Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Oh, Paris!

This past summer, as part of my birthday trip, I visited Paris for the first time.  I wasn't sure what to expect. I've read a lot about the city, heard friends' stories, seen many movies.  Some people love it - they say it is their favorite city in the world.  Others have been less enchanted, complaining about the rudeness and lack of friendliness. My goal was to keep an open mind and see what I would experience for myself.

Maggie and I had each been sick on our trip so our energies were low.  We knew we would have to skip some of the common attractions, that we would have to choose carefully how to spend our time there.  That may have given us a taste of the city that we would otherwise have missed.  We spent a lot of time walking, with a few bus and subway rides to supplement our travels. We found ourselves ambling through neighborhoods, stopping in little shops for fruit or medicine, watching people doing ordinary things. We found most people to be very friendly and helpful - patient with our poor attempts to ask for things in French.

On  a Sunday morning we went to the Luxembourg Gardens which were within an easy walk of our apartment.  We pulled up chairs close to the pond,  and settled to watch older men sailing elaborate remote controlled boats.  Then a vendor arrived pushing a cart piled high with brightly painted wooden boats - and suddenly children began running up, handing over money to rent one, and heading eagerly to the water.  The men pulled their boats out to make room for the kids - and probably to save their own more fragile vessels from damage.

Another morning we were on our way to Notre Dame Cathedral and passed the Pantheon.  I would not have thought to visit this landmark, but it turned out to be very impressive.  I liked the spacious beauty of the architecture, the lack of fussiness.  It had been built originally as a church to honor St. Genevieve. There are murals on the walls that depict the story of her interventions on behalf of the poor.  One of the scenes showed people kneeling in petition. It was touching to see that the soles of their feet were dirty. Eventually the church was turned over to become a secular institution where important intellectuals were honored and many of them buried in the crypt - Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Emile Zola, Madame Curie, Voltaire, Alexander Dumas. In keeping with the tradition of honoring those who have dedicated their lives to upholding the values of the republic, there was an exhibit of four French citizens - two men and two women who had played important parts in the resistance during WWII.

The day before we left, July 13th, we decided to go to the Eiffel Tower.  Preparations were under way for the Bastille Day celebrations so the area was crowded.  I had not had a great appreciation for the tower in the past - it looked like a giant erector set to me.  But it is really very beautiful, with  intricate iron work - and so huge. I had read Edward Rutherford's Paris, a novel that describes the building of it, and that enhanced my appreciation. It was thrilling to be there!

As I think about my brief visit this summer, it is the experience of the neighborhoods and people that makes my heart ache for this city.  It is the recollection of the Pantheon, being flooded by  memories  of those who gave so selflessly for liberty and justice that stirs my admiration for the spirit of this city. May we be faithful to those values and that spirit as we move into the troubled days ahead.