I walk briskly toward the river and turn the corner to what is perhaps the Mother of all shrines: Notre Dame. I'm early for the first mass so I slow my pace to wonder at morning on the river, one more time. Did Gertrude Stein stand on this bridge and ask if all the rivers in the world, at some point on their journey, are this beautiful? What did the Parisii think when the sun would rise as this each morning? Did they have any idea how exquisitely, supernaturally beautiful it was? Or was it a race to get the kids ready, feed everyone and get out the door on time to get to the fishing? If no one notices, is beauty still beauty?
I have time to walk around Notre Dame before Mass starts and the thing about Notre Dame is this: if you are an American, if you are a clueless American such as me, you take a lap around Notre Dame and pretty much get the entire of French history laid out in dazzling display, right before Mass. First, the dirt itself was the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter. Mon dieu! But true. The Catholics snatched it at a point and during the middle ages, Notre Dame was where the homeless slept and ate. Notre Dame survived the Revolution because it was rechristened, "Temple of Reason", the Catholic school there eventually chunking out a place called the Sorbonne. You see all this in sculpture and art all throughout the sanctuary. My favorite among the feast are the chancel screens. They tell a certain story magnificently. But you will see for yourself when you go.
Mass is lovely, in French, soon the beautiful late winter sunshine beckons me back into the street. I stop for hot chocolate, of course. A beignet, too. This is Sunday. Now the French are up and are everywhere, strolling with their dogs, snuggled into their raincoats and scarves. A gracious, elegant custom of city living, this Sunday walk, and I am quietly thrilled to be with them today, in the city that epitomizes good manners and good food.
I turn and walk up Boulevarde de Sebastopol, toward Les Halles. I turn at Rue Ste-Denis to stop in at St-Leu--St-Gilles between masses. It's an odd church from the street as it has a glass door. I go in to the quietness and wander around the eclectic collection of sculpture, art and glass. Delicious.
I nip back out the door and keep going. I cut over past the new Forum des Halles to St-Eustache, where the midnight mass is better than Notre Dame, a man tells me. St-Eustache himself had quite a life as he was roasted alive with his family inside a bronze bull, a culinary tradition that's been discontinued here in Paris. St-Eustache is a very famous Parisian church and I slip in and listen as Mass continues with presence of a very vibrant parish life everywhere. The small children sit quietly with their parents, dressed in wool jumpers and jackets, with leather Mary Janes and oxfords. They are the quintessence of well groomed, well behaved children. French parents are completely in control of their families and I do not see crying, loud, rowdy children anywhere in Paris.
Out the door, my special, special treat for the day looms: Rue Montorgueil. Les Halles, as this neighborhood is known, was the great marketplace of Paris. The old market was torn down and the Forum des Halles was built, an enormous underground shopping experience of a kind. I do not know the particulars as I have never ventured there, always being absorbed with the sights, smells, and sounds of Rue Montorgueil. It is one of the few surviving streets of the market and still maintains cobblestone paving with fishmongers, meat markets, cheese shops, boulangeries and patisseries, wine and kitchen shops lining the sidewalks. It is the ultimate foodie experience.
Today booths are set up in the street and vendors sell an array of mouth watering dishes. I am dazzled by the lentils and sausage and the spicy paella. The man selling the chicken and rice out of huge flat pans tells me that I should have some of all. The chicken and rice is steaming hot, expertly seasoned and tastes like nothing I have ever eaten and it is chicken and rice with peas and little pieces of ham. I eaten just this a million times but never until today. To suspend my belief a little further, I select baba ah rhum for dessert and succumb completely to it's silky, potent flavor on my tongue and in my mouth. I need to go to confession. Maybe not. I do not order pigs' feet and onion soup, even though I want them badly. I am too full. I struggle down Rue Montmarte and head for St-Roch. It's the best baroque church in Paris and Louis XIV's gardener is buried here, but it's lost on me as I fall in love all over again with the neighborhood and Sunday afternoon in Paris.
I wander up and down the streets until I end up back at the Louve. I am bedazzled and befuddled. I decide to stop at a souvenir store to find out for sure: is absolutely every corner and moment of Paris drenched in light and beauty?
Inside the owner shows me the exact post card that I must buy. She and her dog wave good bye and make me promise to come back in the summer. The light now heads for the beaches of Los Angeles and the late winter winds pick up. I head over the bridge to the red door once more and know, I know, that I have lived here and wandered through these streets for a thousand years and that I will be here for at least a thousand more.
The 'Kan EWA