Adventures in Paris – Ice cold beauty

In mid-flight between New York, London, and two weeks of Christmas holidays, I finally had some time to really reflect on the craziness of this last month: Berlin – London – Paris – Rochester – New York. Did I miss anything? I don’t know.

December definitely marked the peak of a year that went by at light speed and in which I visited some of the most incredible places – like Paris, last week.


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The city of love, lights and fashion belongs to the category ‘Most Incredible’ in some different ways:

It is incredibly pretty. Wherever you go, the beauty of its architecture and style of its people astonishes you – the perfect city for photographers. But for me, Paris also feels like an ice-cold beauty. For the most part probably just because I do not speak the language and do not understand many things.

 

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When entering the city at Gare du Nord last Tuesday I faced incredible difficulties with the “Parisian taxi drivers – the rarest of things” as Wall Street Journal summarised it perfectly in their blog post. Up until that point, I was not aware that in Paris the customer does not choose the taxi, no no. The taxi drivers choose whom they want to take from A to B and they also decide if the destination is even worth it for them. And if there is snow in the city – which luckily only happens every 25 years – this normally convenient transportation option (in most places) is just incredibly absent, as most of the taxis not even bother to drive into the city! So be prepared to walk through the snow, even in high heels.

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This is exactly what happened last week to most of the 3,000 attendees of LeWeb, Europe’s most important web conference. O.k., as many of the attendees were men, there was no high heel problem for them, but they still had to walk through the white to the nearest Metro station, which was 30 minutes away from the venue…

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This event was the reason for me being in Paris, as Kodak was a LeWeb sponsor and I was invited to participate in a photography panel. LeWeb10 marked the last of 14 speaking engagements I did this year and it was definitely the perfect finale. I met so many interesting new people and saw many inspiring talks and panel sessions. After the conference, I stayed in Paris until Sunday for some more adventures and also for a special birthday party.

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So what were the highlights that stuck to my head most?! 

 

An incredible private visit to the Monet Retrospective 

On Tuesday night, all the LeWeb speakers were invited to a special pre-event reception at the Grand Palais, in combination with a private visit to the breath-taking Monet exhibition that is taking place there at the moment. It is the first major exhibition in France of Claude Monet’s work in over 30 years. It has been sold out for months and even if you have a ticket, you have to queue to get in. We got to see the over 200 paintings from both French and foreign museums in an almost private atmosphere, with individual guides! We took advantage of that and spent at least 2 hours studying his work. It was incredible to see all his different pieces next to each other, as he worked almost like a photographer, often painting the same scene in different lighting situations. It was kind of sad to read below the paintings and see which museum they usually hang in, and how they are spread and scattered around the globe, away from their sibling paintings. They looked so perfect next to each other and it really helped to understand Monet’s painting techniques a lot better. What an awesome start of the week in Paris!

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Very French Lunch, Montmartre and Sacre Coeur

Another highlight for me was definitely a very good French lunch at Chez Grenouille around the corner from the Paris Ketchum Digital office in Rue de Clichy and a recommendation of my Ketchum colleague Valerie. I ate the best house-made mushroom soup ever tasted there, followed by something ‘stewy’ with veal and at the end, a yummy chocolate soufflé, which could definitely compete with the ones made by my French friend Lucile. 

After that, we felt like we needed to do a lot of walking, so we hiked up Montmartre Hill. Being at the top, next to Sacre Coeur always feels for me like being in some small little French town. The best part, of course, is the incredible view from up there…as well as the quirky street dancers.

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Trip to the Catacombs – life changing and disturbing

Well on Saturday we went to see the ‘city below the city’ we had heard and read so much about. For this, we travelled even further south than the former city gate and queued for half an hour to go on this more than 2-kilometer unguided public tour of “Les Catacombes de Paris”.

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But honestly, this was not a great experience at all. I can still feel a cold rush when I think about me walking through “The Gate of the Dead” and after that only seeing skulls and femurs of about 7 Million Parisians stacked in ‘arty’, symmetric patterns in the different caverns and tunnels. I really could not stop thinking about the fact that since the late 18th century, every day, hundreds of tourists are walking past the remains of what must be close to the entire population of Paris from the 18th and 19th century. These people will never get their silence. How disturbing. It was cold and wet down there with water dripping from the ceiling, that for me, felt almost like the remains of those people were dripping on me…

Looking back I think it would have been totally enough for me to just read about the adventures of Murray Battle in the REAL Catacombs.

After that, we really had to sit down in a café and digest what we just saw, before we went for a lovely final dinner at L ‘Ecluse near Madeline station (named after me of course!)  😉

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On Sunday I said goodbye Paris and hello New York City, where I did a stopover on my way to and from Rochester, NY – home of Kodak.

I will write about my adventures exploring New York’s Christmas lights in a separate post…

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