Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cranky Resident/Cranky Traveler

We're currently accepting submissions for France Revisited's upcoming "Cranky Resident/Cranky Traveler" issue in which all is not beautiful and tasteful and macaroon-perfect in the City of Light (or elsewhere in France). If you'd like to submit, send a 200-300-word description of your idea or a full text (500-800 words) to francerevisited@aol.com by Sunday April 7. We aren't interested in accounts of a single bad experience or a specific business you don't care for but in short essays that show what's wrong with the state of architecture or fashion or service or food or whatever you're feeling cranky about. Please share this with fellow cranks who might be interested in submitting. No payment but much glory and a large audience for your crankiness.

My friend Gary Lee Kraut, of France Revisited, put this request up yesterday.It just so happens that I went to visit Montmartre with assorted family on Saturday, so it's all fresh in my mind. This one experience, though, seems to be a fair example of most of my visits up there with friends who want to see the church, the view, and the artists and pretty much like vieits elsewhere.
First of all, when it's cold and gray, Montmartre is a bit colder and grayer. When it's cold and gray in December, you just grin and bear it and say to yourself that it's winter, so stop complaining, but when it's the very end of March, you bear it without the grin. It actually snowed for a while when we were having lunch. However, you can't dictate the weather when you schedule a trip. It's always either too cold or too hot or raining....
When you get out of the metro at Abbesses and you see that the wagons all empty out at Abbesses, you figure you were not alone on this pilgrimage. So, you start the museum shuffle down the street and you can't cross the street because of the pedestrian traffic coming at you, not because of the cars. There was a long, but quick-moving line for the funicular and the children loved it. At the top, there was a bit of a jam trying to get out and to the steps where we had a view of the white fog over Paris. We couldn't see any major monuments, and it was hard to stay out of the way of people taking pictures of loved ones on the steps. The human statues are always amusing; I don't think anyone was leaving them any money, though. There was a harpist entertaining and then, further up, a violinist played classic French hits. We got into line for the Basilica visit; only one gate was open for both ingoing and outgoing traffic, which caused another traffic jam. All this time, we had to keep counting one another: 6 adults and two small children, who kept switching the adult they were holding hands with. The Basilica is cold and dark -- 19th century Roman architecture, none of the light, airy Gothic. There are so many people you shuffle along, down the left side and back up the right without much time to notice anything of particular interest or beauty, leaving me with the impression there isn't any. There are very clear signs asking tourists to respect the place (no photos) and the people who might be praying (silence), but it's clear that most tourists ignore the signs, even when a staff person put his hand in front of someone's camera to stop him from taking a picture, it only worked until the staffer went on with his work. 
From the Basilica to the Place des Tertres, we needed to stop to eat. The first place had an electrical outage, but the second place could accommodate the eight of us. About five minutes later, that would not have been possible as they filled up to the point of having a waiting line! In fact, I think it's the first time, I've found seating so early in the search. We were very lucky and promptly served. That's when it started snowing. After this satisfying stop, we shuffled off through the pedestrian traffic to the Place des Tertres to admire the artists at work -- and they do draw good portraits and caricatures. We were impressed, but not to the point of sitting for a portrait; it was too cold. We ducked into a gallery to get warm and figure out the rest of the day. Emma and I took the kids home with us and the others went on to the Flea Market at St. Ouen, another place I will not go to in winter, even if it's officially spring.
To be fair, the travellers in our group were perfectly happy. We can't choose the weather when we schedule our trips and you just have to plug along. The children were well-behaved; no one got lost. It's the shuffle. It's the same shuffle in museums, at Mont St. Michel, at Notre Dame. To be fair, again, it's the same shuffle in Rome, in Florence, in New Hope, the Great Wall of China or any other popular place. As I get older, I can't stand to shuffle; my back can't take it!

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