I’ve not to date participated in that Word Press institution known as “the Daily Prompt”. You know the one, it’s for those who like to blog everyday, but occasionally find themselves, temporarily, stuck for inspiration. “The Prompt” is a suggested topic, serving as a nudge to get them writing. I’ve nothing against it; indeed it’s a device that often seems to elicit great results. It’s just that, as keen-eyed readers will have noticed, I’m rarely stuck for something to write about. If anything, I tend to have the opposite problem.
I did however recently notice a couple bloggers who I follow posting on the topic: “A Few of my Favourite Things” Who really could failed to be “prompted” by that? So here, my final Paris post, as a way of tidying up some odds and ends, some favourite Paris things…
In the ancient centre of Paris, the quays of the river Seine are lined with small book kiosks. On Sundays, these are joined by the stalls of the traditional bird market. Seeing these little feathered chaps provoked mixed feelings. We all love birds and these little guys are certainly very sweet. If I ever had a pet, which I don’t, it might be a bird, because I find them magical, But then again, the reason I don’t is because I don’t really think its fair to keep a bird in a cage. But they were fascinating to watch for a while, with a curious mix of interest and sorrow.
Two- evening mass in Notre Dame.
Perhaps the most celebrated cathedral in the world. We stumbled in as tourists one late cold dark evening. It was still only three days after Christmas, still in of the most holy Christian festivals of the year, so a special mass was in progress. The ancient, vast, looming Gothic interior, which could have felt cold and gloomy, was instead warmed by thousand of people. (There were, mercifully, more worshippers than tourists) Many had lit candles, as we did, and tens of thousands of burning wicks warmed the air and produced a beautiful, soft flickering light. The atmosphere was extraordinary, as the choir and soloists sang and giant arc lights picked out spots of artistic brilliance in the massive, magnificent interior. Apart from that, it was nothing special really….
Three- Jeanne D’Arc. 1412-1431.
Still in the Cathedral, we saw this statue.
Later I was thinking and wondering about Joan and how she packed rather a lot into her extraordinary, politically and religiously charged life, a life cut brutally short aged only 19 years old. Born as a peasant girl, the daughter of a small farmer and minor local tax official in a France torn apart by internal strife and badly loosing a war with England. By the age of 12 she experienced a religious vision. Later managed to gain a royal audience and begged be allowed wear the armour of a knight at the head of the force sent to relieve the besieged city of Orleans. Initially excluded from war councils but led several successful forays and became an important military leader. Her religious fervor, conviction, humility, physical courage and charisma won over thousands, by the age of nineteen she had more or less taken command of the armies of France, steering them to several important victories over the English in the Hundred Year war. Leading the head of a cavalry charge, she was captured by the rival Burgundians, who sold her to the English for money. The English conveniently decided she was culpable of heresy. They put her in prison, (where one baron attempted to rape her) organized a show-trial, found her guilty and burnt her at the stake. Later resurrected by the French, first as a folk hero and later beatified, then canonized as a saint, she is now a national icon, the subject of endless poetry, art, a famous play by GB Shaw and over 35 feature films to date.
Apart from these minor details, Joan led a rather insipid, uneventful sort of life… So, what I couldn’t help wondering in the cathedral was: what on earth is wrong with teenagers and young people? Why don’t they want to get up off their backside, and try do something with their lives?
Charlemagne. (742-January 28th in 814 (today appears to be the anniversary of his death I notice, he died 1,201 year ago exactly) His great-grandfather Pippin was first de facto Frankish king, effectively ending the real power of the Merovingian dynasty and laying the foundations for the Carolingian one. A bit later, Charlemagne’s his grandfather and namesake Charles Martel (the Hammer”) was the first de jure King of the Franks. Charles Martel also halted the seemingly irresistible march of Islam across Spain and into Europe by stopping them at the Battle of Tours, effectively ensuring, for both better and for worse, that Europe would be a Christian rather than a Muslim continent.
So how could Charlemagne top that? Well, he united a vast realm including France, the modern-day Low Countries (Belgium and Holland) Germany, Bohemia and most of Austria and all Western Europe really. Then he conquered the Lombards in Northern Italy, took their famous Iron Crown, took control of the Italian peninsula, forged a special relationship with the papacy and- using that same iron crown- had himself enthroned as the leader of a united Western Europe and as the first Holy Roman Emperor, as heir to the Caesars. Some people credit him with the founding notion of a sense of a shared European identity.
So again, (a bit like Joan of Arc really) a rather fruitless, underachieving sort of life. Sad really…
This huge equestrian statue, just outside Notre Dame, dates from1882. By brothers Charles & Louis Rochet.
Intriguingly, geologists have now calculated almost all modern Europeans are direct decadents of Charlemagne. (No, not because he was promiscuous, simply because we are nearly all related, if you go back 1200 years.) Still, if you’ve ever worried that you haven’t got “the right genes”… you are in fact the direct descendant of the king of the Franks, ruler of Western Europe and the Holy Roman Empire. So no more excuses.
Fifth and last:
Four: Gothic brilliance at M. de Cluny. I’ll come full-circle, back to my first Paris post on this lovely museum, as it made a greater impression than anything else on that recent trip.
If we’re ever tempted to imagine that medieval art was less evolved or somehow “less interesting” than Renaissance or other periods, a visit to this spectacular museum, and the level of love, imagination, medieval detail and craftsmanship on display is an eye-opener that should put us straight for life.
Below is what looks perhaps like part of a “Rood Screen” an altar wide screen separating the most sacred part of some old churches. In fact it ‘s less than a quarter of that size, a small private devotional altarpiece but so finely worked that it appears much larger.
Likewise, I had my camera pressed right up close, against the protective glass in fact, so these figures are each just a few inches tall. I love the lack of “idealized forms”, of face or body, which became commonplace with later, especially Italian; Renaissance art and loved the level of personal, individual, very human, and humane detail. In general, I could not recommend this wonderful museum highly enough.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed these few details or picture souvenirs.
That’s au revoir to Paris. Next week: it’s back to all things-Dublin. See you then I hope.