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Things from France

2011 April 20

FYI there will probably be a number of posts stemming from my trip to France. I don’t want to overdo it, of course; it’s certainly not my intent to gloat or brag, and there is also the old “slides from my vacation” tedium risk which always accompanies something like this.

Still, the trip cost a bomb and for that, alone, I figure I should be entitled to get as much value from it as possible, including blog content. 🙂

Things I brought back from France

Objets de France, click for larger version

I mostly went to France to see and experience things, rather than to shop; I brought back next to nothing at all in the way of actual specifically souvenir-type objects. But I did return with a few items nonetheless, all offering at least some interest from a design perspective.

On the far left we have the bee-stung lips and “I just got up after three hours’ sleep and I’m still exquisitely beautiful” expression of MĂ©lanie Thierry, staring through us from the cover of AĂ©roports de Paris Lifestyle magazine. I just grabbed this on the flight back, and kept it mainly because it’s a bilingual magazine, which makes for some interesting typography compared with nearly everything else one encounters, most of the time. May come back to this one.

Scattered on top of Ms. Thierry in a possibly interesting if accidental juxtaposition are a few Euros in coins, plus a bunch of Euro notes off to the right. I ended up with quite a few Euros left and, given 1) the fees extracted at each exchange of currencies, 2) the astonishingly resilient strength of the currency even with multiple member-states’ financial woes and 3) the fact that I will probably go back to Europe, some day, anyway, I just kept them.

Nothing super-amazing, here; the Euro notes are the most colorful currency I’ve ever seen, but in some ways they’re actually more boring than the currencies of les Anglo-Saxons, including our greenback. Euro notes’ graphic content  is basically restricted to a map of Europe, and a couple of drawings of nonspecific “Old World” buildings, bridges, etc. As I recall, this is because the notes, unlike the coins, have uniform design across the whole Euro area and therefore any specific images, which could be associated with a specific member state, would therefore be impolitic. Still, surprisingly bland.

On the other hand, the Euro notes are interesting for the change in size of each denomination. This helps make each denomination distinct, a feature of which the Euro coins seemed in need. I think there are just too many Euro coins. I believe there are: €.01, €.02, €.05, €.1, €.2, €.5, €1 and €2. Very metric, but still, too many coins! Even with varying sizes, edge-treatments, and the use of copper, gold and silver colored metals, it just gets confusing (especially since the “common” side of each coin has a largely-similar design on every denomination). If they’re going to have this many coins, I think they might consider getting a bit more creative, even wacky. Maybe punch a hole in the middle of one coin, or perhaps a square like the Chinese. Something.

One other interesting note about the coins I brought back is that I have five or six dated 1999, which actually predates the introduction of the Euro; apparently there is an explanation for this, but cool all the same.

Moving on: on top of the stack of Euro notes you’ll see a tube of Signal toothpaste. I bought this because even though I pulled off the mad dash to reach my connecting flight in Philadelphia, and even though said connecting flight then remained at the airport for an entire hour afterward, US Airways didn’t manage to get my checked bag onto the plane. And since I was going to Normandy for two days immediately after arrival in Paris, said checked bag was unavailable to me until I returned to Paris on Monday.

So I paid a visit to the Carrefour hypermarchĂ© in Bayeux for a few necessities, and among my purchases was this toothpaste. It’s just toothpaste, and being a product of Unilever I assume it’s just Aquafresh or whatever they make sold with a different name, but I thought I might as well at least bring home a different package rather than just buying Crest or Colgate like I can get at Marc’s.

Above and below the toothpaste, tea, or thĂ©. The little teabag is Dammann Frères ThĂ© Breakfast, which I grabbed at a hotel breakfast. It’s fair trade, and the little packet is metallic-shiny to boot.

…but I prize the other tea, above, much more, even aside from the fact that it’s a whole box. I prize the ThĂ© Royal Ceylan because it’s a souvenir of the lovely Monoprix store which fed me and my mom every evening in Paris. (I believe thĂ© ceylan is just how the French indicate what we call “black tea;” “thĂ© ceylan” does seem so appropriately sexier and more elegant, doesn’t it?)

Yes, there were visits to cafĂ©s, a crĂŞperie, a restaurant or two. But neither of us is actually a huge fan of French cooking. Which is however not the same as disliking French food. What’s more French than stopping by the nearest market every day for a fresh baguette, some wine and cheese, etc.? Admittedly Monoprix is not an artisanal boulangerie, but then we weren’t actually French; it had all the stuff we wanted, including a corkscrew after I foolishly attempted to carry my Swiss Army Knife while sightseeing and promptly faced the choice of discarding it or going back to the hotel and then waiting through the long security line for Sainte-Chapelle all over again (and chose the former).

Monoprix is awesome. And largely for that reason, I decided to grab a little souvenir one evening, and chose to purchase this box of tea. Aside from souvenir value, though (and the fact that it’s perfectly satisfying black tea), isn’t the box awesome? How’s that for bold typography and color? None of your ornate curlicues and tradition, here. Ker-POW. Monoprix used this graphic style on many of its store-branded products, but this was a particularly flamboyant example. Love it.

On the right, a box of chocolates I bought at the airport since I had time and leftover Euros to spend. I mostly chose this for the delightful drawing on the box. The bonbons themselves were good, certainly, and a bit different from your typical Malley’s or Russell Stover assortment. Lot of them with a hint of coffee flavor.

(And yes, it does not escape my notice that I have brought back chocolate candies, black tea, and toothpaste. Heh.)

At bottom right, the two essential passes for a week in Paris. There’s a practically-bewildering array of travel tickets and passes available to the tourist; after considering them I settled on the Passe NaviGO DĂ©couverte. If you’re there throughout most of one calendar week, this seems way better than any alternatives. You need a little stick-on photo (though no one ever checked, to be honest), but once you put the pass together you’re all set. Scan it at the MĂ©tro entrance, and in you go. No fiddly tickets to feed into machines and take back out. Very reasonably-priced. Also covers buses and trains within whatever zones you choose (1 and 2 will include basically the entire MĂ©tro system and every place you’re likely to go).

And finally, the Museum Pass; unlike travel options the Museum Pass is pretty-much universally-endorsed, and with reason. It isn’t cheap if you buy more than a couple of days, but it covers admission at so many sites that you’re likely to get a good value without even trying. Plus, being able to skip ticket lines is no small advantage, either. (If you could skip to the front of security lines as well, the thing would be nearly worth its weight in gold, but you can’t.)

The construction of the Museum Pass is kind of novel:

Unfolded Paris Museum Pass

Don't panic! It's much easier to re-fold than a map.

It basically contains its own brochure/guidebook, folded up between two cardstock panels. I thought that was pretty cool; it’s also informative. If you ever end up buying a Museum Pass, be sure to have a look at all of the honoring sites noted inside the pass. You might save yourself several Euros by finding that it covers even more places on your agenda than your realized.

3 Responses
  1. April 20, 2011

    What? No original French language Asterix?!?

  2. Matt permalink
    April 20, 2011

    Don’t really need to go to France for that, so…


    One of the reasons why I didn’t bother much with souvenirs, actually: in 2011 you can usually get whatever-it-is, wherever-you-are, at least in terms of material products. And in many cases get them without even having to look very hard.

    In fact I saw prints of an Alphonse Mucha advertisement various times, and thought about buying one for my brother… and did so, but via an online seller, after returning home.

    Perhaps this is why the souvenirs which I have kept are such an assortment of odd bits rather than special items one would intentionally go seeking out; you don’t need to travel for the latter, any more. It’s the incidental oddments which really indicate travel, nowadays, more than fine brandy or chocolates or foreign books or whatever all else.

  3. April 20, 2011

    Quite true, of course. Although if you really wanted, you could obtain all those odds and ends from the safety of your living room as well. For that matter, you could generate them yourself if you really were looking to just “indicate travel”.

    I believe the common thought behind souvenirs, though, is to obtain artifacts that are embedded with the ephemeral memory of a visit. For most Americans, that largely involves consumerism, as commercial items tend to have more physical permanence than items that are designed to be discarded.

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