26 August 2008
Today I headed over to that other great Paris icon, Notre Dame. As the old Broadway song goes, “There ain’t Notre like a Dame! Notre…in the…world.” After a false start in a completely different church I eventually found the place. I was super bummed not to get to go up in the towers and see the gargoyles but there was a minimum wait of an hour and a half in the rain so I thought “nique cette merde” and figured I should leave something for the next visit. Gives me time to work on my Hunchback impression…Sanctuary! Besides, there’s plenty enough to see on the ground floor. This place is amazing! Say what you will about the modern day church, they sure know how to spend shitloads of cash on expensive pretty decorations.
I was a bit sick of churches at that point and headed up north to Montmatre, the famed art district. Of course, after wandering the rain-soaked cobbled streets, where did I end up? Sacre-Courte, the church on the hill. Sure it's nice and all, but really it's just another church, you know? The highlight, though, was this Spanish lady who was trying to touch a statue of Jeebus and set her umbrella on fire on the votive candles. As I was chuckling away to myself this massive chandelier came plummeting down and just missed me. Clearly there are limits to God’s patience for my blasphemy, and even I am not oblivious to his way of saying, “C'est ma maison, chienne!”
My French pronunciation was getting a lot better, at least according to the cute French shop girl who served me that afternoon. Either that or she was asking if I was from the Traybien Islands. Regardless of which, it still sounded hot! French is a beautiful language, all smooth and syrupy like molten honey. All the rough edges have been rubbed off the consonants and there’s a constant throaty “gggrrr” like you’ve just swallowed some chocolate mousse which makes everything you say sound like flirting. It’s all very seductive and your mouth feels good saying the most mundane things. It’s like aural sex! I’m sure most people thought I was a crazy homeless guy as I wandered the streets repeating everything I overheard or read under my breath just to see how it sounded. I got a little more confident by the end of the trip and branched out from the odd timid and hesitant “bonjour” or “merci”, but whether or not people here understand much English (which many of them seem to do) you can still get by pretty easily.
I saw heaps while I was here and enjoyed it much more than I expected. I didn’t get a chance to see the catacombs or the gargoyles but I’m pleased with the amount of ground I managed to cover in trois jours and was surprised how much I liked the city. I’d like to come back some day but I reckon it would be a much better experience if you came with someone special. There’s definitely a sense of romance or fantasy about Paris - the idea of it, the myth, the fantasy - that threatens to build your expectations up to a point where they can’t possibly be met. But somehow Paris manages to carry it off. There’s an arrogance here that is very different to what I was expecting, and surprisingly attractive. The French are very self-assured, they know Paris is a wonderful city and if you don’t get it then there’s no point them trying to explain it to you. Part of it is the history and the character and the soul of the place. It’s easy to think of Paris as all style and no substance but, unlike London, Paris has more than enough of both to put paid to the hype. But I think to get the most out of this city you definitely need to bring along a sense of romance. Romance is everywhere, from couples holding hands or staring wistfully at each other or making out in churches, to the hard-core porn on free-to-air tv. Which makes it all the more difficult to be here on your own because you feel left out of it. It’s definitely no place for a ménage a un. You just end up standing on bridges in the rain and sighing a lot...
Admittedly some of the romance is lost when you’re surrounded by squaking gaping tourist hordes every hour of the day. If it’s not pasty Brits arguing and complaining it’s out of breath Americans rushing about madly checking things off their sight-seeing checklist or Aussies butchering the language with their cries of, “B’jour, mon sewer. Donny mwar lee toilet, sieve ooh play?”
And so we bid a fond adieu to Paris...Jusqu'à la prochaine nous nous réunissons.