August 3: The Heart of Paris

Our first Sunday in Europe was mostly magic, but it got rained on (both literally and proverbially) by the end. Our first attempt at navigating the sharply angled streets of Paris dissuaded us from the notion that we could just “go up one more block because it’ll all come out in the same place, and that street looks interesting.” Fortunately, we built a lot of time into our morning journey from our hotel in the 9th Arrondissement to our destination south of the Seine. Not only did we have to right the wrong caused by my curiosity about an “interesting looking street,” but we had to figure out what we were actually looking for in a metro stop. Never having navigated a major world city before, we were looking for something a little more commanding then the steps into the ground on the street corner that soon became a familiar signal that we’d reached our goal. Sewer rats, all of us, crawling in and out of the ground!

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We emerged from the metro at the north end of the famous Pont Neuf on the edge of Ile de la Cité. It was our first sight of true Paris, and completely enchanting. It was only 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and the city was fast asleep. That, too, was enchanting – a special gift to have Paris to ourselves as we walked to church, across Pont Neuf and through the streets of the St. Germain district.

And what a day of church it was! Intimate, quiet, early mass in the east chapel of St. Sulpice, then back after breakfast to catch the organ in the main mass, an afternoon visit to Ste. Chapelle (past Durufle’s St. Etienne du Mont), and Vespers and Mass at the end of the day at Notre Dame. The times we spent in worship in France were profound. To enter a space in a country you’ve never been in before where you barely speak the language, and to know exactly where you are and what is happening speaks so much (which I will have to write later) about the transcendent power of the practice of Christian worship. Foreigners though we were, we felt like we belonged in that early morning spoken French mass, surrounded by 20-30 people, doing their customary Sunday morning thing. So began a trip filled with immense moments of worship inspiring long reflection.

Sunday 3 August, 11:00 a.m. St. Sulpice Church

A perfect morning. Got off the metro at Pont Neuf for our first look at Paris. Walked to St. Sulpice early while streets were mostly empty. Mass in the chapel was perfect, texts on God feeding us – Ps 144, Isa 55, Rom 8:31-39, loaves and fishes; communion – “Le corps de Christ.” Joy in finding familiarity with the Christian liturgy even in a foreign language. This is how the church should be. I felt like an initiate. We wandered into St. Germain des Pres church and its neighborhood, sharing breakfast and people-watching at a café across the street from the church, listened to its bells calling to worship and heard St. Sulpice’s answer. After splitting a french breakfast with an omelette and greens, hot chocolate and the rest, we’ve come back to St. Sulpice to the 11:00 mass where the main organ is playing Brahms chorale preludes. During communion Roth improvised on Schmucke Dich and for postlude, Durufle Fugue sur le thème du carillon de la cathédrale de Soissons – Mike’s piece from this spring’s AAGO exam.

Monday 4 August, 5:00 p.m. Atop the Eiffel Tower

Sunday ended with a stroll and a pause in Luxembourg garden, a brief walk past the Pantheon to Rue Mouffetard, to find the Sunday market just finishing its close. Gelato on a square and a walk past Durufle’s church, then up to the islands to see St. Chapelle and attend Vespers & Mass at Notre Dame. We left there for Ile St. Louis and walked the circumference, getting caught in a downpour and desperately needing a bathroom. At 9:30 we ate a massively disappointing dinner in Cafe Odette & Amié by our hotel and fell into bed.

The rest can be told in pictures…

St. Sulpice, just north of the Luxembourg Gardens, is home to the largest of the great 19th-century French organs. Widor and Vierne worked there. This was our first glimpse of European church architecture, a wonder I will never finish digesting.
St. Sulpice, just north of the Luxembourg Gardens, is home to the largest of the great 19th-century French organs. Widor worked there and Franck wrote for that instrument. This was our first glimpse of European church architecture, a wonder I will never finish digesting.
The doors on these churches are monstrosities, immovable unless open in invitation, but almost always open. Inside the space belongs to you (and the occasional pigeon) for wandering and prayer. Such a different feeling from our American meeting-halls kept tightly locked.
The doors on these churches are monstrosities, immovable unless open in invitation, but almost always open. Inside the space belongs to you (and the occasional pigeon) for wandering and prayer. Such a different feeling from our American meeting-halls kept tightly locked.
No big deal.
No big deal. Not only did we hear service music at the 11:00 mass, but the liturgy was followed by a 30-minute recital.
One of the culinary highlights of our trip. The yogurt, served in a glass jar, tasted like fine cheese. The chocolate was served as a pitcher of steamed milk beside a cup of thick ganache. The orange juice, of course, was completely fresh.
One of the culinary highlights of our trip. The yogurt, served in a glass jar, tasted like fine cheese. The chocolate was served as a pitcher of steamed milk beside a cup of thick ganache. The orange juice, of course, was completely fresh.
This café, the Napoleon Bonaparte, was just across from the neighborhood parish, St. Germain des Pres.
This café, the Napoleon Bonaparte, was just across from the neighborhood parish, St. Germain des Pres.
We ate the Parisian way, sitting at one of the outdoor tables that faced the street, finding in it our entertainment, lingering long.
We ate the Parisian way, sitting at one of the outdoor tables that faced the street, finding in it our entertainment, lingering long.
The fountains in the square at the entrance to St. Sulpice. We arrived so early for the first mass that they weren't running yet and it was fun to see them when we returned.
The fountains in the square at the entrance to St. Sulpice. We arrived so early for the first mass that they weren’t running yet and it was fun to see them when we returned.
This gilded immensity is the lectern in the center of the nave, from which the gospel would be read, signifying its imminence and its majesty. God with us.
This gilded immensity is the lectern in the center of the nave, from which the gospel would be read, signifying its imminence and its majesty. God with us.
In a city as tightly built as Paris, it's remarkable the amount of real estate inhabited by churches, not only because of their large number but because they boast extensive church yards, gathering places of a time gone by. Again, deep meaning lies here.
In a city as tightly built as Paris, it’s remarkable the amount of real estate inhabited by churches, not only because of their large number but because they boast extensive church yards, gathering places of a time gone by. Again, deep meaning lies here.
Summary: St. Sulpice was seriously cool.
Summary: St. Sulpice was seriously cool.

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Les Jardins de Luxembourg
Les Jardins de Luxembourg
I couldn't take enough pictures of the plantings in Luxembourg Gardens. Some of them wouldn't be hard to duplicate. (You knew I was thinking it.)
I couldn’t take enough pictures of the plantings in Luxembourg Gardens. Some of them wouldn’t be hard to duplicate. (You knew I was thinking it.)
In the background is the famous pond at the center of the garden where children (and grown ups) sail their little toy boats. We didn't get any closer than this photo, since we were hurrying (in vain) to catch the market at Rue Mouffetard.
In the background is the famous pond at the center of the garden where children (and grown ups) sail their little toy boats. We didn’t get any closer than this photo, since we were hurrying (in vain) to catch the market at Rue Mouffetard. Next time.
We ate over-priced but delicious gelato from Amorino,  the famous gelato chain. While we sat in this hopping little square deep in the ancient Latin Quarter there was a guy playing a banged-up old upright piano in the middle of the street, serenading the diners pouring out of the cafés on a busy Sunday afternoon. Oh, Paris.
We ate over-priced but delicious gelato from Amorino, the famous gelato chain. While we sat in this hopping little square deep in the ancient Latin Quarter there was a guy playing a banged-up old upright piano in the middle of the street, serenading the diners pouring out of the cafés on a busy Sunday afternoon. Oh, Paris.
Eglise Saint Etienne du Mont. Mike was a little giddy to glimpse this church deep in the Latin Quarter, the workplace of "Le" Maurice Duruflé. (Also no big deal.)
Eglise Saint Etienne du Mont. Mike was a little giddy to glimpse this church deep in the Latin Quarter, the workplace of “Le” Maurice Duruflé. (Also no big deal.)
Sainte Chapelle was a sight, for sure, but by this time we were in our slump for the day, having been on our feet already for eight hours and now feeling the hot sun and fighting the enormous Sunday-in-August crowds. Still, it was magnificent and worth it.
Sainte Chapelle was a sight, for sure, but by this time we were in our slump for the day, having been on our feet already for eight hours and now feeling the hot sun and fighting the enormous Sunday-in-August crowds. Still, it was magnificent and worth it.
You could spend weeks deciphering all the narrative embedded in windows like these.
You could spend weeks deciphering all the narrative embedded in windows like these.
Notre Dame was daunting, the line to gain entry winding the full length of its western square. We braved it and only ended up spending 20 minutes waiting. We sat inside for several hours, enjoying the strange combination of hush and roar that we grew accustomed to in dim tourist-filled churches during our trip. Getting to participate in services here, in a crowd of that size, was awesome.
Notre Dame was daunting, the line to gain entry winding the full length of its western square. We braved it and only ended up spending 20 minutes waiting. We sat inside for several hours, enjoying the strange combination of hush and roar that we grew accustomed to in dim tourist-filled churches during our trip. Getting to participate in services here, in a crowd of that size, was awesome.
I subjected Mike to far too many selfies along the way, always with very disappointing results. But we needed proof! ;) This photo was right before the rain storm that completely drenched us as we dashed around town searching in vain for a bathroom (this became an almost daily occurrence) and wishing for food and an adequate understanding of the bus routes. As I said before, our day got rained on.
I subjected Mike to far too many selfies along the way, always with very disappointing results. But we needed proof! 😉 This photo was right before the rain storm that completely drenched us as we dashed around town searching in vain for a bathroom (this became an almost daily occurrence) and wishing for food and an adequate understanding of the bus routes. As I said before, our day got rained on.

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