Notre-Dame de Paris: She is Rocked by the Waves, but Does Not Sink

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This time last year, I had the pleasure of witnessing the majesty of Notre-Dame Cathedral for myself–unaware at the time of how startlingly ephemeral this experience would be.

There is a Latin verse from the Middle Ages that goes, Niteris incassum navem submergere Petri / Fluctuat at numquam mergitur illa ratis — “In vain you strive to submerge the ship of Peter / this vessel rocks but is never submerged.” Simplified to Fluctuat nec mergiturShe is rocked by the waves, but does not sink — this motto came to be associated with the city of Paris. From coins, to the coat of arms, the official adoption came at a time during the 19th century when much of the old city was destroyed to make way for new, modern renovations.

And seemingly forever at the epicenter of Paris, the beating heart of Ile de la Cite, stands Notre-Dame Cathedral. This small island is likely where the first building blocks of what would become Paris arose–back when the settlers there were but a small Gallic tribe of ‘Parisii’ embattled with Romans. As the story goes, it was here in the 5th century AD that the patron Saint of Paris, Genevieve, led the city in prayer to save themselves from Attila and his Huns. And later, as the invasions and sieges momentarily cooled–there began the construction of a cathedral that would eventually become Notre-Dame, at the point where all roads in France meet, and where–despite the persistent wars and losses over centuries–it has remained.

“The church of Notre-Dame in Paris is doubtless still a majestic and sublime edifice. But, however beautiful it has remained in growing old, it is difficult to suppress a sigh, to restrain a feeling of indignation at the numberless degradations and mutilations which the hand of time and that of man have inflicted upon this venerable monument…” – Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Ch. 14″

Affectionately known as ‘Our Lady’, Paris saw the beginning of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s construction in the Spring of 1163 AD where both King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III were present for the first stone laying. Maurice de Sully, the Bishop of Paris, was eager to oversee the building of a grand church set in the new style of Gothic–but he would not live to see its completion. It would take another 200 years or so for that day to come.

And since then, Notre-Dame Cathedral has looked upon more than 850 years of history–some good and some bad–all while standing resilient, never sinking. Even before construction was finished, France saw the breakout of The Hundred Year’s War where the Plantagenet kings of England saw the kingdom of France as their rightful claim, having been decedents of Norman kings, when Charles IV of France died without heirs. During the course of this 116 years of conflict, France saw many victories and many defeats against the English crown. One of the famous heroes of these events was Joan of Arc, who bolstered French morale after aiding in the siege of Orleans and ultimately helped lead to France’s inevitable victory in the war. After being captured by the English and summarily executed, Joan of Arc was later beatified in 1909 by Pope Pius X at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris where a statue bearing her likeness resides. There was the French Wars of Religion which led to the riots of the Huguenots in the 16th century, a band of Protestants in opposition to the Catholic Church, who committed iconoclasm upon many of the statues of Notre-Dame. The Black Death swept through Paris repeatedly, coming in waves of plague through the ages, a particularly brutal one occurring between the 16th-17th centuries which likely saw many Parisians finding solace and seeking salvation within the church walls. The long and prosperous reigns of both “The Sun King” Louis XIV and his son Louis XV saw the removal of original stained glass windows in favor of white glass which would bring more light within Notre-Dame along with many other internal altercations more congruent with their period’s style. The iconic spire, which many of us watched helpless and aghast fall to yesterday’s flames, was not even the original–this had been previously removed after having been wind damaged.

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Lighting a candle for my dear Joan.

Notre-Dame Cathedral also bore witness to the French Revolution in the late-18th century and saw itself, along with the monarchy, become a target of the new Republic. It became temporarily the house of the Cult of Reason and was plundered of its treasures and had many of its religious iconography destroyed–statues of biblical kings beheaded by the guillotine like French monarchs. It became nothing more than a beautiful, Gothic warehouse for food until Napoleon Bonaparte liberated and restored it as a church–holding his coronation as Emperor of France there in 1804. But by the time of Victor Hugo, the cathedral was largely in disrepair and rapidly decaying–prompting Hugo to feature this relic of Paris in his novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The popularity of this book brought with it renewed love and attention, prompting King Louis Philippe to order Notre-Dame’s immediate restoration with the help of renowned architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. They re-created much of the sculptures and glass that had been previously lost and were responsible for the reconstruction of the spire, which will undoubtedly be remade again after yesterday’s tragedy. Notre-Dame Cathedral was also there for both World Wars, the second which saw France fall to Germany in 1940. It was the liberation of Paris in 1944 where Notre-Dame took a few literal bullets for its people.

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And yet, Notre-Dame Cathedral has remained through all of these events, housing treasures such as the Crown of Thorns, a piece of the True Cross, and a nail from the crucifixion. Relics from St. Denis, St. Genevieve, and the tunic of St. Louis. All irreplaceable and at least the Crown of Thorns and St. Louis’ tunic confirmed to be saved from yesterday’s fire. The Rose Windows, breathtaking feats of stained glass from the 13th century are remarkably said to have been saved from complete destruction along with the Great Pipe Organ. Though the catastrophe of the fire has yet to be fully assessed, there is some solace to be found in that Notre-Dame Cathedral is still standing and the people of Paris and the world with it.

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I, too, watched in anguish yesterday as the fire ate away at the cathedral–scared of what could have possibly been the complete destruction of a monument of world heritage and history, and dismayed at how helpless I felt in those moments. I’m not naive enough to think that anything lasts forever and it can certainly not be the case with history–but I am relieved that the greatest tragedy has been averted and that is in forgetting Notre-Dame Cathedral existed at all. So many things in history have been inexplicably lost to us forever, both in physical wonder like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Colossus of Rhodes, or in lack of memory such as to the contents of the Library of Alexandria–but Notre-Dame will not be forgotten and certainly not after today. Watching the world stand up and cherish what this cathedral means to the arresting spirit of humanity and our desire to build on beauty, or the solidarity of Parisians as they came together to sing hours worth of hymns and to aid in the saving of artworks and relics from inside, the motto of Paris chimes particularly loud today while the bells of Notre-Dame Cathedral take their momentary rest:

 

She is rocked by the waves, but she does not sink.

 

 

 

To donate to the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, follow this link: https://don.fondation-patrimoine.org/SauvonsNotreDame/~mon-don?_cv=1

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King Slayers: Charles VIII Knocking on Death’s Door

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He certainly does look “Affable”

It almost seems like it’s a prerequisite to be both a French King and histrionic in death. I mean, when hunting accidents, executions, and bizarre gangrene infected limbs make-up the brunt of the company, it seems a bit cliche to just up and die of natural causes.

Part of the reason I’ve been interested in focusing on this series is because I’m still baffled by the completely mundane or stupid way these Royal Dudes have gone so far. And that’s largely due to the idea that royalty is somehow above us, an assumption fostered by the Will of God in declaring a divine right to rule (or, of course, all the people in charge want you to believe). I have plans to get into the Divine Right of Kings or the Mandate of Heaven someday on this blog, but for the basics–as a concept, it was an idea that a King was granted earthly powers through God in the same way as religious prophets/leaders were. The idea existed in Western and Eastern civilizations and it wasn’t that hard to stomach since the tradition of a mortal being imbued with special powers was no stranger to mythology. The fact that you had some kind of godly figure sitting on the throne accepted by large swaths of the population isn’t that questionable either, since you could take a quick search on Twitter and learn that people will believe just about anything if it means their leader is infallible and preferential in some way…

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See?!

But for this next king, Charles VIII, it’s really hard to reconcile how anyone could find this guy anything other than divinely stupid in the way in which he chose to leave his mortal coils. And as it was so lovingly put in indignant bafflement:

And so the greatest king of the world is dead to the most ugly and dirty place of his court. Admittedly, this filthy place was too unworthy of this great and illustrious king and his fortune.Pierre de Brantôme, 16th century French Historian [1]

If you’ve been following along with my blog, I’ve already turned the embarrassing way he met his end into a punchline. But for those who are new, come on in (but please, watch your head) and listen to the tale.

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Paris Day 4: Life is Laissez-faire

Today is our last day in the city of Paris before we move on to see if Pirates of the Caribbean is sung in French. Since we wore out the soles of our shoes yesterday with all our walking, we thought we’d take it a bit easy today since we’ll be hitting the pavement hard in Disneyland. In the morning, we took a walk a few blocks down to visit a bakery and stop into a cafe for a quick breakfast.

I don’t know what it is about their ham, but every dish I’ve had with it featured is beyond amazing. It basically melts in your mouth and the flavor from the juices makes me feel like declaring France the king of the pig over Italy which just feels sacrilegious to me. As we were sitting outside on the patio, we must have looked like locals who knew what the hell we were doing because a group of fellow tourists came up to us trying to speak French, asking us for directions. We were so proud of ourselves, especially since they were looking for help in getting to the Opera Granier which we knew intimately at this point, as our hotel is located within walking distance. We told them the way and felt like proud Parisians for a minute. Not shortly after, however, my mother was back to spreading the good word of Minnesota “oop!” which does a much more satisfactory job than “excusez-moi” when accidentally running into people, if you ask me.

Since we are so close, we decided to try and see if our tourist friends made it safely from our directions and decided to tour the Opera Granier ourselves!

Named after it’s grand architect Charles Garnier, the Opera House was completed in 1875, after an assassination attempt on Emperor Napoleon III prompted a desire for a new opera location since the old one was getting a bit dangerous. Hilariously, however, France was a republic again by the time the Opera Garnier was completed. Napoleon III was super dead and unable to attend the opening, but thanks anyway!

And, of course, the Opera Garnier is known for another famous spectre, the Phantom! The novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opéra, is inspired by tales and events that occurred at the Opera, one in particular being the accident in which a patron was killed after a chandelier had become dislodged, crashing through the auditorium. Gaston was an investigative journalist and claimed the story as factual in the opening chapter of the novel, but unfortunately it’s mostly a work of fiction.

I think if I was sitting in the seats directly below this, I’d probably keep looking up every 5 seconds just to make sure I wasn’t about to become a ghost myself.

Standing inside the Opera Garnier is nothing short of astonishing. I probably spent 20 minutes just soaking up the gold in this room with my mouth hanging open. Despite the looks, however, it’s not as expensive as it might seem. Though some things like the fireplace and a few statues are genuinely fully gilded with gold leaf, a majority of this room was oil painted and created to give the effect of gilding.

I don’t know about you, but this works just as well for me!

There is even a sad Salieri who lives here, which I stopped giggling long enough to snap a photo of. He DID NOT kill Mozart, but R.I.P. Milos Forman.

After the Opera, we walked some more, taking in the sights and sounds of Paris. We passed a shop with sizzling hens, produce stalls, and got plenty a whiff from the flower shops lining the streets. Though it wasn’t night yet and we had no interest in seeing the can-can dancers, we waved to the Moulin Rouge anyway.

Plenty tired now from all of our walking, we kicked up our feet outside on a cafe patio so I could read my Shakespeare & Company copy of Hunchback of Notre Dame and my mother could people watch. Also, had myself a real flat white rather than the Starbucks knockoff I’m used to and a tasty savory croissant with tomato, ham, & cheese!

Though Paris is beautiful in the rain, we spent it indoors at a restaurant enjoying our last meal in town. Managed to knock off a few French cuisine staples too!

Beef bourgignoun!

Creme brûlée!

And the prettiest cappuccino I’ve ever seen!

Thanks for the love, Paris! You’ve been swell to a couple of bumpkins with a flimsy grasp of the language, and we’ve been nothing but smiles since we’ve got here! We’re in perfect moods to take to Disneyland and my mom is frothing at the mouth to get her hands on a Mickey Mouse sugar cookie. Au revoir!

Paris Day 3: Versailles, The Louvre, & Food. Oh My!

I forgot to mention a few notes from yesterday in my haste to get into bed! We learned about the unofficial memorial to Princess Diana while touring, it’s a golden torch that hangs out above the tunnel where the fatal crash occurred. So when we took our ride to our dinner cruise later, we were in cryptic shock when we realized we were traveling through the same tunnel. It does feel a bit eery! On our dinner cruise, I was given the privilege of tasting the wine for the table because I apparently said ‘bonjour!’ well enough in greeting that the waiter got confused and thought I was French, so take that mother! Also, the Luxor Obelisk I took a picture of in my last post also happens to be displayed in the same spot Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were executed on the guillotine during the French Revolution. This last tidbit brings me to the start of our adventure this morning!

Like I had mentioned earlier, the Chateau de Versailles was one of my favorite things I had seen on my previous trip and I was excited for my mother to see it. I made her watch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette film back home in preparation which, while not entirely perfect in historical accuracy, makes for a beautiful movie which I love regardless and the film was even shot on location! We arrived at Versailles early morning so we could get in before it got too crowded.

Opulent, yet faint with age, Versailles is still the pearl of France. Where once the extravagance behind its doors were regarded as gratuitously frivolous and enraged the populous into a rebellious frenzy, it now exists as a shell of itself–most of the inner furnishing lost, after it had all been removed following the revolution. Yet, you can still get a sense of the characters who once walked these halls–from the Sun King’s love of hunting proudly displayed in reverence to Artemis to what fun must have been had in the billiards room, it’s impossible to escape the shadow of greatness.

One of the things I did not get to see last time were the extensive gardens. We rented a cart to drive out back to see the Grand & Petit Trianon, and got to drive through the gardens all afternoon. It was a beautiful mid-60’s sunny day in Spring with a light breeze carrying with it a hint of moisture blowing off from the canal. So, perfect, basically. Within the Petit Trianon was the classic portrait of Marie Antoinette, who while alive, hated the lifestyle at Versailles. Kindred introverts, Marie would hide away from the court at Versailles in favor of residing at the Trianon or her cottage home created to emulate a simpler, quieter country life.

I have written about Marie a few times on this blog, if you want a taste of a bit of her sass you can read here or if you are curious to know what her famous last words might have been before being executed, check it out here.

Before leaving the gardens, we had to check out a fountain show too!

Now, onto some food! For breakfast at Versailles, we stopped into Angelina’s where I was determined to capture a video of the hot chocolate pouring into my cup because I’m cruel like that.

Then, after burning off all that chocolate walking around the gardens, we split a fresh club sandwich and replenished our supply of sugar with a Nutella banana crepe, all served within the gardens itself!

Nap time probably, but nope! We were now off to hit up the Louvre so we could say hi to Mona Lisa and get my fix of other historical people I really dig.

My answer whenever someone asks that question, “Who would you invite to dinner, living or dead?” That’d be my boy Marcus Aurelius!

And then there is his son Commodus, who is my favorite asshole. I wrote about this douche on my blog before which you can read about here!

More Joan of Arc ❤

And this handsome devil Antinous, thought to be one of the most beautiful people in the classical world, not unlike the male version of Helen. I wrote about him too and the ridiculous ending to his story here.

And, of course, the smile known around the world.

Last but not least, I ate a really fantastic burger and America should really get on this Ramen bun thing, I’m just Seine-in’.

Paris Day 2: Can I Get Some Salt?

Woke up feeling like I hadn’t just conquered a transatlantic flight and was ready to roll out (and drown myself in coffee too but that’s a normal feeling despite the circumstances). We found a little cafe near our hotel that was open early for breakfast, most creperies and places we had our eye on weren’t open until later in the morning. Behold the lightest most satisfying breakfast for only 12 euro!

Magnifico! I could get this for breakfast every day, it was the perfect meal to wake up to. Afterwards, we hopped on a tour bus to help us navigate around Paris and first stop for us was Norte Dame!

The cathedral has such an extensive history, I’m not sure if I could really sum it up here with any integrity. Suffice it to say, it felt extremely powerful to stand within it. Right away you get a whiff of incense and a shiver down your spine upon entering, and the feeling of being minuscule enfolds as you stare at the colorful stained glass and how much space exists above you.

I was surprised to see a spot venerating Joan of Arc and a place to light a candle offering for her, I knew she was canonized but did not know I would necessarily find her here. She was, of course, executed after a sham of a hearing which you can find a copy of in transcript here. Felt special to make a small connection with a historical hero of mine. My mother also lit an offering candle for my grandma and grandpa who must be super proud of her right now and were probably also amused when she accidentally used profanity within these holy walls. I’m never going to let her forget it either.

We also investigated the treasure room where they had papal artifacts, chalices, and other relics on display. Even caught a glimpse of the holy hand grenade! Jokes aside, I could probably put up a fun post on this site about the madhouse of insanity that went into the holy relic racket, but for now I’ll just leave a cool picture and let you all know I saw a couple of saintly femurs.

While we were browsing, the bells went off while we were standing within the walls of Norte Dame. I’ll let that sentence sink in. Mass also started while we were there and we even went up for communion because why not go for the full experience!?

We continued along our tour and took in more sites from Paris, getting down some ideas for what we’d like to try and do for our free day on Saturday!

This is the obelisk given to France by an Ottoman king, we were told in thanks to the work of French Archaeology in recovering the Rosetta Stone and deciphering Ancient Egyptian. This obelisk is from the Luxor temple and tells of praise for Ramesses II the Great.

We had a riverboat cruise to catch! What better way to spend a night with your mother other than going on a romantic dinner cruise along the Seine?

Yeah, I don’t know either. There was another touring mother and daughter next to us having dinner and I almost got to witness a homicide when she asked our waiter for salt after tasting her chicken. Tomorrow we have plans to see the palace of Versailles and the Louvre!

Paris Day 1: From Jet Lag With Love

I have not slept in over 24 hours. Save for a small catnap while crammed into the middle seat of the plane with The Mummy in my ear to help drown out that hellacious Iceland wind turbulence. But, oddly, I don’t feel as dead to the world as I should be.

We arrived in Paris in the afternoon, sleep-deprived and a little bewildered by the drive to the main bank we’d be staying in. Last time, I wasn’t able to experience the ride from the airport to Paris, which showed a side of the city not often considered when dreaming about planning a romantic getaway under the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower. There were refugee pockets panhandling along the main road and makeshift tent communities and homes made from wire fences. People were strolling amongst the cars in the middle of the road begging for change not unlike India, and there were stretches of the highway where garbage was piled up to look reminiscent of the airport scene in The Fifth Element. Perhaps Luc Besson was making a cultural reference I had yet to experience.

So I was eager to see the city center and hope, desperately, that I would not be adding Paris Syndrome onto my list of ails. Once we checked into our hotel, we hit the pavement immediately–a bit overwhelmed and disoriented by the busy streets and people fast walking by us. First things first, we wanted to try the famous hot chocolate at Angelina’s we had heard so much about! I was barely keeping it together at this point and we weren’t expecting the location recommended to us to be found in a humongous mecha of designer goods that had my wallet crying tears of neglect.

Galeries Lafayette

Angelina’s is tucked away in the back on the 1st floor of Galeries Lafayette, forcing you to navigate through a field of heavy perfumes and somehow manage not to immediately buy a whole box of macarons from Pierre Hermè. We were seated next to a table of older French ladies who seemed to be regulars, and they weren’t exactly pleased to see us. I didn’t think I was dressed too out of the ordinary, I deliberately packed outfits that would help me blend in, but my mother caught one of them giving me the once over in disgust, finding particular offense by my choice in Toms shoes. Yikes.

They seemed to be interested in everything we did and were both parts either annoyed or amused by us. They also kept watching us and we heard them declare to each other what our food order was as it came out to our table which was pretty wild. As a result, we tried not to be too ostentatious with our taking pictures of our food, but I still managed to snap a couple shots!

I can absolutely attest to the hot chocolate being amazing. It was sweeter and lighter than I was expecting–the famous version is a blend of three different chocolates from Africa, so I was prepared for all that chocolatey goodness to go down with a bitter bite! It was so smooth and sweet, I really didn’t even need the cream to help cut it. You’ve got to try this at least once in your life, especially if Nestle hot water mixed with powder is the only life you’ve known.

After we enjoyed our lunch, the magic of the hot chocolate coursing through my veins jolted me back awake and we spent some time pursuing the Parisian fashion available to us and repeatedly talked each other out of making any big purchases. Would be pretty sad to go for broke all in the first day, we still have Disneyland to get to after all!

But alas, we were still extremely exhausted and decided to do dinner a bit simpler. We found a bakery nearby our hotel and grabbed a baguette, butter, and brie to take back with us while we listened to the noises of the city outside our opened window. Might sound kinda lame, but I can assure you it feels like heaven right now. Besides, I am so ready to crawl into this comforter!

Histastrophe! in Paris

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What can I say, I’m a light packer.

Ah, Paris, “The City of Light”!

If you followed along with me on my last adventure, I briefly saw a bit of Paris while on a road trip through Europe to meet my Italian relatives in southern Italy’s Cosenza. Two years ago, I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in our car and was also fortunate enough to visit Chateau Versailles as well, which was one of my favorite memories from the trip.

Upon my return home, I realized I missed getting to experience Paris the most, even more so than Rome (Which, you guessed it, is a bit strange considering how much of my posts on this blog concern Roman history). I longed to walk among the gardens of Versailles again and this time wanted to stroll along the the Seine as well. I never got to taste the famous hot chocolate at Angelina’s or marvel at the treasures in the Louvre. And I just really really wanted to try an authentic macaron.

Well, this time, I’m planning to do just that! Accompanying me on this trip is my mother who has never traveled abroad before (I’m so excited for her and also secretly hoping she’ll catch the travel bug, I need to go to Rome again too!). Like before, I’ll be updating every day and detailing our adventures! And for my fellow history lovers, we’ve certainly got our eye on some cool spots! I’ll be showing her Versailles, and we have plans to visit the Louvre, Arch de Triomphe, the Latin Quarter, and maybe even Victor Hugo’s house. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be seeing The Catacombs which I suggested doing on Friday the 13th and was met with an uncharacteristic expletive from my mother which she’ll have to ask forgiveness for at Notre Dame. Also, because we’re both huge nerds, we’re spending a day or two in Disneyland Paris too.

So follow along on my blog to keep up with my adventures in Paris! When I return, it’s back to the usual update schedule. Next post will >shocker< not be about Ancient Rome.

Salut!

 

Also, just for fun, here is the anthem for this trip!