Friday, September 7, 2012

Paris: Day Five (Friday)

We went to our first open-air market, in the Oberkampf area.  This is a particularly chic and vibrant part of Paris now, with relatively few tourists and lots of shops and restaurants.  We walked the ten blocks or so to the market, perusing shops along the way, generaly enjoying and taking advantage of the woderful warm weather.  We arrived at the market about noon, which is rather late, but it was in full throat, with the cries of the vendors, 'allons, allons, allons-Y!' and the low murmer of the shoppers  calling out their orders and saying 'meric' and 'bonne journee' as they head off to the next stall.  The place was typical, with lots of fruit and vegetable stands, plus the assorted charcutiers and vendors of scarves, hats and bricollage of all types.  The vendors are almost invaribly cheerful and very helpful if you don't know what something is or how to pronounce it.

As an aside, I should mentionthat while here, I have attempted to speak only French with the French.  This despite the fact that I often get my grammar wrong, and have a puzzled looked sometimes when the response to my question goes right over my head.  Hearing us speaking English amongst ourselves often prompts vendors, waiters and shopkeepers to attempt to speak in English.  While I appreciate their help and don't blame them for wanting to practice their English, the fact is, I want to practice my French.  So, even when spoken to in English, I always respond in French--bad though it may be--because I know I can't get better without making the effort.  And, I can see that folks appreciate that, even if they wince as I butcher a word or a phrase that ought to be simple enough for a small child.

Yesterday, while at a park, we were surrounded by French, and as I listened, I found myself slipping into that personality I came to know as Phillippe, letting the words wash over me rather than trying to translate word by word.  The effect is that I get about half or three-quarters of what I hear, and the rest is just background.  Still, I can manage to express my needs and even my thoughts from time to time.  I think, just a few months, and I could do this!

Alas we don't have a few months, so this will have to do.

At the market we loaded up our shopping bag with goodies.  We bought potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, mushrooms, ham, cheese, a sausage bread, pate, some quiche, endive wrapped in ham with a mornay sauce, fresh strawberries (tiny ones) and a sweet melon as well as some creme caramel and a pot of chocolate mousse for Maddie.

After taking home all our goodies, we set out again (after a nap, of course) for Notre Dame.  Having learned from the crowds at the Louvre just how exhausting the physical presence of so many people in one place can be, we hedged our bets for the day, hoping to survive the trip to the Grande Dame with enough energy to do something else.  This worked pretty well, for, as expected, the square at Notre dame was packed with people.  Perhaps not as many as say, During mid-summer, but it was still brimming with travelers from all over the world.  We took a deep breath and dived in.

In spite of the fact that most tourists have gone home, it seems like very single one who remains was at the famous church.  The square was jam-packed, and it was all English, German and Japanese.  The line to get in stretched halfway across the square, but we took advantage of the tour groups and cut in front of one massive Japanese group.  Inside, noon Mass was just getting underway, so we couldn't walk up the center aisle, and in fact went counter-clockwise, against the flow of the hordes.  After twenty minutes of this (and lighting a candle for those no longer with us) we were plenty beat-up and emerged into the sunlight ready to escape humanity.

Francesca is silently fuming somewhere that I was unable to recall even the most basic elements of my iconography of the tympana and the archivolts and lintels.  I was barely able to point out some of the more obvious architectural elements, hopefully to be able to contrast them with Chartes, which we are due to see next week.

Now we had our first view of the Old Lady from the boat on Monday, but this was altogether different, of course.  We shuffled in with the other thousands of 'pilgrims' as so many thousands have in the past.  There was a mass about to start, so we made our way around the chevet in the opposite direction of the mass.  Many tour groups are now lead by someone with a microphone whose output goes directly into the earpieces of the groups they are leading, so it was actually considerably quieter than I have seen it in the past.  Nonetheless, it was so thick with people that we barely lasted twenty minutes.  It was enough time to see the windows and the soaring vault, to feel the ancient weight of the stone and see the multicolored patches of light that made them seem transparent in places.

We left the cathedral and headed around the side for a rest, some ice cream and a drink.  We posed under the gargoyles and I showed Valery and Maddie the 'rose' portal on the side.  We walked through   the gardens on the east end and headed across the river to the Latin Quarter.  To get there, we had to cross over the Pont Archeveque.  We noticed this bridge initially on our little boat tour.  It was glistening in the dun in an odd way, and as we passed under it, we the railings were completely covered with locks.  They looked like padlocks, but it was hard to tell as we sailed by.

On the bridge, however, we saw immediately that they were indeed mostly padlocks, left there apparently by lover's, who symbolically toss the keys into the river after exchanging vows.  This was apparently inspired by a story a few years back (I've never heard it--I had to look this up on the net) and it's been going on for just a few years.  Most of the locks bore the date 2012, so it looked like they were all very recent.  It turns out that the authorities cut them all off a couple of years ago, but they are back, and, of course, slated to be sliced off later this year.  It was very touching and romantic, and I'd hate to be the one to have to cut them off.  Bad karma.

The bridge led us into the Latin Quarter, where the very first store we saw caught our attention.  The woman sold music boxes, and there must have been five hundred or more.  Basically you could pick your tune, pick your box and match them up.  So we bought a couple, one for our nieces, Misses Nora and Niamh, and one for Valery's sister, Alexandra.

This is not an easy task, alas, so after a little ice cream from a shop, we headed across the Seine to the Latin Quarter, to see if we could find a spot for a cafe and a beer.  Immediately on entering the Quarter, we encountered a music box shop and bought 'Au Claire de la Lune' for our nieces.  Maddie was flagging at this point but it still took us a couple of minutes to find our way to the Rue Moufftarde, where we found the very cafe that Valery and I had been to on our honeymoon here in '85.  Maddie had a fabulous hot chocolate and Valery some wine and I had my usual, a beer.

By this time, however, we were naturally quite tired, but finding a suitable cafe was a bit of a challenge because the Latin Quarter is so touristy and because it was nearly dinner time.  Many cafes signal the change over by putting out silverware and napkins, and since we just wanted a coffee and a beer, we had to walk quite a way.  Eventually we found ourselves at the top of the rue Mouffetard, which was one of my destinations.  The rue Moufftarde is a busy street during both day and night, with one half being shops and restaurants and the other being a market.  The market was closing downbut the shops and cafes were filling up.

This was near where Francesca used to live, so also where Valery and I stayed during our honeymoon.  When we were here we actually ate at the very cafe we ended up with on this day, and as we surveyed the little square before us, it all came back.

It was always this way for us, a bit of old and a lot of new.  Through Maddie's eyes it all seemed new, and as we walked down the street to catch the Metro, seeing the cafe where I ate with Francesca melted seamlessly into the sight of the little market shops closing down and cleaning up.

After a brief push through the late afternoon crowds in the Metro, we headed for the Metro and home, where Valery put together an lovely little meal based on our purchases earlier and we tumbled into be sometime after midnight.  A late start leads to a long day, but it was a one.

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