss of preservation) and I realized that no matter how many episodes of CSI I might have seen, I'd never really seen actual dead bodies like that before and it was kind of fascinating but also seriously creepy. I didn't take a picture because it grossed me out.

The Assyrians were impressive in the way a violent and brutal civilization depicts itself doing brutal acts in beautiful art. I have to say that based on the art work we saw today, I felt sorrier for the lions they slaughtered than for the Assyrian race that sort of imploded.

Ancient Greece's art was a life-like shift from the straight and narrow Eyptian and Assyrians, and it was David's favorite part and probably mine too. I had to laugh at the diplomatically worded sign that indicated that the taking of these friezes from the Parthenon was "a subject of discussion" but that Lord Elgin had "certainly saved the sculptures from further damage due to weathering, graffiti," etc.

Too bad Lord Elgin didn't get to Aphrodite before her head fell off. But it really says something when your sculpture is so impressive, it's amazing even without its head.

From Greece we ventured up to Ancient Rome and caught a tour group let by a museum docent who told us all about the early Roman rulers and showed us a beautiful blown-glass vase (the Portland Vase, called after the family who owned it and gave it to the museum) that is one of the most valuable pieces in the museum. She explained that it was made by first blowing cobalt glass and dipping it in white glass to then blow both of them and fuse the white on top of the cobalt. Then one would use special tools to chip away at the white glass so as to create figures and forms in white that stand out against the cobalt background underneath -- the same process as making a cameo.
I was most impressed when she explained that although this idea might seem pretty straightforward, after the fall of the Roman Empire it took 1800 years before people were able to replicate this technique. And in 1845 the museum had it on display (sitting out but not in a protective glass case as it is today) and a man (our guide called him "a total maniac") ran through the museum trying to destroy things and smashed it to pieces. It took a whole year for the museum experts to piece it back together and now you can barely tell it was broken.

I am going out of order today, because before we even went to the British Museum, we strolled around our little part of town. We're sort of on the edge of Bloomsbury, near Covent Garden, in a part of town sometimes unofficially called "Fitzrovia" after Fitzroy's Tavern where we had dinner a few nights ago. Anyway, we walked up around Russell Square and London College and past the British Museum and came upon the Dickens Museum in a house where he had once lived.

So in we went, even though it was a bit overpriced, and beginning in the basement we walked through four floors of Dickens's previous residence and stood in the very room where his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth died in his arms. She was 17; Dickens was devastated and purportedly uses her as an idealized basis for many of his unrealistic female characters including Little Nell of The Old Curiosity Shop. They had a pretty big Tale of Two Cities display which was kind of nice since we are heading to Paris tomorrow!

It being another sunny day, we picnicked again in Russell Square. I've been reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield which is positively addictive but we left the park early due to an unwelcome close encounter with London wildlife.

I was sitting and reading when this squirrel started approaching our blanket. I sat up and sort of waved my arm at him, thinking he would startle and run away.

No. He kept on coming, evidently wanting some of my oatmeal cookie. He got so close that I jumped up to my feet but that didn't scare him. He just kept hopping toward me. I started freaking out but was trying not to shout so I just kept sort of squeaking "David! Make him go away! Ew! Ew!" and then I ran around and crouched behind David so that he was between me and the squirrel but the squirrel kept coming closer! I do not like squirrels, mostly because of that scene in Christmas Vacation where the squirrel comes in with the tree and ends up attached to Chevy Chase's back. I'm always afraid that those skittish things will panic and run up my leg and I'll end up with a crazed and diseased squirrel attached to my shirt while I run around screaming in panic.

So that was going through my head when I jumped up and moved away from the squirrel and I couldn't believe that he was coming so close to us. I'd left my shoes behind so I made David hand them to me and then I ran several yards away and left David to gather up the picnic while the incorrigible squirrel kept inching closer. He acted like he wanted to settle down on the blanket with David and share my freaking cookie. He looks much less scary in this photo than he did in person.

Cheeky little bugger, isn't he?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bugger Off You Wanker

*title totally unrelated to following post*

Today we went to the V&A Museum. AKA Victoria & Albert.

I wanted to see the Britain 1500-1900 galleries -- figured I would look at some art and furniture and portraits of Tudor and Stuart kings and queens and then we'd make a quick exit.

Inside the foyer of the museum. Dale Chihuly might have studied in Venice, but the dude lives in Seattle. Rock on, U.S. of A.

I did not expect to get totally sucked in to the fashion exhibit, but there it was. I was hypnotized by the dresses and suits and corsets and petticoats and shoes and the ridiculous skit performed by two museum employees arguing about why women's undergarments needed to be altered so that women were no longer deforming themselves with ridiculous corsets. There were amazing dresses dating back to the seventeenth century -- hoops so wide women had to turn sideways to go through doorways, all for the purpose of showing off the luxurious yards of material that the hoop-skirt wearer was able to afford. But equally amazing were the more recent dresses -- the best of the best of 20th century fashion -- fashion that spoke to its decade but was so flipping cute I would have happily slipped into anyone of the Chanel suits or Vivienne Westwood ballgowns and worn them home. The wedding dresses were yards of white or ivory lace and ribbon and organza all pleated and ruffled and tucked and gathered. They were incredible.

The Project Runway wannabe in me was fascinated by the displays of fashion designs by the recent graduates of the Royal College of Art fashion department. New York, Paris, Rome... they got nothin' on London. The clothes were so freaking cool and it made me want to be a fashion designer. Or at least practice my sewing.

Wishing I were a fashion designer. Also wishing I did not have a stupid bandage on my arm. I bought the book of the 2009 designs. That is how much I loved it.

David finally dragged me out of there to tour the British galleries and after checking out that display we had some lunch at the cafe in the museum. I've been pleased with the pretty large amount of vegetarian options everywhere we've gone and the sandwich at the cafe was no exception. Mmmm avocado. David ordered the "New Yorker" sandwich which was sort of funny. Like when I apologetically ordered "Cafe Americano" at the train station and I swear that the cashier giggled.

This is the nineteenth-century style textile I designed at the museum. They e-mailed it to me. Just call me William Morris.

Obvy, the museum was awesome. And we decided when we left that we hadn't had quite enough of museums and that we hadn't yet walked enough miles and that we are gluttons for punishment. So we hopped on the underground and headed for the National Portrait Gallery. We practiced our memorization of past English royalty (we're still not so good about remember the order... Henry VIII then Edward but don't remember his roman numeral, then Mary I, or II?, then Elizabeth I, then James II, then... eh... urgh. Is there a song like the one we have to memorize the presidents? George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe John Quincey Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison...).

We checked out the Kit Cat Club (evidently they rocked in their day -- the way men in wigs who belonged to exclusive clubs rocked). I swooned over Lord Byron's portrait and we checked out all the Victorians and all the modern folks as well -- the Bloomsbury group, the actors from the Harry Potter movies... Every museum here is amazing and even though we picked and chose and didn't walk the 12 miles of corridors that were available to us in the V&A, we were worn out by the time we staggered out of the portrait gallery.

We've gotten into the habit of heading back to the hotel for a nap and a shower before dinner everyday so that's precisely what we did. And that means we had just enough time before dinner to watch National Lampoons European Vacation which seemed funnier than ever before. I was cracking up and David was laughing at me laughing.

We had dinner at 8 at a tapas restaurant on Charlotte Street. This was the place where we had to make reservations and it did not disappoint. It was absolutely divine. Everything was just the right amount of spicy and savoury and delicious. My wine was too sweet but other than that it was my favorite dinner so far.

We thought we'd go to a movie after dinner but it turns out the late shows here start between 8 and 8:45 so by the time we finished eating, we'd missed our opportunity. Plus it doesn't seem like anything good is showing. GI Joe? G Force? Meh.

Tomorrow is our last day in London which seems impossible. Actually, it feels like we've been here forever and also like we just arrived. I do miss my dogs and my house and my cell phone. But I am definitely ready to see what Paris has to offer! Joi de vive!

*Note: There are no pictures of D in this post because he refused to pose like a statue in the V&A museum and he refused to let me take his picture wearing a paper mask of Lord Byron in the National Portrait Gallery Bookstore. Both times he said it would be "embarrassing." Whatev.