Impression: France - The Paris Portion

Aug 1st, 2011, 10:44 AM
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Very nice sap. I've been busy so haven't had time to respond but I've been reading. You're quite a Parisian history scholar.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2011, 08:07 AM
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Thanks for the feedback Patrick.

Nice to "see" you again FMT! I know, I know: We didn't have that drink, did we? (I probably would have got lost trying to find you anyway.)

Monday 6/13/11


When last we left off, we were sniffing the air of Rue Mouffetard, which was also a Roman road, you know. It becomes known as Rue Descartes heading north from the Place de la Contrescarpe and that's the direction we took to loop back up Genevieve's old Roman hill at the center of the Lutetian grid plan.

By the 5th century, the barbaric Huns were threatening French towns and this is when Genevieve, the city's patron saint, made her debut. I have no idea where the legendary Roman legions were by then, but Paris was inspired by the young nun with her visions and prayers a century before Joan of Arc rescued France in the same way. (Their patron saints are girls, yet Salic Law prohibited a queen from ever inheriting the throne.)

Once the Romans had beaten their last retreat, the Franks built their castle on top of the island's Roman palace and the medieval city grew in concentric circles, layer upon layer, like a snail building an enormous shell. [Even today, the 20 Parisian arrondissements (neighborhoods) are numbered in a spiral from the center.]

The Carolingian Clovis I was the first Frankish king. He founded an abbey here on the hill where both he and St. Genevieve were later buried. Her cult became so popular that the crowds of pilgrims soon outgrew the building and a separate new church was built alongside to accommodate them. As we turned left on Rue Clovis, we saw that church: Sainte Etienne du Mont. The bones of St. Genevieve are here now, though her tomb was destroyed during the Revolution. It really did seem to be a pretty little church, but it was closed for the Pentecost weekend.

The church of the abbey itself was rebuilt in the 18th century by Louis XV as his thanks to St. Genevieve for curing him of illness. The remainder of the abbey was destroyed during the Revolution. Rue Clovis in fact runs right through where the abbey had been and only the Clovis Tower remains on the south side, now part of a college.

Louis XV's neoclassical church was supposedly modeled upon the original in Rome, but it also looks very much like London's St. Paul to me, especially the dome. Following the Revolution, the church was transformed into the current Pantheon, a mausoleum for French luminaries.

While beautiful frescoes of St. Genevieve's life and other religious scenes remain on the Pantheon walls, there are also pervasive hints of the tyranny of secularism that existed during that strange political climate created by the Reign of Terror when public executions were thought to be educational. The leaders of those movements encouraged, even forced, worship of the state instead of God. Like so much of what they did during those years, it was not undertaken in a thoughtful manner to set their world straight, but imposed as an emotional and hypocritical overcorrection that swerved the whole country off course for a rather long time.

Despite this fervent creep factor around the edges, we did enjoy the Pantheon. In fact, I preferred it far more than St. Paul's in London, though I'm not sure there's any valid reason why.

A European history major in college, Phil understood many of the nuances of the Revolution's aftermath. From this perspective, he spent quite some time looking at the huge group of statues called The National Convention, which both disturbed and fascinated him. The magnificent Marianne (Lady Liberty) is surrounded by soldiers and members of Parliament and the inscription reads, "Live Free or Die." How inspiring. How romantic. How exactly where the altar would have been in this former church. Some people describe it as an altar to liberty, or an altar to the republic, but the very placement is a strong allusion to state worship. (In a similar vein, Notre Dame had for a time been renamed the "Temple of Reason" and Marianne replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. Didn't that ring anyone's alarm bells? Of course, if it did, good old liberté didn't seem to include freedom of speech at that point, so any concerned citizen who expressed dismay was probably beheaded for not supporting the movement.)

Another major attraction in the Pantheon is of course Foucault's amazing pendulum. I also quite liked the frescoes and tributes to the almost mythical Joan of Arc.

While much of the point of the Pantheon today is meant to be a memorial to the 70-some people interred in the underground crypt, we actually only spent a few moments there. Phil thought it was a waste of time because, however great any of them may have been, they're simply only bones in boxes now. (He'd much prefer a real cemetery for atmosphere and sunlight played against the shadow of architectural details.) As usual, he was correct on a practical, logical level, but I wanted to have a look-see anyway. For personal, symbolic reasons, I just had to mentally tip my hat to Voltaire and thumb my nose at Rousseau, noting that their tombs are exactly opposite each other in the crypt -- clearly not a coincidence. The French are quite clever. Interestingly, the choice of who is interred has been a hot topic of debate for generations. Some bodies have even been removed.

Leaving the Pantheon on Rue Soufflot, we crossed over the heart of old Lutetia. Here was the Forum, whose foundations are still hidden under the centuries of buildings. It was the political, cultural and religious center of the city with a temple and basilica, plenty of shops and more baths. The present Rue St. Jacques was the main north-south road, called the cardo.

As we walked toward Luxembourg's green space ahead, I wondered if this was also the route the young Hemingway would take from the Latin Quarter when he was a budding writer crossing the gardens on his way to visit Gertrude Stein.

We quickly found the perfect spot at the cool and shady Medici Fountain with its long, languid pool. Better still, we managed to grab the only three chairs left that weren't completely enameled with pigeon droppings like some sort of Jackson Pollock experiment. The timing was crucial as I had sensed from Phil's expression over the last 30 minutes that I was dangerously close to invoking the Bataan Death March lament. (This is an inside joke dating back to a Hawaiian hike I subjected him to many years ago. He brings it up at least once every vacation.) I had to admit that we had been wandering for several hours now and anyone with a sense of humanity would know it was time to put up our feet and open the split of wine.

As we discreetly pulled off hunks of bread and cheese from our bag, I looked around and noticed that everyone sitting silently along both sides of the fountain pool was doing the same thing. Clearly they were munching on baguettes as they read, but you would only see a hand reach into a tote or newspaper and come out with one large morsel at a time. Was this out of Parisian etiquette, or due to some sort of park rule? I didn't want to find out the hard way and we kept a low profile.

This famous 60-acre park was created under the orders of Marie de Medici, the Sun King's grandmother. Obviously, he inherited her interest in gardening on a rather grand scale. It was originally a Roman camp and then the site of a 13th century convent before Marie's Palais de Luxembourg was built in the mid-17th. After the Revolution, it was a prison where the future Empress Josephine (Napoleon's gal) was imprisoned with her first husband, who was later executed. The palace is now the meeting place for the French Senate, though it was briefly Luftwaffe headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

After a sensible amount of time resting, we decided to check out the Grand Basin, the main feature most popular with visitors. It was only a few yards away from the Medici Fountain, but a world apart. Here at the large octagonal pool, chairs were strewn everywhere, three and four deep around the center. People lounged and napped, some sprawled with their mouths hanging open. There was no shade, so the sun was hot and bright. There certainly seemed to be a lot more tourists and the noise level was higher, too. The most charming sight was the children trying to sail toy boats, so we sat near the edge for several moments to watch their efforts.

I'm sure there are many other interesting corners in Luxembourg's vast space, but the idea of an afternoon coffee was beginning to take hold of our minds. We hurried north up the street to the 17th century St. Sulpice. The tourists know it now for the obelisk popularized by The Da Vinci Code, though nearly nothing in the story was based on fact. I had actually forgotten the obelisk was there until I saw a small crowd gathering around it. Joe managed to get a slightly blurry photo, though he had a hard time getting the whole length into the frame. I was more interested in Delacroix' murals, but they were difficult to see in the dim light.

By the time we left the church, a cup of coffee had transformed from a nice idea into a desperate urge. This was about the time that we began to notice a phenomenon that would plague us for the rest of the trip: Our ability to locate a source of caffeine was inversely proportional to our need.

We knew there were multiple cafes up ahead near the Saint Germain-des-Pres church. We circled around all of them: Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots, Cafe Bonaparte and several more. There was not one table open. Not one. If Sartre or Hem had walked up to their old haunts, they would've been forced to stand at the bar. The first warm weather in days at the end of a long holiday weekend had brought people out in droves. A sidewalk scalper could have made beaucoup bucks selling premium seats on the street.

On top of that, there was a snaking line to the door of the St-Germain church, so we ditched the whole place and headed back east on our mission to find caffeine. It wasn't until we reached Cafe le Buci in our own neighborhood that we finally spotted a space. It was just big enough to link two doll-size tables and squeeze in with our backs to the wall.

Leaning back with a sigh and surveying the scene, I started to change my mind. It was late in the day and very warm and it was a coup to claim this space. Let's just park ourselves here for our last night in Paris and watch the people go by. Phil laughed but agreed when I suddenly said, "Forget that damn coffee." So, we ordered wine and dinner instead.

Later, while cleaning the apartment and zipping our suitcases, we agreed that we would definitely be back; we had to come back. (You have to tell yourself that.) I reflected out loud about this to push down my sadness at leaving so soon. "And next time there will be more cafes and restaurants; a handful of little museums; the canal, St. Denis, the Mouffetard market; a day trip to Giverny. . ."

"Less walking," said Phil.

Old mother Lutetia may have been smaller and less powerful than her sister settlements, but her daughter Paris has grown into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. She has an elegant facade and a colorful past with ancient little streets and grand boulevards. Secluded jardins are hidden around the corner from vibrant squares. The best museums and monuments line the long riverside quays. And of course there is the art, the cuisine, the romance that seems to permeate the air. Whoever you are, whatever your mood or desire du moment, she delivers (unless you want a sidewalk seat at a café on a warm, June day),

Anyway, it's clearly unanimous. This dame's show is worth the price of admission.
sap is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2011, 10:12 AM
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What I learned today on Fodor's:

"Live free or die" is not just the New Hampshire license plate.
Nikki is online now  
Aug 2nd, 2011, 11:04 AM
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Yup. For the rest of the month, whenever I saw "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" inscribed on nearly every public building in the country, the hair would stand up a bit on the back of my neck. There may once have been a sinister edge to that seemingly promising and innocuous pledge.
sap is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2011, 11:27 AM
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"Bataan Death March lament"-LOL my hub instigated them. Perhaps you are related?!

BTW, the Italians say they taught the French how to cook via Marie Medici! Possible?

Very enjoyable TR!
TDudette is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2011, 01:27 PM
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Thanks sap, for another day in Paris!
taconictraveler is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2011, 02:08 PM
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LOL! I love the Bataan Death March! My bro-in-law swore I was trying to kill him with all the walking around Paris.

He didn't tell me he'd brought a pedometer...he secretly wore it the next day. That was the day I cut down on walking and took more buses. We still clocked 13+ miles. I was a duly abashed taskmaster.
JeanneB is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2011, 08:34 AM
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What an awesome trip report. I love the detail and the history. Thank you for sharing
nwtraveler is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2011, 10:13 AM
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Thanks all!

JeanneB: The pedometer story is funny. I hope Phil doesn't ever try clocking our days with one of those things. I'd never hear the end of it. (After Paris, it wasn't so much the walking as the driving and he of course did have a handy record of that which he would point to frequently with alarm.)

I am continuing the report on another thread with the Provence portion:
sap is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2011, 05:55 PM
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Poor Phil, less walking next time, huh? I cracked up at the Bataan Death March lament.

We have a little joke about Clovis at our house and favorite photo from last trip is of the street sign, so I enjoyed a Clovis inclusion, I also love the church there and also didn't get to go in (it was during Sunday services). So, this was a trip down memory lane (Dec 26, 2010 to be exact).

I have really enjoyed your trip report.
denisea is offline  
Aug 4th, 2011, 07:25 PM
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Throughly enjoyed your report, sap.
You have packed it with detail and interesting fact and history, and wrapped it all up in a lovely writing style. Your 'life unabashed through the open windows of Paris' was one of my favourite paragraphs.
Thanks for sharing through words and beautiful images.
I may be in Paris in the Fall and your report will be very useful to me.

Looking forward to Provence now.

Mathieu is offline  
Aug 4th, 2011, 09:11 PM
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elnap29 is offline  
Aug 5th, 2011, 02:16 AM
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Joe's picture of the Eifel Tower from rue Soufflot is such a refreshingly different vantage point. Bravo!

Have just really, really enjoyed this report. Thank you.
klondike is offline  
Oct 1st, 2011, 06:44 AM
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And these as well! *very* well done, great composition! You're good at taking the candids, which is a gift. I'm a little shy about doing that - love love the bench photo. It's perfect.
flygirl is offline  
Nov 7th, 2011, 10:04 PM
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Bookmarking! Great trip report - will save it to savor for later tonight.
Piccolina is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2011, 05:56 AM
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Terrific reports!!!
Taking tons of notes for our trip next September
We may rent apt you liked in Paris
Would you like us to tell owners that you recommended it?
Was the wifi strong signal for iPad or iPhone?
If so, what name should i say? Or to keep privacy on fodors, I can just say 3 people from California.
Let me know!
izzofan is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2011, 11:57 AM
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What a lovely report! Thank you so much for writing it.

We were lucky enough to rent an apartment across the road from the Jarden du Luxembourg and spent many hours relaxing on those chairs and watching the children chase the toy boats.
cathies is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2011, 03:22 PM
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What detail, what knowledge, what pleasure reading this.

kerouac, if you are still reading this.
I read Rendezvous Eighteenth that takes place in your neighborhood. The author, Jake LaMar is often at the VillageVoice readings, Very interesting take on a black man in Paris. Nikki passed it on to me and I passed it on to gomiki. Thanks NIKKI
cigalechanta is online now  

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