Written at 7:54 PM on 10-22-06 in Paris, France
After my adventures in the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, I headed off toward Notre Dame. You couldn’t really miss it. Resting on a small island in the middle of the Seine River, the cathedral dominated the surrounding area. A large bridge gapped the distance between the main road that ran along the river and the large plaza in the front of Notre Dame. I got in line, and though it was long, it moved pretty quickly. There wasn’t a ticket counter or metal detector or anything—there were just so many people that it was taking time for them all to siphon into the entrance.
Notre Dame was unlike any other cathedrals I had seen. That’s not to say it was necessarily better than any others, it was just unique. I suppose the dozen-or-so other Notre Dame cathedrals are similar in appearance. I actually unwittingly saw the outside of one of these other Notre Dames when I was in Bayeux near the beginning of my trip. From my recent research for writing, I learned that—among others—the Knights Templar were responsible for the construction of the enormous Notre Dame cathedrals throughout France during the 11th and 12th centuries (I think…). Most people only acknowledge the main Notre Dame in Paris, the church made famous by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame—or for the less literary minded: the church made famous by the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. What they don’t know is that the church is Paris is just one of many.
Anyway, what was most remarkable about the church—ignoring the really cool gargoyles that lined the roof—was just how high up it went. Stepping inside was like entering into some great cavern. The cavern was by no means quiet though. Despite the signs to remain silent, there was a pretty constant buzz of talking. I wouldn’t even qualify the level of noise as a murmur; it was definitely a buzz. For my part, I remained quiet and silently filed around the perimeter of the church, enjoying the immense and dazzling stained glass windows and the high-rising arches that seemed to defy gravity. My visit there was brief, however. There really wasn’t much to see beyond walking the perimeter. Apparently it was only during Napoleon’s reign that the church was restored, so the interior is relatively young. That is, it lacks much of the art and other décor that so commonly filled the churches in Italy.
After my visit to Notre Dame, I headed across the river to the other side and began looking for a metro station. I found one and swiftly caught the train back to my hostel. I’d thus far only had a couple croissants and some of a baguette to eat that day, so I wasn’t feeling particularly well. I’m not sure whether it was some remnant of my sickness or came from eating only carbs all day, but I was soon feeling really bad. It was a good thing I arrived back at the hostel when I did.
I came up to my room and tried to read, but soon I was overcome with a terrible migraine. I decided that if I could, the best thing would be to go to sleep and try to wait it out. I fell asleep surprisingly fast. I woke up on and off for the next three hours, but the headache refused to give. Finally, around 8pm, I decided to get up and try to do something about it. I went out and got some fruits, thinking that perhaps my diet had been the cause of my suffering. The fresh air actually helped a lot. I came back to the hostel and the headache began to give a little, so I decided to go out to a café and do a bit of writing. I did some catching up on my blog, but by about 10:30, the café was closing down so I decided to head back to the hostel. By this time, the headache had faded almost entirely (maybe I just needed coffee, who knows?).
However, my night was not to end for another four hours or so. Presumably on account of my coffee and three hour nap, I was unable to get to sleep. I stayed up, doing some reading and writing. I have wireless internet in the room (which only lasts for four hours because they have this silly system for usernames and passwords), but that was sufficient to last me until about 2AM, when I thought that exhaustion might finally get the better of me. It still took about half an hour or an hour to fall asleep after that. I suppose that’s what I get for taking naps. There certainly wasn’t much in the way of company. The South Korean girl and the Brazilian guy went to bed at about 11. An American girl from New York joined us in the dorm room; she stayed up until about midnight watching TV (there was a station in English), but succumbed to sleep soon as well.
My night was particularly restless. For whatever reason, I’ve been plagued by a strange sequence of dreams which I won’t get into. Perhaps it has to do with my trip coming to an end—I can’t be sure. At any rate, I awoke at about 10:00 feeling relatively rested. I missed breakfast again, but I didn’t really care. I took my shower and then headed downstairs, where I used the internet and checked my email briefly. I also did some plotting out of my course for the day. The previous night I’d found a number of bookstores and cafés I wanted to check out. Therefore, on my map, I plotted everything and figured out the most efficient course to go between them. Paris is such a huge city that unless you want to wander aimlessly, it’s a good idea to have a plan.
I caught the metro across the river and got off relatively close to where I’d ended my previous day. The first bookstore was only a few minutes walk away from the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, but was unfortunately closed; there wasn’t really much of an indication that it was ever open. As it was Sunday morning, the streets were still pretty empty, but that also meant that most of the shops were to remain closed all day. I’d checked the hours of the bookstores online, but the information was probably out of date. I looked for the next bookstore on my list and instead found a Japanese Restaurant in its place. I couldn’t figure that one out. The final bookstore was supposed to be a combination café and used book shop; just my kind of place.
The Tea and Tattered Pages Bookstore was much like the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, only less crowded. I was able to find the book I wanted there—A Crown of Swords—but the old woman running the business did not accept trades. That meant I was stuck with the thousand-page monstrosity I’d just finished. The price was reasonable, relative for Europe. I warning to anyone thinking of traveling to Europe and buying books here—don’t. Either trade books while you’re here or else buy what you want before you leave. New books in English in Europe are horribly expensive. This book was—true to the name of the bookstore—tattered and worn and still cost me six euros. New it probably would have been fifteen. Hopefully I’ll manage to pawn off a couple of the other books I’ve got before I come back to the states, though at this point, I’m not short of reading material.
The “café” in the bookstore didn’t really interest me. It wasn’t much more than a couple tables set up in the back of the bookstore that were adjoining a kitchen. At any rate, I didn’t think the coffee would be particularly good. I headed back out and made my way back to one of the main streets near the river. There was a café in particular that I was interested in checking out. The night before, I’d been discussing the Café de Flore with the Brazilian guy in my hostel. He was trying to find the name of the café that Hemmingway (among others) had written at. Hemmingway, I discovered upon looking online, was a big fan of Paris. And he was said to frequent the Café de Flore. I decided to check it out, figuring it wasn’t a bad idea to pay homage to one of the great American writers.
I’m not sure Hemmingway would have gotten anything done if the place was the same in his time as it was now. Tables and customers flooded on to the street in a cascade of overpriced drinks and dishes. I was a little intimidated, but figured, it’s still a café, how expensive could it be?
The “café” actually had a host who seated people. Unsurprisingly, I was seated in a small corner in the very back of the restaurant. I say that this wasn’t surprising because I was wearing my beanie, carrying a backpack, and looked scruffier than anyone else in the place. I think they decided it best to place me out of sight and mind and to just let me go about my business. I probably could have written there all day without anyone ever taking notice. I did want my coffee, however, and so eventually I borrowed a menu from the pair next to me (who arrived after me but still got a menu first) and looked at what was available.
I ended up ordering a Coffee with Cream (mind you, coffee means espresso), which cost me 5.50 euros. Let’s just take pause for a moment here and consider that.
Okay, so why did I pay for it? Well, I’d already been sitting there for about fifteen minutes, and I was to stay for about another hour and a half; I hadn’t spent money on museums and sights that day. Okay, my justifications were pretty weak, but they would have to do. I also started talking to the guys next to me. Both were Brazilian, one guy, Flavio, was the general marketing manager for Louise Baton’s Central American distribution center—or something like that. Louise Baton, or however you spell it, is a producer of handbags and accessories. The other guy, who didn’t talk as much (I think his English wasn’t as good), was a landscape architect. It was good talking to them; they ordered salads and coffees, which ran up a bill of about 46 euros. I could only shake my head in wonder.
I didn’t stay there too long. I felt crowded and once I finished my coffee—which I made last as long as possible—I felt like I should order something else if I was going to stay. I’m very particular about my writing places. I certainly couldn’t have worked on my novel there; I can only assume that Hemmingway—if he really did write there—was subject to a much more relaxed environment than the one I witnessed. Instead, I contented myself to working diligently on trying to catch up with my blog. After all, it’s really just a random ramble of rumbling and ribald thoughts strung together without regard for content or grammar. As one can probably observe by the many tipos.
I finished there and caught the subway back to the hostel. It was just off from 4:00 so I couldn’t return to the room yet. Instead, I worked on reply to an email. I also helped a guy get his mac working so it would play a video file. After all, us mac users have to stick together to stave off the big bad PCs. I also met a guy who owned a sailboat down in the Caribbean and worked doing tours during the non-Hurricane season (which is why he has been in Europe for the past couple months). He was a cool guy, a bit of an aspiring writer. We talked about literature, the works of Kesey and Kerouac, among others. His talk of the Caribbean got me to thinking that maybe Hemmingway had it write—maybe it’s not such a bad place to live and write (aside from that whole alcoholism and suicide thing).
I picked up a baguette and some quiche for lunch and then returned to the room, where I rather reluctantly began reading my new book. I knew I shouldn’t, but I did. I mean, I have other things to read, and more importantly, things to write, but nonetheless, I opened the cover and dove in. Stupid Greg. Even now, I can feel the pull. It’s sitting here on my bed now, alluring with its tattered cover and 800 pages. It’s saying, “…come on…stay up all night and read me…you know you want to…” And the problem is, I do. But I must resist. Not that there’s much better to do. The weather turned a bit nasty this evening. It’s cold and rainy. I was informed by a friend—who shall remain anonymous—that it was still quite sunny back home.
Well my response to her: “Bid farewell to the sun! For I am the harbinger of bad weather and bring with me from across the world a storm cloud that shall descend over all of Oregon!”
Really, I just am expecting that as soon as I get home, the weather will turn bad. That’s just how it works. Anyway, aside from beginning my book and checking out jobs online, I’ve not done much this evening. I had fancied going down to the Arc d’Triumph to see it at night, but the wetness chased me away. Perhaps I’ll see it tomorrow after the Louvre. On a separate note, I figure out what to do with my extra two days. I think I’m going to leave Paris on Tuesday and go to Oxford, where I’ll stay until Thursday. That way I don’t have as far to go to get to London before my flight on Friday morning; also, I’d like to see some of England besides just London (which was all I saw on my first go-through).
That’s about all for now. I’ll link the pictures later today, but for now, I need a break. Maybe I’ll just go and read that book sitting over there…
One hour later…
Paris pictures are now up; there’s a link on the side, as well as links within the text of the last two blogs.
Tags: books, Europe, France, Notre Dame, Paris, Travel