5 p.m. Friday, March 18—
Eight hours after departing l’hotel this morning, I’m back in my room.
In Inventing a Nation, Gore Vidal writes “I went for a walk . . ., mildly aware that I was intersecting with history, which has its own tidelike rhythms, unknown to us at the time; and forever after too.”
Today has been the day of walking, and of intersecting with history.
As I sit here drinking Badoit mineral water, I struggle to wrap my mind around all that I’ve seen today. We started with a bus tour, going by or through these Parisian sites:
- The Cathedral of Notre Dame
- The Latin Quarter
- Place de la Concorde
- Eglise St. Marie Madelin
- Les Invalides
- The Pantheon
- Opera Garnier
- The Arc de Triomphe
- Musée D’Orsay
- The Louvre
- Luxembourg Gardens
- Palais de Luxembourg (Senate)
The first WOW moment today: turning right off of the bridge over the Seine onto the riverside drive on the Left Bank, and seeing the east end of Notre Dame bathed in light, the flying buttresses looking feeble at this distance as they hold up the walls of the ambulatory and the chancel and high altar. I actually teared up at the wonder of the sight.
Another WOW moment happened an hour later at the Eiffel Tower. The immensité of the monument is more than any words can describe. To see it from the road by the military school is to have your breath taken away. We’ll be UP IN the Eiffel Tower before the tour is over, but today was our closest brush with yet. (Stephanie, our EF tour guide, is with us in the group pic. Jake and Luke didn’t know I was taking a pic of them taking pics too.)
And the Arc de Triomphe, whether from the perspective of the Place de la Concorde (as below) or next to it . . . well, it awes and overwhelms. I recall the pictures of Hitler riding down the avenue, with the Arc ahead of him . . .
After a 90-minute driving tour of Paris, we left for Versailles, west of the city.
Versailles is monstrous huge, on a proportion that only a vain and brave man (et voilá, Louis XIV) could imagine. We lunched at a brasserie (toasted ham and cheese, green salad, and mineral water), then entered by the group entrance. Since we’d not seen the front vista, we were taken by surprise at the splendor of the Chapel Royal . . . the King’s Chambers . . . the Hall of Mirrors . . . the view of the gardens . . . the Queen’s Chambers. Today’s crowds were monstrous too, so the visit wasn’t as relaxed as an early morning visit might have been. (Curious thing for us separation of church and state Americans—most of Europe is on four-day holiday weekend because of Ascension Day on Thursday! Paris is inundated and overrun and beset by Germans, Poles, Italians, and random other foreigners like us.)
After the buildings, several of us walked out to the gardens, where the Orangerie is now open, with palm trees and orange trees in symmetry to the south of the Palace. Here’s a picture of the grounds, and also a picture of me in the great hall of the Orangerie.
I’m reminded of something Simon Carrington once said to me and our choir from KU: “Living and traveling in cities is hard work.” At home I hope in my car and go. In Paris (and Chicago and NYC and London and Shanghai and so on) I have to walk to the subway or bus, wait for the subway or bus, travel on the subway or bus (and in traffic the bus moves slowly), walk to my destination. Everything takes longer and requires more expenditure of energy and thought than getting in my Sable and driving the three miles to work. I’m not complaining, but I’m certainly feeling the effects today!
We finished our afternoon in front of Notre Dame. The façade is much nicer to view than it was on my last visit in 1999. Like Parliament, St. Paul’s, and Westminster Abbey in London, Notre Dame has been cleaned. The throngs of people in line made us change plans, so we’ll see the inside tomorrow.
I’m proud of my students today. They’re on time, and they’re polite. They’re talking with people from the other groups. They agreed with me that perhaps we’d be better of starting Saturday morning early and getting to Notre Dame at 9, then to St. Chappelle at 10, so that we’d beat the crowds. They actually want a bit less crush of tourists, and they’re willing to be up early to satisfy that desire.
Tonight: a nearby British pub for food, computer time (free WiFi so the kids can all check their email accounts) and some ale. Tomorrow: a free concert at one of Napoleon’s churches.
Our bus driver today reminded me (facially, at least) of Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame: