Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tales of the Ile de la Cite (Paris, Part 3)

This is the third part of my Paris trip from 2009. Originally posted on Facebook, now transferring it to the blog.

Oops! Looking back on the previous post, I made the mistake of saying that I met Fernando at Sainte Chappelle after I was the Musee D'Orsay. That was wrong because the Sainte Chappelle is not across from Deux Magots, that would be St. Germaine du Pres. I apologize for the mistake, hope you can forgive me and not be distrustful about anything else I write. ("What is this shit? He's LYING!")


This was the day that proved to be the most exhausting. I think it was the combination of having done so much walking and sight seeing already combined with one helluva day. I was really excited about this day because we were going to a place I had been looking forward to exploring: the cemetery of Pere Lachaise. So many famous people are buried here: Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Abelard and Heloise. But it was Gertrude Stein's grave that I was dying (ouch, bad pun) to see. She and Alice B. Toklas are buried together up in the northern area of the cemetery and I was ready. I had brought my old paperback of Stein's writings with me and at a flower shop, I bought a rose that I wanted to place upon her grave. (Stein did say, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.") Pere Lachaise is huge and I guess the best word to describe it is "French." This was no US cemetery with its clean lines, cut grass and shining headstones. These were mossy sepulchers, long forgotten bouquets and stone canopies. This was a place that was thick with solemnity. I mean, how much more moody can you get when huge crows are flying and cawing over the crematorium? Yeah, it was that kind of place. I loved it.The graves are interesting at who has a big place and who doesn't. Edith Piaf has a very quiet grave whereas former president Thiers has a huge Greek mausoleum. Abelard and Heloise had scaffolding around their grave site so for somebody living in Manhattan for 8 years, that seemed almost normal. Fernando stumbled upon the grave of Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. We didn't even know they were a couple. Jim Morrison's bust has been removed and his site is tucked into a very tight fit. Oscar Wilde has a very large headstone that is covered with lipstick kisses. I'm not sure how that tradition started but it's defaced the monument. You can see where they have tried to remove the traces only to be left with what looks like ghost kisses. Gertrude Stein's grave was a highlight. I placed the rose on her grave (and there were a few other new flower arrangements there as well) and then touched my book to her headstone. Yeah, it's a bit dramatic so sue me. It was because of an article on Stein six years ago in "The New Yorker" that gave me the desire to visit Paris in the first place. It took me longer than I thought to get there but I had finally made it, and was at her grave. Back in New York, I wrote in the book that I had touched this book to her grave on May 15, then realized it had been May 16th, so I had to cross it, correct it and then wrote "Shit!" the cemetery, we stopped to eat (I ordered and omelet but got scrambled eggs but it was delicious nonetheless) and then walked down to the Sainte Chappelle (this time, I'm sure this is the real place) which is renowned for its stained glass windows. It was an overcast day but my god, those windows defy description here. You just have to see them for yourself. And to think that before we went there, I was thinking to myself, "Oh god, do I want to see yet another church?" It turns out that yes, yes I did.

And as this was Saturday, we were in the right place at the right time for the citywide "Night at the Museum" night where the Parisian museums were free from 6 to midnight. So we went to The Louvre for free. And of course when one goes to The Louvre, you just follow the crowd and head right for the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini aka Mona Lisa in the Denon wing. My feet were killing me at this point and there were even more stairs to climb but I wanted to see her. Fernando noted that these crowds of people were running by all the other famous DaVinci works just to see the Mona Lisa but The Louvre keeps pointing you to her and by the time you're outside the gallery here the painting is located, you're so excited that you just barrel on in. Even better, it was in the newer gallery (not the one mentioned in that novel everybody read a few years ago) and Fernando said that he'd never had a better look at her. We were able to get relatively close. And not long after that was the Venus de Milo and the Etruscan works. Now it was getting almost impossible to walk, but I stayed the course. Ain't I a trooper?? The Louvre shames any museum merely because of the sheer size of it and to cope with that weird sense of inferiority, I kept telling myself that "Well, the Louvre wasn't BUILT as a museum and that's why it's so big whereas the Met was built as a museum." Funny how those little insecurities come out.

Okay, now I was so tired I could barely think. So what better way to rest than to walk another mile down the Rue Rivoli to the place where we here meeting people to have dinner? The place we went to for dinner was - you guessed it- Marronniers. I ordered a Caesar salad and the waiter dropped part of it on my lap but I didn't care; I was fascinated because he looked just like Jean Paul Belmondo in "Breathless." Plus, he had a great name: Florian.I don't remember much but I did make it back to the hotel and rested my feet.


It was Sunday and Thierry was off work. On this final full day, Marc and Thierry joined us for a bit as we came upon the bread festival outside of Notre Dame. I cannot expound enough on how good the French bread is there. We crossed over to the Left Bank and Marc was very excited to show us a little bookstore he thought we'd like. It turned out to be "Shakespeare and Company" which I'd been to twice already. Marc was disappointed because he thought he'd be showing us something new but in my book, you're still okay with me for showing me a bookstore. We went to the oldest Mosque in Paris (and I am sorry, I cannot remember the name) and they have a nice little garden where we had mint tea. Yes, I did not have a Coca Light there. Isn't that amazing? Except for the old beggar woman who cursed us for not giving her money, that was a nice little side trip. Sunil, Marc and Thierry headed back to their part of town and Fernando and I once again headed for The Louvre to hit the bookstore. I found a great picture book for kids that listed all the places I had been too with great illustrations, but I figured I could find it in the US. But I can't. Dammit! Just as Fernando and I were heading back to Marc and Thierry's place, something miraculous happened. The sun came out and the clouds went away. We had rainy weather in Paris for most of that week, and here we were toward the end of that last full day and the sun was shining. Sigh. It was beautiful to see Paris in the sunlight finally. Another thing I really like about Paris is that Sunday feels like Sunday. I remember sitting around my folk;s house on Sundays when I was growing up, and everybody seemed to be quieter and more relaxed than usual and that's how Paris felt that day. After a nice final dinner with the group, I went back to the heights of Montmartre and looked at the city from one of its highest points. There's the usual melancholy when you're on the final day of your vacation and despite my earliest misgivings about my hotel room, I found I was even going to miss that. And with even more time, I'll probably be telling people that I loved the hotel and it was wonderful because that's how memory works.And so there isn't much more to tell. The next morning, I got up and headed down to Marc and Thierry's one final time. Marc's vacation was over and he had to report to Marseilles for work so he was gone. There was a sort of "the circle has been broken" feel by his absence. I had one last meal of baguettes and Nutella and we headed to the airport. I shouldn't have waited 15 years until I took a big trip. I shouldn't have been so wimpy about traveling alone but it was worth it to experience Paris with friends, especially those who had been to the city before and knew the layout. So now the long awaited trip is a memory and I've probably forgotten to add little things about it in here, but I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.

Au revoir!

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