Thursday, April 5, 2012

Paris: Walk Until You Drop

We started the day with five pain de chocolate. Five, because there was a special. I had a cup of cafe créme, but it wasn't up to the standards I remembered. We took the metro to the Notre Dame area to begin the Rick Steve's Historical walking tour. We saw Pointe Zero (the geographical and historical center of Paris). We also took in the faces of Notre Dame. It is hard to conceive of the faith required to begin building a church that will only be finished 200 years later. The interior was awe-inspiring, but by this point we have been in so many churches that it is hard to compare. They are all different. France is a Catholic nation, so there is that difference. Also, the gift shops, etc seem to be more in the actual sanctuary which kind of sullies the spiritual setting, but if you get beyond them (they are close to the entrances) you can lose yourself in the Cathedral. There was an early morning worship service going on in the center quire area. It was nice to hear the singing as we sauntered around. Flanking the outer aisles are little chapels. It gives the effect of having a lot of little churches in one big space. The church at large is dedicated to Mary (Notre Dame) so images of her are central, as in the center of one of the rose windows, but the side chapels are dedicated to other saints. A supplicant can go to different areas depending on his or her need for worship and petition. Near the entrance are also the confessionals, but France is not heavily under the spell of the Pope. They do Catholicism their own way. The confessionals are like little glass offices where people go for counseling and help. Christianity feels very different in Europe than it does in the states. It is mixed in with much of the pagan lore that was there before Christianity. Often, the churches are on sites of ancient pagan worship. And with the degree of art, the church feels more cultural and less moralistic than it does in the States. That said, there is still a terrible history of blood and war that goes along with the state-sanctioned religion in Europe. But I will admit that, with the exception of Sacre Coeur, I felt at peace and in awe in the churches I have been to on this trip.
The next big stop on the walking tour was the English bookstore Shakespeare and Company. This shop is unlike any other bookshop. With used and new books stacked everywhere, it has the feel of a hoarder's house, but there is method in the chaos. In many places are bits of paper, poetry that people have posted. I put a small poem in an upstairs writing nook. Writers can live and work here for free. I know that SARK did this once. Not sure what the arrangements are like. There is a lending library. While only an incarnation of Sylvia Beech's original store, there is still an echo of the ghosts of the Lost Generations among the stacks. I bought a volume of poetry by the recently departed Adrienne Rich. It is a definitely a place in which you want to lose yourself, if you weren't limited in your time in Paris.
Our next stop was supposed to be Saint Chapelle, but the line was very long. If we had already bought our Paris Museum Passes, like we wanted to (we couldn't find the office when we got here, and our concierge at the hotel had a high markup) we could have fast tracked our way inside. We decided to go eat lunch. This particular lunch was one of my most anticipated meals of the trip. L'as du Falafel. We walked into the Marais district which is known as the Jewish district and has a growing gay presence. It houses some really great clothing shops and galleries. It was fun to just window shop which is what I did while Mark tried to read the map and get us where we are going. Mark's city map skills are terrible. He gets himself all turned around, but I keep following him. Mostly because if I had the map and made the least little misstep he would take it from me anyway. It is better for him to have the map and for me to look at all the windows while he is blindly leading us in wrong directions. Eventually he will get us where we are going.
We did get to our sandwich shop. It was worth the wait. I think I have a new favorite sandwich. Sorry, Philly cheesesteak. (Did I actually say that?) I got the falafel special which is falafel, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, onions on pita with a load of yogurt sauce. Jonah and Maren had a similar sandwich made with chicken and lamb. Mark had the same with a curried chicken base. The kids picked off all their eggplant, and I got to eat that, too. I love eggplant. A basket of fries for the table, and we were good to go.
Before returning to our walking tour, we stopped for ice cream cones at Berthillion on Isle Saint-Louis. The ice cream scoops were tiny but so flavorful. I had banana and coffee. Mark had coffee and white chocolate. Maren had chocolate and strawberry. She declared her strawberry more delicious than her amazing chocolate. Jonah had vanilla and white chocolate. We retraced our steps back to Isle de la Cite and entered into the Deportation Memorial, a monument to the 200,000 French victims of Nazi concentration camps. As you can imagine, it is a stark and chilling presence but with the inclusion of a channel of 200,000 little
squares of light, hope is also a presence.
After lunch the line to Saint Chapelle was much better. The actual line is a security checkpoint because the chapel is in the courtyard of the Palais du Justice-- a governmental building. We got our museum passes. Only Mark and I had to buy them because kids under 18 get in free to museums in Paris. They were doing restoration on the Church. This is a museum-only church now. Compared to Notre Dame around the same period, this large scale gothic cathedral only took 5 years to build. The exterior walls are nothing fantastic. They were built as a frame to the gorgeous stained glass. It was a gray day, so we didn't get the full scope of the sunlight through the windows, but the scale and detail of all the windows is beyond belief. They tell every story in the Bible. The church was built to house the relic of the crown of thorns which was acquired by France during the crusades. Now the crown is housed at Notre Dame. The crown is the focus of this cathedral. Maren especially liked the cathedrals on this trip.
From Saint Chapelle, we walked (and walked) along the Seine, past the Louvre, though the Jardin deTullieres to the L'Orangerie which houses the huge in-the-round Monet waterlily paintings. Nothing can describe these paintings. I looked in the gift shop for posters and long postcards but nothing did them justice. The colors on the walls are so alive, they may just be breathing.
We took time to look at the rest of the paintings in this smallish museum. My back was really having trouble. Mark's was hurting, too, but I was having awful twinges every time I stepped off a curb. I was afraid that it was going to go out. Several times, I thought it had. We were all pretty tired by this point, but we had one more museum.
The d'Orsay, a museum of mostly Impressionism and post-Impressionism, is open late on Thursdays. It is housed in an old train station. We again stood in lines for security, but this moved fast, and as in l'Orangerie, our museum passes moved us pretty close to the front of the lines. The d'Orsay was having a huge exhibition of Degas Nudes. We walked through that. I went more slowly because I was fascinated by Degas' changing techniques. He has always been one of my favorite painters. The rest finished ahead of me and were waiting outside the exhibit. We made a plan to meet in an hour because they couldn't handle my slow pace. We were all beyond exhausted and sore when we met at the lion sculpture at 7 pm. Off we went to find the metro station to home. But we couldn't find the one we wanted which was near the Egyptian Obelisk. The Arc de Triomphe was in sight with the Champs Élysées, some of Paris's best shopping, between us and it. We decided to walk for a little while and take it in. Little did we know, we would walk the rest of the way back. We really wish we had had a pedometer for this day. With the exception of running my one marathon and giving birth, I don't think I have ever been as physically exhausted as I was at the end of this day.
We picked a little place near our hotel to eat dinner. In reality, it wasn't a good choice--probably the Hoss's of Paris but we were beyond choosiness in our hunger and fatigue. Jonah and I had ribs, sausage, and unlimited mashed potatoes. He put the limits to the test. Mark had steak tartare and frites. They asked him three times to make sure he understood it was uncooked. Maren had sausage and fries. We also all got dessert except mashed potato boy. I had crime brûlée. Mark had chocolate mousse and Maren had sorbet, which is her new favorite thing.
We went back to the hotel to see what the fairies left us. At this hotel we get presents on our pillow. First night was a picture holder clip. Tonight was a little diamond paperweight. We have been so tired. The kids haven't had showers. Maren's hair keeps getting
bigger each day. But we sleep like rocks. Not a peep out of us.

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