Part IV: Art Appreciation & Soft Core Pornography

Our Trip to Europe, Continued

Tuesday, our Day Thing was to go to the Musee d'Orsay.

So on the one hand, you have Ish, who loves the Musee d'Orsay best of all the museums in France. On the other hand, you have me, who didn't know one single thing about the musee before going, because -- as we demonstrated below -- my idea of being worldly is studying French for ten years so that, on the off-chance I someday end up there with the man who is potentially the love of my life, I can, at a highly critical juncture, utter the only French I will use on our whole trip: to ask our cab driver, "What is the name of your dog?"


One of the many guidebooks Ish had been relying on was written by a guy I'd never heard of named Rick Steves. Ish had received this book as a gift from his aunt and uncle, who'd insisted it was fantastic. Now maybe you're one of those people who's all like, Kristy, how do you not know who Rick Steves is? He has lots of books and a show on cable and a big old website and everything. But whatever, I didn't know, and nether did Ish.

So...when Rick mentions in his book that he actually has free podcasts available for download, we thought why not? Thus, in advance of our going to the d'Orsay, we downloaded his podcast of a museum walking tour.

More on this in a moment.

Getting There Is Half The Fun

I took a bunch of photos on our way to the museum, because even just the act of walking around in Paris is sort of one of the most beautiful things you can experience.

Cold, autumn morning outside the hotel.

Looking down a street next to Les Champs Elysees.

This is in the window of a fast-food restaurant called, I believe, Quickie.
I love very much that the fast-food burger features chevre.
I didn't try it, but I was tempted.

I actually need to make a note here about chevre/goat cheese, and how it ranks right up there as possibly my favorite food in the whole world.

Remember the first season of that show, Joe Millionaire? (No?) Oh, man. It was a horrible, horrible show and -- right -- I watched it religiously. It took place in a castle in France, and I remember all the awful plastic female contestants (vying for the love of handsome Joe, who they believed to be worth millions), who spent much of the various, elaborate meal times complaining about French food. They really just wanted potato chips and Diet Coke. At one point, they were offered something with chevre, and when they learned that "chevre" was "goat cheese" they freaked out and exclaimed how disgusting it was. I was embarrassed for them.

(Uh, of course, I'm not sure that I rank any higher on the social sophistication scale if I actually watched the show in th first place and then remembered it enough to write about it several years later. Ahem.)

A cafe for le petit dejeuner Parisian.

Apparently, all cafes serve the Parisian Breakfast, which has been developed (I'm pretty sure) for tourists. It consists of one hot drink, fresh orange juice, croissant, and one baguette. Plus butter and jam.

Coffee was interesting. Ish had spoken highly of drinking "cafe creme"s, but I almost never have any sort of milk product in my coffee and prefer it black. I assumed that ordering "cafe noir" would be a possibility, because why wouldn't it be?

Well, I'll tell you why.

Because "drip" coffee doesn't really exist in Europe. Or if it does, it's because an establishment bought a drip coffee maker to assuage stupid American tourists.

Eventually, I learned that what I actually wanted was a Cafe Americain: a double espresso with hot water. Known in the States as an Americano. Turns out, it's quite delicious -- richer and tastier than a plain drip. And what I now order these days, since my six days abroad have made me far more worldly. Thanks, France.

(Were you wondering why it takes me forever to write about this trip? Do you understand that it's because I feel compelled to talk about ordering coffee? I AM SO INTERESTING!)

Once we got our breakfast and cafes, we took the metro don't know. Somewhere near the Louvre. I probably could have figured it out if I'd had to, but Ish was navigating and so we got off at the stop where Ish said, "We get off here."

First we stopped to get more coffee, at this little stand near the Louvre and the big ferris wheel.

What could be more French than "hot-dog"?

Answer: "hot-dog" with "ket-chup"!

Ish orders something at the "hot-dog" and "ket-chup" stand.

I suddenly realize that I'm standing next to a giant, beautiful structure
and am taking pictures of signs that say "hot-dog" and "ket-chup." Oops.
Thus, the obligatory, "Isn't this so gorgeous" shot of the scenery, too.

More scenery, with too much foreground.
I have obviously not edited these photos in any way.
If you look really carefully, you will see that there is a big building in the background, between the two big trees with leaves on them. That's the Louvre.

OOH! More "vin chaud!" Kinda like hot apple cider, except instead of apples it's grapes.
And ever-so-slightly more fermented.

See all those structures that look like a hotel and a train station and a museum?
Yeah, that's all the Louvre. I had no idea it was so big.

More pictures of just how enormous the Louvre is.

The Musee d'Orsay is actually just around the corner from the Louvre (in case you were wondering why I was suddenly at the Louvre taking pictures of it).

Just walking along in Paris. Being stunned by its historic beauty at every turn.

Now we enter the (nearly non-existent) line for the d'Orsay.

The Part About Pornography

I don't go to a lot of museums, but I believe it's becoming more and more common for them to offer headsets with pre-recorded information. In case you're unfamiliar, the way it works is that you pay some fee (say, 10 Euro, which -- if I'm doing the math correctly -- equals approximately $2,983 US), to rent a headset that's attached to a number pad thing. Then, when you want to hear about a certain piece in the museum, you type in its number and the headset springs to life and tells you about the painting/sculpture/etc. It's pretty cool.

However, when Ish and I entered the museum, we opted NOT to rent a $2983 US. Because, if you recall, we had been industrious! And innovative! And planned ahead! And believed that Rick Steves was someone we should be listening to!

And so, like the from-San-Francisco, hip-tech-folks we are (shutup), we synchronized our iPods and began listening to Rick tell us about the rich, soul-shifting experience that would be our tour through the d'Orsay.

About three seconds in, Ish and I exchanged pained glances, wherein we were able to express silently to each other that, Oh my God, we're listening to Ned Flanders tell us about art-diddly-art!"

It was painful. Rick sounded like a really nice guy, but his uber-down-home accent was really distracting there in a museum in Paris. It would be weird to have Ned Flanders guiding you through a Parisian museum, wouldn't it?

Well, we continued to listen. First, he told us to wander around all the gleaming white sculptures on the main floor. We obliged, assuming he would, you know, start describing them. Instead, Rick/Ned went off on some tangent about the century the sculptures were made in. For five minutes, he went on and on about Abe Lincoln and Ty Cobb, Karl Marx and something or other about automotives and horse-drawn carriages.

It was weird. And not a single sculpture or sculptor was discussed. Not one.

But Ish and I carried on, willing to give Rick/Ned the benefit of the doubt. Mmm.

One of the first specific paintings Ned wanted us to view was by Alexander Cabanel -- "The Birth of Venus." Except it wasn't there because it had been loaned out by the museum.

Here's a version of it for reference, though, thanks to Google images.

We didn't realize this right away, though, so Ish and I were frantically searching for the famous painting while listening to a man who sounds like your friendly, neighborhood grandfather provide the following, harrowing description:

"Cabanel lays Ingre's The Source on her back. This goddess is a perfect fantasy -- an orgasm of beauty."

From opposite ends of the room, Ish and I exchanged horrified looks at the word "orgasm" coming from a man who sounded like he might have pronounced it "orgasmarino." Plus, we weren't actually seeing the thing he was referring to.

He went on:

"The love goddess stretches back seductively, recently birthed from the ephemeral foam of a wave. This is art of a pre-Freudian society, when sex was dirty, and mysterious, and it had to be exalted into a more pure and divine form. The sex drive was channeled into an acute sense of beauty. French folk would literally swoon in ecstasy before these works of art...

...Go ahead, swoon. If it feels good, enjoy it."

Coming from Rick/Ned, I couldn't help but feel creeped out. And then he added:

"Now, take a mental cold shower."

It's hard to articulate the extent to which this sounded weird and out of place. Rick/Ned's full-blown Midwestern accent, discussing orgasms and cold showers, there in the Orsay, was just utterly bizarre.

But -- and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you this -- we still didn't give up! We continued to listen...right up to the point where Rick lowered his voice and explained how a series of nudes were, in their era, basically soft core pornography.

Yikes. Creep-diddly-eepy.

In case you wanted to hear it for yourself, I've embedded a 43 second spiel.

Wouldn't you rather hear this man talking about apple pie?

Anyway, the rest of the trip through the museum was amazing. Because how could it not be?

"The Decadent Romans" by Thomas Couture.
"Blurry head of passing man" by me.

I took a photo of this painting because -- if I may get a little political here -- times, they haven't really changed so much. Here is a painting of a Roman orgy. The statues behind the group and the two men on the bottom right represent solemn disapproval. The point of this painting was to condemn the wicked ways of the sinful Romans. Thomas Couture was apparently so incensed by those sexy Romans that he spent THREE YEARS of his life painting them in action. To me, it's a lot like the uber-Conservatives who spend all their time obsessing over what the gays are doing. You know?

One of my favorite, local, up-and-coming comedians put it best. Impersonating an anti-gay Southern Conservative: "I hate the gays! Why? Because they're always comin' into my dreams and tryin' to have sex with me!"

To me this sign says, "Turn right and run into the white box!"

Remember how I told you that my parents once dressed me up as Whistler's Mother for Halloween when I was about 3 years old?

So okay, one more thing. I didn't know ANYTHING about the Musee d'Orsay before we went. I hadn't really heard or read about it, so I assumed I wouldn't really know any of the artwork there. And then I was like, "Oh, THIS is here?" And then, "THIS TOO?"

And then I was just pretty quiet and amazed.

What up, Sistah Friends!!

On our way back to our hotel, this cool band was playing in the metro station.

Just another street in Paris. Nothing remarkable about it.
Except, you know, everything.


  1. Thank you so much for that post; I'd been very much looking forward to reading about the rest of your Paris trip and it was well worth the wait!

  2. That metro show looks a lot like a Total Eclipse gig in terms of fan turnout.

  3. I know about Rick Steves, I've seen his show on PBS. He is in Seattle and gives talks on how to prepare for trips abroad. He does have the homespun way about him but he does know his stuff. But I really don't want him talking about orgasms. Really it is icky!

  4. I LOVE the Ned Flanders narration - ha ha ha! I'm glad you're writing about Paris - hurrah! Also, I love the photos.

  5. Oh yeah... HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  6. i am so glad that you are also the type of ignorant american that i would be in paris. in awe, yet not incredibly up to speed on, well, just about everything.

    so glad you are sharing photos and stories. now if only we can get that photo of you as whistler's mother. hehe

  7. I, too, went to Paris this year and I never got the opportunity to ask any of my cab drivers what their dog was named. Dang, K gets all the lucky breaks!

  8. I watched joe millionnaire. i used to be like those girls - listen to someone mention a type of food, then decide whether or not I'd like it. Since moving to SF I've gotten so much better at trying new (weird) foods.

  9. I love the Musee D'Orsay. Jealous. Rick Steves videos from high school French did teach me the importance of brown bagging it and speaking poor French to buskers.

  10. I would never eat anything except chevre if doing so would not make my intestines explode. I had a salad in Paris which turned out to be chevre with a lettuce and tomato garnish. Best salad ever.

    We used Rick Steves' walking tours photocopied from his books (I had never heard of him either, but my travel buddy is a devotee) but I had no idea about the Ned Flanders voice. Sounds like that was for the best.

  11. Rick Steves is from up here in Seattle. The funniest thing is he sounds AND looks like a grandpa-ish type guy but he is one of the most outspoken advocates of legalizing marijuana in our area. I watched an entire newscast of him speaking at Hempfest this summer. Dude may look and sound frumpy, but he's got his orgasmic stoned heart in the right place.

  12. I think I just swooned. The "turn right and run into the white box" was absolutely hilarious!

  13. wow! those works of art are absolutely amazing. i only a little sorry that ned flanders had to lead you through the musee d'orsay, however i love the turn of phrase 'orgasmerino.'i might have to use it at my next church type function.

  14. Ned Flanders - that is the voice exactly! Good call. Thank you for sharing your trip to the Musee d'Orsay, since I'll probably never get there myself. Merci!

  15. Isn't it ironic that I am making French Onion soup on the day that I FINALLY get a chance to read this last post....uhmmmm...ok....weird....moving on...Lucky, lucky you - I won't get to Paris in this century! I'm so jealous! Happy New Year!

  16. Well, golly-diddly-gosh, thanks! Now I can’t shake the image of unctuous Ned Flanders pontificating about soft porn, ecstasy and cold mental showers while meandering through the Musee d’Orsay with me helpless in his thrall. Creep-diddly-eepy, indeed! However, it reminds me of something slightly on topic, so of course I will take this time to share it with you. “I digress, therefore I am” is the family motto.
    My husband and I like to listen to books on CD when we go on long trips, whenever the conversation lags or we get tired of playing the license plate game. I had read The DaVinci Code, but he hadn’t, and I didn’t mind giving the audio version a whirl. It started out good – the most important thing about listening to an audio book is ascertaining whether or not you can stand the narrator’s voice. If the book is also interesting, so much the better. This guy’s voice was OK. A tad monotone, but OK. And then it happened. Perhaps you remember that the opening scenes of this book play out in a large edifice located conveniently close to the Musee d’Orsay. The first time the narrator mentioned its name, he pronounced it in ringing tones: “the LOO-ver.” Our heads swiveled to stare at one another in disbelief. It must be a mistake. But no, next paragraph up, there it was again. “The famous LOO-ver.” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, because unlike my husband, I knew how prevalently this institution, and its name, figured in Mr. Brown’s book. We assumed we could get used to it. We couldn’t. We found ourselves holding our breath every time it seemed probable that the name would be coming up, so much so that my husband completely lost track of the plot sometimes, and I'd have to fill him in. Then we started to get the giggles. It’s been a couple of years since we listened to that book, but even now, just the sight of the word “Louvre”, a picture of the buildings, or the name being pronounced, even correctly, starts us giggling again. Rick Steves and Ned Flanders have nothing on OUR guy!

  17. It looks like you had a good time! Thanks for sharing.

  18. I was wondering when you were going to post about the rest of the trip. Really great post!
    Might we hear more?

  19. "the luuuvve goddess...." whoo boy.

    Thanks for more of the Paris trip. I luuuvve it!

  20. A huge new fan of your blog. Love your hilarious and relatable insights.

  21. 1. I can 110% believe that Rick Steves is an advocate of legalized marijuana.

    2. Everyone watched Joe Millionaire. Everyone. People who say they didn't are liars.

    3. I didn't get to see the Impressionists in the Musee D'Orsay when I was in Paris because the basement had flooded the day before we got there and the museum was closed.

    4. I love your photos!

  22. Aw, I'm jealous of the trip. On our last visit we hit Dorsay and the Louvre. I'm curious which one you liked more.

    Your take on Rick Steeve's is perfect. He's got the perfect tone and cadence for NPR. I bet he likes it "rough" though. Crap, I didn't mean to say that.


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