Sunday, June 2, 2013

City of Light

There were dark clouds over the city that Sunday, but mostly they stayed to the south and east, and we had sunshine by the end of the day. After we finished listening to the bells at Notre Dame we headed down the still-echoing streets towards the gluten-free paradise of Helmut Newcake for a late midmorning snack. Unfortunately the map we were using was printed upside down, as are so many maps of Paris, and I ended up leading my increasingly-hungry parents through a maze of streets. Advantage: seeing parts of Paris I'd never seen before. Disadvantage: getting pointed lectures on the proper use of maps, orientation of self to said maps, and whether my next Christmas present should be a compass.

We walked by the Pompidou Center, which Mom didn't like at all. There was a long line of people waiting to get into something on the street side of the building, and the line was still there when we walked back that way later after lunch. I asked someone at that point what they were there for, and she said they were all waiting to get into the library. The Bibliothèque publique d'information must be something special, for people to wait hours for entry.

More collections of information are found at the Paris National Archives building, the records of all of the bureaucratic paper-shuffling so integral to the functioning of this country, dating back to the 6th century. We didn't go in, but wandered the gardens instead, before wandering back out and continuing (circuitously) to Rue Bichat.

We finally did arrive at the gluten-free bakery and got some lemon-ginger poundcake and financiers to go, then had lunch at Le Petit Cambodge just down the street. The spring rolls were just as delicious as I had remembered. After lunch we got back out onto the streets and walked down to the Seine and discovered that in fact there's an almost straight-line route between Rue Bichat and Notre Dame that takes a third of the time that the loopy meandering did on the way there. I heard more mutterings about compasses and maps, but pretended not to.

he river was running so fast and high that the water taxi Batobus had closed off its lower four stops and only went up to the Eiffel Tower from the Louvre and back. They were charging less for the abbreviated route, though, and it's a fun way to get down the river to the Champs de Mars. And it helped complete our "on a boat in various regions of France" list: first the trip out of Cassis on the Mediterranean, then the week on the Marne canals, and now a quick jaunt on the Seine. If we had managed to rent a sailboat or something yesterday to go out into the English Channel we would have covered the French waterways from south to north, but we stayed on the beach. Something to add to the list for the next visit.

No matter how many times I see the Eiffel Tower, I never get tired of looking at it. Such delicate open ironwork for such a massive structure. We considered trying to get tickets to go up but the lines were really long, both to buy the tickets and to ride the elevator, though the line was (naturally) shorter for the staircase route. I didn't realize that the tower is open until nearly midnight, and some night when the weather is better I'd like to go up in the tower to look over the lights of Paris. We talked about going to the top floor of the Tour Montparnasse, not far from the hotel, after dark, as it has a panoramic view of Paris as well, but by the time it was dark enough to get a good view of the City of Light, we were asleep ...

It wasn't particularly warm, but it was sunny by the time the water taxi dropped us off at the Louvre stop, so we walked through the Tuileries towards the Place de la Concorde. Not much was blooming yet, but the irises were pretty. People were sitting and chatting in the chairs set up around both the round pond and the octagonal one, and everyone was turning their faces up to the sun.

The Tuileries Palace once closed off what is now the open-ended rectangle of the Louvre buildings, the home of kings and queens up until the French Revolution. Catherine de Médicis had the palace built in the middle of the 16th century, along with the formal gardens. The gardens remain, as do her gardens at the Château de Chenonceau.

Works of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century line the broad pathways. Runners sprint back and forth under the trees, or jog slowly by. Children use long sticks to push boats around the ponds, young couples push baby strollers past the statues, and when it's nice outside people bring their sandwiches to the park benches to eat at lunch. There used to be a menagerie on the palace grounds, but now there are only goats cropping the grass, and ducks in the small canals along the sides.

From the Place de la Concorde you can look back through the gardens to the Louvre, or out in the other direction to the Place de l'Étoile. And if you look down at the paving at your feet, you can see a plaque that says you're standing where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed. Seeing that cast a sudden shadow over the late afternoon sunshine, as if the water sparkling through the air from the fountains on either side would never be enough to wash the memories of blood from the stones. And all around us, Paris rolled onwards, triumphant.

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