This “August is vacation month” idea is a good one, you should get in on it!

Beth, Pete, and Pete’s mustache all arrived in Paris just ahead of the Peloton in late July and we watched the final laps of the Tour de France up and down the Champs Elysees.  A delightful consequence of the Tour’s route into Paris is that there are now pitchforks painted on my commute (on Route de Saclay between Saclay and Vauhallan if you were wondering.)

After a brief tour of LAC for Pete and Beth, I shut off the lights and closed the lab door for two weeks.

People often ask me if I’ve done this or that exciting thing in Paris.  The answer is usually a big “nope” – I have a job that keeps me from my normal MHP lifestyle in Paris.  So Beth and I tore up Paris doing all the tourist stuff that you’re supposed to do when you first show up.  I’ll try to cover some of the highlights below.

  • Musee d’Arts et Metiers – The coolest “arts and crafts” museum I’ve ever been to, it includes a particle accelerator *and* let me decimate Beth at GoldenEye.  They also have a whole room for explaining how gear systems evolved, kinda like that one staircase at Science and Industry.  A whole room!  Sidenote:  Can we have a frank discussion about how MSI has really gone down hill?  It’s kind of a terrible museum at this point and that makes me sad.  (Was it always a terrible museum and I just didn’t notice when I was five?)  It’s like all industry, no science.  It’s like a giant agribusiness ad at this point with one missed teaching opportunity after another.  It’s like the head curator decided that showing you science is enough to teach you science.  Baby chicks and model trains get you far, but not far enough!
  • The catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau – You know that whole part of Last Crusade in Venice?  The catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau are basically like that, but with more skulls.   Like, real skulls.  Going down into the catacombs provides one of those moments where you say to yourself, “Man, I knew Christianity was one of those bizarre New Age religions, but it sure is a bizarre New Age religion.”  Overcrowding of Parisian graveyards was causing dead-people seepage into the well water, and all of the remains were placed into abandoned stone mines at the (then) edge of the city in the 1780s. By 1810 it was decided to stack all of the bones in the mine to create decorative patterns out of the millions of remains in the catacombs.  Yes, it’s completely strange, and you should check it out.
  • Musee d’Orsay  and Centre Pompidou-  Musee d’Orsay has a nice impressionist collection, and a double nice audio guide.  Makes me feel like they should convert more train stations into museums.  Centre Pompidou is currently showing their permanent  collection up through 1960, and then showing some sort of giant “women artists” show in half the museum.  I’ve discovered that I really prefer curator essays about works to artist quotes about their own works.  The permanent collection predominantly featured small, well-written, essays by curators, whereas “Elles” almost entirely had half-baked quotes from the artists about their own work.  It was all,

    “My art has been commended as being strongly vaginal which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina.”

    Curators tend to bring broader perspective to a work and how it was received. Plus they’ve also gone to school forever, which makes them kin.

  • Beth and I got a few really nice bike rides in, including to the Abbey in Cernay-la-ville, out to Chartres Cathedral, and a nice 110km loop past Versailles and down to Chateau Rambouillet.
  • Chartres Cathedral –  There was a three-way rumble between Chartres Cathedral, St. Chapelle, and Notre Dame de Paris.  Chartres Cathedral, with it’s adorably awkward asymmetric spires and deep blue stained glass totally wins.  For starters, admission is free, the 80km train ride only takes an hour, and the cathedral isn’t jam packed with tourists.  Seriously, tourists are just awful, awful people.  Which brings me to…
  • Versailles – You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time I was elbowed in the back by a complaining American tourist fighting for space to take a badly lit picture, I could have paid the 18 Euro admissions fee in nickels.   Just walk around the gardens for free, and if you want to know what the Chateau is like inside, rent Sophia Coppola’s mediocre Marie Antoinette.
  • Also had dinner with Daniel and his wife while Grandma and Grandpa had the kids for the week.  They’re really delightful.  Found out that everyone in France is practically a mycologist compared to Americans.  Daniel and Delphine: “We don’t know anything about mushrooms,” followed by a high level discussion between the couple about picking wild mushrooms in the woods and the best places to find them.  “If you find a good mushroom spot, you don’t tell anyone!”   I was pretty much raised that if it didn’t grow in a blue plastic carton with saran wrap over it then it must be poisonous.  Other highlights of dinner include that the schools are still good because of their proximity to Chinatown and Daniel’s wife also claimed that it’s the *fourth* week of vacation that makes it feel like a real vacation, regretting only taking three straight weeks this August.

People are finally starting to filter back to work after a month off, tanned and relaxed.  The shutters on shop windows are finally open again and the trains are crowded in the mornings.  Don’t worry, not to work too hard, there’s already a strike planned for next Tuesday.