Monday, 28 September 2015


"One night in Paris
Is like a year in any other place.
One night in Paris
Will wipe the smile off your pretty face.
One girl in Paris

Is like loving every woman.
One night in Paris

May be your last!"
   --10CC,  "Un nuit en Paris", 1975

Yanno all those things that people say about Paris being beautiful and enchanting and magical and romantic? They're true. I'm going to try and show you how and why.

I learned something about myself on this trip, and that is that I apparently have a thing for sculpture. It became immediately apparent that if an object ever had contact with a chisel and mallet or was cast in bronze, I was going to photograph it. And not just once. No. I was going to document the fuck out of that sculpture. That's how I experienced Paris, through its plentiful sculpture, so be prepared to see this magnificent city through that particular lens. I'll try to make it entertaining for you.  

After resting from our exertions at the British Museum all day Tuesday, we flew out of Gatwick at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. Stoo was a real mensch and got up at 5:00 to make sure we got to the airport in time. (To be fair, he may have wanted his house back for awhile. Can't blame him a bit.) We had breakfast at the Red Lion in the airport next to a group of Essex boys who were gleefully tossing down bitters at 7:15 a.m. Britain is truly a civilized nation.

Anyway, we get asked a lot why we didn't take the Chunnel, and the answer is that the Eurostar was both more expensive and took longer than the plane. The flight from London to Paris took less than an hour. Also, the train was delayed on the French side of the Chunnel for fifteen hours by Syrian refugees who had wandered onto the tracks. They had to shut all the electrical down in case the refugees climbed on top of the train, so the doors couldn't open. All of the passengers were trapped inside for all those hours, while officials figured out what to do with all those unfortunate refugees. A sad and frustrating situation all around.

"Bonjour. Monsieur!
Paris really welcomes you,
It's the best room in the house...
... Forty-Two, Quarante-Deux
Rue de St-Jacques
All our girls are how you say,
Good in the sack

We landed at Charles de Gaulle around 9:00 and took the train into central Paris, where we had booked a sweet flat in an 18th century building on rue Sommelard. The flat was conveniently located in the Latin Quarter a block away from the Musee Cluny de Moyen Ages. When we walked to the corner and looked up rue de St-Jacques, we could see the spire of Notre Dame just over Petit Pont a few blocks away.

Cathedral Notre Dame from Rue St. Gerard in the Fifth Arondissement  
We had lunch in a little Asian place offering sushi and pho. I ordered my meal successfully en francais entirement, and did not end up eating a rubber shoe sole with soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds (that's how I know I did it right). Also, I just need to say this: all those things you hear about les Parisiens being snotty assholes? NOT TRUE. They were really, really lovely. They were warm and welcoming and very hospitable to us. Now, that might be because we were trying really hard to use as much French as possible, but we did not encounter any sac de douche francais during our three days in Paris. Honest. 

Also? I was told by one of the serving staff at Le Loulou Friendly Diner that she did not know I was not a native French speaker until my vocabulary ran out and I had to revert (reluctantly) to English. That is a point of pride to me. Je parle le francais tres bien. Woot.

Anyway, after lunch, we met our host at the flat and stowed our luggage. He gave us the run down on various things to see, where to get the freshest croissants and warned us about the "Roma children".

"Beware of zem," he said, and although I brushed it off then, it was to become significant later on.

In the meantime, adventures were to be had. We were still tired from the British Museum the day before and having to be up at crow piss to catch the plane to Paris, so we took a bus tour of the city to get the lay of the land. I didn't get very many photos during the bus trip--the angles were all off, and I really just wanted to be in the moment. Also, I fell asleep. BUT! I will say that while the Champs-Elysee is not much more than a noisy boulevard full of cars and posh restaurants and shops, it was deeply moving to reflect on the fact that it was up that street that Hitler rode when he invaded Paris. One could still see in one's mind the thousands of Parisiens watching that motorcade go by and thinking, "What the fuck does this mean for me and my family?" Very solemn. And not that long ago.

In fact, historically, it was only last week when one compares it to places like St-Severin and Notre Dame. In briefly exploring the Latin Quarter, we encountered St-Severin first, and I fell in love with this little guy:

Gargoyle of St-Severin

We planned to do Notre Dame properly the next day, but with it being so close to the flat, we went by on Wednesday and checked out the exterior elevation.

Cathedral Notre Dame

So much as been written about Notre Dame, I hardly have the talent to add anything of consequence. But seeing this remarkable façade made my heart skip a beat. I could scarcely believe I was there, standing where thousands upon thousands of people have stood before me, gazing up at the intricately carved figures, each of which were carved by hand by anonymous medieval craftsmen. And the structure alone! Erected without the use of hydraulics or power tools of any kind! In our 21st century world, we are jaded by skyscrapers and office towers, but in the Middle Ages, it must have seemed to the average man or woman that this cathedral soared to the heavens. Magnificent!

Every inch of Notre Dame's façade is sculpted--I was going to say embroidered, which of course is wrong, except that really, the sculptures are like a rich stone tapestry of kings and queens and prophets and saints, of devils and angels and allegorical creatures. Some of these will appear in another post, but my favourite scene on Notre Dame's face is of St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris. According to legend, Denis was a bishop in Paris in 250 C.E. when he was martyred by a bunch of Romans, who cut his head off while he was preaching. Undeterred, St. Denis picked his head up and finished the sermon. The sculpture below shows St. Denis in a pretty typical posture, holding his head in his hands. What I LOVE about the scene is the angel next to him; she's supposed to be comforting him, but she can't quite bring herself to touch him and looks frankly a little squicked out by the whole scenario.

"Jesus, Denis, that's going to leave a mark on Monday, eh?"

Next Episode: Paris Day 2

1 comment:

Keith said...

Love reading about your adventures. Regarding sculpture addiction, you really 'need' to get to both Milan (the cathedral is awesome; ditto the Sforza castle which is packed with treasures) & Florence is another place you 'need' to spend at least a month or two in..... though if you are truly a sculpture-holic, don't know if you'd ever leave Italy once you got there. Linda.