Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 26 2009

Notre Dame and Monmartre

On the way to Notre Dame, I noticed that the Paris subways often require the passengers to open the train doors. I realized this about five seconds after I should have after staring dumbly at strangely non-opening doors of a train on the platform, only to have someone do it for me. We bounced over a trampoline-like moving sidewalk between stations and finally up to street level at our destination to find a bit of sun in the sky and many people on the street, unlike the area around our hotel, which is usually deserted.

Notre Dame looks huge from far away, not so large from across the street, and impressively large from the courtyard in front. As I approached a woman in a headscarf approached and asked me if I spoke English, handing me a card with some cause written on it and asking for donations.

The facade of the church reminded me of those Chinese Hell Rides, where hell is depicted and all of its levels and punishments. I was so busy looking at the statues of saints standing on people carved on the facade that I failed to notice that Gordon and Ray had already gone inside, and the line suddenly grew to meet wherever I was standing no matter how I tried to avoid it, which I figured meant I should go inside.

The more I looked at it, the more amazing the construction of the cathedral seemed, especially considering how long ago it was built. The light inside is wonderful; I could spend quite a bit of time in there taking pictures of people. The music being sung was very nice as well. The priest was dressed in the same shade of blue as in the religious paintings at the Louvre.

Back outside, I walked around the outside of the building by the riverside, noting some of the more intriguing details such as what appeared to be gunslits in the side of the structure’s rectory. When I approached the square again, another woman in a headscarf approached me and asked if I spoke English. “No, I don’t,” I replied in Russian, and she let out a stream of what sounded like swearing in some language I didn’t understand.

We had lunch at a small restaurant just across the bridge on the neighboring island in the Seine, an Italian restaurant called Sorza. Although we kept having to get up so that the extremely thin and agile waitress could get to the wine/coatroom, the food was delicious. Gordon said it was the best meal he ever had. The gnocchi I ate were certainly the best I’ve ever eaten, and the tiramisu unlike any I’ve ever had, crunchy and crisp. I also had a view of the kitchen via the window, and even the chefs, one black and the other Filipino, were handsome. One thing I have to say about Paris, is that it is very ethnically diverse. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a city with so many different kinds of people. The only kind of person I didn’t see represented in any great number was the obese.

We took the subway to Monmartre, where what sounded like a junior high-school band stood in the cold playing good music with questionable technique in front of the hillside tram. At the top, it seemed colder and about to snow on the view of the city; a few flakes drifted out of the sky, but it soon turned to rain, and we took refuge inside the magnificent stones of the Sacre Coeur Basilica, where the choir was singing beautiful if somewhat repetitious hymns. We joined the congregation and sat down, stood up, sat down, stood up, etc., getting some rest in between movements.

Back outside, we walked around the back of the church on a street I recognized from the famous race-across-Paris video made in the 70’s by a fellow who strapped a film camera on the front of his Mercedes, drove across the city on an early morning at very high speeds, and ended up meeting his wife in front of the church.

Behind the church is an artist/tourist area. “Artists” approach people walking down the street, a blank sheet of paper and pencil in hand, saying “Wait, wait” and looking like they’re about to draw something profound without making a mark because they don’t want to ruin the paper. Beyond this gauntlet was a structure that looks like a lighthouse with no windows at the top and a square where a young French trio was rocking an acoustic set with just guitar, stand-up bass and mouth organ.

We took further refuge in a local piano bar, which looked nice enough outside, and drank hot tea. After a few song selections by Queen and various musicals, followed by thump-thump dance music, I noticed the excessive amount of tinsel and began to wonder if we’d stumbled onto a gay piano bar.

Night was falling when we made our way back to the bottom of the hill, and the not-very-good band was still playing, hours later. Points for endurance at least. I tried not to make eye contact with the hawkers, even though some of them are really quite good looking, because once I do they want me to buy something, and usually it’s not a date with them so I have to refuse.

Gordon and Ray wanted mussels for dinner, so we took another series of subways back downtown. Another things about the subways; the tickets are just used to get inside; once you leave you just walk out through doors that open when anyone approaches, although I like to pretend I’m using The Force when I do this, waving my hand as I go through.

The seafood restaurant was empty when we arrived, not a good sign I thought, but Gordon said Parisians just eat late. I just had a salad, still surfeit with the excellent lunch earlier, on an inverted flying-saucer plate with a hole in the middle that encourages the diner not so spill anything. Sure enough, as we ate, more people came in, and the place was full by the time we went back out into the rain and into the subway. I tried to take a picture of the guy at the ticket window, but he seemed less than happy about it.

Gordon and Ray had tickets to a cabaret show on Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triumph, but I was less than excited about what seemed like a long, extravagant titty show and decided to walk around the area for a couple of hours in the rain and cold instead.

After they went inside the theater, I walked up the street to the huge Arc and around the massive roundabout, surrounded by stolid old official-looking buildings that could have been and probably were embassies. The lone exception to this was lit up in a brilliant pink and emitting blue light from the interior. Expensive cars surrounded it, and the sound of well-insulated thumping dance music could just be heard.

I kept walking around the circle and back to the Champs Elysees. The rain was coming down harder, and I ducked into a FNAC store to look at their selection of old samurai movies, which I came very close to buying when I remembered that in Europe you need to supply your credit card’ PIN, which I didn’t realize until after I’d arrived. How tourists from other areas buy things here, I have no idea.

Usually, I like alleys, but the alleys and streets around Champs Elysees didn’t particularly interest me; they were too clean and unadorned, like a model of a city instead of a real one. So I walked past the group of exclusive-looking people knotted around the Aviation Club of France and returned to the theater, sitting on the pavement in front of the Mercedes-Benz store to wait, earning a few strange looks from passers-by until the show let out. Ray confirmed that it had, in fact, been a titty show, though the people exiting the theater seemed rather pleased with themselves, as if they’d been enlightened as to the mysteries of life.

Today is our last day in Paris; we’ll be taking a flight at 7 p.m. down to Barcelona, where we’ll be staying for a few days before traveling further south. It’s cold and gray outside once again; you can tell it’s a Monday by the shoulders of people walking on the sidewalk downstairs.

posted by Poagao at 4:28 am  


  1. LOL! I felt silly that I didn’t know I had to open the train door in the metro. Well, I was a tourist. No big deal.

    Did you go to rue de Rivoli to buy duty free stuff? Just kidding.

    Look forward to reading your next article.

    Comment by Daniel — January 26, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

  2. i’m really enjoying this series, TC. your writing style is particularly descriptive and i’m having no trouble following along with you as you describe each scene. glad you’re having such a great time!

    Comment by MJ Klein — January 29, 2009 @ 2:11 am

  3. Thanks. Hopefully I’m not going into too much monotonous detail.

    Comment by Poagao — January 29, 2009 @ 3:17 am

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