Monday, April 29, 2013

Paris a Go Go

Conciergerie, entrance to the kitchens

What a busy day! Today we have started our 6-day Paris Pass, which cost a lot, but you get to go to pretty much all of the major stuff in this town, and take the subway, so today we did six things afforded by it. We are going to max out this puppy, if it kills us.

Here's what we did, like crazies, in only one day:

Marie Antoinette thinks, what if I'd let them eat, maybe some of my cake. I mean, I really had a lot of freakin' cake, and I never was going to eat all of it....
3d experience of Paris in Archaeological Crypt
  • The Archaeological Crypt of Paris, a museum of the History of Paris, about 35 feet under the street in front of Notre Dame. There are Roman ruins and the stones of medieval houses made of repurposed Roman blocks, their latin inscriptions and leafy capitals still visible, and the remains of the old Seine-side docks down there, with plenty to learn about. And this was supercool because it had many interactive 3d models of the city at different times in history, including a detailed reconstruction of the various building stages of Notre Dame. It's fun for me to imagine Paris as a small Roman outpost city, and then a medieval fortress beseiged by Vikings. Rick Steves said the place merited only 15 minutes. We spent 45.
The Conciergerie, the Old Royal Stronghold, and Prison and Court of the Revolution

  • The Conciergerie was originally where the kings of France held court, before the Louvre rose up on the Right Bank and was expanded and made progressively more and more fancy and monumental. The Concergerie then became a court and prison during the Revolution, and eventually was the place where Marie Antoinette waited to be bundled off to La Guillotine. A visit to the Conciergerie begins as you step down into a huge gothic space that could have inspired the dwarves' great hall in The Lord of the Rings. It is the first floor of a castle of the Middle Ages with soaring gothic limestone arches above, and it's amazing that it's still here. Then you sit and watch a blow by blow slideshow on the Conciergerie's key role in the Revolution, the experience of an accused, how they would enter the prison, where their trial would take place, where they would be held, and take their doomed and hopeless exercise with the other prisoners, and finally, where they would be prepared for death. Then you walk through these rooms, seeing the place where they prepared the condemned for execution by cutting the hair and tearing open the back of the chemise. There is a table with a beautiful and scary pair of scissors just waiting to be used. And, of course, Marie Antoinette herself is there in effigy with her back to us, praying as she waits for trial. This macabre room is a reconstruction, because her brother-in-law Louis XVIII, when he got on the throne, demolished the old rooms and created in their place an expiatory chapel dedicated to Marie Antoinette, with an altar, and a stained glass window showing her initials, and dark walls decorated with silver tears. Also on the walls are paintings of her last days, and in these there's an idealization of Marie Antoinette that borders on sanctification, with the Queen in glowing white clothes, her eyes toward heaven as if she is St. Joan, while the the bestial revolutionaries send her to her death. There is one room simply lined with large plaques listing the names of those killed during the Terror. It was over two thousand seven hundred people. We looked for Stoney's family name Ledoyt there, and lots of spelling variations, and thankfully, found nothing. But we imagined what it must be like for those who can find the names of their relatives there. The Conciergerie is a great place to get a sense of the complexities of human nature and the challenges of creating a better world from a system of dramatic inequity. At best, it's a cautionary tale.
Windows of St. Chapelle

  • Near to the Conciergerie is St. Chapelle, which is a jewelbox of gothic stained glass built by Louis the Ninth to house his fancy new relic fresh from the Crusades, the Crown of Thorns. This is being restored, and there was an interesting video showing all the care that is being taken to brighten and restore the windows, retaining the original look. The view of the tall ceiling with colored light streaming in is eye-popping, and not to be missed.
  • After a refreshing stop at Quigley's Irish Pub, in which I learned that my last name is Northern and a bit Protestant, from the friendly Irish Catholic barkeep, we had a wine tasting at O Château, near St. Eustache and Les Halles. We learned that anything called a 'Domaine' is a small wine producer, and that a white wine in a green bottle is usually dry, whereas a white wine in a clear bottle is usually demi-sweet or sweet. The wines were good, a Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, a Rose from Provence, and a Bordeaux from the Dordogne, and the tasting was included with the Paris Pass. The prices of the bottles, had we wanted to buy, were at least twice as pricey as they should have been. Our fellow tasters were mostly English speakers, some from Scotland, some from South Africa, and they were a lot of fun.
Our Scottish Jokester Friends at O Château

After the wine tasting we visited the courtyard of the Louvre at Cafe Marly and had a very expensive half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which we justified by remembering that we'd shared a lunch of chicken gyro and fries takeaway served to us by Madame DaFarge at the Cafe Soleil for 5 euros 50. The view of the Pyramid at the Louvre was almost worth it. Stoney enjoyed the many willowy waitresses with very long legs and very short skirts.

  • Finally, we took the subway from the Musée d'Orsay stop to the Eiffel Tower to catch the Bateaux Parisiens cruise of the Seine, which took forever to load and unload, but was a silly good time, full of French singing and giggling, and gave us pastel sunset views of the key monuments, including the Conciergerie, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay.
Conciergerie at Dusk

Because we were out until ten pm, we got to see some things lit up as we stumbled back to our digs on the Isle St. Louis.

Notre Dome in the Blue Hour
View of Notre Dame from Isle St. Louis

Today, we take on the Louvre. Wish our feet luck!

Au revoir from Paris!


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