Tuesday, Oct 11, 2016
Ben arose early, we shared our last pastry and hug together (in that order), and he was off to the metro, with planes, trains and automobiles in his near future. I slept a bit more and arose to pack my bag, before locking up and leaving my suitcase in Philippe's private corridor to claim later.
Knowing I had a few hours ahead of me, I elected to search out a 'quartier' we hadn't yet visited this weekend. I decided upon the catacombs of Paris and set off on the metro. As it was an unfamiliar line, I vacillated at one point in the tunnel, only to be approached by a kind stranger who asked if I needed help finding something. (The Parisians I've encountered have done a lot to dispel the stereotype I expected to find.) When I reached the catacombs, I saw an immense lineup, the longest I've seen in Paris to date. There was no way I wanted to wait two hours to get in (they only allow 200 at a time) so I moved on to the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful 23-hectare green space in the middle of Paris' city streets. It is anchored by the Palais du Luxembourg, which now houses the Sénat, the Upper House of French Parliament. I wandered about, enjoying the mix of people lolling on the grass, reclining in one of the thousands of green metal chairs allocated to Paris parks in recent years, eating during their lunch break, or otherwise enjoying themselves. I paused to watch some school boys playing soccer, a majestic stone column and some statuary stemming from the 1600s standing in as goalposts. This is a park enjoyed immensely by Parisians and it offers many designated areas for pétanque, tennis, ping pong and other recreation.
When exiting the gardens, I looked down an adjoining street to see an imposing building facing me. Intrigued, I went to investigate and stumbled upon the Pantheon, which sits on an impressive intersection it shares with the Pantheon-Sorbonne University. The Pantheon was originally built as a basilica to house the city's patron saint Genevieve's relics and was meant to rival Saint Peter's of Rome. However, finished in 1790, it only remained a church for one year as it was converted by the French Revolutionaries into a mausoleum to house the remains of great Frenchmen; buried here are the likes of Rousseau and Voltaire, and writers Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. Marie Curie was the first woman interred here on her own merits and now, others have followed. A person could spend quite a bit of time in the crypt as there's lots to read about the various people interred there; of course, it took me longer as it's only written in French. Above, in the beautiful sanctuary, there is a replica of Foucault's pendulum, a simple device used to initially demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. So, this building has something for everyone, and honours great pioneers of science, politics, philosophy, writing, etc.
Stepping out into the bright sunlight, after have been figuratively and literally cloistered with the greats, I took a moment to take in the beautiful university on the corner and the Eiffel tower in the distance, noting several groups of students and others oblivious to their surroundings. I think I am like that in Victoria too, not recognizing the incredible harbour and seascapes for what they offer to those new to the city. Knowing that I had but a little time left in Paris, I elected to spend a few minutes inside a crêpierie eating a warm crepe with banana, cream, chocolate, and coconut ice cream, choosing this as my final memory of Paris. And then it was back to Montmartre to collect my suitcase, hop the last metro to Gare de L'Est and claim my train seat back to Nancy, where Thierry kindly collected me at 9:00 PM.
Although it was a long shot, I had been hoping to run into Jenn's daughter and her PCS teachers as they are here this week on their biannual PCS Paris trip. I hope they had as wonderful a visit as we did.
Evan asked whether having some French under my belt helped me enjoy Paris more this time around. In response, I can say that this time, I definitely had more actual conversations and could order in French without merely pointing and grunting, as happened during previous visits. I also felt like I understood the French more as a people, if you will, knowing how to greet them, how to end a conversation as expected, and understanding that they are actually a very polite culture, much like Canadians. Therefore, I felt more comfortable in their presence. And in Paris, except for one time, when I used my poor French, they still responded in French rather than English, so that was an improvement too. I feel more comfortable now, diverging from merely ordering what I see to actually asking for a particular item with an ingredient I want, as I've done a few times in Nancy or Ludres.
When I returned to Ludres, everyone wanted me to describe the scene of surprise, to which they added many comments of kudos for Ben. Myriam had told her colleagues of his whirlwind trip and they were amazed as well, touting him as a real romantic -- and it's probably hard to impress the French in that department! Even Marine, when seeing my initial post on Facebook, challenged her new boyfriend of three days by saying, "When we've been married for twenty-five years, here's the type of thing you have to do!"