Hey all. It’s me, back to tell you about my international exploits.
For those wondering:
- Yes, I am finished with university.
- No, I haven’t graduated.
- Why? Examinations are still ongoing and the external exam board meets in June.
- So when do you graduate? July 2 at, I think, 2 o’clock in the afternoon (?).
- So, like, what have you been doing? Well, I went back to America for a bit of sun and then back here to Edinburgh. And then off to Paris with Caitlin, Sophie, and Ellie.
The trip started by driving down to London from Edinburgh. We stopped off in Liverpool for lunch with Caitlin’s aunt. It was late by the time we finally made it to London. The next day Sophie, Caitlin, and I spent time in central London. We went to some of the vintage shops near Oxford Circus and I found ~yet another~ leather jacket.
The next day we met back up with Ellie at Kings Cross to take the train to Paris. We arrived in Paris late afternoon and from Gare du Nord took the Metro to our AirBnb.
Our first day in Paris it was sunny and we spent it wandering around. We visited the Museé d’Orsay. The building used to be a railway station but was later adapted when the tracks proved too short for longer trains. It now houses pieces by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, and Gauguin.
Basically a dream.
That evening we went to an underground jazz bar that Betsy had recommended. Betsy had spend a few months living in Paris during a study abroad program and ~usually~ has good taste.
The place was called the Caveau de la Huchette and is located in the Latin Quarter just south of Notre Dame. The basement of the building dates to about 1551 and has links to the Templars. By 1789, it became the meeting place for French revolutionaries. In 1772, it was converted into a Freemason Lodge. After the Second World War, it transformed into a live jazz club when American GIs brought in New Orleans jazz and swing dance.
The drinks are a little pricey but the live music was fantastic.
The night day we got up early to visit Sainte-Chapelle. The chapel was commissioned by Louis IX in the 13th century to be the reliquary for the holy relics he collected while on Crusade. It’s construction was relatively contemporary with Notre Dame. Notre Dame was built to be the more public building while Sainte-Chapelle to be the private royal chapel.
We arrived early in the morning to see the stained glass.
I don’t know if it’s because I was probably a magpie in a previous life, but I love stained glass. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. I could sit for hours looking at stained glass.
We then went for lunch and to see Notre Dame. Since the fire earlier this month, the street has been blocked off but it was heartening to see the structure appears to be stabilized. The roof is gone and so are many of the upper windows. There is smoke damage to the upper rose window on the south side of the building. However, the bell towers are okay and so is the larger rose window in the front. Even without a roof, the building was still impressive.
Near to Notre Dame is Shakespeare and Company, an independent bookshop with ties to James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound. The first shop was founded by the American Sylvia Beach in 1918 as an English lending library and bookshop. Sylvia soon found herself in the company of dozens of English and American writers of the Lost Generation who had flocked to Paris following the end of the First World War. In 1922, she published James Joyce’s Ulysses when the book had been banned in most English speaking countries. She operated the bookshop during the Nazi Occupation of Paris until she was arrested in 1941 for hiring a Jewish assistant and refusing to sell a copy of Finnegan’s Wake to a Nazi Officer. Beach spent six months in an internment camp. When she finally returned to Paris, she did not reopen her shop.
However, by 1951 George Witman reopened Shakespeare and Company with Sylvia’s blessing across the way from Notre Dame. The shop earned a second life as the inspiration for the Beat Generation with visitors including Allen Ginsberg and James Baldwin.
I grabbed a coffee from the cafe attached to the bookshop and a table facing out toward Notre Dame.
As a hopeful novelist, being in this space was incredible. I’ve struggled a lot with my writing in recent years. Often I just don’t feel confident or like I’m expressing myself well. Just the other day was the seven year anniversary of the publication of my novel. I can’t believe it’s been that long. And, I know I really need to finish something else. Trust me, I’m gathering stories…. which I’ll finish… eventually. My current piece is something really dear to my heart and I want to make sure that I’m telling it the way I want it to be remembered.
But, being a place where people just want to tell stories and express themselves was comforting.
That evening we went to the Louvre.
As expected, the Mona Lisa was small and the display of Nike was incredible. She is positioned at the end of a long stairway and looked just like she was taking off as you got closer. Honestly, she’s a star.
The next day we went to see the Eiffel Tower. It was pretty.
We had some lunch and then queued to see the Catacombs.
I would never wish to see the Catacombs again. The tunnels stretch for over 200 miles under Paris and include the remains of over 6 million people dating from the medieval period. They were removed from overcrowded, un-safe cemeteries during the 18th and 19th centuries and placed underground in walled stacks. All the remains were kept together and plaques indicate which cemetary they came from.
While, I understand the necessity for the remains to be safely reorganized below ground in a city that was nearing two milleniums worth of occupation… I cannot say that I felt comfortable visiting.
I have worked with human remains in labs and excavated remains in the field. I had the option of completing a Masters in osteology… but that doesn’t make it any easier. The Catacombs felt like a world apart and, honestly, I felt like an intruder. I’ve always justified my study with the scientific benefits of analysis. However, there was not any scientific advantage to viewing these remains except to see them in dark, claustrophobic tunnels where the living very clearly have no place.
To see a part of history, maybe I am glad for that. But, not all history needs to be seen.
The next morning we caught an early train back to London. The four of us split off and I went to Westminster Abbey. After visiting the Abbey, I found a sunny spot in St James’ Park and read my book. That evening Sophie and I spent the night at Ellie’s. The next day, the two of us took the train back up to Edinburgh.
I’ve been back in Edinburgh for few days now finally getting time to decompress.
All in all, the best part? Being with my friends at Caveau de la Huchette and Shakespeare and Company definitely. Most beautiful piece of art? The windows at Sainte-Chapelle.