Paris is both kicking my ass and delighting me at the same time.
Okay, it is un petit gray almost all the time. And rain, well, that's almost a constant. It may be dry for a while, but ultimately (as I've learned over the past couple days) it's going to sprinkle or shower and Parisians don't even react, just pull out their umbrellas and soldier on.
While there's still a whole lot of walking around this ancient city involved, we opted to use the Batobus, a floating bus that stops at significant points along the Seine to allow tourists (and, perhaps, locals?) to disembark somewhat close to their destinations.
Getting off at the Eiffel Tower stop, I was more than a little surprised to see a giant soccer ball hung midway up the tower, a nod to the big soccer game scheduled for this weekend. I had to assume the game was a tres big deal to warrant such acknowledgement.
Sustenance came first and with thon - that's tuna to us Yanks - slathered on a baguette, we found a park and watched couples play table tennis and listened to the sounds of nearby live music while we ate.
Now this was Parisian living.
My first desire was Musee Marmottan-Monet, improbably housed in a former hunting lodge (and, even for me, uncomfortably hot on the second floor), but the site of the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world.
We're talking "Impression: Sunrise," for goodness' sake.
That alone would have been enough to get my juices flowing, but what sent me over the moon was what was included in the collection. We're talking entire series that I'd not only never seen, but never even heard of.
I can't be the only one who hadn't known that Monet had journeyed to Norway, capturing scenes of red barns in white snow and a completely different feel than anything that existed in France.
Just as wonderful were some of the Giverny paintings, several of which displayed completely different palettes than those of his Japanese bridge and water lily paintings.
One thing that was readily apparent was the change in his painting after his cataract surgery. The almost unrecognizable images that preceded surgery came across as studies in color and light.
Probably the best moment came early on as I studied one of Monet's pieces from his Charring Cross bridge series (sure, I knew about his Thames studies but had never so much as heard of his multiple
Charring Cross studies) and a Frenchman spoke to me, telling me to move to where he was.
"Ca change," he pointed out, nailing how completely different the painting appeared when viewed from the left side. Moving to where he stood, the random lines of color melded, becoming a brilliant depiction of the bridge.
Almost as captivating was the small gallery of images of Monet himself. I was particularly struck by one by Duran showing him as a young man, all dark beard and hair, but with the same penetrating eyes as the more well-known photographs of the wizened painter.
Two of the portraits were by Renoir (deviating from his usual rosy-cheeked, big-bottomed girls), one was by Manet (with all the black you'd expect), one showed him in the uniform of an African chasseur, complete with billowing red pantaloons and sash, plus a knowing caricature, all nose and attitude.
To put it bluntly, regardless of sex, this museum was a Monet lover's wet dream.
Afterwards, we headed down to the water to wait for the Batobus, resting our barking dogs on the steps leading down to the Seine, when all at once, we were greeted by the sight of a handsome young German guy in one of those appalling Bourat-like unitards that essentially only covers the bare minimum of genitalia.
Surrounding him were a bunch of fellow German soccer players, laughing about his attire. After posing for pictures and taking some good-natured ribbing, he removed is shoes and socks and began easing himself down the last step into the river.
Naturally, a fellow team member had to push him off balance, sending him backwards into what had to be uncomfortably cold water. He came out with a smile (and decided shrinkage, if one were to notice such things) and shivered into additional clothing.
It was only then that I spotted the back of his shirt: "Schulze Loser." None of his fellow Aryans had anything but their last names on their shirts, so it was obvious Schulze had screwed up or lost a bet. For the little girl standing behind us, her wide eyes were riveted on his nether regions, not tough given his minimal coverage.
There wasn't much we could do to top that except go home and nap because, come on, how is it possible to top a scantily-clad German man being publically humiliated?
Petit Pontoise got our business for dinner after a solid recommendation from one who knew. The tiny little bistro gourmand had room for only two when we arrived, so we squeezed into a table and waited for one of the servers - one in cut-offs, the other in torn jeans - to approach us.
Chalkboards listing the wine offerings covered the wall, providing something to read until our server stopped by, but that's hardly a complaint. One thing I'm really enjoying is the leisurely pace of service of restaurant service here.
No one's in a hurry and neither are we.
But their real skill became apparent after a delicious supper that began with an artichoke and Parmesan tart followed by rack of lamb in a garlic crust and scallops Provencale, when our server knowingly asked if we wanted to look at a dessert menu or wait a while.
Duh. By the time we (okay, I) chose chocolat Amadeus, much of the restaurant had cleared out. What was especially noticeable was that the staff had placed two late-arriving singles, a man and a woman, at adjoining tables, in case either wanted company.
I'd guess that it took less than ten minutes before they were deep in conversation and even laughter. Brilliant seating, if you ask me. Dinner and company? Now that's service.
Wandering back through the Latin Quarter, we decided to stop at the Artisan Café for a nightcap, just as most of their customers were leaving. Hospitality ruled, though, and we lingered long enough for my spiky hair to catch the attention of a young woman who came over to ask if I was a famous singer before the staff began stacking chairs on the patio where we were sitting. Even so, our server insisted we stay and finish our wine.
As you might guess, we're not the kind of people who have to be asked twice to stay and sip.
Especially when it's past midnight in Paris.