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In a corner of the Fifth Arrondissement, next to the Gare d’Austerlitz, is a public garden that has come to be one of our touchstones of a visit to France. We go back each time. It is not one of the tourist hotspots, like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, but because we found it on our own during our first trip to Paris, it has become an old friend.
The Jardin des Plantes was built in the 17th century as the king’s garden, and initially grew medicinal and kitchen herbs, but later became one of those demonstration gardens in which pioneering botanists planted samples of vegetation they had collected on voyages around the globe.
Around the periphery of the garden are a zoo and several museums of natural history. Some are so old they practically grow fungus; one has been updated to become a sight-seeing draw — at least for the thousands of school children who bus there daily on class trips.
As we visited in 2002, it seems I was caught up again in the conundrum of the opposing French tendencies to formalize and regularize nature, as in its famous gardens, and to see nature as something red in tooth and claw: the opposing tendencies of classicism and romanticism.

Again, click on any photo to enlarge.

jardin main walkway

Friday, March 29
Jardin des Plantes

The Jardin des Plantes is a collection of odds and ends — various gardens, a small zoo, a bunch of superannuated museums, some sooperwhoopie new attractions and lots of old, old trees.jardin natural history facade

At the far end is one of the true treasures of France, although I’m not sure anyone here knows it. The Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée is one of those Beaux Arts buildings, the kind with the names of noted scientists carved around the frieze, that are so common in the old museum world.

It is a long, thin building, two stories tall. From the side, you can see in the windows that there are “wonderful things,” as Howard Carter once said: the long spiny backbone of a whale, skeletons of prehistoric mammals and birds.jardin natural history eagle

But the building itself is notable. It is decorated on all sides with the most beautiful and decorative sculpture of the natural world. As an underpinning to window sills there are lobsters, hermit crabs, birds. In panels along the side of the building are giant wolves and lions. Above the entrance is a great eagle holding a lamb. A frieze completely bands the building with alternating scallop and vollute shells. Another panel on the west side has a beaver. Yet another has a scene with a man grappling with a bear cub over the dead body of its mother. Another had two men stealing young eaglets, having killed one adult, but with a second adult attacking the men.Orang and Indian

It was a 19th Century version of the Gothic love of nature.

But there is also a clue to the essential French character. As we entered the museum, on the queue for the tickets, there was a grand marble statue of a crazed adult orangutan strangling a prostrate nude Indian. It was a horrible struggle, with the man wounded, a gaping slash in his forearm, and the ape with his long arms extended down, holding the neck and head of the man flat, with his eyes bulging.

This is a version of nature with long teeth, a vision of nature as both beautiful and vicious, a kind of sublime: awesome in its seductive danger.

There is a dichotomy in French culture. One is first made aware of it in the Gothic cathedrals. There, nature is everywhere, and not a storybook nature, but an experienced one, a familiar one. If the church preached a contemptus mundi, it failed to gain traction, at least on first go-around. You can sense the love of the natural world that invests every carving, every Gothic tapestry.jardin walkway with pollard trees

That classicism that I mentioned yesterday, that stylizes and sublimated grubby nature is the other French impulse. And I see a kind of continuous war between the love of nature and the fear of it. Classicism is on one level a kind of defanging of nature.

But the French seem always aware, underneath, of the tooth and claw. So, in the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, the orang is seizing man, elsewhere, man is seizing the eaglet and bear cub. It is “man against nature, nature against man, god against man, man against god. Very funny religion.”jardin from above

Perhaps the perpetual French classicizing derives not from a separation of humankind and nature, but rather from a constant awareness — and wariness — of the natural world.

The need to create, as at the Jardin des plantes, of a “jardin systematique,” or to display, as at the Gallery of Paleontology, all those gory skeletons of Siamese twins, and cats’ brains in formaldehyde, comes from that fascination with nature that is akin to a fascination with death, violent, bloody death.

I had never before understood — or thought I understood — this classicizing impulse in French culture, but today’s visit to the natural history museum has given me a clue.

Americans think of nature as vast and sublime. For Germans, nature is a place to exercise briskly. English nature tends to be bucolic: a cottage, a few sheep and a porringer. French nature is all tentacles and talons.jardin tree

O'keeffe Lawrence TreeAside from all this theorizing, the Jardin was a wonderful place. There is a huge tree, a cedar of Lebanon, planted here in 1743. It’s feathery canopy spreads out like Yggdrasil. I made a photo of it in imitation of Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Lawrence Tree.”

The Grande Galerie de l’Évolution — also at the Jardin des plantes — is as modern as the paleontology museum is musty. A shining example of modern museology, it houses an old collection of taxidermy and gives it a new spin, assembling the old stuffed animals in new arrangements, with dramatic lighting and display.jardin interior

On four floors — although to call them floors is an injustice, for they are really a series of catwalks and mezzanines hanging over a four-story cavity, filled with glass elevator shafts. Meanwhile, a parade of animals, as if marching to Noah’s boat, weaves through the central second floor.jardin elephant

It was a great plan to modernize what was once a dusty old display of vitrines and taxidermy.

But the final highlight of the day came next door at the great 19th century greenhouse and conservatory, Les Grandes Serres. The three-story-high greenhouse, like a long loaf of glass, was filled with tropical and exotic plants, dripping with moisture. At one end of the interior, a two-story waterfall has been built of concrete, with vines hanging down, dripping water.

My eyes turned on and I began making photos, in a way it only happens when my eyes are on. Made nearly 200 pictures. Another in the series of garden photos.grand serre 1

grand serre 4grand serre banana treegrand serre displaySpent from that, we began walking home. Carole got a cassis ice cream cone, purple and sharp.jardin ice cream stand

We got back to the room and dropped off to sleep, missing dinner.

Carole’s picks of the day:

carole and coffeeThat cafe au lait and the croissant. The one I had today was even better than the one I had before. I enjoyed being able to communicate in French. The images of the images at Ste. Chapelle keep coming back to me. I loved the statue of the orangutan strangling the Indian. The parade of animals at the museum of evolution (like a Disney Noah’s ark). The plants in the garden systematique. My favorite thing was the female lions on the front of the museum of natural history. All the wonderful sculptures of animals there: lobsters on windowsills, hermit crabs. Those wonderful animals. Oh, the croque monsieur was incredible. Sliced bread with very thin ham and bechemal sauce and some kind of white cheese, then fried, perhaps dipped in egg batter first. Oh, and finding the wonderful little wooden toys for the grandbabies. Oh, and the Redoute rose and lily book. Richard looked so serious about the grandbabies. Seeing Richard’s joy in the greenhouse.

Richard’s faves:

grand serre 5The sculptural decor on the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée was unforgettable. All those rich animal designs crusted on the masonry. I’m sure I don’t know why they don’t sell a catalogue raisonee of the carvings. It’s a treasure. Inside, the Orang attacking the Indian was a hoot. The hoard of skeletons inside was breathtaking (photographie interdite). The Jardins des plantes in general was special, but when we entered the greenhouse, I went buggy: My eyes turned on and I went nuts with the camera. All that vegetal variety, all that green fecundity, all that sinuous vinosity and verdant threat. It was the mille fleurs and Gothic acanthus leaves come to life.

When we visited Paris for the first time in 2002, we felt like yokels: Everything was new and we gawked. Now that we have been there often enough to feel at home on its boulevards, and have visited its most familiar sites enough times that the Musee d’Orsay can feel “old hat,” these initial  notes, written at the end of each day on that trip, can still bring back that feeling, that sense of excitement at seeing the world through a different culture, and with a wholly different sense of history. These notes and photos are from that virgin trip. Click any photo to enlarge. 

Thursday March 28

ste chapelle clerestory

Sainte Chapelle

There is no denying the beauty of Sainte Chapelle, with its two floors of chapel: a lower floor for the servants and the brilliantly lit upper floor for the king. But one can see a creeping French classicism overtaking the richness of the earlier Gothic. At Notre Dame de Paris, every pier is different, every capital, every boss in the vaulting. At Ste. Chapelle, there is greater unity: only two styles of pier, alternating along the nave walls. The bosses are uniform. The fleur-de-lis motif crops up everywhere, further unifying the decor of the building.ste chapelle exterior from street

Even in the 13th century, you can see Poussin coming, and Racine. There is a fecundity to the earlier Gothic. Metaphorically, the buildings mimic the variety of nature. One senses in Notre Dame, for instance, a connection with the earth, the seasons, the stars, the animals. At Ste. Chapelle, nature has become an ensignia for royal power and wealth.

No one at Ste. Chapelle, you feel, has ever shoveled manure.

The difference, as Carole stated it, is that Notre Dame feels like a machine meant to take you somewhere, like a traveling machine for the universe, or a time machine. You know, in Notre Dame, that something is happening to you.ste chapelle interior

At Ste. Chapelle, you admire the decor, recognize the royal taste — the gout royale — and it something you observe, look at, admire, rather than participate in. That doesn’t mean it isn’t astonishingly beautiful.

Ste. Chapelle, of course, is late Gothic, le style flamboyant, with neither aisles nor triforium. The windows hang like banners down the walls from just above head level to the top, at over 50 feet. Ste. Chapelle is filled with light in a way Notre Dame isn’t. There is nothing murky about Ste. Chapelle. It is brilliant.

There are two stories, in both senses of the word. Upstairs is reserved for royalty.

The first floor is a low chapel for servants and burgers. Its ceiling is blue and gold, and anyone using it must have felt privileged indeed, with all that gold leaf and those gilt vaults. (Granted, they are 19th century restorations and only approximate what must originally have been there.)ste chapelle downstairs

There is a tiny circular stone staircase that leads up to the main event on the second floor. Because of its two tier nature, Ste. Chapelle looks oddly gangly and tall. Because its foundation is hid from the street, the chapel looks as if it is built on a small hill, above the surrounding buildings. But there is no hill on the Ile de la Cite. The church is just jacked up a full story on its servant chapel, leaving the King’s chapel floating in the stratosphere.ste chapelle rose window, stained glass, ceiling

ste chapelle downstairs ceilingWhen the sun breaks out, as it doesn’t often do in Paris, the stained glass projects color on the floor, in blues, reds and a little yellow.

We spent a couple of hours in St. Chapelle, trying to see everything and absorb it. Every inch of the place is either gilt or painted or sculpted. There is little resting place for the eye. Perhaps that contributes to the sense that Ste. Chapelle doesn’t function as Notre Dame does.

It is something that allows Louis IX to show off, nearly 800 years after his death. He would have liked that, I’m sure.

Cluny winemaking taperstry

Musee de Moyen Age, Cluny

At the Musee Cluny, we began to wear down. We saw the first dozen rooms just fine, and had time to linger over the many tapestries, but eventually, our muscles and bones — to say nothing of our fried brains — made the last part of the museum a mad dash to get through. Which is a shame, because there is so much to enjoy.Musee Cluny exterior

The Middle Ages speaks to me in a deep and profound way: I am simpatico with its sense of multiplicity, and its sense of particularity.
“To generalize is to be an idiot,” said William Blake, and with that, he dismissed all of English neoclassicism.millefleur

But I feel as he does: Every flower, every tree on the mille fleur tapestries is identifiable. There is a daisy, there an iris. It might as well be a Peterson guide.

For me, the Gothic evidences a genuine love for the things of the world. The various classicisms that follow seem infatuated with ideas rather than things.

But you cannot rub an idea between your fingers, hold it to your nose and smell the camphor, as you can in an herb in a garden.Cluny column leaves

Yes, I admire the rigor of the classicisms. Poussin is no slouch: You have to respect the intellectual energy expended in regularizing the universe.

But in my heart of hearts, it seems like a kind of avoidance. The real world, with its real textures, real smells, real colors, real tactility, real sounds — seem so much more satisfying than the concepts that underlie classicism.

So, the Gothic world dug its arms up to the elbows in the soil, sniffing the moisture in the loam. You see it in the illuminated manuscripts, with their love of the seasons; you see it in the architecture, with its leafy pier capitals; you see it in the tapestries, with their mille fleur horror vacuii.Cluny stainded glass angel with flower tondo

The classical worlds that followed — and in France, even the Baroque is classical — it is all turned into ideas. Even French Romanticism seems wordy and literary.

So, you have to go back past the 13th century, to the early Medieval world, before you find such quiddity in French culture.

Adam Gopnik, in his book, talks about the French love of “theory.” Theory to them, is paramount: Without a solid logic in your theory, your conclusions are suspect.

But theory can be a dread evil. It is just such ideas that, twisted and mangled, turn into fascism, Stalinism, Maoism. No room for goats in such worlds.

When we finally got back to the hotel, we were destroyed. Could barely move. Slept for several hours before supper.

But then, we walked down the street to a little glass-fronted brasserie for some onion soup and apple tart. Quel marvelleuse!Cluny animal ivory tiles

ste chapelle floor lionsCarole’s favorites, day three:

Windows at Ste. Chapelle; Cafe au lait while walking to subway, and the pain au chocolat; learning about Ste. Chapelle from Richard as my own private teacher; I liked the servants’ chapel very much. Really really enjoyed was the cut on the fold animal patterns inlaid on floor at Ste. Chapelle; there were hounds, boars, vultures, wolves; At Cluny, saw some little metal pots that were children’s play dishes; saw some little metal whistles in the form of animal heads that were children’s whistles. I thought the combs were very interesting. The second most wonderful thing, after Ste. Chapelle stained glass, was Medieval garden at Musee Cluny. Saw some blue violets blooming.

Cluny gold rose 2Richard’s favorites, day three:

The Omelette Emental for lunch, which was heaven. The stained glass at Ste. Chapelle, although it was too overwhelming to see in detail. The fleur-de-lis stars on the vaulting of the lower level of St. Chapelle. The tapestries, in general, at Musee Cluny. There was a gold rose there, too.

PARIS 2002
Days 1-3

Along the Seine

The Flight

In the spring of 2002, my wife, Carole, and I went to Paris for the first time. Some friends had just got back from Rome and waxed effusive over the experience and they encouraged us to follow their example and travel. We thought about it but decided that the north felt more simpatico than the sunny Mediterranean, and so finally decided on France. On March 25, we flew from Phoenix to London and on to the City of Light.

We left the house in Phoenix, Ariz., at 4:15 on Monday and got to our hotel in Paris at 4 p.m. the next day. It isn’t as bad as it sounds: With the 9 hour time difference, we were only in transit 15 hours. Well, it is as bad as it sounds. The time waiting in airports, cramped on airplanes, and riding around town adds up to one great pain in the ass.

And while British Airways is much to be preferred to most American airlines, that is still faint praise. The seats were sardined, the hours tedious, and the food bland. The flight from Phoenix to London was bad enough, but the short hop from London to Paris was a nightmare. The plane loaded up with Scottish soccer fans, all dressed in kilts, with tam-o-shanters and beer guts, and they yammered and yelled for the whole flight, making it more like a school bus than a jet plane.

“Hey, laddie, when you gonna take a rest,” yelled a Scot from one end of the plane to another. “Aye, and I suppose you are, too,” said his buddy at the back. And they all laughed at the joke, which was mute to the rest of us. It was like that the whole way.

One minor note: On the short leg, they fed us only drinks and snacks, which were “Pfeiffers’s Bread Sticks with Worcester Sauce Flavour.” Truly a bizarre taste. Little pegs of dry bread, about 3/4 inch long with the sharp taste of worcestershire sauce, coated as a dry powder on the surface.

Worse: the note on the back of the pack. “Best before Sep 02 2059.”

Now that’s a shelf life.

The following notes are from the daily journal I kept of the journey, day by day, excising some of the more quotidian bits. The photographs were all taken on the day described in the journal, even if better examples might be had on revisits. Click on any photo to enlarge. Each entry ends with a short summation, one each by me and by Carole. The first three days get kind of garbled together. That’s the way it felt with the jet lag.

Hotel Vendome horiz

The Hotel
March 27, 2002

Paris airshaftWe stayed at the Hotel Vendome St. Germain, which is a hole in the wall place off the Rue Monge in the Quartier Latin. We got a room on the sixth floor, the top floor, looking into the courtyard. At the bottom, there are a few potted plants that serve as the “jardin,” of which the hotel website promises a “view.”

The hotel couldn’t be more Parisian, as far as we could tell. It is old, with peeling paint on the exterior — although the interior was nice enough.
The rooms are tiny, just room for a double bed, a small desk and closet. But it has a bathroom — even tinier — right off the room.Through window

As night descended, we could see the people in the rooms across the “view,” apparently in apartments, cooking their suppers and sitting down to eat.

I could practically hear accordion music. Ou est Jacques Tati?

We were so exhausted from our flight that we collapsed in the bed without supper and fell asleep. Which sleep proved fitful at best, with both of us waking up about hourly, and trying to get back to slumberland.

By 6 a.m., we gave up trying to sleep and got up to start our first day in Paris.

Seine with tower
WEDNESDAY

Breakfast

Breakfast in the hotel cafe — really just a room in the basement where they stack up a bunch of croissants and baguettes with some rolled ham, yogurt, butter, Laughing Cow cheese and confiture (jam).

The coffee machine hissed and spumed, and the hotel maid, doing morning cafe service, brought out the cafe au lait.

To say the least, even this modest petit déjeuner was a revelation.
The croissant was flaky and buttery. But that we expected. The coffee was marvelous. But that Carole expected, too.selling strawberries

“The butter is too rich for me,” she said, after spreading a little on the croissant. I pointed out that it wasn’t butter, but cheese in a package that said, “la Vache qui Rit.”

The real butter was from Normandy: ice cold and fresh, and was as tasty a spread as you could put on a bread.

But the real champ was the baguette. Who knew bread could taste this good. With a shattering crust and a light interior, it had that kind of browned, crusty flavor you can only imagine.

I remembered growing up on Wonder Bread. American white bread. Wretched stuff. I could never understand, as a kid, why people would call bread the “staff of life.” Uncle Tony loved bread. And food writers wrote panegyrics to the stuff. But the bread I knew — and the ONLY bread I had any experience of — was banal, pasty, tasteless, or when not completely devoid of flavor, redolent of the stale air of the grocery store.

I hated bread as a kid. I hated sandwiches, which only wasted good filling between slices of inanity.

That isn’t this French bread.

Now, I’m not a complete tyro. Certainly in my adult years I got over my childish hate of bread. I make my own, which is wonderful hot out of the oven. And local bakeries make baguettes that are a pleasure to eat.

But I wasn’t prepared for the difference between even good American French-bread and plain, ordinary old French French-bread. This was bread to give you orgasms. Flavor — no, flavors — that rang from lip to pharynx with a medley of sensations, and those sensations were as physical as they were chemical. The initial crunch led to a repertoire of smaller crunches inside the closed mouth, and then the teeth broke through the crust into the heart of the bread and felt the giving elasticity of the gluten.

This was no bread to erase errant pencil lines with. This is bread to build an altar to.

Notre Dame west facade

Notre Dame de Paris

After our repast, we walked up the rue Monge toward the Seine. We could see the spire of Notre Dame at the end of the road, less than a half-mile off. Along the way, we past a billion cafes, bistros, tea bars and restaurants. In between were shops, fruit stands, book stores and churches.Notre Dame interior

A lot of churches. Anything built after 1700 is hardly worth mentioning, but there are plenty built before then, and you can enter them at any time, gaze up the nave toward the apse and see the sunlight throw color from the south clerestory onto the stone of the north triforium.

We got to Notre Dame, crossed the river to the Ile de la Cite and walked along the southern edge of the building, around the apse and along the north side, taking the exterior measure of the place.

Carole became fascinated with the scores of gargoyles. Some are truly spooky.Notre Dame exterior

The building’s age is obvious. Many of the stone blocks are so eroded they look “texturized.” The difference between the weathered old masonry from the 12th century, and the tighter, cleaner restoration of Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century is quite apparent. And although he tried his best to match his restoration work with the original Gothic, there is still a kind of Romantic sensibility to it.

That is fits right in with the original work is another proof of the kinship between the Gothic and the 19th century Romantic.

When we came around to the West side of the cathedral, which is all a tawny white since the sandblasting of the 1960s, when they cleaned the place, and walked inside.

Notre Dame de Paris is not the biggest of the famous Gothic cathedrals. Nor is it the most beautiful, either by reputation or by the photos I have studied. And much is defaced by either restoration or careless modernization. A tres moderne altar is greatly out of place.

But none of that matters, as the building moves its visitors. Turn one way and the light breaks through the clerestory. Turn another and you can see the great rose windows. Walk past the crossing and you see the choir screen.

At every turn, there is something pure, beautiful, unconcerned with profit and loss. Something meant to awe its visitors. Something which does awe its visitors.Notre Dame north Rose Window

The north and south transepts are shallow, but that hardly matters, given the splendor of the two rose windows. Carole and I had the same response: being overwhelmed.

It’s one thing to see pictures in books. It’s quite another to experience the flesh. The windows are huge, colorful, intricate. They serve as metaphors for the same thing as Dante’s mystic rose at the end of the Paradiso. Radiant, radiating, they speak — no they sing — of a divine order, a shape and meaning to the universe. You can practically hear a great C-major chord sung by a Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or more apt, like the great C-major chord in Haydn’s Creation at the moment they chorus sings, “And there was …. LIGHT!!!!!”

As a well-known atheist, I don’t believe in anything like the theology of this masonry, yet, I cannot help being moved deeply by the spiritual metaphor. Ranks of angels, rotating as they sing, like some ethereal Busby Berkeley choreography, singing in 8-part polyphony to elaborate harmonies, sliding from suspension to suspension — dissonance, resolution, all headed for that great C-major.

“When you see this,” I said to Carole, “it kind of makes you laugh when they call some pop star an ‘artist.’ “

Whoever made the great rose windows knew what real art was, and how difficult it is, and what ambition it takes, and how impossible it is to be satisfied with less.

I nearly broke out in sobs.

We will return to Notre Dame later to spend more time and do the tower tour, or “tour de la tour.”

Toupary horiz

Lunch

We walked along the Ile de la Cite, past flower stands on the north side of the island, past the horologue, the city jail, and on to Sainte  Chapelle. Unfortunately, by that time, the crowds had assembled, and the line to the church was down the street. We decided to wait until tomorrow and try to get there early, before the throngs.

We continued down the south side of the island to its very end, under the Pont Neuf. The current of the Seine is surprisingly strong, causing standing waves across its surfaced.

When we consider what makes Paris different from Phoenix — well, there are many things — but one that is not often noted is that the river, with its current, gives a kind of physical yet metaphorical pulse to the city, serving as its aorta, shooting blood and life through it. In comparison, Town Lake is a clogged artery of stagnant algae.Samaritaine

Just north of the Ile, we could see the great Samaritaine department store and I remembered that there was a restaurant at its top with a legendary view.

When we got there, the fifth floor restaurant, Toupary, was not yet open for lunch. It was about 11:15, and it opens at 11:45. So we toured the store first. It is stunning with its Art Nouveau details, its glass roof, five floor escalators running like a “canyon” down the center of the building, and the peacock murals across the top floor of the store.

The Toupary is the kind of restaurant where they don’t look at you standing there until 11:45 sharp. You are invisible. Suddenly, as if a bell went off, the hostess suddenly has her eyesight back and asks if there are two for dejeuner. She seats us near a window out which we can see the Seine, and off in the distance, the Eiffel Tower.

There is a crisp linen tablecloth, linen napkins, plates engraved with the name of the restaurant.

A young man brings the cartes and asks us if we want wine or water. We opt for water. We order the Lambchop grille aux herbes de Provence avec pommes sautees Provencales.

When it comes, it is artistically presented on the plate, with the lambchop symmetrically cut and dropped on top of the diced potatoes and garnished with some spring greens.

I put the fork in the potatoes and raise it to my mouth and I realize we have entered heaven. With a garlic and wine sauce, but not too much of either, the potatoes are divine.

The meat and salad followed suit, and we recognized that gastronomically, Paris is already a success, a triumph, a coup de brilliance.

St Germain Aucerrois nave

Afternoon

After lunch we drop into the St. Germain Auxerrois, the Gothic church next door to the department store. Miniscule compared with the cathedral, it is nevertheless beautiful.

What makes all these ancient churches so compelling is the way their history is composted on their faces, a palimpsest, a pentimento, with each age remaking a part of the past in its image, so that a 17th century door gets spliced onto a 14th century transept, or a 19th century stained glass replaces a missing earlier scene.St Severin 1

A Neoclassic church cannot stand this tampering: the effect is ruined. But the Gothic style screams out for such fecundity. It is a style rooted in the variety and richness of the world, and its strength is in that stylistic midden. It also makes us all the more aware of the age of the edifice.

We stopped also at St. Severin to see the sunlight on the nave walls.

We walked back toward the hotel by a different route, through the worst of the tourist section of the Latin Quarter, past endless little restaurants and souvenir stands, although there were also all those book stalls along the river.

And Carole found a place that sells crepes, and bought a chocolate one. It was a tiny storefront, with a shelf along the street lined with colored decanters, presumably flavoring agents. Through the door and inside, Carole ordered a crepe de chocolate.

The young woman, who seemed to be an apprentice, dropped a load of batter on a large round hotplate, using a special device somewhat like a flour sifter, but with a funnel shape that dropped the batter out the small end. She then took a squeegee and dragged the batter out on the hot surface to cook. Before it was completely done, she turned part of it over with a long metal spatula onto itself, then turned the whole thing over to finish cooking, ladled some chocolate sauce on the upraised surface, smoothing it out with the ladle bottom.

Then she very neatly folded half of the crepe back on itself, forming a line in the middle, then folded the other side, making a seam in the middle.

Then, wrapping the whole thing in wax paper, she handed it to Carole, who joined the angels for a polka around the divinity.

Carole said it reminded her of the Hopis making piki.

We passed by some exceptional architecture on the way. Paris is an oddly layered city, with the newest on the bottom and the oldest above. Almost every building houses some modern shop on the ground floor, with neon lights, plate glass and corporate logo. While from the second floor upwards, you see the old wrought iron balconies to the small casement windows, peeling paint, rotting plaster or concrete, and surmounted by a gaggle of chimneys, each with a half dozen flues poking out the top.

How they got those modern shops underneath the old apartments, I don’t know. It looks like they jacked the buildings up and constructed a shopping mall underneath.

We got back to the hotel about 3 p.m. and rested a bit.

About 7 p.m. we went out for dinner, wandered around the neighborhood looking at all the bistros and Turkish restaurants. We finally decided on a Afghan restaurant, called Kootchi, and had a grand saebzi chalow.

Carole’s highlights of the day:

Mary standing on a demon, the roots on the wall at Notre Dame, the rose window. The chocolate crepe, the cafe au lait in the morning. All the pink jasmine I saw for sale on the sidewalk. The tree just budding with the sparrows mating in it under the Pont Neuf. And all the bridges over the Seine. The gargoyle with the human face. Learning about Notre Dame from Richard while standing in it. Oh, and finding out that I can communicate a little bit in French.St Germaine light on floor

There is some gray area when deciding whether the biggest event of the day was Notre Dame de Paris or the chocolate crepe.

Richard’s highlights of the day:

The baguettes at breakfast. The rose windows of the north and south transepts at Notre Dame. The current of the Seine. The smaller churches of St. Germain Auxerrois and St. Severin, and most particularly, the colored sunlight filtered through the stained glass at St. Germain Auxerrois and hitting the wall of the chapel of the apse, and spreading across the checkered floor.

Eiffel TowerI am not watching Downton Abbey. I reached my quotient of British TV drama with Upstairs, Downstairs 40 years ago. Since then, it has been rehash on rehash, and I no longer feel any connection.

It is a widely held truism that American intelligentsia is divided between Anglophiles and Francophiles. The one portion watches Masterpiece Theatre on PBS and cannot get enough of Edwardian melodrama. They swoon over Merchant-Ivory films and generally rate Henry James as readable.Books

The other half reads Camus, loves Montaigne, adores Truffaut.

The one side grieved the death of Princess Di; the other the death of Claude Levi-Strauss.

It is a divide as solid as red-state, blue-state: In one corner, you have Sherlock Holmes, in the other, Inspector Maigret.

The English sleuth, cool, rational, friendless; the Frenchman, intuitive, patient, uxorious and with a small glass of pastis in one hand.

When the English talk of logic, you know a tweedy lecture is in the offing. When the French talk of logique, you know something as baroque as an 18-car pile-up will follow.Palais Garnier - putti

Just as psychologists can divide personalities into types: introvert vs. extrovert — so, too, can we divide Americans into those who identify with the island or the continent.

This is, of course, a divide entirely set amongst the reading, thinking public.  Outside of the library, Americans are suspicious of anything foreign, and especially anything European.

Which is why Americans so much love to despise France. It is hard to understand this, given the history of our two countries, from the time of the American Revolution onwards.

“Cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” we say. Which shows how little we Americans understand about French history. Doesn’t exactly describe Napoleon or his army. And who was it, after all, who won the American Revolution for us? Ah, yes, Admiral de Grasse. And Lafayette was no monkey of any sort.

But back to the bookish Yankee: Perhaps this divide became palpable in 1789. Many Englishman at first applauded the French Revolution, but even most of them eventually grew horrified at the excesses of the Terror.Rabbitshangingmarche

It left England with a slowly dwindling monarchy, and gave France a fresh, if confused start. It has never really comfortably settled, the current Republic being the Fifth, merely five decades old.

The English much earlier had their own paroxysm, but that one ended with the restoration of the monarchy, and an inbred conservatism that has lasted to this day, and I believe, is what so appeals to that brand of American college-educated reader who would rather watch The English Patient.

Or perhaps it is the British Protestant history vs. the lingering Catholicism of France. America is more at ease with the strict, moralistic Puritanism it inherited from its English forebears. There is something suspect about the theatrical exuberance of the Roman religion that is the cultural inheritance of even French atheists.

England says, No, or at least, Not Now. France says Yes, or at least Let’s Try. It is why English food is the butt of jokes, while French food is the world’s standard for gustation. The English do not believe they should enjoy their food.Bayeux store window

For the English, anything of which you partake should be good for you, that is, make you a better person. For the French, it is the same with this difference: Something that excites the senses is good for you and does make you a better person.

The Puritan influence in America wishes to outlaw foie gras.

Well, I love foie gras. It is the most intense flavor I can remember eating,  sunburst of umami, with the cloak of saccharine provided by the onion confiture and finally washed with an excellent fruity sauterne — not the cheap sugary drink Americans buy by that name.

Which means I fall into the camp of Francophiles. I love everything about the country, even their craziness.Rouen Lingerie shop window

I love that the French Revolution elevated reason above all other virtues, and proceeded to get all unreasonable about it. I love that they have a theory for everything, and will argue for an hour on a TV talk show, not about whether a speaker has his facts right, but whether he has his theory right. There is a kind of divine looniness in it all.

In contrast, the British can suck the life out of any proposition. While we can agree that Adam Smith was a genius, have you ever actually tried to read him? Or David Hume? Not bloody likely.

So, you can have your boiled joint and your suet pudding, I will always go for the cassoulet and the moules Normande. There is nothing better tasting than a properly prepared magret de canard. You can keep your English goose.Driving France

When I am in France, I feel at home in a way that is irrational. I do not speak the language; I can never dress as stylishly; I can barely read Le Monde or Figaro. But somehow the culture feels familiar. There is an easy fit, a comfortable tolerance, in the engineer’s sense, you have room to rattle around.

Even the landscape is home. The trees of Verdun, the mountains of the Vosges, the beaches of Normandy, the craggy peaks of the Massif Central, the caves of the Perigord, the waves of the Mediterranean, the 2,000 year history of Arles, the white hills of Aix.Forests of Verdun

And finally, and most importantly, the small, highway-ringed city of Paris, where the girl in the flower shop asks how your wife is doing when you pass in the afternoon and your wife is resting in the hotel room.

I find it all so inviting, so warm, friendly and comfortable. Paris is a city you can negotiate, where every corner — every one of its 20 arrondissements spiraling out from the Ile de la Cité — is as familiar as a classmate from school, and just as distinct.

It is the Berber faces, the Jews of the Marais, the Asians running the butcher shop, the Turks selling pizza, the line each morning and evening at the boulangerie for baguettes, the sculptured heads over the doors, the fountains, the public statues, the warren of roads changing names every few blocks. The squalid suburbs, the train stations, the Bois de Vincennes, the violinist echoing through the tunnels of the Metro, the fromage blanc at the Chinese restaurant, the old men playing pétanque in the flat dust of the Tuileries.Blvd de l'Hopital

There is nothing wrong if you prefer London. If you like bad food and dirty streets, boring television and infuriating politeness.

À chacun ses goûts.

My wife and I have been to France many times and cannot wait to get back. I recently came across the diary I kept on our first trip there, in 2002 (I had visited much earlier — in 1966) and I will be sharing portions of it over the next several blog entries. I don’t know if I can persuade any of you to give up your Downton Abbey for the French version of Inspector Maigret (with Bruno Cremer), but perhaps I can suggest why we find the nation so compelling.