(Translation: happier than happy mate, as well as entirely enchanted).
Paris. La Ville Lumiere. (Translation: The City of Lights. Termed so for two reasons: first off, for the city’s role as a leader in the Age of Enlightenment, and furthermore as it was one of the very first European cities to adopt gas street lighting). The City of Love. The City of Romance.
For me, the City of Enchantment. (And also the City That Smells Like the Word Yes. Because everyone keeps commenting on how it smells like wees. I myself haven’t caught a whiff of the stench of stale urine, but I’m rather chuffed with that pun). (Do you get it? “Wee”/”Oui”? Yes? Yes!).
Now, originally I was going to do a play-by-play of our antics but a good week has gone by since my first full day and I am behind on the times. So I have been furiously scribbling down some notes (well, actually screen shotting them in my phone, but you get the gist) and I am going to do bridge to bridge (point for point, not the Brisbane Fun Run) on humorous happenings, significant sights and often odd observations from Pop’s perspective.
So. Get on board. This is the first part of Paris. (More on landmarks and monuments shall come upon my return here in a month. Because I need to truck on with London mate. All right?).
On our first full day the fab new family (because they surpassed mere mates within the first few hours of meeting and greeting) went on a Free Walking Tour kicking off from St Michel. Free, how dandy! I deduced. But that’s the kicker: they are not actually free my friends. Tipping is compulsory upon the conclusion. Which is absolutely fair enough; you are encouraged to tip as you find its worth. So just be aware; free isn’t necessarily “free”. It comes as a cost.
But our fella was fab. He was a fountain full of knowledge about the area, some of which i knew from my studious studying of the Affirmative Metropolis (I.e., City Of the Word Yes) and some of which was totally new (So, all either knew or new). I typed it up in txt in my phone to make sure upon return to the hostel I would get out my laptop and update my notes; unfortunately the tidal wave of weariness from the night before combined with the arrangements to bust to the bar for beers rendered making note of my notes second to sleep. So a few I am a bit unsure of what I mean (“window, light, God isn’t ringing any bells to spur a story) (cheers PMS, he just reminded me of the mem. Period.) but I have a serendipitous collection to share.
So: Paris, why you look like that?
Paris is arranged in such a way as to be seriously symmetrical. It is categorised up into arrondissements – “suburbs” – that unfurl like a snail from the centre of Paris, starting from one and going round to 20.
In the centre of the city lies the Historical Axis, or Triumphal Way. Eight kilometres long, it is an architectural line of monuments running through to the West, with the Louvre Museum as its nucleus; it follows the course of the sun from its rising in the east to its setting on the west on a 26 degree angle. It includes the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe and the Arc’s little brother – the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. (I shall divulge more on these sort of things at a later date; for now, I’m hustling on).
Something that isn’t actually that commonly known; the centre of Paris actually has two islands – Ile de la Cite and the smaller sister of Ile St Louis. And Notre Dame is on the former. You may have been aware of this; I certainly wasn’t before I started undertaking the reading up. It blasted my brain, I must say. That’s why Parisians make so many points (pun that needs explaining: remember the ponts/points pun of the previous post? This is it continued. Why there are so many bridges. Because there are two islands). (My word, that was terrible. Moving on and forgetting).
So. In about 1853, Emperor Napoleon III who was on the throne decided Paris was ugly. Hideous. In need of a major revamp and overhaul. So he hired a fella by the name of Haussmann, an architect who is the lad responsible for much of the pretty Paris we see today. Haussmann was the hand behind the demolition of the of the (at the time) crowded and unhealthy medieval suburbs (Bacteria Alley – a part of the Latin Quarter today -was once upon a time the smallest street in the city, as well as the shittiest. Literally. With no sewerage system or any waste removal network on the go, people would just chuck their ones and twos out their windows. The effluent would land in the dip in the middle of the street and be carried away with rain water to the Seine that flowed alongside. Not the most hygienic way of ridding of offscourings, pretty crap hygiene really). In fact, one literary lad by the name of Victor Considerant (so fitting, as he was quite a considerer) promulgated, “Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate. Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where, of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year”.
So hands up to Haussman: he made like a sausage in pastry and rolled on in with parks, squares, wide avenues and light. He is the brains behind what we see today as the typical Parisian architecture around the city centre – six to ten storey buildings, the ground floor and basement set out with thick, load-bearing walls, balconies at the top level and mansard roofs, all angled at a strict 45 degrees, with garret room and dormer windows. He treated his designs as a lot of homogenous architectural wholes rather than individual units, so as to be pieces of a unified urban landscape. These facades were – and are – strictly regulated to ensure uniformity in being the same colour, height, material and general appearance to all be in harmony. A good place to see this in its glory is Place Saint Michel. (Ideal because it is literally a “place” and it leads to the next).
Just along from Place Saint Michel is a statue of old mate Henry of Navarre. King Henry IV reigned from 1589 to 1610 and caused quite the commotion along the way what with being baptised a Catholic, raised a Protestant and then reverting back to Catholicism at the request of the majority of his people, saying, “Paris is well worth a mass”. But this flitting to and fro with his beliefs resulted in him being considered an usurper by Catholics and a traitor by Protestants, so he had a lot of enemies. And he was a lad – it’s believed he had a good 73 mistresses in his lifetime. He survived 12 assassination attempts before meeting his doom in 1610, stabbed to death in the chest by a Catholic fanatic. (“Henry of Navarre” has now become the curse when something bad happens or the joyful call when something great does for the SS7. Don’t ask me why. It just does. Obviously came up as a good idea whilst a few bevvys deep).
But his murderer was pretty cut up as a result – literally. He was locked in a dungeon for three weeks, with every day meaning another part of his body was chopped off. His barbers started with his fingers and worked their way up to his eyelids, before taking him back up to the public square, tying each of his arms and legs to four horses and setting him up to be quartered. When the horses were startled to sprint, the culprit was severed into four, with each part carried far into the corners of Paris to act as a warning to the people what would happen to them should they dare do anything similar.
Though it is not the case for all equestrian statues in Europe (and there are a tremendous plethora), for the majority there are clues in the hooves as to how the rider met his end. (Not away; his death, you sick thinker). It escapes me now, but let’s go with this until the SS7 sober up tomorrow in Scotland and can set me straight. It’s something like if the horses is rearing on its back legs, the rider died in battle. If hooves are flat on the floor, the rider died of natural causes. And if the horse has one hoof bucked underneath, the rider was murdered. Let’s ride on.
Often is the case in the past that I’ve heard Paris is dirty. Despicably so, some have said. (Once again, this is the elusive “they”). So I was rather flabbergasted to find it was in fact quite clean. I’d even go insofar as to say almost meticulously so. It sure put Auckland to shame.
And graffiti and tagging was only observed in places where I’m pretty sure it was actually allowed to be. The one time I came across it in a law breaking light was along by the Sorbonne Uni; even there, it was hurriedly being exterminated by a disgruntled remover man. (I didn’t have the aorta to ask how he was going to blend the clashing overcoat with the neutral underneath. It looked like an extremely old and yellowed piece of Sellotape plastered across a piece of paper. But I’m intrigued to return there next month to see if he’s done a Da Vinci and employed some sfumato).
Moving onto to the Home of Quasimodo. The “Our Lady”. Notre Dame.
This cathedral was probably the place I was most looking forward to venturing into upon parading around Paris. Churches and what not I always associate with my late Nanna and still present Babcia, so dabbing myself with some holy water and doing a few flurried signs of the cross were noted down as a must do early on.
The outside of the Notre Dame is like a intensely, intricately detailed wedding cake. As you get closer you see all the more statues and carvings; these were constructed back in its first days to tell stories so all those who were unable to read and write could understand and – literally – get the picture.
I won’t go into this intensely as it’s something I find is often dismissed as voodoo and such hosh tosh, but a couple of times in my life I have “felt” the presence of the past. Not like psychic ability or chatting with the passed on, but just the certainty that certain someones are well and truly with me. And as soon as I walked inside that (actual literally) awesome place, I was a million per cent that Helen Whatman was holding my hand.
I roamed around the expansive space with Pat, and it was beautiful. (Both him and the cathedral). The small scale models, the perched upon pews, the detailed depictions of saints and the sacred; it genuinely astounded me. It was the illustrative definition of Hallejuah.
As we made our way around, we came across a little stand of candles with a sign proclaiming you could light a flame to signify souls for one euro a wick. So PMS and I did just that and it truly ignited a great sense of peace in me. For you, Nanna, Bampga, Max and Jarrod.
But perhaps of all of the array, what I found most astonishing was the majestically august stained glass windows. I just gazed at them. Even puns deserted me in that moment. They just went out the window. (Apologies, not my best. Just trying to inject some colour and lighten the atmosphere). I’ve been thinking for awhile how I would love a mandala tattoo to signify my love of all Indian philosophy and what not, but as yet have not found a circular design that calls to me. But as soon as I saw one of the windows I fell in love with it and realised I could incorporate many of my loves in one. (And Mel Mel is a rad tattoo draw-up-erer and is going to put pen to paper for me). And the reason behind stained glass windows? The light coming through the coloured panes is seen as stories being spoken through the light of God.
It was truly captivating. (Especially when I made a mass error – pick up on that one? – in the Game of Life – if you don’t know about this, don’t ask; once you’re in play, it’s for the rest of your days – and uttered a word that results in punishment if called up upon. And Pat got me. But he allowed me to wait to do my 10 press ups until we were out of the church, the only delay allowed being if one is in a sacred setting).
Some fun facts on the Notre Dame? Why not.
- The cathedral first rose up as an idea in 1160, when a bishop declared there to be a gothic style structure worthy of the city to be constructed in the name of Mary, Mother of God
- The first stone was laid in 1163 and took a further century to complete
- Although it was built of stone, more than 1300 trees were used in its construction leading to its nickname of “the forest”
- 1320 tiles make up the roof, which weighs a whopping 210,000kg
- Mary appears more than 37 times inside the church, represented in windows, sculptures, paintings and what not
- And of course: it was catapalted onto the global stage in a big way in the famous 1831 novel by Victor Hugo – The Hunchback of Notre Dame, about a deformed bell ringer named Quasimodo and his struggle to get accepted into society. Interestingly, in France it is actually only titled Notre Dame, with Quasi mate left out of the name, though he is seen as a metaphor of Paris itself
- Of course, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is perhaps most known from the 1996 Disney movie rendition in animated form; I was taken to see the flick by one of my extremely special friends Saskia when I was a mere lass. Unfortunately, our lovely outing was cut short when I had a mass breakdown upon Quasimodo being told he was ugly, with us being escorted out of the cinema
- But all is well – what with my shoulders being double jointed, when I was a tad older than my movie meltdown, Quasimodo became my Halloween go-to; I would don a green tee and cavort about with a hunchback to hustle lollies
- It is still a functioning Catholic church (the Notre, not Quasi); many think it is purely a tourist point, but negative my mates – services still go on
- In the French Revolution the Notre Dame suffered much damage with lots of its religious imagery destroyed, with it used as a storage warehouse for food
- On May 21 2013, a French historian by the name of Dominique Venner committed suicide at the cathedral for his beliefs on gay rights; manically opposed to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, he loaded his gun and led to 1500 people having to be evacuated from the premises
- And back to old mate Henry of Navarre; back in the day, each new king would be crowned at the Notre Dame by the Pope of the moment. The Pope would put the crown on the king’s head, symbolically showing that although the newly reigning royal was in charge of his country, his still came second to the religious rights. However, Henry caused mass (again) outrage and and infamy when he took the crown from the Pope and put it on his own head. Talk about taking matters into your own hands
Onto French language!
So Paris has a place called the Institut de France, a French Learned Society. One of the 1000 foundations inside the building is the Acadeie Francaise; founded in 1635, it has the Herculean, some say impossible, task of safeguarding the purity of the French language – thus their nickname as the “Immortals”.
You see, the French are proud of their language. Fiercely so, at times. It is extremely respectful and taken well if upon entering a store/hotel/train/anywhere you engage with a French man or woman, you at least attempt to talk in their tongue. Honestly, even just a, “Bonjour” and “Merci” goes down a lot better than the English counterpart and you receive a much warmer reception. (Though, obviously in backpacker places and those actually for tourists it’s not so important). Anyway.
A big issue is the creeping in of English words overtaking the French versions. Such as “weekend”. The original French fin de semaine (translating as “the days at the end of the week) was overtaken in popularity by “weekend”. Trying to work the word back in proved to no avail, so the society decided to chuck “le” on the front, thus “le weekend”, making it a medley of French and English.
But when Apple first came to town, it caused a flurry of disagreement. What with the French language having masculine and feminine terms in relation to all and sundry, there was much contestation as to whether the iPod would be “le” or “la”. But apparently – I’m unsure as to the truth behind the decision, but this is what I heard and am now tuning – it was decided on the male article; why? Because you can turn an iPod on fast and it doesn’t last long.
Something you may want to take as a piece of advice on the road should you come to Paris: yes, crossings abound as like pedestrian ones in NZ, Aussie, even London, but be careful. These are not like ones abroad where the pedestrian has right of way and the car stops on approach of a person. No. The ones here have lights to tell you when to go. So the painted zebra on the road trips you up if you’re not used it it. Especially when you look the wrong way to check as you cross the street first. It has taken me a few near rundowns to get it right. Need to drive out this habit of just going and look for the green!
The food. My word, the food. (No, alas; although I have engaged with a baguette – I know, I now, I know! – I’m discussing my visual experience with comestibles). After our walking tour a group of us ventured into the mall foodcourt and I was in awe. Every different culinary option of eating displayed artworks of edibles, all so fresh and full of quality. Even the Chinese array showed no signs of grease; all clean cut and (seemingly) fat free.
And this is the oldest rock.
Sounds rather sad but my word, it was enthralling. So much so I didn’t even think to get out the cellular and video it so you could share in it too. You see, what with Deb working at old Kiwibank in Cambridge, I often pop along to see her as the courier men are emptying the mailboxes. They just unlock, pull out the sacks of postcards and envelopes, empty them into their own, then are on their way.
But the French way is oh so more efficient. The postman came along. Clipped his bag up to two hooks. Unlocked the bottom of the box and the letters cascaded into his bag like a waterfall of writings. I was spellbound. I wish I had caught it on cam so i could show you, because I know I sound like a right old bell end. But here’s a pic of the post box instead.
Last but not least – the hazelnut men. Everywhere you go there are men dotted about with what look like mini little BBQs, toasting up hazelnuts for the passing public to go nuts on. They smell delicious, and are sensationally convenient to lurk and loiter around to send away the nippy chill in the air with the warmth.
So the settlement? Well as my title says, moi le sentiment is happier than happy mate. I love Paris. I love my SS7. I love having no idea what day it is. I lovee all the banter flying around like Emirates in Dubai. I love all our new phrases – bro-ing out, bro-llaborating, Skukka worthy, it all goes on. Honestly? I love life. Louvre life.
To end, a way to walk (I.e., steps to take) to rejoice in the Burg of Rodger (City of Yes again, apologies):
- You may have heard of infamous pick pocketing in Paris. It’s not an exaggeration; it’s truly a prominent problem. Thus, securing your back pack up with a lock (I’d go combination; mine being keyed took a long time to open upon every time I entered a store – guards outside shops and malls check them before you can enter – whilst those with combos unlocked in half the time) is truly a sine qua non. You need to always be alert as to where your valuables and possessions are at all times.
- Leading on from that: there are a plethora of people all around the show, especially outside bustling transportation hubs, that attempt to engage you in chat. Don’t. It’s all a guise to distract you and rack off with your belongings. Gypsies, tramps, thieves, and – one I definitely hadn’t heard about – groups of girls pretending to be deaf and appearing to get you to sign petitions. I know it sounds heartless and cold, but ignore. Truly, just stride on by. When you reach the bar and still have some Euro on you for a glass of rose, you’ll thank yourself.
- Le Metro: I was in awe of the transport system’s insanely punctual and ease of using design (when I got to London and was introduced to the Underground, it trumped out the Metro. But at the time, especially what with the language being different and what not, I couldn’t stop broadcasting my impress… ment? dity? Oh feck it, how impressed I was). It’s truly rather simple once you overlook the many many people teeming to the trains (also aids a lot when you’re in the company of a good nine aspiring tour guides who organise all the routes and you can just go along with). Just make sure you keep your ticket on you at all times: if you lose it, you can landed with a hefty fine.
All right mate, onto London!