My final day in Paris essentially consisted of one, long walk. It began at the Pont Neuf, at the end of Rick Steves’ Historic Paris Walk audio tour. There, I crossed the Seine river and momentarily wondered how one would pronounce “Pont Neuf,” before inventing my own way of saying it in my mind. I have the unfortunate habit of contriving my own pronunciations for unfamiliar words I encounter. My pronunciations often include extra consonants, spare vowels, and sometimes a bonus syllable or two. This tendency is by no means a new development; I’ve been doing it ever since I could read. (Just ask my mother.) Indeed, I suspect it may be a carry-over from learning to read – one that most people grow out of, but I never did. And while my mispronunciations often live and die in my own head without every being verbalized – since I’m usually aware of their incorrectness – on occasion, there’s no time to learn the correct pronunciation before I have to call the object or person or place in question by its proper name, aloud. All that to say, to me Caddie Woodlawn‘s first name will always be said Kuh-nay-dee, and the Pont Neuf is still Pon-Noo-ee. Proof can be heard in my video at the bottom of this post. Playing the audio tour backwards, I wandered through a perfect, little square planted with young trees surrounded by swept and sandy dirt. As it was just after 9:00am, the few people about were business men in suits, presumably belonging to the supreme court of France, located just beyond the quiet plaza. Down the block and around the corner from the pretty but pointless park, I found the entrance to the Sainte Chapelle, a chapel famed for its stained glass and originally constructed to house what some – to my mind – rather gullible souls believed was Jesus’ crown of thorns. Next door, I noted the words of that (in)famous French phrase, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” inscribed above the pillars of the oddly diminutive front entrance to supreme courthouse; I think it was smaller than Wilmington’s courthouse.
In accordance with my plot to avoid lengthy lines, I joined the 10 or so other people waiting outside the Sainte Chapelle entrance a few minutes before it opened at 9:30, congratulating myself on my punctuality and excellent planning for the umpteenth time. Inside, I strode the length of the dark foyer with its gilded trim and geometric ceiling paint, and then spent a good 10 whole minutes staring up at the impossibly detailed and illogically tiny, soaring stained glass windows depicting major scenes from the entirety of the Bible. And that was enough majestic, colored glass for me. I left for the next church.
The narrow sanctuary of the Sainte Chapelle had been gradually filling with people during the few minutes I spent inside it, but in comparison the Notre Dame was an absolute zoo. Though I didn’t wait more than three minutes to step inside, I was met by the low roar of too many tourists speaking in unnecessarily loud whispers. School groups and tour groups jostled around the dark, worn columns and paused in inconvenient locations, blocking the essentially one-way path through the cathedral as they snapped photos of whatever their flag-waving guide was pointing out to them via her mic and their headphones. I took an immediate dislike to the Notre Dame, I have to admit. Its gray stone and high windows made for a deep, gloomy atmosphere. Every edge of every stone was darkened with age and hundreds of years of constant use and coupled with the irreverent noise produced by the crowds, this left the church feeling more like a shadowy cavern than the well-tended place of worship I think it’s supposed to be.
I made a circuit of the outer aisle, my brow frozen in a half-frown of annoyance, ready to end my visit as quickly as possible. Then, above the muted din of the tourists, the organ began to play, which I thought rather odd but very proper in that lofty, dim church. To my further surprise a youth choir began singing along with the organ. They seemed to be practicing for some future event because they frequently paused to switch tunes or adjust their sound. But their voices blended with the tones of the organ in an ethereal melody that drifted up the stoney toward the windows high above. It was incredibly beautiful. So, I found a seat in the middle of the nave and basked in the splendor of their voices for half an hour or so, as the crowds ebbed and flowed and camera shutters clicked around me.
Back outside I waited in line to climb to the top of the Notre Dame. The view was no better or worse than the one I’d had from the Eiffel Tower, but I was too distracted listening to a group of teenagers code-switching between Spanish and Catalan to pay much attention or to attempt to identify landmarks. But while the aerial view outside of the Notre Dame didn’t impress, the view from the side of the church certainly did. The circular patterns in the stone of the side of the cathedral facing the river and the gorgeous double-blossom cherry trees blooming beside it were captivating.
On my way to the most important stop of the day, the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I passed through a park, which was home to the oldest tree in Paris. The poor, twisted thing is covered in ivy to disguise its sad paucity of branches, trunk half-filled with cement, and wooden supports. It’s been bending over that same public space by the Seine since 1602, and it sure looks tired of observing stupid human antics playing out through history.
Next to a surprisingly busy road along the stone-lined embankment of the Seine River and beyond hedge-like, rather haphazard plantings of shrubs and flowers is a wide section of sidewalk and Shakespeare and Company. When I finally rounded the corner onto the short street it shares with a cafe or two, there was a young woman singing along to the strumming of her guitar under the pale pink blossoms of young cherry trees and amidst the books that spilled out onto the sidewalk from the store. As if that wasn’t picturesque enough, the inside of the English-language bookstore was a dream: a quirky wonderland of narrow wooden staircases, reading rooms with smudged windows and battered but inviting furniture, ancient typewriters and scrap-paper notes on scratched desks, crooked bookshelves loaded down with books, books, so many books! – new books declaring their novelty in their colorful jackets and dusty old books whose deep-toned primary color bindings promised familiarity and trustworthiness. I found an old friend, The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, and lounged on a cushioned bench in one of the upstairs reading rooms, soaking in the delicious peacefulness of being surrounded by well-loved, English books in the middle of France. Half an hour and a chapter or so later, I reluctantly tore myself away and ventured back out into the sunlight and bustle of the city to continue my exploring for the day. I could have stayed forever.
Instead I crossed back over to the Notre Dame island and moseyed down the broad walkway beside the Seine until I came to its pointy, rocky end. Then I returned to the mainland and started the trek to the Musée de l’Orangerie at the far end of the Tuileries Gardens, about a mile and a half away. The museum was the only on left on my list of potential museums to visit, and, even though my mother and the internet had informed me that it was rather Monet-centric, I figured I should pop in briefly. Plus, I had accomplished everything else.
Alas, after traveling the length of the Louvre and the gardens beyond and waiting a few minutes in a short line outside the Orangerie, I was informed that I would have to pay a €6 entry fee if I wished to tour the museum. Having absolutely no intention of relinquishing six croissants’ worth of Euros to view impressionist paintings for which I had no interest whatsoever, I turned heel and waltzed right back out the glass doors and into the dusty park again.
Having failed to find anything to eat on the hike from the Notre Dame area to the Orangerie, I crossed the river again and headed in the direction of the Orsay, hoping to come across the bakery where I’d purchased the best baguette of my life. Though I didn’t find that same bakery, I did at long last find another, where I bought an éclair au chocolat and what I thought was a roll flavored with sundried tomatoes. The latter, it turned out, was indeed a delightfully chewy roll but was stuffed with a canned tuna and tomato mixture. While not half as disgusting as it sounds, it certainly was unique. Of course, the éclair was splendid: the outer pastry was soft and cream-puff-like and the dense chocolate cream inside was cool and sweet. I feasted on my spoils in a shady, pie-piece of a park right in front of the metro entrance, which I then took advantage of in order to return to – big shock! – the Louvre. I could’ve walked, but my feet were tired, and I had a spare metro ticket to use.
Back at my favorite museum, I re-visited the Renaissance art of various countries, wandered through some Egyptian artifacts, and found a gallery of wooden sculptures, which were colorful and different than anything I’d seen elsewhere in the Louvre. By the time I left around closing time, I felt certain that I had seen most of every wing of the museum and had perused at my leisure the art that really fascinated me. I’ve never been more content with my time spent in one museum.
My final adventure in Paris was a baguette and croissant supper in the Luxembourg Gardens. And it was perfect. I chose one of the clusters of pale green chairs scattered throughout the park, propped my feet up, and brushed the croissant flakes off my lap in between travel journaling and tearing bites off of the miniature baguette. After nearly an hour of that and people-watching, I made a circuit of the gardens, observing the massive playgrounds, multiple tennis and basketball courts, acres of shaded grass and tulip beds, and, of course, the requisite fountains. Dusk was beginning to fall as I turned my aching feet towards the metro station, just before the 7:30 closing time, and returned to the apartment for the last time.
Paris treated me well.