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Ruminations on a week and a half in Europe

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, May 18, 2009 23:37 EDT
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Having been gone from the blog while experiencing a bunch of crazy shit for the past week and a half, I figured I’d indulge myself by sharing some observations with you, categorized by The Great Themes Of Human Existence. At least, as I see them.

Death
Thanks to the folks who recommended the Paris Catacombs. The Louvre was cool, of course, but we may have found this even more enjoyable, because no matter how much you prepare for it, it’s still startling to see that many dead bodies piled up like that. It was interesting how the people who packed all these bones in tried to show respect for the dead, despite the fact that they were dismantling skeletons and rearranging them so they made the most secure kind of wall to hold the bones in place. You saw a lot of encrypted stones, and attempts to arrange skulls in the shapes of crosses and hearts, to show, I suppose, that being dead and forgotten doesn’t mean that the living don’t still have some sort of affection for you. But what was really overwhelming was the numbers of skeletons—thousands, I’d guess. All dead and forgotten. It’s a fate we all will enjoy, and you really see in the Catacombs how much religion is about trying to convince ourselves otherwise.

Identity
So, I show the security guy at Charles de Gaulle my passport after the interminably long security wait, which must have crushed my spirit, because I immediately thought the worst of it when he looked at my passport, looked surprised, and started to nudge his coworker. At this point, I’m thinking, “It’s a bad picture, but it’s not that bad.” And then the guard looks up and asks me, “Parlez vous francais?” My coffee-deprived brain then registered why he was excited—most Americans don’t look at the name “Amanda Marie Marcotte” and register any kind of assumptions about nationality. But for a Frenchman seeing that on an American passport, you do have to wonder if someone is a nationalized citizen taking a trip back to the homeland. Alas, I was forced to disappoint him.

Gratitude
You always hear idiot Americans, especially of the right wing variety, wank about how cowardly the French are, and how ungrateful they are that the Allied Forces saved their asses in WWII. But they have named entire streets after Winston Churchill and FDR, so people who say that can shove it right up their asses.

Ugly Americans
I heard also that the French were rude. I found this to be untrue, which I attribute to the fact that I don’t walk up to people and start yelling at them in English, and then getting pissed if they don’t understand me. Some people you meet are spiky, but so am I, so I found the impatience and sarcastic attitudes I encountered to be a warm, fuzzy blanket. Since I also enjoy wine and cheese, I have to wonder if there’s something genetic going on. (Kidding!) I had forgotten there was a Disneyland in Paris, but occasionally you saw reminders that made me worry that someone was going to get sued.

Music
I’ve already gone on at length about the music we took in when we were in England, so I’ll leave that, except to say that if you’re in London, I highly recommend going to Rough Trade Records. I’m still grinning after seeing that place. Jazz is exactly as popular in Paris as promised—ubiquitous, even. We went to a divey bar in Belleville and there was a jazz duet playing that was pretty good, if involving a weird singing style. But of course, after they left the stage, it was a steady stream of mostly American indie rock, though I did hear the Canadian band Metric playing.

But we tried to get out to see Datarock and Rye Rye in Paris. Alas, being weak-willed and over-traveled Americans, the chances of staying out all night (which appeared to be the plan at the club we stopped by) to do this seemed impossible, though paying 8 euro a beer while we tried firmed up our decision for us. Someone told me the club stayed open until 6AM. I liked Paris a lot, but that’s fucking nuts. I’m too old for that. Instead, we wandered around the neighborhood, which appeared to be the red light district, with the Moulin Rouge stuck right at the center.

Sex
This surprised me, because I wouldn’t have actually thought there would be a hefty, seedy sex trade around the Moulin Rouge, which I think of as a slightly risque Disneyland. But no—not only is the neighborhood swimming with strippers and likely prostitutes, but there are more dildos for sale per square foot than possibly anywhere in the world. Also, a million barkers trying to get you in their strip clubs by declaring that ladies get in free. We couldn’t have been more disinterested in the stripper thing, but the sex shops were amazing—I’m a fairly open-minded person, but I felt like a Mormon (albeit it one more entranced and amazed than judgmental) being exposed to that stuff. The sheer diversity in sex toys available, as well as costumes, porn videos, bondage gear, and pornographic comic books blew me away. But my favorite was the tongue chair that you see here, which was at a museum and not available for purchase, not that anyone would actually use it for anything but novelty purposes.

Culture! History!
They’ve got a lot of that in Europe it turns out. Who’d have thought?

In all seriousness, what impressed me, on top of the sheer amount of priceless artifacts that we saw at the Louvre, was the amount of trust the curators had in the crowds. The Louvre was packed, swarming with children and teenagers as well as adults, and despite this, you could reach out and manhandle the art if you wanted to. A lot of shit that would be behind ropes or glass in the U.S. was right there for touching. This was true of the Catacombs as well—I just can see someone deciding to glass in all these dead bodies, but the security there appeared to be nothing but an occasional guy in a chair yelling, “No flash!” to little avail. (There was surprisingly little graffiti in the Catacombs, despite this.) Smaller items that are easy to steal would usually be behind glass, but on the whole, if you wanted to put your grubby hands on some priceless art or artifacts, you could totally get away with it. Of course, no one does, which is why they probably feel so confident making it available.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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