We are headed into the belly of the beast today and I’d like to catch up on how I felt at some of the in-betweeny places before getting too far behind. I truly do not want to short-change any of the sites we attended over the past couple of days but these posts are likely to be less extensive as a result.
We spent our last full day in Paris tromping around like the soldiers that we’re not. Paintings in the Louvre gave a cursory introduction to what life might have been like for soldiers, although being honest any of the portraits found there were grandiose caricatures of the generals and kings purporting to have been involved in any sort of battle or warlike action. The truth was likely more along the lines that the figureheads hung back in their castles or maybe some fancy tent eating like the kings and generals they were. The infantry and other grunts likely shivered through the dark frigid nights gnawing on bits of dried meat and rock-hard bread readying themselves for the next day of sacrifice and pain in the name of the king or emperor.
As we stood beneath the Arc it was hard not to wonder about its intended purpose, so I was pleasantly surprised when I came to realize it was about honouring the troops, the unnamed soldier and yes, of course all the generals and other important folks telling everyone else what to do and when. It was not lost on me that the crazed traffic circle around the thing was the ultimate example of everyday first world battles we face. Vehicles whizzed, horned blared and no one except the drivers had any iota about what the person in front of, beside or behind them was going to do next. We’ve come so far, yet are reduced to mere survival in a bit of heavy traffic.
Our march down Champs Elysees was iconic. Particularly in recalling that thousands of troops once covered that same ground, including the Nazis in 1940 when Paris surrendered to them. Now, the icons are Hugo Boss, Gucci and Ambercrombie & Fitch. In spite of what I can only assume is pride that this self-important street has become an ostentatious and flashy offering of luxury, it felt as impolite and boorish as only those living in huge cities can be at times. Does anybody ever smile? Don’t get me wrong, some people were truly lovely and I admit that it was difficult to take my eyes off some of the razzle dazzle sparkly beckonings, but I felt more at home walking by the Palais Grand and through the army museum than I did along that stretch. Maybe if it wasn’t so, how you say, iconic?
The Army Museum was again something that I have never experienced and was another way along this journey to walk in the boots of the long lost dead. Walking through the first entrance headlong into a huge fully armoured horse and rider I imagined myself a foot soldier trampled underfoot. Cameron was quick to point out that there were likely thousands of those riders and my mind conjured bloody images, the thunderous roar of hoof beats and the clamour of metal on metal. Through ages and cultures the memorabilia awakened my already busy imagination yet reminded me of my limited knowledge of history. While only a glimpse and obviously it goes without saying that things are different these days given that with the push of a button the world could be wrenched into an unimaginable war, the collection was a grim reminder it wasn’t long ago in the history of humankind that gritty battles were fought frequently for the advancement of noble men. Not the least of whom was Napoleon, whose remains and those of a few close friends and family are entombed at Les Invalides even though he died in exile. Irregardless, his final resting place again beautiful and awesome like everything else in this city; the photos can’t begin to capture the scale.
We realized we were getting short on time and still wanted to make our way over to the Eiffel Tower to pilgrimage to the top. I have to put in a quick plug for the restaurant we stopped at in between locations as they served the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted in my life, Le Petit Caillou. My apologies for the advertisement, but if you are ever in the area, I highly recommend their establishment. Fully sated, we proceeded with our jaunt, approaching the tower from the park. Even though I had experienced its’ magnitude this past summer I still found that I stood enchanted beneath the monument. Unfortunately, still not enough to wait 1-2 hours in the security line up to enter the perimeter around the base. In 2 of 2 trips to Paris, the Eiffel Tower has thwarted my attempts to get up close and personal. Maybe there’s a reason for that.