We arrived in Paris on a Wednesday morning. Before we even got to the hotel I realized that if I had cherished any hope of “fitting in” then I had been optimistic to a fault. The truth was, I stuck out not like a sore thumb, but more like a beaten down, paraplegic thumb.
As I was packing, back in small-town Minnesota, a thought crossed my mind: I wonder…do the French still wear black all the time and do they really still smoke in this day and age? I decided that I ought to pack a lot of black clothes, just in case, but I wasn’t willing to take up smoking just to fit in.
As we stepped out of the taxi in front of the Hilton hotel, (the only time we used a cab at all was going to and from the airport…it’s a heck of a long way out there, especially when laden down with suitcases) the truth hit me: yes, the French still wear black. Yes, they still smoke, and yes, I am blatantly, obviously, without a doubt, an American tourist.
Not only was I not smoking or dressed in black from chic coat to high-heeled toe, neither was I wearing boots. (Even worse: I wore tennis shoes!) And my hair wasn’t dyed reddish. And my coat was pale blue, Minnesota-wear (in other words, North Face and warm). To top it all off, my French language skills STINK and so even if I could dress the part, (and instantly loose about 30 pounds) I would still not fit in.
I decided to embrace my bad tourist-self. (“Bad” as in “good”…not bad.) No, I did not wear a fanny pack. I didn’t sink quite that low. I wore my lavender hat. I wore my tiny paisley purse across my chest. I stood in front of the Metro ticket booth with my husband for quite a long time, while he figured out what tickets we needed. And I didn’t even blush.
We headed straight away to my favorite place in Paris, odd though it may seem for a protestant. I was so excited to show my husband this Cathedral. No, not Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle.
I adore this building. It was built in the 13th century to house the (supposed) crown of thorns. I first came to St. Chapelle when I came to Paris with my mother when I was in high school. Then we had to stand in a long line, as the weather was warm and spring had sprung.
In February, the lines aren’t nearly the issue that they are in warmer weather. (At the Louvre we didn’t have a line at all, and at the Musee D’Orsay we just had a short one.) I prepared my husband as best I could for St. Chapelle – but no one can really be prepared for this magnificent place.
As you walk in, it is as if you are entering the crown of the Queen of England. My pictures do NOT do this place justice. The arches are gold and the dark blue walls are decorated with golden fleur de lis. It is tiny and breathtaking. The downstairs chapel was built for “the people” but the upstairs chapel – up a tiny, narrow, stone staircase which millions of feet over time have worn down so that the center of the steps are smooth and concave – was built for the royal family so they could worship apart from the hoi polloi.
I said that the downstairs is breathtaking. The upstairs, by contrast, is breath-stealing. Truly, it will leave you speechless. The walls – on three sides – are solid stained glass. You feel like you are in a jewelry box. When I was there with my mother, all those years ago, I saw something in that room which has forever remained with me: a flock of birds flew past the glorious windows, their shadows traveling across the glass like living art.
There were no birds this time, but still the room enfolded me with its beauty. I love, love, love this place.
We visited Norte Dame that day too, which I like better on the outside than the inside. (I’ll post those pictures another day.) We took the subway back to the hotel, our feet already tired, and napped before our jaunt to the Champs Elysees which I wrote about yesterday. Later in the week we did the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay – but, as one can’t photograph the insides, those stories are best told by guide books.
I might have to tell you about my meal at the Musee D’Orsay, though…but that’s another post.