Feb. 9, 2016: Paris
This morning, as I’m in the kitchen brewing my tea fairly early and Kimberly is still snatching some winks, Kim enters, readying for his day trip to Germany. As the rain is pouring rather steadily, I ask him if he’s sticking to his announced plan to bike to the train station. He shrugs and says matter-of-factly, “It’s only ten minutes.” But he’s not displaying a hint of rain gear that I can see. Clearly a rather hardy soul.
Fortunately, the downpour soon lets up, and we head out with no clear objectives for our last full day in Europe. Soon we come to the Bataclan Theatre.
Designed in 1864 as an opera house, it was later converted into a movie theater, and in more recent years it has served as a venue for rock concerts. But 2 months ago, during such a concert, 3 terrorists stormed in, killing 90 people and injuring 200. Since then, the theatre has been closed indefinitely. [But 2 days after our visit, management announced it would reopen later in the year.]
Across the street is a makeshift memorial to the victims.
It’s heartbreaking to see photos of them, with messages and mementos left by their friends and loved ones.
But it’s important to remember them. All too often when an incident like this occurs — in fact, every single time — it is the perpetrators who get their names and photos in the newspapers, and their lives profiled on TV.
But it is not the murderers who should be remembered.
It’s people like this.
Next our meanderings take us to something similar to the High Line in Manhattan — i.e., a former elevated train line that has been converted into a pedestrian walkway/ park. But this one is closed today.
We also learn that, contrary to what we’d thought, there really are free public toilets in Paris. The city started installing them a few years ago, and they’re very state-of-the-art high-tech self-cleaning affairs, at least when they’re functioning properly.
This particular WC, however, could use some TLC. It could also use some less crude patrons, rather than the one who came in here and just did their business in the floor.
Eventually we find ourselves at the Paris Philharmonic, which looks as if the mother ship just landed.
Attached to it is a museum of musical instruments. And as the admission is only 7 euros each and we’re quite chilled, we decide to browse inside. It turns out to be a very memorable choice. As a music buff, I am in hog heaven. And even Kimberly, who had low expectations, is enthralled.
This stupendous museum is 5 floors filled with thousands of musical instruments that trace the history of music all over the world. Some of the instruments are hundreds, even thousands of years old.
Some are folk instruments from a variety of cultures.
Western classical music is represented, all the way back to the Middle Ages, when there were woodwinds called (for some strange reason) serpents.
But some of the other instruments from that era had names that weren’t quite so poetic: shawm, crumhorn, and — would you believe — sackbut. There are also instruments from the Baroque and Rococo eras, as ornate as the music itself.
As well as some very modern developments, including early Twentieth Century experiments in electronic music.
Among them is the notorious theremin, which produces an eerie, other-worldly sound when you move your hand around an electrode.
Invented in 1928, the theremin had its heyday during the exotic music craze of the 1950s, and was used in a number of well-known film soundtracks — notably sci-fi flicks like The Day The Earth Stood Still. It’s been said that the theremin caught on because it was something that anyone could play — and it then quickly fell out of favor because it was something that anyone could (and did) play. It sparked new interest a decade or so later when a variation of the instrument was used to very good effect by the Beach Boys on “Good Vibrations”.
There are other instruments that are just plain odd.
Among these is the octobass, which is a bowed bass about twice the size of the normal bass.
There are only 6 of these in existence, all built around 1850.
Having finished our tour of the museum, we have a look at some sculpture outside that seems to double as playground equipment.
And speaking of playgrounds, we come upon one that features a huge slide designed to look like a dragon, or a mosquito, or a dragonfly, or some such critter.
We also come to an encampment of RVs, more of them in one place than we’ve seen in all of Europe so far, apparently a traveling circus show of some kind.
Back at the apartment, Kim still has not returned from Germany, so we have dinner by ourselves, consisting of our Middle Eastern goodies. Afterward, we decide we should buy Kim some kind of gift of appreciation for letting us use his apartment. So I go out to a market not far away.
As I’m approaching the front, a man (a panhandler, I presume) comes up to me and says something, which of course I don’t understand. So I say, “Ne parle Francais”, which isn’t grammatically accurate, but he understands. “I just want a cigarette”, he replies in English. And I have to disappoint him again by informing him I don’t smoke. (Well, except for that little indulgence in Berlin, but he doesn’t have to know about that, does he?)
I pick out some little chocolate truffles that I know Kimberly and I would like, so I figure there’s a chance Kim will appreciate them too. The cashier, a pleasant young woman, greets me cordially, apparently asking me some kind of question. Didn’t she get the word from the guy outside? She seems slightly miffed when I don’t answer, but I explain that “I’m an American”, and then she nods and smiles, taking my rudeness in stride.
Then I go back home and we settle in for our last night in our borrowed apartment, our last night in Paris, our last night in France, and our last night in Europe.