Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Day 1: Sainte-Chapelle

Day 1 of a week in Paris - Sunday

The Islands: Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis


  • Breakfast: Hotel? (not sure if la patisserie is open Sundays)
  • Notre Dame; tour and climb tower
  • Place Louis-Lepine - bird and flower market - LAST POST
  • Sainte-Chapelle; tour and purchase billets for evening concert - THIS POST
  • Lunch: Brasserie de Isle St-Louis -- Look for the stork!
  • Walk Isle St-Louis; ice cream at Berthillion; Square Barye
  • Supper: Sandwich or omelette?
  • Evening concert at Sainte Chapelle - THIS POST

Tucked away inside the Palais de Justice is the chapel King Louis IX - the one and only French king to be canonized, St. Louis - built in less than five years, opened in 1248 to house the relics he'd bought, among them Christ's crown of thorns (now in the Notre-Dame and exhibited only on Good Friday - hurry and book a ticket to be there Good Friday, April 10). It is said that what he paid for the relics was equal to the cost of the chapel. The relics were kept in the upper chapel, where the royal family worshipped. The chapel was built without any buttress support, at 67 feet, a big accomplishment at the time.

There is no getting around it. You must visit the Sainte-Chapelle twice - once in the day to see the 1,500 square yards of stained glass windows, with nearly 1,200 scenes - two thirds of them original - lit by sunlight, and again in the evening for one of the small concerts. I like to do both visits in one day, first touring and studying the biblical story told in the windows, then picking up tickets for the evening concert, and finally returning in the evening after a stroll down Isle St-Louis next door, a light omelette and braised potatoes for supper at one of the brasseries, and an ice cream at Berthillon. Or, if you're of the European inclination, eat supper after the concert.

As you can see in the photo below of the upper chapel, the tops of the vast windows are nearly impossible to capture in detail, so bring your opera glasses. One priest apparently came every day all day for two weeks to study each pane of Bible stories. Some of the windows tell the history of the chapel, which is lined with wooden chairs for sitting and viewing the windows and the tourists. Invariably there are uniformed schoolchildren being hushed by their teachers as they shuffle along looking awed by the high color around them.

When your eyes tire from such intense study, leave the chapel, go downstairs and find the ticket office where you can purchase concert tickets for this evening.

Once you've experienced the magnificent colors of the stained glass in the day, coming back for an evening concert feels like a rare privilege. Only a small number of people (100?) can sit in the wooden chairs, now lined up in rows facing a temporary staging area where a handful of string musicians make up a chamber orchestra playing Vivaldi or Brahms.

A few weeks after Don and I returned from Paris in 2003 where we spent a week celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, I was thumbing through the June 30 New Yorker and was stunned and pleased to find John Updike's poem, above, which I tore out and slipped into the photo album I'd made for the trip. His feelings there show the power of music in such a setting.

We have one more item on our Day 1 itinerary, which I'll post next week: Berthillon ice cream on our stroll down the Isle St-Louis.

photo courtesy Wiki Commons

photo courtesy Donica Detamore

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day 1: Place Louis-Lépine - bird and flower market


ITINERARY: Sunday Day 1 of a week in Paris

The Islands: Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis

  • BREAKFAST Hotel? (not sure if la patisserie is open Sundays)
  • Notre-Dame; tour and climb tower (last post)
  • Place Louis-Lepine - Marché aux fleurs (flower market) but on Sundays Marché aux Oiseaux (bird market) - TODAY'S POST
  • Sainte Chapelle; tour and purchase billets for evening concert
  • LUNCH Brasserie de Isle St-Louis -- Look for the stork!
  • Walk Isle St-Louis; ice cream at Berthillion; Square Barye
  • SUPPER Sandwich or omelette?
  • Evening concert at Sainte Chapelle
Day 1
The Islands: Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis
Place Louis-Lépine - bird and flower market

We can look for the flower market on the Île de la Cité, but what is the flower market every other day of the week, becomes a bird market with parakeets and finches on Sundays. They do sell flowers on Sunday too. This market has been in Place Louis-Lépine 100 years.

This square was named for a police chief - Louis Lépine - who armed gendarmes with whistles and truncheons and was world famous as "The Little Man with the Big Stick - known the world over for handling criminal cases." Click on in his name in the first line of this paragraph and look at the archived New York Times article - amazing to find and a real treat to look at - from Feb. 23, 1913 (!) on the occasion of his retirement from the Prefecture, which is just next door. This area of the city was a center of activity when the Resistance rose up against the Nazis in August 1944. Marie Curie's son Pierre made Molotov cocktails as part of the Resistance here. For a fast and fascinating read about this time, read Is Paris Burning?, in which you learn about Hitler's plan to blow up all the great monuments, bridges and artworks of Paris!

This bird-selling gentleman, below, saw me snapping pictures and started gesticulating wildly (unlike one of his caged, docile birds) with his hands. I didn't know enough French to follow what he was saying, but I could see he wanted me to take his photograph and send him a copy. So my sister Nancy snapped this of me with him, below. He wrote down his mailing address - very badly - and I've included it above the image there. In the photo I am re-writing "La Leay" with his direction, which you can also see to the left of his hand-writing. I don't know if he ever got the print, but I wouldn't be surprised if I mis-wrote his address on the envelope. If I'd just photographed it and taped it on the envelope, maybe that would have been better.

PARIS Métro: Cité

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 1: Notre-Dame


Sunday Day 1 of a week in Paris

The Islands: Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis

  • BREAKFAST Hotel? (not sure if la patisserie is open Sundays)
  • Notre-Dame; tour and climb tower - TODAY'S POST
  • Place Louis-Lepine - bird and flower market
  • Sainte Chapelle; tour and purchase billets for evening concert
  • LUNCH Brasserie de Isle St-Louis -- Look for the stork!
  • Walk Isle St-Louis; ice cream at Berthillion; Square Barye
  • SUPPER Sandwich or omelette?
  • Evening concert at Sainte Chapelle
Day 1
The Islands: Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis

The famously painted scene of the crowning of Napoleon took place at Notre-Dame in Paris on December 2, 1804. After taking the Charlemagne crown from Pope Pius VII and placing it on his own head, he then replaced that crown with a gold laurel wreath like those worn by Roman emperors. Then, as the painting by Jacques-Louis David below shows, he took the Charlemagne crown and crowned Josephine as his wife.

The Coronation of Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David
1805-1808, Musée du Louvre

In 1831 Victor Hugo was only 20 when he wrote Notre Dame de Paris, later known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

'And the cathedral was not only company for him, it was the universe; nay, more, it was Nature itself. He never dreamed that there were other hedgerows than the stained-glass windows in perpetual bloom; other shade than that of the stone foliage always budding, loaded with birds in the thickets of Saxon capitals; other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; or other oceans than Paris roaring at their feet.'
The contrast between Napoleon I and Mr. Hunchback is striking, no?

For those interested in an extensive history of the cathedral that was begun in 1163, read here.


A good way to start Day 1 - Sunday is at the Notre-Dame cathedral. Between this tourist magnet and the Eiffel Tower, you will eventually have to check it out, so let's get this one on the first day. One good reason to visit on Sunday is to sit in on a morning service. I am very glad Don and I sat through the opening of a service if only to hear the priest and congregation sing. (You can see a clipping from the service's bulletin in an interior image below with mother and child statue, and I have embedded a YouTube of the audio for Donnes-nous Seigneur too.)

In 1997 my sister Nancy and I saw the front of the cathedral with scaffolding for cleaning the exterior, as you see in my photo at the top of the post. Restoration of the building began in 1991 and was still ongoing in 2005, since the cleaning of old sculptures took delicate attention. I well remember the first images I saw of the Notre-Dame, which my brother took in 1970 when it was blackened with soot.

By 1997 the cleaning had already been painstakingly completed on the south and east sides, seen in my photo below. You can just see the scaffolding to the left of the front of the cathedral.

With Don in 2003, I snapped the next two images when we emerged from an hour's browsing in the Shakespeare & Co bookstore, just across the Seine from the cathedral. The sky had blackened (can you scrub a black sky?), and I don't remember where we hid out the storm from here.

The interior of the cathedral is dark, lit by candles and old lamps. It is a disconcerting experience to sit in a service on a Sunday morning in the center of the church, while tourists are quietly - and occasionally not so quietly - shuffling around the perimeter viewing artifacts and the Rose Window. There were plenty of "real" congregants, mostly elderly women.

Below, as I mentioned, is the interior shot, and then the YouTube of
Donnes-nous Seigneur, which we sang with the congregation. I wish I had audio of the singing, which was sweet.

Of course the Rose window is among the things to see. Thanks to Donica for the next two images.

Another good reason to visit the Notre-Dame on the morning of your first full day is that you should climb the narrow stairway of the South Tower to the roof (387 steps!) to get a gargoyle-eye's view of the city, and you will still have energy for such exertions.

Thanks to Wiki Commons for the gargoyle image below, taken on the roof of the Notre Dame with a distant view of the Tour Eiffel. I've walked that distance in one stretch, and it's a hike.

Also in front of the Notre-Dame, under the Parvis (sidewalk square), is the Archeological Crypt, built in 1980 to protect the archeological ruins discovered during excavations in 1965. I've never seen the crypt!

On my next visit to the Notre-Dame, I will photograph interior details and learn more about the art and history. There is enough to fill a book or two.

According to my itinerary at the top of the post, next we'll visit the flower-bird market.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ile Saint-Louis - back after 2 years


No, I haven't been back to Paris, well only in my mind. But as I was writing up a Paris homesickness post at synch-ro-ni-zing, it became evident that I needed to revisit this space. I had run out of digital photos to post, but I still have unposted film images, so let's see how far I can get from two visits captured on film.

In 2003 Don posed on the Pont de la Tournelle above, with the Notre Dame sitting atop Ile de la Cité, one of the two islands that float in the Seine like ships. The smaller island at the stern of Ile de la Cité is Ile Saint-Louis, behind Don out of view. See "Don is here" in the map, below. If you look at the Paris map at the top of my sidebar, the 
islands are on the blue Seine river line just between the 4th and 5th arrondisements.


With its one central street - rue St-Louis en Ile - two streets on either coast, and a
few streets perpendicular to them, there is a compactness about Ile Saint-Louis
that could feel claustrophobic - or cozy. I choose the latter. We stayed on this island
in an old, historic apartment. My only complaints were the darkness in the apartment,
due to the narrow streets with high buildings, and how expensive the shops were,
including grocery stores. But it was handy to be anchored in the center of the city 
in our lodging.

One aspect of apartment rental that's wonderful (besides being more economical
than a hotel) is meeting the owner, which we did, over wine at his place, also on 
the island. He is a geriatrics doctor on the staff at Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris (founded 651!), on Ile de la Cité next to the Notre Dame cathedral. But our host had already gone beyond normal landlord hospitality and rather than just give us a key at a local watering hole when we arrived, he picked us up at the airport and drove us into the city (Don's first time in Paris) along the Champs-Élysées, just for the fun of it! (In my seven trips to Paris, I have had far more pleasant human encounters with the French than unpleasant.)

our host, with Don

rue St-Louis en Ile:

These two views, below, are of the Ile de la Cité, from Ile Saint-Louis. I believe the bridge in the first is Pont d'Arcole.

I took black and white film with us on this trip 
because I'm drawn to black and white images of Paris.

On my second Paris trip (first one I was 19 on study abroad in 1975) with my sister Nancy in 1997, we ate a couple of times at Brasserie de Isle St-Louis with its famous stork.

Even an omelette in Paris tastes like food for the gods.
We like the waiters here, who act like gods and have been around forever and whom I recognized on later trips.

Now that I've taken a few loved ones to Paris, planning the itinerary is a real pleasure. I always plan to arrive on Saturday, then spend Sunday, the first real day out, on the islands that float in the middle of the city, then branch out like spokes the rest of the week. A small chamber concert in the Sainte Chapelle in the evening is a perfect ending to Day 1 - its effect is like a lullaby. 

I'll post more about Day 1 next week.

Day 1 of a week in Paris - Sunday
The IslandsIle de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis 
  • Breakfast: Hotel? (not sure if la patisserie is open Sundays)
  • Notre Dame; tour and climb tower
  • Place Louis-Lepine - bird and flower market
  • Sainte Chapelle; tour and purchase billets for evening concert
  • LunchBrasserie de Isle St-Louis -- Look for the stork!
  • Walk Isle St-Louis; ice cream at Berthillion; Square Barye
  • Supper: Sandwich or omelette?
  • Evening concert at Sainte Chapelle

this photo of Brasserie de Isle St-Louis taken by Donica Detamore