Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 1: The Arrival

Our flight actually left on June 15, but our arrival into Paris was on June 16.  Everything went very well for us to my relief.  I was very concerned about leading this trip and everything working out.  I could not have asked for more success.  The 7 hour flight to Dublin seemed to go  by so fast.  I watched a movie called Blue Valentine that was pretty good, but I need to learn to not watch sad movies on the plane.  Sleep was the most challenging aspect of this venture.  I slept about 1 hour on that flight and about 10 minutes on the next.  Taking the shuttle from our terminal could not have gone smoother.  It arrived just as we did.  The RER even went smoothly, although I was panicking during the ride because I had never done it before.
Arriving at our apartment was a little exhausting.  It is unfortunate that the first few moments in this wonderful city are not really enjoyed because you are just trying to get to your destination.  The lugging of your stuff up the flights of stairs can be exhausting, even with an adrenaline rush.  The senses are bombarded with overload as you approach a view above the metro.  Your eyes are trying to adjust to the new light above the tunnel and once they do, you are surrounded by the life of the city.  Across the way we saw Notre Dame which was a beautiful site to see because you get the sense that you are actually there, in Paris.  You are overwhelmed with the traffic, people, and construction.  Your ears even need a moment to adjust to the movement and flow of the city.  The smells are changing between what is cooking at the nearest bistro along with the exhaust from the vehicles.  And of course your body is confused about whether it should be weak because of the physical activity you are participating in, but it just keeps moving forward.  We entered the code to get into our apartment, then a man came out to provide us with the means to get upstairs which was very helpful.  Unfortunately we arrived to find that Linda was not there.  Her flight was cancelled, so she would be joining us the following day.  This hasn’t happened to her in 15 years, so that is pretty good luck.  Nonetheless, it was too bad we were not all united for our first night in Paris.
Upon arrival, we all confessed our hunger.  After pondering over a couple of options, we made a decision.  We ate outside as we enjoyed accordion music.  The men at the restaurant seemed to enjoy teasing us, with one even sneaking into our photograph in the background.  I decided it was a necessity to order escargot on my first day and be welcomed into the city the right way.  We then came back to the apartment after no success of finding a grocery.
After a much needed nap, Carolyn and I went out to find groceries for a second attempt.  I felt we needed to go down and to the right, and we found it right away.  Carolyn and I got some basics, and then brought them back so we could go explore again.
We decided to go up to Montmartre.  I figured she might as well see the best view of the city her first night.  The 18th arroindesmont is just as beautiful as I remembered (minus the merchants).  I struggled to find Sacre Coeur which was frustrating because that seemed to be our beacon last time.  Once there, we hung out on the steps for a brief while.  One group was playing No Woman No Cry.  It was lively place as the night settled on the city.   We then decided to try to return home.  Everything worked fine until we got to our metro stop.  We took a wrong turn and ended up seeing the Eiffel Tower.
My favorite moment that night was on our way to Montmartre.  At Notre Dame we heard fun, and decided to check it out.  There was a large group of men and women dressed in white, sitting opposite of each other.  They were savoring on some delicious foods such as cheeses, spreads, breads, and fine meats.  Champagne corks were flying in the air like fireworks.  Everyone was cheerful and relaxed from the wine.  As we continued to walk around we heard an occasional cheers and the clinking of wine glasses.  We never figured out what was going on, but I would have loved to participate.  As we returned home later that night, the party was still going and I couldn’t help but wonder what these people would be like at work the next day.  They know how to live.  Please read below for update.

While I was on Facebook, I saw a post by Sur La Table, here is what the article read:

How 10,000 People Keep a Secret

THERE are picnics, and then there are picnics.
Three weeks ago, in the golden light of an early-summer evening, thousands of Parisians dressed entirely in white converged on two of the city’s most picturesque locations — 4,400 of them in the plaza at the cathedral of Notre Dame; 6,200 in a courtyard of the Louvre — for a feast that was neither advertised nor publicly heralded. They had brought along not only their own epicurean repasts but also their own tables, chairs, glasses, silver and napery.
At midnight, after dining and dancing, they packed up their dishes, stowed their empty Champagne bottles in trash bags brought for that purpose, stooped to pick up their cigarette butts from the cobbles and departed. The landmarks were left immaculate, with no traces of the revelry of the previous three hours.
This annual event, called the Dîner en Blanc — the “dinner in white” — is like a gustatory Brigadoon, equal parts mystery, anachronism and caprice. Now attended by thousands at some of the best-known Parisian spaces, it began humbly in 1988. That year, François Pasquier, now 67, returned to Paris after a few years abroad and held a dinner party to reconnect with friends. So many wanted to come that he asked them to convene at the Bois de Boulogne and to dress in white, so they could find each other.
But while in certain circles in Paris, everybody knows about the Dîner, many Parisians have never heard of it. And despite the precision that goes into its planning, it retains an air of surprise.
For the first time, New York will have its own Dîner en Blanc, on Aug. 25, rain or shine. A thousand people — half invited, the others drawn from an online waiting list ( — will participate in this refined flash-mob feast, at an as-yet undisclosed location in Manhattan.
The New York event is being spearheaded by Mr. Pasquier’s son, Aymeric, who lives in Montreal, where he inaugurated the Canadian version of the Dîner en Blanc in 2009. But can brawny Manhattan, with skyscrapers from top to bottom, innumerable regulations and a dearth of public spaces on a Parisian scale, possibly approximate the romance of the French pique-nique? The New York organizers, Daniel Laporte and Alexandra Simoes, are hopeful.
“The emphasis is on spontaneity, but we are making absolutely sure to be completely in accordance with all city rules,” said Ms. Simoes, an elementary school director at the Lyceum Kennedy, who volunteered for the Dîner organizing job. “But we don’t want the guests to be impacted by our concerns. The guests should only be concerned about the dress code, and the tables they’ll carry, and what kind of food they will prepare.”
Mr. Laporte, a Canadian-born architect whom Aymeric Pasquier asked to participate, said: “Everything is extremely carefully organized, because to seat a thousand people at the same moment you need a lot of planning. But the most important thing is for everyone to have the best memory of the night.”
In New York, as in Montreal, the Dîner en Blanc is being conducted openly, facilitated by Facebook and Twitter and other online aids, and coordinated with municipal authorities. But in Paris, despite the tacit approval of government officials, the Dîner is private — a massive demonstration of the power of word of mouth, and the strength of social connections. The guest list is made up entirely of friends, and friends of friends. And despite the dinner’s vast and visible attendance, it has remained discreetly under the radar. Paris is still a class-stratified society — “It’s horizontal, whereas Montreal is vertical,” Aymeric Pasquier explained — so unwritten rules of privilege have allowed secrecy to surround the event. Nobody is sure who decides, year in, year out, which people are invited to create tables for the evening.
François Pasquier calls the party-list formation a “pyramide amicale,” a friendly pyramid; trusted friends invite their own trusted friends. The event’s exclusivity was evident just before the Dîner en Blanc in Paris on June 16. As I hurried with my dinner companions along a bridge to Notre Dame last month, passersby stopped us.
“What’s going on?” a man asked. “Haven’t you heard?” joked my friend Aristide Luneau (who had invited me). “It’s the end of the world.”
One tourist asked, “Do they do this every night?” If only.
At 8 o’clock, clusters of diners emerged from the Metro or chartered buses to gather at rallying points, where they had been instructed to meet their “heads of table,” the organizers who had invited them. The site is revealed at the last moment, both to avoid gate-crashing and to preserve instantaneousness. The guests, decked out in white suits, dresses, skirts, feather boas and even wings, carried heavy picnic gear and delicacies like pâté de foie gras, poached salmon and fine cheeses — each table brings its own meal.
At about 9, with the sky still light, the site was announced. Guests hurried across bridges and side streets to reach their destination. By 9:30, all the tables had been deployed in orderly rows, according to diagrams in the possession of the heads of table, with men all along one side, women along the other. The guests quickly covered their tables with white cloths; laid out the crystal for Champagne, wine and water; the plates for hors d’oeuvres, main course and dessert; and began tucking in.
As night fell on Notre Dame, a clergyman appeared and blessed the throng, and church bells rang out overhead; at the Louvre, opera singers serenaded the diners. At 11 in both places, diners stood on chairs and waved sparklers — signaling the end of dinner and the beginning of the dancing (to D.J.’ed music at Notre Dame, and to a brass band at the Louvre). An hour later, the frolickers switched off the merriment and packed up their tables to depart, like Cinderella, on the stroke of midnight.
Needless to say, New York presents its own challenges. As in France, the organizers have created a fleet of “heads of table” who will collect picnickers at various meeting points around the city and shepherd them to the location. But some differences will apply. For one thing, it’s likely that Champagne will not be permitted, if the Dîner is held in a public location. For another, the proceedings are expected to end at 11.
“Even if we can’t have Champagne, it will be nice still,” Ms. Simoes said.
Mr. Laporte said, “After this year, the city will know the beauty of the Dîner,” adding, “We can show them that a big group can be very respectful.”
As in Paris, guests in New York will have a strong incentive to uphold the code of conduct. If they misbehave — for example, by bringing uninvited guests, getting too rowdy or not showing up or helping to clean —  they will receive a punishment worse than any police fine: being barred from future dinners.
“Any guest who doesn’t respect the rules of behavior will be put on a blacklist and never invited back again,” Aymeric Pasquier said.
Initially, Mr. Laporte and Ms. Simoes worried that New Yorkers would find these rules too demanding.
“But the more we talked to our New York friends,” Ms. Simoes said, “the more we realized that they were fascinated by the idea that it was difficult and special, and that you have to build your own dinner and bring your own table.”
Mr. Laporte added: “Our first impulse was to rent tables for the event, so people wouldn’t have to carry them.  But we realized that would change the spirit of the dinner too much. Part of the event is the journey there.  To think ahead, to get ready, to get the table, to prepare your picnic, to choose your outfit.  Not making it easy is part of the allure.”

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