“Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrels carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in one realisation, Guillotine.”
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
We walked slowly, our eyes fixed on the domed roof. The headphone-thingy talked about symmetry, symbolism, liberté, égalité, fraternity. Léon Foucault’s pendulum swung back and forth beside us where it has almost always been since 1851. Christ looked on from his mosaic-ed position on the eastern wall, down at La Convention Nationale sculpture, as if blessing French nationalism …
We ventured down into the crypt. Its subterranean coolness made gave me goosebumps. Or maybe the chill I’d begun to feel was because, beside me in an elaborate urn, lay the heart of a certain post-Revolutionary patriot.
Hold on Paris! That’s just creepy!
We had ventured into the 5th arrondissement looking for the Latin Quarter when we happened upon the Panthéon. It was an interesting and chilling find. Chilling because of the strange feeling you get of being in a place where people, who embraced a bloody instrument of terror and effected a wave of social and political upheaval, are now venerated as Gods. And chilling because the stone walls and seclusion of the building and crypt meant that for a whole hour we could escape the overwhelming heat of Paris.
Paris when is sizzles is a very silly 1964 film with Audrey Hepburn and for the record, our trip to Paris over the Bank Holiday weekend last month, was nothing like the film. No vampires, no stealing of the Eiffel Tower, no spies and no international jewel thieves!
But Paris did sizzle – it was BOILING! 38 deg C and 87% humidity. We had set off early from Dover, across the channel on P&O Ferries, to Calais and driven on to Paris listening to Le tour du Monde en quatre-vingts jours. On our first afternoon in the city, we discovered the Panthéon.
We also discovered that if we were serious tourists we would have had selfie-sticks! Any tourist worth his weight in gold has a selfie-stick. Instead, we wondered aimlessly along the Seine watching people, eating melting ice-cream cones and taking pics of the sights. One panoramic went a little wrong when a jogger walked into my shot (right-left) while I panned (left-right) – only her foot, shoulder and water bottle remain!
What else did we discover?
Museum national d’Histoire naturelle – Jardin des Plantes
This was, without contest, the best natural history museum I’ve ever been to. We walked into a 90m long room filled simply with skeletons. One floor was for animals alive today and another was dedicated to palaeontology. Minimal information, maximum wow-factor and we virtually had it to ourselves.
Musée du Louvre
I’m afraid it had to be done – le Musée du Louvre. Too large to do in one visit, but certainly worth a try. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Of course I had to see what all the fuss was about. I had to ponder, as many have done before me, the mystery of her smile. And now that I’ve been there and done that, I suspect that all it takes to put a smile on her face, is the comical scene before her of bustling, selfie-stick-weilding tourists, clambering over one another every day just to get a glimpse. That’s why the painting is actually called La Gioconda (Italian), La Joconde (French) – ‘happy’ or ‘jovial’.
We spent time with two very different dogs: Icarus the beautiful and clever Spaniel and faithful companion to our hosts and understands Russian and French; and Nana the boggle-eyed Chihuahua, who entertained us for a few stops on the Metro and who I’m not sure understands anything.
Now meet Nana:
P.s. Léon Foucault’s pendulum was first displayed in 1851. He suspended a 28kg brass-coated lead ‘ball’ with a 67m long wire from the Panthéon’s dome. The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours, proving that the earth that moves and not the other way around. Since 1851 it has made a few outings into Musée des Arts et Métiers. In 2010 the wire snapped and damaged the museum’s marble floor and the brass ball. The one in the Panthéon now is a replica.
P.p.s. The Panthéon is no longer a church, but a secular mausoleum where a number of patriot’s hearts are ‘buried’. I’m not sure whose heart I was standing next to when I started feeling really chilly – Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola?
P.p.p.s. In Paris we stayed with Russian/French friends who don’t speak English so it was great practise for my French. But it reminded me of when we went to my cousin’s wedding two years ago. She married a Gabonese man and I was eager to practise my French when I met his family. I wanted to say: Toute la famille de mon mari parle français (All my husband’s family speak French). What I said instead was: “Toute les femmes de mon mari parle français.” (All my husband’s wives speak French). Luckily Hubby overheard me and quickly corrected my pronunciation – and saved his reputation!