Saturday in Paris
Hello, before I tell you about our jam packed day today, I have to add some other tidbits I forgot to mention.
First, the restaurant bathroom was unisex, with one stall for men, one stall for women and a sink all in the same small room. To say we weren’t expecting that would be an understatement. But we managed then and again today in a museum restroom.
Second, more about Napoleon. The reason why he always posed with his hand in front of his waist was not because of ego, it was because of intense stomach pain. When he posed, he was pressing against his stomach to ease some of the pain.
12 years after he died on St. Helens, he was disinterred to comply with his will. He said that he wanted to be buried in Paris, be interred the same way the Egyptians were, and have people kneel before him. When they dug him up and opened the coffin, they found that he was completed preserved even after all that time- except for one thing- his genitals. They were taken as a trophy, pickled and preserved and I’ll spare you all the history, but apparently it was ultimately offered back to France, who wasn’t interested. It is now in New Jersey!!! So New Jersey is more than a garden state…
Anyway, the reason for his stomach cramps, death and the preservation of his body is that someone poisoned him with arsenic, which is a preservative.
His body lies within a casket within a casket within a casket- ultimately within 6 different caskets. He is buried in Paris and his crypt is lower than usual, with a balcony above so people have to kneel to see him.
How’s that for a story?!
More about the Opera House. There are lamp posts around the entire House that are naked women holding lamps.
A random fact: there are 46 million Parisians and 64 million tourists a year! No wonder the place is so crowded!
Even more on Napoleon, which we learned today. Napoleon decided he wanted to be Emperor and to achieve that, he needed to be blessed by the Pope. Unfortunately, the Pope and Napoleon hated each other. So the Pope refused to come to Paris for the coronation. Napoleon wrote back saying” As you will. Just know that if you do not come to Paris, I will bring troops to Rome and imprison you for the rest of your life.” Naturally, the Pope came.
The coronation was scheduled for 10 am at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. When the Pope arrived at 9 am, Napoleon’s soldiers would not let him pass because Napoleon wanted to be the first person into the Cathedral. The Pope was told to get back into his coach and wait. He waited and 10 am passed, 11 am passed, and finally Napoleon arrived at noon, saying he had been busy.
When it came time for the Pope to lay the crown on Napoleon’s head and give the blessing, Napoleon told him to sit down. Napoleon had read the ritual very carefully and it only said that the Pope had to give his blessing, not crown the Emperor. Napoleon wanted to crown himself, which he did while the Pope sat with his hand up in the air to give the blessing.
Napoleon was wearing a very heavy suit of armor, so he went to change into something less heavy and crowned himself again. He changed into something more comfortable and crowned himself a third time. All the while the Pope was sitting behind him with his hand up in blessing.
Then Josephine came down the church aisle and the Pope stood to coronate her. But Napoleon told him to sit down again and Napoleon crowned Josephine.
One more rather gruesome discussion- Catherine says that the guillotine was a humane way to kill people, more humane than the electric chair or lethal injection because it was over so quickly. They no longer have a death penalty, so there is no further use for the guillotine.
Now, about our adventures today.
We walked to the metro, which is very clean, very organized, pleasant smelling, and no graffiti.
There is an electronic sign that tells you when the next train is coming and counts down the time. Inside the subway, there is legend that shows you where the train is and blinks near the name of the upcoming station.
Our first trip was to Notre Dame cathedral. Here are lots of things we were told, in random order as I remember 12 hours ago:
All churches in France are built from East to West, with East representing Christ’s head, the altar where his heart would be, etc., ultimately to his feet at the West side. You can always know where North is if you’re facing a church because North will always be to your right. Now if I can only find French churches when I’m lost in a woods, that would be perfect!
The Arch Bishop is housed in the Cathedral.
People used to be able to sell anything, even cows, in the front of the church. The sanctuary was separated from the crowds by large doors.
There are numbers that are very important to the church: 3 for the trinity (father, son and holy ghost; 7 for tribes of Israel; 28 for kings, etc.
There are three arched entrances to the church and each is decorated with amazing carvings and statuary, all of which has specific significance. Caroline told us about the middle entrance. The left side has to do with heaven and the right side has to do with hell. In the middle is the scales of life. One tier shows smiling people surrounded by angels- on the left and to the left of the people is an angel reaching out to them and surrounded by virgins with their lamps pointing upward.
On the right side you see people looking sad, chained together and being pushed and pulled by demons. They are pulled further onto the right side and turn into demons, including a demon pooping on another demon. All of this is very clearly depicted.
During the revolution, peasants pulled down the statues and beheaded them- not because they didn’t believe in God and Christ- but as a rebellion against all the riches and trappings of the church.
They also smashed all of the rosette windows. When the church was refurbished, it took artisans 20 years to recreate these windows. Then a year later, as war broke out and they worried that the cathedral would be bombed, they took them apart piece by piece, numbering them, and encasing them in boxes with the contents etched onto each container. They then sank them under the mud in the Seine to keep them safe.
Paris was never bombed and after the war they brought the containers up and opened them. The pieces were all intact but most of the numbers were gone! It took artisans 2 ½ years to put them back together. They are exquisite, as are the other very tall stained glass windows around the Cathedral.
Caroline told us that printing made the need for churches less necessary. Before, bibles were hand printed on parchment by monks and the bibles would be hundreds of pages and much too expensive and rare for common people to possess them. Once bibles could be printed and made available, and then translated into French instead of Latin, people could read their bibles themselves.
We walked a lot, seeing other buildings and fountains- and at noon had a wonderful leisurely lunch in a crepperie. We were able to select which savory crepe we wanted (I chose smoked salmon, lettuce and lemon, which was delicious) and a sweet crepe (mine had vanilla ice cream covered with almond slivers and chocolate sauce, also delicious!) The meal began with a large salad- mine had corn, lettuce, tomato, etc.- others opted for salads with ham and bacon as well. The service was pleasant but very slow. We were there until 2 pm!
Then we walked into the Marais, which is where Jews and gays live and which is known for artists and night life. One of the first things we saw was a plaque in memory of Jewish children deported from a school by the Nazis and the Vichy government. The addition of the Vichy government as a responsible party was added so that no one would forget their complicity.
Then we saw a wall with thousands of names of the French people who aided Jews- taking in their children and giving them Catholic names, helping get them out of the country, etc. The names are on the wall dated by when their family agreed to identify them and place their names. Many families did not want that recognition because they didn’t save Jews to get recognition.
Caroline told us about her great grandmother, who was part of the French resistance and poisoned wine going to the Germans, blew up bridges, and also, when told that the French flag could no longer be shown, started to make her own and at one time, wearing red, another friend wearing white and another wearing blue (the colors of the French flag), marched together toward Gestapo troops- for which they could have been shot.
Caroline showed us a flag her great grandmother gave her that she had made.
She was also involved in helping Jewish children cross the Alps, going from church to church. She did that for three years and then came back to Paris to see her mother- and that was the time that the children were discovered. If she had been there, that would have been the end of any possibility for Caroline.
Caroline also told me that her great grandmother always took her to the American cemetery on June 6th to honor the dead. She had Caroline select a service man’s grave to tend and honor, since she would not be able to remember the thousands of names. So Caroline goes every year on June 6th.
Something more about her great grandmother. She was working a radio and the Germans located her and those around her. Luckily, a British airman bombed the bridge so the Germans couldn’t get to them.
She was buried with a French flag, a British flag (in honor of the man who saved her life), and a German flag- because she had forgiven the Germans who were forced into the war and she felt terrible that she had killed them.
We were all sniffling back tears through her story. Her great grandmother’s name is not on the wall- she didn’t do what she did with the hope of recognition.
We went to the Sainte Chappelle, a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. It was built in seven years to house the relics that Saint Louis had purchased: the crown of thorns, some of Christ’s blood, the wood and the nails. Having these sacred relics in his possession made the already powerful monarch head of western Christianity.
He went on a crusade and was captured and imprisoned. His wife worked to have him freed, but he stayed in prison four more years because he refused to leave any of his men behind.
There is absolutely stunning stained glass. Arranged across 15 windows, each 15 meters high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.
We went to an historical museum and then walked back to the metro. On the way, we passed a pastry shop known as the best place for eclairs. So we stopped and most went in and bought one or two, including Caroline.
To say we were all pooped is an understatement, because it was in the eighties with high humidity. My feet were burning in my sneakers by the end of our adventure, which included walking up a very very long hill to get to our hotel.
After cooling off, I decided to take advantage of the very high tub (higher than my knees) and have a bath using the bath salts they kindly provided. I was doing well until I realized that I didn’t know how to turn the water off! I managed just in time. Good grief!
On a less personal note, I discovered that we are not scheduled to go to the Louvre. So, at this point I plan to use the free time after our afternoon tour to go there. We are going to the Orsay Museum tomorrow, among other adventures. The museum is said to have the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world and I can’t wait to see them!
Oh, before I end this missive, I have to say that the men in the group have taken me under their wing- very gentlemanly including me (along with their wives, of course), making sure I’m safe on the metro and on the streets, etc. and I appreciate their solicitude. I’m really enjoying everyone on the tour and hope to create lifelong friends.
I have taken many photos and tried to send them to my computer with no success. Otherwise, I could have attached photos to illustrate the comments in my message. I will ultimately post them on Facebook.