Saturday, July 29, 2006

After the whirlwind visits from M and P, then K and D, and then the Klamkas, J! and I decided to take things easy for a bit, and stroll over to France to see what was going on there. M and the Colonel were doing some "work" in Paris at various prison-related archives, so they invited us to crash at their lovely 5th floor apartment for the weekend, which we happily did. J! had never been to Paris, I'd never been there during a season while the fountains were running, and M and the Colonel desperately needed a break from the dust and cramped handwriting of trial transcripts, so it worked out well for all of us. We spent most of Friday cruising around the major stops (the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Sulpice) , and then hung out on Saturday at the catacombs (twice), the Parisean sewers and the cemetary. Sunday was, of course, devoted entirely to Le Tour and the Champs Elysees.

J! may disagree with me on this one, but I'd have to go with the sewers and the cemetary as the highlights. First, they were easily the coolest places in Paris, apart from the freezer section of the local 2Go grocery store. The sewers, I admit, had a bit of a "musty" smell, but not nearly as bad as one might expect, given that there is an actual sewer (big surprise for me, at least) that runs through the "museum." Said sewer also comes with a few warning signs not to eat anything during the guided tour and to wash your hands upon exiting. Sage advice.

The Paris sewer system, as it turns out, is enormous. There are 1,312 miles of sewer pipes below Paris, an old pneumatic tube system (for carrying top secret messages), telecommunications pipes, and about 4 million rats. I was a little disappointed not to see a rat, actually. According to our tour guide, rats are very communal creatures and each pack of rats has a leader. If "water" starts seeping into a rat pack's group, the oldest rat in the group will drink as much of the water as possible, swelling up like a tiny rat balloon, thus allowing the younger rats to all escape. Personally, I have a hard time imagining this, but that may be in part because my own childhood pet rat (RIP) only swelled up once in her lifetime, and that had more to do with babies than flooding.

The history of the sewers, including how they cleaned them (think knee high boots), was all really interesting but I have to admit that the best part of the tour was the video reenactments at the end, in the gift shop. The Paris sewer system has a 24 hour crew that drives around and rescues objects from the primary and secondary sewers. So, if you drop your car keys down the street gratings (or, in the case of one sad woman, a pack of cigarettes with a "really important phone number written on it"), you need only to call the sewer hotline number and there's a 90% chance you'll get your belongings back. Of course, only Parisians know about this, so all those poor tourists whose passports and credit cards have found their way down the drain, are just out of luck.

The cemetary, while not quite as cool as the sewers, smelled considerably better and furnished no end of comments from the various members of our group (mostly consisting of "ohhhh, he's buried here?"). We visited Balzac, Delacroix, some poor guy we thought was Charlie Chaplin, Gertrude Stein, Imre Nagy, and several important French people whom I don't remember. My personal favorites were Oscar Wilde, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Heloise and Abelard. Just before closing, we were making a run for Baron Haussmann (after a detour to visit Jim, of course) when we got caught by the security guards and were forced to leave.

On Sunday, we avoided the touristy spots and headed straight for the Champs Elysees, to set up camp for the afternoon next to the barricades. We were later joined by S&S, with delightful J and A in tow and made a day of it trading places at the barricade so that we could all watch Le Tour cruise by. The race was great and even better was the victory lap, although I was disappointed not to see ALG not pop a wheelie. Landis looked happy as he rode by, but that was before his drug test results were revealed. Despite the sour beginning and ending to this year's Le Tour, I still had loads of fun watching it. I can only hope they clean up the sport for next year's race.

M and I at the Louvre. Awwww!

J!--blind hunchback from Notre Dame or little known dance member of Dieter's Sprockets?

Lunch with the Eiffel Tower.

As though we could possibly avoid using the bathrooms while in the Paris sewers. My final opinion--great water pressure, could use some cleaning.

The Colonel gets a drink from one of the free, clean water fountains in Paris.

The "Rose Line" in St. Sulpice. The church had notices posted explaining that despite the assertions of a "recent bestselling novel," this particular meridian line has nothing whatsoever to do with pagan cults, goddess worship, or the Priory of Sion.

A bulletin board in St. Sulpice, refuting claims made in The DaVinci Code.

Some prime real estate next to Georges Perec, in the Crematorium.

Oscar Wilde's grave--although clearly beloved (hence the lipstick kisses all over the stonework), the grave also has a small sign asking visitors not to desecrate the monument. Sadly, some guests obviously cannot read. Legend has it that the angel's tender bits have been knocked off several times by angry mourners, and that the cemetary curator uses them as paperweights.

J! and cycling legend Richard Virenque (the dark-haired man in the white shirt, seen in profile).

The Champs Elysees, just before the race.

The maillot jaune!

Lap 1 (I think).


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