It was rainy and breezy in Paris today — so much so that the large Christmas tree placed in front of Notre Dame cathedral toppled over and the authorities scrambled to reposition it before the holiday festivities began in earnest. Russell and I paid a visit, happy to get out of the cold, pelting rain, and were pleased to hear the choir practicing when we arrived.
I’ve always loved choral music, and it was a great treat to hear the Notre Dame choir tuning up for tonight’s program, their voices rising up to the rafters impossibly far overhead. The rehearsal was all too short, and then it was back to the bustle of tourists walking around the perimeter of the cathedral, chattering and snapping photos of pretty much everything under the roof.
As usual, we are staying in an apartment during our trip to Paris. It’s the apartment of the vivacious Josette, where Richard and I stayed several years ago. It’s a great location, right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, in a neat residential neighborhood.
One of the true advantages of the apartment rental experience in a place like Paris is the chance to get away from the commercial areas and get out with the Parisians. Because we’re in an apartment, we need items like orange juice, coffee, milk, wine, and beer. (Of course, you would never dream of buying bread in a grocery store; you’ve got to go to the bakery for that.)
There are a huge array of other items to try along the tight aisleways, and you can always find bins of fresh fruits and vegetables under the striped green outer awnings. There are some language challenges — my de minimus French skills can’t distinguish ground coffee from whole bean, for example — but you typically can make do with some careful looking (and, in the case of packaged coffee, giving it a squeeze to see whether it feels ground.) The proprietors of these neighborhood groceries are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, too.
Shopping at a local grocer in a foreign land is one of the things that makes travel fun.
In past visits to Paris, I’ve never been able to see the legendary St. Chapelle, because it was being renovated, or the lines were too ridiculously long. This trip, I finally was able to check off that item from my bucket list.
St. Chapelle was the home church of the early French king who was killed in battle during the Crusades and later became canonized as St. Louis. The chapel itself is known primarily for its stunning stained glass windows, which are brilliantly colored, intricate and ornate, and reach to the very top of a high vaulted ceiling that seems to touch the heavens. The windows are generally viewed as the finest surviving example of stained glass artwork of the early Middle Ages.
The windows of the chapel each have a theme and depict Bible scenes that would be immediately familiar to the people of the time. In addition to the windows, the chapel features fine wooden carvings of saints, small frescoes of Bible scenes, many of which are violent — how many people got beheaded, tortured or impaled during the early Christian period, anyway? — and a painting of Jesus engaging in the Last Judgment above the doorway. I guess the idea was to remind you of the need to avoid the temptations of sin when you left the sacred sanctuary and returned once more to the real world.
As I craned my neck to take in the towering windows, I wondered about the medieval craftsmen who created the scenes at the very top, that cannot really be viewed and enjoyed by mortal man. What must it have been like to work with dangerous substances like lead, doing the painstaking work needed to create delicate objects of such beauty, knowing that the product of your labors would be largely inaccessible to your fellow man?