Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Opera and Paris' Palaces of Shopping

Phantoms and Shopper Frenzy

Monday was to be our last full day in Paris. After so much walking, we figured the right thing to do was sleep in. It was very nice to just hang out the "SHHH" sign.

Once fired up we were ready to hit the streets one last time. We walked through the Latin Quarter, across the Ile de la Cite, and on to the Garnier Opera.

While we could not take a guided tour, we were able to take the self-guided walk ogling everything.

Despite more decades on this planet than I sometimes care to admit, once in awhile I still find myself in places that leave me gasping in utter amazement.

Experiencing the Garnier was one of those places.

The building is completely over-the-top lavish and it takes up an entire block. Yet it only seats a little over 2,000 very privileged spectators. After viewing a large model of the building at the Musee d'Orsay I realized the stage area is about as big as the rest of the auditorium (almost dividing the structure on half).

Of any age, this building is an amazing performance space and technological marvel of theater arts. The stage itself is divided into incremental sections (slices) which may be raised or lowered 2-3 stories. The proscenium over the stage provides what appeared to be 6-10 stories of space above the stage allowing for very complex rigging etc. Hence, opera productions performed at the Garnier may have unmatched production qualities.

While the auditorium was closed for much of the time we were in the building (the dancers were rehearsing,) it was finally illuminated and opened. So we got the full effect of the place. Words are worthless, I'll stick to photos.

Grand Entrance Stairs

Miss M at the Main Reception

The Upstairs Lobby

Sneaking a Peak of the Dancers Practicing

The Auditorium

A Ceiling Painted by Chagall

The Loges

The Phantom's Box 5

After being overwhelmed by the splendor of the Paris Opera, we made a two block pilgrimage to the huge Galeries Lafayette flagship department store (or stores) on the Boulevard Hausmann. These stores date back to 1896. The main store, with its amazing dome, was built in 1912.

While Miss M has almost no interest in shopping, I still dragged her there to check out the sales which (by law) in France, only happen twice a year.

The Incredible 1912 Interior of Galeries Lafayette

The chaos we witnessed inside was both amazing and disconcerting. The store is set up with a series of designer studios on each floor. So you step into a Fendi boutique, or a Prada boutique, or a Gucci boutique. However, this time of the year there were so many rich foreign shoppers swarming the place that each of the boutiques must be roped off and guarded to keep the number of shoppers inside each boutique manageable. 

Once inside, the fur lined, Jimmy Choo crowd was literally tossing $10,000 Hermes and Longchamp handbags around (I am not making this up.) They form lines to buy two or three (or more) each. Watching shoppers clamoring over luxury items that "on sale" sell for more than the current Edmund book value of my cars was unsettling. 

The Rotunda of The Main (Women's) Store

After spending some time in the men's department I realized that even at 40% off, the stuff was still way too dear for me, so I happily snapped my pictures of the gorgeous dome and the Moet and Chandon Champagne bars.    

The Dome

We found one exceptional bargain, however, as we had a wonderful dinner upstairs in the cafeteria with a view of the Eiffel Tower drifting in and out of the fog before starting to twinkle. On our last night in Paris it seemed like the imagery was dreamlike.

A Dreamlike Farewell 
to the Tour d'Eifel

The hysteria changes focus when you leave and out front, just aside from the awaiting limos, were homeless people hooded over with whatever blanket they could find sleeping on grates. I found myself forming a prayer for those inside who (like me) will have to experience the eye of the needle on their way to heaven, and those outside who spend this life on the margins. 

Paris, it seems, has always been a cocktail - mixing equal parts harsh reality with ethereal dream.

Roadboy's Travels © 2011

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