Thursday, October 4, 2012

Paris Encore

On our way to the Place de la Concorde, I noticed that the station for the Madeleine (pictured above) was on our route.  I asked Mark if he'd seen this church when he was in Paris several years ago and if not, if he'd like to see it.  We decided to get off and take a look.

The Madeleine was originally built by Napoleon as a tribute to the French armies, but it was later turned into a church.  As we walked toward the building, we noticed a poster that announced that Mozart's Requiem would be performed that evening in the church, and we once again thought that this opportunity was too good to pass up.  

The Madeleine's pipe organ
So, we found out particulars and decided we would think about it, working our way back to the church later that afternoon after our further perambulations.

While in the area, I noticed Fauchon, a high-end food store that caters to Americans and other ex-pats, and the memory came back of the day that I was propositioned not once, but twice, by a guy in the store.  This was the first and only time something like that had ever happened to me.  He spoke to me in English, and I pretended I didn't understand him the first time and moved away.  A few minutes later, however, he came up and bluntly asked if my friend (my companion) and I would like to go over to his place with a friend of his and "have a good time."  That was when my fear kicked in, and I grabbed my companion (who was a couple of aisles over) and we left.  I don't think I ever told him what had happened; I was too afraid "of being found out."

At the Louvre, about the time of the "Fauchon Incident"
Being in Paris actually brought back a lot of memories and feelings about when I was there as a missionary 28 years ago.  It was while I was in Paris that I seemed to be bombarded with situations which pushed my secret "gay button."  As a missionary, I tried to repress all this.  Years later, being back in Paris made me reflect upon this time in my life ...

After leaving the Madeleine, we walked down to and across the Place de la Concorde, into the Jardin des Tuileries.  On our way in, we noticed hoards of people around the entrance to the gardens, lots of people with very expensive cameras hanging from their necks and a couple of people who appeared to be models walking around in the kind of clothes one might see in a high-fashion magazine.  People were taking pictures of them, and I wondered if this was some sort of magazine photo shoot.  It wasn't until later that day that we learned that "Fashion Week" had just started in Paris.

We made our way through the Tuileries and then walked down to the quais that border the Seine (pictured above).  Then across the 400-year-old Pont Neuf to the Ile de la Cite, beyond Notre Dame (the twin towers of which can be seen in the distance in the above photo), onto the Ile Saint-Louis and back over to the Right Bank near the City Hall.

Our destination was the Marais, a district of Paris to which neither of us had ever been and which was reputed to be the closet thing Paris has to a "gayborhood."  What we entered was an area that was alive with people, primarily in their 20's and 30's, with narrow shop-lined streets that seemed to go off in a bewildering number of directions.  I loved it.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this street sign:  "Street of the Bad Boys"
It was obvious that we were in a "gayer" part of Paris due to the "affiches" (posters) that we saw and also some of the shops, as well as the occasional gay couple who would walk by holding hands.  But there were also quite a lot - the clear majority - who appeared to be straight.  This wasn't, as Mark commented, the Castro, nor could it compare to the gay section of Montreal that he has visited.

But it was a fascinating quarter.  We walked around, passed through a section that was a neighborhood for Orthodox Jews (who, it being Saturday) were nowhere to be seen, their shops all locked up.

Ultimately, we found a cafe on a quiet side street where we sat down to rest our weary feet and have what turned out to be the best double espresso I've ever had.

From the Marais, we wound our way back toward the Madeleine, passing by the old Opera House and eventually finding a place where we could have some dinner before going to the concert, which by that time we had decided to do.  We had good seats - if you can call sitting on those straight-back cathedral chairs for 90 minutes in any way "good."  The concert was enjoyable and another one of those rare experiences that we were glad we took advantage of, even though we didn't get back to our hotel until 11:30, which for two men in their 50's was pretty late.

Our plans for our last day in Paris - Sunday - were equally fluid.  We again took the RER in, being serenaded as we did so by a man and a boy whose nationality I never quite determined.  Here's a clip of their program (I didn't want to film them, so I initially aimed the camera at the ceiling, then out the window of our train car):

We started our day with a two-hour visit to the Louvre.  I had been there several times in the 80's, and Mark had been as well when he was in Paris in 2009; plus, neither of us are "museum people," so we went to see a few specific paintings and sculptures, then moved on.  

It was another gloriously beautiful day.  After leaving the Louvre, we took the Metro to the City Hall, then walked back into the Marais to find a place to have lunch.  We ended up with a repeat of the previous day's lunch at what appeared to be a very popular boulangerie on the Rue Vieille du Temple, then retraced our steps of the day before, across the tip of the Ile Saint-Louis then into a small park behind Notre Dame, where we sat down to write in our journals.  

From there, it was back to Place Saint-Michel for espresso, then up the Boulevard Saint-Michel to the Luxembourg Gardens, which neither of us had been to.  After walking around, soaking up the scenery and the ambience of hundreds of Parisians out enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon, we got on the RER and headed back to our hotel.  

Luxembourg Gardens, with the Pantheon
in the background
The next morning, we boarded a non-stop flight for Salt Lake.  We were ready to get home.  It had been a phenomenal trip, but it was time to get back and carry on with life.

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