After a delay in writing this, here are some various observations from the recent visit to Paris:
The Eurostar train that quickly takes you from London to Paris is certainly more comfortable than an airplane. It was cool to emerge from a tunnel and suddenly see the lush green French countryside, dotted with little houses and cows and modern-day windmills. As we rode I read an article about an American named Jim Haynes, who throws a party every Sunday night at his Paris home. Anyone who emails him ahead of time can show up with a dish, and Haynes is a master networker. If we were going to be there on a Sunday I would have wanted to attend!
Our first impression of Paris was not positive, at the Gard transit station. We were riding down the escalator when a group of people below us started pushing and yelling at each other. Thankfully we could navigate around them and hop onto a crowded subway car. As we rode the 25 minutes or so to the station near our hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect once we hit the streets. But as we emerged out of the underground and stepped onto the sidewalks of central Paris for the first time, the charm and beauty of it all immediately overtook us. It was sort of like Dorothy stepping out of her transported house into the colorful land of Oz, sans the nasty witch.
Our first touristy stop was the Pantheon, another amazing historical structure. After we exited I looked toward what I think was the west, and viola—the Eiffel Tower stood in the distance. I told my wife Jenna to slowly turn around and take a glance, and tears glistened in her eyes as she saw the world’s most famous landmark for the first time as well.
Minutes after the Tower sighting we were sitting in our first Parisian café, Le Comptoir Du Pantheon, sipping hot chocolate as I jotted down thoughts in my journal. At last, writing in a Parisian café! Ironically, I had no brilliant ideas. But I did scribe, “I am a writer. When I write, I feel God’s pleasure.” Later that evening we stumbled across the Shakespeare & Company English-titles bookstore, where in the 1920s Hemingway used to borrow books before he could afford them.
It rained most of our second day in Paris, and we had to wear ponchos while visiting the Tower and taking an elevator to the middle portion. But it didn’t matter, because it was still Paris! Breakfast at our hotel was delightful, a celebration of chocolate, cheese and bread. In fact, the entire city is a celebration of chocolate and bread, and, I might add, wine. The French know how to eat, how to lounge, how to dress—and, somehow, how to stay thin.
The Musee de Orsay has a great collection of Monet, part of its Impressionism exhibit. I was delighted to come across Van Gogh’s “Church at Auvers” painting as well, which depicts a sanctuary with no visible points of entry and collapsing under its own weight. I used that painting once when delivering a sermon. Too often the Western church can come across in this manner.
Didn’t see many tattoos on the French. Is this more of an American or British thing?
The Champs D’Elysees is one of the most remarkable avenues in the world. The Arc de Triomphe (http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com/) is impressive in and of itself, even before the endless shopping scene. As we walked I tried to imagine Napoleon and his army cruising along the street, or the French celebrating after their World Cup victory of recent years. We stopped at an Italian restaurant and did some amazing people watching as we dined.
Our final full day in Paris started at The Louvre, the most famous museum in the world and, I assume, the largest. It is a fortress stretching several city blocks along the Right Bank of the Seine. We were among the first in line, and quickly made our way to the Mona Lisa upon entry. It was harder to find the bathroom than the Mona. After about three hours, we were ready to get out and taste some fresh air, but did enjoy a Rembrandt exhibit before leaving. Rembrandt had a lifelong quest to depict the life of Christ, and I marveled while examining his numerous paintings resulting from this ambition. I wonder which museum hosts Rembrandt’s famous “Return of the Prodigal Son?”
Before we left the Louvre, I sat on a bench and made the journal entries that formed the basis for my “Simple Life and Cultivated Mind” blog I posted the day after we returned to the U.S. I think we were more than ready to get home, even though we loved the trip. That night at a café across from Notre Dame cathedral, we overheard some Americans talking on and on about all the foreign countries they’d visited. It was over the top. Celebrate the opportunities you have to enrich your mind in interesting places, but don’t use them as an ego booster.
We went to Bertillon, a wonderful ice cream shop, as dusk was settling in that last night. On the way back across a little bridge we passed a group of Americans who were obviously part of a tour. They were each wearing a neon yellow vest. Jenna and I were grateful once again that we eschewed any organized tours and did London and Paris by foot and occasional subway cars. We had done our homework, studied maps and knew the places we wanted to see while leaving plenty of windows for fresh discovery. I shall never be a Vest Wearer.