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For Spring break 2009, the Valley High School (from West Des Moines, Iowa) combined String Orchestra and A Capella Choir went on a tour of France including some places in Normandy and Paris. This page documents some observations and photos by one of the chaperons, Al Prosser, and his daughter Ariel.
I finally got to have some protein for breakfast! It took me a few minutes to figure out that there was a timer on getting electricity to the stove and microwave. I had to turn on the timer, then the stove worked. We had a frypan so I cooked up the sausages. They had some different kind of taste than I have had, they must use different spices. They were good anyway. I also put as much Camembert on my bread as would fit, since we would not be able to eat all of it before we went back to Iowa. The cheese was the consistency of cold nacho dip. Left alone it would settle. It smelled... strong, but tasted good.
There were some last minute changes to our schedule on the last day. It seems that President Khadaffi of Libya wanted to visit some of the same places, like the Arc de Triomphe, so our guide was on the cell phone figuring out where traffic was not tied up. Each of the buses had to work out different schedules.
We stopped at the Northwest side of the Eiffel Tower for a photo op. The souvenir vendors were very aggressive, so although I saw a guy setting up to sell some beautiful art, I told him I liked it but not now. I had the idea of stopping there later on free time. We went over to the other side, near a monument for Peace. There were no aggressive vendors yet, and there was a guy with some paintings and drawings. My daughter had expressed a desire to do more shopping than to come back, so I thought harder about buying a painting while I had the chance. I asked the vendor if he was the artist, and he said no, it was someone from Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart). I did find one I liked, and he knocked 20% of the price he was asking. It is about 8x10 inch and a scan is attached. We got our obligatory photos with us and the Eiffel Tower.
We drove over to the place where war veterans stay and Napoleon's tomb is located. It took some sorting out to get our tickets, so many of our group sat or lay down. They were showing signs of fatigue after almost a week. We took some goofy pictures, then got a picture with our tour guide.
Finally, we got to go in to see Napoleon's tomb. It seems he was so important, that he needed 6 caskets, one outside the other. Well, we can say we have been there.
Next, we drove through town to get to the Paris Opera house. There we were to be released into the wild for about 4 hours. On the way we passed a wedding party getting photos at a fountain, and other scenes. I hoped to be able to visit the Bahá'í National Center and Bookstore. It is located a little West of the Arc de Triomphe. Some friends told me it was a long way and I should take the Metro (subway). Our guide offered to take any of who desired on a tour of a perfume museum. I was still hoping my daughter would join me on my quest, so I went along.
The perfume company with the museum is called Fragonard. A handful of us went in, and a lady originally from Eastern Europe or Russia acted as our guide. She said it was a chance to practice her English, but she was not hard to understand. She explained about the history of perfume, different methods of extracting fragrance and so forth. It takes mass quantities of flowers to make a small amount of perfume. There was a map with where different fragrances come from. She explained the difference between perfume and the diluted versions. The perfume has 25% essence, and the others have less. I have always been either allergic or chemically sensitive to fragrances, but for some reason the expensive stuff did not bother me. She explained about how “The Nose” (a special job with a perfume company) gets trained. Of course, at the end of the tour we got the chance to buy at factory direct pricing. There was a further discount for buying cases of 5 bottles. We were allowed to combine with friends to buy a box and pay separately. My daughter bought a small bottle for $35 after conversion.
After the perfume tour, my daughter decided to stay with her friends to do more shopping, but we decided to have lunch together first. We went to the 7th floor of a big department store called Lafayette Galleries where they had a cafeteria. I had some leek and potato soup. It tasted very much like when I make it at home, so that made me happy.
I think to walk all the way to the Bahá'í Bookstore I would have needed to leave just when we got off the bus. I decided to start walking, but when I came upon a subway station, I decided to try it out. The students were not allowed to take any transportation, but that did not apply to me. I went down a couple levels and asked the ticket agent how to get to the Arc de Triomphe. I needed to get to the Charles de Gaulle star station. It was 1.60 euros. She told me I had to take the “A” line. I had trouble with the turnstile and she had to give me another ticket. She was very patient. I was glad it was not a busy time. It seems like I went down 3 more levels and got to the “A” platform and...there were tracks coming and going and none of the signs were for my station. I had to go to a map, and find stops farther down the line to figure out which train to take. I only had one stop, but it seemed like a minute at high speed to get there. It took me a while to figure out the way to exit, but I finally found a sign that said Avenue Foch, the direction I needed.
Opposite the Arc, the Champs Elysees becomes the street of the big army. From the bus I had seen several motorcycle and scooter shops, so I went to check them out on my way. It was fun going in and telling them, in French, that I was visiting from the United States and just wanted to see what the bike in France looked like. I told some of them that I used to race. They were all friendly and left me free to look around. While riding around town, we saw a lot of unusual scooters. The Piaggio MP3 series were fairly common, with two front wheels and leaning. It was not unusual to see the BMW scooters with their fully enclosed cage over the rider's head. I hope the US safety officials do not get too close a look. It might be cool to have one for the weather protection but I would not want to be forced to ride one. Unfortunately, I was out of batteries at the time I was close enough and the BMW dealers were not convenient when I had free time. The model is not listed on current BMW website.
I turned off on Pergolese street after taking a picture. It was a couple long blocks down. The Bahá'í Center was a small building, with not more than a poster indicating what it was and the hours. Before the trip I found out on the internet that they are only open a couple hours a day. I had to buzz in. A nice lady, younger than me, answered. I asked her if she spoke English and she held her thumb and forefinger close and said a little. I said that I spoke some French so she asked that we converse in French. I had a nice visit, told her a little about my visit, and that I wanted to buy a book in French since we do not have many to choose from in the US. I bought “The Secret of Divine Civilization” a book I like in English, a little booklet with the quotes from a course I tutor called Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, and a CD of songs in French. The CD was taking a chance, but I like it so that worked out. I told her that I needed to get to the “Place de l'Opera” (Paris Opera house) and where should I find a taxi? She offered to call me a taxi, and I decided to let her. I found later that the taxi starts charging when it leaves the taxi stand but it worked out anyway. She said a “gris” (grey) Citroen would pick me up in a few minutes.
Back when I was 22 years old, I worked as a chauffeur for about 9 months, driving a van and bus in Houston, Texas. I know a little what it means to know the rhythm of the city. Paris has a faster rhythm. I told the driver where I wanted to go, and we were off. He moved effortlessly and shifted the manual transmission seamlessly. In Paris, there are special bus lanes on some busy streets, and it seems that taxis can take those lanes. Most of the time we were going 45-50 kph (25-30 mph) but it felt like we were passing cars like they were standing still. Probably because they were standing still. He would flip over to the bus lane, then when we came up on a bus or needed to turn he would squeeze back to the regular lanes. The entire time, he was talking on a headset, describing where he was, probably to a dispatcher. He looked like he could have come from North West Africa, like Algeria. The entire time I was watching the meter, hoping I would not need to have him stop before I ran out of money. We got to our destination before I ran out, so the experience was worth it. Speaking of knowing the rhythm, I also think it would be fun to ride a motorcycle in Paris. I think I would rather do that than drive a car there.
I got back in plenty of time to walk around and get some flan before the bus.
We had a concert scheduled for after dinner, so the boys changed into their tuxes in the bus on the way to the restaurant. This mostly consisted of putting on their shirts, ties, and jackets. The girls waited until all the boys were off where we parked a couple blocks from the restaurant. At the concert at La Madeleine, one of the violinists was wearing a dress that was way too tight for her. When we saw how short it was for her we said that whoever switched would be the one with the dress dragging the ground. Just then, her friend walked up, holding up her skirt. She had even helped zip her friend up, wondering who would have taken the wrong skirt! It was too late to go back to the bus, so they went to the restroom in the restaurant. It was one of those where one has to pay.
The dinner was another where some people liked it and some found it too unfamiliar. We started with a “salad” that was a loaf with three colored bands. The waitress only could tell us it was vegetables. There was some kind of white sauce on it. I ate it and it was ok with the sauce. The main dish was some kind of loaf on a bed of lentils. We eat lentils at my house so I did not have trouble with it. We had a hard roll that I think everyone ate. I think most people ate the dessert, some kind of flan or tart.
The last concert was to be at 8:30PM at Saint Roch, a mid 19th century church squeezed in a little North of the Louvre. We arrived at dusk. It had an unusual statue of some figure floating over the pulpit on the left side, directly across from the crucifix. I only took a few pictures. I could sense mixtures of sadness at the thought that we would be leaving the next day, and relief that we would be leaving the next day. Most of us were a little exhausted. To be honest, the performances sounded as good to my rock music damaged ears as any of the others. The orchestra director made the unusual move of letting the choir director conduct the combined performance. It moved her and caused some consternation in the orchestra but I thought it a good move for the last performance. I did notice that he went back in the audience and enjoyed the performance from a different perspective, just watching and listening to the result of everyone's months of hard work.
Due to French labor laws, we had to get different buses to take us back to the hotel.
If you care more about pictures, click on the picture of the day or the date. If you want to read the descriptions, click on the reference to thumbnail versions. The thumbnails are displayed 1/25 the size. See Note below.
March 16, 2009 - Paris. Choir concert at Notre-Dame. Louvre
Concert at La Madeleine. Dinner
at Monte-Carlo after short walk on Champs Elysees near Arc de
Thumbnail version of Monday March 16, 2009
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