Monday, November 7, 2011

They say it's more beautiful in the rain.

Today started out as a normal day. Okay, not. Went downstairs for a croissant-y, hot chocolate-y, pear and crepe breakfast (and that's just the half of it) before our group meeting where I gave night bike tours a 5-star review. After that, we hit the city and headed over to Notre Dame. Well, after walking by the Hotel de Ville (with the standard Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie on it, and I make no guarantees on my spelling skills) which was very nice. It has also been cleaned except for the steeple—and I so very very much hope that it was cleaned with lasers as well.   Incidentally, another warning about Paris--there are quite a few unscrupulous people out there.  Like the girls who were ostensibly collecting money for a deaf-mute school--but the details were sketchy and they were very bad actors as deaf-mutes, since they responded to things they shouldn't have heard and were talking when they thought people weren't looking.  Among other things that rather detracted from their reputability.  Watch out for scammers, basically.

 Come Notre Dame, the line for the bell towers was rather long, so we decided to not go in before going up to prevent the line growing longer while we waited. I stared up at the gargoyles and wished I could see them in all their rain-spouting glory. Shortly thereafter, I not only got my wish, but the line decreased dramatically (okay, only a little—there were enough souvenir shops that umbrellas were easy to obtain for those who desired them) and I found myself regretting having left my umbrella at the hotel, not for my sake but for my sketchbook's. Is it bad that I left my jacket in my backpack to protect a sketchbook when it was pouring outside and I was in short sleeves? I hope not or this will be another one of those times where I have to forbid “she doesn't have the sense to come in out of the rain” comments.

Anyway, we finally got to go up the steps of the bell tower. That thing is pretty. The steps are steep, sure, but you were expecting maybe an escalator? So we came out on a platform waay up above it where the arrow is in the following picture.
(Disclaimer:  Not my picture, just my drawings)
So that was a good view. There were a bunch of gargoyles all over up there, as well, and I have decided that gargoyles are awesome. Still kind of wet and rainy in waves. We went around up the bell tower to see the Edouard Therese bell (only it has at least one more name) in a wooden belfry, walked around another platform topside, and finally came back down and went into the nave. They were actually wrapping up a service and I admire the people for doing it so solemnly when a great majority of the tourists took the multiple “Silence” signs to mean “Don't stop talking. But I guess lower voices would probably be a good thing, if it works for you.”

Shall I describe the interior? It was really impressive, but there are pictures everywhere. The ceiling was immense, made you feel itty-bitty, and the stained-glass windows are my favorite because they're like glowing, living art work. Also, the two rose windows on either side of the transept are about as big as the one in the above picture and aren't half covered by an organ. I...kind of like them better. It's a bit dark, especially on the side aisles, and it's lit by the stained glass and by large chandeliers of electric torches. They may need to bring the lasers inside for a spot or two, actually. Beautiful carvings and art, though, and a bunch of candles on the side which you can take or light but they ask for a 2 or 5 euro donation (entirely up to you...we just put that in small print so you feel guilty...), and interestingly enough, their altar up front seems to have minimalist human figures on it. Not quite what I expected, to tell the truth. Oh, hey, they've also got the crown of thorns and a piece of the true cross in reliquaries there, but the two girls who went in told us you couldn't see the crown and basically, unless you were there on a pilgrimage or something and intended on touching the relics with a handkerchief to absorb some of the healing power or other power of said relics, it probably wasn't worth the visit. Okay, they didn't have the bit about the handkerchief; I just remembered that from Art History. (See, Professor Johnson? I was paying attention. I just am not good at names and dates, not even of people. So...nyaah.)

From there we headed down a small bit to Sant Chapelle, a “small gem” as Karen describes it, which is apt. Nowhere near as big as Notre Dame; the ceiling is much smaller and there's just the one nave, basically, but holy cow the stained glass windows! There aren't walls, there are just windows! The whole place glows! Exceptionally impressive. Not to mention the whole thing is painted—mostly blue, gold, and red, but with other colors and with pictures and with inlays and a pretty mosaic get the idea. Beautiful place.

Well, from there we hopped on a tube to the Catacombs. Which were closed because it was All Saints' Day. (I mean, really. Timing.) So we wandered a different cemetery for a while (if you've seen Phantom of the Opera, you know kind of what it looks like), then went to the Pantheon which was closed, then went to the Luxembourg Museum where they were having a Cezanne exhibit but turned out to not be on our museum pass so Sarah and Carolyn went in anyway while the rest of us went to the church of St. Michael's a few blocks away to sketch/write. It was much, much quieter (see also: lack of tourists); still quite a large church, somewhat Gothic in design, lots of gray stone instead of the yellowish stone elsewhere (made me feel like I was in a grotto area, especially because of the enormous seashell on a stone next to me and the green-blue lighting in the very far part of the church).  There was an evensong happening there, but I would have been okay if it wasn't because—the choir director was putting her heart into it, the wonderful woman, but...I'm sorry, she just didn't have a good singing voice and it was piercing and off-tempo and over a loudspeaker so I mostly felt sorry for her but also could not ignore her. It was interesting listening in French, though; I felt like it could have been Latin and I wouldn't have known the difference so gives me a flavor of the old-time services.

We met back up with Carolyn and Sarah and found our way to dinner and then home. On the way home, an accordion player made Sarah's day by jumping on the Metro behind her and playing for a few stops. Very fun. Incidentally, I have by now sampled croissants, crepes, and french bread, plus some fried duck. I feel I've gotten a good taste of French cuisine. And I'm honestly rather tired.  (No, I did not get sick.  Take that, winter rain.)

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