My time in Paris was beginning to have the feel of a checklist. Louvre? Check. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame? Check. The weather is spectacular and Spring is in the air so my best times have been spent just hanging out enjoying the public spaces and the public art. I haven’t experienced any of the alleged Parisian snobbery. To the contrary, everyone I have dealt with has been friendly and tolerant of the fact that I speak no French. If they were haughty though they’d have a right to be, since they live in the greatest city I’ve ever seen.
While I was standing at an intersection yesterday a young man came up from behind, ostentatiously reached down near my left foot and came up with a man’s gold wedding ring. He offered it to me but I declined. He wished me good luck and moved on. Afterward I tried to figure out how the scam would have proceeded had I expressed interest in the ring. I still don’t understand where it was going, maybe the plan was just to sell me a phony ring.
Notre Dame is a very serene place if you get there before the knucklehead crowd taking flash pictures of each other standing in front of the art and artifacts. Services were being held while I was there. I met an elderly French nun and passed a pleasant few minutes with her in the cathedral.
For years I have enjoyed the television coverage of the Tour de France. The images, taken from helicopters and motorcycles following the riders, present the French countryside in an appealing way. The race always ends in Paris on the Champs Elysees and today I had the pleasure of walking it from my Metro stop – Concorde – to the Arc de Triomphe. By the time the race gets to Paris its outcome is usually, but not always, already decided, and the ride is ceremonial for the overall winner. However there are still individual titles at stake and the sprinters put on a show. So it was fun to finally see the cobblestones on the Champs Elysees with which the riders must contend in completing the race.
At the Arc de Triomphe there was a service for military veterans beside the tomb of the unknown warrior below the Arc. Elderly veterans placed wreaths at the memorial accompanied by a military band playing the “Marseillaise”and honor guards. This gentleman, obviously a highly decorated vet and the central guest of honor, was getting a kick out of posing with the young women who lined up to have their pictures taken with him.
I ate tonight at an Irish pub near the hotel. Guinness, mutton stew, and soda bread. Lately I’ve been regretting my decision not to travel to Rome. In the Irish pub I was again reminded that Joyce moved his young family there when he was 24, and took a job in a bank. In a letter to his long-suffering brother Stanislaus he wrote: “Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother’s corpse.”