Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Parisian Vignettes

Notre-Dame's rose windows are exquisite, but the best part of the cathedral is the park behind it. 

We grab crepes at a nearby stand and then choose a bench in the sunshine.

There's good people-watching here.

A couple is taking bridal photos, the groom so happy that he could burst.

A family from Texas has three small boys and a toddler on a leash. The dad drops the leash to snap pictures of his family, and the toddler runs up to the camera to see the results. As the family moves on, the dad picks the leash back up. The toddler dashes off at high speed, is caught by the leash at the wrong angle, and topples over. It must be a fairly regular occurrence, because she picks herself up, unconcerned, and continues her exploration.


While Mom and Dad search the Left Bank for a cafe, I embark on the metro to Montmartre. One thing stands out instantly about the metro: there are stairs up, down, and all around, but no elevators or escalators that I can find. Not that I need them - I enjoy stairs - but it is a huge contrast to the handicapped-friendly transit system in Munich.

When I find the right train going the right way, I slip in. I assume that the jazzy music I hear is a recording, but then I realize that a saxophonist has carved out a pocket of space in the jam-packed car, and I enjoy his art until it's time to get off. 

When I disembark I am stunned by the crush of people. This hill was once a hot spot for famous artists and bohemians in Paris, and it seems that every tourist in the city has decided to check it out today. Souvenir shops line the cobbled streets, and I jostle through the crowd as I head toward Sacre Coeur, the church with a panoramic view of the city. 

I pass a square with rows and rows of street artists. Some of them are the usual tourist fare, but others are true artists. I saunter through, admiring their work and watching the portraitists, and then I head on my way.

I had planned to go into Sacre Coeur, but the line is so long that I give up the idea and simply enjoy the panorama. I can see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and streets crammed with quintessentially Parisian houses. 

I snap a picture of Paris's sinking house and move on.

Suddenly the streets are empty. All the tourists in Paris are congregated one block away, but here there is nothing but a blackbird singing, a gentleman bringing in his trash, and high school kids congregated on the steep steps that characterize Montmartre. 

It's just like any city: real people live here. For us it's an enchanting travel destination, and for them it's the daily life of home. 

As I head to another metro station, I am suddenly surrounded by fabric outlets. Wire baskets with scraps line storefronts, and inside I see bolt upon bolt of fabric. 

Montmartre is a hill of contrasts: tourist trap, residential retreat, fabric lovers' paradise.



At first I wonder if the cat on the easy chair is real - it is so still and undisturbed by the bookworms milling through the store. Then I notice the signs:

"Aggie the cat stayed up all night reading: please let her sleep now."

Aggie is real, all right, and her presence is the finishing touch to the whimsey and wonderfulness that is Shakespeare & Company, the famed English language bookstore on the Left Bank of the Seine, just across from Notre Dame.

The store (whose history is well worth reading in the link above) is open from 10 am to 10 pm, and when we arrive at dusk, there is an honest-to-goodness line out front. Mom says:

"Isn't it wonderful to live in a world where people are willing to stand in line to go to a bookstore?"

I am already happy to be standing in line, but when we are finally admitted to the store, I become just a little giddy.

Rooms that link to each other every-which-way are filled will floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and books  overflow into stacks on the floor.

I wander in bliss.

Upstairs there are rooms filled with beautiful used books, seating, and the aforementioned cat. As I browse, I hear piano music. At first I assume that it's a CD, but when I hear Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons," I go to investigate.

A little upright piano is squeezed into a nook, and one of my fellow customers is playing.

So I sing. Because that's the logical thing to do when you're in a bookstore on kilometer zero in Paris, France, and a stranger is playing "10,000 Reasons."

After all three verses and refrains, the pianist thanks me for singing, I thank him for playing, and I continue to browse. Eventually, I leave with my prize: A Gentleman in Moscow, stamped with the Shakespeare & Company stamp, slipped into a canvas Shakespeare & Company bag.

I step onto the bus and wordlessly hand the driver my fare.

He looks at me, smiling, and says, "I'd like a ticket, please."

It takes me a moment to realize that he's gently chiding me for treating him like a machine, not a human. 

Humbled, I ask for a ticket, and he teaches me to make the request in French: "Un billet s'il vous plait."


We are in the Musee D'Orsay, the world-class art museum housed in what was once a train station. I knew that I loved this museum, but I had forgotten how much. 

As we wander the impressionist exhibit, I mentally add up: I have seen paintings from this museum on loan in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Berlin, and Munich, and now I'm back at the Musee D'Orsay itself. Not too shabby.

This famous clock is one of the "most Instagrammable spots in Paris." While stylish people jockey to get the perfect Instagram shot, others snooze on a funky multi-person recliner. Who has their priorities right?

I find the Monet that I love and get Mom to snap a photo. A poster of it was prominently displayed in my college dorm rooms and apartments.

Art museums generally feel like home, and this one more than usual. 

I get distracted from the art by a tour of first-graders. They file into the room and then sit on the floor in front of a Renoir. Usually first-graders are wiggly, but these are captivated by their teacher, who is holding them enthralled with a story about the painting. He speaks quietly, but he holds their complete attention. I am impressed, and I wish that I could understand the story he's telling in French.

We take a break in the museum cafe. When the waiter appears with our hot chocolate, he apologizes: he has put so much whipped cream on top of the beverage that chocolate is spilling over the sides of the glasses. The hot chocolate hits the spot, as do the pastries that we ordered with it.

Dad quips that the statue behind me is putting on deodorant.

Art is everywhere in Paris. In churches and museums, on street corners, even on the tarp that conceals a construction site.

The city itself is a constantly-morphing piece of art. 


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