France Day 36: Notre Dame Cathedral
Today began with disappointing news: Jenna was not going to be able to come. She had made a booking error with the airline. But later, it was followed by joyous news - not only were she and her daughter coming, she was also coming with her husband and son! They were driving all the way from Frankfurt, Germany to Paris for July 4th weekend...just a bunch of Americans in Paris. For a moment, my mind flashed to us having some kind of patriotically-topped chocolate mousse in footed dessert glasses late at night as we casually watched fireworks from our 4th-floor balcony and the kids ran around the apartment and dropped ice cubes to the street below. Then realization hit the way it does on television when you hear a sudden ripping of vinyl records off each other. Of course there weren't going to be fireworks. Not for another 10 days, anyway. Still, Jenna's arrival was exciting news. They'd arrive that night and stay in our apartment building. I made arrangements, and a series of confusing directions were given, and we saw them that night. What a reunion! We hadn't seen each other since May of 2013. Over two years. The kids didn't remember each other, of course, but it didn't matter. I was so thrilled to see her again...and Chris, too! We did hang out on the porch, but there was no American music wafting through the streets. It was another still, hot night, and we scuffled around on the porch and caught up over beers in the light of the incandescent hotel lamp just behind the voile drapes. And despite the heat, none of the kids got into the ice cubes. It was more of a deconstruct-the-sofa-and-wallow-around-in-the-cushions kind of party. Which is also fun.
But before they arrived, we ventured out to see Notre Dame Cathedral and anything else we could manage. Paris was experiencing a record heat wave this particular weekend, and this was the week I really started to notice pregnancy and the pace of the trip catching up with me. Suddenly, I just couldn't quite walk as quickly or last as long as I had when we arrived in Provence. That said, my nausea had pretty much completely dissipated, so at least my appetite was back, and if ever there was a time and place for it to return, Paris was it.
On our way, we happened by the most luxurious patisserie I have ever seen. We went inside and found stunning macaroons, stacked neatly in dozens of exotic colors. Cakes beyond your imagination - sculpted chocolate ribbons, elaborate sugar art, icing so slick and perfect you could ice skate on it. Cookies, candies, pies galore. The ceiling reminded me of a Victorian carousel, complete with gold foil, mirrors, and a fleur-de-lis motif ensconced all around the ceiling and around each mirror and down each corner. Delicious detail. The columns were all elaborately painted and met with the chair rail in the same gold flourish. Each wall was decorated with a painterly mural, and most all of the treats were displayed at waist level, save for the glass case at the front, and one tall spinning display case near the entrance. The entire effect was very 1880's French, complete with daylight as the sole source of light across the front and sides of the store. I don't believe this establishment has ever been anything but a patisserie.
We decided to purchase a cake to celebrate the arrival of our friends, but we'd have to return for it later that afternoon, as everything would melt in a moment this heat.
Onward we walked until we arrived at Notre Dame. The heat was punishing, with little relief. We sat under trees just across the street to apply sunscreen and drink copious amount of water. I poured some on myself...and it wasn't even noon yet. To protect the little ones from the heat, we went and stood in the small shadow of the towering cathedral while Geoff waited in the hot line. There are two lines to enter Notre Dame - one is to go up on the tower, where you have an excellent view. This wait is around 2 hours long and is populated mostly by lovers and college students. The other line is to enter and walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary of the cathedral itself, and exit. The tour is free and self-guided. Obviously, we went with the tour through the sanctuary. The line was a continuously walking group, and moved as quickly as the people ahead cared to walk along. It doesn't take too long to walk through, but I found myself slowing down, in complete astonishment.
It was a bit difficult to take photographs, partially due to the technical challenges, partially from my growing exhaustion, partially from the crowds, partially because I also had to watch our 3-year-old and make sure she didn't climb onto any centuries-old chairs or statues, but mostly just because I was so overwhelmed. Notre Dame, in those moments, became my sanctuary, and I believe one of my new favorite places. It is at once breathtaking and familiar. It evokes stunned obedience and personal devotion. Each incredible detail is beautiful, everything lovingly and thoughtfully and perfectly measured and sculpted and executed, everything so well preserved.. There is not a mistake in the entire enormity of it, nor any inch overlooked as an opportunity for mathematically balanced sacred art. The symmetry and lines set off the emotion of the sculptures and designs throughout. Each motif and scale is a story, each multiplier of three a reminder of the Holy Trinity, or of the 12 disciples.
And then there are things that are more obvious.
One of the things I love most about Notre Dame is all the art that tells different stories of Jesus and his history and everyone who surrounded him in his life. Bittykins loved the statue of Mary with toddler-aged Jesus. I held her up and explained who they were. "Dat's just like me and you, Mommy!"