Saturday, September 24, 2011

Paris Highlights

Seine cruise

We glided under many storied bridges on a Bateaux Parisiens cruise on the Seine River. Depending on who’s counting, Paris bridges number 32 or 37. Either way, that’s a lot. The most elegantly ornate is Pont Alexandre III (1900), famous for Art Nouveau lamps and sculptures of cherubs and winged horses. 

Not sure why, but Pont Marie (1635) is considered the most romantic bridge. The guide urged us each to make a wish as we slid under its arches. The oldest bridge is Pont Neuf (1607), whose name means “new bridge.” Through the 18th century, Pont Neuf was home to many merchants’ booths and clowns and other entertainment. The bridge’s 381 mascarons (sculptures of grotesque figures to chase away evil spirits) were apparently not too effective, because Pont Neuf’s commerce attracted pickpockets, murderers, and gangs of criminals. 

We learned the city of Paris began on what is now Ile de la Cite, where the Notre Dame cathedral is. Our guide said Notre Dame’s gargoyles are actually sculpted gutters, and all its bells have names. Another interesting tidbit is that Parisians use a statue of a zouave (infantryman from the Crimean War) beside an arch of Pont d’Alma to measure the water level of the Seine. Often his gaiters and pants are under water; in the flood of 1910, the water level reached his beard!  I liked seeing classes of students sitting cross-legged on the quais to sketch the bridges.
Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood, 6th arrondissement

The original structure of Église St-Germain-des-Prés dates to 542 but excepting the 11th century bell tower, what we saw was a restoration from the 19th century.

Across the street is Café Les Deux Magots, which Françoise insisted we visit. We sat at an outdoor table, of course, for obligatory people, dog, bicycle, and traffic watching. Our harried tuxedoed waiter did not have time to answer our question about what “magots” are, so we discussed this weighty issue as though we were Jean-Paul Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir, André Gide or André Malraux, who all frequented this café. Our conclusion: A magot is hidden treasure, a figurine, or a Chinese merchant—or none of the above, just an obsolete word. So there you have it. Les Deux Magots began in 1813 as a fashion shop, evolved into a warehouse, then became a wine merchant’s shop before becoming the place to see and be seen by Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and many others. I savored a cup of silken, hot, dark chocolate.
Second largest church in Paris, Église Saint-Sulpice was under construction from 1645 to 1780, with a 1680–1720 interruption for lack of money. Even today the south tower remains unfinished. In one of the interior side chapels, Chapel of Holy Angels, are several murals by Eugène Delacroix, the most famous being an 1860s painting of Jacob wrestling with the angel. In front of the church is an 1848 fountain to honor four particularly eloquent religious leaders, Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier, and Massillon, but I liked the expressive lions best. 

Not far south of Saint-Sulpice is Jardin du Luxembourg in which we rested our feet and sunned among ponds, potted palms, and many colorful flowers and other tourists.

1 comment:

Mary Sorrentino said...

Hmm... I never pictured palm trees in France! After the beautiful picture you have painted here in your blog, I may just have to make that the next European adventure in my life! I'm so glad you had a marvelous time and are sharing it with us!
Blessings my friend!