Early September 2017, and we were in Paris for four nights near the start of a European vacation. We’d rented a 300 year old bachelor apartment with laundry in the 4th arrondissement, on the Île Saint-Louis, within easy walking distance of Notre Dame.
Our compact 18th century neighbourhood of 4 and 5 storey apartment buildings boasted street level patisserie, wine, produce, meat and grocery shops, along with the obligatory touristy candy and trinket stores. A pharmacy, a bank, and a few restaurants rounded out the options. And above the shops, masses of tiny flats like the one we occupied. The setting made it easy for me to have a bit of fun by pretending to myself that I was an actual resident.
I had been warned about Paris, of the streets that smelled like pee and the rude Parisiens. People said “Paris is nice, but…” and I had floated the idea of skipping the city entirely, but DH wasn’t having it. “Come all the way to France, and not visit Paris?” he cried, amazed I was even suggesting it. He was right, I met no one rude, nor smelled smells I’d rather not, all the time we were there.
We had settled in, got our bearings, provisioned ourselves with the help of the white coated staff patiently manning the shops, and, because it was close, had walked down along the Seine and visited Notre Dame already, when poor DH got sick. His strategy for fighting colds is to sleep, so he went to bed after lunch and didn’t get up for two days.
And so there I was, at loose ends in Paris, and I sure wasn’t going to sit in the flat and watch him sleep.
I figured it made sense to visit the sites of least mutual interest, so I strolled over to Shakespeare’s bookshop where I spent a pleasurable quiet afternoon hanging out, reading. It was when I was walking back to the flat on the wide uneven walkways paralleling the river, feeling carefree in Paris and not looking where I was going, that I stepped off a curb, turned my ankle and went down hard on the cement. Immediately I was surrounded by kindly French speaking people, none of whom I could understand in the slightest, leaning over me, then helping me up and dusting me off and asking, I assumed, if I needed medical care. I was pretty banged up, but close to the flat, so I smiled, gestured that I was fine, gritted my teeth and limped home.
The next morning with DH still in bed nursing his bug, and me with a scraped leg and hand, and swollen sprained ankle, I dug out the cane/stool I had bought on Amazon before we left home in case I needed to sit and rest my knee in the lineups I knew I would be in all over Europe. I didn’t foresee that I would need the cane instead of the stool, and to support my ankle not my knee. I was pretty happy I had it anyway, because, dammit, I wasn’t going to sit around. I might not be here again and I had to make the most of this lovely city. Despite our setbacks, I was falling in love with Paris. So I wrapped up my ankle, popped a couple ibuprofen, said goodbye to a dozing DH, struggled down the winding wooden stairs, and headed back to Notre Dame.
My progress was slow but I knew that once there I would find plenty of seating in the warm, dim, glorious interior, no entrance fee and probably very little lineup, as on the first afternoon we had been there. It would be dry too, out of the pouring rain.
I spent much of that day inside the cathedral, soaking up the stately calm, the murmuring subdued voices a constant backdrop, staring back at the myriad of 12th, 13th, 14th century faces gazing solemnly out of the ornate frames encrusting the walls. I sat and took in the beautiful architecture and magnificent ceilings, the amazing stained glass, the priceless jewels, the precious statues, the holy relics; all the immense glory and riches of the Catholic Church evidencing the beneficence of their holy trinity.
I slowly circumnavigated the main interior walkway circling the perimeter several times that day, hobbling in the same direction as my fellow visitors, if at my own speed. I took frequent breaks to rest my ankle, settling into a pew here, and a bench there, feasting my eyes and enjoying my solitary sojourn in this magnificent space. Contemplating. I didn’t speak to a soul, I just rested mine.
That trip, we visited many churches and monuments and testaments to the power of the Church and other sundry dynasties. Of them all, Notre Dame is the one I remember the best. Seeing it aflame was heart breaking.