Category Archives: events

Le Tour (In Images)

Each July the Tour de France ends it’s three-week journey in the heart of Paris, welcomed by enormous crowds, great fanfare and the intense, afternoon summer sun. This year I joined the throngs, arriving early and waiting patiently for the riders to arrive, earning me both an excellent vantage point at the Place de la Concorde, as well as a sunburn that is still peeling, two weeks later. Like any international event, the mix of spectators was worth the trek in its own right and, with a Brit in the lead, us Anglophones found yet another reason to bond together beyond the preference for speaking English – the roar that arose from our particularly American/British/Australian corner anytime the Sky team van (or riders) passed was deafening.

Here are some of my favorite images from that day.

The View: Hard to beat, close to the road with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Bring. It. On.

The P’tit Tour: young kids raced a partial lap around the Place de Concorde and the Champs-Élysées, fighting for their mini-yellow jersey. Great to see a girl take it all.

The Parade:  In reality, just a series of ‘floats’ by big Tour de France sponsors, they mostly featured young, beautiful people gyrating to throbbing pop music. They went by at relatively high speed, but still did the job of waking the crowd up, making us laugh and getting us ready for the riders to arrive.

(The yellow jersey leads off, naturally)

(Why yes, those are marshmallows roasting over a fire on top of that car)

(This cracked me up – especially the ones with the giant cigarette lighter or Bic razor perched on their roof)

(There is a man, wearing very little, thrusting inside of a translucent plastic cage in an effort to sell laundry detergent, in case you thought you were imagining things)

The Riders: For those not familiar with the route, after leaving their starting point of Rambouillet, the cyclists wind their way approximately 80km to the center of Paris, at which point they do several loops around Rue de Rivoli/ Champs-Élysées to finish the stage, ending with a mad sprint down the boulevard towards the finish line.

(First pass of the riders through Place de Concorde – the leader here…)

(…followed by those riders giving chase, already…)

(… and then by the beginning of the peloton, or ‘little ball’ of riders that make up the main pack – in fact, not ‘little’ at all)

(the main body of the peleton moving through – the clatter of these bikes across the cobblestones was louder than I would have ever expected)

(Using the 200x zoom lens to watch the peloton streak by the crowds on the opposite side of the Place de Concorde)

(Our view down Rue de Rivoli, as the riders make another pass; the British fans ready and waiting, as their men push forward).

 The Spectators – for the most part everyone was friendly and happy to be there. We met quite a few people who had been following the tour, stopping place by place along the entire route, which seemed like both an extensive commitment and a great excuse for a trans-European road trip all at the same time. This guy was the best of all – having a great time and more than willing to stop for a photo. With Bradley Wiggins clinching his victory (and the first for Britain), this walking Union Jack and his robust salutation of “Cheers!” to everyone that stopped to sneak a peak (or take an obvious photo) seemed the perfect way to end an exhausting and exhilarating afternoon.

Bastille Day 2012

Thank you all for your patience and understanding as I have been waxing philosophical about my time here in Paris and my upcoming plans. Now, enough about all of that and back to the Parisian adventure, oui?

In the past, I have entrenched myself on the Champ de Mars early and picnicked my heart out while watching the exceptional spectacle that is Bastille Day in Paris – and by this I mean both the fireworks and the company. This year, due to inclement weather and an early morning wake-up call on July 15th, I decided to forego the Eiffel Tower experience and instead see the military parade in the morning (something I had not yet done) while trying to catch the fireworks from a distance that evening.

First was the quest for a curbside spot in order to watch the parade on the Champs-Elysées. I had slept in a bit, mistakenly hoping that the forecasts for potential downpours might keep the crowds away; by the time I arrived it was packed and I could only find a place six people deep (most with children on their shoulders) from the street. I was able to get a few shots of soldiers with big guns, ready at attention and a passing horse brigade before getting tired of using my camera as a delayed action periscope. I decided to backtrack and meet up with a friend at Madeline, the end of the parade route.

By the time I made it back, the crowds had gathered and, although not able to meet up with my friend directly (her side of the street was already closed), I was able to find a great corner spot – behind  a very nice New Zealand couple – from which to take in (and photograph) the parade. Let’s get to the parade, shall we?

Flyovers

I’ll be kicking myself for missing the tricolor fighter jet flyover for some time to come. However, unlike the US, this were not the only fly-by to kick off the festivities. The planes kept coming – from the state-of-the-art aircraft through WWII-era bombers and bi-planes.

Units

Next came several units/squadrons from different branches of the French forces. The neatest part about this, besides their outfits, was that they were each singing their specific anthems as they marched in formation down the street. It created a surprisingly intimate atmosphere, especially when I realized that some people around me were singing along quietly. I cannot tell which units belong to what military groupings, as I have absolutely no knowledge about the structure of these things. What became clear is that it is all far more complex than I could have possibly imagined and that whomever designed their headgear (and capes! and aprons!) deserves a raise.

*the officer directing this group, walking alongside, almost looks like he is tipping over on account of all of those medals on his chest.

* this guy – and his moustache – are just awesome.

Bands

As a proud (yes, really) member of band throughout secondary school and college, I had a soft spot for the marching bands that followed. Especially when they were throwing their horns. And really, what are those things behind the drumline?

Vehicles

The last thing to pass by was the military vehicles – tanks, jeeps, even dump trucks (I have this vision the dump truck driver throwing a temper tantrum when he realizes all the other guys who drive cooler cars get to be in the parade and then being given reluctant permission to join in at the last minute).  Seeing real military equipment up close and personal is always exciting (at least for me). My only real point of disappointment was that the drivers rushed by us scarily fast precluding any decent photograph from being taken. My assumption is that, after going incredibly slow as part of the procession down the main boulevard, by the time they got to the end of the route they just wanted to gun it (pun intended). I don’t blame them – if I had the chance to rip up the streets of Paris in a giant tank, I’d take it too (in a friendly way, of course).

* you can’t really tell from the photo, but this guy was saluting us.

After it was all over, some of the men in uniform gathered to allow the public to see into the tanks (and dump trucks) and for photo opportunities – also a chance I could not miss.

As for the fireworks, I was far away and missed the percussive booms that almost blow you over when close, but even from a distance they took my breath away.

 Don’t let anyone tell you that Paris doesn’t know how to party…

Last Call

I received an extremely crucial (and insightful) piece of advice from Meg not so long ago. No nonsense, eye-to-eye, I-know-what-I’m-talking-about words of wisdom: “Figure out what your priorities are for the rest of your time in Paris and DO them… the lab is not going to love you back…” Her blunt honesty stunned me into several long seconds of silence, followed acceptance of the truth and, finally, by a slow, affirmative (and still silent) nod: Yes.

Don’t get me entirely wrong, I have been working hard on (and still love) the science (especially now that the countdown is always ticking in the background) and I’m not about to toss my lab coat in a corner and never look back. However, there is a lot of Paris, and France (possibly even further afield in Europe) that I have not yet seen. Knowing that I am easily caught up by my overdeveloped sense of obligation, I need to be sure that I set aside time for me, in addition to the lengthy (always growing) list of experiments.

To that end, I am currently writing from a hotel room in Caen (one of the larger towns in Normandy) where I am taking in the sites with visiting family. For the first time in almost four years, I have taken a week off of work and stayed here. I am giving myself the time to get a bit more organized, see the sites and enjoy the time I have with my family on this side of the world. It is glorious.

As both a way to hold myself accountable and get the word out to my Paris friends, I thought I’d post my ‘to-do for FUN’ list here and keep track of things as I see them (and write about them, of course).

So, here is my dream list of places to see and photos to take before I depart in November. I would also really enjoy hearing your suggestions – food, landmarks, museums and/or views that are wholeheartedly recommended as ‘can’t miss’ when visiting the City of Light. Please, give me more ‘work’ to do!

Paris (and vicinity)

Museums:

Musée Rodin (27 July 2012)

Musée des Arts et Metiers (26 July 2012)

Musée de l’Orangerie

Espace Dali (this is embarrassing as it is around the corner from my house)

Jardin des Plantes/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

Musée Dupuytren (yes weird, possibly disturbing, but still fascinating)

Musée Carnavalet (did this past weekend-post forthcoming!)

Churches/Landmarks:

Madeline (did this past weekend – post forthcoming!)

Pantheon

Opera (the building definitely, but also – if I’m lucky – a performance?)

Galeries Lafayette  (for the building this time, not the shopping – I am on a post-doc salary, a French one, no less…)

Fontainebleau

Versailles (I have seen the gardens, but never the chateau)

Basilique Saint Denis

Night cruise along the Seine

Views

Arc de Triomphe (29 July 2012)

Tour Eiffel (yeah, have not done this yet, shaking my head in shame)

Tour Montparnasse (top of)

Dome of Basilica Sacre Coeur

Towers of Notre Dame Cathedral

Cemeteries

Montparnasse

Montmartre (28 July 2012)

Beyond Paris

Normandy (23-25 July 2012)

–       Mont Saint Michel (24 July 2012)

–       Omaha beach (25 July 2012)

Tours

Rouen

Bruges (mainly because of this and because it is GORGEOUS)

Yeah, so remember I did say dream list. However, please do suggest other things I may have missed. And, Paris peeps – let me know if you want to join the adventure(s)!

In Images: 14 Juillet (by night)

We left off with the sun setting…

This photo is pretty self-explanatory. I still think it’s hilarious.

We had a great view, as the darkness settled.

And the tower sparkled.

Then there were fireworks (feux d’artifice). I found it strange that they set the show to Broadway musical hits, including the grand finale set to ‘America’ from West Side Story, but our group of ex-pats certainly enjoyed it. They were beautiful:

And then, sparkles and fireworks! Be still my heart. And those hands in the way? Yes, the same person from above…

And then it was finished, with only the lingering smoke to remind us that it had been at all.

As is my (mostly) week of blogging about the event (hence the two posts in one day). It was a great day with much laughter and joy – I have been enjoying reliving it here.

And, for you, thoughts on these ‘images’ posts? I have so many photos taken over the past few months encompassing traveling I have done and things I have seen and often think that they tell their own story. Maybe a good goal for a weekly feature?

In Images: 14 Juillet (by day)

After sorting through the >1000 photos we all took on 14 Juillet, it became clear that the best way to share our celebration that day with all of you would be through those images. This was our day:

We arrived (extra) early to get a good spot in front of the Eiffel Tower. The military parade on the Champs-Élysées was just winding down, so we saw several massive helicopters doing low sweeps over the city. Disappointingly, it all started out grey and cool.

It did not take long for the clouds to break (although they would threaten to return for most of the afternoon). I was joined by two friends happy to help me reserve the space for those who could come later – and dive into picnic, round 1.

Much has already been said about our quirky neighbors, so I’ll keep it short. Suffice it to say that they took the party to an entirely new level and I will forever be grateful for that. It would not be a proper recap without them. Plus, they clearly are protecting us from evil, from wherever it may come…

Two hats were brought to the party and, at some point throughout the day, everyone wore one or the other – or, in my case, for a short time, both. As one friend put it, “Headgear does make people smile.” ‘Nuff said. Except, for next time, can someone please tell me I have pepper in my teeth before pictures get taken? Thanks.

Our little picnic grew (along with the crowd), as the day went on.

Another neighbor who had the cutest. baby. ever. Seriously, babies with glasses just get me. Every time.

The concert under the Tower began around 6pm. It was mostly French pop – a bit of which I recognized from occasionally overhearing French radio.  The crowd was massive and in good spirits (full of them them as well, at this point).

Of course, where there is music, there will be dancing. And in France, it is mandated somewhere that this must be some type of Can-Can. Right?

The sun started to set.

New friends were made.

Lights came on, and we were ready for the real party to begin…

Weekly Harvest (12) – Picnic!

(gratuitous, attention-grabbing fireworks photo)

We have a saying about March and April (in like a lamb, out like a lion), as well as May and June (showers and flowers), but someone really should take the time to give July its due. Perhaps no one has because it is all so self-explanatory. In both of the seasonal cities I have lived (Boston and Paris), the fun and sunshine of July completely make up for (and go beyond) the cold, dark, snowy days of recent February past. In an ex-pat’s Paris, with our unofficial 4th of July celebrations, followed by Bastille Day (14 of July), cinéma en plein air, and/or weekend trips around the country (or continent, if you are lucky), there are more than enough reasons to celebrate summer – preferably with a picnic.

Like this summer’s weather, the hothouse summer foods burst on the scene early (cherries in May, zucchini in June), but then staggered a bit into autumn territory (broccoli, potatoes) before stabilizing again in the past few weeks (bring on the apricots). Following this logic, I am a bit nervous for the paniers of the next week or two (before they go on vacation, again). We’re in the middle of a cold snap and extended rainstorm, and I am not yet ready for the apple Armageddon.

(now it is clear where all the tomatoes came from – and had to go)

Picnics are always a good option, in whatever size and shape they take form:

Living Room: A few weeks ago, Meg and I used the funny looking fresh tomatoes to complete a caprese salad (including the most meltingly delicious mozzarella I have ever tasted), served alongside quinoa tossed with zucchini and roasted peppers, a variety of cool dips and a crusty baguette. With a glass of rosé (a necessary picnic component) and good conversation, we were in business.

Big Bash: Last week was the biggest picnic of them all, Bastille Day. In preparation for day-long lounging, I wanted to be sure to have substantial picnic food prepared. Industriously combining the previous two paniers, I spent the evening of the 13 of July singing along with the iPod, dancing around my kitchen and cooking massive amounts of tasty picnic staples: potato salad and coleslaw.

Aside: also made ( not pictured but deserving mention) was Camille’s carmelized onion-bacon dip. If you have not made this yet, do it. Now. I can wait. You will thank me.

The next day, after several hours in the sunshine, copious wine consumption and an ever-expanding guest list, I am very glad I did. Everyone else seemed glad that I had, as well…

FFFFP #15: Bastille Day Edition

Things I was reminded of on this Bastille Day:

1. I live here. Seriously. Amazement renewed.

2. Picnic food is delicious. Especially when shared with good friends and served with copious rosé (or whatever is your wine of choice, we weren’t picky).

3. Some French people are crazy. Bat-s&*t crazy. Take, for example, our picnic neighbors:

Spiderman is an icon. Rather, Speedermahn (proper French pronunciation is a must) is a cultural touchstone. He does not grow old. Or have a muffin-top. Or smoke cigarettes and drink 151 proof, off-brand vodka straight from the bottle. Until now. Very unfortunately.

Speedermahn was accompanied by a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (obviously, right?). He seemed rather clean-shaven (and short) for emulating Ewan McGregor/young Alec Guinness. Not that you can tell this quite yet from the dramatic cape action depicted here (although it does not appear that he’s able to see anything either).

Better to see them in action (are they blessing the photographer here?):

It was La Fête Nationale – the annual celebration of the modern French state and honoring of the liberté, egalité, fraternité ideals that my adopted home holds so dear. Not Comic-Con. As far as I knew. Clearly, one of us did not get the memo.

Speaking of which, who is this guy and what is that on his head?

No matter, much fun was had by all. Frankly, sitting next to the Comic Book All-Stars was definitely one of the highlights of the afternoon. I cannot quite put into words the incredulity we all felt as we watched their party evolve, with additional costumed friends joining throughout the festivities (samurais, Al Capone). As usual, I have friends that are far more eloquent than I, and so I quote, “…you did a great job in capturing the quintessential of a retired superhero. Sadly, this is what happens when your idol grows old and tired….. it’s a lesson for all of us. Never give up! (and don’t wear a tight costume if your belly sticks out more than your manhood does).” Thanks, Gianni.

#4. Did I tell mention this? I live here – this is my life:

So, so, so lucky…