Friday, June 18, 2010

On the road (Europe 2010): Paris

Arrived in Paris on the 16th in the early afternoon. We are now settled into the apartment we are borrowing here, which is in the 16th Arrondissement, near Trocadero, just across the river from the Eiffel Tower (the top of which is visible from the windows). From just a brief walk around the neighborhood I can see this is a rather well heeled section of the city with many upscale shops. Had a leisurely breakfast yesterday morning from walnut bread, peaches, apricots, strawberries, and yogurt picked up at some of the little specialty food shops nearby.

Yesterday afternoon it rained, so it seemed sensible to do something indoors, such as see the military museum at Les Invalides, which has a fabulous collection of arms and armor from all over the world, from medieval times through the modern period. Some of the armor made for the kings is spectacular. There is a complete collection of the uniforms of the French army, mostly on life-sized mannequins, some mounted on horses, also fully decked out as they would have been. Napoleon’s white horse Vizir is here, stuffed. Every sort of dagger, sword, spear and bludgeon you can imagine is on display, along with bows, arrows, quivers, and shields—not to mention pistols, muskets, rifles, and cannons of every kind. It’s well worth a visit even if you have no interest in military history per se. The time and resources that went into making such beautiful objects of death and destruction is remarkable. Seems strange to devote so much energy—love, almost—to the production of such exquisite objects meant only to kill and destroy.

Napoleon’s tomb is also here—a giant red stone sarcophagus on a high pedestal with a circular gallery around it on two levels. On the upper level are the tombs of various other military notables, among them Marechal Foch, who I remember chiefly because there is a grape variety named after him. It was fun to see the famous Ingres portrait of the Emperor Napoleon again. The displays have been updated since I was last here, but there is still little explanation in anything but French. Interesting nevertheless. This is another place you could devote several days to if you wanted to. There is a whole floor of models of forts that I didn’t even look at this time, and a section on the two world wars that there was no time for either.

Later picked up food for dinner at Lafayette and looked briefly at Printemps--two of the fancy department stores in Paris--French versions of Harrod’s. Lafayette had a pretty amazing wine collection, including such things as Mouton Rothschild back to 1918 and similar offerings of all the first growth Bordeaux wines, along with d’Yquem. There were bottles costing as much as $6,000. I remember a time when many of these wines were affordable, or within my reach anyway. I’m grateful to have had the chance to taste so many of them when I did. Today the plan is to go to Versailles. 

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