Paris, Day 2: From the Marais to Messiaen

May 29, 2008


We walked from our apartment towards the Musée Carnavalet this morning. On the way, we came across this 16th-Century church. I forget its name, but couldn’t resist photographing the message so elegantly chiseled, several times, across the entire length of its side wall. You can see the first three words above. The full message, translated, says “No urinating on the church walls.” Ah, the good old days…

stairwell-2The musée Carnavalet is dedicated to the history of Paris. Most of what we saw were old paintings showing landmarks such as Notre Dame de Paris in the background. I most enjoyed two things, though: the old shop signs — wooden, wrought iron, painted or not — displayed in one large room on the ground floor, and this staircase, built in 1661, with a surrounding eternal soirée painted in 1748. That guy on the pedestal is just 2-dimensional. Neat, eh?

Since we didn’t leave home till 10 or so, we decided to skip the Cognac-Jay museum. (We had walked by the Tour Jean-Sans-Peur, but it’s not open today. ) It was already lunchtime after Carnavalet, so we headed down to the rue des Rosiers where a guy convinced us to eat at his kosher restaurant, and I’m so glad we took him up on it — I had the most fabulous falafel ever!

After that, we headed for Place des Vosges, a 17th-century square of rich people’s homes, and had a peek into one in which Victor Hugo lived after he published Notre dame de Paris, what we call The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I suppose his pompous taste in interior decorating was right for his time, but… I guess I liked the book better.

Then we walked north up to Paris’s oldest science and tech museum, the Musée des Arts et Métiers. It was pretty cool. I should have borrowed E.g.’s camera to take snaps of some of the intriguing navigational instruments from the 18th Century: the loxocosm, the armillary sphere, and the English Backstaff. I have no idea how they were used, but there was a beauty in their form that appealed to me.

After a supper of cold chicken, boiled small potatoes, and strawberry-laden salad, we trooped out north-west this time to the Sainte-Trinité Church, where Olivier Messiaen was organist for 60 years and wrote the most amazing music. This year is the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, and tonight the church was featuring a free concert, a work in 18 movements called Le livre du saint-sacrament. The first 12 movements are based on biblical passages that move through the life of Christ, while the final six focus on parts of the Catholic Mass. It is VERY difficult music to listen to. The eleventh movement, called “the resurrection” — which I had expected would sound joyful — knocked our socks off with its scary dischords and its volume. It was as if we were hearing the rocks shatter! When this movement came crashing out, E.g. burst into a huge grin. It was like the happiness not of seeing an Easter Lily but of bungee jumping!