Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paris on Foot

Our hotel was on the left bank. One block from St Germain, three blocks from Notre Dame, which was our first stop. A cathedral of great antiquity, close to 1000 years old, it's interior is, for me, dominated by it's massive stained glass window. One of the most vivid memories I have of my first trip abroad when I was 15, I discover that  35 years later it had not lost it's ability to dazzle me. Leaving the great cathedral, we passed under the gargoyles perched upon it and marveled at it's flying buttresses and admired the stylized saints carved on it's walls.

As no buses or subway trains were running we crossed the broad plaza in front of the building and headed up the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. It was yet another warm, beautiful fall afternoon with bright sunshine emanating from brilliant blue skies.

I had been experiencing minor throat irritation for a couple of days. At this point the rawness in my throat had become much more severe and was accompanied by watery eyes. Thinking it was a reaction to the pollen stirred up by all the falling leaves in the places we had visited, I suggested we walk along the right bank as it seemed to have fewer trees.

From Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower is a hike. Along the way one passes the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and De Orsay museum among other notable sights of the city. We also stopped at several of the famed booksellers along the river purchasing an antique book featuring a beautiful red and black embossed cover. It joins a collection (yeah, another one) of vintage and antique books in our home.

By the time we reach the tower fatigue has set in. Thinking that if I just eat something I will be fine I push myself through the Eiffel photo ops, there is a particularly great spot for this on a terrace across the street from the tower, and then retire to a nearby cafe.

Our waiter is young, tall, thin and possesses one of the largest grins I have ever seen. He greets us and after he asks how we are my partner replies "Fine, and you?". With a flourish he answers "Magnifique! Wonderful!" We order omelettes, not unusual for lunch in France, also a fairly economical choice and I dig in hoping the protein will replenish my reserves and get me back to feeling something approaching normal.

The food helps, some, and we decide top return to our hotel by way of St. Germain. We take our time window shopping the high end boutiques that line the avenue. Along a side street we spot an old church. I quickly consult my guidebook, always at the ready when I travel, and discover it is the oldest church in Paris. We decide to pay it a visit. Inside it is a madcap mix of styles. Thousand year old columns hold up an equally ancient ceiling. The columns are decorated with faded paint which appears to date from the time of the churches initial construction. On the walls, by contrast, are murals in rich, vivid colors, depicting biblical scenes which were added hundreds of years later, yet are themselves hundreds of years old. This eclectic mix makes the church feel less forbidding and formidable that Notre Dame. It is welcoming and comfortable. My partner professes to like it better than it's more famous cousin.

Still fatigued, we return to our hotel and standing front to front, holding in our breath, manage to squeeze into the tiny elevator. We press the button for our floor before entering the lift as, once inside, there is no room to raise your arms to do so., We lay down for a quick rest prior to taking in Paris at night.

The lights of Paris are not as romantic as those in Florence. They do not match the theatricality of those in Brussels or the nighttime skyline and streets of my home city of Chicago. Although individual buildings are beautifully lit, they are too far apart from one another to create a dramatic whole. To my eye the twinkling lights encasing the Eiffel Tower and he rotating spot atop it's pinnacle seemed almost garish. At home, visible from our rear windows, is a Gothic church tower located several blocks away from our building. At night a bank of lights illuminate it letting it's limestone beauty stand on it's own. It is lovely and dignified. Sometimes less is truly more.

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