Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Someone has found this site by google searching "laxative torture." Gosh. I don't what they were hoping to find, but I don't think this is it. Anyway... more notes on Paris. Bill Bryson is a wonderful travel writer. His books are awfully funny, and awfully good. "In A Sunburned Country," about Australia, "Neither Here Nor There," about Europe, "I'm A Stranger Here Myself," about America from the perspective of someone living in London for 20 years, and not really a travel book as much as it is an Andy Rooney-style (but better, although I do like Andy Rooney oftentimes) set of commentaries (and is truly, truly hilarious), as well as a book about England ("Notes from a Small Island"), a couple of books about the English language, a small book about Africa, "The Lost Continent," about small-town America, and a science book, his most recent, "A Short History of Nearly Everything," that's as delightful a way to learn about science as anything I've seen. He writes really well. He's engaging even when he's not trying to be funny, and when he is trying to be funny, he's often very successful. I say all this for two reasons -- (1) if you're looking for someone new to read, give one of his books a chance and I think you'll like, and (2) honestly, when I'm writing this Paris stuff, he's the model I'm holding up in my mind as an example of someone who I think does this really well. So I just figured I'd let you all in on that. Anyway, here goes. This is longer than it needs to be -- I apologize for that. But hopefully it's interesting and worth the read.

1. Musee de la Musique -- After a hearty breakfast of four different varieties of cheese, I took the Metro to Parc de la Villette. All of the tour books I've seen say it's a lovely park, under-visited by tourists because it's out of the way and barely in the city. But it's home to the music museum, which I figured might be interesting (and the Cite des Sciences, which the guidebooks all like, and, while art museums aren't my thing, I figured anything with a giant 1000-meter squared geode IMAX screen had to be cool (I was hoping the brochure would say "12 stories tall" or something to that effect. I have no idea what 1000 meters looks like). But more on that later. I got to the Park -- I mean the Parc -- at 11:40 -- the museum opens at 12 so I wandered around for a little while and watched a soccer game where everyone playing looked extraordinarily skilled. Wandered back to the museum as it was opening, picked out the American tourists (the ones standing impatiently in line) from the French people (the ones throwing trash on the ground indiscriminately). This museum was stupendous. I know I had unkind things to say about Picasso yesterday, but the Music museum was fantastic. They had an headphone audio tour -- available in English, thank goodness -- that activated every time you passed a display. And there were lots of displays. There were 9 "suites" in the permanent exhibit -- making up a tour of musical instruments from the 1600s to the early 1900s -- from recorders and simple harpsichords and small violins to the more complicated things we have today. Musical samples from Beethoven, Mozart, etc, with context provided on the audio tour. Definitely worth it. Someone could have spent probably four hours in there if they'd listened to everything start to finish. The only downside was that the range of the headphones was small, so you only heard the music if you were standing right in front of the exhibit -- take three steps, and you lose it. So there was a lot of standing and listening and seeing how far I could stray and then walking back. This part of the museum was virtually empty, because no one comes to this museum anyway, and the people who do are probably there, I gathered, for the temporary exhibit...

...which was a huge and ridiculously comprehensive journey through the career of Pink Floyd. "Pink Floyd Interstellar," it was called, and looked like it was put together with great care. Listening booths, psychedelic lighting, posters, TV clips, and on and on and on and on. If I was a Pink Floyd fan, I would have been in heaven. Taking a stairway to heaven, in fact (that's not them, is it...?). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should visit this exhibit to learn what they ought to do. I've been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the problem was it was too broad -- too surface -- this exhibit was deep and interesting and wonderful... if I liked Pink Floyd. A Billy Joel exhibit like this, I'd travel three hours and pay $30, no question. They had handwritten lyric sheets, actual instruments used, behind-the-scenes clips, props used in music videos, newspaper clippings, all presented in a very attractive and elaborate set of displays. Excellent stuff. Although I don't know why they chose Pink Floyd and not, say, the Beatles, or Bob Dylan, or Britney Spears. Yeah.

2. Science Center -- I wandered across the Park and found the Science Center, an enormous building. Grabbed a brochure. And realized I was all museumed out and didn't really need to see the exhibit on "Bamboo, an unusual Grass." That's right from the brochure. Also the odd "Scenes of Silence -- an exhibition experience, in silence, to develop awareness of non-verbal communication." I swear I am not making this up, but the brochure flags the "Scenes of Silence" exhibit as being "presented in English." Figure that one out. I appreciated the brochure, the walk through the parking lot as I looked for the cafe, and the toilet. But I decided I would save my 6 Euros and head elsewhere. I did pick up a card by the gift shop advertising the "Tenniseum" (great name), the museum of tennis. Be patient. I have more to say on that one later.

3. Next stop was the Champs-Elysees, a street filled with stores they have in America. Haagen-Dazs, McDonalds, Gap, Benetton, and the Virgin Megastore. I spent 27 minutes in the Virgin Megastore. Alert readers will make the ironic observation that I spent as much time in the Virgin Megastore as in the Picasso museum. Yes, yes, I know. It was interesting though -- I listened to French pop at the listening stations, amused myself by reading what the translations were of movie names in the soundtracks section, and found a curious section called "West Coast" that was filled with CDs by the individual members of the Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, etc), Chicago (Bill Champlin, Peter Cetera), and a whole bunch of Japanese import CDs of American country music songwriters who never had solo careers in the states. This was an odd discovery. There is some country music I like, and I'm reasonably familiar with the names of a bunch of the songwriters, because I look at stuff like who writes the songs I like. Apparently these songwriters, used in America solely for their songs and not their voices, release Japanese CDs that then get imported to France. For $1, I would have bought some, just out of curiosity. For an average of 33 Euros (40 bucks) each, I'll stay curious. Weird. Prices in general were pretty high. I was not tempted.

4. As I wandered down the Champs-Elysees, I saw a huge line in the street. I looked up and saw I was near a movie theater. The first title I recognized was "In The Cut." It baffled me for a moment why that would have a huge cult following in France, and then I realized that the poster for Le Signeur de Anneaux (forgive the spelling if it's wrong -- I scrawled notes on a receipt to remind myself of stuff throughout the day -- it's not that legible). I assume that means Lord of the Rings. Huge line.

5. Reached the Arc de Triomph, a huge archway covered in scaffolding. The real triumph at the Arc is figuring out how to cross the street. 13 streets intersect at the Arc. "And only one man survives...."

6. At this point, I began to think about buying a gift for my mom's birthday, which is just after the new year. A gift from Paris would be cool, I think. I'm a bad gift buyer, though, because (1) I like my gifts to be meaningful, and (2) I like my gifts to be cheap. And (3) I have a hard time buying things for people that I wouldn't want to get, and that limits my choices to thinks with food. :) Not really, but sort of. So I went into a gourmanderie, translation obvious, and looked around. Smoked fish, mustard, and duck liver all sound like terrible gifts. I will continue my search.

7. At this point I decided to venture off to the Tenniseum, prompted by the card I picked up at the Science Center. The card says there's 100 of something there. Exhibits? I don't know. Maybe tourists. I would try to be #101. The Tenniseum is such a popular attraction that it is not listed in any guidebook, and in fact is off the map in the guidebook I've been relying most heavily on ("Paris for Idiots," by a five-year-old). It took 4 trains to get there. I think the stop was d'Estination Final. So after I got to the stop the card insisted was closest, I looked around, and blessed with a terrible sense of direction, hoped for a street sign. I saw a street sign. It was ambiguously pointed (another 13-way intersection). I went unambiguously wrong. I found myself walking on a dirt road past apartment buildings, sure I was wrong but not knowing how to fix it. Eventually, after a giraffe crossed my path, I asked the only man in sight to help. I said "Pardon," and he said, in broken English, "You speak English." Yes, my pronounciation of "Pardon" was all it took. I showed him the map on the back of the card and he laughed. "You are North. This is East. This not accessible on foot." Thanks. "Return to the train station and try going right. You get closer." So I did. And I found myself walking through an empty park as it was getting dark. Passed a woman, asked for help. "Pardon." "I am sorry, I do not speak English." "Map?" She looked at it. "You can no get there on foot. Highway. Must cross. No foot." Aw, screw it. Back to the metro, I give up, no Tenniseum for me. Maybe the guidebook authors couldn't get there either.

And that is enough for one day. Sorry nothing about the law. I'm trying.