Monday: My last solo day in Paris

20Sep10

Today was my last day in Paris by myself, so I set out early to wrap up the few “must-sees” that remained on my list.

The first order of business was to swing by my friend Chris’ apartment to water his orchid. It’s been pretty hot the past few days—especially, I’m sure, in his tiny 6th-floor apartment.

On the way, I ducked into the St. Eustache church. The organist was warming up for her practice. It amused me to see a tiny woman at the helm of this enormous contraption. I wish I knew enough French to ask, “Could I trouble you to please pull out all of the stops and wail on that thing for a minute?”  But I was content to hear a few scales.

I also stopped into the E. Dehillerin, the cooking-ware shop that Chris had recommended. He was right in saying that they have a cooking implement for every imaginable purpose.

Chris’ orchid was fine. I gave it a little drink and headed back into the street.

I walked past the St. Denis street market, which was in full swing. I thought for a second about strolling through to buy some groceries and a bottle of wine, but the sea of people looked too tough to navigate.

I was making my way toward the oldest house in Paris. Nicolas Flamel—a scrivner, by trade—built this house in 1407. It’s now a restaurant, but the architectural details have been preserved.

I considered ducking in for lunch but it looked a bit pricey. So I stopped at a lovely little bakery and had a crêpe sucré instead. I also grabbed a lemon tart for the road. “Delicious” doesn’t even begin to describe that little pastry.

Next, I stopped at Passage de L’Ancre, a tiny shaded alley that’s lined with small art galleries and shops. It was as charming as the descriptions had led me to believe.

I walked back to the center of town and, on a whim, decided to visit the Pompidou Center. I don’t really understand a lot of modern art—most of it doesn’t speak to me on either an emotional or an intellectual level. But I enjoyed the view from the 4-story escalator anyway.

As long as I was near the river, I decided to visit Shakespeare and Company. I have no idea how the store hasn’t collapsed into its cellar from the sheer weight of all those books. As a service to the people of Paris, I bought a little map book and lightened the structural load by 4 ounces.

I also paused for a self-portrait with an old photo of the founder, George Whitman, and his daughter, Sylvia Beach. Here’s to fathers and daughters …

Then, I walked around the corner on the Rue Galande to visit the oldest standard in Paris, which dates from the 1300s. Because only the monks and nobles could read back then, street signs were pictures instead of words. This sign was for the rue St. Julien le Pauvre, named after the patron saint of ferrymen. Every time I see it, I wonder how many people walk past it every day, completely unaware of its history or significance.

As I continued my stroll I also spotted another mural by the street artist Némo. I accidentally pushed the shutter button before I’d fully composed the shot. This “happy accident” was the result. I love the illusion that the pedestrian is carrying a red umbrella, wearing a butterfly for a bow tie, and giving a little bunny a ride on his coattails.

Next, I was off to visit the Abbaie Royal de Val de Grâce. I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful chapel built as a sort of “thank you” to God for the birth of Louis XIV (who, incidentally, was baptized at St. Eustache). Unfortunately the guidebook was once again wrong. The place was closed on Mondays.

I was only about a mile from the Catacombs, so I thought I might as well pay a visit. Closed.

Hmmm. OK … maybe I’d visit Paris Accordéon, the only shop devoted entirely to accordions and the people who play them. I wanted to get some photos for my colleague Seth, who plays beautifully. No go: The shop was closed, too. %$#@!

By now, I wasn’t too far from the Cimtière Montparnasse, so I decided to cross through it on my way to the métro station. Some of the funerary sculptures are lovely, but I’ve gotten spoiled by Père Lachaise. I did see a small improvised shrine, though, that I found strangely moving.

The last item on my list was the Collège des Bernadins. Parts of this old monastery date from the 12th century. And although the interior was austere, I enjoyed a half hour of solitary meditation in the tiny prayer chapel. Something moved me to hum a couple of my favorite hymns. The acoustics made my solitary voice sound like a choir. Amazing.

It was almost time for my rendezvous with Esteban, his dad and his uncle Frank, so I started making the trip across town. On the way, I spotted a taxidermist’s shop. A menagerie of stuffed animals peered at passersby from one of the windows.

I think it’s cruel to kill animals merely to stuff them. But I was curious about where the owner obtained them. So I ducked in to find out.

Claude could not have been more charming. He explained that the insects had come from special nurseries, to reduce the ecological impact. I asked him about the rhinoceroses. “Ils sont fait de polyester,” he replied. Plastic rhino heads: Now I’d seen it all.

“I wonder, what kind of décor would call for a rhino head?” I asked. “Oh, rhino heads are very versatile!” Claude replied. “They work with everything from classic to contemporary. You can use them in the living room to hang your coat, in the bathroom for the toilet paper, and in the kitchen they can hold your roll of tin foil.” He said he’d recently sold one to a couple in Virginia, and sent another to Hong Kong.

As I was getting ready to leave, I saw a couple with a small child peering into the window shop. I watched them from the kangaroo’s point of view.

A couple of hours later I met Esteban, his dad, and his uncle Frank at their hotel. It was wonderful to see them, but I fear I’m in for a bit of an adjustment. After more than a week of doing as I please, suddenly every small decision has become a protracted process of negotiation. I hope I can muster the patience to go with the flow.

As they say here in Paris, bonne soirée!



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