Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sacre-Coeur At Dusk, A Very Good Time

My friend Joe advised that Aggie and I spend our first evening in Paris at Sacre-Coeur, that 19th century cathedral built on the highest hill in the city. 
Joe said, “On my first trip to Paris, a friend suggested I head for Sacre-Coeur before dusk.” He spoke of taking in the grand view, watching the city change colors from pink and pewter and purple to black night and twinkling lights.  
“You know you are truly in Paris.  It's a great way to begin the visit.”
Aggie and I did not visit Sacre-Coeur our first evening in Paris. Instead, it took us a full week of navigating our way about the city before we exited Metro’s Anvers station late one afternoon in order to walk up the steps to Sacre-Coeur. 
We found ourselves in a crowded gauntlet of tourist shops selling second hand clothes, Moroccan scarves, souvenirs and sweets. Wide eyed, we held our purses close, remembering warnings about pickpockets and the friendship bracelet scam.
As we neared the first tier of steps leading to the white domed cathedral, Aggie reminded me that we were very near dozens of fabric and trimming stores. The climb will come later. We immediately made a detour to rue de Livingstone and Rue d’Orsel, arriving as most shops were closing. Undeterred, we touched silk and velvet, linen and polyester, each of us finding fabrics we could not leave behind.
The stores closed and so, with packages in hand, we retraced our way back to Square Louise Michel to begin the climb to Sacre Coeur. No funicular for us. There were steps and then there were more steps. At each level, we caught our breath and absorbed the energy of the crowds. 
There were masses of tourists, children, lovers, students and Senegalese street vendors selling replicas of Eiffel Towers and designer handbags. We observed young girls succumbing to the friendship bracelet game. Colored twine was quickly woven around a slender wrist. How lovely. But it cannot be removed without difficulty and the vendor would like 10 Euros for his entwining skill.
We climbed a second bank of stairs that led to fountains and when we looked over our shoulders, we saw an increasingly finer view of Paris. 
A final set of steps led us close to the cathedral entrance where a couple from Toronto asked if we would take their picture. We said yes, if they would take ours in return.
No photography is allowed inside this cathedral. We sat quietly in a pew and watched sunlight, colored by stained glass, make rainbows on a stone column. We walked past confessionals and saints, lit candles, circled the entire interior before exiting into early evening light. How we missed seeing the equestrian stature of St. Jeanne d'Arc, I do not know.
Perhaps we were led to the view instead. Dark clouds and blue skies, all mixed together. We sat down on the first tier of steps overlooking the city and noticed that up and down the steps men were carting six packs of Heineken beer, selling individual bottles. A lithe black man performed on a light pole, using it as a gymnast might.
“The city is so light,” Aggie said as we noticed the skyline was comprised buildings all made of white stone and that they were becoming a canvas for the changing light of dusk. The sky? Well, it remained bright blue until nearly 10:00 p.m.
We lingered on the steps for a puppet show. The thing I liked best about the puppet show was not the story of Adam and Eve or Noah’s Arc, but the soft drapey fabrics that framed the stage’s painted sets of paradise and the great flood.
On the second tier of steps, we felt the need to photograph each other with Sacre-Coeur as backdrop.  We also began to see the vendors who engaged young tourists with the bracelet trick. We looked the other way, hoping we’d be ignored.
We were indeed ignored. “What does that mean?” I said to Aggie, “Are we grandmother figures to be respected? Or do they simply approach the pretty, young and vulnerable?”
It was almost 10:00 p.m. as we headed for Metro and our apartment, instead of meandering through the streets of Montmartre. So much was left to experience on another visit.
Thank you, Joe. Dusk is a very good time to visit Sacre-Coeur.


Anonymous said...

MM, as Aggie's older sister (I'll take 70 ANY day), I loved your description of the ascent to the Sacre Coeur, and the sidetracks. If I had been with you, it would have taken even longer. -- Our brother John is chomping at the bit to return to Paris. Last week he received an email offering an August bargain from our Paris hotel. I told him there is a reason everyone leaves Paris in August. The same one for leaving Corpus Christi in August, probably.
-- Loved your report. -- MC

MMH said...

Enjoyed your comments. I will return to Paris as soon as the next opportunity arises.