Following yesterday’s almost all indoors adventure we opted to spend some time outside starting at the Luxembourg Gardens. But first coffee.
I have a thing about restaurants here, I tend to pre-reminisce that we’re going to be treated like dirt. Which is wholly irrational, and based perhaps on a single experience with a grumpy waiter at a café near the Musée Rodin three years ago. In that instance, he really didn’t want our coffee/croissant business and made it plain, but we stayed anyway, if only to get out of the rain. Because of that I get a knot in my stomach just about every time we decide to dine out here, which as I said is nuts. So, this morning I bucked it up and we walked across the square to the Salon de Thé, choosing to sit inside to avoid the smokers enjoying the morning sunshine. And when I say “sit,” I mean sit. And sit. And sit, until we finally got up and left. So much for pre-reminiscing, more like premonition.
Off we went, until we found a cool little corner shop with counter service and a single table. I ordered, the woman behind the counter stared, I order again, more slowly and she got it. I asked her if my French was really that bad, she said she couldn’t understand my accent. We both had a good laugh.
On to the gardens. Our first visit to Paris was in February, and there was nothing to see. Last time it was just a bit too early so we didn’t bother with the long walk. This trip was specifically planned for spring weather, you know, the whole “April in Paris” thing, and our planning was rewarded. The trees were green, the gardens full of tulips and spring flowers and tons of people sitting and enjoying the morning sun. One of the popular things to do here is sailing wooden boats. At 3€50 for 30 minutes, you get a sailboat and a long wooden stick to keep it going. All the action is via wind and it’s very cool to watch the little boats tacking around the pond at the center of the park. You launch, you watch and you run around to start the process again on the other side. I just plain loved watching the kids (and a few adults too) going through their sailing routine. The palace associated with the gardens was built between 1610 and 1627 for the widow of Henry V. The size and the lavishness brought to mind the French Revolution and why the peasants decided to kill all the royalty with such a fury. Imagine Paris in the early 17th century, and imagine this sizable chunk of land devoted to a single window, while everyone else was living in the mud. Not a big hop from acquiescence to pitchforks.
From there it was on to the Pantheon, the grand monument to the heroes and heroines of the French state.
Having been miraculously cured of an illness, King Louis XV decided to build a basilica dedicated to Saint Genevieve, Paris’ patron. Construction began under the direction of the Marquis de Marigny (Madame de Pompadour’s brother) who had chosen the architect J-G Soufflot, in 1757. Louis laid the cornerstone in 1764 and construction was finally completed in 1790 near the end of the reign of Louis’ successor, Louis XVI.
The Pantheon’s history is nuts, plain and simple. Depending on the political climate, it was either a church or a state monument or both (Napoleon’s compromise with the Vatican in 1809) or one or the other over the course of the next 50 years. Eventually it became the place of interment for the heroes of France as it had been declared in 1791 during the Revolution.
In 1851, Léon Foucault installed his famous pendulum demonstrating the rotation of the Earth. It still swings today, directly on the spot where Louis XV had planned to place the reliquary of Saint Genevieve.
Today, the crypt below the dome holds the remains of (among others,) Hugo, Dumas, Zola, Rousseau, Voltaire, the Curies, Malraux, Soufflot, Braille, Toussaint L’Ouverture, as well as dozens of statesmen, writers, Nobel Prize winners and even Jean Moulin, hero of the French Resistance.
I had a wonderful time here, made better perhaps by the fact that I had no expectations. An awe-inspiring “cathedral” to heroism, decorated in huge murals devoted to the history of the country. Imposing sculptures, wonderful stone work and above all, a sense of grandeur and history. The crypt was, believe it or not, a welcoming place that honored the contributions and sacrifices of those interred. Highly recommended.
The streets were busy with Sorbonne students on lunch break as worked our way down the hill past St. Etienne du Mont, one of the oldest churches in Paris, started in 1266 and also dedicated to St. Genevieve, before finding Blvd. Saint Germain and the straight way home. We passed a pastry shop that we’d visited on our first trip, the place where I’d had my initial experience with my terrible French. Today I ordered a couple of small quiche to go, and naturally the shop girl replied in English. For the second time today I inquired about my French and her reply was cleverer, “No, I just like to practice my English.”