october 2013 books.

Short list this month, mostly because I picked up a really long book that I am very close to finishing.

The Rebel Angels
Robertson Davies
There is a thrift store in Raleigh that has giant bins of free books. We have too many books, and so it's easiest if I don't even look in the book section when shopping, but I always check the free bin. Since the books are all tossed in there, you have to dig a bit, which is just fine because I'd rather not find anything. Usually what happens is I get to the last bin and find something amazing, then I go back and really dig through the rest because I think the Free Book Gods must be smiling at me. Sometimes, and this is silly, I take books that I already have, just so I can take them to the used book store. It's not really for the store credit, but to save a good book from certain death.

Anyway, one day I found a Robertson Davies book in the free bin. I'd never heard of the guy, but the cover looked like the kind of thing I'd like, with positive reviews from trusted publications (like The New Yorker, not Cosmo). I looked the book up on my phone, where the Amazon reviews were also uniformly glowing, with phrases like "the best writer I'd never heard of." So I added the book to my pile. Then I kept digging, and I kept finding more Robertson Davies. Some Davies fan must've died and their estate, having never heard of the guy, donated all the books, where they ended up in the bins, having already languished away on the shelves, passed by others who had never heard of him. As a result, I have five Robertson Davies books. Never read a single one until this month.

It was really good!

The book takes place at a small private university, with various amusing campus characters. Davies, a professor himself, was incredibly well-read, so he drops references to things all over the place. It made me feel smart when I got them (lots of references to Rebalais, and even a shout out to Beerbohm!). It's not a plot-driven book; there are several interweaving storylines going on that come together very nicely in the end, but the focus is really more on the characters. And it was very funny stuff. There was a gypsy Christmas dinner that was particularly wonderful.

One of the main themes was about finding value in the dirty or broken (appropriate for a book from the free bin). One of the professors is studying ancient folk traditions, specifically ones using excrement, which leads him to meet some gypsies, who use horse dung to rehabilitate broken violins. Several professors are in the process of cleaning out the estate of one of their deceased colleagues, who hoarded works of art. The title refers to a myth about some angels who got kicked out of heaven for giving sacred knowledge to the humans (sort of like Prometheus). University professors are compared to those angels, still imparting sacred knowledge to the pitiful humans after all these years.

Good stuff, which is lucky because I've got several more Davies books to read.

The Master of Go
Yasunari Kawabata
When I went looking through my unread books, I deliberately picked books by authors that I have multiple works by. Months ago, I went to the estate sale of someone who was apparently a Kawabata fan. I bought them all. I am a sucker for translated books, because taking the time to translate a whole book into another language seems like a pretty good vote of confidence. Plus, the cultural differences always make for interesting reading.

This book was a work of sports journalism, about a championship game of Go that lasted for six months (not continuous). There were extended sessions, and a couple of huge breaks because one of the players was very old and in poor health. I have never played Go, though my understanding is that it is similar to Othello, which my brother taught me to play twenty-some years ago. Despite being a retelling of a game that I don't understand and which is about as thrilling as chess, the book was pretty suspenseful. It was told as a battle between old and young, both in terms of the players, the evolution of the style of gameplay, and the nation of Japan. While the match took place before World War II, the book was written afterwards, when Japan was irrevocably changed. Though the war (and the bomb) changed the country, the old ways were already disappearing beforehand.

While I wouldn't read it again, the fact that Kawabata made me care about the championship match of Go indicates that he's a pretty good writer, I think. A really good writer can make you care about most anything.

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin
Our book club selection this month. It's a crime novel of sorts, one crime being recent and another one thirty years old and still unsolved. It's set in small town Mississippi (thus the title), and deals a lot with race and class division. The interesting thing to me about was that it was set in partly in the 1970s and partly in modern day. It seems like a lot of books that deal with race are set in the really bad old days before integration, as if everything immediately got better. But this shows that there was still a lot of very open racism in the 70s, and that it still exists today, though it is muted.

The book was okay. I feel like I never have anything good to say about book club books. It's possible that reading them in between established classics is not putting them in the best light. Even when they are solid books, like this one was, they seem pretty ho-hum in comparison to the best writer you've never heard of.

I've actually decided to give up my moderator position at the end of the book club year in February. At that point, I will probably switch to another club that reads things more aligned with my reading interests. I really like reading with a group, because so often I feel like I need some extra insight to really get a book. I rarely feel that way about the books we read in the club. I don't need help picking up the subtext; frequently, there isn't any. But I think book club has been good for me in terms of thinking about books and discussing them. That is why I joined it, so mission accomplished.


the hideout.

Before we left for France, I asked Josh what he wanted to do there. His only request was that he wanted to go see some live music, specifically jazz. So we showed up in France with vague plans but definite desires to go to a flea market and hear some live jazz music.

I'll just spoil this here and say we did not see any jazz in France.

On a rainy Saturday, we asked our Parisian friend where we might go to see some jazz. He directed us to a part of town famous for jazz. He assured us that jazz would just be pouring out onto the streets. But that night, after a day of walking around in the rain and cold, Josh didn't really feel like going to a different part of town and then having to come back late at night. Instead, we walked outside and followed the sound of rock music, which happened to be pouring out into the streets where we were. Around the corner from our flat, we found a cafe called The Hideout by la Station. They were supposedly an Irish pub, though the extent of the Irishness was that they served Guinness.

We went inside, grabbed some giant glasses of delicious Belgian beer, and sat at a table to watch the show. The band consisted of two guys, guitar and bass, plus a laptop for drums and a light show. They started with their backs to us, the drums building as the projector flashed random patterns across their backs. The music was a bit metal for my tastes, a lot of distorted guitar and yelling. At one point, they pulled a guest singer up from the audience, and he was pretty good. They thanked us, we cheered. I am always supportive of live music, even when I don't like it. It takes a lot of guts to get up there and play crappy music.

It was early, so I figured they were just taking a break, but I was ready to find some different music. We walked out into the drizzle to find another spot. We heard more music being poured out into the streets, the problem was just to find the source. We searched fruitlessly for fifteen minutes. We'd walk down a street towards the sound, only to find that it now seemed to be coming from behind us. We'd walked giggling by the same late night market three times before concluding that someone was probably throwing a party in one of the flats. We'd also figured out that we were a little tipsy, as had the dudes working in the late night market.

So we ended up back at The Hideout to find that a new band was playing, and they were much better. They had two guitarists and a bassist, plus the laptop drums. Maybe there's just no room for a drumkit in Paris. One of the guitarists was playing a twelve-string, which looked sort of unwieldy to me, but Josh said he was totally destroying it.
We got more giant beers. Towards the end of the show, the band requested that audience members dance to their next one, which turned out to be "Rock the Casbah." Josh held out his hand.

You may not know this about us, but Josh and I love to dance. I do not think we are very good at it in any sort of traditional definition of good. But we like to dance. Who doesn't like to dance? Almost everyone enjoys dancing, but they hold back because they think they are not good at it. We have decided that is a silly reason to not dance. You're never going to get better at something if you don't practice. So we ignore the fact that we probably look like fools to wholeheartedly embrace it and have fun anyway. I like to think that we are putting joy in other peoples' hearts by dancing, and maybe even we give other people the social courage to dance. And if not, whatever, we have fun.

So we danced. We rocked the casbah. And then there were more songs, and we danced to those, too. The band loved it. The band always loves it when people dance, because it's a validation of their performance. We were panting and sweating and glowing by the end of it. We stayed a bit to talk to the band members, most of whom spoke reasonably good English. Even though I knew we'd never see these people again, it felt like we were making hip new Parisian friends. And then we said goodbye to our new friends and tottered around the corner back to our flat, where we climbed the stairs in the pitch dark, happy, because it's nice to have someone to dance badly with.


paris attitude.

We were advised not to get a hotel room while in Paris, because they were either A.) small and expensive or b.) middle-sized and really expensive. So we rented a flat, otherwise known as an apartment. I'm not sure what the difference is, but the person who rented our flat to us called it a flat, so I did too. Made me feel like a real Parisian.

The view from our window - Eiffel Tower in distance
We booked a place using Paris Attitude, which is a name that seems like it might make sense in French, but no native English-speaker would ever say, much less use as a name for apartment rentals. I looked through countless flats, agonizing over the decision. I tried to rope Josh into helping me out, but he was not fooled. He knew that this was more comparing details about things he would not care about. And in the end, I just shrugged. I mean, whatever I picked, it would be our flat in Paris, so it was pretty much guaranteed to be magical, right? Of course, right.

The view of our window.  We added another bottle by the time we left.
We did get a great place, and we only paid $600 for a week. There were even cheaper ones that were farther out of the city center, plus ones that exorbitantly expensive, like a houseboat on the Seine. Ours was a studio flat, one room with the kitchen and bedroom, plus a little bathroom. The kitchen was crucial. Our first day, we went out to lunch, and it was delicious, but it set us back $50. And I said, that was the best onion soup I've ever had in my life, but we cannot do this all the time or we'll go broke. So we ate a lot of bread and cheese in our flat. The bread was from one of the bakeries in the neighborhood, and the cheese would come from a grocery store across the street. So not only was the flat cheaper than a hotel would be, but it allowed us to eat more frugally, too. Don't worry, we were not depriving ourselves. Such a meal at home would be a splurge, but here it was really affordable and it still felt decadent.

Fourth French floor, which means one more flight of stairs than you think
My experience with apartments has been the suburban type - clumps of big buildings with nonsensical names like Glen Eagles or Ridge Valley (Raleigh Attitude?) that are beige carpeted rooms surrounded by beige walls. Our building in Paris was over a hundred years old and required three separate keys and a code to get inside. You used the code on the outside gate, walked through an interior hallway to a door that required a key. Then you went through a courtyard, where a butter-colored cat would say miaou (French for "meow") to you. Up half a dozen stairs to another locked door. Finally, up four flights on a wooden spiral staircase to our little flat. There was a skylight above the stairs, but it was pretty dark on the second and third floors. We came home one night after midnight, a little tipsy, and it was pitch dark and very spooky. The next morning, we discovered the light switch for the stairwell.

The courtyard below.  Not pictured:  cat
The location was pretty spectacular. The most important thing to me about staying in a big city is distance to the public transportation, and we were a block away from the train station. We were close to bakeries, but I think there must be some kind of zoning law requiring a bakery near every residence. There were also plenty of cafes and restaurants, plus the grocery store. There must have been a school somewhere, because we heard kids during the day. From our kitchen window, we could see the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, where Louis Braille once played the organ. There are several churches and one university named after Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of acts of charity, but this church was built on the square where he actually lived and worked. It was just a regular little Paris neighborhood, where Parisians lived and worked. Often it seems like hotels are in neighborhoods of only hotels. I felt more immersed in the city this way. I thought, hey, as long as they don't hear me speak, these people probably think I'm from here!

Paris.  Gray, gray Paris.
We had a TV, which had some kind of internet TV service hooked up to it. Not that the limited channels mattered, since the shows were in French anyway. There was one English channel, but it was news and full of stuff about the war in Syria, and I said no, we are on vacation, at least switch it to a channel where they talk about Syria in French. We saw an episode of South Park, plus some NASCAR, and several episodes of something called Youri the Spaceman which was not very good. Or maybe we just didn't get the joke. There was no dialogue, as Youri was on the moon by himself, but at the end a voice would say something. Maybe the something really tied it all together, and we were missing out.

I have a friend who doesn't like to travel, and she says that travel only gives you the illusion of life in that place.  It's not like you could really go someplace for a week and get the true experience of the lives of the people there.  It had never occurred to me that the point of travel was to live another life.  I told her that you're not trying to have someone else's experience or be someone else.  You're finding out who you are in that place, and having been that version of you, you return home a different person.

Skylight over the stairs, with a balloon that someone lost.  Okay, it was me.
We were not real Parisians; we just lived in a flat and ate a lot of bread and cheese and watched cartoons we didn't understand.  It was a good time.


marché aux puces.

We did a thoroughly crappy job of buying souvenirs in Europe.  We didn't buy very many for ourselves, and we bought even fewer for people back home.  I even lugged my extra large suitcase around specifically so I could fill it with trinkets.  Most of our souvenirs ended up being ticket stubs.

One trouble is that we didn't really shop much.  We saw a million little souvenir stores, but even the thought of going in seemed like a waste of precious Paris time.   You know what?  They got gift shops at the airport. We went to the various gift shops at the sites we visited, but they too seemed overpriced and a bit generic.  I occasionally thought of buying a practical souvenir; when it was rainy or windy, an umbrella or scarf seemed like a good idea. But then the weather would clear up enough that I forgot about it until the next time.

However, we did go to the flea market. Wherever I go, I look for secondhand souvenirs. A t-shirt or hat that says "PARIS" would remind me that we went to Paris once. A secondhand souvenir takes me back to the exact day that I bought it.  (Fun fact:  the word souvenir is French, for "to remember.")

We went to the market at the Porte de Vanves. It was a pretty nasty day.  While the Paris weather was not ideal most of the time we were there, that day was actually sorta miserable.  Rainy, windy, cold.  Not a good flea market day, even when armed with a hot café crème and a fresh pain au chocolat, but it was our only Saturday, and I came all the way across the Atlantic to go to a real French flea market.  Or as they call it, marché aux puces. This literally means "flea market," and the story goes that it got the name because the upholstery of the old furniture sold there was infested with the jumping parasites.

I've basically come across two kinds of flea markets - some with old junk and some with new junk (I use the word "junk" lovingly). New junk tends to be dollar store type stuff, mass produced and poor quality. Old junk is old junk. I love old junk flea markets, while I generally don't bother stopping at new junk places.

The market at Porte de Vanves was old junk, with vendors set up under canopies on the tree-lined sidewalk. The tents mostly kept the merchandise dry, but customers got pretty wet. I stood at one tent, looking through a stack of art prints for a good while, a steady drip of water running off the tent and down my neck.

Old men playing poker in between customers
And really, it was a lot like flea markets in the States. There was a good variety of stuff, plenty of it very tempting. The prices were consistent with other big city markets. Someone had taken apart a very old atlas and was selling the individual pages for 18€ apiece. There was a guy who had a bunch of old tools, and I considered buying an awl, as I've been interested in bookbinding lately. Another vendor had this elephant game, which I really, really wanted.

I really can't explain the things that I want, I just want them
I did not even bother asking the price, though. Asking the price is the first step toward buying something ridiculous that you don't need. No one needs an elephant game, even one as beautiful and cool as this one. Also, I did not know how to ask "How much?" in French, and though everyone seemed to speak English perfectly well, the language barrier made me shy. (I just looked it up; it's combien.)

I went to the Brooklyn flea market with a friend one time, and she admired my will power. That was also an old junk market, but everything there had been filtered for Brooklyn tastes, so it was all very hip. However, going to yard sales and estate sales means that I know where flea market vendors get their stuff, and I know what they pay for it. So while I enjoy looking at all the neat stuff, I am not usually not interested in paying a middleman for something that I could find for myself eventually.

I did buy a couple of small souvenirs. One booth had a huge box of keychains, the kind businesses give away. I love stuff like this, which is why I have all kinds of t-shirts for places which I have no association. I ended up with this one, 3€.

And I bought two prints from the art dealer for 5€ apiece.  There were a ton that I would have liked, but again, not feeling confident in French prevented me from asking about a better price for buying multiples.  That was dumb.  The guy spoke excellent English.  I'll have to come up with frames for them.

Josh also bought a pocket knife for 10€. He has a collection of them. He's pretty cute when he gets a new one, doing all the research he can about its origins. He'll take it out and admire it, asking me repeatedly, "Have you seen my knife?" This one was marked with a brand name, but it's probably a knock-off. Such is my husband the optimist, that he considers even the knock-off status as something to be proud of.

Thereafter, he opened every bottle of wine while asking, "Have you seen my knife?"
We both paid more than we would have for these same things back home. Paying in euros always feels cheaper than it is.  Whatever, we were on vacation. These are our souvenirs. We didn't buy any Eiffel Tower paperweights or Monet scarves, just some goofy things from the flea market.  And every time I look at my silly television repair keychain, I'll remember the old men playing poker, the elephant game, the atlas, the whole rainy morning in Paris.


do french people?

The joke about the French is that they are smelly.  I encountered some smelly French people, usually on the subway at around 6 PM, which is when they all encountered a smelly American.  Being all smushed together on a train is not a recipe for pleasant odors.  But other than that, I did not notice the French to smell any differently than any other people I've encountered.

However, the French are a bit different when it comes to showering, as we discovered in Lyon.

Every time you go someplace new, getting the shower to work can be a bit confusing.  Even in our apartment in Paris, we had a bit of trouble, mostly because the knob in the shower stall was a little sticky, and I was afraid to apply too much force, lest I rip it out of the wall with my brute strength.  A friend of mine has anxiety about unfamiliar shower configurations, such that he would use it as a reason to not stay with people that he suspected might have weird plumbing.  How you spot such a person, I cannot say.

Are Americans judgmental?

But in the house in Lyon, there was a nice full bathtub and a shower head with a long hose.  However, there was no way to attach the shower head to the wall.  And there was no shower curtain, which made sense, because if you're pointing the water flow yourself, you can just not spray the bathroom.

I admit that this bathing situation gave me anxiety.  I have a routine when I shower, but I found that my system was not really appropriate for this kind of situation.  I usually rinse, lather, rinse a series of body areas.  To do this in the French bath required turning the water on to rinse, turning it off to lather, then turning it on again to rinse.  I felt like I was doing it wrong, but I no idea how I was supposed to do it.  As our stay went on, I would try to adjust the order of body parts that I went in, so that I could do all my lathering in one go, followed by a full rinse.  I didn't quite manage it, mostly because there is one body part that has to be lathered last, and I did not plan for that.  And then our stay was over, and now I'll never know how to bathe in France.

Are Americans complete morons?

Besides not understanding how I was supposed to clean myself, I did not understand why they hadn't just attached the shower head to the wall and bought a bar to hang a curtain.  Until in conversation, our friend mentioned that water was really expensive there.

Ding!  Er, Click!  Bloop?  What sound do light bulbs make when they go off, anyway?

That explained why the shower wasn't quite a shower.  Confusing as it was for me, I had to admit that I used less water, even after I did accidentally spray it all over the bathroom.

Are Americans messy?

The cost of water affects them in many ways.  We were sitting outside at a cafe, having a drink one evening, when Josh pulled out his cigarettes.  Our friends were appalled and gave him some statistics about smoking-related deaths, as if maybe he just hadn't heard that it was kinda bad for you.  Then we moved on to talking about where you could smoke.  Like here in North Carolina, the French can't really smoke in public buildings anymore.  As nonsmokers, our friends liked the new rules.  They said that before, if you went out at night, you'd come home smelling like smoke and you couldn't even wear the same outfit the next day!  I had a private giggle at that.  Me, I will frequently wear clothes multiple times between washings.  Josh, on the other hand, will wear three different outfits in one day and call them all dirty.  Our water comes absolutely free out of the ground.

Are Americans wasteful?

So maybe the French are different about hygiene than we are.  But the difference is not in the people themselves.  There is not a smelly gene or some kind of congenital nose disease where they just don't know they smell bad.  It's because of a totally boring and practical reason.  It makes me wonder how many of our other notions about people in other countries could be explained by something as dull as the price of water.  If our water was expensive, everyone else would think we were smelly, too.


Note:  As to the other questions about the French, the answers are, respectively:  at least one of them does, many of them do, and not that we saw.  You're on your own on the questions about Americans.


travel woes.

Just to keep it real, here are three bad things that happened on our trip.

Thing 1: The weather
Before we left, I did the smart thing and checked the weather report for where we would be. The internet meteorologists said it would be sunny and in the low 70s during the day, mid 50s at night. That sounds lovely, doesn't it? So I packed accordingly. I brought my standbys of jeans and t-shirts, plus a couple pairs of short pants, tank tops, and two sundresses. I felt like Peppermint Patty in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, wondering how many pairs of flip flops she would need in France. Well, you know, one pair for casual, one pair for dressy, maybe even a formal pair?

Just to be sure, I threw in a cardigan for those mid-50s evenings, strolling hand in hand with my beloved in the moonlight.

Did you know that Paris is kind of a rainy place? That is never mentioned in the romantic movies. I am not sure we saw the sun at all in the first five days we were there. It was always cloudy and always just a little bit drizzly. My tank tops and sundresses and flip flops never saw a bit of France. The sweater got a little funky from repeated wear. I apparently lack the basic ability to look up the forecast.

Why it was okay: For the most part, the drizzle never really turned into actual rain. Several times, I considered buying a nice umbrella as a souvenir, but the rain never even got bad enough for that. Plus, we were in Paris, and if you've got to be in lousy weather anywhere, why not the city of light? The very last day we were there was simply glorious, so we did have one beautiful day. I didn't even wear my sweater.

Thing 2: The infection
I got a sinus infection. It began with a tickle in the throat, but pretty soon the snot factory started up. I started carrying tissues and cough drops. I would've taken a decongestant, but the people we were staying with were very down on anything that was not natural, and I decided I'd rather suffer the snot than suffer a lecture.

Why it was okay: I get sinus infections at home. This one was not too awful, mostly just annoying.

Thing 3: The wallet
If you do any research about European travel, you will end up duct taping your valuables to your chest and looking at anyone suspiciously. Apparently they have problems with pickpockets there, and tourists have such wide open pockets, with their wads of cash and their passports, which are valuable on the black market. I bought a money belt to wear under my clothes, but then I never used it. Because in all the hand-wringing about sticky fingers, there were some calm voices that said if you are cautious, you will be fine. Thieves like obvious and easy targets, of which there are plenty. If we did not fit that bill, they'd go bother someone else. I have a particular purse which I like for travelling, because it's big and the strap goes across my body, thwarting snatchers. I probably clutched it nervously more than was necessary, but I did not make myself an easy target. Josh always carries his wallet in his front pocket, a trick he learned from living in New York City. We did not get robbed.

However, Josh wore some pants with deep, but loose pockets. A few hours after we had gotten off the train that took us from Paris to Lyon, Josh discovered that his wallet had not gotten off the train with him. No one had stolen it. He'd lost it. THAT IS NOT BEING A GOOD TRAVELLER. A few days later, he was sitting on a couch with me and his phone did the same shimmy out of his pocket. I started talking about his "loser pants." He did not think that was nearly as funny as I did, but it really helped keep me from strangling him.

Why it was okay: He lost his driver's license, his debit card, and some cash. We were able to cancel the debit card easily. I was in charge of the passports and the rest of the cash, because I don't wear loser pants. It was mostly inconvenient when we got home and had to get new cards, but it didn't affect the trip much.

So really, nothing bad happened. All these things could've happened if we'd just stayed home, too, but we were lucky enough to get to be slightly inconvenienced in France.


romance is romantic if you've got the answers.

Let's talk romance.

My first impulse is to say that it's overrated. But when I say that, I'm talking about the tired cliches of romance - flowers and hearts, teddy bears and candy, etc. However, the actual definition of romance is anything that makes you feel the emotion of love. That could be anything, and it means lots of different things for different people. So really, I mean that flowers and teddy bears are overrated, and romance is underrated.

Paris is known to be a romantic city, but we did not do any of the romantic things. We saw a lot of art and churches and dead people. But we did have a romantic time, because we are already stupid in love with each other. I would look at something astounding in Paris, and go, "Holy crap, this place is amazing!" Then I would look next to me and think, "And Josh is here, too!" Then came the love feelings.

However, we did do one thing that most everyone would agree was romantic. We put a lock on a bridge.

We took a cruise on the river Seine, which splits the city about in half. In fact, the city used to be contained on an island in the Seine. River cruises are honestly the kind of touristy thing that I would avoid, but I enjoyed this, as it was a good way to see a lot of different sights from afar and understand how they all related to each other. Plus, who doesn't like being on a boat? This just goes to show that I shouldn't be such a snob about being a tourist, when I am, in fact, a tourist.

Another bonus of the river cruise was that it allowed us to get nice views and background information on the many bridges in the city. There was a recorded guide that told information about the bridges and the other various sights we were passing, but it was a little hard to follow, because it was recorded in seven different languages. So I kept missing the English portion because I had tuned out during the French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese parts.

There was one bridge, however, where the railing and fence was shining in an odd way, shimmering almost. As we got closer and then went under, I realized that the bridge was covered in padlocks. Huh? That night, when we got back to the apartment (and more importantly, to the wifi), I looked it up. Turns out, they're love locks. Awwww.

What you do is you get a lock, the kind you open with a key. This lock is a symbol of your love. So you take your beloved and your love lock and you put the love lock on the bridge and then toss the keys into the Seine. Do not toss your beloved into the Seine. There are two such bridges in Paris, one where you went with your lover and one where you went with someone you were committed to, like a spouse. The article I was reading then went on to quote some ill-mannered waiter who complained that this was not the French idea of love at all, which is where you love someone so much that you tell them to go have affairs and such. I would point out to this waiter that when I got married, I was not binding Josh to me, I was binding myself to him. It just worked out that he was also binding himself to me on the same day, which really cut down on expenses. But that waiter was probably just mad at his girlfriend for wanting him to commit already.

Ya know, I think Kyle and Megan are going to make it

Once (or maybe once in a while), the city will go and cut down the fence and put up a new one, but those silly lovers just put more up.

Anyway, Josh thought this whole lock thing sounded sweet, and so we set out to do a little romantic vandalism. The article helpfully told which bridge was for your wife (Pont des Arts) and which one was for your mistress, and also that there was a huge department store nearby where you could buy a lock. We found the hardware section and picked out a lock. Never in any of my Paris dreams did I imagine a hardware department being involved.  I was in favor of the absolute cheapest one, but Josh wanted a weird-looking one that cost twice as much. We got the weird one, since I'm a sucker and it's supposed to symbolize our love or something.

A weird symbol of our weird love.

When we got to the bridge, we found that there were entrepreneurs who had bought multi-packs of locks at the same department store and would've sold us one, plus lent us a Sharpie to write our names on it. Oh well. Instead, Josh pulled out the knife he'd bought at the marche aux puces (flea market) the previous weekend and set to work engraving our names. It would have taken a long time to really do a bang-up job on it, but we are hoping that spending more on the lock would make up for our lack of effort on the engraving.

And then he put our lock on the bridge, all mixed up with all the other romantic suckers who had visited Paris. Then, taking a furtive look around, I threw the keys into the river. We smiled and walked away holding hands. It was pretty romantic.


tour saint jacques.

The thing about Paris is that if you just look down a street, you're bound to see something impressive. If you're like me, you want to feel smart, so you take a guess at what it might be. If you continue to be like me, you don't actually know that much, and so you end up guessing one of a handful of things that you know are in Paris. So if it's a church, you guess Notre Dame, and if it's a huge old building, you guess the Louvre. If it's a ginormous metal tower, you guess the Eiffel Tower, and you are probably right about that one.

We planned things as we went in Paris, and that meant a lot of random meandering. You see a cool thing down the street, you go look at it, lather rinse repeat, until you've walked all day long. Luckily, there are cafes all along the way, and it is perfectly acceptable in Paris to be drinking either coffee or alcohol at all times of day. Once we saw a man having a glass of wine and a cup of espresso at nine o'clock in the morning.

One of the cool things we saw down the street was the Saint Jacques Tower. Built in the early 16th century, there used to be a church attached. However, the church was demolished for its building materials after the revolution. It was built to honor St James the Great, better known as James, son of Zebedee. You know, one of those guys that hung out with Jesus. Turns out, he is the patron saint of Spain, because he made it all the way to Iberia, preaching the good news.* There are pilgrimage routes from all over Europe leading to the place where his remains are contained in Santiago de Compostela. The tower in Paris is the starting points of one of these routes. Supposedly, there is a relic, a piece of St James' body, inside the tower. We were not able to find out what it was, but we did make jokes about a finger bone. St James had a sense of humor, right?

The tower itself is really beautiful. Paris is lousy with huge old buildings, but this particular one is in what is known as the flamboyant gothic style. I admired the gargoyles in particular. If I ever get my own flamboyant gothic tower, I want gargoyles like that. At the base of the tower is a statue of...Blaise Pascal (there is a statue of St James on top of the tower). Pascal did some important experiments in atmospheric pressure there (maybe, it might have been at another church instead, because history is confusing).

Entrance to the tower was barred by an iron gate, with a sign that said tours would happen every hour on the hour. They let seventeen people in at a time. I was not particularly interested in waiting in line or climbing three hundred stairs. However, Josh, who had never heard of Saint Jacques Tower half an hour previously, suddenly had his heart set on seeing the finger bone of an apostle. In fact, this was the last day of the season that the tower would be open to visitors, and since it was sort of fragile, there was talk of closing it down to the public for good. We waited outside the fence with a small crowd. A couple of times, a soft-spoken man came out and said something in French which would cause most everyone else to disperse. Only until we were standing next to someone bilingual did we find out that we needed tickets to get in, and all this standing around looking hopeful wasn't going to do any good.

So we walked around the tower and took some pictures. Then we saw something cool down the street and walked that-a-way.

*Supposedly, he later appeared to fight with the Christian army against the Muslims, where he picked up the nickname "Moor-slayer," which doesn't seem like the kind of thing that Jesus would be about. However, if you look up this battle, the first thing you'll read is that it never happened. Religion is confusing.