Sunday, December 11, 2011

Paris, day six

Bright, bright blue out the window; it was ten o'clock by the watch. What is happening? It was a day to see Montparnasse, the catacombs and the Conciergerie (and possibly some shopping later). But things didn't quite go the plan. We didn't leave the apartment until 11am so the jam packed day was looking decidedly shaky. The website I had found that told me all about the addresses of Stein, Fitzgeralds and so on had disappeared and I couldn't locate it. So we abandoned that part of the tour (with some bitter tears from me), and went to the catacombs. I don't know it it was because it was Saturday, but the line for the catacombs stretched around the block. I don't want to see dead people THAT much, so we turned tail and headed for the Conciergerie. Enough dead people there, frankly.
This building was the kind of watch house for the palace until it was turned into a prison. It was used as a prison by the Ancien Regime (the Bastille was not there only Paris prison) but its most famous incarnation was as court room and prison during the Revolution, particuarly during the Terror. Now I know I have complained about the silence that Paris maintains on the revolution, but this was great. If I were going to advise anyone on Paris and the revolution, I would definitely suggest a visit here. There were a whole number of recreated cells demonstrating the various levels of comfort you might be entitled to depending on your wealth and fame. Then there was a whole part of the upstairs that took you though the revolution and the Terror - finally, the stories were all there. Myles and Paris got right into it - Zelda and Niccolo not so much. I somehow missed the actual blade of the guillotine (with someone's blood on it - when I questioned Myles and Paris, they couldn't remember the name - groan), but photographed all manner of other things - letters and busts and whatnot. Then we went downstairs into the Girondin's chapel. This was the very room where the condemned Girondin deputies drank and ate their last before going to the blade singing the Marseillaise. One of my heroes, Vergniaud, was there drinking with them, after offering the Convention a glass of blood to slake their thirsts. He was some kind of guy. It is amazing to stand in the same room as these kinds of moments - you strain your ear for some kind of echo - listen! can you hear them? No, that is just the American tourist asking the way to the toilet. Through the door to the left is Marie Antoinette's chapel. This has been restored and does not in any way resemble her prison cell. But still, there she was, for two months. Waiting her trial and execution (as she must have known would be the outcome). Through a tiny door you go, and into the courtyard. Here the women wandered in daylight hours and washed their clothes. But here too the condemned waited, in groups of twelve, to get into the tumbril and face the guillotine. So, here stood Barnave, Manon Roland and (for me, the saddest) Camille Desmoulin.
Through another door was the recreation of Marie Antoinette's cell (they like Marie in this museum; she was friendless here two and a half centuries ago). Then we were released. In the general space, there was a very strange exhibition of animals. It was really interesting and great - a knitted giraffe for example - but there was an owl suspended in flight in the middle of hundreds of strands of fishing wire that held stones or what looked like those fairy wishes that blow in the wind. The effect was incredible. Paris asked for the camera to take photos (I think the first impulse he has had to this point).
We were hungry and so we ate at a little bistro. Then we went shopping. It was no better than the first time - can anyone truly enjoy such an experience. There were about six million people milling and the shops were like saunas. I was looking for a present for myself and the family would not let me leave until this had been done. At least, in a very unlikely looking shop, I found some great shoes. Hooray! not only because I had a present, but because we could get the hell out of there and go home. The prices in the department stores were beyond belief (40 euros for stockings!! - and that was a cheap pair). Golden ropes holding the plebs out of the Louis Vuitton shop - hmmm, they might see another revolution yet.
Our TV at the apartment no longer works. So Myles and the kids watched a documentary on Napoleon on youtube and I re-read Wuthering Heights. It was a Saturday night.
Today was my farewell 43 - I will never be 43 again. Well, it has been a privilege really. Poor Marie Antoinette didn't make it past 39. I suspect you have to embrace age. But we live so long we start to resent it. It is true, you begin to look like crap. But what about the joy of the brain that can see both ways - east and west, back and forth, past, present and future. This is good, great, important.

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