Notre Dame

There seems to be a sense of universal shock over last week’s fire that threatened the 856-year-old building in the heart of Paris. And there are those who would argue Notre Dame is not in the heart of Paris, rather, it is the heart of Paris.

One fact I heard in all the news coverage would seem to support this belief. There’s a marker in the cobblestones right outside the cathedral, engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France. It’s the point from which all distances from Paris to other cities in France are calculated.

And then there were the social media posts, from friends and acquaintances sharing their past encounters with Notre Dame. Which of course got me thinking — what are my particular memories of it?

It’s a bit of a shame I didn’t remember this right away, but, the last time I was in Paris, Notre Dame was the one non-negotiable item on my list. On prior visits, I had seen the church from afar, from bridges and river cruises on the Seine. But I was fairly certain I had never entered. Being Catholic, and of French heritage, it seemed like something I should do.

My friend Tamara, as the faithful comrade and good host that she is, honored my wishes. We ventured over to the Île-de-la-Cité on May 9, 2017. The pictures of Notre Dame in this post are from that visit.

But here’s the thing, and the reason I likely forgot that Notre Dame was on my “bucket list” during that trip two years ago. Tamara also suggested we visit Sainte-Chapelle while we were in the vicinity, and I was kind of blown away. It’s the memory of Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass that sticks with me.

And just one year prior, in May of 2016, Tamara and I climbed the towers of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva. Another memory that sticks with me. Going back nearly twenty years, on a solo trip to the Île Saint-Honorat (roughly 950 kilometers from Notre Dame), I encountered some ruins that have never left my mind’s eye. When I imagine a true escape, I return to the remains of an 11th century fort, commanding a spectacularly singular view of the Mediterranean Sea.

By no means do I intend to diminish the tragedy of the fire at Notre Dame with these other memories. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is this: there’s so much beauty and wonder in the world and its history. It just seems a pity that it takes the threat of losing a thing so precious to open our eyes to it.

Behind the Photo: Garden District

April 6, 2019, 2:38 pm

This may (or may not) be the start of a new blog feature: “behind the photo.” My thought is to give some context to the impulse that compelled me to snap a photo.

Truthfully, I do this very thing in this space all the time. Look for any of my “City Park” posts. So I guess the only thing that’s new is that I’m attempting to brand the effort. The marketer in me dies hard.

A quick Google search tells me that both National Geographic and Time use the phrase “behind the photo” for sections of their publications. But I don’t think anyone who stumbles across this post will confuse it for either one of those esteemed periodicals.

Anyway, on Saturday, I paid a quick visit to the Garden District of New Orleans, to run into the Garden District Book Shop. (If you’re curious to read more about this great independent bookstore, click here.) What captured my attention at this corner was not so much the sign, but the wall in the background, and in particular, the people there.

That wall encloses Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries. As I drove past the entrance, I saw a large group of folks milling about. My guess was that they were sightseers, either about to embark on or just finishing up a tour.

My first thought: Only in New Orleans, do you see large crowds gathered around a graveyard.

But then I remembered a time in Paris, just two years ago now, where I wandered about with friends around Père Lachaise Cemetery.

My second thought: Maybe it’s a French thing.

One final observation to finish this up. Both the name of the cemetery, and the reference on the sign to the “City of Lafayette,” can be a bit confounding to the modern-day Southern-Louisiana dweller. To me, Lafayette is the city about 140 miles west of New Orleans, that one can reach via I-10. The Internet says it’s the 4th largest city in Louisiana, which sounds about right to me.

But apparently, a different city with the name Lafayette was once also a suburb of New Orleans. Back in those days, I think the name was pretty popular, given that the Marquis de Lafayette, or General Lafayette here, was “USA all the way” during the American Revolutionary War. By a very quick and non-official count, it looks like 15 of our 50 states have towns named Lafayette, or some close variation.

Back when Lafayette became part of New Orleans, what I know as Lafayette today was called Vermilionville. It didn’t get the name “Lafayette” until 1884.

So there’s your “behind the photo” scoop, and, bonus, a random Louisiana fact.

Paris

Me, Kris and Tamara at les jardins des Moulin Jaune

So, by the time folks in the U.S. are waking up, and may (or may not) see this post in their feeds, I should be somewhere over the Atlantic, returning home to the U.S. after twelve days in Europe.

I spent the last five days with friends in Paris. My friend Tamara has lived in Paris for the past six years; she met me in Geneva last year when I was traveling in Europe for work.

This time, I went to her home after my work was done in Düsseldorf. And as a bonus, two more friends from California came to Paris. The last time we were all together was in 2012, so it turned into a mini reunion of sorts.

Thinking it over, I realized this was my fourth visit to Paris (in the past twenty years). And each time, I’ve become progressively less of a tourist. And the time that I just passed there was exceedingly special, and not just because we had an insider’s tour to the city. Or because I was there when Macron was elected. (Though that was nice news).

A good bit of the reason was because I got to spend time with both Tamara and Kris. The three of us forged an enduring friendship in our youth, when we all lived in Los Angeles. It was one of those things where we found ourselves at similar stages of our lives, and something just clicked.

The three of us are like sisters from different mothers. And it’s a description that’s particularly poignant, since we find ourselves again at similar stages now, in middle age. We’ve all lost our mothers recently—Kris most recently—and there was just something so enriching about spending time with close friends who know you and get you. And still want to spend time with you anyway. 🙂

Tamara lives in the 20th Arrondissement, in a lovely apartment that is amazingly quiet, and within walking distance of Père Lachaise cemetery. We spent the first day walking our way to Père Lachaise, and took a detour through the Petite Ceinture, a railway line that’s no longer in use.

The second day was rainy, and we wandered the Marais, shopped, and ducked into three different churches. None of them the BIG Notre Dame.

On Sunday, the third day, we headed outside the city to Crécy-la-Chapelle, to a special event at Le Moulin Jaune. A man named Slava opens up this property to the public every few months. On this particular Sunday, the gardens were open to wander, and it was a true “through the looking glass” experience. It was raining, and the damp only added to the chill we all felt. But there was borscht and vin chaud at the end, and we all left with some amazing pictures and a true sense memory of a very unique place.

Finally, in the time just passed, I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my writing life. I’ve been on this writing journey for the past seven years, and was pretty quiet about it for the first five. But Kris and Tamara have known since the early days, probably since Tamara’s going-away-party when she left for Paris.

So it was nice to look down the abandoned underground passages of the Petite Ceinture, and say something about how it made me think of C.H.U.D., and not have my companions blink an eye. Or same thing, when I expressed how a gypsy wagon on the grounds of Le Moulin Jaune haunted me in a downright preternatural way.

My soul’s been enriched and my imagination sparked. Don’t think I could ask for much more.

On the Petite Ceinture. C.H.U.D. might be lurking.
Amazing roses in the Marais
The organ at St. Eustache
Les jardins des Moulin Jaune
The gypsy wagon. And yes, that is a white rabbit in the background.