A Fish on a Bicycle

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ireland guinness tour

Some people live to visit Jerusalem. Others, the Blarney Stone. Me? The St. James’s Gate Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

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The Severely Smitten Student

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amiens opener

The south portal of Notre-Dame d’Amiens

As much as we love Paris, we always try to take a little out-of-town trip so that Tom can get a train ride. This year it was Amiens, just over an hour away.

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20,000 Leagues and Eight Squirrels

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amiens poster

Let’s get one thing straight: a “league” is a not a measure of depth. A league is equal to three miles. As Jules Verne would have it, twenty thousand leagues was a measure of horizontal distance under the sea, a journey that would’ve gone on longer had Kirk Douglas not interfered.

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The Ghost in Box 5

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Box 5 was always reserved for the Opera Ghost. If management dared to sell it to the public, dire consequences ensued. A stagehand murdered in a deep basement. An 8-ton chandelier falling on an innocent patron. A great soprano who suddenly can only croak. The Ghost had the Paris Opera in its clutches, a possible curse always at the ready.

So goes the 1901 novel The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, which has become a couple of films and a blockbuster musical. The setting is Palais Garnier, as the Paris opera building is called, after its architect Charles Garnier, a stripling of 36 when he won the contest to design the building.

Is it Rococo, Palladio, and Renaissance? Let’s just say it’s wicked busy. No stone is uncarved or wall unpainted, no window undraped, no pillars without busts. All possible in-between places are emblazoned with lyres.

(Click images to enlarge)

When the Palais Garnier was finished in 1879, the building hosted both ballet and opera, but the real stars were the parading wealthy nobles and socialites of the Belle Epoque. Women dressed in voluminous skirts, wide decolletage, layers of petticoats and acres of ruffles, all topped off by enormous hooded cloaks. So much to see!

Gentlemen of wealth proudly walked the hallways arm and arm with their courtesans, who, if pricey enough, shed extra status upon them.

The entrance foyer has its own balconies with viewing niches, the better to see who’s with whom and wearing what. Missing a husband? Well, maybe he’s slipped backstage to visit a favorite soprano. All the subscribers were allowed.

What with all this busy swooping around, much more real estate is devoted to lobbies and stairs than to the 1979-seat auditorium. We were barred from the orchestra the by a rehearsal, but we did get to see a practice pas de deux on a monitor in the lobby.

A small museum houses fifteen thousand leather-bound scores and librettos, all safely behind grills. We also got a close look at some of the Opera’s collection of 3000 pieces of costume jewelry. (These are garish, very fake but very large for easy viewing.)

And what of Box 5? It is there, now with a brass plaque claiming it for the phantom. What is never made clear is whether or not there ever was a ghost, or a clever trickster living in the deep recesses of the building. Author Leroux was a journalist, and he is known to have fictionalized a lot of non-fiction for dramatic effect. What was real? One can Google it forever. But we are in Paris. And we’re off to grab an aperitif.

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte from the garden side

I love a good castle, especially with furniture inside. (That is the very definition of a good castle. Bad castle= missing one wall, cold, damp, moss and frogs within.) In my lifelong mission to visit every good castle in Europe, we got ourselves on a train to visit Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, 55 miles southeast of Paris. It has a compelling story.

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Galliera

 

Musee Galliera

Palais Galliera

One of my very favorite….

Sometimes in Paris I….

A favorite sport in Paris is….

Okay. I admit it. My very very favorite thing to do in Paris is shop. I shop every single day, though I rarely buy anything. The joy of shopping, especially here in Paris, is enjoying the magnificent products of France and the incredibly luscious way they are displayed. In other words, shopping is like going to a museum.

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Musée des Arts décoratifs

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I just love the colors on this Bonaparte place setting

One reason I love the Musée des Arts décoratifs is that I get to walk by the crowds forming a queue outside the Louvre’s famous pyramid entryway, and walk right into the equally impressive building next door. Yes, it can get crowded, and yes, some people know about it, but somehow it’s off the tourist track.

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