1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

Journal From a Journey to France
Part Two: Pickpockets & Notre Dame

Friday, 4 June 1999

We rendevous at 7 a.m. again for our visit to the cafe for our morning cafe au lait. This is our last time in Paris with Matthew and Sandi, so we take a picture of them with our delightful proprietress, and depart on our separate ways. The remaining five of us are glad to have the Metro running again to take us to Notre Dame. The trip turns out to be more exciting than expected, however. As I step onto the subway car, the man next to me seems to be having difficulty. Someone is shouting and jesticulating – it appears that his trouser is somehow caught, a piece of loose fabric is flapping against his leg. As it turns out, this is a classic pickpocket ruse, and as we are distracted by the cloth thrown against his leg, the accomplice has slit the man’s trousers and grabbed his wallet. Nolie, who is boarding behind us, sees what is happening and shouts and grabs the man with the wallet. The thief pushes him away and runs off with the wallet. Meanwhile, in the center of the car, MB sees someone else get aboard and drop a handfull of change on the floor of the car – another classic distraction maneuver. In this case, Nolie’s intervention has apparently scared off the other acomplice, and the “stall” leaves the car without picking up the change. For the rest of our stay in Paris, I wait against the wall of the station until boarding the cars, a vantage point which allows us to “scope out” the others on the platform instead of being “scoped out” by a team of pickpockets. This turns out to be unnecessary, however, as we see no more of this activity during our stay.Notre Dame
We are lucky to get to Notre Dame before the heavy tour-bus traffic begins, so it’s a short wait on line to go through. Most of the facade is wrapped in scaffolding and plastic during restoration work, which must be perpetual. As a result, the towers are closed to visitors. But just to walk around is a remarkable experience, to see the wealth of decorations, the statues, the gargoyles. The intricacy of the stone work lattice supporting the rose windows is, to me, every bit as impressive as the stained glass windows themselves. On the other hand, it is sad to see the extent of the deterioration – some spires, evidently of a softer stone than the rest, are completely devoid of detail, resembling a sand castle after the first wave has hit it. Notre DameTheir past glory is evident only from their proximity to twin spires which still retain their original appearance (or at least a suggestion of it). Many of the gargoyles and other projecting decorative stonework have broken off and lie in piles around the back of the church. Some balustrades are missing entirely. But the whole edifice is so massive, the extent of the decoration so impressive, that there is no mistaking this for anything but the center of Paris, perhaps even the center of western civilization.

Our visit to the nearby St. Chapelle is a bit of a letdown, however. Now totally surrounded by the Palace of Justice and associated buildings of government bureaucracy dating from the Revolution, it is like the germ within a thick nutshell. We pass through a security checkpoint which is beginning to be a familiar routine – take out the film and camera and send the pack through the x-ray. I pass the former around the metal detector, but the alarm reminds me that I need to take the penknife and coin purse out of my pocket.Then it reminds me that I still have coins in my wallet in the other pocket. And still it whines, so the guard goes over me with a wand. Everything is out of my pockets now, but the wand claims my calf is concealing something, so the guard indicates in sign language that I should pull up my pant leg. The wand insists that there is something concealed there, but since there is obviously no knife or bomb bulging against my sock, he shrugs and waves me on.  The guards here, though as heavily armed as elsewhere, are at least very friendly and considerate.

Notre DameInside the passageway, we see little of note, except that the walls of St. Chapelle rise straight up without any buttressing, at least for the magnificent upper chapel. It is a mystery how this “cathedral” (actually a chapel for the royal court) keeps from collapsing as most other gothic cathedrals of its height surely would have. It is a major disappointment that we are not able to enter due to the strike.

After a bit of wandering, we return to the little park behind Notre Dame for our picnic lunch. After lunch, it's on to Versailles.

The Photos: gargoyles on the north side; central roof details from the southwest; interior; south transept; flying buttresses from the pleasant park in the rear.

Text and photos copyright 1999 Meredith L. Bliss

1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!