Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fear For Sale

We have nothing to fear but fear itself – Franklin Roosevelt

I love my country and I fear for it – Glenn Beck

Once upon a time Americans were inspired to face their fears and go boldly into a new world. Fear was a bad thing that could be overcome.

Now fear seems to be the dominant emotion in today’s social and political arenas. Fear is exploited and encouraged. Why is that?

There is one reason: Fear sells. Americans pay big money to be afraid and have their fears confirmed and have the next Great Guru of Fright promise a way out, a way to not be afraid anymore.

I recently read Will Bunch’s book The Backlash. Throughout the book, Bunch traverses the country interviewing various Tea Party members. His goal was to truly understand them and their motives. After reading the book it seemed that fear was the common thread among all of the various movements across the country.

Where does this fear come from? It mostly comes from the media. Political pundits have become fear mongers, selling Americans on the idea that the country is in deep trouble. Terrorists will attack. Religion will be abolished. Guns will be grabbed. Taxes will send us all into poverty. Illegal aliens will spend all of our tax dollars. These things won't happen if the right politicians are in office of course.

This is only going to happen if we continue to allow Barack Obama to be our president, and if we continue to allow Democrats to be in Congress. Only one-party rule can save us - and that party is not only Republican, but it must also be Republicans of the Tea Party variety.

(Oddly enough, none of these folks find the idea of the rule of one party and one ideology frightening, but that's neither here nor there.)

Why is this fear perpetuated? Why are there so many public figures trying so hard to make us afraid? Why do we buy into it?

The reason is that fear sells. There is a huge profit to be made off of fear in both small ways and large. Fear is also a useful tool for controlling people. The government and the corporations pulling government strings can wield a lot of power by creating fear.

What are Americans afraid of, and who profits from it, and how?

I believe the Tea Party fears, the ones they try to push onto all of us, can be divided into a few types.

1. Fear of Totalitarianism - I was initially going to say that it's a fear of communism, but it's not really about communism. It's about communism as interpreted by the Soviet Union. As the Cold War began, we saw the brutal reign of Josef Stalin and the pain he caused his people. Like most empires, the only way to hold together such fast amounts of territory and many diverse peoples is through an absolute dictatorship. While no one can deny communism is an inefficient and awkward system to employ over large amounts of territory, Americans took it a step further. It became synonymous with dictatorships, repressiveness, and just plain evil.

Americans love a good slippery slope argument. If we let the government do A, it will automatically feel free to do Y and Z. The next thing you know, we're living in the new Soviet Union. Religion will be outlawed. Our guns will be taken away. Speaking out against the government will land us in prison.

This fear was exploited to the max during the Reagan era. Reagan wielded fear like a weapon over the American people. The Soviet Union was living in an almost medieval setup prior to 1917. It became a superpower through military might alone with little attention to its own economic growth (and hence its ultimate failure). Their weapons capabilities were often highly exaggerated by both our intelligence and theirs.

Ah, but that threat was useful to Reagan. As long he told us that they were ready to attack us at any moment, that we were in danger, then we would be too afraid to defy him. No one would question his extravagant spending and massive deficit as long as we were being told it was being done for our protection. The protection was being invested in military contracts, enriching some of the biggest corporations in the world. Using fear the president was able to take enormous power and rape the treasury, making a select few very wealthy.

2. Fear of Poverty - I was going to call this "fear of taxes", but it goes deeper than that. Taxes are just a convenient proxy for all of our fears about having no control over our finances.

For years the right has used the scare tactic that liberals will raise taxes. Liberals will make the government seize your hard-earned money and hand it out to people who don't deserve it - the "Handout People". The government is draining money from your pockets and there is nothing you can do about it unless you vote Republican.

It's a bogus argument really. How many people reading this can honestly say that their taxes improved dramatically during any particular administration. One of the most honest things I ever heard a politician say was during the 1988 presidential debate when Michael Dukakis said, "No matter who wins, your taxes will go up." Taxes will rise with inflation. They will rise according to the needs of the country. Like it or not, if you want your government to do anything for you, whether it's fund your military, repair your roads, provide your kids with education, or provide your meds in your old age, you are going to have to pay for it. No government is going to let you off the hook for this, no matter what the political party.

Do you know whose taxes are significantly cut during particular administrations? It's the top 1% of the wealth holders in this country. These are the owners of at least 90% of the wealth. We're not talking about those liberal Hollywood elite whom right wing pundits enjoying picking on. We're not talking about these millionaire right-wing pundits themselves. We're not even talking popular billionaires like Bill Gates. Those folks are small potatoes. We're talking about the true top, the tiny minority, the heads of the biggest multinationals in industries like defense, agribusiness, finance and energy. The very word "taxes" sends middle class and upper middle class screaming about how hard they work for their money and how taxing hard-working people is unfair. So many of them have no idea what tax inequality really is.

The theory has always been that as long as those at the top make money unencumbered, they would reinvest it into the economy, creating jobs, and providing cheaper services overall. This "trickle down" theory hasn't proven to be true. Untaxed and unregulated our top 1% has simply used the opportunity to take a bigger piece of the pie. They have downsized the workforce or else outsourced jobs to countries where they are not obligated to pay living wages or provide safe work environments. The agribusinesses also hire illegal aliens as another way of getting around compensation and safety regulations (and you think the immigration problem stems from the folks who hire a couple of Mexicans to mow their lawns or babysit their kids).

The right has been known to talk a good talk about our greedy financial institutions, but they refuse to see how their unregulated operations and unmitigated greed has caused economic collapse. To say that we need regulation would be to unlock the fear of totalitarianism. Bank regulations are a step toward communism for sure!

So the right wing pundits and politicians throw up the smoke screen of taxes and make scapegoats out of the less fortunate who have had the nerve to ask the government for help. What is ironic about this is that many Teabaggers are older retirees and veterans who are likely receiving government benefits such as Social Security, disability, veteran's benefits, and Medicare. So many of these people have had a very rough decade. They have been downsized out of jobs, forced into early retirement, been screwed out of their pensions, and been ignored by a seemingly uncaring bureaucracy. There is plenty of blame to go around for this, but the blame is so often misplaced.

Unfortunately, thanks to the fear of communism/totalitarianism they vote against their own interests, believing that the problem lies not with lack of regulation, but with the folks (the other folks - not them) who are receiving governments assistance (a pittance compared to the benefits multinational corporations receive). It is undeserving lazy people who are stealing money from our pockets.

The truth is most of us don't know how many paychecks we are away from losing our homes or heading to the breadlines. We don't know if a devastating health problem would ruin us. We don't know what lies ahead in our old age. Every single one of us pays taxes of some kind or another. That means every single one of us is entitled to the same "handouts" that those lazy, good-for-nothing poor people have. We all pay into it and we can all potentially benefit from it. If you're too proud to ask for it, then it's your own fault. Don't blame those who aren't too proud for taking your money.

3. Fear of Being a Minority - This video is very telling about how threatened white Christians feel about "The Other". Although the focus here is on Muslims, the statistics for the US count Latino immigration separately when considering US birth rates. To some Americans, culture must be fixed and unchanging.

Sadly, it's hard to keep the culture the same when European-descended whites are destined to become a minority in the US in 40 years. When one considers just how badly European Americans have been to non-whites, I would say that it has not been a pretty picture. We killed off millions of Native Americans, put Asians in concentration camps, enslaved blacks and then spent decades segregating them. Now Latino immigrants are harassed and potentially being denied citizenship rights. Once Euro-Americans are a minority, can they hold their power? If they can't, how will they be treated by these scary brown people?

The election of a half-African president is one of the scariest things yet to these people. Yes, they shall overcome. What is next? The popular TV show The West Wing had a Latino actor playing the president. We are also coming to realize that just because the majority of Americans idenitfy as Christian, we are granting legitimacy and tolerance of other beliefs. People who may not look exactly like us are gaining power every day. They're becoming successful, making money, making new rules, and changing the face of America. Some people find that terrifying.

It's not a coincidence how these Christian fertility cults have been given so much attention lately. Sure other religions have been known to breed copiously such as Catholics (unfortunately there is a heavy Latino element) and Hasidic Jews (white, but not Christian and not exactly in the mainstream culture). Now the happy, plastic automaton Duggars seem to make the morning news or People magazine almost on a weekly basis and seem to have a big fan cult around them. It's not just about following some Biblical mandate. These folks want to breed more Christians - more white Christians. They are desperately trying to make themselves into the dominant culture.

As long as we struggle to make certain groups second class citizens, the current frightened majority won't stand up for them if they are exploited.

4. Fear of Social Change - This is a big one. So many Teabaggers and other assorted right wingers are products of the social changes often associated with the 60s. They are overwhelmingly white (as mentioned above) and tend to be older, often retirees or semi-retirees. They grew up watching the world change rapidly and felt left behind by the movements that have defined our culture for the past 50 years. They see the world before the revolution as idyllic, because they are looking through the imperfect eye of childhood (didn't we all think the world was better when we were kids) and memory.

They see a world now that is more secular. Americans are questioning their God. They see more families seeming to fall apart (even if the divorce rate has remained steady, and even declined slightly over the years.) They see gays demanding - and sometimes receiving - equal treatment and acceptance. Despite 22 years of Republicans dominating the White House and 12 years of Republicans dominating Congress, no one has managed to overturn Roe V. Wade, or even introduce the legislation to do so, and the majority of the American people are happy with that. In his book, Bunch asserts that many on the right had believed that the election of Reagan would bring in a new era of morality. The Reagan years were merely a small blip, a last hurrah. Most of us have progressed beyond the nebulous "family values" that were supposed to define the new world order since Reagan was elected. Teabaggers are terrified.

The young people involved with the movement see the past through the imperfect eye of television. They want to live in a 50s sitcom world. They never knew how hard life was under segregation and institutionalized sexism and homophobia. They only know the seemingly more messed up world we live in now. Sure many issues came to a head in the 60s, but the changes were brewing for decades and decades before that. Children of divorced parents sometimes long for a world where feminism never would have given women other choices than to stay married. They're looking for a perfect world that never existed.

There is enormous profit to be made in this desire to bring back a different social order. This piece is an excellent explanation of how religious extremists are using this fear for profit. There is a war going on people. The nasty liberals are committing crimes against us. They're waging war against Christians and against the most sacred of American holidays. You must arm yourselves people. Arm yourselves with everything you can. Then arm yourselves some more.

No one has explained to me exactly what will happen if all Americans don't follow the same moral codes (within what is allowed by law). If we start trying to enforce one standard of morality across all citizens, then I would think we'd be heading in Taliban direction - but then again, by saying that, I'm just another fear monger.

5. Fear of Loss of Rights - This ties into the social change fear as well as the totalitarianism fear.

Thanks to the near-instantaneous delivery of messages today via Internet and 24-hour news, means it's very easy for someone to create a buzz when he says the wrong thing. If a talk radio host makes a racist remark, he is sure to be criticized all over the Internet. The next thing you know, the angry host is declaring that those nasty liberals are taking away his right to free speech. Never mind that the liberals who are complaining aren't censoring him. They're just exercising their own right to free speech. It's not censorship. Free speech goes both ways.

The fear of religious rights being taken away are also exploited for all they are worth. I remember during the 2004 elections a crazed right-wing group began sending out pamphlets to voters claiming liberals would "ban the Bible". It was a very silly assumption. Which liberals would be banning it (certainly not People for the American Way). What would they be banning it from? Schools? Libraries? All schools, libraries and bookstores? Despite this absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic warning, I still saw a promo for Sean Hannity's show where he said, "Coming up tonight: Will liberals ban the Bible?" Can you imagine how a mere 10-second promo spot could have members of the religious right shaking in their boots?

Has the government ever tried to force a church to close? Is Christianity illegal? One of the biggest religious right bugaboos is prayer in school, claiming that it's illegal for a child to pray in school. Of course it's not illegal at all. It's only illegal for the school to sponsor it. Children are welcome to pray of their own accord if it's not disrupting the class. Your average citizen does not welcome public proselytizing, but that's only a government issue if the proselytizer is a public nuisance or is trying to do so at a government sponsored event (as the government is not supposed to endorse any one particular religion as a way of promoting religious freedom).

Then there is the gun issue. Teabaggers are convinced the Obama wants to take away their guns. They beliece this administration is made up of gun grabbers who want to overturn the Second amendment. Not once during his campaign did Obama advocate for gun control (not that I ever heard and you can correct me if I'm wrong). Since he has taken office he has enacted no gun control legislation and has even allowed existing pieces of gun control legislation to expire. In other words, right wingers are actually looking for and making up things to fear. That just blows my mind.

Profits, profits, profits. There are profits to be made everywhere. At Tea Party rallies you can buy all sorts of stuff from hats and t-shirts made in China to high-end teabag jewelry. If you're a speaker at these rallies, you can command thousands for every performance. I suspect the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck make more money in a single appearance than most members of the rallies make in a year.

They claim it's a grass roots movement, but it's nothing of the sort. The Tea Party is being funded by some of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the country. David Koch, one of the wealthiest oil barons around has funded millions into convincing a disenfranchised group to vote against their own interests and promote his own. Make them fear a tyrannical government who will take away your hard-earned money in taxes, take away your guns, take away your right to speak out, take away your right to be Christian, and give the profits to illegal immigrants, and they will gladly hand their money over to you. The wealthiest in America know that the peasants can revolt with a vote, so it's best to use whatever tactics possible to make sure they vote in your favor, and see you as the savior and not the enemy.

America, let's stop the fear and let's vote to move this country forward and take it back not from the godless socialists, but from those who are taking all of our power and money away from us.

Addendum: I know that this blog has a very anti-regressive slant, but in the interest of fairness (and knowing someone will likely call me out on it) I will point out that fear profiteering is not only in the domain of regressives. I believe in global warming, but I won't deny that Al Gore isn't making big bucks keeping us in fear of the consequences. Christian wingnuts may be scaring other Christian wingnuts with their "The Liberals Are Coming to Get Us" books, but there are also plenty of reasonable progressives who also want to scare other reasonable progressives with books about how wingnut Christians are trying to take over the country, complete with conspiracy theories.

No one is exempt. Fear sells.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bombing

The more I think about it, the more I am disappointed with myself for my performance last night.

I sang in public for the first time in two years. I was very excited to be on stage again. I really wanted to do this. Although I had some songs in mind I had wanted to try out, I accepted one that the director requested. Beggars can't be choosers. I know the Harrison Players haven't been 100% happy with my behind-the-scenes participation in events and meetings recently. I should be lucky they still want me in productions at all.

The song was called, The Boy From... (more specifically from Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipa Zecatate La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz). It's a send-up of The Girl From Ipanema. The song's narrator is enamored with the boy in question and just doesn't get that he's obviously gay. ("Why are his trousers vermillion...Why do his friends call him 'Lillian'?") It was funny, really funny. It should have raised a few chuckles from the audience.

The song ended and I received blank stares and polite applause (except for the applause coming from the table containing my family of course). Did anyone get it? Did they know what the song was about? I asked Kevin. He said no. I asked him if my diction was okay (as a former student of the late Prof. Stites, diction is my specialty!) and he said yes. He just didn't get the song. My mother said she got what the song was about, but she didn't find it especially funny. I asked my father if he understood what the song was about and he just said, "Was it supposed to be The Girl From Ipanema?"

Clearly something was lost in translation. Maybe the lack of reaction to the song had to do with some of my flubbed notes. The melody could be complex at times (and the lyrics were a tongue twister to boot) with some very strange key changes (!@#% Sondheim!) I know I needed more than 3 sessions with the music director to learn it properly. I'm not that much of a musical genius to pick it up that quickly. There were some points in the song where I sounded downright awful and off-key.

What's worse though is that I didn't really sell it. The audience wasn't seeing the humor because I just wasn't projecting it properly. I couldn't convince the audience that it was funny. I was angry with the audience intially for not understanding the song. Now I realized I should be angrier with myself for not properly conveying the meaning of the song. I tried going my usual dramatic route in the first rehearsals. The director said it was much funnier if I did it totally deadpan. I'm not good at deapan. I admit that. I like to do things larger than life. I tried to restrain myself, but I don't think I did a good job. I wasn't singing from the point of view of a woman truly perplexed about why the object of her affection doesn't feel the same way and is missing the obvious signs. I didn't do it. I couldn't do it. It didn't work. I failed.

Maybe I should have insisted that I stay with a song I know I can sell. I can sing the crap out of songs like Cabaret or I Got Rhythm. I had suggested singing Look What Happened to Mabel, a song I haven't performed before, but I have been dying to perform partially because it's so perfect for my voice. I was on fire dancing to that one in my recital 3 years ago, so I know how the song feels to me (too bad I looked like a dancing sausage in costume). The director clearly wanted this song performed. I volunteered when they asked me if I would. He thought it was funny. He took a chance on my ability to perform it. In a way I feel I let him down.

The whole show was a bit disheartening to me. There were so many beautiful voices performing last night. These young women with the voices of angels - the sweetest, most melodious sorpranos imaginable, who drew thunderous applause after every song - made me sound more like an angry cat every time I opened my mouth. I wished I could have a voice so easy on the ears. I'm actually a soprano myself, but my top notes are shrill and screechy. No one wants to hear them unless they need support for the choir. Otherwise Rachel needs to keep the caterwauling to herself.

What's the solution? Should I be more demanding with what I sing in the future? Should I pick songs that I know I can sell?

Maybe playing it safe is the wrong way to go.

Perhaps I've gone so extreme with the loud, brassy character songs that it has all become too unpleasant and over the top. I may never sound very sweet, but maybe I should at least attempt to be sweeter. Maybe I should work on the ballads. A few years ago I was on a cruise and sang Dido's White Flag on a karaoke night. Kevin said the audience was transfixed. I bought the karaoke CD for myself and took it to singing class last spring. I mentioned to the teacher that the emotions expressed in that song bring me back to another time in my life - they express how I felt the first time something male ever broke my heart. The teacher felt I should explore this type of singing more. She felt I should make a bigger attempt to connect with those feelings and stop trying to put on a show.

I think that's the problem right there. I don't sing to connect to feelings. I do sing to put on a show. I love to perform because I want to be the center of attention. I want to scream, "LOOK AT ME," and if they're not looking I feel like a failure.

Sining class starts again for me this week. I think it's back to the drawing board for me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Paris - Day 5 & 6

French

I wish the French would go a little easier on Americans when it comes to learning and saying their words. I understand that it's easy to bash Americans and their perpetual ignorance of other language and cultures. Learning a foreign language fluently does require a degree of immersion that Americans can't always afford, living separated from Europe by a vast ocean.

One thing I learned while in France is that French is hard. I'm not talking about the funny spelling rules. Sure those can be complex, but they are fixed and once you learn them, you know them (unlike English where the spelling rules can differ wildly). What I find hard about French is pronunciation.

I began to really pay attention to how French is spoken. I tried to imitate the words. So much of French is spoken so differently from not only English, but other romance languages. The placement of the words in your mouth are just alien to me. Vowels are placed very differently. Consonants are touched on with more or less emphasis than you are used to.

I have studied Italian and Spanish and both of those have very straightforward consonants and very clean vowels (make fun of Giada DeLaurentis all you want, but she knows how to pronounce Italian words properly). There is no fudging in in Spanish and especially not in Italian. Those languages don't really differ that much from English either. English is "lazier" with consonants and contains far more diphthongs, but it still places its words in a similar fashion.

Studying other languages doesn't always help you with French. Yes certain words are cognantes, so you can read or understand them, but saying them is a whole different ballgame. I had a very difficult time making my Rs guttural instead of flipping them. Kevin told me I had to work on my merci`.

Maybe the French won't ease up on me, but I don't think I will ever make fun of a French accent. It works in reverse after all. The French must have an equally difficult time properly placing English words.

Day 5 - We began to hear reports that the weather would be improving, so we decided our first order of business would be to see the Eiffel Tower that morning. Fewer clouds would mean a better view.

We decided to walk the whole way there up the Seine. It was a nice walk that took us less than an hour. The sun was definitely starting to peek through the clouds when we arrived.


Lines were long, and strangely enough the line to walk up was longer than the one to take to elevator the entire way. We had had enough walking anyway, so we were happy enough to wait in the shorter line.
So we reached the top. We looked down. We took photos. We posed for pictures. I normally don't have problems with high places. I was fine in Notre Dame and the Arc De Triomphe, but for some reason I was very nervous in the Eiffel Tower. I think a building made of steel girders somehow seems more threatening then solid stone.


I wanted to explore a bit around the Eiffel Tower area, but Kevin reminded us that we still had other important sights to see. Our next stop was the Louvre.

Thank goodness for the museum pass. We were able to get in almost instantly. Once we were down in the pyramid, it was all so confusing. We wanted an audiotour, but it was unclear how to obtain one. The wings shot off in every direction. It was all so intimidating. Where should we go first?

We started with viewing the famous Winged Victory.

Then we went to the Italian and Spanish painters gallery. Here we looked at Renaissance painters, some of which were quite recognizable.


Then we decided to try the antiquities area. We started with the Venus De Milo of course, but then hung around the Greek antiquities for a while. Then I said we should check out the Egyptian rooms.

The Egyptian rooms probably took the most of our time. They went on forever. I don't think we came close to seeing all of them. There came a point where we knew we had truly had enough. We were probably in the museum for 3 1/2 hours.


When we left I suggested we try to find Angelina's for a snack. I had forgotten my map. I tried to remember where it was. I failed miserably. We were going in the opposite direction of where we should have been going. Oh well.

When we returned to our room I had a big bug up my butt. We did not visit Tuilieres when we were at the Lourvre. It had rained on Versailles. The day had grown progressively sunnier and I wanted to walk through a park! I decided to find the Jardin De Luxembourg.



It took about 15 minutes to walk there and I was rewarded with seeing some beautiful scenery at sunset. I wished Kevin had joined me as it would have been quite romantic and he would have had some stunning photos.

Dinner that night was local again. We ate at a Guy Savoy restaurant. We hoped for another beautiful day.

Day 6 - Kevin wanted to go to Pere Lachaise cemetary and see Jim Morrison's grave. I knew we needed a good chunk of time to do this as it's a pretty long metro ride to get there. We lucked out with our choice of days to visit as it was the most beautiful day of the week.

It may sound a bit morbid to say it was a beautiful day to walk through a cemetary, but it was really beautiful and peaceful there. Some of the tombs were amazing in terms of the art work. We saw Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Balzac, Proust, Rossini, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde.




For the second half of the day we continued north to Sacre Couer. The neighborhood is interesting in a seedy sort of way. The beautiful day brought out all sorts of people. There were entertainers all around the church.



The church itself was beautiful both inside and out (unfortunately we were not allowed to take photo inside). Climbing all of those stairs to get there helped burn off lunch.

Then of course we had to climb more stairs to go to the top of the dome. We looked down at more views and took pictures.


We left Sacre Couer and took the metro back towards our hotel, but instead of going straight home, we stopped on the right bank and walked along the Rue De Rivoli. We walked from the Chatelet station to Place Des Vosges. This area had the best shopping I had experienced so far. There were all kinds of fun stores. Kevin bought himself two new shirts and a new pair of shoes. I found a shoe store with several pairs that called to me as well, but I was too tired at the end of a long day to choose one and then try to find my size.

We ended it at Place De Vosges, which is an enclosed square with a park in the middle and various stores and galleries around the perimeter. It also home to Maison Victor Hugo. We considered going in, but we didn't have the energy for another musuem. Many of the restaurants looked good, but it was a bit early for dinner and we considered coming back to them later.



On our walk back we were so absorbed in shopping that we weren't really looking for landmarks and walked right by Notre Dame (the turnoff for our hotel). We almost walked all the way back to the Louvre. We turned around and headed east again and made it back to our hotel a bit later than we thought we would.

Once we were back in the room we had to stop putting off the inevitable and began packing for the trip home. It was particularly sad because we had had such a good day. It would be hard to say which day in Paris was the best day, but if I had to pick one, Friday would certainly be in the running.

We stayed in our neighborhood for dinner again. We were too tired to walk anywhere or bother with the Metro.

Day 7 - All good things must come to an end. We met our shuttle early in the morning and made good time to the airport. There were no real issues there except that they ended up searching one of my carry-on bags. It was filled with candy and cookies and I hoped they wouldn't be seized. Fortunatley they weren't. We had a decent flight and made it home by mid-afternoon.

Was Paris everything I expected it to be? I suppose it was, although no place is ever going to be in reality the way it is in your head. We saw some amazing sites, ate delicious food, and had some very educational experiences. I saw many things I have dreamed of seeing my whole life. This was supposed to be "my" trip, but Kevin enjoyed himself immensely, calling Paris the most beautiful city he had ever seen (emphasize CITY, not place).

So many friends and families had suggestions for us as to what to do, what to see, and what to experience. We saw much of it. There were also things we missed. We never spent a leisurely afternoon drinking in a cafe watching the world go by. I never ate a single macaron. I didn't hit any of the cool bars. In the end I'm cool with that. Kevin and I set our own pace for the trip and saw the things that meant the most to us. This was our trip and not anyone else's.

Maybe we didn't see everything everyone recommended or do everything we had hoped to do, but that's our best motivation to go back!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paris - Day 3 & 4

Attitude
The question everyone asks me now is, "Is it true that French people are rude?" Well, France is a big country, and I'm sure it has plenty of rude people, and I'm sure it has plenty of very pleasant people too. All I saw was a small sampling of people in a large city in a small country. How can I make such a generalization?

My daily interactions were quite pleasant for the most part. Few people seemed to look down on me for not being able to speak French or for being American or for wearing the wrong shoes. Most of the folks I met were servers and receptionists and ticket takers and shopkeepers. Being rude to me would certainly not benefit them monetarily. I had many pleasant interactions with Parisians.

Then there was on incident that made me wonder. Kevin and I were walking around our neighborhood shopping for some necessities. I came upon a Sephora.




There has been something I have been meaning to get from Sephora for the past few weeks, so I decided to go in and see if the Paris branch carried it. I found it and went to the register to make a purchase.

There were two registers open. One had 3 or 4 people in line. One had only two men who appeared to be together. Obviously I chose the shorter line. It turned out to be the wrong line. The two men in front of me were having some sort of issue and were filling out a form. The cashier looked at me sympathetically and assured me she would help me as soon as she was finished with them. I told her it was fine. I considered jumping into the other line, but it had grown longer.

Finally, a third sales person walked up to the registers and conferred with the other two. She saw me waiting there, clearly looked at me, and opened up the register. She then said, "Next," (she may have even said it in English) and looked right at me.

Before I could take another step and get in her line, the next person in the other line jumped right in front of me. The cashier gave me a sympathetic and puzzled look, but I was not about to start a fight with the line jumper. I let her go ahead, went in line behind her, and made my purchase.

Was the line jumper French? I don't know. Kevin thinks she was American. I don't think it matters. Rude and selfish behavior is not confined to one culture.

Every day I dealt with nearly being run down by Parisians on their way to this place or that. We squished together in the Metro. Parisian residents who aren't in the service industry have no need to be nice to tourists when it's not going to benefit them. I'm not saying that they were being deliberately rude. I'm just saying that they were just living their lives. These are people who just want to go to work, go home, have dinner, shop, and just be where they need to be. They're in their own individual worlds, out for themselves.

Paris is a big city, and people who live in big cities tend to be @ssholes. It's the nature of city living. When you live in a city you're constantly surrounded by people. You are likely to be paying ridiculous amounts of money for housing - and rather tiny housing at that. It's a very stressful way of life. You're not out there enjoying the endless pleasures the tourists are taking in. You're working and living in a real world. You just want to focus on making your way and it helps to ignore the throngs of humanity around you. Being surrounded by thousands of people also instills a certain level of paranoia and mistrust. That's not just Paris. It's New York. It's London. It's LA. It's Tokyo. It's Chicago. It's Mumbai.

So no, French people are not rude. They're just people. Human like you and me.



Day 3 - This was our busiest day of all. Too bad it was another gloomy day with intermittent rain.

We began our day with a trip to the Musee` D'Orsay. We thought it would be fun to use the Batobus for transportation. It's a hop-on/hop-off boat that goes up and down the Seine, stopping at the major tourist points. It's a pay-one-price ticket for the full day, which seemed like a good deal. It's also a scenic ride.

We picked up the boat at Notre Dame, which meant that we had to wait for it to go all the way up the Right Bank and then back down the Left to reach the museum. It was a longer ride than we anticipated. It was close to 11 when we arrived. Then we had to wait on a very long line. Even with the museum pass it took at least a half hour due to the security checkpoint at the entrance.

We were unable to take photos inside, so all I have are the statues on the outside.

We spent about two hours inside the museum. Knowing we couldn't see it all in one day, we concentrated on the impressionists and post-impressionists. We saw Van Gogh's famous self portrait along with paintings by Cezanne and Degas and Gaugin and Renoir and Manet.

After the museum we fortified ourselves with crepes and soldiered on. Ha ha. That was a great pun since our next stop was Le Invalides and the Musee` D'Armee. We thought it would be cool to see Napoleon's tomb.

The tomb is in an open crypt with a balcony looking down into from the floor above. There is a high dome above the crypt and over the entrance is a big altar.




My thought was, "All of this elaborate burial regalia for a leader who ended up exiled!" I suppose it's less extravagant than the Taj Mahal.

After that we were over the beautiful Pont Alexandre and on to Place De La Concorde. We were actually doubling back by doing this, but I thought Kevin would have some good opportunities for photos with the obelisk and the fountains.



Then we made the long walk up the Champs Elysee`s to the Arc De Triomphe. It's a pity that it began raining harder around that time, making the scenery a bit dull and less colorful. The leaves on the trees would have looked so beautiful on a sunny day.


We made it to the Arch. Exhausted as we were, we were still crazy enough to climb to the top. What the heck. Our museum passes got us in, so why not?


We could have had to have walked back to the Champs Elysee`s to catch the Batobus again, but we were far too tired for such a long walk. We just took the Metro back to our hotel.

For everyone who has ever told me how wonderful the Metro is, I would like to know what you are smoking. Whatever it is, I wished I had smoked it too before using the Metro. Yes, the Metro is a bit easier to navigate than the NYC subways, but it's just as dirty and congested. Connections take forever because they are so spread out in the terminals. Let's not forget the inconvenience of having to open your own doors when the train stops. (It's a good thing we discovered you have to do that before we had to get off at our own stops.) The seating is horrible. It's rows of facing seats instead of the bench seats you see on the subway in NYC. That means fewer places for riders to actually sit. I was rarely ever able to plant my tired butt in a seat on the Metro. The Metro does not even compare to the London Underground.

After walking down the chi-chi Avenue with its many chain shops, I was grateful to finally be back in my cozy, unique, little Latin Quarter!

I actually took another walk around the neighborhood before dinner. I hadn't really explored the Latin Quarter and its shops and sights yet. We had dinner in a local cafe and went to bed as early as possible. We had an early day ahead of us.

Day 4 - Today we took a tour of Versailles. We opted to go with a small group van tour. The RER could have taken us there right from our hotel, but we liked the idea of having someone guide us and having everything prepaid. Our tour picked us up a little after 8AM and we were on our way. We were joined by a mother and her teenaged daughter who were from Boston along with a middle aged man and his mother who were from London.

We started out with the palace, going through the major rooms including the Hall of Mirrors and Louis XIV's bed chamber.



Then we had about 45 minutes to walk the grounds before lunch. Our lunch at a very nice restaurant was included.


Then we went on to Marie Antoinette's hamlet. I loved this place. It is an educational working farm now and there were gardens and animals and even a vineyard. It was the perfect place for a traditional Fall day in the country, particularly with the backdrop of the changing leaves. It was too bad that the rain continued that day.

Next was the Grand Trianon, the palace of the kings' official mistresses. Here was saw Napoleon's bed. The gardens here were very blue.

Then there was the Petite Trianon. This was another,smaller estate belonging to Marie Antoinette. There were some interesting artifacts here like some of the actual china in the kitchen and a royal baby carriage. The gardens were also quite beautiful here.









We arrived back at our hotel in the late afternoon. We had a few hours until dinner so we opted to take a walk around the Ile St. Louis and explore some of the shops. We were particularly interested in some of the sweet shops we had spotted on our way to dinner on Sunday night. There were several interesting boutiques there as well and we managed to get a head start on Christmas shopping.

The day was also our 9th anniversary. Our dinner reservations that night were at the famous La Coupole. It meant another Metro ride *grumble* to get there, but we had a very tasty dinner to make up for it.

Another day down. Our week was now half over.