Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Paris, Day 3 -- The Door Was Open, So I Went In - Crypt Archeologique, Sainte Chapelle and Shakespeare & Co.

27 July 2011

Things I forgot to tell you yesterday:
  • I saw a man with a Campbells Soup can tatooed on his calf.  Warhol devotee, or soup lover?  What is art anyway?
  • The friendly older blond woman who is often out on the street near the apartment building is a lady of the evening.  But she works days.  I guess if you've been at it long enough, you can set your own hours.
  • I stumbled onto the Pompidou Center (for modern art) on my way back from tapas.  Apparently, it's just around the corner...
Now it is afternoon.  I have been in touch with E. -- a student of all things medieval and French at Princeton University -- who will be in the city for the next few weeks.  I am looking forward to meeting up with her when she has recovered from her travels.

I ate a wonderful lemon and sugar crepe when I arrived on the island, served paper.  I got lemon sugar all down the front of my purse and slacks, but it was worth it.  (Most of the sugar brushed off, after it dried.)

After the crepes came the crypts.  Specifically, the Crypte Archeologique.

The crypt is a room full of stone, and it smells of damp earth and rock.  To reach it, you descend a set of stairs, cut into the square in front of Notre-Dame.  You can see the foundations of the city -- as one city was built on top of another, and on top of another, over thousands of years.

It is good to be reminded that many of the places I've learned about in history classes weren't necessarily different places; sometimes, they were the same place at a different time (and under new management).  I can see the maps of Europe overlaying each other in my mind...

My two favorite things about the crypt:  a little Roman soldier, and a hand-written "Do not touch" sign on an excavated pillar.
My little Roman soldier.

After the crypt, I needed coffee, and decided to have it on the other side of the bridge -- my first visit to the Left Bank.  And what do I immediately stumble into but the celebrated Shakespeare and Company bookstore!  I felt an electric shiver run through me, a flush of joy and recognition.

I went to a little cafe across the street for my coffee before venturing into the bookstore.  I sat outside and wrote... and watched tourists surge down the sidewalk in waves from their tour busses, Notre-Dame across the way, a nice French couple beside me (though we had too "apu" (little) of a common language to really converse), and the very pretty Parc Lagrange in front of me.

All right.  Coffee finished.  Now: books!  Could Saint Chapelle possibly be as beautiful a sight?

Hours later.

I have had many adventures, planned and unplanned, and am now sitting in a little restaurant around the corner from the apartment, eating a nice big bowl of Pho soup -- which is just as warm and comforting on a rainy French evening as it is on a rainy American one -- or on a Vietnamese one, where it comes from, I imagine.

Shakespeare and Company was everything I love in a bookstore.  Packed with books, floor to ceiling, but relatively well-organized.  Unapologetically keen on certain authors.  Small shrines to favorite writers tucked into odd corners.  Places to sit and read.  Narrow passages that require careful navigation between browsers and make turning each corner a happy surprise.

Theres a piano upstairs, kind of tucked into a bookcase, and a young Japanese man sat down to play a bit (and was fantastic).  There's a typewriter up there, too, and little signs encourage anyone who feels inspired to sit down and write.

I browsed happily for a bit, then walked out into the rainy afternoon.  (If you've seen "Midnight in Paris," be assured that I'm the sort of girl who likes to walk in the rain.  I am an Oregonian, after all...)  I meandered through the flower market, since it was on the way, then queued up for Sainte-Chapelle.

Paris apparently makes me chatty, because I was soon enjoying a lovely conversation with the two young Korean women behind me -- coworkers and friends who are spending a week here in Paris together.  Pretty soon the nice couple behind them was taking our picture together, and telling us about their daughter who is living in London, and inspired them to take this tour of Paris, London, Germany and Luxembourg.  They hailed from Illinois, about an hour south of Chicago.

It didn't take long for the five of us to get through security and the ticket line, and make our way inside.

Sainte-Chapelle -- "a gem of High Gothic architecture," according to the guidebook -- was built between 1242 and 1248 in accordance with the wishes of Louis IX (the future Saint Louis) to house the relics of the Passion of Christ that he had acquired.  The most famous of these relics -- the crown of thorns -- was purchased for a price that far exceeded the cost of building the chapel.  If you could see the chapel, you'd realize it must have been a LOT.  I thought it was a gorgeous gem of a place.  And then I realized I was just in the downstairs "lower chapel," where the palace staff had worshipped.  The real stunner was upstairs...
The downstairs chapel.

The upstairs chapel.  Walls of glass and light.

The crown of thorns into the decorative carving/painting.  The relic itself was kept beneath for a long time, before being moved to the Treasury in Notre-Dame.

The Western Rose Window.

Sainte-Chapelle, from outside.

After a good look-about, I said goodbye to my Korean friends and headed back toward the apartment.  Little did I know that two more sights would fling themselves into my view before I made it to dinner and home again!

I'd been passing by what I thought was a church each day, a beautiful pillared structure that stands near where Sebastopol meets the Seine.  The door to the park it sits in was open, so I went in.  And I found that it wasn't a church at all, but rather the Tour Saint Jacques -- a late Gothic tower, dating from 1523, that is all that's left of a church where pilgrims rendezvoused.  Later, Blaise Pascal, the 17th-century mathematician, physicist, philosopher and writer, used the tower for experiments.  The church part was destroyed after the Revolution.  (I'm liberally quoting DK's Eyewitness Travel guide again.)

At the moment, there's an art exhibition going on there that combines new and old, technology and art and religious belief, into a fantastic amalgam.

Set around the edges of the main platform are multiple large movie screens.  On each of them, a pilgrimage is playing.

Artist Gabriel Diaz calls his exhibit "The Ways of Saint James."  Over the course of six years, Diaz journeyed on foot along 5,000 kilometers of the main Jacobean routes in Europe, that were used for centuries to cross the continent.  He took a photograph every eleven steps.  The images were then transformed into the videos that are playing on each screen -- each showing a different route.  His very own pilgrimages!  Which sometimes move through land that probably looks very much the same as it did hundreds of years ago.  And sometimes he passes a Winnebago.  They are really mesmerizing to watch.  If I hadn't been hungry, I would have stayed and watched longer.

But I was hungry.  So I moved on.

I was taking Rue Saint Martin again, which runs parallel to Sebastopol.  It has all the little shops and restaurants, which are lovely, but I'd also read about it at the Crypt Archeological.  Rue Saint Martin was an old Roman road, which was being used back when the foundations in the crypt were holding up Roman houses and baths.  No wonder it's so cool!

I passed by yet another church... which I had before, but now the doors were open.  So I went into this one, too!  And found the strange, wonderful, eclectically decorated Church of Saint Merry.  I'm no historian, but I would guess that it's probably considered the "red-headed stepchild" of Paris churches...  It's named after an abbot who visited (then stayed, then died) in Paris in the 8th Century.  His name was Medericus -- and according to the flyer, he was also known as "Merry" and was acclaimed Patron Saint of the Right Bank.  According to the guidebook, it was built in the "flamboyant Gothic" style.  It's flashy, all right!  But it also seems like people use it all the time.  It has a lived in look, for something so fancy.  Twice a week they hold music events, and there are services on Sunday.

I do like their windows.

And their Pieta.
So!  Crepes, crypts, churches, bookstores and art exhibits.  And new friends made along the way.  That was my pilgrimage of the day.

Where should I go tomorrow???


Chris K said...

Oh Ellen! I'm hooked on your adventures. Please keep the entries coming!

Tim said...

Definitely visit the Musee Rodin sculpture garden at some point!

Anonymous said...

Hooray! I'll remind you that my favorite view of Paris was from the level that is at the top end of the Pompidou--I think it was around dusk. What a great area--that's where your flat is?


Anonymous said...

If it's nice (why is it so cold here??), you could spend a nice afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens with a book and a pastry. If you do go over to that area, make sure you go to the Saint Etienne du Mont church:Église_Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
It's right next to the Pantheon but is much prettier.
The other great thing in that area is the Cluny Museum, which is the main medieval art museum (do we see a theme here?):
Even non-medievalists think it's pretty neat!


Anonymous said...

p.s. The Louvre is open on Wednesday and Friday evenings until 9:30. This is one of the best times to go. Would you be up for going tomorrow evening, with some dinner first?


EM Lewis said...

Thanks for commenting, everybody!

Chris -- I will!

Tim -- I love Rodin's sculptures, and that museum is definitely high on my list! It sounds like you loved it...

Peter -- my flat is about five or six blocks from the Pompidou Center. Such a great location! I have been past, but not inside the Pompidou yet. But thank you for reminding me to go to the top. I love views!

Eliza -- it is so amazing to have an expert on medieval France as my advisor!! Thank you for the tips. Those sound wonderful! My Paris Greeter tour has actually been rescheduled to Friday (oy!) -- but I would *love* to have a Louve evening! Maybe Wednesday? What do you think? I want to see you before that, though.

Hugs to all,


Mary Aalgaard said...

Wow! You packed a lot into one day. What a grand adventure! Journey on!