Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lisbon by Plane

We flew to Lisbon.  No Major Strasser tried to stop us, so it was an easy trip on EasyJet.  The baggage rules on EasyJet are quite draconian, but that meant no problem for us since we were only going for a few days to visit Marita Castleman, my father's cousin who will soon celebrate her ninetieth birthday.  Tough baggage rules meant that boarding the Airbus was very smooth.  None of these people trying to pass off steamer trunks as carry-on luggage!

We have been to Lisbon several times before.  Each time we have stayed at the Hotel Travel Park on Avenida Almirante Reis.  This is a nice hotel located very close to Marita's flat.  As we always have, we had a nice visit with Marita and a couple of her friends as well.

Lisbon is a great town.  We didn't go around town taking many photos, and I will add some more from older files when we get to California at the end of the year.  I did get a few and here they are:

Castelo São Jorge dominated old Lisbon from the east.

Praça dos Restauradores

Praça do Comercio was a key trading point in the Portuguese maritime empire.

The cathedral was built on the site of the mosque following the Reconquest of Lisbon in 1147.  The facade is Romanesque, but as is always the case with old European cathedrals, a variety of architectural styles is found throughout the structure.  It was completed in the early 1200s, and has withstood several earthquakes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Anglophone Musings about Paris

We just saw "Midnight in Paris" again.  This makes the second time that we have seen it since we arrived in Paris six weeks ago.  Classic Woody Allen.  A charming and enjoyable film, and not so deep that it plumbs uncharted depths of philosophical complexity.  I can only take so much "Rashomon" anyway.  But this film did make me think some more about ideas that have been wandering around my head for a while.

The protagonist is a successful screenwriter who makes good money pumping out trash scripts.  He goes to Paris with his shallow fiancee and intended in-laws.  Here, in the City of Light, he connects with his muse, the author within escapes, and his artistic creativity begins to take wing.  At the stroke of each midnight, he is picked up not by a pumpkin coach, but by a gorgeous car from the 1920s.  He is transported to Jazz Age Paris, where he meets Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and all the other artistic, expatriate luminaries in Paris at that time.  He decides to chuck it all and stay in Paris.  In present-day Paris, not the 1920s city to which he traveled through a time warp.  If you haven't yet seen "Midnight in Paris," I haven't really spoiled anything for you.  Even I saw this one coming a mile away, and I am among the more clueless of film watchers.

Here's the thing:  The screenwriter speaks not a word of French.  Not one word.

I wonder what this writer's life would be like here.

I don't speak French either, but I do know a few words.  Most of them somehow relate to ordering things in restaurants.  Vin rouge, mousse au chocolat, pommes frites, croissants.  The true essentials!  And combining an expectation of what things are likely to say with cognates from Spanish and from English, I can decipher a fair number of written things.  I can shop in the Carrefour supermarket.  But beyond that, well, not so much.  It is a bit frustrating, in a way that I never felt during any of our short visits here over the years.

It is hard to engage beyond a certain point.  It is like trying to move a bigger wheel with small gear teeth, where I can't get the mesh that I would like.  Grinding my gears and spinning my wheels.  The tourist world here accommodates the non-French speaker.  In Spain and South America, I don't have this problem.  I get along reasonably well in Portuguese.  I can eavesdrop in Spanish as well as carry on conversations.  I have big Spanish gear teeth!

Many things here therefore remain beyond reach.  Around the corner from us here in Montmartre there is a small stage theater.  It just closed a run of Jean Cocteau's play, La Voix Humaine.  In that play, one person talks on the telephone.  That's the whole thing!  There is no way that we can understand that, so we didn't see it.

Don't get me wrong.  Penny and I are both enjoying our time in Paris.  But I don't think that I would want to live here long term unless I had a job that brought me here, or unless I first acquired some conversational proficiency upon which to build some good gear teeth to mesh with what goes on here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rome to Stalingrad

Along Ligne 2 on the Paris Metro, you will find a station named Rome and another one called Stalingrad.  From Rome, Italy, to Volgograd, Russia is a long way.  I think Rome is nice enough, but I haven't been to Stalingrad/Volgograd.  Nor are we likely to go there.  We did Russia once.  One of those places where once is probably enough.  Never say "never" though.

The Paris Metro is the best public transit system that I have ever used.  It goes everywhere.  Like the San Francisco Muni, it lies across the city map like a grid, so you don't have to go into a center and back out on another spoke like in London if you are starting outside the Circle Line.

A single ride ticket is 1E70 if you buy it on a bus, or 1E60 if you buy it in a metro station.  For 12E50, you can buy a "carnet" of ten tickets, so this is a pretty good deal.  Passes are also available, but we thought we would not get enough use out of them to get those.

You need to keep your ticket with you throughout your journey!  They don't collect the tickets when you get off, and there is no machine like in the BART exit.  But if you don't have your ticket with you and you are caught by the fare police, it will cost you big time.  They even have credit card machines to collect your fines on the spot.  So beware!  We see cheaters all the time.  Sometimes they get caught.

This is a great system for getting around.  The subway trains probably work better than a bus for most out-of-towners,  because you don't have to know what your stop looks like.  One of the many things right with Paris is its Metro.