Day 3 – Tuesday
Every long trip has one bad day. That’s why you go for week instead of two days. We meant to get up early to go to the catacombs, but did not think to get advanced tickets. And we severely overslept and my back was killing me. I tried my yoga stretches, which got me functioning, but still I was not the happiest man in Paris. A little breakfast at a local restaurant and then a long subway ride to the station near the catacombs. And then a long walk trying to find the end of the queue. In the cold. With a backache. After 45 minutes we had not even moved halfway up the queue, and so it was time to bail. Back on the subway to the hotel. How do we rescue the day? Time to go inside one of the greatest buildings in the world. Notre Dame Cathedral is so iconic that it is easy to forget how amazing it is. I still think the York Minster is just plain out more beautiful and spectacular, but I’ve never been in a more stately and magnificent house of worship. It was one of the first truly gothic cathedrals, and you can almost feel the weight of the stones soaring over your head. The windows live up to their reputation, especially the rose windows. It was disappointing that you cannot go into the upper level like you can at St Paul’s and other churches, but the main level is beautiful. An unexpected treat was finding a monument to Cardinal Noailles, the primate of France who was Zinzendorf’s friend. Yes, I can relate everything in the world to the Moravians! Unfortunately when we left Notre Dame we went to visit a very disappointing archeological dig, and there at the entrance, a young female pickpocket made off with some of our cash. Despite our diligence. Thankfully it was only cash, and not that much.
We thought we would wander around the Cite for a bit and maybe have a coffee, but suddenly the weather changed as if it to match our mood. Driving rain and sleet. Yes, sleet in April in Paris. With a crowd of tourists we dashed into a café, and thankfully there was a table available. Not coffee, this time. When the storm passed, we found Sainte Chappelle, and what had been a bad day became an extraordinary day. It was the chapel built by King Louis IX in the 13th century as a free-standing small gothic church in the middle of the palace. It is literally surrounded by the Palace of Justice today. The main floor is surrounded by the most beautiful stained glass I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of biblical scenes depicted in blue, green, and red glass. It reaches so high you cannot begin to guess what the figures are. The sun came out while were there and it was like standing in the middle of a gemstone. The rose window in the back depicts the apocalypse of John, but it is the least violent apocalypse I’ve seen. And the vaulted blue roof with fleur de lies is stunning. I know that this was built by kings who exploited the people, but they certainly had style. I’m so happy that friends strongly recommended visiting this site.
After a much needed rest, we walked up to the Pantheon, which had just closed, and had a lovely meal at the Comptoir du Pantheon. It was so nice to be in a place frequented by students and scholars. Three people had their Macs open and were drinking coffee. I felt right at home. Our waiter was the friendliest person I’ve met in France, who was very understanding of two Americans. We decided to splurge after our rough day and shared a bottle of an excellent eco-friendly Rhone wine followed by the best braised pork chops with mushrooms I’ve ever eaten. Julie had a very tender leg of lamb, and I do believe that some duck liver was consumed as well. We walked around the Latin Quarter a bit, and visited a church named St Etienne du Mont. More famous was St Genevieve who had an abbey there. She helped convert Clovis the first king of the Franks, and he built her abbey. Her body lay there as a sacred relic until the Revolution when her remains were burned and through into the river. The Pantheon was originally built in her honor, but the revolutionaries took it over and made it a monument to intellectuals.
While wandering around the Latin Quarter, I was overwhelmed by the thought of all of the great thinkers who had studied or taught at the University of Paris. Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, John Calvin, and the list goes on. Is there any city like Paris? Rome is older and was the great city of antiquity. I love Rome. Florence is the great Renaissance city. Venice is beautiful. London is both ancient and modern and was briefly the center of the entire world. But Paris is unique, at least in the West. It is the city of scholars and artists, architects and artisans, dreamers and doers. It is a beautiful city that set the standards for Western culture for hundreds of years. What other city has seen the birth of universities and the revolutions that defined modern politics? The city of Robespierre and Madame Curie. There has been no century since the early Middle Ages when Paris was not important. Is it any wonder that so many American writers and artists were drawn to this Mecca of culture? I’m so glad we came.