Thursday, Oct 6
Wednesday, Oct 19 - Paris and Notre Dame
Our last day in Paris, and in Europe. We began it with a couple of croissants from the café across the street. Then the Metro to the Musèe d’Orsay. This was a museum of Impressionistic art built in an old train station. French painters: Renoir, Cizanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Pisarro, Silsey and a bunch of others I’d never heard of. A very cool art museum, and well worth it. We really enjoyed it. Afterward, we toured the St. Germaine cathedral.
Grabbed lunch at a very busy, noisy café in the Rive Gauche (Left Bank). This was after a marginal argument about where to find a restroom and how far we had to walk and when we were going to eat. It was obvious we were both getting weary and ready to head home! Then we walked past the shops in the Latin Quarter down to the bridge to Sainte-Chapelle cathedral. Finally got to see inside, the massive stained glass windows all around the chapel, several stories high. Wow! To think this place had fallen into disrepair and had been used as a storage facility for grain!
Then we moved on to Notre Dame. What a spooky cathedral! Very dark, gothic building, difficult to see inside. This is the one sight that actually matched what was in my imagination. Flying buttresses outside, a quintessential example of Gothic architecture at its darkest. While we wandered around the exterior, it began to drizzle, which only made the gargoyles more dramatic. In the plaza in front of Notre Dame is a marker that signifies the geographic center of Paris. This river island was where the Romans first built a settlement.
Many devout Catholics were praying and lighting candles at “Our Lady.” Niches with altars and offering to various saints were everywhere. This was all very different from my own experience with my faith in God. While cathedrals definitely elicit a sense of awe and reverence, they also make God seem distant and unapproachable, a far cry from the Lord I know, who is a warm and affectionate Father and friend. It seems a tremendous leap from a small manger of hay and a borrowed tomb to the Christ who keeps showing up, still on the cross, in drafty, lofty, vaulted cathedrals, surrounded by tons of artwork, sculpture, gold in-lay, painstaking mosaics and silver altars. It’s almost like Europeans spent 2000 years trying to make up for having “no room at the inn”!
One sign in Notre Dame said, “This is a holy place,” and I wondered why God would consider a particular collection of stone and mortar to be holier than some other place. Like a stable, for instance. But I think cathedrals were built for people – not for God – to somehow demonstrate piety and sacrifice or make up for sins or to achieve some sense of what holiness might mean. I watched as an old man passed each niche and crossed himself almost violently, as if the stone and sculpture might jump out and punish him if he didn’t. I watched another man kneeling on some ceremonial wooden prayer bench and finger a rosary as he mumbled repetitious petitions to Mary.
For our final meal in Paris, we went to the Bistrot du Sommelier (Bistro of the Wine Steward). What an excellent restaurant, and what a way to go out with a bang! We chose the five-course chef’s choice “surprise” meal, and each course was paired with a wine. This only made sense, since the owner was the “Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 1992,” which I think means he was voted the Master Wine Steward of the World for 1992. The food was fantastic. Appetizer was raw salmon on bamboo shoots. Second course was seared mackerel on some kind of potatoes. Third course was beef filet with mushrooms. Fourth course was some kind of brie with dark break and a marmalade made with apples and dates. Dessert was “pineapple soup,” which was spiced pineapple juice with honeydew sorbet and little straws of Granny Smith apple – wow, it was great! A leaf of mint for garnish. All the wines were delicious, and the waiters were fabulous and dressed in tuxedos.
Time to leave Europe before the bird flu mutates! The earthquake in South Asia occurred the weekend we got here, too, so the news has been active. Also, Hurricane Wilma, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, is moving into the Gulf of Mexico.