30 August 2007

Historical Paris

Today I went to two places that had been on my list. First was Notre Dame (which means "Our Lady"), the giant cathedral that took two centuries to build and a couple centuries to rebuild as well, since at the time Victor Hugo wrote his book about the place, it was in horrible disrepair and needed everything from new windows to a good scrubbing to heads for the statues. It's an imposing structure:

Part of its imposingness is the fact that there are always huge crowds of tourists around, so I have to give up on any hope of passing for a French person, or at least a Canadian.

Here is a picture of the archway over the center doors, which is covered in relief statues.


I didn't spend a long time inside, but I did pay a couple Euros to visit the treasury, which was quite interesting. It houses a lot of Church artifacts (medals, chalices, paintings, vestments, and so on) that the Cathedral has acquired over the years. However, it's surprising that in a church that has been around for about 800 years, the majority of the items in the treasury are from the 1800s or later, with just a handful from the 17th and 18th centuries. I overheard a man explaining to his kids that, during the revolution, the people didn't only revolt against the government. They revolted against all sources of power, including the Church, and they destroyed most of its property, though it had historic value. I had known about the Church's losses during the Revolution (most of the statues on the outside of Notre Dame, old Testament figures in the "Gallery of Kings," were beheaded during the Revolution, assumed to be French kings. The statues have since been restored, and their heads are in the Museum of the Middle Ages) but I hadn't realized how complete the losses had been.

I decided that, since the weather was beautiful and I had a good book to read, I wouldn't mind standing in line for an hour in order to climb 400 stairs to the towers. There's a great view, it feels like a great accomplishment because you get so winded, you can see all of Paris, and there are GARGOYLES! They make it worth it: there are plenty of other places with a great view and a long climb, like the Panthéon, which is free this Sunday. But Notre Dame is where the gargoyles are, so Notre Dame is where I went! Here are some pictures of Paris viewed from above. A general view, one that shows the Eiffel Tower pretty well (I have no idea what the gold dome is on top of), one that shows Sacré Coeur, the white church on a hill, a picture I took of myself, and some of the amazing gargoyles.







After Notre Dame, I got a crêpe and walked. In Paris, you can pick a direction, walk for half a mile or less, and you'll reach a metro stop. Much to my own astonishment, I got to the metro and through some winding streets to the Musée Carnavalet with no mishaps! I didn't even have to turn around once, which is a record, I think. I decided to go to this museum partially because it has a lot of stuff relating to the history of Paris, but mostly because it's free :) Some parts were not so interesting, but some were very cool. I particularly liked a room that was full of signs from old businesses. In the 1600s and 1700s, enough of the population was illiterate that signs were intricate sculptures, carved signs, or metal shapes to indicate the service or the name of the place. For example, Aux Tours Argents was a silver-tone metal tower, A Tête Noire was a painted sculpture of a black man's head, and so on. A pair of giant scissors were the sign for a barber shop. Here is a picture of some of the signs:

One thing that sparked my curiosity, however, was that all of the names of the restaurants and shops started with à, au, or aux, the forms of the preposition "to/at." So instead of a restaurant being called "The Castle" it would be called "At the Castle." If anyone reading this knows why that would be, I'd appreciate an explanation. It's certainly a linguistic feature of French that has died, since I haven't seen modern restaurants named in that way.

That room also had pieces of old stained glass windows, set into white glass windows. Some of the fragments were very small, like a single sheep, and some were portrait-sized. Here are some of my favorites. The detail is amazing.



Most of the rest of the museum consists of recreated rooms from various castles under various rulers, with original furnishings and lots of portraits. Interesting, but only to look at in a cursory way. I did like the hallways with paintings of Paris over the years, where you can see exactly how the city has grown. In an out of the way corner, though, I found a display case that had... Marie Antoinette's shoes. She's not one of my favorite historical figures or anything, but it was interesting to see her shoes. I'd estimate them to be about size 4, and they look dreadfully uncomfortable.


One thing I love about Paris is that you stumble upon wonderful places with very little effort. At the end of the street the museum is on I found St. Paul's Cathedral, which was interesting. It was nicer than Notre Dame in one particular way: there were more people praying inside than snapping photos. I did both. It feels more like a church than a museum, unlike Notre Dame.
Here is a picture of the exterior.


On my way up the street towards a metro station, I passed a fruit stand with some nice looking figs. I bought five, and figs reminded me of prosciutto, which reminded me of cheese, which reminded me of milk, which reminded me of bananas, which reminded me (for reasons unknown) of ramen. That became my shopping list, and from that I'll compose my dinner. I feel perfectly peaceful, and today was a great day.
La vie est belle.

1 comment:

marissa said...

Kel! How exciting is that! Looking at these photos made me so jealous! I'm here putting attendance sheets into binders. I look forward to watching your adventure unfold here. Have a crepe for me!