Friday, March 31, 2006

Paris...the third installment

My...obsession is with Gothic cathedrals. Earlier, I ranted on about the Medieval era, and how it appealed to me. Obviously, the peasants worked hard, lived short, probably rather dull lives, but their spiritual lives were clear -- the Church existed. The utter simplicity of their belief system is a little staggering -- too tired, too illiterate, too poor to investigate options, question authority, make choices. Communities would work for their whole lifetimes on a cathedral, and not be bothered that they, or their grandchildren, might never see it completed. (Read Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth for a great story of the community around the building of a cathedral.)

So, today I'm going to blog about cathedrals.

We were down the street from Notre Dame de it appears in many photos. ("Oh, another picture of Notre Dame?" Metro would ask)

Here I am (yes, me!), in a classic tourist shot from the bridge leading to l'Ile Saint-Louis. Isn't it pretty? (This is not the only shot Metro took of me with Notre Dame -- a man should always understand where his competition lies.)

And how can one resist flying buttresses?!? A closer shot around the apse of Notre Dame de Paris, with her lovely flying buttresses.

If you didn't know, flying buttresses (I just love the sound of that phrase: Flying buttresses! Flying buttresses! Flying buttresses!) were an architectural invention that rose out of the invention that created the architectural era that has been termed 'Gothic' -- the pointed arch. A pointed arch could hold up more weight than a barrel, or rounded arch. Architects of the time exploited this by building higher and higher...until they realized that while the peak of the arch would hold the weight, the walls tended to buckle out -- so they had to buttress them up. Now, tourists don't really care about the peaked arches, just the flying buttresses.

Or they don't know what they're looking at when the walk inside of Notre Dame and think: "Wow."

Oh, and a casual photography tip. Don't use a flash on on cathedral interiors, especially stained glass. If you are a total point'n'shoot kind of person with a camera, learn how to turn the flash off, keep the camera still (brace your elbows against something), and see what happens.

As an added bonus, it's respectful in a church, and does not damage art in an art gallery.

Do not get me started on stupid tourists and flashes in churches, or flashes on thousand-year-old pieces of art. ARGH!!

But, anyway. I've climbed the towers at Notre Dame twice now. Well-worth it. A classic shot of a chimera looking over the city.

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc undertook restorations of Notre Dame in the mid-1800s, and added the chimera gallery, to look over and protect the city.

I also like the view the other way.

We also went out to Chartres, an hours train trip from Gare Montparnasse. Notre Dame de Chartres, as I mentioned in an earlier post, has the most complete collection of medieval stained glass.

The beauty of Chartres is that it is a small town, and you can see how the cathedral would have looked, rising above the land, reminding everyone of their place in the greater scheme of things, in the 1200s. (Goofy pic of me, but a great one of the cathedral on its hill.)

We were in Chartres on a rather dismal day, so my outdoor pictures are rather dark. I'm not going to go into how influential this cathedral was in its design -- but most people notice the two very different spires. The simpler one on the right is the older one. [You can, of course climb up the tower -- the left one actually. I did it 4 years ago, and with my cold, didn't feel up to it this time around. Took some great pictures then, that are in black & white on my wall.]

Inside of the cathedral is dark and cold, mostly because the city doesn't have the massive funding it needs for all of Notre Dame de Chartre's upkeep. She is in need of some major restoration.

This picture is of small side altar at the transept (or crossing), near the beginning of the ambulatory (the curved hallway that goes around the outside of the apse). [I think I was leaning against a pillar to steady myself for this shot.]

I sat in the chairs and steadied my camera on the back of the chair in front to get this picture of the nave.

You can feel weight of time and the stone in this quiet, cold, dark place. This should be a pilgrimage site for everyone whose culture is based on the Western European medieval Christianity. I'm personally agnostic, but this place still hits me in a deep part of my psyche...must be the weight of history, untainted by the trappings of tourism.

One final picture for today...a section of the labyrinth on the floor of Notre Dame de Chartres. The bulk of it is covered by chairs, but adherents used to walk this pattern in reflective prayer, sometimes on their knees.

Thanks for listening. Your comments, by the way, are greatly appreciated.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Paris...the second installment

I took so many pictures in's difficult to choose the ones to post. This visit, I took more commentary shots, more 'arty' shots, and yes, because Metro was with me, more touristy shots. And he even took the camera, or asked me to take something specific at times. (Since he bought the camera for me, I guess I shouldn't complain!)

Okay, so on to the photos. First off, some commentary. Here we have what I like to call my bling greyhounds. A matching set of dogs, with matching bling-studded, blue collars. (Lori-watchers, take note of my first use of that annoying neologism, 'bling'. It took some rather cute, spoiled dogs to do it, but I've use it!)

Parisian dogs...they come in all sizes. Parisian dog owners...they come in all types. Some even pick up after their pooch. And some of les chiens de Paris are fed some really weird stuff, from the evidence.

It was in Paris in 2002 that I saw my first Smart car. Wow, it was so cute, so small! Since then, I've ridden in one, and they are becoming a common sight on the streets of Vancouver. This is good.

If you can't read the printing on the side of the car, it says: "2.5 metres of parking pleasure for 5.50 Euros a day."

And, my fave new thing this trip...the space-cycle. Okay, I don't know what they're really called, but how cool is this thing?!? Note the seat belt. You can't see on this picture, but there is a passenger seat on the back, on the outside of the thing.

Hmm. Not as romantic a ride as on the back of a regular motorcycle...

[Note also, Notre Dame de Paris in the background. This was on the corner of our block.]

One day, we took the metro to Porte de Clignancourt, and the enormous, 15-acre Marche de Puce (Flea Market).

On the outskirts, you've got the people who set up on the sidewalks and side streets, capitalizing on the shoppers headed to the heart of the district. It is a warren of streets and alleys with pretty much everything for sale.

And cemetaries.

I had a bit of a pilgrimage to undertake, at the Pere Lachaise Cemetary (follow the link, it is [after a bit of playing around] the bestest virtual tour I've ever can actually walk through the graveyard, or search for famous graves. Cool. ). You see, in 2002, I had visited the tomb of Alain Kardec, the spiritualist (all of the best sites I could have linked to were in Portuguese, there is a large Brazilian spiritualist movement). Supposedly, if you wish on his grave, and your wish comes true, you must bring flowers to him. Well, over 3 years ago, I made some kind of last-ditch, hey-I'm-getting-on-in-years-here, romantic wish...and 6 months later I met Metro. So we had to leave flowers for Kardec.

Also at Pere Lachaise: Heloise and Abelard, Chopin, Wilde, Balzac, Colette, Isadora Duncan...the list goes on and on...down to the most insignificant grave stone which is probably the most visited: Jim Morrison (the one with the flowers).

And don't forget Victor Noir, a journalist, whose tomb is a life-size version of himself, fully clothed. Women rub a certain part of his anatomy for fertility luck...

Whew! More another day. I have to go pick up a load of boxes, and start culling (sob!) and packing my books.


An activist and a poet

A soft-spoken piece of political poetry from Woody.



Sunday, March 26, 2006

Paris...the first installment

First of all, if anyone you know is going to Paris, tell them to rent an apartment. It was the best decision we made -- contributed to the wonderful time we had by saving us money, and adding comfort to the stay. We ate in at least once a day -- we were close enough to, well, everything, that we even wandered home for lunch once or twice.

So, "How on Earth do I find an apartment in Paris?" I hear you ask. Ah, recommendations. Friends of ours used -- I misheard (actually, I didn't have a pen), so when I got home, I typed in -- which worked just as well!

Two caveats. First, space is at a premium in Paris, especially in the very central areas. We saw a tiny studio (something ridiculously small, like 15 square metres) being sold for 300,000 euros in the 5th arrondissment. Expect the actual space to be smaller than the photos. Secondly, everyone in Paris smokes, everywhere. [I have had friends who will walk into an old pub here in Vancouver, that has been non-smoking for ages, and say: "I can't go in there, someone has smoked in there! I can smell it!" These people should not go to Paris. If you know some, dissuade them from going. They will not enjoy themselves.] A non-smoking apartment probably means it's had new paint to try to cover up the smell of centuries of smoking. Trust me, you'll still smell smoke.

That said, our apartment was in a building along the Seine, in the 5e arrondissment. This chimera atop of Notre Dame de Paris is pretty much looking right at it (past the second bridge in the photo, almost to the next bridge, Pont Neuf, which isn't in the picture).

This is what we saw, coming out of the building in the morning. The bouquinistes across the street (they line the Seine in this area, selling old books, prints, postcards, comics, etc.)...and that's the Louvre, along to the left.

We were staying on Quai des Grands Augustins, which intersected right next to us with the Rue des Grands Augustins. Just to prove to us that there is no escape from history in Paris, we found this a week into our stay, on a building that essentially backed on to ours, around the corner.
[If you can't read this plaque, it says "Pablo Picasso lived in this building from 1936 to 1955. It was in this studio that he painted 'Guernica' in 1937. It is also equally where Balzac located the action of his book "Le Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu" (the unknown painter? artist? I should look it up)]

Okay, so Metro and I visited cathedrals, churches, and chapels. Of course. Travel to Europe and you can't avoid them. The difference is, I'm a Gothic architecture junkie, and it thrilled me to see Notre Dame every day, to hear the bells as we walked home in the evening...and to take pictures of the stained glass. This is a window in one of the apse chapels at Notre Dame (the figure in the bottom left is a statue).

This picture is in the jewel of la Sainte Chapelle, in the Palais de Justice, which was literally right across the Seine from us.

And this last picture, for today (actually this morning, it's 2 a.m., and I'm having trouble sleeping because of my clogged sinuses...and yes, it did hurt like hell on the plane trip home!) is from the Museum of the Middle Ages, a piece of stained glass from some unnamed church somewhere...Samson having his eye gouged out:

Okay, yuck.

That's all for now. More will come soon. Keep coming back!


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Medieval Life

Yesterday, we took a break from les musées de Paris, and hopped on a train to Chartres. The Cathedral there is spectacular, and famous for its glass...the largest collection of 12th Century stained glass in the world. There's even a guy there with the fabulous self-created role of in-town-expat-expert on the Cathedral, Malcolm Miller. (I'm not a big fan of tours, so I didn't look him up. I have, though, read his book, which I bought last time I was here!)

Notre Dame de Chartres is a dusky, dark and dramatic mountain of stone that instills a sense of wonder in the mere mortals wandering the aisles. Awe-inspiring does not begin to express it.

Then this morning, Metro and I visited La Sainte Chapelle -- literally a gem of a church...smaller than the larger cathedrals, it consists mainly of traceries of stone to envelop the brilliant glass. Visitors begin in the lower level, which is pretty, and then climb the tightly winding staircase to come out into the middle of the breathtaking upper chapel. You limit yourself to awed whispers here.

So, there we were, shivering in the cold of these lofty stone edifices, and I tried to imagine what it would have been like for us 800 years ago...

Wrapped in all of your winter clothes, you stand in the great nave of the church, between the enormous stone pillars, under the vaulted ceiling, in the light of the coloured glass and a few torches. Your life is your work and your religion, but you can't read. The statuary and the glass are your visual Book of God, interpreted for you by the holy few who can read....

I can't imagine it. In Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he goes off on a lovely rant about how literacy will destroy architecture -- essentially that if the need does not exist to instill the stones with the whole of a belief system, then architecture is reduced to merely providing shelter.

Well, it happened. It is here that my literacy ends.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Another Day, Une Autre Museé

Well...what have we done so far except eat cheese, drink wine, and browse museums?

  • We met a bartender who sold a roll of toilet paper on eBay for 8 euros.
  • We received a bottle of champagne on the plane to Europe because of our "Just Married" pins a friend gave us.
I'm writing without my first coffee of the my inspiration is low.

We have a 4-day museum pass, and our plan has yet to include the Louvre. Next week. Today is Les Invalides, Rodin's Museum, and probably La Ste. Chapelle. Tomorrow we go to Le Marais area, and see the Pompidou Centre (with the Museum of Modern Art) and Picasso.

Cemeteries on the weekend.

I'll try to keep you posted.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Stunned silence

Well, Metro got the job. We're moving.

No. First we're getting married on Saturday. It's two sleeps away, as my sister keeps calling to tell me. (I'll answer the phone to hear her say "Six more sleeps!" or "Four more sleeps!" Cute, but irritating.)

Oh, and then we're off to Paris for a 10-night stay. Which means I've got to clean house, pack...

Then, we come home, Metro gives notice at his current job, and all hell breaks loose. He'll be working during the days (at a labour-intensive job, so he'll come home tired), and so will I. Culling, sorting, packing, planning...

And then to Penticton. A big change from Vancouver.

The only absurdity today is how busy life is going to be once we get home. And as there will be nothing I can do while in Paris...I will blithely eat cheese, view Art, drink wine, and wander the streets in an appreciative daze, holding my husband's hand.

So, bear with me until life finds its new track -- I may not have much chance to blog.

Wish me luck! (or sanity...)


Saturday, March 04, 2006


I read Nag's entry on ruthless culling the other day, and thought it was funny. "Better her than me," I thought smugly.

Ah, I pay. (Not I pinch. That's something different.)

Yesterday, Metro and I woke up at O'dark-stupid, and toodled out to Penticton (a good 5 hours away), to his job interview -- a job that would have him working in his chosen field, and require us to move, should he get it.

So now, I'm looking at my own mess (and my own packrat-itis), and wondering what kind of madness I'll be coming home to after my honeymoon...