Paris, Day 2: What Meal Is This and Getting A Feel for the Left Bank

We slept until after 11am, and it easily could have been after noon. We clambered up from the depths of a very good sleep and looked at various walks for the day. (Breakfast was a croissant and hot drinks from a local boulangerie.)

We started just across from the center of the Ile de Cite, the heart of Paris, the island where it started 2300 years ago. Think about it for a moment: two THOUSAND, three hundred years ago. America is barely a 10th that old. It’s older than our current (AD) calender starting at ‘0?. Crossing the Pont St. Michel we walked up to the Palais de Justice — which was closed to the public and the Ste. Chappelle, also closed for the day. Le sigh. But it was purty on the outside. Across from that is the place Louis-Lapine, which has an incredible art deco Metro entrance. (Yes, pictures WILL be uploaded . . .) The lightposts on the square even have gilded vines climbing up and around them.

From here we meandered down to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was amazing — and the waiting line to get in was hours long. In 29 degree weather we weren’t interested in playing the game. In fact I will reveal to you now that we *saw* a lot of churches in Paris, and yet never went inside a single one of them. Neat, huh? Back to the big ND . . . if you have any interest in architecture, you will go nuts over ND. It is silly, absurd, dramatic, and phenomenal — and that’s just the carving on the outside. We’ve got martyrs and saints, scenes from the Last Judgment (still to come, as far as we know), demons and temptations . . . its crazy.

We walked from there through the Ile St. Louis, an incredibly old urban village (that does not look like a village, it just *is* if you know what I mean) where, its said, the residents never leave the island if they can help it.

From there we returned to the mainland and walked along the Left Bank of the Seine and admired (and giggled) at the books, postcards, drawings, maps, and *stuff* offered by the intrepid (did I mention it was COLD?) vendors (bouquinistres) who unpack their stalls each morning for the delight of anyone happening along.

From there we meandered into the Latin Quarter. Our first part of the walk was down the (aptly described) smarmy rue de la Harpe. This is an ugly tourist trap of nightclubs, restaurants and cafes of dubious quality (they display their meals on open air tables on the sidewalk — which might be appetizing at 11am, but not at 3pm. Ugh. There are — I swear — barkers on the street inviting you in. I got my New York attitude (no eye contact, pleasant expression but not quizzical) on quickly and no one bothered us.

At this point let me digress by noting that I think J and I looked Parisian. Or something. Because we had on full-length, good quality overcoats, gloves and hats (I had on a cute velvet one with a black satin rose perched above my forehead) and we didn’t openly hold cameras in our hands, I really think the locals took us for locals. At least until we opened our mouths. (That’s J’s tale to tell. .  .)

Rue de la Huchette is the narrowest street in Paris, and it felt like it. I could only imagine how it must have been in medieval times . . .

Eventually we emerged across from Notre Dame and stopped at the venerable Shakespeare and Company. (At this point, our camera’s battery ran out.Le sigh.) We browsed a bit, but didn’t stop too long, and continued through to rue Galande, where we saw the city’s oldest street sign. (We returned here later in the week to get a picture of it.) This sign dates back to the 14th century (pause for a moment and think about that — 700 years ago there was a street sign here) and shows St. Julien and his wife helping Christ to cross the Seine.

From there we walked around and down rue Dante (of Divine Comedy fame) and then took a quick right onto the bustling rue St Jacques wher we found a sundial by Salvidor Dali. Very weird. I’m not sure if it was even useful since the weather was overcast and grey.

South(ish) from there we found a huge intersection, nearly every corner of which had a ‘geek’ shop. Music in one, minis in another. Over there were several comic shops (looked like manga type stuff in one, traditional comics in another, and Tintin/graphic novels in YET ANOTHER). One shop had nothing but figurines in various sizes . . . it was sort of awesome.

Down along the Sorbonne, right onto rue Soufflot (home to the delightful Cafe Soufflot) and up to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon is a great way to describe Paris: it was originally built by Louis XV as a shrine to St. Genevieve, in thanks for saving his life via intercessionary prayer. (She’s the patron saint of France.) The walls are adorned with lovely frescoes of scenes of her life done in a style like that of Rossetti. It wasn’t finished, or consecrated, however, before the Revolution. So they made it into a shrine to the Nation’s dead. One wall now has four paintings of scenes from the life of Joan of Arc, complete with a final one of her praying while the torches are being lowered onto the wood piled at the her feet. Weirdly (as if that isn’t enough) at the entrance we have St. Denis picking up his head after having it removed (I believe he then walked two miles, preaching a sermon all the way).

Most delightful: Foucault’s Pendulum is here (one of them, that is). Although why on earth there  is a huge Bast statue to the north side I do not know.

Apparently Voltaire is buried here, along with Victor Hugo, Dumas, Rosseau, and many other of France’s greatest intellectuals. We did not bother to go see the crypt (cold, damp, and we’re not that interested in the dead).

With that we called it a day and went back to our hotel to prepare for dinner: Bouillion Racine.

oooh la la! This place is incroyable. It is gorgeous. Let me share a quick blurb from the menu (and website):

“The complete renovation of the Bouillon Racine took place in 1996 thanks to the “Companions of the Duty”. It then called upon old expertise of almost lost techniques and skills. Bevelled mirrors, painted opalines, stained glass, carved woodworks, marble mosaics and gold-leaf lettering provide the public with the pleasure of a rich place, as much by its beauty as by its conviviality. It was subsequently classified as an Historic Building.

With his olden splendour back, the Bouillon Racine offers Parisian life an immersion in the Paris of the 1900’s.”

It truly was magnificent. Moreover, they have a very affordable prix fixe menu of three courses: entree, plat and dessert for 29eu. It is well worth it. (I’m linking to their menu, here.) I started with a pumpkin soup with chestnuts, J had cheese ravioli. Our main course was duck confit for me and a pork shank with sauerkraut for him. For dessert, J had the homemade creme brulee with maple syrup and I had pressed apples with gingerbread. Very good, everything. Service was slow, but for NY’s day, not at all awful. Definitely a place I would return to.

On our way home we stopped at Cafe Soufflot for a vin rouge and chocolat chaud to wind up the night.

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