― Amy Thomas, Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light
The first night we walked to Boulevard Saint-Germain for an early dinner in an attempt to get a sick Barrie to bed and over a bad cold. While we were sitting at the bistro, a lady walked past with a wicker basket and a beautifully embroidered white linen covering the top. I thought she must be going to a friend's house and was taking a little treat for the hostess. It looked like it had pastries inside.
As we walked back to the hotel, we passed a church and noticed other people standing in the courtyard with similar baskets. Since it was Saturday night, the "church lady" in me was thinking it must be a potluck dinner, although the church potlucks that I've seen usually don't include such wonderful linens covering the dishes and baskets!
The next morning as we walked past the church again, we saw people were lined up on the street and unable to get inside because of the crowds. We saw more of the baskets - all covered with beautiful cloths. In some baskets we glimpsed breads, sausages, and different sorts of food.
When we arrived back at our hotel, the lady at the front desk explained it was Easter Sunday for the Russians. They celebrate Easter according to the Orthodox calendar so it is different from the rest of the Christian world. The church was Cathedral of Saint Volodymyr the Great and the congregation was asking for blessings on the food they were bringing to the Cathedral. On Easter Eve the Russian people cook special foods and rich Easter cakes, then during the coming week they feast on the food they could not eat during Lent. How beautiful is that? Eat lightly for 40 days then feast!
We ate our first breakfast at Les Deux Magots, and it was a perfect Parisian experience. Several locals sat reading their papers and sipping cafe au lait while having a croissant - no rush - taking all the time they wanted to enjoy the cafe and croissant and then catch up on the latest news. A moment frozen in my memory of what this restaurant has been for so many years to the famous and infamous. The colorful and flamboyant artists sit along side the black clad and serious artists and all quietly go about their day. God I love this city!
We spent the rest of Sunday morning walking on the Left Bank and looking across the river at the Louvre. We walked up to Notre-Dame and then found my favorite bookstore: Shakespeare & Company. I was lucky enough in 1999 to go to this bookstore when George Whitman was still alive. I have a picture of him negotiating with a book seller in front of the store. He was making his lunch inside the shop on a one burner hot plate. Soup was being heated in a very old, very beat up pot. I cherish that memory.
We tried to find the lock we had put on the bridge in 2012. Sadly, the weight of the locks is destroying the bridges and many sections of the wire have either been taken down or covered with plywood. Our lock cannot be found and we see the damage the locks have done to the bridges. Although the thought behind it was lovely, it is time to stop and take the existing ones down.
On Monday we decided it would be the day I would introduce Barrie to Pere-Lachaisse cemetery. It is one of my favorite places in Paris, partly because of the famous people buried here: Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison (this is my third pilgrimage to Jim Morrison's grave), but mostly because of its beauty! The first time I came to Paris, someone told me that one of his favorite things to do in Paris was visiting Pere-Lachaisse. He was an American who had lived in Paris for a long time and he explained that it was so beautiful and families go there on Sundays to have picnics. He was right - it is absolutely beautiful when the weather is good. Today it was magnificent! The spring weather has graced Paris and the trees are budding and blooming.
Barrie was very quiet during our stay at Pere-Lachaisse, so I thought he might not like being there. When we talked later, he said it was humbling to walk among the tombstones. Some are so old, some are famous people, some are children. Sometimes you come across beautiful and interesting grave sites like the one we found for a pianist with a miniature Grand Piano on it. We also found a sculpture of a guitar made of copper that had turned green and the tombstone let us know the man had been an artist and a musician. There are many statues of the Virgin Mary and statues of angels crying, all reminding us that we are mortal. It doesn't matter how famous you are, how good you are, how bad you are, or what your age - we all have such a small amount of time on this earth and then we are just a memory. Hopefully we have lived our life so that we are a good memory to someone.
My family has been told for years, that I want them to spread some of my ashes at Pere-Lachaisse when I die! I never knew where I wanted to be buried until I visited Paris for the first time.
“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde
When we travel, Barrie & I are not on a quest to see and do everything. If we love the city, we hope we will be back, but we just try to do what we feel like doing on any particular day.
Tuesday was a beautiful, relaxing day, spent letting Paris unfold around us. We decided to walk up Blvd. Saint-Germain to Saint-Michel and go to the Sorbonne and Luxembourg Gardens. Neither of us had visited these spots before. A trip past the Sorbonne for a couple of pictures and then quality time spent at Luxembourg Gardens. Now we know why "April in Paris" is such a big deal. It's breathtaking.
Living in Florida, one tends to forget what the seasons really feel like. Spring runs into summer runs into autumn runs into winter runs into spring. . .but if you live in a city that is cold and dreary all winter, when spring comes, the people blossom along with the trees and flowers. It was so wonderful to see people pulling chairs out on the lawns or terraces of the gardens to sit in the sun. I spend most of my time during the year looking for trees and shade to protect me from the Florida sun! Here - everyone truly basks in the sunshine! God I love this city!
That night we strolled across one of the bridges and walked to the Louvre, then headed into The Tulleries. We stopped at a spot with a view worth a thousand words, and none would be sufficient to describe it. The Louvre behind us, in front of us The Tulleries, the Egyptian Obelisk capped with gold and beyond it the Arc de Triomphe and to our left the Eiffel Tower. It doesn't get any better than this. Did I mention that we love this city? Yes - I cry a lot these days.
Wednesday was "Louvre Day" and we lasted about an hour! The crowds were horrendous! We walked through a gallery of statutes, then stopped for a coke and water because it was so hot in the museum. We found the Mona Lisa and were ready to leave. There is no joy in walking through this lovely museum any more. Somehow they need to get control of the crowds. When I rule the world, there will only be a set number of people allowed in the museum at any one time. I can't imagine that the majority of the people even have any real interest in seeing the works of art. They are more interested in taking selfies.
The crowds are hard to handle because of multiple people, but it complicates it when you throw in multiple cultures! Most Americans tend to be polite and we kindly wait our turn! Not so in some other cultures. Two women and three children from Russia just walked right in front of us while we were waiting in line to get into the museum! What the h—-? We just try to get used to it and get over it. Fighting it is not an option.
After leaving the Louvre we decided to see Montmartre and Sacre Couer. We took a taxi to the center of Montmartre and intended to walk around a bit and have lunch. Crowds, crowds, crowds. To get away from the crowds, we went into St. Pierre Church as it was nearby and seemed quiet. It turns out to have a beautiful history and is the oldest church in Paris. A lucky little jewel in the middle of too many people! We skipped Sacre Couere and the restaurants we saw around Montmartre and with another cab ride down the hill we returned to some sort of sanity nearer to our hotel.
It turned out that we had the incredible lucky timing of traveling during spring break for students while we were in Amsterdam and we picked the week in Paris that all the Russians are on break celebrating their Easter! Yeah for us! But. . . it is still the most beautiful city in the world!
Thursday - our last day in Paris and we want to enjoy it and not be in the middle of crowds. The best place to be (in our opinion) is down by the river. So this time we walk down the steps and sit by the Seine for a long time. Quiet. Solitude. Looking across at the Louvre. Heart hurting. I don't want to leave and I know tomorrow I must!
Our lunch that day is probably our finest meal on this trip. A tiny little restaurant in an alley near Saint-Germain. It is called Roger La Grenou (Roger The Frog). Their specialty is frog legs! We have the fixed lunch menu and it is spectacular. My appetizer is Foie Gras Creme Brûlée! Strangely weird and delicious! Barrie's is country pate.
My main course is salmon served with a wonderful sauce and jasmine rice! Barrie has the steak & frites! Yes - we do love it when we find a great restaurant! Dessert - I had a trio of mini desserts that were too good to miss: chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, and creme brûlée! Life is good! Thank God for all the walking we are doing!
So as our April in Paris came to an end, we were grateful for many things: first for the opportunity of being retired and secondly for the health to enjoy this season of our life. We do not take anything for granted.**
I am grateful that my feet held up! The cortisone shots I received before we left worked as they were intended to do and now I hope that it continues when we are home! I have learned a valuable lesson that my BFF, Peggy, tried to instill in me since my twenties: ugly shoes that don't hurt your feet are better than the cutest pair that does. I am now relegated to the ugly shoe brigade. Sigh! From "kick-ass" shoes to "ugly-ass" shoes. Worth it to not be in excruciating pain!
We both know that Paris is our favorite city and where we want to spend longer periods of time. Figuring out how to do that is the riddle. One week is never enough for Paris. I can't imagine that one month would be, or one year. It is La meilleure ville dans le monde. The
best city in the world.
“If you ask the great city, ‘Who is this person?,’ she will answer, ‘He is my child.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
We hope Paris calls us her children.
**Before this blog was finished, we had a health scare and Barrie had a small stroke. Thank God all appears to be okay and he shows no visible or lasting signs. We are now more than ever aware of the gift of health. Life is precious. Don't waste a day of it. We are already planning our next adventures. Carpe Diem!