Up before the rest of the family, and no real reason to wake them. I may be stuck in a bad sleep loop, but I'm pretty sure I got seven hours. A Lucullian Feast compared to the meager snacks of the last few days.
So what to do? Shop for breakfast. Get some ham and sausage for the omelettes. Alas, at 7:30 AM you won't find many stores open. Tthe Monoprix around the corner isn't ready to sell you anything, or just not interested. We went there last night for staples - no, not literally staples, although for that there's an Office Depot up the street, hurrah for brute force American retail - and it was my first look at French urban grocery stores. Snap judgment: You can stop your whole "Americans are uncultured and don't know food" routine right here. The quality of everything, the presentation of everything, the conditions of the store and the shelves and the general feel of the place was Venezuelan-market compared to the grocery stores in downtown Minneapolis. I'm not saying we are a Better People because we have more choices in the snack-cracker genre, but I've never seen a grocery store in urban Europe to match the lousiest Food Lion in the states.
No, amend that: my wife and I agreed that the Monop' reminded us of DC, with its jumbled shelves and pervasive aroma of curdled milk. Although maybe that's a delicacy here.
In my mind, as I write this, I am needling my French brother-in-law, who is in Nice at the moment, and, according to sister-in-law, went Full-on Fronsh as soon as he got back to La Patrie, extolling the myriad superiorities of his country. Good for him; one admires dedication and defense of one's land and people. It's just boorish when Americans do it, you know.
But they have museums! Yes; yes, they do. That's why I'm here. For all the centuries of accumulated culture in which modern hands had no making.But lest I seem to be chauvinistic about the pettiest details, like the quality of stores that sell materials indispensable for maintenance of life, you can't insist on one hand that the Food of Paris is what makes Paris Paris, that the Art of Cooking is practiced here like nowhere else, etc etc, and then say the quantity and quality of foodstuffs in the grocery stores doesn't matter.
Or can you? Yes, yes, the people who know how to cook stop off at the little markets that specialize in one thing. Yer boof. Yer pwasson. Yer boo-lingerie place. That's part of the charm, I know - every store has its own character, the expert behind the counter, the distinctive aroma, the man in a striped shirt playing the accordian, and so on. There's a meat store right around the corner from our place, and it seems very old world. If I lived her, I'd go there. I don't, so I have to avail myself of the items at the Lunds or Kowalskis, which are of equal quality and possibly greater variety.
Anyway. The Monop wasn't open., I checked the phone, and there was a Carrefours a few blocks away. Smaller grocery, much nicer style. Bought a few things, took a bag - the clerk said excusez-moi, dix centimes. Oh! Je suis Americain, je suis stupid. After Isaid it I felt like Peter who just heard the cock crow.
Then I went to Starbucks.
ooooohhhh massed intake of breath. You didn't. Paris? In Paris, you went to Starbucks? Yes, along with a dozen other Parisians in line this morn, and let me tell you why. We have a coffee machine in this apartment, and it makes espresso. It's a Nespresso, which is Keurig for people who want the smallest possible amount of coffee. I love espresso. It's just not what I would say is sufficient for the morn. It's not a cup of coffee. It's a dose. You can make another, if you wish, but when you make your third you feel as if this is an entirely wasteful and needlessly complex affair. I come from a coffee-drinking culture, and as such I want something that's good and plentiful, which is why I drink Americanos. Starbucks makes a decent Americano. So there.
Also, they don't have ketchup on the table here! What kinda restaurants do they think they has?
Anyway, good morning.
We took the Metro to the center of town. Once upon a time I avoided subways, because I was claustrophobic. That has passed.Heading down into the Metro was actually exciting, until I got there; it's a bit weary and careworn.
Up into the light to the Hotel de Ville; wanted to check in under the name Cruella or Minque. It's huge and ornate, attractive without being beautiful:
The city has had offices here since the 14th century; Robespierre, fearing arrest, threw himself out of the window here, broke both his legs, and then got shot in the jaw, prior to being guillotined. Libertie and egalitie but not so much fraternitie, in the end. Fun times:
The same day, 28 July 1794, in the afternoon, Robespierre was guillotined without trial in the Place de la Révolution. His brother Augustin, Couthon, Saint-Just, Hanriot, and twelve other followers, among them the cobbler Antoine Simon, the jailor of Louis-Charles, Dauphin of France, were also executed. When clearing Robespierre's neck, the executioner tore off the bandage that was holding his shattered jaw in place, causing Robespierre to produce an agonized scream until the fall of the blade silenced him.
Well, he did say that terror was a virtue. Back in the days when he was writing up the lists.
Two allegorical dames outside; Writing and Painting? Stabbing and Music?
Off to this place, which seems popular. The Cathedral de St. Laughton. Turns out they're not amused when you stagger in shouting SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY!
I've seen better.
Don't get me wrong; it's astonishing, but do I look like Violet "Daffez" Le-Duc? Do I look like some guy who's ga-ga for Gothic? I'm not. To me, the classical styles - the Renaissance, Baroque, the late 19th / early 20th - are far more beautiful. The frothing stone, the serenity of the light, the feeling that you are expected to look up in hope, not bow your head in penance.
Of course there's light, and glorious light at that -
- but the narrative doesn't address the culture any more. The culture has moved on from saints and clergy, martyrs and spiritual politicians. A half a millennium ago a visitor could look at a picture and figure out the characters and the lessons, and perhaps reflect on the relationship between God and Man - the latter took these rude materials, shaped them, and held them up to the light, which gave them life. Now they're designs.
The mood and tone of the place isn't hushed, as with the smaller churches we visited. It's almost indifferent.
Outside a tour guide was telling the most important story, the one everyone wanted to hear - the real-life story of the inspiration for the Hunchback!
Again, that's just me - I prefer the more emotional and voluptuous churches. As we will see in a while.
Then we met Sister-in-Law and her daughter, which immediately changed the day from hard-charging from item to item to laissez-faire whatevs. And of course those different styles mesh seamlessly without abrasions or stripped gears, right? Well. The flow. With it you should go. We went to the Holocaust Museum, aka the only place in Paris where someone points out that the French loaded the little kids on trains and did their bit to help the Boche round up the Juifs. It's a somber place. The wall of names:
Underground, a memorial with an eternal flame, and a room a collection of file cards they use to expedite Jewish identification and removal. Someone in our party asked why they just didn't kill them - well, this was to ensure it was all legal.
If it's legal it's permitted.
Here's a little audio snippet. Outside the museum I heard a fellow working on a piano piece. A strange moment - absolute quiet on the corner, men with guns, this nervous angular tune.
Walk down the street as it plays, if you like.
I hope to live in a world some day where a Jewish museum doesn't have armed guards and airlock security doors.
Off to St. Chapelle, one of the glories left behind by the kings. They made so many. Like the other glories of Paris, they are emblems of the state on behalf of society - in this case a connection to the Divine to reinforce the legitimacy of the state, although I'm sure no one who entered this chapel thought it needed legitimizing, since all the patrons were the .01 percent. It was amusing, really - we were walking around the room, thinking "this is nice but quite underwhelming; weren't there supposed to be tall walls of stained glass? There's just these dinky pictures."
I asked the attendant at the gift-shop area - you know, the gift-shop area of the church - where I might find the windows on the front cover of the souvenier book they were showing. She pointed to a staircase in the corner of the room. Go up.
(Side note, in case you're wondering: all photos taken with my iPhone.)
I take back everything I said about Gothic. Some history:
Begun some time after 1238 and consecrated on 26 April 1248, the Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ's Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.
Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world.
The engineering involved isn't obvious, but think about it: then structure had to be constructed so it didn't shift or expand or settle, which would pop out the glass.
Much of the chapel as it appears today is a re-creation, although nearly two-thirds of the windows are authentic. The chapel suffered its most grievous destruction in the late eighteenth century during the French Revolution, when the steeple and baldachin were removed, the relics dispersed (although some survive as the "relics of Sainte-Chapelle" at Notre Dame de Paris), and various reliquaries, including the grande châsse, were melted down.
The revolutionaries, pure of heart as they are, always manage to find time for a little looting.
This wasn't the end of the day. This was half of it. Let's end with this: I mentioned the Metro, right? How easily I got used to it? We were taking a basic trip - change at one station, find the other line, hop in another train. For some reason upon reaching the platform for the second train, my wife decided this was the last train that would ever come, and ran for the doors. I simultaneously observed a red X over the door, and heard the call-of-doom horn that signals the train is about to whisk out of the station. The door closed on me.
There are three kinds of Metro doors. The oldest is opened with a simple latch. The second requires the passenger to push a green button. The third consists of two sets of doors, one on the outside and one on the inside. The latter closes first with inexorable force, and it closed on me. I spent approximately .8 seconds fighting it before I realized it would either cut me in half or drag me down the platform with my head hanging out, so I gave up and stepped into the car. This whole process took about three seconds.
The door slammed shut. As the train pulled away from the platform we saw Daughter on the other side of the door, waving goodbye.