Monday, August 10, 2009

Paris III: Tres Bien

Day three in Paris began with one of my all-time favorite things: a street market! (Maybe I like them because it is the only shopping I can afford in Europe). This one was at the Edgar Quinet metro stop, which was a short walk from the apartment. This one was much, much smaller than the huge market at Spitalfields in London, and it had fresh fruits and veggies in addition to lots of clothes, bags, jewelry... I could have browsed for hours. I bought an inexpensive top and a pair of earrings and then we headed down the street to the bakery and bought lunch -- mozzarella and tomato salad, a baguette, and a raspberry tart for dessert. Magnifique!

After an early lunch, we began our walking tour of historic Paris. We started at Notre Dame, peering up at the gargoyles and the buttresses. Last summer I read Ken Follett's book Pillars of the Earth which wasn't exactly my very favorite ever but was still extremely interesting and talked a lot about medieval architecture -- particularly gothic arches and buttresses that redistributed the weight so that buildings could go higher and higher. So I checked out the flying buttresses while our handy-dandy audio guide talked about the people who began building Notre Dame, knowing that they would never see it finished -- they relied on the generations who came after to continue their effort to honor God (and Mary, obvy) with this ginormous building. For some reason I have an affinity for gargoyles, so I tried to find the most photographed gargoyle in Paris -- that little guy on top of Notre Dame who kind of leans on his elbows. I don't have a picture of him, so here is a picture of me instead:

Oh look, I'm wearing a romper at Notre Dame! And also awkwardly trying to hide my bandaged arm for this picture, with the result that I appear to be an amputee only needed one shoulder of the conveniently one-shouldered romper.

We got in the enormous queue to go inside but it moved very quickly so soon we were blinking to adjust our eyes to the dim light. It felt super medieval inside -- kind of dark and spooky. Tourists are never quiet, even in places that are supposed to be holy (ie. the Sistine Chapel) and Notre Dame was no exception. (Tourists also never stop taking pictures even when signs clearly ask you not to or at least ask you not you use your flash because many, many tourists are total asshats.) But despite the din from the crowd, there was a different kind of atmosphere inside the church, with dim light swimming in through the stained glass windows and candles flickering in front of different little chapels on the sides of the church, each dedicated to a particular saint. We saw a person I believe to be a cross-dresser praying fervently to a picture of Mary in one of the chapels but most people were content to light candles and then move on.

The churches in England were pretty spectacular, too, but there is something about a Catholic church that just has way more drama. No matter how much I disagree with the Pope, Catholic churches -- especially those that are all gold-plated and stained glass with the actual body of Christ writhing on the cross -- just kind of make me catch my breath when I step inside them.

View of Notre Dame from the Left Bank. Check out those flying buttresses.

We left Notre Dame hoping to cross the park and go to the deportation museum. I had just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which mostly takes place on the Guernsey islands between France and England during the time they were under German occupation in WWII. So that was fresh in my mind and I was really interested in seeing the museum but unfortunately it was closed.

It was interesting to me, although not really surprising, that while lots of sites in London might have mention of whether or not it survived or was built after the Blitz of WWII, there was very little mention of WWII at the places we saw in Paris. I am sure that there are memorials and such (after all, we obviously didn't come CLOSE to seeing everything) but it seemed a memory that Paris was not eager to dredge up, having actually fallen to Germany, while Britain's pride (and relief) at resisting a German invasion was still obvious all these years later.

We walked across the Seine to follow our tour of le Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and walked by all the used book sellers and the paintings and prints and vintage advertisements and everything they else they sell along the river. Our audio guide led us to the Shakespeare Bookstore which is an English bookstore and absolutely darling -- a series of rooms organized by subject, tall bookshelves, quirky staff recommendations -- everything you would want from a bookstore except I didn't see a cat.

How cute is this place?

I resisted buying a book and we walked from there through the Latin quarter. That is Latin as in the language of university-educated intellectuals, not Latin hip hop music. Place de Michel is the core of Left Bank's artsy boheme district and there is a fountain there and lots of cafes where I imagine all sorts of brilliant conversations have occurred over the years.

We felt like Notre Dame had filled our church quota for the day, so we opted out of the Sainte-Chapelle tour, mostly because the queue was miles long and our Rick Steves book told us that the museum pass allowed us to skip the queue but just as we were walking up to ask, another (rather irate) woman was getting turned away and told to go to the end of the line because it was for security not for tickets. So we admired the outside of the Palais de Justice (French Supreme Court) which looks rather like a fairy tale castle. Then we moved on to the Conciergerie, which was the gloomy prison famous for being last-stop for those on their way to meet the guillotine. We saw the cell where Marie-Antoinette was kept, and the little chapel created in her honor. The velvet curtains have silver teardrops embroidered on them which was sort of surprisingly poignant, I thought. It was such a quiet little room and it had portraits of her hanging and I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her.

We walked from there to the Place Dauphine which is basically just a park on the tip of an island in the middle of the Seine. The only green space in Paris it seems is in designated park and garden areas, but those spaces sure are pretty. From there we crossed back over the river to the Cite Metropolitain metro stop which is evidently one of the few remaining from the early 20th-century subway entrances.

By that time we felt like we had walked miles, but we had miles to go: The Louvre.

Here we are in front of the pyramid!

Massive, overwhelming, the sort of place where you could spend weeks instead of hours. We kept our visit focused on the highlights, which basically meant following the crowd. We saw Mona Lisa's lovely smile and the Venus de Milo's lovely boobs. However, the crowd was intense, so David had to settle for a picture of him with Venus's buttcrack.

She's mooning him.

I didn't know before we went that the Louvre had been the palace for kings of France pre-Versailles. Explains why it is so freaking huge and still feels lavish and ostentatious (but, let's be honest, it doesn't even begin to compete with Versailles!).

I have kind of a soft spot for medieval frescos because they seem so earnest and well-intentioned and I really liked the scene of St. Francis of Assisi (my favorite saint) feeding the birds (none of which looked to be pigeons because pigeons are sort of gross).

We moved on to the Renaissance gallery and paused for a while in front of da Vinci's paintings to decode them, obviously, and then went to the special side room where the Mona Lisa was on display and saw this:

Where's Mona Lisa?
Oh there she is. Waaaaaaaay in the back. Behind all of those people and all of their digital cameras.

Once we'd made it through the Renaissance, we really felt like we'd already covered our art quota at the Orsay (not to mention the National British Gallery, National Portrait Gallery) so we checked out the French Romanticists (there was a big Gericault display) and then made our way back out to the courtyard to the fountains and the big glass pyramid.

It was a hot day and people were sitting with their feet in the fountain and even though I was sort of grossed out by this and I thought it was sort of tacky, we had been doing so much walking and my feet were so freaking hot and tired that I slipped off my shoes and dipped my feet in the nice cool water (hoping I wouldn't end up with athlete's foot or something similarly gross).

And then it was back to the flat for our normal evening routine -- dinner, gelato, Luxembourg Gardens.

Quite possibly our favorite place in Paris: Amorino's Gelato. Magnifique!

Tomorrow: our final day in Paris!

1 comment:

  1. Me again. I am jealous that you were at Shakespeare and Company! One famous bookstore. It was the center of literary life for ex-pat Americans including Hemingway. I love that era and highly recommend the book, Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach (proprietor). Your entire trip was amazing! Love, Pam