July 14: From the Sacred . . . Notre Dame . . .

Let Them Eat Cake or Maybe Chips

Well, I began this day with some high hopes and expectations — always a dangerous way to start a day. Today, for those who might not know, is the Quatorze de Juilliet — the day the people stormed and burned down the Bastille (prison) in 1789 — the flash-point for the French revolution. King Louis XVI spent too much money intervening in the American revolution and was unequally taxing the people to pay for it — guess who paid the least? (sound familiar?) For more details, you can check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storming_of_the_Bastille

I got off at my favorite stop, the Hotel de Ville, built in 1357, as the seat of Paris mayorality and administration (ah, Peter Kelley (that was a while back, now Mike Savage, son of John) — earstwhile mayor of Halifax — eat your heart out). It’s currently hosting an exhibition of photographs of Grace Kelley, Princess of Monaco. As you can see, it’s rather a grand place.

I kept seeing different orders of military personnel decked out in their dress uniforms passing by. I followed one and found more congregating at a back entrance to l’Hotel, so I asked a handsome fellow if there was a parade planned. But, comme d’habitude, I missed it. A big parade down the Champs d’Elysee had just ended and they were all regrouping.

I was able to piggy back on a dad’s photo to immortalize his family with some of the guardia and take this pic of some proud officers. The photographer’s wife doesn’t look as sanguine about the prospect. Ah well, c’est la guerre.

Having missed the parade, I decided to head to the Ile de la Cite to check out Notre Dame and environs.

Notre Dame in its current form was built in 1163 in the reign of Louis VII. I’m not going to go too deeply into history here as you can read about the details at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_de_Paris.

Of course, the first thing upon entering the Place de Notre Dame, I was approached by a 20s-ish woman with dark brown hair in a low-riding bun at the nape of her neck. She had soulful brown eyes, and asked “Do you speak English?” She was wearing an Indian-looking bodice, and a long brown, floral-patterned none-too-clean skirt.

Being the polite one, I said “yes,” and she handed me a little card that had printed on it something like “I am from Bosnia. My mother is dead and my brother is dead. I saw them die. I need money for food” (and a bit more about Bosnia). Aggg. I had brought some lunch with me and gave her my yoghurt and a handful of my potato chips — half my food — which she accepted.

When I was in India (back in antiquity, I mean 1970), I was told by an Indian friend that the best thing to give beggars, for which India is infamous, was food. I once saw a little boy looking over his shoulder at an older man after he hit me up with, “rupee, rupee” — they are quite professional in India about begging, especially from “rich” Americans in Fagin-like gangs. The saddest thing I saw were women who had mutilated their children in order to have a better begging “hook,” and weren’t interested in accepting medical help — crusty eyes, little limp hand held out, while the woman looked pretty healthy and strong.

My Indian friend said if you had to give money, you should only give 10 or 25 paise max — equivalent to 10-25 cents in Indian spending ability, but only about 1-2.5 cents in U.S. currency at that time. Hence the request for a rupee (only ten cents in U.S. dollars, but almost a day’s average wage).

Then, my Bosnian said she wanted money, holding her hand out. I was a bit disconcerted. I dug in my purse’s change pocket and handed her all I had, which was somewhat less than a Euro’s worth. Then she said she wanted 5 Euro. What is it about 5 E? She was somewhat insistent, repeating “Ma mere est morte. Mon frere est mort.” But I felt somewhat irritated. So, I said in French “My¬†mother is dead and my father is dead (come to that), and that’s all.”

There was a beggar in Delhi who used to hit me up on a regular basis with “rupee, rupee, baby, baby,” indicating her bulging abdomen. I was pregnant with my son Zeb, so I said to her “rupee, rupee, baby, baby,” widening my eyes appealingly and pointing to my abdomen. She laughed and started to hand me money. We had a better relationship after that and I didn’t give her anything, being somewhat cash-strapped myself at that time.

Well this one didn’t have that much sense of humour, but she did go away to exert her wiles on the next mark. Reflecting on it, the English card was a nice touch. Must have had someone else write it up for her. Provides an innocent-seeming entree.

So, yes, right. This is a post about the sacred. But what’s more sacred than than the truth of suffering?

Notre Dame in Paris is an active church, so people are always present praying and a section of the pews are cordoned off for religious quietude. But, that space is surrounded by circumambulating tourists with flashing cameras.

Ah well, I did succumb a fews times — like the above photo of some of the carved and painted scenes of Jesus’ life after his death. Hmm, looks like a bit of generosity going on here.

I paid a ticket to see the “treasures,” which were mainly gold, silver and jeweled croziers, crosses, and offering cups. I had heard that they had the thorn crown of Jesus and a piece of his cross, here, where it had been transferred from Saint Chappelle (see next post). But it wasn’t in the treasury as far as I could tell. I learned at Saint Chapelle that it was taken out and shown on the first Friday of every month here at Notre Dame.

I went around the back of the nave and then saw people walking between the altar area and the area where parishioners sat. I decided to go to the center and make a genuflection in front of the altar in respect to (in buddhist terms) the Jesus drala and centuries of prayer and meditation in the church. I didn’t feel I needed to be Catholic to do this, as it was something in the nature of acknowledgment and appreciation for where I was was. As I walked away and down the side aisle to the back, I felt a distinct sense of external blessing-like acknowledgment of my gesture. (Ask and they will come.) Quite cheered me up and relaxed my mind.

I went outside and traveled around the outside of Notre Dame taking a few snaps. To the right is a photograph of the back of Notre Dame where the flying buttresses are (you can’t really see them very well from here), but they help hold up the arched ceilings (33 meters to the “vault”).

To the left is a photo of the “rose” glass window as seen from the outside of Notre Dame. Note the straight radial spokes — a sign of classic French Gothic construction, which differs from a later reconstruction of the rose window in the Sainte Chapelle, which we’ll look at in the next post.

Last, but not least, I had the opportunity to see another living statue, who was a bit more like a living marionette, or perhaps jewel-box dancer — to me a more entertaining way to beg, if beg it be — more like busking.

She had a quite wonderful playful quality as if she really liked what she did. I gave her an E from my change at the treasury section in Notre Dame.

I’ll continue with her in my next post on Sainte-Chapelle, the jeweled chapel.