Thursday, August 20, 2009

La Grippe

It would be nice to think I haven't written anything in the last few days because I've been living the high life, but the more prosaic reason is because I have been laid low with what the French would call la grippe, even as the country is sweltering in a heat wave. I had been planning on heading south next, to Toulouse then Barcelona and across to Venice, but looking at weather reports and familial connections, north to Scandinavia looks more promising if more expensive.

Anyway, enough of the future, let us speak instead of the past. Last week we spent a few days in Berlin which was a strange place. People walk around with their dogs off leashes, drinking beer in public places while at the same time always obeying traffic signals. Jonno put forward the hypothesis that Germany treats its citizens like responsible adults and I think I have to agree. In Australia one can't help but think lifting the ban on drinking in public would be seen as encouraging public drunkenness and in fact public drunkenness would follow, whereas in Germany everyone simply acknowledges that a responsible adult doesn't get fall down drunk in public, so the government doesn't need to make any rules about it.

As I alluded to in my previous post, there are a lot of bikes in Berlin. As near as I can tell it doesn't seem to limited to a particular age or social group, everyone rides bikes to get to their destinations. As a result the sound of bicycle klingers (I'll leave the definition of klinger as an exercise for the reader) is far more common than car horns or even cars, really. When combined with the fact that Berlin's population is substantially smaller than its capacity (3.4 million vs about 5 million I think), the city seemed to have a permanent Sunday afternoon sleepiness which was incredibly relaxing.

We made our way out of Berlin to Paris on an EasyJet flight, and although we made it on time I can't help but think that a budget airline being staffed by Germans might provide the people least receptive to poor punctuality that the planet has ever bred.

Theoretically I have the advantage in Paris that I speak a little French, but speaking French badly in France is something of an extreme sport. Some people find it amusing or are happy that you're having a go, while others seem to be weighing up whether or not a jury would convict should you show up without a tongue on a slow boat to China. This has probably not been helped by my illness, which has made me somewhat less able to process what people are saying to me.

On Monday, we went to the Louvre which was more or less astounding, even if you ignored the exhibits completely. Prague has a kind of cosy organic feel to its streets, while Berlin has a grandeur and audacity of scale on its public buildings which is impressive. The Louvre, and the Tuileries Gardens through which one walks into the Louvre itself are of a scale designed to impress but also with an imposing and unarguably splendid majesty that gives you a very good insight into what exactly the French peasants were so angry about.

The museum part itself was very good, but also ridiculously large, so here's a breakdown: Romans like to carve their emperors in marble, Sumerians preferred basalt, there is no known way to stop a middle ages or renaissance painter from painting Jesus, Napoleon III was a man who understood opulence, refusing to even countenance anything that was not made of gold or burgundy velvet, and the Venus De Milo is smaller than you might think.

After the Louvre, this is what I've seen of Paris
Which makes the hotel room look a fair bit nicer than it is.

For those wondering about French food, the random cafes we have visited for dinner have provided meals which would compare easily in quality, if not presentation, with the good restaurants in Hobart. Of course, at 60 euros for a cafe dinner for two people, it'd want to be good.

Well, that was long and rambling. Lucky you.

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