The juxtaposition of a ‘restaurant’, proudly welcoming diners through golden arches, and the magnificent blue Arc de Triomph was a violation – however we were hungry after consuming the sights of Paris and so we ate there on the basis that, in our hierarchy of needs at the time, food outgunned principles. The eatery was allegorically furnished with metal structures representing the Eiffel Tower. “Allegorically furnished!”. I have never, in my life, used that phrase before. However everywhere I travel in these culturally rich environments, a curator, guide or in some cases the doorman will explain that everything from hotels to museums are ‘allegorically decorated’ or ‘allegorically furnished’ and so I am embracing the culture.
The following morning while on a quest to find a quintessential Paris breakfast, a small café served me a generous portion of ‘Pain au Chocolat’ accompanied by a Latte in a heated glass. If ever there was an allegorical representation of ‘pain’ this was most certainly not it. Whoever came up with the notion of wrapping molten chocolate (which sounds so much better pronounced: ‘shock-oh-lart’) in pastry and serving it with a Latte deserves canonisation and Lord knows they seem to be handing them out pretty freely around France and Italy – one struggles to walk down any ‘rue’ or ‘via’ without tripping over San Pietro or Saint Pierre.
Today we visited the Conciergerie. A majestic building which I understand started life as a palace and finished as a prison – which I thought ironic given that there are some princesses from a neighbouring country who may have had that same experience!
We progressed then to our ‘church de jour’ which on this occasion was Saint Chappelle which I was lured into thinking may be a cricket museum only to be disappointed. Both the Conciergerie and Saint Chappelle were part of the Palais de Justice, also an impressive edifice. I noted that the French motto; “libertie, egalitie, fraternitie”, with its origins in the French Revolution, adorned the building’s entrance above a grand staircase. I was struck by the incongruence of the symbolic home of the people’s motto being located in a palace on an island on the river Seine – a location that ordinary folk could only but dream to live. Enough, however, of the voice of the proletariat. Though I was reminded of the quip attributed to Queen Marie Antionette who upon hearing that the peasants had no bread, allegedly said “let them eat cake”. The Conciergerie has a mocked-up prison cell with a mocked-up Marie Antionette awaiting her death by guillotine, surely sufficient demonstration that eating cake is not good for you!
We boarded the Paris tour bus to experience the magic of the Eiffel Tower. I did not know the streets of Paris well but I felt that the bus driver may have forgotten the location of the Eiffel Tower. However, since he was the driver and I had been a resident of Paris for fewer than three days, I surmised that he either knew a short-cut or was taking a different route due to road works which would otherwise have slowed him down. However, as the bus continued its unfamiliar route others in the family questioned whether anyone had checked that we had boarded the correct bus, which was admittedly, another potential explanation for the bus driver’s erratic behaviour which I had not hitherto considered. As it turned out no-one had checked the bus details and, indeed, we were on a different trip to another part of the city which did not contain an Eiffel Tower. And if looks of the family were any guide it appears that was my fault.
After this unplanned diversion we changed buses and headed for the Eiffel Tower. I swear that this place is without doubt the coldest place on earth but we joined the snaking queue for entrance to the Tower. While I would have happily swapped my place in the queue for anyone with a blanket, I have to admit that that once there it was special. We had made our way through the ticket stall and into the cable cars which made their way up to the second level of the Tower. The fellow in the queue next to me explained or at least alleged that during the war the French cut the metal ropes on the cable car to force Hitler to walk up the stairs to the Tower. And if the day Hitler was there was as cold as this day I am sure he would have done so gladly. For it did not become any warmer upon reaching the second level of the Tower and a quick sprint up a few flights of stairs might have been just the thing to get the heart pumping.
The day had given way to dark during our waiting period and we now looked at a fully lighted Eiffel Tower which was infinitely more impressive than the day-time experience. What was equally impressive was the view over the River Seine, down toward the Arc de Triomph, the church where Napoleon is buried, Notre Dame Cathedral and a whole bunch of other places of note to me after spending a couple of days in Paris. On the hour every hour, the ‘Elves of the Eiffel’ light up the Tower with sparkling lights. Please don’t promise your children when you visit the Eiffel Tower that they will see the ‘Elves of the Eiffel’ since I may have taken a liberty in using this quaint term to describe the municipal employees of Paris who turn the sparkling lights on and off on an hourly basis.
When all was done and having missed the last bus home, we walked to the Metro and boarded a train for Charles de Gaulle which put us on the Champs Elysees. At night with trees lining the road all covered in blue lights stretching for over a kilometre and culminating in the Arc de Triomph the whole thing was truly brilliant. This was definitely a highlight for me.
The following day we caught a train to Montmartre. We found the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) upon a hill on the outskirts of the city. Upon arrival, we exited the Metro to join hundreds of people milling around a market place which led up a hill to the church. We followed the throng until we reached the church steps where there were about 10 pickpockets and other undesirables operating. As we walked past, two of them were feigning to fight and for no apparent reason they gave Chris a shove. I was watching to see whether there was any attempt to steal from him but there didn’t appear to be. I puzzled over why they pushed Chris and not me since I was right behind him and I would be the more likely of the two to be carrying the cash. My conclusion is they thought I would come to his aid and in the melee which would follow, attempt to steal from me. In any event I didn’t come to his aid – a reflection which continues to haunt me – and the incident passed without …. well … incident.
Having navigated a path away from these young lads we ascended the steps to Montmartre. I hope there are not so many steps to heaven for, putting aside whether I meet other entry criteria, I will need a training regime if I am to reach it. We climbed stairway after cobbled stairway making our way to the church doors where we were met with the ubiquitous signs which advised that we must be silent and take no photos or video. I accept the silence rule – it is a church after all. Indeed, I am often aghast at the noise which is made in famous places of worship, often when the worship is being undertaken. However, Sacre-Coeur is set up as a tourist Mecca – with apologies for mixing religions. You can light your choice of a million and one candles to venerate Saints Therese or Peter – or the big guy, yet you are forbidden from taking photographs. Most travellers know that museums and churches which are keepers of antiquities, refuse the use of flashes (in order not to damage artworks from centuries past), I support that and I am sure most thinking people do. However, these guys don’t have a concern with photography in their church since they themselves have taken multiple photographs of numerous artefacts and other items of interest – it is their argument, allegedly, that photography is not conducive to prayer. Nor, I would suggest, is having 11.5 million visitors every year tramping through the Basilica, yet there is no ban on visitors and there is no ban on the entry fees those visitors pay to view the dome of the Cathedral. Apologies but some of this stuff doesn’t add up for me.
After we left the church, we sat on the church steps and listened to some buskers who had attracted quite a large audience. We only heard their final two songs which I am sure were carefully chosen to be inappropriate for the Cathedral steps; Losing My Religion and Californication.
After the concert had concluded we made our way back to the Metro and travelled to the Musee d’Orsay which is apparently the next best thing to the Louvre in Paris. It was smaller than the Louvre yet replete with famous art works which I didn’t know I hadn’t seen at the Louvre until I saw them at Musee d’Orsay. It had rooms dedicated to Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Cezanne all the old favourites from my misspent youth! And the great thing was that all the signature pieces were there. So, I have now seen in the ‘flesh’; Whistler’s Mother, Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Renoir’s ‘Grand Nu’. I was really pleased to see these artworks which had some familiarity to me. Even though the Louvre is a must see in Paris – the Musee D’Orsay was the highlight for me as far as art is concerned. I am not suggesting that galleries should be established to house only those works with which I am familiar – they would be very space efficient galleries indeed if they did.
Such is my fascination with the world of art, that it was closing time as we made our way out of the Musee D’Orsay. Although it must be said that I have been known to be required to leave other establishments at closing time.