Paris Diaries: Serendipity

The following day, my migraine was gone and my flu seemed improved enough that I decided it was time to finally venture out of my quartier. First, however, I strolled down the Champs Elysees to Avenue Montaigne. Avenue Montaigne is a delicate torture. The Belle Epoque buildings are as beautiful as the Pret a Porter clothes that are in the windows, and equally unaffordable. If you want to buy Prada and Givenchy, this is the place do it. Not a store filled with snarky women who make their nasty comments through their nose in undisguised Long Island and New Jersey accents, women who think that class is all about how much money you have, but a truly gentile, quiet, and tasteful street. A street so incredibly high class that even empty with all the stores closed, it intimidates visitors into polite behavior.

Once at the Seine, I enjoyed the view from Pont Alexander and then continued to walk up Avenue de New York (of course!) until I reached the Grand and Petit Palais. From there, I took the Metro to Blvd St. Michel, but not before getting tearful outside of Shakespeare and Co where I had great trouble resisting buying a copy of the "Summer of '42."

By this time I was starving and found a local cafe where I stuffed myself with oeufs. The front of the cafe was also a tabac, and while I ate, I mused at some of the brands here: Hollywood gum and Hamlet cigarettes. What kind of ad campaign Hamlet cigarettes would have? "To be or not to be...a smoker? That is the question." Afterwards, I made my way to Notre Dame.

It wasn't until I went to Paris that I understood the real power of Christianity. As a Jew in a small New England town, I had never seen anything like the gothic beauty of St. Eustache or breathtaking mosiacs of Sacre Couer. Before Paris, christianity was a bunch of stories about some twit who walks on water, which were then used to help the Inquisitions and the witch trials. I thought"C'mon the Greeks and the Vikings have that beat by a mile. I mean if you are gonna believe in some ridiculous shit, why not get some REALLY ridiculous shit like princesses impregnanted by grains of sand or showers of gold?'" Here, in the view of these awesome churches, I was finally able to understand not just the beauty of the religion, but the power that could be used for creativity and artistry.

After donating 2 euros to a light a candle for Jean D'Arc ( a personal favorite not just for her life, but also for the George Bernard Shaw play written about her), I paid another 3 euros to go into the treasury museum. I also discovered my fascination with reliquaries in Paris, specifically at Cluny which houses the not at all well advertised reliquary of the umbilicus of christ. As a Jew, this whole "Let me cart around this foot in the name of JESUS!" well, it just doesn't seem right. I mean if you have those kind of precious metals, why not use them to, you know, help the poor or something. Is encasing the hand of a saint really the best use for those diamonds and sapphires?

Of course, considering that in 1176 Paris was saved from a flood by the Bishop of Paris holding aloft a nail from the True Cross and praying "In this sign of the Holy Passion, may waters return to their bed and this miserable people be protected!" perhaps their love of reliquaries is fairly understandable. And the treasury is full of them, but if you find them not to your taste, you may prefer gorgeous pieces like this crown of the virgin, which is detailed with blue angel wings encrusted in diamonds.

Whether you want to linger in Notre Dame or not, the crowds keep you moving pretty quickly. Most people come here with little appreciation of the place simply knowing that it's some place they "must go" without knowing quite why. As a result, they move quickly and if you know what's good for you, you will too especially if you happen to be a four foot six girl. It's like being swept away by the undertow, if you don't move with it, you risk drowning. Since I had been to Notre Dame before, and personally prefer Sacre Couer, I allowed myself to be amiably jostled through.

Once back out on the street, I happened to see a hot spiced wine stand and warmed my hands as I walked towards the bridge. Two jazz musicians, a clarinetist and, unbelievably, a pianist, had closed down the bridge and were playing in the street. While the pianist had his back to the audience, the clarinetist playfully mugged for the audience-clearly understanding that performance was part of his art. I stood on that bridge with my wine listening to jazz while looking at the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame-and in that moment, I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Paris always reaffirms my faith in myself and my ability to make decisions. Standing on that bridge I thought to myself, "If you can break up with someone in the city of fucking love during your period and still feel good about it, you have absolutely done the right thing." While in New York, I never seem to stop fucking up, in Paris it seems that no matter what decision I make turns out wonderful in the end. And that may be why I am an atheist every where else in the world, but in Paris, in Paris I believe in a benevolent God who guides my actions. It's also only in Paris that I can see the interconnectedness of all events. urse that's an oversimplification. Thousands of minor decisions had to happen with minute precision to bring me to that bridge in that moment, happily sipping my wine, yet amazingly and improbably they did.

I walked on to the Hotel de Ville and discovered that for Christmas they had transformed the front of the building into an erstatz winter wonderland complete with fake "sledding." In a typically French solution to the lake of snow, the had constructed plastic white slides that children could "sled" upon. In addition to the sledding, there was an ice skating rink and two carousels. In typically decadent Parisian style, one of the carousels was actually two levels. If I hadn't been embarassed by all the children with their parents clamouring for a ride, I would have jumped on-but as it was I knew that the witching hour was approaching. It was almost five, and I knew that my legs wouldn't hold up much longer.I walked towards the metro pleased that even in January, Paris is filled with surprises and joy.

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