Sunday, April 10, 2011

paris journal 2

We've been thoroughly enjoying our temperate days here! And to think there's even more to come.

Thursday afternoon and evening, we tooted around the neighborhood, then handed Greta off to a babysitter while our friend (and future sister-in-law!) Sarah Beth joined us for a beautiful dinner at a French restaurant.

We dined out on the sidewalk, as the people and cars went by, and the fresh air blew. The weather here has been unstintingly sunny — not at all the April showers we'd expected. Catherine and I each had a mushroom-cheese toast, and Sarah Beth ordered a menu item whose name she didn't recognize on her French menu, but on our (thoughtfully provided) English one was translated as a sausage made of "variety meats."

The sheer disgustingness of that phrase, meaning who-knows-what in culinarily adventuresome France, was outweighed by her eagerness to try the creamy mustard sauce; she'd just perfected a recipe of her own for it and wanted to compare. Partway through, as the reality of Variety set in, we gave her one of our mushroom-cheese toasts. Errk. Couldn't bring myself to try it.

We got up, did some more grocery shopping, and bought ourselves a booklet of ten metro tickets. We figure we're in walking distance of several places, and won't need more than that (that's just 5 tickets for the two of us with a couple-of-hour window on each ticket).

Freshly ticketed, we hopped onto the Paris Metro and metroed over to the Eiffel Tower. Massive! For a while it was the tallest thing on earth, and even now its proportions, so elegant at a distance, swell when you're closer. We hung out for a long time in the shady park below, playing with Greta on a grassy knoll, then went up, looked all round the beautiful city, tried to spot what was where, and enjoyed the sunny day.

Along the way to and from, we also checked out some shops, most of which sold fairly cheesy souvenirs. But we're keeping our eyes open.

Back in our neighborhood, we took a light evening nap for Greta's sake, then went out and sat at a lovely relaxed cafe for some ice cream and coffee. Catherine's ice cream was made of three flavors, arranged like a beautiful flower blossom. Just delicious! Not quite Zanoni and Zanoni, but pretty dang good.

Apparently, Friday was an awfully strenuous day for the little girl, and so we took it a bit easier on Saturday, hanging out in our beautiful neighborhood, buying some delicious lemon-sugar crepes at a street stand, and causing several hundred people to coo and fuss over Greta. She of course returned the favor every time: she likes whatever she looks on, and her looks go everywhere.

The sirens of Parisian public emergency cars (as opposed to car alarms) are very French-sounding. They're two-tone. In America, we're used to police and fire and ambulance sirens that veer up and down in pitch, describing a sine wave: rrrEEErrrEEErrrEEErrrEEErrrEEErrr.... But over here the sound goes back and forth between a higher and lower pitch: dee-naa-nee-naa-nee-naa....

The funny thing is that they occur on almost every interval. Almost. There's a great old joke about a suicidal jazz musician who, at last resort, cheers himself by playing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," only to keep forgetting the bridge; convinced he's a failure, he throws himself out the window, and his final impression before he dies is the sound of the Paris ambulance: the minor-third dee-naa-nee-naa-nee-naa that forms the memorable first notes of the bridge.

Except that's the one interval that I haven't heard at all echoing through the streets. As expected, I haven't heard anything wider than a perfect fifth, but every night we've been serenaded by echoing major seconds (sing "Happy birth-day to you, to you, to you"), major thirds (the typical ding-dong of a doorbell or the first notes of the Westminster church chimes), perfect fourths ("oh, I've been work-in' on" [the railroad]), perfect fifths (that open sound you get from horns at the hunt), even the tritone (burned into the memories of Gen-Xers as "Crest Gel! Crest Gel!"). And I just now heard one going by using a minor sixth (Think Love Story: "Where do I begin..."). All this and, so far, no minor third. Strange!

Another fulsome day! The sun shone triumphantly, confounding both Eliot and Chaucer — those drippy Brits — and possibly burning us just a little.

We decided to strike out north, toward the Île de la Cité. On our way, we passed the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, so we jotted on over a couple of blocks, to be greeted by a capacity crowd of sunny-Sunday-enjoyers. The vision was an update of the famous Seurat: people in jeans and T-shirts and shorts and skirts, all ages and sizes, chatting and socializing and soaking up the great weather in a beautiful setting.

Further along, what ho! the Pantheon! We veered over and circled it, admiring the excellent unimpeded view of the Eiffel Tower in one direction and the massive classical structure in the other. Right by it is the church of St. Etienne du Mont, so oddly beautiful in its asymmetrical twists and turns.

And it's cool, cool, cool inside. (Maybe we were just hot, hot, hot.)

A brief rest within its gentle grandness, a rambling walk through charming little off-the-beaten-path alleyways and past charming little off-the-beaten-path cafes, and we crossed the bridge onto the isle, where we went across to Notre Dame again, this time in the late evening.

I'd hoped to get in and see how the Rose Window looked from inside: it was right around 6:30 in the evening, so the setting sun would have been beaming straight through it. (Cathedrals, as you know, always face their altars east, which means the back entrance, usually the main entrance, is dead west.) But there was a service underway, quite well-attended. The archbishop was in the midst of what sounded like a clemently passionate sermon. Though tourists still wandered along the sides, the whole main part was blocked off. Nonetheless, quite an experience to see a working service there.

We continued on, welcomed back onto the mainland by the stunning Hotel de Ville, basically the City Hall of Paris since the 1300s. Its current manifestation sums up everything that's great about Paris. It's one of the best exteriors in the world, aproned by a generous plaza. At one end there's a carousel where we rested our feet, sipped Coke and coffee (respectively), and played with Greta on the grass.


Blogger Jasony said...

loving these missives! Though I have to say, I fully expect this latest post to be updated. You missed the chance to use "defenestrate". Shame on you.

4/10/11, 11:13 PM  

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