It’s day three, but technially, over there, it’s day two, so a win all around.
Biggest EPIC FAIL so far: I have not yet eaten a single croissant. This will be fixed today.
Days Zero and One: The Journey (which was really about the destination)
I spend 22 hours minimally nourished (2 bites of lasagna, 1 chicken caesar salad, and 5 ounces of peanut M&M’s) combining the forces of jet engines and the speed of light to travel…into the future! The two highlights of the trip were a) the fantastic yet maddening movie Inception, and b) watching the sun rise over Iceland.
Side note on sunrises: Do they really take longer than sunsets? I know they act like sunsets in reverse, but it seems to get darker a lot quicker after the sun sets than it gets lighter before the sun rises. I mean, there’s the general grey almost-light, then the orangy-brown horizon haze, then the stretching increase of light on the horizon, and whisps of clouds you didn’t know were there get pink, and then the rest of the water vapor in the atmosphere gets pink as if God breathed on the sky and fogged it up, and THEN the sun rises, shoop! all at once in blinding gold-red-whiteness. But it takes a ridiculously long time.
Also, the Parisians have the airport moving-sidewalk thing down. Up, down, over little humps; all on one straight, smooth sidewalk. Win!
I finally arrive at my hostel, check in at 4:30, and go to sleep. How exciting.
Day Two: Zombie Tourist
I wake up before seven quite naturally for the first time in years. My attire for the day certainly got a few eyebrows from the rest of the hostellers, but at least I felt Parisian. Someone else thought so too, for they asked me in broken French the direction to Notre-Dame! What follows is a close approximation of my day.
Metro to Pont Neuf
My hostel is located at the end of metro line 7. It reminds me of, perhaps, east Oakland. My neighborhood feels quite safe, but there is a certain tinge of industrial carnage near the station.
The metro itself is quite efficient. Each train has a driver, but they don’t bother to announce stops unless the train is about to take a branch and they want you to know which branch this train is taking. The doors only open if you push a button on the handle (from both the inside and the outside). This means the door can open as the train is pulling into a stop, which is actually really efficient but would be the cause of serious Cain-raising in the U.S. Stupid litigatory society.
The stations look like all subway stations, but at least in grand Parisian style the advertisements are HUGE and set in grand “gold” frames that curve up along the domed roof.
My first emergence from the metro in Paris made it quite clear that I was in Europe. Stone and spires: there’s really nothing like it in America. Not to mention the bridges. European bridges have character. I stroll along towards Saint-Chapelle, which has a five-minute line. (Take that Rick Steves.)
This stained-glass chapel was built by one of the Louis’ to hold the Crown of Thorns relic. I was most impressed not by the stained glass (which was impressive, but it was all so small and so high up I couldn’t make anything out. I mean, what was the point, really? To make stories the angels could read?) but the paint job. Every column and ridge and arch was painted in deep navy and cranberry and hunter green and gold, so that it looked like a solemn easter egg. I wish all our churches were painted like that! It reminded me that in fact almost all the Roman statues and temples were painted similarly: we just have the boring white marble canvases left.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I’d check out a service at the cathedral of European cathedrals. It was gorgeous, as promised. The hardest thing about walking around was attempting to comprehend building it over a hundred years. I mean, wouldn’t you get spiders?
It was also certainly thought-provoking how worn-down even the main ambulatory ground was. There was a definite dip, covered up by carpets as it was. The tower stairs were amazingly worse!
Yes! Yes I did climb all the way to the tippy-tip-top of Notre-Dame! I laughed with amusement at the memory of Cornelia Skinner and Emily Kimbrough’s antics in the same place almost a hundred years ago (hint: if you have not read Out Hearts Were Young and Gay your life is not complete. If you’ve already read it, go read it again.).
The view was nice…it was a view of a large European city from very high up. But my favorite part was getting a closer view of the church itself, and all the amusing and quite personable gargoyles. And the stairs. I love almost-never-ending tight circular stairs. My heart sings about how much I love them and want them in my future house whenever I’m going up or down, and my head always, always counters with, “And how would you get a mattress up here?!” Stupid head.
The only mishap was a poor young (and I could have sworn Spanish) girl got separated from her family (which I had previously observed) on the top of Notre-Dame! How could you leave your child on the top of Notre-Dame?! But no judgment, really, because things happen, and it’s traumatic to everyone all around. Anyway, I thought she was Spanish, but a German couple seemed to be able to communicate with her well enough, and I assume they brought her to her family. Another couple gave her a sweetie (as they say in Britain).
Paris Archeological Crypt
Is closed for two months. Phooey.
Right on the tip of the island beyond Notre-Dame is the memorial to all the Parisians deported and exterminated at Nazi Concentration camps. No photos are allowed to be posted on the internet, so I didn’t take any. It was very chillingly done — you should see it if you have the chance.
A Bridge . . .
With “lovers’ locks”!
Ile St. Louis
The island behind the island that holds Notre-Dame et al. is like Park Avenue in residences and Madison Avenue in botiques. It also has evidently famous Parisian glace — ice cream. So you know I had to pop over and have some! I splurged and had two scoops (European, not American): blackberry and chocolate. It was good, but honestly? I prefer mine. It was kind of a really creamy sorbet.
I munched my sucre cône back along the Seine, perusing the bouquinistes stalls — for decades, little wooden stalls attached to the quay peddle used books (and prints, postcards, and other sundry paper items).
It seems like a great system: only a certain number of stalls are allowed, and you must apply for one that only is freed when someone else retires. The stalls themselves are only charged a nominal rent, so the overhead is minimal. If you want to be a used bookseller, it’s the way to go. Of course, all the books were in French, so I marched on to…
The Cluny Museum
Paris’s museum for all things medieval was quite delightful. It is housed in the old bishop’s hôtel, which was itself built on the sight of Roman baths, incorporating part of the remaining frigidarium. I, of course, ate it up. I even came up with more questions for my Roman engineering book…whenever that happens. The hôtel included its own chapel, which I loved very much. I decided that I could, if pressed, live there. (wink)
The Cluny also houses the famous woman-and-unicorn tapestries, and they really are gorgeous. Some of the women’s hairstyles were rather…unique. And there were some beautiful manuscripts on display. But I think my actual favorite item on display was a how-to manual for knights in training, consisting entirely of hand-drawn illustrations. I will be sure to post my favorite one, which shows a knight bonking a fallen knight on the head with the knob on the hilt of his (the first knight’s) sword. In case, you know, you needed to see it demonstrated.
At this point, I felt quite worn out with looking at things. I felt rather zombie-ish. So, after reviewing my guidebook, I decided to head over to Luxemborg Gardens and rent a toy sailboat to sail on the pond.
I do not mean to disappoint you, but I did not, in fact, rent a toy sailboat. I sat and watched a troop of Girl Scouts having a grand old meeting without any adults present: 20 11-year-olds and 3 17-year-olds seemed to be having a grand old time by themselves, all in uniform.
I don’t think we could have gardens like Luxemborg in San Francisco. Definitely not San Francisco. There were hundreds of metal chairs that you could simply pick up and move where you wanted to sit, under trees or along paths, in the sun or the shade. There were dozens of marble statues, all — get this — not defaced. All the trash was in the trash bins. The kid’s play area contained climbing structures that were almost twice as high as the normal American “LAWSUIT!” height. In the pelanque pits, there were coatracks for the participants. Joggers stayed on the jogging paths, and walking policemen gently strolled along.
It was amazing and quite relaxing. The pelanque (think bocce ball) players were quite good. I wonder if we could ever have a park like this in the U.S. Do we and I just don’t know about it?
I told myself I could not leave the city until 5:30, so as not to get too tired and fall asleep before dinner at 8:30 (which, thankfully, was really from 7:30-8:30). I wandered past St-Sulpice, and remarked (again) how amazing the public water fountins in Paris are. I mean, they actually work. They are works of art (both traditional and modern), and they stream (gently) constantly into wide grated drains, so there is no drain to stop up with gum and no mechanism to break. Is it a waste of water? I would give that a resounding no, because *I* got to refill my water bottle four or five times today.
Most shops were closed, however, it being Sunday evening, so I wandered from St-Sulpice all the way back up across the Seine and back down to Pont Neuf, passing the Louvre as I went. And back into the metro system I went, only picking the wrong train once, but hey, it was only a 10 minute delay.
I found myself, right after Notre-Dame, thinking the shocking thought that I was bored. Why had I come here? Was it worth it? I don’t do well with looking at things all day. I have to do things, or at least think about them. I finally realized that perhaps jetlag and under-nourishment were making me a little zombified, and once I gave myself permission to just chill out and stop looking and start enjoying things started getting better.
The Louvre, Orsay, Opera Garnier, and other things.