Paris Diaries: A Cleaning Woman in the House of God
"Some things we plan, we sit and we invent and we plot and cook up, others are works of inspiration, of poetry, and it was this genius hand that push me off the hotel stairs to say good-bye..." (I'll Love You) Until the End of the World by Nick Cave

If you remember the post I wrote about my first full day in Paris, I climbed Monmartre and visited Sacre Coeur. I hadn't been back since my first trip and so the day after visiting Notre Dame, I woke well enough to actually climb Monmartre and visit Sacre Coeur. I thought afterwards I might even walk down Notre Dame de Lorette and see if Henri was loitering around drinking cider in his favorite cafe. A long shot, but in Paris, anything is possible.

Even though I was still sick, I'm always all shades of crazy and instead of taking the metro to the funiculaire, or "cable railway", I decided to climb the entire "mountain" by way of Square Willette. It was a long slog, particularly for a sick girl, but along the way I got to visit the carousel from Amelie as well as appreciate the hidden corners where students sit on benches and quietly read or draw amongst surprisingly lush bushes. When I reached the top, I was in just in time for a harpist to begin playing- again I was struck by how it seemed my trip was being guided by unseen hands.

A French stranger offered to take my picture on the steps of the church-I though it was a come on, but allowed him to take the picture. Afterwards, though, he simply handed the camera back and walked inside. As I entered the church, the nuns began to sing. Sacre Coeur, with its giant mosaic of Christ, is one my favorite churches in the world. And to walk in just as the nuns began to sing "chants pour le temps de Noel" was even more evidence that my trip, despite my avowed atheism, was ordained by divine providence.

Rasputin, the same batshit crazy Russian who told me that all women get their period when they visit Paris, also told me once that I was a Christian, I just didn't know it yet. When I was recounting this part of my trip to my good friend Princeton, he remarked "See, there's hope for you." But it is only here that I feel these things. London, Rome, Florence, Edinburgh, Dublin...I love all these cities, but they do not touch me the way Paris does. They do not convince me that there may actually be a benevolent God or that all events are interconnected, we simply lack the necessary perspective to see it. In Paris, all of this becomes clear to me.

Because Sacre Coeur doesn't permit photography, I sat and "sketched" the paintings and mosaics. And when I say "sketched" I mean made rough stick figures that even the most brain damaged of cave men would have mocked. Yet again this is an example of French logic, while you can happily snap pictures in Notre Dame, St Eustache, and St. Denis all infinitely older churches, you can not CAN NOT take photos in Sacre Coeur. Since I knew my "drawings" would never do these paintings credit, and I knew I didn't have enough time to sit and write a detailed description of everything I saw, as much as I wanted to, I knew that this was a sign that I should just sit and be with these paintings and mosaics as the nuns sang. To revel in the multi colored wings of angels and, particularly, St Michel. The first time I went to Sacre Coeur, I lit a candle for St. Michel and became convinced he helped me with the rest of that vacation.* This time I do the same and sit with him, enjoying his Pre-Raphaelite beauty almost as much as his French indifference as he pierces a winged Devil. Here Jean D'Arc is robed rather than armoured, as she is at Notre Dame.

In front of these shrines and paintings were bouquets of flower-huge gorgeous sweeping bouquets of white flowers. As I sat drawing, a cleaning woman in a grey and white uniform came up and removed a partially rotting bouquet tossing it into a garbage bag she carried with her. I pondered her for a moment. "Shouldn't the nuns do this? Of course, some of the nuns are singing, but surely they must have time to do things other than sing." I thought to myself. I wondered about what it would be like to be a cleaning woman in the house of God-sweeping, vacuuming, washing, scrubbing in a place like this every day. Would it affirm one's faith, or destroy it? The woman moved quickly, with little emotion, and her blank facial expression gave me no insight into her experience.

I could see the sun through the stained glass windows shining brightly. As much as I love Sacre Coeur, there were other places I wanted to see. I was about to walk out, when a guard held his arm out and I stood there as all the nuns, who had been singing, filed past me. I looked into their faces as they walked silent and serenely past. They didn't look at each other or those of us who stood waiting-and their expressions were strangely blank, much like the cleaning woman. I was struck by their youth-most of them were about my age rather than the more elderly nuns I occassionally see in the hallways of my mother's hospital. Their outfits were varied and intriguing to me. There were some all in white, others with the more traditional white and black habits, and finally some nuns were dressed like 18th peasants with white blousy shirts and full brown or blue skirts, but with white habits. All of them, however, sported comfortable shoes.

It was, to me, miraculous to be so close to these women. Not just because I had listened to them sing for the last hour and a half, but because I was in awe of their commitment and dedication. Religious faith is something that I utterly lack and always have. When I was younger, I studied various religions hoping I could find one to believe in, but I never found one that made any sense to me. I have always envied those with religious faith even though I can not, even now, conceive how it is possible to have that kind of conviction. 1 Finally the procession passed and I finally walked back in the Parisian sunlight.

*My affection for St Michael was inspired by an early boyfriend of mine. His middle name was Michael, and I used to think of him as my seraphic beauty. He used to call me the Devil Herself as well as the Greatest Argument for Sin Ever Made. Out of all my exes, he is one of the chosen few for whom I still have affection so much so that I think fondly of him whenever I see St, Michael/ St Michel depicted.

1 Last night I was having a conversation with a person named, strangely enough, after the archangel who defeated the devil. He remarked on how much he loved the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church. When I asked him about some events detailed in the Bible, he revealed an amazing ignorance of the text even though he said he did believe in God and Jesus and the whole trinity thing. I asked him if he felt as a christian he should actually read some of the more important sections of the Bible-as it struck me as odd that a "jewish" atheist would know it better than he did. He responded, "I don't need to read it to believe in it." For a moment, I saw the strange logic of his claim.

Just for a moment though.

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