Paris is a captivating city, particularly magical at Christmas time. Amongst the standard French city sights (mopeds zipping around narrow side streets and wide chaotic boulevards; a customer waiting for her highlights to set around midnight while a couple of hair dressers smoke cigarettes and drink champagne in the salon; a shopper crossing the street in a fur coat over her shorts and patterned stockings; newly engaged couples kissing along the Seine…), this time it was the signs that stood out at me the most.
As people flock from all over the world to join Paris’s two million or so inhabitants, there are some messages that just need to be put out there for all to read. Sometimes I couldn’t tell what was crazier – the signs or what I saw some few nutty people doing.
We started off in the Catacombs, the world’s largest collection of human remains, arranged below Paris’s sewers and Metro system:
Beforehand we had read online that Catacomb staff check bags when visitors exit, to be sure that no bones have been smuggled out. (!!) I guess this isn’t a high enough tourist season for that now, as we fortunately didn’t have this grisly but apparently necessary experience. We did, however, hear many tourists asking questions that were all answered on the audio guide that was included with admission: Whose bones are these? (Parisians that had been originally buried in cemeteries – all labeled – prior to the late 1700s.) I wonder what bones these are exactly? (Skulls and femurs.) Why are they here? (The city was short on burial space in the late 1700s and had previously built an extensive tunnel system while quarrying out limestone. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.)
What are you doing here? I’d like to have asked.
As we continued on to the world famous Louvre Museum, as for any museum, it should go without saying not to touch the art:
Thankfully we didn’t see anyone breaking this rule here with any of the masterpieces, some of which were larger than our ever so cozy 12’x12’ Air BnB apartment. However, at the nearby Museum d’Orsay I saw a lady brushing her hand along one of the many sculptures that line the inner walkways. I guess she just had to know how it felt!
Liberty Leading the People may be one of the most famous paintings in Paris, allegorizing the French Revolution, but Panda Leading the People on this subway ad calls us to arms in the fight for the environment:
As expected, security was heightened for Midnight Mass at Notre Dame. The square before the cathedral was closed off and police officers performed a round of bag checks and metal detector swipes on visitors entering the area. Cathedral security performed a second bag search at the entrance. It was well worth the wait for organ and choir music inside the stunning Notre Dame, even standing all the way at the back.
There was a little bit of a scare at the end of communion, when a small political protest against the Vatican broke out on the altar. Difficult to see or know what was going on at the front of such a large space, many people started heading toward the exit as three protesters waved flags and shouted in French. Well prepared, police swiftly handled the disturbance in an orderly way and immediately brought the three out. Mass concluded as planned.
Here, Charlie Hebdo’s commentary on the current state of security in the wake of the recent Berlin Christmas Market terror attack:
Fyi Paris’s Christmas Markets – which seem less of a French tradition than a borrowed German one – sell vin chaud (French Glühwein or hot mulled wine), as well as French delicacies like escargot, frog legs, and oysters.
We spent Christmas Day touring the Seine River on a fancy lunch cruise. Every step from meal preparation to service is, in France, carefully and elegantly carried out regardless of venue. Except maybe here:
There were no signs on our Christmas cruise ship but maybe there should have been, because we saw an American family walking off with a glass of wine and a poinsettia table decoration after we had docked. What?!
Paris, I hope people treat you right in 2017! Joyeaux Noël!
(Love Paris? Here’s my Paris Tribute from my first trip last year.)