Paris has not been génial, what with the awful weather and the endlessly frustrating engagement with FranceTelecom, but this morning the City of Light redeemed itself. As I began my walk at 5:30 a.m., I looked up into a cloudless sky. A large moon, all but full, hung over the Left Bank, and the streets were clean, quiet, and almost free of cars or people. I crossed a completely empty parvis Nôtre Dame, emptied of the hundreds of chairs set up for the Bastille Day memorial mass, and turned left on the right bank to walk west along the Seine. The traffic flows downstream on our side of the river [hence left bank] and upstream on the right bank, but at a bit after 5:30 in the morning there was scarcely anything moving. Here and there several clusters of young people, ending the night as I was beginning the morning, called to one another or made a show of amorous dalliance. [Embarrassing confession: Some years ago I heard on NPR a bit of urban reporting about the Paris government office that dispatches couples around the city to act lovey-dovey in public as an amusement for the tourists. City employees were alerted by cellphone when a tourist attraction lacked a couple kissing and hurried to fill the gap. With a credulity that makes me cringe even now, I bought the satirical bit hook line and sinker. Oh well.]
The Palais de Justice, which occupies much of the other end of the Ȋle de la Cité from Nôtre Dame was gleaming, its façade newly cleaned. The river flowed quietly, rather more slowly than I walk [faithful readers will recall that once before I measured its rate of flow by pacing myself against a bit of flotsam drifting with the current.] I walked past the pet shops, pont neuf [the oldest bridge across the Seine!] and the old Samaritaine building that is slowly being transformed into apartments and upscale boutiques by LVMH [Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey for the fashion challenged.] As I began the long walk from the east end to the west end of the Louvre, I looked across the river to the wonderful old buildings and the moon above them. The view of the Left Bank from the quais of the Right Bank is stunning. I passed the Académie Française, refuge of those desperate to resist the relentless encroachment of Englishisms and Americanisms on the pristine French language. As I reached the end of the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay came into view with its pair of magnificent huge matching clocks on the north face at each end of what was once a railway station and is now perhaps the most beautiful museum building in France.
Walking along the outside of the Denon wing of the Louvre, which lies just across the street from the quais, you get some sense how huge the entire museum is. It seems to take forever to make one’s way from Samaritaine at the eastern end to the beginning of the Tuileries Garden just past the western end of the museum. Inside, there is so much to see that one scarcely notices the distance. I recall wandering through the Denon wing the first time I visited the Louvre. As I was passing from one hall to the next, I happened to glance to the right. There on the wall was one of my favorite paintings, La Bohémienne by Franz Hals. It was hanging without fanfare among many other paintings as though a harried curator had been able to find no better place for it. This placement seemed a wanton expression of the bottomless resources of the museum.
The Jardin des Tuilleries starts with a giant Carousel, which never actually seems to be turning, and ends at Place de la Concorde. The Bastille Day military parade yesterday started at the Arc de Triomphe, made its way down the Champs Elysées, and ended at the reviewing stands in the Place, empty now as I turned to cross over again to the Left Bank. Google says the affair is the oldest military parade in Europe, and certainly the endless overflights of France’s military aircraft and the rows upon rows of marching soldiers and helmeted motorcyclists must have been a grand sight, judging from the television coverage in our local café. But the truth is that the Champs Elysées isn’t really good for much except a parade, and France’s days of imperial pretension are long past, the torch having been passed first to Great Britain and then to America. Still, the French have been pretty depressed lately, so maybe a big parade was what they needed.
Back safely on the Left Bank, I turned again to walk upstream to Nôtre Dame and home. The two little Batobuses, Jean Gabin and Yves Montand, were there behind the rows of big batobuses, and as it was now just past six, traffic was picking up and the joggers were out. Since everyone passes me as though I were standing still, I must continually remind myself that I am eighty, so it is something that I am walking at all.
Past the Musée d’Orsay, this time up close on my right, past the Leopold Senghor foot bridge before the Left Bank entrance to which, like a sentinel, stands the unexpected statue of Thomas Jefferson, past pont neuf once again, and then, one block further on, the dark, elegant wooden exterior of Lapérouse, at one time half a century ago awarded the treasured three stars by Guide Michelin but now not even so much as accorded a mention.
The sun was coming up and the moon beginning to disappear in the sky as I approached Place St. Michel and the last leg of my walk. It was too early for Keyser to be open so I went home to make a breakfast of yesterday’s baguette. Paris had redeemed its eternal promise.