Thursday, June 7, 2012

Several Surprizes on Ile de la Cite

Thursday, June 6, 2012
Paris, France

I am convinced that I am a walkoholic--put me on a road in a fab city with a map in my hand and I'm off. Either that or I'm a sucker for punishment. Because after everything I went through the last time Plantar Fascittis hit me, in London, four years ago, you'd think I'd have learnt my lesson, right? Wrong! Indeed, now that I know how to cope with the condition and because I have the absolute best pair of walking shoes in the world (Dansko Clogs), I have been pushing myself just that one step further.

So this morning, I decided to take it easy. God forbid a relapse of the foot pain! In fact, that might be the least of it. What will do me in is having to take the foot rest! Two whole weeks without moving from this's not even something that bears thinking about.

To help me stick to my resolve, I actually woke up after 8 am (instead of 5 am!)--which is such a good thing because it means I am finally over Australian jetlag. No doubt I have been going to bed only after 11. 30 pm--but then how can one possibly retire for the night when it is still bright outside? By the time I finished with breakfast, plotting and planning my forthcoming exploration and catching up with email, most of the morning had passed by. I fixed myself a cheese and pate sandwich for lunch and by 1.30 pm I was off.

Exploring Part of the Ile de la Cite:
DK Eyewitness Guide's walkabout Ile de la Cite looked too ambitious to be undertaken in one go--so I decided to divide the venture into two installments. For this afternoon's jaunt, I chose to do the bit that included The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and taking the RER to St. Michel--Notre-Dame found myself right in the midst of the island with possibly every tourist in Paris. I mean the square was just jumping. Outside on the Parvis (the square) I had to fight my way to get to the Main entrance for which there is no fee.

Just inside the great doors is a kiosk where I heard a woman with an American accent announce the fact that she was going to give a tour in English in 15 minutes-- at 2. 00pm. Parfait! That would give me 15 minutes for silent prayer in the very front of the church from which tourists are debarred. But how mistaken I was! In defiance of every sign that prohibited entry to those who merely wished to click pictures of the Rose Windows, the nave was also jumping! Well, there was no way to avoid it. I tried to block out the din and almost succeeded....when I heard the same voice over the PA system announce the English tour.

Guided Theology Tour in English of Note-Dame:
There were at least 25 people awaiting the lady who arrived with a sign and introduced herself. Granted, she did say that she was giving a tour that would last between 60 and 90 minutes...possibly the longest tour I have ever taken anywhere! She also did warn us that her tour was based on Christian Teaching as Represented by the Sculpture--so I guess I should  have expected what followed. Still, I have to say I was suprized that not a single date was mentioned and the only secular name I heard was that of Viollet Le Duc. Everything was generalized: she spoke in terms of the 13th century and 19th century, the Middle Ages, The Renaissance. I would have loved some detail about the techniques involved in the building of Gothic churches--but of such matters, there was very little.

For the most part, she stayed outside the Cathedral, either very close to the main doors or in the Parvis as she named the apostles carved on the walls and explained the iconography attached to their depictions (keys for Peter, tablets for Moses--who, for some bizarre reason, she kept naming with a peculiarly grave and gruff tone--a yardstick for Doubting Thomas). She also pointed out the newer 19th century additions to the portals and the parables they depict. A great deal of time was spent talking about "the Smoking Place" and explaining the significance of the cauldron and the flames!

After more than an hour, when most of us were flagging, we did finally go inside...and what did she talk about...but more theological messages contained in the stained glass windows. No mention whatsoever of Charles Le Brun's 'May' paintings that cover every single one of the side chapels (one was presented each May to the Cathedral by the different Medieval guilds). A passing reference to 'The Pieta' which is the central sculpture on the main altar--I bet the group did not know that Nicolas Coustou sculpted it or that the gorgeous wooden choir stalls were commissioned by Louis XIV in the 18th century in keeping with a promise he had made to his father. A lengthy oration on the pillars and the marks left by each stone cutter followed--I thought this was the only enlightening part of the tour.  Overall, I was deeply dissatisfied. So I guess I was shocked when one of the participants actually asked her if she had a background in Art History! "No", she said, "I wish. My background is the Bible". OK, that made complete sense to me. No wonder the tour contained no references whatsoever to the artistic aspects of the cathedral. Thank goodness for my book which filled in the gaps.

Little-Known Lanes on the Ile de la Cite:
On past visits to Notre Dame, all I have done is visit the cathedral and leave. This time round, I circled the exterior, noting the intricacy of the flying buttresses and the famous gargoyles. I walked down the Rue D'Arcole and discovered one souvenir store after the other selling the most beautiful souvenirs: aprons printed with Toulouse-Lautrec paintings, sets of coasters featuring Impressionist masterpieces, shopping bags featuring vintage soap packaging, porcelain mugs and cups and saucers with spoons built into their handles, table mats depicting Paris' traditional shop fronts: le boulangerie, le patisserie, le boucherie, le cremerie,  and so on. I mean not your run-of-the-mill kitsch...this was really charming stuff. I do wish I had the weight allowance to carry back some of these goodies. I know a lot of folks who would love them.

Further down the walk, I discovered a delightful side street called Rue Chanoinesse which has such a multiplicity of architectural styles on just one curving street as to charm me right off my feet. I actually had to sit down in the Square Jean XXIII that is dedicated to Pope John XXIII at the very back of the cathedral practically at the end of the island. Filled with roses that were just past their prime, it was a real surprize as I did not even know such a sweet haven of serenity existed.

Then as I was making my way to the metro station (and it was one of those glorious Art Nouveau wrought-iron affairs that are now so rarely spotted in Paris), I noticed Le Marche Aux Fleurs et Oiseaux (the Flower and Bird Market). And, of course, I had to pause there as well and take in the sight of hydrangeas and azaleas and other summer flowers. I did not see any birds but perhaps they used to be around in days gone by. I understand that Paris was once full of such markets but this is the only one remaining.

More Foodie Finds on the Champs-Elysses:
Well, as you can tell, I was naughty and did not stick to my resolve. The fact that it stays bright until really late doesn't help---I simply feel as if I have to use up every last ray of daylight! So taking the metro, I made my way to the Champs-Elysses to buy a dozen more caramel and hazelnut yogurt pots as I adore them. On the way to the store, I passed by Monoprix and I simply had to go and get my supply of Cote D'Or dark chocolate with hazelnuts. And when I found how cheaply everything was priced, well, then I had to buy some smoked salmon from Norway and some serrano ham from Spain and some salami from Genoa...not to mention my chocolate and then...there it was! The Carte d'Or ice-cream that I love--Caramel and Pecans. Of course, I had to get some!

Across the road was Laduree and how could I resist getting some of the Melange de Maison--my very favorite tea in the whole world?  Eventually, when I did get to M&S, guess what? They did not have a single pot of my favorite yogurt left. I was so bummed! Well, I could not leave empty-handed, so I picked up a Victoria Sponge--because how can you have tea without a slice of cake, right?

Equipped with my food buys, I finally made it home and without wasting a second, I sat down to a cuppa and a slice of cake--make that two! The evening passed blissfully with a shower and because I overdid the carbs at tea time, it was a healthy salad for me for dinner. I am getting very creative with the limited supplies in my pantry and concocted a rather good citrus dressing made with mayonnaise and orange marmalade! My roasted chicken loved it! Dessert guessed it, my Carte d'Or. I missed Llew because he is the ice-cream champion and I know he'd have enjoyed it.

It was about 11. 30 when I switched off the light.

PS: So far, so good with my feet! Touch wood!

A demain!

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