Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Paris Day 3 - Pere Lachaise / Happy Boxing Day!!

We left the house today around 1 pm and made our way to the Pere Lachaise cemetary. We began at the Pere Lachaise subway station entrance and wandered around the massive cemetary sans map. Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris, housing over one million bodies, and is one of the most visited final resting places in the world. The weather was cloudy, cold and damp, which was quite fitting for drifting around a graveyard with beautiful gothic stone mauseleums, broken graves, and thick layers of green moss that covered everything like sunlight. After meandering around for two hours without seeing any of the dead people we wanted to see, we found a map and then got back on track. We saw Jim Morrisson's grave, tagged with graffiti and littered with unsmoked cigarettes, flowers, and bits of paper with respects written on them. We then made our way up to see Oscar Wilde's grave. Oscar Wilde's tombstone is a large grey stone block with an angular winged man adorning the top. At one time the statue donned a penis, however it was ripped off and now adorns the desk of someone, somewhere, as the most literary phallic paperweight ever. What remains in Pere Lachaise of Oscar Wilde's tomb is covered completely in lipsticked kiss marks as a form of reverence from his admirers. I threw on some dark red lipstick, kissed the angels knee, and joined the ranks of Wilde's post mortem groupies! Next we made our way over to see Edith Piaf's modest grave, and then left the cemetery for a beer at a nearby cafe to warm up. Afterwards, we hopped the subway to Pigalle to witness Paris' notorious sex district in all its nighttime glory. We emerged from the metro with the electric glow of sex illuminating our faces and warming our cheeks. We walked to a tea shop where I bought two fruit and flower teas labeled "Mysterious" and "Venetian", which smell like heaven, and then went to "Cafe des Deux Moulins", better known as the Amelie cafe, where we had an aperitif of sweet white wine and a platter of dried sausage, pickles, and radishes dipped in butter and topped with salt. After our aperitif we walked thru Pigalle, and stopped only briefly to peer awkwardly inside a sex shop and to be propositioned by some skeeve ball on the street. We returned home for dinner and sleep. I'm feeling a cold coming on. I'm hoping I can stave it off with happy thoughts of puppies, sunshine, and fireworks off the Eiffel Tower.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Parisian Christmas

I awoke today at 3 pm still full from last night's feast. I ventured out into the living room where everyone was laying around watching "Arabesque", also known as "Murder She Wrote" dubbed in French, and dubbed episodes of "Jake and the Fat Man"! Merry Christmas everyone!!! We were all feeling pretty lazy, so we stayed in all day watching Jim Carrey's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and France's take on American Idol, called Star Academy. After an exhausting discussion of how "The Grinch" was originally a cartoon created by Dr. Seuss, and no, he wasn't a real doctor, and what??? You've never heard of Shel Silverstein?? "The Giving Tree" is one of the best children's books ever!! dinner rolled around. We finished yesterday's foie gras and smoked salmon, and then ate the most delicious chicken au jus I've ever inhaled, followed by alcohol and more alcohol. Merry Christmas!!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Paris - Day 1

We awoke to an empty house since both Cecile and Dominique had to work Christmas Eve. We showered, ate a simple breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolate, and then watched French music videos until Dominique came home around 1pm.
Once she got home, we put our shoes on and went for a walk to the subway in hopes of going to Montmartre. I still remembered the way to the metro station, with all of its twists and turns. We arrived at the Marx Dormoy station and tried to buy subway tickets but no teller was to be found. In his place was a hand scrawled sign promising a return in twenty minutes. Rather than wait for Mr. Undependable's return, we decided to walk to Montmartre.
It turned out not to be the death march I thought it'd be, and we arrived at the Sacre Coeur 20 minutes and 10,000 stairs later. After pausing to catch our breath for a few seconds, we walked around to the front and entered the Sacre Coeur. The Sacre Coeur is a huge beautiful, white basilica that rests on the top of the highest point in Paris, which makes it a great place to look down on the city on a clear day. Today, however, was not such a clear day. The fog hung so heavy you couldn't even see the looming, ever present Eiffel Tower.
We retreated inside and walked around the church gazing at its incredible beauty, and then took a seat in the back to have a better view at the curved dome without vertigo getting the better of us. While soaking in the stained glass, beautiful curved arches, and gold foil painting of Jesus with his arms outstretched, we spied a nun mopping the altar. I suppose even the house of God gets a little dirty from time to time and someone's got to clean it! Steve dared to snap a picture, ensuring that he will have bad luck for the rest of his life, and allowing me to reap the benefits, sans eternal damnation.
Next we walked down to Place du Tertre, where artists set up their easels and wait for inspiration to strike, or more often the case, for a tourist to come, money in hand. We walked around the square which was once the home to such artists as Dali, Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh, wandering in and out of shops and art studios with overpriced trinkets in each.
Continuing our walk down the summit of Paris, we crossed in front of the Sacre Coeur, past the handful of shysters who prey on unsuspecting tourists by calling them beautiful and then forcing them to pay for crap they braid into their hair, and then down toward Pigalle to wait for Cecile at the Blanche metro station. Pigalle is the sex district and is home to places such as the Moulin Rouge, and the lesser known Sexodrome, as well as dozens of skeevy shops with velvet or beaded curtains for doors and promises of Poppers for only 6€!
Cecile arrived at the Blanche station from which we went to a flower store to buy a white rose and then went to the chapel of Saint Rita, the patron saint of desperate souls. I contemplated praying for a million dollars, a boyfriend, or a boyfriend with a million dollars, but decided to just let Cecile give her thanks for finally getting her drivers liscense.
We then scurried home so Dominique could begin preparing Christmas dinner which consisted of 22 plates of food including duck, two types of sausage, smoked salmon, foie gras, mixed vegetables, two adorable Christmas cakes in the shape of logs with little decorations on them, and more cheese and liquor than you can shake a stick at.
All of this was consumed over seven hours. Ceciles gay uncle, Sylvain, joined us for dinner fresh from seeing a musical on broadway. He entered the dining room bearing fistfulls of condoms that he scattered upon the tabletop as if they were confetti, and he a Santa of Sex.
As our epic dinner was ending, and midnite was approaching, we opened our presents, which included makeup, perfume, and the 2008 Stade de France calander full of beautiful naked rugby men. Le Sigh. Once the festivites were over, we slept like pigs until daylight.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

London Calling - Day 6 / Midnite train to Paris

We awoke at 9 to pack everything back into our suitcases and check out of the hotel. After paying a deposit for them to hold our bags, we hit the subway and headed to Buckingham Palace. We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard. The ceremony is a lot of pomp, circumstance, and waiting around 30 minutes for not much action. Toward the end of show, the band that accompanies the guards began playing Christmas songs such as "White Christmas" and then vanished off into the distance, with police officers on horseback following them. We waited around for a while while the overwhelming crowd dissipated, took some pictures, and then made our way via subway to Tower Hill. The weather was less than perfect which made sight seeing virtually impossible. Standing next to the river by the Tower of London the fog was so dense you couldn't even make out the outline of Tower Bridge. As an alternative we tried to find somewhere to go shopping but found only souvenir stores. We decided to take a walk thru the city's business center and find some place for a meal, but every restaurant and shop was closed. We finally found a supermarket that was open called Tesco, where I bought some souvenir British tea. We continued on until we reached the Monument subway station and took a train back to Earls Court. We wasted several hours at a pub, sipping our beers, and chewing our jacket potatoes slowly to ensure we could keep in from the cold until it was time to make our way to Kings Cross/St. Pancreas to get the Eurostar train on the Chunnel to Paris. Once at Kings Cross, I searched for any signs of platform 9 3/4, but to no avail. My muggle eyes decieve me! The trains out of London were running late, including ours. We were to board our train at 8:35 pm, but didn't board until about 9:15 pm. We heard rumors of free train rides if our train is delayed 40 minutes or more, but have still to see if there is any truth to it. A free trip on the Eurostar beats a free pepperoni pizza any day! The chunnel was incredible. The whole trip lasted approximately two hours and ten minutes, with only twenty minutes of it underwater. The train travels at amazing speeds reaching up to 200 mph, and at times I felt that my head was going to explode due to the pressure. I briefly contemplated moving to London and having a career selling chewing gum aboard Eurostar. Seventeen trains service Paris and London each day, while each train is capable of seating a maximum of 766 passengers. We boarded the train, and relaxed in the spacious seats opposite each other with a table in between. Halfway thru the ride, we caught sight of the drink car, and Steve shuffled off to buy cans of Stella and equipment to make screwdrivers. We arrived in Paris at the Gare du Nord station a little after midnite Paris time, and met Cecile and Greg, whose train arrived only ten minutes before ours. Greg's stepfather is a cabbie, and he graciously offered his cab to drive us to Cecile's house free of charge. We arrived at Rue Tristan TZARA, took a quick tour of the apartment, and then crashed in the spare bedroom.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

London Calling - Day 5

We met Cecile and Greg at the Earl's Court station at 10 am. Once everyone was situated at the hotel, we took a train to Notting Hill's famous Portabello Road shopping market. Although a bit of a tourist trap, it was well worth seeing. The neighborhood is made up of candy colored houses with vines climbing towards the sky, that are set on serpentine roads winding in and out of each other. We started our meandering at Notting Hill Gate where street vendors were chock full of silver trays and teapots, handmade leather bound books, Russian dolls, and pocketwatches. I bought a small book for a few pounds, and we continued on past George Orwell's house (which only Cecile saw the tiny plaque for). As we continued down the road, the pricey antiques gave way to more affordable shopping, followed by numerous fruit, hot food, and flower stands. We stopped into a pub for a pint of Kronenburg white, and then continued on past the jewelry and tshirt stands to the tube station. We took the train to Knightsbridge to see Harrod's in the daylight, and were greeted with 20 tree hugging hippies protesting Harrod's for their inhumane selling of fur. After pushing past a hippie in a tiger suit passing out pictures of slaughtered animals, we entered Harrod's. The store was like a huge palace, decked out with marble floors, chandeliers, brightly painted egyptian statues, and memorial fountains for Dodi and Princess Diana. I seperated from the pack in order to fufill my dream of peeing in Harrod's. Finding the bathroom proved to be a difficult task, as I went up several floors, made a left turn at a rack of Dolce caftans, and finally asked someone where the lou was. Five minutes later, my dream was deferred no longer, and I felt no more need to spend time in Harrod's looking at overpriced everything. If finding the bathroom was a difficult task, then finding the way back out to the street was a nightmare. After circling the skincare department three times, and getting lost in the beautiful and expansive dining halls, I found my motley crew of hippies and almost cheered and joined them! Next we took the subway to London Bridge to visit a Christmas shop that Greg wanted to see. We wandered around an outdoor mall with a curved glass ceiling, and ate a light meal of bagel sandwiches. Next, we took the subway to Westminster and snapped a few incredible pictures of Big Ben and the houses of Parliment at night. We then made our way back to the hotel, where I accidentally napped while everyone else went out to Picadilly Circus. In the end I'm thankful I didn't go. Since it's close to the holidays and emotions are running high, some poor soul alone on this Saturday night before Christmas, decided to throw himself under the train, halting all service on the Picadilly line. Steve, Greg, and Cecile had to endure a death march back to the hotel. Steve got back to the room around 11:30 pm and woke me up. I was starving since I didn't really eat much, and decided to go out hunting for food. Earl's Court is usually a bustling center of life, however at this point in the night, EVERYTHING was closed! I saw a beacon of golden arches off in the distance and found that Mc"Donald's was open until 1 am. I begrudgingly ordered chicken nuggets and ate them back at the hotel, while Steve talked in his sleep. "Come in...close the door...hahahahaha.....YEAHHHHHH!"

Friday, December 21, 2007

London Calling - Day 4

We took the subway to Green Park this morning. We got off and had coffee at Cafe Nero, a HUGE chain in London with really excellent coffee. Next we hit Bond Street, which is SOHO and 5th Avenue all rolled into one. I was successful in imagining Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway walking down this street, as I passed Channel and Tiffanies. We found a secret street off of Bond with several sale shops called Avery Row, where Steve bought socks and scarves from Paul Smith and Oscar Milo. We meandered down further until we hit Oxford Street. I fell in love with a Japanese store sporting simple but beautiful clothes called Uniqlo where I bought two shirts and a jacket. Time before our show was getting tight, so it was back to the hotel, but not before we shopped at the queen mother of semi-affordable London fashion, Topshop. I had known about Topshop for several years now and had been yearning to take a pilgrimmage to their flagship store in Oxford Circus. The store was packed full of fashionistas looking for some Christmas bargains and was verging on claustrophobic. I managed to get out with a pair of fingerless gloves, a ring, and a sweater before my tunnel vision took over completely. Back at the hotel we changed into our new fashion, and hit the subway to make it to the Noell Coward theatre in time for the 5:30 curtain call. The play was really funny, and poignant for me at this point in life. The play focuses on a puppet fresh out of college who is trying to find his purpose in life. Everything is a struggle and time is spent wishing he was back in college, when life was simpler. Things work out in the end, but I couldn't help to feel sad when the play was over, knowing I've lived those struggles, and probably will again. However, songs such as "The Internet is for Porn", "If You Were Gay", and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", and the blatant, jaw dropping puppet sex is incredibly entertaining. After the play we wandered up to Leister Square and ate at a American wannabe hamburger joint called "Hamburger Union". We subwayed it to Knightsbridge to attempt to go to Harrod's, but found it closed at 8 pm, on a Friday, before Christmas. Crazy. Instead of going in, we wandered around the outside taking pictures of the amazing Russian ballet themed window displays and took pictures of the entire building at night which was lit up like a palace. We found a double decker bus to take us back to the hotel, and scored awesome seats in the front of the upper level. I hadn't taken full note of the fact that the British drive on the opposite side of the road until this point. Each turn of the bus was death defying stunt and I was certain that every sign we passed was going to end my life. Somehow we made it back to Earls Court safe and sound.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

London Calling - Day 3

Day 3
We woke up at 11 am and caught a train to Leister Square. Once there, we walked around the theatre district, weaving in and out of Chinatown, and bought tickets to go see "Avenue Q" tomorrow night for only 25£ each! I've never seen a broadway show before, and I had wanted to see this one for some time, so I'm very excited! With our tickets safely tucked away, we walked down to Trafalgar Square, and went to the National Gallery. This fine art museum is not only free, but chock full of heavy hitters like Van Gogh, Van Dyck, Rubens, Picasso, Seraut, Cezanne, El get the idea. After spending over an hour gawking at uber famous paintings like "Sunflowers" and "Portrait of Jane Grey", as well as a beautiful exhibit on German stained glass, we hit the gift shop and then took a double decker bus over Oxford Street. Steve bought two discount "pashmina" scarves, and then we each ate a pasty at a restaurant called Cornwalls. Pasty's are generally meat and potatoes that are wrapped in a pie crust, and were first made so that English mine workers could have a hot lunch on the go. My mom has made them for years, but I never had a true English one until today. Steve had one with bacon, cheese, and potatoes, while I had a turkey, cranberry, stuffing, and veggie pasty. It was...incredible. After scarfing down our pies, we walked to the British Museum. I had visited this museum my first time to London, but was armed only with a disposable camera with a faulty flash, and a complete lack of care that I credit to my then 16 years of life. We saw the Rosetta Stone, dozens of statues of Hindu gods, and enough mummies to keep me satiated for some time. The British Museum is the best museum I've ever been to. The English have raped and pillaged so many lands, that their collections of artifacts are truly amazing. My feet were starting to fall off, so we decided to head home for some rest and some ice cream. Europe has the most amazing ice cream. Imagine this - vanilla ice cream, wrapped in chocolate, dipped in caramel, and then enveloped in another layer of chocolate. All of this deliciousness is wrapped in in a shiny wrapper bearing the name "MAGNUM". Simply incredible. After about an hour of laying about our room, we threw some lipstick on, brushed out our weaves, and walked down the street to a curry house called Masala. I got this giant platter with curried chicken and a bunch of bowls of weird, but delicious food. London is known for their amazing Indian restaurants, so I wasn't surprised when it was the best Indian food I've ever had in my life. I washed it down with a sparkling Stella. The curry was still working it's revenge on my tounge, so we wandered down the street to a pub called Blackbird's, where I put out the fire with a $10 bottle of Becks. The plan is to go to bed early tonite so we can fit a lot in tomorrow before curtain time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

London Calling - Day 2

Day 2
We woke up early today, got showers and headed to South Bank. We walked around this industrialized area for a while, until glimpsing the London Eye. We made our way over to it, bought tickets at 15£ each, and boarded the world's largest Ferris wheel. The London Eye was originally constructed to be a temporary monument marking the new millenium, however became so popular and maintained backing from British Airways, that it still stands today. The wheel is comprised of large rooms encapsulated in glass, and rotates at one mile per hour, never stopping. On a clear day, visibility is about 30 miles out, however today was not such a clear day. Haze hung in the air with a vengance and wouldn't clear enough to even get a good shot of Big Ben or Parliment. It was still worthwhile though, being on such an amazing piece of machinery, not to mention it got us out of the freezing cold for about 25 minutes. After the Eye, we walked around past County Hall, the London Aquarium (which is the largest aquarium in Europe) and the permanent Dali exhibition space that I visited in my previous trip to London. We then bought tickets for a boat ride down the Thames, and tickets for the Tower of London. We boarded the boat and sat on the roofdeck for optimal touristing. The boat ride turned out to be an awesome decision since we saw a lot of things that I had wanted to see, but didn't nessecarily want to visit. We saw the reconstructed Globe theatre with the only thatched roof in London, the Tate Modern, the Queen Mary ship, Cleopatra's Needle, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the first all green phallic building built which is appropriately nicknamed "The Gerkhin". We also learned some fun facts along the way.

Fun fact #1- The original London Bridge was dismantled stone by stone and moved into the desert of Arizona. The London Bridge that now spans the Thames is a replacement.

Fun fact #2 - The Thames is owned by the Queen and no advertisments are allowed along it's banks. The only building to get away with breaking this rule is a company called OXO that apparently makes bullion cubes. They constructed their building so that there is a large tower with lights spelling out OXO vertically, and therefore constituting a form of advertisement.

Fun fact #3 - The family that owns Unilever soap is RICH! They have a ginormous building along the Thames that I can now only refer to as "The house that soap built!"

Our boat tour ended at the infamous Tower of London. The Tower of London is an ancient castle in London that has been used throughout the centuries as a place of imprisonment and torture. Some of the famous people to come to an end within it's walls include Anne Boylen, Queen Jane Grey (who became a queen at 16 years old, and served only 9 days before getting the axe), the two princes murdered by Richard III, and the dude Braveheart was based off of (no...not Mel Gibson). We took a tour guided by a true Beefeater named Phil. He told us how many people were not actually killed within the castle, but up a hill named Tower Hill. Prisoners were marched up the hill behind the Tower and were greeted by spectators thirsty for blood/entertainment. After the beheadings, the bodies were carried back to the chapel within the castle walls to be dumped uncerimoniously in unmarked graves beneath the chapel floor. The heads were kept, placed on spikes, and displayed upon London Bridge as a warning to others.
Phil also told us several gruesome stories, including the death of Anne Boylen. Anne was French and wished, when her time came, to be beheaded in the traditional French way, which is with the body upright and the axe hitting the neck in a horizontal stroke. Henry sent away to France for a proper executioner, who turned out to be so good that he killed her in one fail swoop. When he bent down to pick up her head, her eyes were still scanning the crowd and her lips were still murmuring in silent prayer.
Another story was about Charles III's illigitimate son that suffered the bloodiest execution in London's history. The executioner wasn't the most precise, and needed five swings of the axe, and eventually a hand saw in order to sever the head. Once the head was off, officials realized that he hadn't had his portrait professionally painted, which is customary of Royal's children, illigitimate or not. They then sent for the surgeon in order for him to sew the head back onto the body and prepare him for his portrait. The artist painted the portrait in a record 12 hours and his body is the only one to have been buried with it's head in the ground's chapel.
As if the stories and thousands of bodies stashed in corners weren't creepy enough, ravens circled overhead constantly. The ravens are said to have been good luck. One king once said that if the ravens were ever to leave, misfortune would befall the castle. Because of this forewarning, a raven keeper is kept on the premises in order to ensure the numbers of ravens stay sufficient.
Phil also told us about his post as a Beefeater, candidly admitting that he has no idea where the name "Beefeater" came from. He told us that in order to hold the post, he had to serve in the Royal Airforce for a minimum of 22 years, reach a corporal lutinent status, and earn certain medals.
After our tour was over, we wandered around the grounds, looking at the crown jewels including a 540 carat diamond from India that was showcased in the handle of a sceptor. We then walked through other towers and even got to see the torture racks. After our bloodlust was quenched, we exited the Tower and took some pictures of Tower Bridge lit up at night while it was opening to let a ship pass. We then made our way back to Earl's court and had a dinner of Chicken Kiev and Kronenberg 1667, and bangers and mash and screwdrivers at the Earls Court Tavern. After dinner we shopped at a corner market for drinks to accompany our budget Pop-Tart breakfasts, and went back to the hotel to relax. I stayed there until I decided to come to this infernal internet cafe where I have sat for the last 3 hours typing this and trying to upload my pictures onto Flickr. Soon I will shake the sleep out of my ass and make my way back to the hotel. Cheers!

London Calling - Day 1

Steve and I arrived at 10 am London time. Our plane landed in the middle of the tarmac, and we were ushered off of it, down rickety metal stairs, and into preheated buses that drove us to the terminal. After collecting our luggage, we took the blue line to Earl's Court, found our hotel, and then slept like pigs for four hours in our coffin sized room. At about 5 pm, we woke up, showered and went for dinner at an Irish pub down the street called O'Neill's. Steve had traditional bangers and mash, while I had a delicious baked potato the size of my head, covered in cheese, and a pint of Peroni. Never had beer tasted so good! After dinner we walked back to the tube, and subwayed it to Piccadilly Circus, which is the Times Square of London, complete with tacky Sony and Coca Cola electric signs.
We snapped a few pictures of the Statue of Eros basking in the electric glow, and then walked up to Leichester Square, where there was a Christmas Carnival in session. We ate donuts that tasted of funnel cake, and walked around watching people ride merry-go-rounds and tilt-a-barfs.
After we had enough of second hand thrills, we walked down Charring Cross Road and stopped briefly to listen to a street performer sing songs from the Jungle Book. We decided that we, in fact, did not want to talk like him or walk like him, and we continued on past the National Gallery and ended up in Trafalgar Square. I had made it a point to see this particular square, since it is currently housing London's Christmas tree. I was slightly dissapointed to see that it was total crap.
No one does Christmas like New York City! Sorry Europe! Not only was there a lack of Christmas awesomeness, there was also a lack of pigeons. I know pigeons are viewed as a general plague in most cities, but to me, they're symbolic of Trafalgar Square and it was kind of sad they were nowhere to be found. We then decided we would try to find a bus to take us back to our hotel. After waiting an interminal amount of time for a bus that never came, all the while freezing our bullocks off, we decided to walk back to the tube station. When we finally made it to the subway platform we saw a horde of people waiting for the train. The train pulled up, already packed to the breaking point. I stepped back, feeling nervous at the deep and endless ocean of flesh in front of me. Londoners were completely fearless venturing into the void, pushing first with their fingers, and then disappearing completely leaving only a faint sucking sound behind. After waiting for the next train and seeing it was no less crowded (it was 11:30 pm!!) I braved the blob composed entirely of human parts, and made my way back to the Hotel while Radiohead's "Packed Like Sardines In A Can" played in my head on loop. Once back at the hotel, we got into our pj's and watched a Christmas video countdown with such classics as "Christmas My Ass!", while cartoons demonstrated seasonal Kama Sutra-esque positions, such as "The Earmuff" and "Putting Up The Christmas Tree" in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Oh London, how I love you!