Sunday, January 9, 2011

We're Here!

I somehow imagined it would be far more difficult to get into France. In my mind’s eye, I had us being grilled by the custom’s officer about where we were going, for how long and when we intended to return home. I watched him study our passports slowly, carefully and with some concern, flipping pages back and forth while mentally calculating numbers; glancing back at us periodically as if to ensure we were still there. The reality of course, was that we handed over the passports, waited the 10 seconds for him to scan them and then waltzed on through. No questions. No discussion. No stamp. Does this mean there is no record of when we actually crossed into France?

We arrived in Paris at night on the subway. Naturally I had studied Google maps earlier so had a pretty good idea of what our street looked like and how to get from the subway station to our apartment. I tell you, Google street view is the best. The apartment is in the tenth arrondisement. For you non-Parisian’s, the French divide up their city into little sections called arrondisements. We are very well located with a major subway station just around the corner.

The apartment is in a very old building with smelly plumbing but since our arrival I have noticed much of Paris suffers from smelly plumbing syndrome. Must be why they enjoy perfume so much. I look forward to our Sewer Tour tomorrow to explain all. The apartment has enough living space but has odd room dimensions. The toilet is in what amounts to a closet. The sink and shower are down the hall in another very small space which makes washing your hands a bit odd. The kitchen is about the size of a pocket bathroom back home and only one person is able to move in it at a time. Even then, you bump into things. The living room and bedroom are quite comfortable. It look slike the apartment used to be different dimensions because the walls have weird features. One wall has hinges covered with plaster and another wall has a light switch covered with plaster. The floors look like maybe they are the original ones and are completely uneven and very squeaky. It is funny how each place we stay has its good and bad points and the things we lament in one are the things we rave about in the next.

Friday, we dragged ourselves out of bed and bounced out to enjoy “Holly’s Day One in Paris” itinerary. We wore our ipods and followed Rick Steves around Historic Old Paris. We saw the Notre Dame, the Ile Saint Louis, the Latin Quarter, Saint Chapelle and the closed doors of the Conciergerie. At the end, we were going to hop on a river tour of the Seine but decided to call it a day and go home instead.

It was pouring rain when we arrived at Notre Dame. It was everything I could have hoped for. I felt like I had been there already because I had read about it in so many novels. I stood on Point Zero, the very centre of France; the point from which all distances in this country are measured. I looked at the amazing sculptures on the front of the church, marveling at the fact the people who built it had donated their time and skill to its creation: just like the pyramids. You’d never see this happen today. All the Christian greats were there on the front including my favourite, Saint Denis, who lost his head but carried on anyway. This trick impressed the Parisians and he is credited with starting Christianity in Paris.

The interior of Notre Dame was a bit lackluster, I thought. The cavernous interior was exceedingly gothic and a bit cold and austere, with grey walls and dim light. This was the gathering place of the townspeople and they didn’t even have chairs back in the day! They were a hearty lot, for sure. My favourite part had to be climbing the tower. We huffed and puffed our way to the top after waiting in about an hour for the honour. The view was glorious and we saw the Eiffel tower for the first time. We could also see the Arc de triomphe way off in the distance and what we thought must be the Louvre but we weren’t sure. Closer in, the gargoyles were fabulous. They perched as they have for centuries. Some looked rather bored with the whole thing and some still seemed entertained by the view below. All of them were so different from each other and it was easy to imagine them coming to life. The bell tower was wonderful. To get in, you had to bend over revealing the source of Quasimodo’s back problems. We saw the bell which had been raised centuries ago and still called the tower its home. We also heard the bells ringing from the other tower. We stood on the top of Notre Dame and listened to the bells ring.

We toodled around Ile Saint Louis a bit to look at the homes of the rich and famous in Paris but saw no one of substance. As we crossed the Seine to the left bank, we crossed a bridge with tons of locks locked on with brightly coloured ribbons and such. This is the new thing for lovers to do. They lock a lock with their names on it to the metal of the bridge to symbolize the solidity of their love. I suggested Tom and I give this a go but he seemed underwhelmed by the idea. What do you suppose the twist-tie lovers were thinking as they wrapped their semi-permanent love token on the bridge?

We wandered through a park that held the oldest living resident of Paris: an Acacia tree planted in 1602. Then we walked through some really cool narrow streets and around to the most beautiful church I have seen to date: Saint Chapelle. It has two floors. The bottom floor is for the peasants but it was beautifully painted. Apparently, Notre Dame was also beautifully painted in the middle ages but has since given up its flashy coat. The ceiling was painted deep blue with gold stars that reminded us a LOT of the tombs in ancient Egypt. I was quite taken with the little space but when we got to the top of the stairs where all the beautiful people worshipped, WOW! The church is again gothic in design but they got it right this time. The walls are almost entirely stained glass with narrow stone beams between supporting them. The glass windows soared high over our heads and the whole effect was simply stunning. Saint Chapelle was built by a French King to house the crown of thorns brought back during the Crusades. The crown now sits at Notre Dame and comes out only once in a while. One of the more striking features of this church, in my opinion, was the holly adorning one of the columns. Very symbolic, don’t you think?

We had fun grocery shopping at Monoprix that evening. It is a large grocery store and there are three aisles of cheese. Yes, cheese. There are also five different kinds of baguettes, and two aisles devoted just to wine. And you know those little assorted crudite plastic dishes at Costco and Safeway; the ones with carrots, broccoli and cherry tomatoes? Well, this store had one with marinated button mushrooms, baby artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes marinated in oils and stuffed olives. The whole place just reeked of gourmet! Naturally, we bought pasta and red sauce.


Unknown said...

Are you going to go back to the Latin Quarter to shop/eat/and stand in line for croissants that melt in your mouth? Did you get the article I copied from our newspaper? FUn time in Paris...great you are enjoying it so much! Love Mom