Monday, March 14, 2005

Let's hear it for the Rainbow Tour!

Wow. OK, this post is gonna be long. But I was in Europe for TEN FREAKIN’ DAYS, so quit your whining and get reading I have a lot to tell you. I’ve peppered this post with links to fabulous pictures and other enriching supplemental click-throughs, so you should be entertained until the bitter end. And if you can’t wait to see all the dark, grainy pictures my cheap camera took, you can just go here and check them out all at once.

Otherwise, I humbly present you The Rainbow Tour (now in low-carb digestible chunks!):

We’ll start at the very beginning, with …

Aside from our early problems with lost luggage (which were more than compensated for with prompt, free found-luggage delivery and a well-stocked lost luggage kit that even included a condom), I really have no complaints about Air Chance France. The food they served was pretty good, the crew was attentive, our flights arrived more or less on time—and even though our seats were a little on the cramped side, they included individual entertainment centers that offered movies, TV reruns (including old episodes of “MacGyver”), music (including “An American in Paris”—GET IT?) and that spellbinding display of GPS ingenuity that uses cartoon maps and a little cartoon plane to show you exactly where you are, how high you’re flying, what you’re about to crash into flying over and even when you should expect to arrive at your destination.

Our Madrid hotel was filled with fabulous basement catacombs (and free access to the Internets!), Barbie Dream Showers and curious, inescapable peek-a-boo displays of roommate toilet activities. Our Paris hotel was waaaaay less high-tech (and waaaaay less fastidiously clean), but it provided plenty of room for all my fabulous new shoes, and it could not have been more conveniently located for gay tourists who like easy access to shopping, pastries, charming little out-of-the-way restaurants, gay people, museums, walks along the Siene, piña coladas and walks in the rain.

You know how I never drink? Well, that kind of … um … changed in Madrid. You see, my friends ordered a pitcher of sangría at our first dinner … and I’d never had sangria … and I’m never opposed to just tasting alcohol (you know, just to see what I’m missing out on) … and it was kind of tasty … and before you could say Jake’s dancing around with his underwear on his head! I’d had a full glass of sangria every night with dinner—along with a shot of some syrupy apricot-and-cinnamon schnapps thing my last night (which I sipped like the dainty little princess I am)—for three nights in a row.

Go on. You know you want to. Just let it out. Let that giant YAWN out over my sangria story. “Woo-hoo,” I can hear you say. “Jake had a glass of alcohol with dinner. Alert the media!”

Well, I AM the media—at least as far as your eyeballs are concerned at the moment—and it IS news. I had more to drink during my three nights in Madrid than I’ve had collectively in the almost 37 years I’ve minced walked this earth. And while I’m not about to do anything crazy like order a beer or something the next time I walk into a bar (crazy!), I actually kind of liked my sangría. I didn’t feel like the alcohol did anything to make me slur my speech or tell my friends how much I loved—LOVED!—them, but it did apparently make my face quite red.

Some people drink and get laid. I drink and turn into an Oompa-Loompa. Sexy!

The TVs in our hotel rooms—when they weren’t bringing us dubbed reruns of “Charlie’s Angels” and “CSI” (which in France is called “Les Experts”)—kept our brains fed with a steady diet of CNN and BBC world news. (Note to Not My President Bush: The international media report every word you say and everything you claim to think as though you know what you’re talking about. Please make sure that you do.) And to our horror, these otherwise rational, relatively reasonable news sources that brought us political and economic information from around the world focused their American coverage on … the Michael Jackson trial. In all seriousness.

I am SO embarrassed that we have a kid-diddling circus freak as the sole noseless face of America in the international media. Seriously. I could just die. (See the reference to red-faceness above.)

Before I move on to touristy things, let me just get this out in the open: I have a new fetish. Move over, muscular blonds with meaty butts and thick, rubbery lips—I’m now in love with wiry little Frenchmen with their tiny waists and angular faces and dark complexions and deep brown eyes. But damn do French men jam my expertly calibrated gaydar. Every single man in that country looks queer, from his manicure to his fastidiously trendy wardrobe to his impossible-to-resist-grabbing ass.

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, it’s on to the touristy stuff:

What magic! What charm! The Eiffel Tower is just as fabulous as I’d imagined—though I’d actually pictured it being a little taller. We went up once during the day on Wednesday (apparently missing Rod Stewart’s third marriage proposal by mere hours) and then again on Thursday night, where we were treated to hookers! hookers! hookers! tacky kitten souvenirs gorgeous views of the city and the on-the-hour sparkling light effects that literally make everyone in the city gasp and applaud and reach for their cameras.

For some reason I’ve never been that interested in Versailles—though I’m a huge sucker for over-the-top architecture and vulgar displays of grandeur. Versailles delivers all of that and more—even managing to fuse my twin fascinations with rococo excess and wig-wearing human heads in a fabulous way I’d never even imagined. I was surprised to discover that large parts of Versailles (and, actually, there really are no small parts of Versailles) are in a state of formidable disrepair, though there is a lot of repair work underway. The famed Hall of Mirrors is currently undergoing a thorough rehab; we could see only about a third of it through the construction.

I even got in a bit of trouble at Versailles. See, there was this huge statue of Napoleon (who I’ve always thought was kind of hot) so I jumped in front of him and asked Matt to take my picture. But then I noticed that from where I was standing, you could pretend to look up his robe as though you were admiring his massive marble member. So I reached up and did just that. And just as Matt snapped a picture, The Angry French Lady of Death appeared in a cloud of smoke and started chewing me a new delicious chocolatey profiterole asshole. I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble for touching the statue, disrespecting the patron saint of French military might history or actually using soap in a European country, but I was definitely embarrassed for being caught doing tacky American tourist things.

Again, not as big as I’d expected—but just oozing (literally!) with soaring Gothic charm. We climbed the claustrophobic little winding stone staircase to the top (I had to climb carefully because if I turn around and around too fast I might accidentally turn into Wonder Woman), where we were treated to spectacular views of the city and up-close-and-personal encounters with the church’s famed gargoyles. But since it was gray and overcast and COLD (it was pretty much like that the entire time we were in Europe) our rapidly shriveling nuts didn’t let us stay too long.

I know this is sacrilege—and maybe it’s just because I was well beyond the stage of cultural overwhelmitude by the time I got there—but I found the Louvre to be kinda boring. (And this is coming from a man who habitually spends entire days in art museums in every major city he visits.) The building itself is GORGEOUS, but the sheer volume of art it contains is so overwhelming it’s almost nauseating. (Kinda like that time in fifth grade when I chewed five whole packs of grape Bubblicious in one afternoon—to this day I can’t even stand the smell of the stuff.)

I’m also not a huge fan of the genres that dominate the permanent collection. There’s an awful lot of dark Dutch paintings (Rembrandts are like Eros lube—a little bit goes a long way) and waaaaaay too much rah-rah Northern European stuff (there are acres of canvas dedicated to long-dead French royalty—who are similarly enshrined in virtually every other museum you visit in Paris—while there isn’t a single work by an American painter … at least not that I saw, and I traversed the entire museum last Friday). I do, however, have a fascination with heroic statuary and virtually anything Medieval, both of which are available by the ton (literally!) at the Louvre. Which was also part of the problem: While I stood in silent reverence in front of the first 400 marble statues that I saw of Greek gods clad in delicately veined muscles and draping robes, I found myself all but sprinting past the next 400 of them, trying desperately to spare them the fate of the doomed grape Bubblicious.

I also wasn’t a fan of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid the first time I saw it—and I’m usually the first to jump on the grand-old-architecture-meets-funky-new-architecture juxtaposition bandwagon (wasn’t that a Beatles album?). But it grew on me immensely about the fourth time I walked through the courtyard. And once I entered the pyramid and discovered its role in making the museum so accessible I became a huge fan.

One of the reasons I was in the courtyard (and not in the building itself) so many times was because of …

I’m already not a fan of unions, and on Thursday when all the collective museum staffs of Paris staged a massive strike, my carefully planned vacation was torn asunder. I am the almighty tourist! You must bow to my whims and show me your national treasures and sell me overpriced trinkets on MY schedule, you selfish museum staffery! Actually, when we found out later that one of the reasons for the strike was to oppose a proposition to extend the grueling French workweek from 35 hours to 40, we did become arrogant, unsympathetic American tourists. But since there was nothing we could do, we turned to Plan B. And my personal Plan B was …

There’s this obscure little tavern in the Monmartre district in northern Paris called the Lapin Agile where poets and writers and artists have met and exchanged ideas for over a century. There’s even a brilliant little play by Steve Martin about a hypothetical meeting between Picasso and Einstein at the Lapin Agile right before they burst into the worldwide consciousness. I’ve always wanted to visit this tavern, but it was pretty low on my priority list—until the museum strike moved it instantly to the top on Thursday.

The Lapin Agile kind of hard to find, and my wandering journey accidentally took me through Montmartre’s pretty revolting sex district, where trannie hookers—who had a preternatural ability to sniff out my Americanness as I walked by—literally HOUNDED me on the sidewalk. I quickly learned that if I pretended like I spoke only Spanish, they were pretty powerless to bug me with their pidgin English and their manly features and their tarty little outfits. Lo siento, Guapa. No te entiendo.

Both Madrid and Paris are vying to host the 2012 Olympics, but Paris wins by a kilomegamelometer mile in the self-promotion event. There’s a massive Parisian campaign on subway walls, candy wrappers and even entire sides of beautiful old buildings to create buzz and influence location judges. The logo in this picture adorns the magnificent Hotel de Ville, which was just a few blocks from our hotel. It also appears on a couple other buildings we couldn’t identify and even the Eiffel Tower itself. And it’s totally freakin’ cool—Eurocool, even!

The four of us had enjoyed dinners all week at a range of charming little restaurants within blocks of our hotel (including one called Pain Vin Fromage, which served a lot of bread, wine and cheese in a spectacular catacomb-like basement), and we decided to mourn celebrate our last night together with warm cups of chocolat at a neighborhood pub. And when the bill came and we were forced to spend vast sums of Euros for tiny little cups of melted chocolate, we knew it was time to head home.

The next morning, I arrived at the airport with exactly 11 Euros in my pocket. And I was able to cobble together a meal in one of the snack shops for exactly 10.95 Euros. Best of all, after I finished my snack, I found a Unicef donation bin to throw my last .05 Euro in. And, after curing the hunger in my tummy AND in the world at large, I boarded the plane satisfied that I’d used my powers only for good on this trip. Except for that little Napoleon incident. And all the trashy souvenirs I bought.

Anyway, I’m home. And this post is more than FIVE freakin’ pages in Microsoft Word. So I’ll stop typing and let you get back to work.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some other vastly important stuff I wanted to include here. So stay tuned for the next chapter, which will NOT be this long. Promise.


Alina said...

I’m sure it’s great being on such a vacation! This actually reminds me of my trip to Italy and all the fun we had there. But then again we were 9 girls – all in love with our Latin teacher – and only one boy (I’m sure he will never forget it either). And now, a very important piece of advice: whenever you are ashamed of your country’s image in the world, try to be Romanian for about 5 minutes. It’s great to read that several hundreds of your countrymen were thrown back by the Spanish authorities. So that took care of my plans to visit Spain sometime in the near future…

Don’t feel that guilty about the Napoleon thing! As far as I’m concerned, things like that should happen more often, to lighten up the life of all museum employees! :)

iPhil said...

I'm glad you had a brilliant time in Europe. Ha ha - I live here! It's only minutes away by plane or train.

On other notes - When I was in Majorca, I too got one of those Paella fridge-magnets...I collect them (or did then).


Allie said...

when i was in london and paris it was with a college choir and we "toured" the countries, giving all of 3 concerts (one of which was in notre dame de paris) and spending the rest of the time looking for gay bars and beer. but whoever booked our hotel in paris either didn't know or didn't care that it was in the heart of the red light district and we had to walk past the hookers and the nudie bars for four days.

portuguesa nova said...

I need this vacation.

Next year you have to go to Portugal!

Todd said...

I loved reading about your trip. It brought back many memories of my trips to France. My hotel is near the one that you stayed in, off rue du Temple. That neighborhood definately has character!