When last we left the story, the subway train had pulled out, leaving Daughter on the platform. This is the sort of situation that would give me a heart attack, or so I thought. In this case, no. Wife was panic-stricken, which is unusual for her. OUR DAUGHTER IS LOST ALONE IN PARIS. Well, yes and no. Flash back to several days before:

"I got you a text and data package for the trip."

"Thanks but I don't need it! Why do I need texts?"

"In case we are separated."




And here was the exact situation for which I had planned. (I also brought five Band-Aids specifically for blisters.) I just walked her through where we were and where to get off. Now, it was a good line and the middle of the morning. Midnight at some other stations, she would have been catcalled to tears, as we'd learn later when we passed through the Idle Male Sex District, but that's another story.

We chatted via text and met up five stations later. I was never worried, and she said "I thought for a moment this would be a great story where I ran away and started a new life."



Onward, onward. On we go with the parade of obligations. I know this sounds like a recitation of places accompanied by illustrations . . and so far that's what it is. What else can it be? You have to see things things before you see other things. I know I'm getting the chords more than the melody, but the moments of grace and contemplation are few, and too ordinary to report. I mean, I could have spent an hour on the balcony today, maybe more, just reading and drinking coffee, but it's a sin to do what you'd usually do when all of Paris awaits.

The problem is . . . how do I say this? I'm not in love. I think Paris is fascinating and intriguing, but I'm not in love with it. I didn't expect to be; I wasn't before. It's not the people who are aloof, it's the city itself. That might not be by design, but it's from the design. The entire plan of the city is a work of art, as I'm sure they're proud to note - but you're not supposed to touch a great masterpiece. You're supposed to admire from a distance.

We hiked along the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay, another of those astonishing Beaux-Arts piles that define Paris. All this monumental 19th century architecture in the grand style of a civilization confident in its values and its need not only to manifest them but to set an example for the rest of the world. Come, look upon our works, and be encouraged to do likewise! Not that you're likely to do so, you being Not French, but try. I had seen the Orsay a while earlier in a movie: The Trial, by Orson Welles. They shot a lot in its ruins, but it's ruined no more.

I found an empty ballroom, gilded and bemirrored, with the usual cloud-of-gods up above:

And the usual naked woman with adamantine flesh:

It was the setting for De Gaulle's speech in which he said yeah, sure, I'm available for another go.


That's from the days when the hotel was open. It's not open anymore. No trains run from here; the platforms are too short for modern rolling stock. Imagine an airport in the middle of a city, built for biplanes - what to do with it when times change? Make it into another museum, of course. But keep the clock.

Enjoyed the busts; I always like meeting new people, and snapping the name for subsequent research. Behold, the inventor of Le Parte Cheveaux Avec Beaucoup De Pomade:

It's Hank Rochefort, "Prince of the Gutter Press." Shall we? We shall. Skip if you like, but I think knowing this sort of stuff - or at least spending a minute with the biography to get a taste of the flavor of the era - is worth it.

His father was a Legitimist noble who, as Edmond Rochefort, was well known as a writer of vaudevilles; his mother's views were republican. After experience as a medical student, a clerk at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, a playwright and a journalist, he joined the staff of Le Figaro in 1863; but a series of his articles, afterwards published as Les Français de la décadence, brought the paper into collision with the authorities and caused the termination of his engagement.


After a second prosecution he fled to Belgium. A series of duels, of which the most famous was one fought with Paul de Cassagnac à propos of an article on Joan of Arc, kept Rochefort in the public eye.

He fought a duel over an article about Joan of Arc. Those were the days. He kept starting newspapers, getting imprisoned, starting another one, getting shipped out of the country, fined, and so on. After many years he started another journal, L'Intransigeant. No kidding. More:

For a short time in 1885-86 he sat in the Chamber of Deputies, but found a great opportunity next year for his talent for inflaming public opinion in the Boulangist agitation. He was condemned to detention in a fortress in August 1889 at the same time as General Boulanger, whom he had followed into exile. He continued his polemic from London, and after the suicide of General Boulanger he attacked M. Constans, minister of the interior in the Freycinet cabinet, with the utmost violence, in a series of articles which led to an interpellation in the chamber in circumstances of wild excitement and disorder.

First of all: everything here meant nothing outside of France. It hardly matters to anyone now. It mattered tremendously, then. The Boulanger story is rather timeless, though; a royalist and an army man, he commanded the loyalty of a certain sort of Frenchman. Suicide? Yes - at the grave of his mistress. Very dramatic. The papers loved it; they ran illustrations of the Tragic Scene.

Here's yer plus ca change for the day:

Boulangisme: (...) 'a vague and mystical aspiration of a nation towards a democratic, authoritarian, liberating ideal; the state of mind of a country that is searching, after the various deceptions to which she was exposed by the established parties which she had trusted up to then, and outside the usual ways, something else altogether, without knowing either what or how, and summoning all those who are dissatisfied and vanquished in its search for the unknown.' (...) 'General Boulanger was born out of this state of mind. He did not create the boulangisme, it is boulangisme that created him. He had the chance to arrive at the psychological and spiritual moment from which he profits." (Arthur Meyer in Le Gaulois, 11 October 1889)

Well, good to know we're past all that.

That's what you learn from one face in a side corridor of an old train station. How about the artist? "Aimé-Jules Dalou (31 December 1838, in Paris – 15 April 1902, in Paris) was a French sculptor, recognized as one of the most brilliant virtuosos of nineteenth-century France, admired for his perceptiveness, execution, and unpretentious realism.[citation needed]"

Oh, you can cite me if you wish.

Some faces are quite arresting, staring out over the silent plains of the bygone decades:

Frank Guilloise, "magazine editor and theater administrator." Perhaps the artist, Eugène Guillaume, is more interesting . . . no, not really. Let's look at some paintings. Turned up my nose at Gaugin - no love for that smelly goat. Saw a few old friends, and enjoyed a good collection of Pointillists.


That's what you see when you get close. Step back:


A details of Seurat I'd never seen, not that I'm familiar with the entire body of work:


With a half-hour to go before closing I stumbled upon an exhibit of a guy you won't find in the big books about the big names: a 19th century painter named Gleyre.

Never heard of him, but there are so many we haven't heard of. They weren't the top-line guys with the big Academic rep and the awards and commissions. They had peer respect, got some nice jobs, won some money here and there. They had some students - in Gleyre's case, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Whistler. His first major work was so scandalous it could not be shown. Two Roman brigands bargaining over a woman while her husband, tied to a tree, glares murder at them, knowing what they will do.

The Musee has a website up about the exhibit, here, although it doesn't even come close to standing in front of the works. He said, smugly.

The exhibition was deserted, because he's not on postcards or mugs. Everyone coems to the Orsay shouting SHOW ME THE MONET.


And that was it for the day - Notre Dame, the Shoah Center, St. Chapelle, Musee D'Orsay. Enough, right?


On to Montmartre. Or rather up.


Took the Metro (which is alternatively stinky from bum-aromas or just basic city-stinky from people) to Montmartre, because after walking around town for three hours everyone wanted to walk up steep hills for a change. At the top of the walk we stopped, since one of the daughters wanted a crepe. The shop owner viewed us with weary hatred, and finally dropped five battered menus on the table. Not a soul in the shop. He was on the phone for a while then stood in the doorway as if barring his place from additional interruptions. When two of us ordered he said we could not sit, unless everyone had a crepe. Not only was the restaurant empty, but the tables outside were empty. That renowned Tholian hospitality.

We went to the Church - well, sister-in-law stayed behind to take weight off her ankle, which she had sprained and now resembled a rutabaga. The evening crowd at Montmartre was young and festive; bags of broken bottles on the sidewalk, lots of flirting and meet-ups. All outside a dead-calm silent church of exquisite beauty and self-possession.

Remember the notes above about the bust of the journalist? In a similar vein:

A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order.

The inspiration for Sacré Cœur's design originated on September 4, 1870, the day of the proclamation of the Third Republic, with a speech by Bishop Fournier attributing the defeat of French troops during the Franco-Prussian War to a divine punishment after "a century of moral decline" since the French Revolution, in the wake of the division in French society that arose in the decades following that revolution, between devout Catholics and legitimist royalists on one side, and democrats, secularists, socialists and radicals on the other.

Took 35 years to finish, by which time passions on the matter may have cooled. Hard to argue that this should not exist:


And then home!

No. We had to get something to eat, so we did my least favorite thing in the world when hungry: wander through a city until you find something everyone likes. Settled on a hole-in-the-wall pizzaria run by actual Italians, and enjoyed a masterpiece. And then home! No, we had to walk to Sister-in-law's BnB to see it, and say "that's a BnB!" I pointed out that the walk was 40 minutes on the map - no, it's shorter! Sigh. Entered the coordinates into my phone, and we were off down a twisty maze to . . . oh Gawd, the Moulin Rouge. Pigalle. Sex shops. Men sitting in the dark catcalling all the women in our party. But it's their culture and I can't judge.

Finally, finally, the Gare du Nord district. Went into a typical Parisian apartment building - big empty lobby, dark stairs up which have trod a century of weary people. (Never could find the light in our building, and went up five floors in the dark every time. Tripped, every time.) We the room, and then I slapped my palms on my thighs and said Well, it's been grand. Checked UBER: Surge pricing, 2.2X. Why? The soccer game was over. Augh. Checked the Metro map. Got to the station around 11:15. As we entered the car the only space was in the back by a huge glowering homeless man with a boombox. As soon as the car started he played "Thriller" at maximum volume and stood up and put his hands on the back of the seat my wife and daughter occupied. I thought: this is his ritual. This is how he claims his victims. Everyone just stared at their phones as if this was completely natural and part of the rich fabric of urban life, even though the guy was obviously off.

But he didn't follow us off the train. We went to another line and waited and it rolls up and ohhhh my Gaaaahhhhd, it's like the last one out of Paris before the Nazis arrive. All sports fans, bumptuous and drunk. We packed in and tried not to breathe.

In the morning before we left I said "We are setting off on another day in Paris and no matter what happens, it will still be wonderful, because we are on vacation in Paris."

And I was right!

Tomorrow: it all goes horribly wrong.

(Not really.)


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