May 9th, 2019: By TGV high-speed train from Angoulême, back to Paris!!!

After a pleasant breakfast this morning, G. was nice enough to get out his The Honey-Do tool set to reset the screws in the black leather belt that I bought from the leather-makers in Florence. When I had ordered the belt, I had let them measure me over the belt that I was wearing, so that the belt I had ordered came out too large. G. had it cut, rescrewed and reassembled in a jiffy, much to my delight, amazement and satisfaction!

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After a pleasant breakfast this morning, G. was nice enough to get out his The Honey-Do tool set to reset the screws in the black leather belt that I bought from the leather-makers in Florence

After our leisurely breakfast and leather-repair workshop, we departed The Charente in time to make the 11:30 train for Paris in Angoulême. We said our goodbyes at the station and again boarded the Paris-bound TGV, and headed for the upper level where we had a good view of the central France countryside as viewed from a train whisking by at 200 miles-per-hour! The trip from Angoulême to Paris took only 1 hour 51 minutes, covering some 392 kilometers (244 miles).

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Saying goodbye to our friends, S. and G., at La Charente

Upon arriving in Paris’s Gare du Montparnasse, we transferred to the Paris Mètro – “The subway line in Paris is the third-longest line in Europe after London and Madrid. It has over 300 stations and 136 miles of tracks. It is said that there is no part of Paris that doesn’t have a Mètro station 500 meters (1640 feet) away or less.” (source: introducingparis.com)

The Paris Mètro has a massive network throughout the city. “It is said that there is no part of Paris that doesn’t have a Mètro station 500 meters (1640 feet) away or less.” (source: introducingparis.com)

Emerging from the Mètro on the Île de la Cité, in the heart of medieval Paris, we were taken aback by the (not still-smoking but close to it) ruins of the city’s great cathedral: Notre-Dame-de-Paris, which burned on April 15th, 2019, four days after our first visit to the 850-year-old cathedral! By the time of the reconstruction shut-down due to the Coronavirus pandemic, over $1 billion ($880 million had been raised by one day after the fire, after President Macron’s appeal to the world community!) had been raised for the impending, massive reconstruction project, and some progress had already been made.

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An overall plan of the land uses of the medieval Île de la Cité (source: stephanekirkland.com) Notre-Dame-de-Paris is in the lower right hand side of the small island

“The Notre-Dame-de-Paris 2019 fire:

On 15 April 2019 the cathedral caught fire, destroying the spire and the “forest” of oak roof beams supporting the lead roof. It was speculated that the fire was linked to ongoing renovation work.”

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The heartbreaking Notre-Dame-de-Paris fire that started at 6:18 p.m. on April 15th, 2019, mere days after our first stay in Paris (photo source: wikipedia.com)

“According to later studies, the fire broke out in the attic of the cathedral at 18:18. The smoke detectors immediately signaled the fire to a cathedral employee, who did not summon the fire brigade but instead sent a cathedral guard to investigate. Instead of going to the correct attic, the guard was sent to the wrong location, to the attic of the adjoining sacristy, and reported there was no fire. The guard telephoned his supervisor, who did not immediately answer.

A view of the now protected cathedral ruins from above
The intact ruins of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, with the many stained glass windows removed for protection. Note the tarpaulin taking the place of the missing wood and lead roof!

About fifteen minutes later the error was discovered, whereupon the guard’s supervisor told him to go to the correct location. The fire brigade was still not notified. By the time the guard had climbed the three hundred steps to the cathedral attic the fire was well advanced. The alarm system was not designed to automatically notify the fire brigade, which was finally summoned at 18:51 after the guard had returned from the attic and reported a now-raging fire, and more than half an hour after the fire alarm had begun sounding. Firefighters arrived in less than ten minutes.”

“The spire of the cathedral collapsed at 19:50, bringing down some 750 tonnes of stone and lead. The firefighters inside were ordered back down. By this time the fire had spread to the north tower, where the eight bells were located. The firefighters concentrated their efforts in the tower. They feared that, if the bells fell, they could wreck the tower, and endanger the structure of the other tower, and the whole cathedral. They had to ascend a stairway threatened by fire, and to contend with low water pressure for their hoses. As other firefighters watered the stairway and the roof, a team of twenty climbed up the narrow stairway of the south tower, crossed to the north tower, lowered hoses to be connected to fire engines outside the cathedral, and sprayed water on the fire beneath the bells.”

The cathedral spire on fire, shortly before the imminent collapse
A shot of the spire as it was collapsing. Note that the fire had not yet spread throughout the heavy timber roof – that was to come soon after
The beautiful world-treasure, Notre-Dame-de-Paris, as seen from the Pont de la Tournelle, during the fire
The ruins of the beautiful world-treasure, Notre-Dame-de-Paris, as seen from the same vantage point on the Pont de la Tournelle as the previous photo. Note the now-missing spire, and the missing massive timber and lead roof

“By 21:45, they were finally able to bring the fire under control. The main structure was intact; firefighters saved the façade, towers, walls, buttresses, and stained glass windows. The Great Organ, which has over 8,000 pipes and was built by François Thierry in the 18th century was also saved but sustained water damage. Because of the ongoing renovation, the copper statues on the spire had been removed before the fire. The stone vaulting that forms the ceiling of the cathedral had several holes but was otherwise intact.”

“In October 2019, the French government announced that the first stage of reconstruction, the stabilising of the structure against collapse, would take until the end of 2021. Reconstruction could not begin before early 2021. President Macron announced that he hoped the reconstructed Notre-Dame-de-Paris could be finished by Spring 2024, in time for the opening of the 2024 Summer Olympics. Architects in charge of the reconstruction project are saying, more realistically, that it will take 20 to 40 years to fully restore the cathedral, due mostly to the intricate detail of the original construction, which will be faithfully followed, and the procurement of materials from the locations from which materials were originally procured in the 12th and 13th centuries – when the cathedral was originally constructed.

A view of the wrecked spire scaffolding, which has melted into the remaining ruins (causing great difficulty for its safe removal), as seen from the Île Saint-Louis, where I caught a model being photographed by a professional photographer on assignment

In December 2019, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the rector of the cathedral, said there was still a 50% chance that Notre-Dame-de-Paris cannot be saved due to the risk of the remaining scaffolding falling onto the three damaged vaults.” (source: Wikipedia.com) This information is gut-wrenching to me – what if our world treasure, the Notre-Dame, cannot be saved – then what?

Here is another great Wikipedia article chronicling the start and progress of the fire, and the fundraising and reconstruction efforts thus far. Here is a drone’s-eye-view of the fire-damaged cathedral from above.

We tried to walk around the perimeter of the Notre-Dame for a better view, but every approaching street was blocked and manned by French police, well back from the site of the disaster. Police were everywhere, I mean, everywhere! I saw many people standing there looking stunned and dumbfounded, still, nearly a month after the tragic fire. Some people were obviously in tears – me included!

For our final stay in Paris we had rented a nice Airbnb apartment, and we arranged to meet our host outside the apartment on the fashionable Rue du Rivoli, at 66 Rue du Rivoli – the same street that runs in front of the Louvre Museum and the Hôtel-de-Ville (Paris City Hall). It turned out, though, that there was a problem with the apartment’s electrical panel, which would require a call to an electrician, which meant that our stay at the apartment was out, for this stay in Paris!

Our Airbnb host, Dmitri, who was wonderful, by the way, soon arranged, at no extra charge, a room for us in a nearby “3-star” (his words, not mine), but very tiny hotel. The hotel was located in the fashionable Le Marais district of Paris – “Le Marais is the closest you will get to the feel of medieval Paris and has more pre-revolutionary buildings and streets left intact than any other area in Paris.

“If you are interested in the Jewish quarter just stroll up the rue des Rosiers. This was once the largest Jewish community in Europe but 75% of the population died tragically in concentration camps. Today the street is packed with delis, bakeries, old hamams, and East European Jewish restaurants” (source: aparisguide.com)

“A glance at some of the beautiful buildings and houses indicates the wealthy status of the former residents. After the revolution, much of the area was abandoned by the rich, and poor bohemian types moved in. The area was considered so squalid at this point it was nearly destroyed by city officials who wanted to modernize Paris. You should keep in mind that before Napoleon showed up the Marais is what most of Paris looked like— a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys.” (source: aparisguide.com)

After getting settled in to our new hotel, we headed to the Île Saint-Louis, the other island in the middle of Paris, in the middle of the River Seine, next to Ile de la Cité. Once on the island, we headed down the main thoroughfare, the rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, making a beeline for one place in particular, Paris’ most delectable sorbet tearoom, Berthillon. The sorbet was truly out-of-this-world delicious. We each had a sampling of three flavors in our single cup. The weather was so agreeable that rather than eating our treats indoors in the tearoom, we ate as we wandered the streets of the Île Saint-Louis.

Three flavors of delectable sorbet from Berthillon

After the Île Saint-Louis, we hiked past the famous French architect, Jean Nouvel’s, Arab World Institute (AWI). The AWI is a very famous and iconic building. I especially like the motorized sun “lens” on the south-facing façade – the façade which faces away from its site on the Seine. “….the south side of the building, with its motorized diaphragms, is a contemporary expression of eastern culture.” (source: jeannouvel.com) Nouvel was also the architect in 2006 for the fabulous Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Cherac, near the base of the Eiffel Tower, which we would see on a coming day.

“….the south side of the building, with its motorized diaphragms, is a contemporary expression of eastern culture.” (source: jeannouvel.com)

Our object in crossing to the other side of the Seine was to reach the fabulous Jardin des Plantes, where, I had recently read, Ralph Waldo Emerson had had an epiphany while walking amongst the countless plants, and the representative natural world within.

“In Paris he went to the famous Jardin des Plantes, a botanical and zoological garden. There he had an epiphany, writing in his journal that:

I feel the centipede in me — cayman, carp, eagle, & fox. I am moved by strange sympathies, I say continually ‘I will be a naturalist.’

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Paris’ Jardin des Plantes, main axis

“His insight was that nature is in us, part of us; and not just its higher forms, but in all its grotesquery and wildness. This leaves open a vital question: what is your nature once you have rid yourself of history, tradition and religion? What can be said is that it is not self-indulgence, it is not hedonism, it is not narcissism – rather it is the surrender to that force which Emerson recognised back in the Jardin des Plantes: it is obedience to nature itself.” (source: theschooloflife.com)

While at the Jardin des Plantes we saw many things, but were a bit rushed as it was close to closing time. The big glass greenhouses had already closed, with all of their tropical splendor, as was the fascinating-looking Grande galerie de l’Évolution. Still, we had time to wander through the beautiful flower gardens, the aromatic, medicinal and herb gardens, iris and poppy gardens and a part of the zoo, featuring red pandas and wallabies, among other animals.

A plan of the sprawling Jardin des Plantes, near the left bank of the Seine
One of the beautiful beds along one of the grand allees in the Jardin des Plantes
Further into the garden, we happened upon an unusual bronze statue of a man battling a grizzly bear

Further into the garden, we saw a beautiful, more natural area featuring a pathway that spiraled up to the top of a natural hill, where there was a wonderful observatory looking out over this part of Paris. The Garden was home to:

Plants by the thousands:

  • 8,500 species and varieties
  • 2,000 trees including remarkable trees planted by naturalists since the 17th century
  • 2,500 shrubs
  • 8,500 perennial herbaceous plants
  • 2,000 greenhouse plants
  • 80,000 seasonal plants
The poppies were profuse!
“The Nouvelle Calédonie’s Hothouse built (1834–36) by Charles Rohault de Fleury, an early example of French glass and metal architecture” (source: wikipedia.com)

After the Jardin des Plantes, we crossed over to the Right Bank, to the Bassin de l’Arsenal, near the site of the infamous Bastille Prison, where revolutionaries overthrew the monarch on July 14th, 1789. The Bastille Prison was thoroughly destroyed immediately following the Revolution, but, amazingly, small pieces of the Bastille Prison still remain.

The ongoing demolition of the Bastille Prison from July, 1789 to July, 1790, was justified thus: “Within hours of its capture the Bastille began to be used as a powerful symbol to give legitimacy to the revolutionary movement in France. The faubourg Saint-Antoine’s revolutionary reputation was firmly established by their storming of the Bastille and a formal list began to be drawn up of the “vainqueurs” who had taken part so as to honor both the fallen and the survivors. Although the crowd had initially gone to the Bastille searching for gunpowder, historian Simon Schama observes how the captured prison “gave a shape and an image to all the vices against which the Revolution defined itself”. Indeed, the more despotic and evil the Bastille was portrayed by the pro-revolutionary press, the more necessary and justified the actions of the Revolution became. Consequently, the late governor, de Launay, was rapidly vilified as a brutal despot. The fortress itself was described by the revolutionary press as a “place of slavery and horror”, containing “machines of death”, “grim underground dungeons” and “disgusting caves” where prisoners were left to rot for up to 50 years.” (source: wikipedia.com)

The destruction of the Bastille with the fossé (ditch) in the foreground. The fossé was later converted into the Bassin de l’Arsenal, which we visited today, in its current state as a pleasure boat harbor

The Bastille Prison was originally constructed as an eight-towered fortress during the Hundred Years War, in 1357. “The Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts in Western Europe from 1337 to 1453, waged between the House of Plantagenet and its cadet House of Lancaster, rulers of the Kingdom of England, and the House of Valois over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe.” (source: wikipedia.com)

The Bastille Prison soon was converted to a prison, though, in the 1400’s, when the ruling monarchy started throwing dissenters into prison. Like I said in the previous paragraphs, some remnants of the Bastille Prison remain in parts of Paris. Unbeknown to us, we crossed a structure on the way back to our hotel that contains remnants of the Bastille Prison walls – “original Bastille walls lines the Bassin de l’Arsenal, which is now a pleasure boat harbor located just off the Seine, but which in ancient times was part of the water supply for the Bastille Prison.”

The modern Bassin de l’Arsenal, with walls constructed from the demolished stones of the Bastille Prison, visible on the left. The Place de la Bastille still occupies most of the location of the Bastille, with its July Column, visible in the background

“Other in situ remains of the Medieval fortress can be seen along the side of the Bassin de l’Arsenal; named after a 16th century arsenal that was located here. Following the destruction of the Bastille, the bassin was excavated out of the remains of the canal that supplied the Bastille‘s moat with water. During the 19th century this was a commercial dock serving the surrounding commercial interests, today the docks are ironically a pleasure boat marina.” (source: https://archaeology-travel.com/)

Once we reached the Le Marais district, we turned north from the Seine, following the crooked, medieval streets to a Paris institution recommended by both our friend L., and our friend, G., L’As du Fallafel.

A menu from the L’As du Fallafel

“A good falafel sandwich is enough to make you a vegetarian, at least for one meal. That’s my feeling, anyway, and at L’As du Fallafel — on Rue des Rosiers, in the heart of what was once Paris’s most vibrant Jewish neighborhood — that feeling is compounded, because the falafel is so good that this is the one culinary destination in town I never skip.”

The scene outside the famous L’As du Fallafel, which is perennially popular with tourists and locals alike – the falafel is excellent!

“The sandwich contains the requisite super-crisp, garlicky chickpea fritters, with creamy hummus, lightly pickled red cabbage (something between slaw and kraut), salted cucumbers, fried eggplant and just-hot-enough harissa. This is all piled into a pita in such quantities that eating it is an adventure in napkin management.” (source: nytimes.com)

The sandwich contains the requisite super-crisp, garlicky chickpea fritters, with creamy hummus, lightly pickled red cabbage (something between slaw and kraut), salted cucumbers, fried eggplant and just-hot-enough harissa. This is all piled into a pita in such quantities that eating it is an adventure in napkin management.” (source: nytimes.com)

This was truly the best falafel I have had anywhere. The place is always crowded to the hilt, but the service is super-efficient, the waiters are smiling and friendly, and the food is truly out-of-this-world!

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