Thursday, September 27, 2012

Les journees...

Friends from England suggested we meet outside Paris one day as they visited family and took their leisure by wandering about the French countryside.  We met in Chartres at the cathedral.

Chartres Cathedral
 A view of the famous face of Chartres...

Jude and I had never been to Chartres.  A little research by using The Force (ie: Google) revealed some interesting properties about the cathedral there and we looked forward to seeing the village and visiting with our Recently Engaged to be Married friends.  I owed him a beer, in the least, for the kind gift of a steampunk book he felt I need to read.  "Dancers at the Edge of Time" awaits my attentions.  I need to finish Antonia Fraser's "Marie Antoinette" first.

Blue Madonna
 The blue color recipe was, until recently, lost...

Jami, of Jami's Jam Fame, will be coming to see us in November.  In preparation, Jude and I visited the Gare du Nord to buy rail tickets to Italy.  After a few days kicking around Paris, we'll be taking the TGV and visiting the Cradle of the Renaissance.  The exercise of buying tickets showed us how we could best acquire les billets for Chartres.  This time we visited the Gare du Montparnasse.

Rail travel here is Right Reasonable to my way of thinking.  One way first class tickets direct to Milan can be had for much less than 75Euros each if you plan ahead.  One way tickets to Chartres were less than 18Euros each.  It's not like you're traveling small distances, either.  No longer owning une voiture and no longer paying for l'assurance and maintenance and l'essance and visits to the tire dealer has freed us up to trade those costs for nearly absolute freedom to travel about the countryside for next to nothing.

Malkesadeck ~ Chartres Alchemist
 Well carved stone...

Chartres, as you have have already visited certainly can attest to, is an incredible place.  The cathedral sits on top of an ancient dolmen.  The stained glass is world renowned, and for good reason.  The stone carvings are not to be missed.  The history that speculates the Knights Templar financed the construction of the cathedral is quite interesting to consider.  Bien entendu, our Friends from England were a joy to visit with.

After a nice lunch, we wandered over to the ticket counter to buy our way into the crypt.  We learned that guided tours (the only way you can gain access, I guess) on this day were gratuite.  Free is a very good price.  So down we went to listen to a Great Lecture in French as we wandered the east end of the crypt that is located under the nave.  I casually leaned against the old Roman Wall as our Lecturer Extraordinaire described the Carolingian wall that was situated behind him.  He shared with us some history behind the ancient Celtic/Druidic well that is found there.  I nodded sagely as he lectured, leading our friends to comment that we must know more French than we were letting on.  We had a Good Laugh.

Chartres ~ Nave under restoration
 Under restoration, but still incredibly beautiful...

Jude said the price of the crypt entry (as in free) had to do with the fact that weekend was les journees du Patrimoine.  I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I didn't really believe her until we were back at our apartment that evening.  Using The Force confirmed what my wife said earlier that day.  I knew we were late to plan any serious visits around Paris for le demache, tomorrow Sunday.  So I looked for "interesting" sites that might not have the hords of Knowledge Seekers that the major attractions usually draw.  Several years ago we regarded the huge lines of Knowledge Seekers as they waited to gain entry to Usually Closed to Public Places all over the city.

This year we would do the best we could.

What we came up with was a Two Part plan.  First, we would visit l'hopital Saint Louis and their Musée des Moulages Dermatologiques.  Second, we would make our way over the Serbian Ambassador's residence that was located literally around the corner from our Parisian Point of Entry Residence over in the 16th.

Musée des Moulages Dermatologiques
 Saint Louis helping cure the sick...

The Musee was, how shall we say?, "interesting" indeed.  The skin disease adoring public is disallowed from taking photos.  It's a shame, actually, as there were some pretty incredible skin conditions on display.  Plaster casts were carefully made of various diseases starting over 400 years ago.  These casts were then used as the basis of the medical displays.  I guess one should be strong of heart and spirit to actually say they enjoy seeing such things, but I found it amazing.

The Serbian Ambassador's residence was something else entirely.  Shortly after we first arrived, Jude and I had looked from a distance at the incredible gold guilt, rich art, and fabulous tapestries and wondered what it might be like inside, up close, and personal.  This was our opportunity and it was well taken.  Words escape me to describe the opulence of the decor and vastness of the spaces.  The view of la tour Eiffel from the courtyard was stunning.

This ranked as One Stellar Weekend!  We would need several day to recover from such a great adventurous weekend.
Hopital Saint Louis

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Un mystère...

Summer this year has been short and only moderately hot.  We experienced three days of chaleur that kept us indoors.  The rest of the time was spent battling mosquitoes trying to gain entry to our apartment to steal some blood.

For the rest of the month of August, we wandered through the ghost town that Paris became.  Le congé annuel was in full force.  It seems that most people left la ville for points south and west to enjoy three or four weeks of well deserved vacation.  France has the 5th largest economy in the world.  People work very hard here.  So the time off is something they relish.  There were times when we wished we'd joined them.  The quiet our our emptied ville was nearly oppressive.

House of the Sleepy Lion
 Silent watchers over empty Parisian streets...

On a shopping expedition into the 5th, Jude found a wonderful needlepoint shop.  Their hand painted mesh and beautiful wool yarns were very attractive.  A kit might have to ordered soon.  With winter coming on it might be nice for Jude to have an activity that helps keep us indoors and out of the cold and wet.  On leaving the boutique, Jude picked up a guide to living in Paris.

The free guide is filled with interesting tidbits of information.  Including, but certainly not limited to, how to protect your apartment from being burgled.  As an outsider and not knowing the "lay of the land" here, it's easy to become paranoid about such things.  The guide opened a wide array of new opportunities to add to our paranoia.  It lead me to wondering how often thieves were successful, how they operated, and how paranoid should I be?

We noticed how a great number of apartments had their metal window protectors pulled shut.  Those apartments must have been empty.  French insurance companies require residents secure their domicile when their homes are not occupied, such as when everyone is away for the month of August working on the perfect tan.

 Chalk marks on the sidewalk...

The Paris guide included several pages that described a signal system thieves use, complete with illustrations.  Apparently, robbing unoccupied residences is a well organized activity in these parts.  The system includes chalk marks made on the sidewalk near building entries.  Symbols indicate which dwellings may have "friendly" women (why this is important, I have no idea), policemen who might live there, a building that has already been "hit", and symbols marking a residence that is ready for robbery.

Seeings as to how there was little else to do and seeings as to how we were more than a little bored, Jude and I started looking at the sidewalks in our quartier to see what might be seen.  It was fascinating.  One side of the street had chalk marks indicating the same number, like the number "5".  Another street around the corner might have "6" marked next to apartment building doors.  Where there was a business, no marks were found the entryways.

We talked over this new information and compared it against the marks indicated in the Paris guide.  They were not the same.  So we cogitated on this a bit and came to the conclusion that whoever made the chalk marks in our area either had changed the symbol system or used the symbols for some other purpose than to rob unoccupied places.

One day, two men were seen making marks all around our area.  They worked quickly and moved fast.  When they thought they were seen, they ducked into doorways or started conversations with people on the street.  It seemed like strange behavior, regardless of how we interpreted their activity.

What does these symbols mean?

A building one of the men entered had a very different chalk symbol than any of the other building entries.  What did it mean?  What were they guys up to?  Were they setting places up for robbery by indicating which buildings were most easily "hit"?  Or were they just two of the many delivery folk who put flyers and ads into resident's boite au lettre?

It was all a mystery.

What we observe is this:  Since les vacances have ended and the quartier is once again filled with life, living, and uniquely Parisian activities, the chalk marks have disappeared.