Stepping from the cool darkness of the Conciergerie into the blinding sunshine of a Parisian sidewalk is not only a stark contrast in photon intensity but also in the ways contemporary life interfaces with ancient artifacts, often forming humorous tableaux.
After our visit to dimly lit Medieval spaces, we had only one mandate for the rest of the afternoon. Stay out of direct sunlight. Sommer had finally arrived in Paris and it was blazing hot. A decidedly new travel challenge for us this year, since not only our visit with friends in the Minervois in January but all of our home exchanges so far in 2016, Barcelona, Granada, and Munich had one thing in common, dampness. The incessant rains during the past months did make travel more challenging but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the exploration of new territories – and we did have gorgeous days as well, no question. I wonder, though, if being chilly too often might have contributed to the somewhat below par reaction of my immune system to viral attacks lately. That heavy coat I missed so desperately at times in Southern Spain might have protected me a little better. Let that be a lesson to you for your own travel preparations. Warm modern fabrics made from Polartec fibers, for example, fit in the smallest pack and they’re easy to wash. All in all so much more convenient for travel than old-fashioned woolens. These days, there’s no excuse not to pack smartly!
We luxuriated in this wonderfully brilliant Parisian summer day as we followed the dappled shade under a canopy of towering trees past the Prefecture, through the Marché des Fleurs and the Home of Orchids to the nicely shaded Quai de la Corse. We didn’t have an action plan in our meanderings through the Île de la Cité, aiming vaguely for the 5th arrondissement around the Sorbonne to find a nice cafe to recuperate from the daunting pressures of being a tourist in Paris.
Taking a shortcut through Rue Chanoinesse we had to dodge the sun for a bit before turning right toward la Cathédrale Notre Dame just ahead of the charming brick building housing the ENM, the Parisian extension of the French National School for the Judiciary [École Nationale de la Magistrature or ENM]. The main campus of this most prestigious postgraduate school to train judges and public prosecutors is located in Bordeaux. It makes sense to find the ENM on the Île de la Cité, which has been home to the judicial system since early Medieval times.
Leaving the pope’s little park, the sun conveniently clouded over for our crossing of the archbishop’s bridge into the 5th arrondissement of Paris.
Everyone and her auntie has stopped on this bridge, turned back toward the cathedral and taken a photo. The gift shops and convenient stores have racks filled with postcards showing this perspective of the iconic landmark. Even I have a shot from each of my two visits in recent years. It’s compelling, one can’t help but depress the shutter release …
But Notre Dame isn’t the only curiosity in Paris. Tourist behavior is equally and endlessly intriguing. Like this bridal couple in the middle of a busy intersection.
Still laughing we turned into the small Rue des Grands Degrés and selected the Comptoir du 5ème to settle down for a refreshing glass of Sancerre.
It’s the second bistro in from the corner with a narrow sidewalk terrace holding just a few tables close to the building, which were dressed in crisp white linen for lunch, plus a couple of high bar tables right at the curb. Since we only wanted a drink, the owner started to shush us toward a bar table. But when we remained polite and agreeable he immediately relented and assigned us a low table accompanied by one of those typical shoulder-shrugs French males manage to hone to perfection. In fact, we thought it most likely that he had just realized how unlikely his chances were to receive any more lunch guests at this late hour, so he had no reason to force an elderly couple to clamber up on tall stools!
This neighborhood is filled with many mementos left from the past, but you have to look around to discover some of the charming details.
Eventually, we moved on, wandering through little streets, coming across architectural or decorative arrangments that never failed to make me smile, as, for example, this lineup of boutiques around the German bookstore.
When we were suddenly startled out of our summer ennui at the corner of Rue des Carmes and Boulevard Saint-Germain.
What is that edifice with the dome and colonnade? Let’s find out! And off we went in hot pursuit of the Panthéon, necropolis for many men and only three women, Marie Curie and two resistance fighters, Germaine Tillion, and Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz. Climbing the ‘Montagne Sainte-Geneviève’, one of the ancient Parisian hills, through Rue Valette past narrow sidestreets, tiny churches, and inviting restaurants we gradually approached the grandiose Place du Panthéon.
The Collège Sainte-Barbe and its remarkable history as an institution of higher learning requires a brief aside before we proceed to the Panthéon. The school was founded on October 1, 1460, and closed its door to secondary students in 1998. Since then it has become a research library in the university system. The list of alumni is truly astounding. Among them such well-known political and military names as Jean Jaurès and Alfred Dreyfus, who, by the way, hated being a boarder at St. Barbara so much that he moved in with his sister and only studied for his baccalauréat at the school premises, while Jean Jaurès, who later defended Dreyfus, seemed to have loved the camaraderie at school. Both have now moved just one block uphill, where they were interred in the Panthéon. A couple of slightly earlier students will also surely catch your eye. Two Basque young men, scions of noble families, one named Ignazio Loiolakoa, the other Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta. The former is better known as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, SJ, founder of the Society of Jesus and its first Superior General, while the latter became the Society’s co-founder and was canonized in 1622 as Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, patron saint of foreign missions. I thought you might enjoy this little tidbit of Parisian history.
The intriguing sign belonging to a bakery. Just not any baker, but the super cool Eric Kayser Alsatian bread empire.
We finally popped onto the Place du Panthéon and found a whole circle of almost overwhelming architecture. The Church of St. Etienne-du-Mont, the Lycee Henry IV, the Sainte-Geneviève Library, the Law School and so forth. One further comment regarding the size of these historical buildings, all still functioning in one capacity or another. Each one of them consists not only of the façades you see stretching along the streets, they form quadrangles with courtyards and secondary buildings. Some of them are as large as a city block.
Proceeding to the mausoleum proper, we had to admit it was awe-inspiring. Even if you object to the misogyny of burial slot allotment, as I do, the monument itself is pretty mind-boggling in its sheer size and dimension.
I’m obviously not into hero worship, but I’d like to mention that then-President Chirac unveiled a memorial plaque in the Panthéon in 2007 honoring two thousand and six hundred French civilians who had been previously recognized as RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel. Yad Vashem only honors the memory of gentiles who saved their Jewish neighbors from genocide at the risk of their own lives and without any evangelistic intention. It is good to see the French president carry the torch of recognition all the way into this Temple of Patrimony!
We were pretty bushed by then and ready to take the metro home. Funny, just a couple of weeks ago we took the metro to the Odeon[splatz] in Munich!