After checking into our quiet bed & breakfast in the 19th arrondissement, we rode the Metro most of the afternoon. All of the trains were as full as the one shown in the photo, and we had made the mistake of believing forecasts of cool weather that prompted us to bring coats, so we were hot even before finding ourselves pressed into very tight quarters.
We also learned that Metro ticket sellers use an unreliable reference book when they answer questions from tourists. At the Jourdain stop near our B&B, we asked how to take the Metro to the nearest Tourist Office, where we planned to buy tickets for the Musée D’Orsay tomorrow. The man at the window consulted a frayed book printed in about 3-point type, then gave us a map and carefully wrote out an address for us, with the correct Metro stops to take. At the designated stop, Louis Blanc in the 10th Arrondissement, I asked a young man at a street corner for help, prefacing my request with the magic French phrase, “excusez-moi de vous deranger,” which truly does open most doors. He pulled out a pocket book of maps and spent five minutes searching for the address, finally finding it and guiding us on our way. But at 187 Quai de Valmy, all we found was a high-rise residential building–no sign of a tourist office, or even a place where one might have been located in the past 10 years.
We’d heard that you can buy Musée D’Orsay tickets at FNAC, the wondrous French books-CDs-and-electronics chain, so we asked a taxi driver near the nonexistent tourist office if there was a FNAC nearby. “There’s nothing near here,” he said in very good English.
So we headed back underground, where we asked how to get to the Musée D’Orsay itself, a novel goal which we should have pursued to begin with. The woman at the window consulted her own frayed copy of the same illegible book and confidently informed us that the museum was at the Bastille Metro stop. She wrote out which lines and connections to make, and I thanked her very much. I was all but certain that she was wrong, because I couldn’t imagine why there would be a Metro stop on the map named “Musée D’Orsay” next to the Seine River right where we knew the museum to be located. I pocketed the directions and we set off following our own vectors.
We surfaced from the Metro again at the Musée D’Orsay at 5:02 p.m., two minutes after the counter closed where you could buy tickets for tomorrow. The good news was they were letting people in for free during the final hour of the day, so we had a chance to get oriented to the amazingly open space of the museum, which used to be an train station. On the top floor, I sat in front of a Paul Cézanne painting while Darlene excitedly checked out rooms full of paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Renoir. The Cezanne that caught my eye was titled “L’Estaque Vue du Golfe de Marseille,” a view of the Marseille bay which reminded me very much of our view from the apartment in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Cézanne painted it in 1878 or 1879.
After the Musée D’Orsay closed, we stopped at a café for a snack before heading underground again, for Montparnasse Bienvenüe, where I knew a wi-fi connection awaited us at Starbucks. We managed to walk for nearly twenty minutes underground after we got off the train, following “Sortie” signs all the way to the Montparnasse Gare. By the time we found fresh air again I was feeling claustrophobic and panicked, feelings enhanced by the tremendous Friday rush-hour crush of crowds in the underground passageways.
Here at Starbucks, we are sitting in a corner across from a young couple working on homework and kissing each other a lot. Darlene is reading a novel, and the Vaio is plugged into the net AND an electrical outlet. A Beach Boys classic has got my walking shoes tapping the floor beneath my little round table. The girl is nibbling the boy’s left ear as he shuffles through a stack of single-spaced typed notes. Tomorrow we return to the Musée D’Orsay to buy tickets in the morning