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Archive for the ‘Vive la France!’ Category

Palais des papes

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Enter, if you dare, the Palace of the Popes.

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Mid-14th century and the seat of The Church is moved from Rome to Avignon.

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A big building is required to hold all those big egos — let’s just note, gently, that the church was somewhat, ah, less concerned with public perception six centuries ago.

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Plus it was the time of the plague and take-no-prisoners invasions so the ramparts needed to be strong and tall. As well, these are the days of the Knights Templar, so marauding is not confined to just one team, as it were.

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But bits of beauty everywhere, like a beam of light, reminding of the morning that always comes.

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Market day

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Open air markets are so much fun!

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The Aix markets take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Depending on the day, you’ll find fresh fruit, fish, cheese, sausage, vegetables and a variety of non-foods — beautifully printed fabric (got some), olive oil soap (got some), herbs de Provence (yup), baskets (just one, mind you), scarves, pottery, knives (two small ones), shoes, jeans and old silver sets to round out one’s inheritance from Grandmama.

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A most enjoyable way to shop!

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With October well under way I present to you the creepily gothic images of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

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Not for the faint of heart.

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But should you hesitate, remember Frollo — pushed to his death from the topmost tower by a stricken Quasimodo, learning of the betrayal of his beloved Esmerelda…

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The first item of the Princess’ life list has been crossed off — she has climbed the Eiffel Tower!

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This feat required two visits to the 122-year-old tower: First to assess the size and speed of the lines on a Saturday afternoon (long and slow) and secondly, a strategic return at 9.30 Sunday morning when the rest of the city was still nibbling croissants and sipping cafe au laits!

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And to assure complete transparency, she climbed as far as she could climb — 689 steps to the second tier. Any further ascent required an elevator and a substantially longer wait in the queue!

“Now that’s what I call beautiful,” she gushed as we looked out over the city.

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And indeed it was.

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Quiz time!

Dear Reader, you are looking at what may be my favourite picture ever.

No, it’s not nice — but *I* didn’t carve it.

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Your question: Where is this particular chunk o’ granite located?

And for the smarty pants among you, who is it?

I don’t actually know the answer to the latter question but I have an idea. And some smarty out there will be sure to tell us who!

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Oscar who?

Last visit to the cemetery. I promise.

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Now, I like to think of myself as literary and literate as the next average gal walking down the street. I read my Chaucer, my Shakespeare, my Beowulf, my bp nichol, et cetera!

I also read James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, yada yada.

And I read Oscar Wilde along with the rest of my classmates.

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But did I looooove the guy? I did not.

Yes, yes, tortured soul, brilliant writer, outcast, wit, talk of the town, penniless at death. I get all that.

But kiss marks on his tomb? Ick. I’m sorry, literati of the world, but I don’t get it.

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And obviously the graveyard cleaner-uppers don’t get it either.

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Sheesh.

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Love medieval

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And now, because a tragic love story makes the world go ’round, the story of Heloise and Abelard.

Just about a millennium ago, Pierre Abelard, a brilliant and outspoken French philosopher, was called upon to tutor the equally brilliant, much more pretty and twenty years his junior Heloise d’Argenteuil.

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They fell in love, she bore a child whom she named Astrolabe, and then secretly married. The couple then disclosed the fact of the marriage to Heloise’s uncle but Heloise, not wanting to ruin Abelard’s career and reputation left Baby Astrolabe with Abelard’s sister and entered a convent.

Heloise’s uncle, however, believed Abelard was in fact trying to shirk his responsibilities by shutting Heloise away and tracked down Abelard and made him less of a man with a very sharp knife.

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From here the story changes depending on which account you read. However, just about everyone agrees that both Abelard and Heloise retained a deep devotion to each other even though they saw each other only once more in their lives.

The pair wrote dozens of letters, often philosophical, but more often of their deep love and undying devotion to each other. Heloise became abbess of the priory where she lived the rest of her life and Abelard wrote and published essays and papers, neither of them distracted by the tiresome minutiae of life as husband and wife.

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Through their famous correspondence of 20 years, their love continued to flourish, in spite of their separation, and they promised to remain ‘forever one.’

Six hundred years later, Josephine Bonaparte, so moved by their story, ordered that the remains of Abelard and Heloise be entombed together at Pére Lachaise cemetery.

And so here they rest for eternity, together at last, Heloise and Abelard.

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A caveat: Some say Abelard became a monk, others dispute the notion. Some say the bones are buried in this cemetery, others say the remains are elsewhere. Whatever the facts, it’s a tale worthy of a thespian drama — and in fact, there is one.

It’s called Abelard and Heloise: The Musical.

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Dead centre

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As I believe I have noted elsewhere in this online indulgence of ramblings, I have a great affection for graveyards.

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Frederic Chopin -- born in Poland (see the flag?), died in France. Both countries claim him as their own

Cemetery tours — that’s how I refer to the string of resting places I visit whenever I’m back in central Canada, although I’ve visited monuments to the dead in quite a few different countries.

So naturally my weekend in Paris simply had to include a couple of hours in Pere Lachaise cemetery.

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Pere Lachaise was a Jesuit priest and confessor to Louis 14th, and lived in a small house on the edge of this plot of land in the late 1600s, early 1700s. The land was bought by the city in 1804 and approved by Napolean, so they say.

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Outside the cemetery walls the sellers of lavender soap and miniature Eiffel towers also offer detailed maps of the graveyard, naming the little avenues delineating various sections of the 110 acres. As entrance to the cemetery is free, a couple of euros spent on a map is no great hardship.

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The map does not list every family’s name or sepulchre but highlights several dozen in which the general public might be interested. Being that more than one million bodies sought eternal rest here, a map is a pretty good idea.

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A visit to this place really is, in my case, homage to the English and philosophy professors of my youth, and to my parents who endured nearly two decades of misery as I plodded unhappily through endless music lessons (but now I’m thankful, Dad!!).

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Now — hands up. Who remembers The Doors? Who remembers the lead singer? Who knew he was buried in Pere Lachaise? (Besides you, Ballycroy!)

I’d read a book about Jim Morrison’s raucous life and untimely end when I was living in Greenwich Village in the early 1980s. I also read about his burial (and resulting conspiracy theories) in a Paris cemetery, where his devotees light candles, splash beer and other yellow liquids on his grave, light up a few ah, cigarettes and in general pay their rock ‘n roll respects.

I also read that the Parisien authorities are none too thrilled about the spray-painted arrows declaring “Jim this way” and other mourning detritus.

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Here lies Jim. Kind of ho-hum after all that build-up, wasn’t it?

No worries. Tomorrow I’ll regale you with the unrequited love story of Heloise and Abelard, separated in life but joined in death… Oh swoon…

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City of light

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So, we didn’t *mean* to go to Paris.

Perhaps that sounds a little disingenuous after the fact but it turns out Paris is only three hours away from Aix by train, the weekend was coming and we know what they say about guests after three days… and further, we were boosted by the Bowen Island chef de mission…

“After all, when will you be back there again?” quoth he.

Uh, this spring? (I don’t think he heard me.)

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Les enfants were over the moon! Voltaire, Camus, and Sartre may be off their reading lists, but they knew a good opportunity when they heard one.

Even the students from the lycee were jealous — nothing like a deadly sin to enhance one’s travel experience.

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So this is just a teaser, because the tour guide has got to get to sleep, but let’s just say we got our money’s worth out of our Metro passes.

And, Ballycroy, we missed Pere Lachaise by 15 minutes — going to try before our train leaves tomorrow.

Bonne nuit!

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School boy

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How lovely it looks, college Mignet. I don’t understand how any young man could not be absolutely thrilled to be passing his school days in its hallowed halls.

Or experiencing la vie scolaire where the student population outnumbers his Bowen school by about 800 per cent…

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Three o’clock. Getting out a bit early today. Children in France routinely see their classes stretching into the later afternoon, often not ending until 5 p.m.

I guess when the dinner hour is not until 8 p.m. (slight adjustment for us prairie chickens) the late ending to the day is not that big an event.

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I think of this place a couple of centuries ago, young women clad in black coming in and rarely going out, part but not part of the community outside…

So much rich and detailed history and so little time to absorb it…!

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Okay now. Class is out, a great crush of humanity surges forth and a certain lad looks as though is he high-tailin’ it out and away, thank you very much.

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Gotta go gotta go gotta get outta here before somebody tries to talk to me because I just wanna go home and get outta this joint…

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Oh! Hi, Mum! Can I have a euro?

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And then peace reigns again as we glide through the shadows with out friends.

Until the next day…

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