The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 10: My Trip to Paris (2)

In re-reading my journal, I’d nearly forgotten that the summer of 2003 was a bad one for Paris. When I was there in June, the temperatures hovered around 30C, but later in the summer, a number of elderly people died from the heat. The heat made it difficult for me. Hard to sleep, hard to walk for long periods without feeling exhausted… but I did it anyway. I only had ten days and I wanted to make the most of it.

During my first full day, we went to Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, and viewed the Roman ruins under the square, as well as viewing the World War II memorial (of which at that time I knew nothing). I knew Paris had a long history, but somehow seeing the remains of Roman buildings made me realize exactly how long that history has been. There’s nothing here to compare. (As Eddie Izzard says ‘I’m from Europe, that’s where the history’s from.’)

I thought the rose windows at Notre Dame were impressive. Not so impressive were the masses of tourists and their noise. It negated the sense of sacred space. Though I’m not religious, cathedrals like Notre Dame (or Yorkminster, or Notre Dame in Montreal) should be places of awe and meditation. I love old churches for their art, for the stones worn smooth by centuries of use, and the smell of candle wax and incense. So to visit such a grandiose monument and be frustrated… it was a disappointment.

Me outside Notre Dame, in the heat. The bushes behind me were filled with tiny, chirping sparrows.

Another frustration… my poor skill in the French language. If I had a dollar for every person prior to my trip who said ‘Oh, it’ll come back to you!’, I would have had a lot more spending money. I was intimidated. The French I thought I knew had vanished. People spoke so swiftly that I had difficulty catching more than one or two words.

Of course, it didn’t help that I had a massive case of jet lag. Day two ended with a delicious meal – I note in my journal that I had a veal dish with a mushroom and white wine sauce, kir as an apéritif, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. A bit of chocolate always helps… and my third day would be better after a proper sleep.

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