culture / Out and About / Things to do

An American In Paris: Week Four in the Cultured City

This is the fourth in a weekly series that will extend until the end of June. It will chronicle my travels in Europe and the interesting things I come upon or wish someone had told me before I left. The first five installments will focus mostly on Paris.

Paris has more theatre posters plastering the wall of the metro than movie posters. As a native of Tinsel town, this was quite a shock for me. In fact, they barely advertise for movies at all, by LA standards, and their ad campaigns start at most, a month in advance. Anyway, this week I finally got around to dipping my toes in some of the more highbrow culture scenes.

First off and probably the fanciest, I attended a ballet at the Théâtre national de Chaillot. This turned out to be not nearly as fancy as we thought it would be and some excited dressing up was lost on the rest of the audience, who showed up in Paris casual. Granted, Paris causal is much more stylish than American casual, but we were still disappointed. The show we saw was the closing night of Malandain Ballet Biarritz’s Cendrillon (Cinderella). It was alright, but not particularly spectacular. I did learn some things about French theatre though. If you are under 25, you get in for a lot cheaper. For example, the show I went to would usually be around 30 euros but we got in for 17 because of our age. I also learned that they are very serious about being on time, in fact, they want you to arrive 20 minutes early or they will give away your seat. I was a minute late and ended up spending nearly two hours in a fold-out swivel aisle seat with my knees making friends with my collarbone.

Secondly, I hit the museums. I went to the Pantheon, which is currently being restored, then went to the Louvre where I was promptly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of art. The Pantheon was gorgeous and surprisingly female oriented, unlike most French religious art. The large cross shaped building was full of murals about female saints like Joan of Arc. This is because it used to be a church dedicated to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. It is also equipped with a crypt underneath where Voltaire and Marie Curie, among other important figures in French history are buried. It gave me the wiggins to see all that solemn death and open waiting stone coffins, but it was still pretty interesting. It’s not free to get in normally, but you can still get a reduced price if you’re under 26, and if you have a student ID you can get in for free.

The Louvre was really awesome. While it is a cliché touristy place, it’s worth it to go, if you have any interest in art or art history. And try to get there more than once if you can, the place is huge. I only spent a couple hours in there, and I hope I have time to go back because I didn’t get to nearly everything I wanted to and I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in the places I did. I have to say, the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo were kind of a letdown for me. To be fair, they were surrounded by tourists snapping pictures, but even so, they didn’t seem worth the hype. I preferred the giant French pictures and the Egyptian art. Here too, students get in free with ID and something showing you’re younger than 26. Also, EU citizens under 26 get in free.

If you are neither a student or under 26 and would like some culture, take a look inside any of the many old churches around Paris. They are generally free to get in and if they’re not doing a service, you’re usually free to look around. The few that I’ve ducked into have been ornate and gorgeous. Even Notre Dame is free to get in to. I recommend the Abbey of Saint Geneviève, which is in the same square as the Pantheon and beautiful inside and out.

On a not exactly French note, I also saw an art house film this week at the Grand Palais. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. A Jim Jarmusch picture starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive was exquisitely done. The acting was subtle, the soundtrack was addictive [I’ve been listening to it nearly non-stop ever since], the cinematography was entrancing and the story never went anywhere but was oddly engrossing all the same. If you can find it, I would highly recommend seeing it.

Note: If you’re looking for a movie theater that plays movies in English, the Mk2 at the Grand Palais seems to play mostly small critically acclaimed movies, but many movie theaters play the American blockbusters. If you look them up online, they will tell you whether they are subtitled or dubbed.

 

Until next week, Abientôt!

 

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