15 July, 2009

Day 3: Catholicism, the unimpressive Mona Lisa and the rather impressive Sufjan

1 July 2009............................................................................Afternoon, Notre Dame cathedral

I am sitting in the back of Notre Dame in a small enclave flanked by stained glass. The area is marked "reserved for silent prayer and services," but since to me, contemplation is a form of prayer, and the rest of the cathedral is a little loud and crowded for my taste, I feel OK about being here. If I concentrate, the shuffling of feet and unintelligible mumbling becomes like white noise, and I can feel alone and sort of contemplative.

There are four of us in this enclave. I am the only white person. There's a black woman who is rocking slightly and mouthing prayers to herself, and two men who are just sitting quietly, one Indian, the other of dark and ambiguous ethnicity (Romany maybe?). A Hispanic woman just walked in, and there you have it. A veritable rainbow of Catholicism.

I've spoken too soon. Three South American nuns just walked in, in traditional habitry no less. They sat for only a minute or so before walking out. I hope they don't think I'm blaspheming by writing in here. For all they know I could be writing devotions to God, or at least St. Augustine.

I've always felt that were I to be a practicing one, I would be one of those weirdly devoted Catholics, the kind who is only comfortable in Italy or parts of South America. Going to mass multiple times a week like my grandmother did. THAT level of piety. I find a lot of comfort in the rituals of Catholicism now that I'm old enough to participate in them without feeling like a traitor. I like lighting candles and touching the feet of statues and fingering rosary beads and dipping my fingers in holy water and crossing myself. I dig symbolism. Which I suppose is why I like the temple so much.

In my first area, we were meeting with a new investigator who showed me a rosary she had recently received as a gift. At the end of the lesson my trainer, who, bless her heart, was not exactly master of tact, made a snide comment about how her "pretty necklace" wasn't going to get her into Heaven. I never stood up to my trainer because I was so afraid of her, but at that point I almost bit her head off. I was pissed. I think because I see a lot of value in those rituals even though they are a little unnecessary. That's why I still cross myself when I see an ambulance or a car accident: because although it's not a prayer, it reminds me of God. It reminds me to thank Him for things, or ask for His protection.

On the other hand, though, my friend Kevin said something to me once when we were touring a cathedral in Hungary that made more sense than any anti-Catholic rhetoric I've ever heard from anyone. In the vast halls and various traditions of Catholicism, I often feel in awe of God, but I never feel like a child of God. The high ceilings and huge paintings, the epicness of everything, makes me feel like a bug. Which makes sense if you're a theocracy trying to control people. But doesn't if you're trying to help people understand their potential. So I love and appreciate the Catholic church for what it has given me, but I'm grateful I've found something better.

1 July 2009 ...................................................................................................On the street

French police uniforms are ridiculous. They make it look like they're all sticking their butts out. Or maybe they all just are.

1 July 2009 ...............................................................Courtyard outside the Louvre

The highlight of my trip so far is sitting here and putting my feet in this marble fountain. Pure sensual delight. For those of you who say I came an awfully long way to get my feet wet, so to speak: shut up.

Also, I just gave some crackers to a Bosnian kid who held a postcard in my face asking for money. It stunk of a scam but even if his mother wasn't actually dead and his father wasn't actually in the hospital, he was probably actually hungry.

1 July 2009..................................................................................................8:55 PM my room

Remember how I said one of the hardest things I can imagine was finding someone you haven't seen in ten years in a crowded train station where you don't speak the language? Here is something even harder: getting out of the Louvre. I was there for a solid four hours today. Three of those hours were spent admiring the Greek statues, the medieval paintings, making a cursory stop near the Mona Lisa (not my favorite painting), checking out the cool Egyptian artifacts etc. The final hour was spent figuring out how to leave. Every time I thought I had found an exit, it turned out to be an emergency exit for emergencies only, or I just plain never found it, even though the signs indicated that there ought to be one. It was like being at Hogwarts in the midst of a massive practical joke. Anyway, I pondered giving up, eating dinner at the Louvre and possibly hunkering down there for the rest of my life, when I finally found a usable exit. C'est good nekem!*

*For those unfamiliar, this is Frangarian, the language I speak whenever I try to communicate with a French person. It's a combination of English, French and Hungarian, which I suppose would make it part of the Romance-Ugric language family.

Anyway, by the time I got out of there I was STARVING. Another daunting task of today: finding a restaurant with ONE vegetarian item (besides alcohol or ice cream). I walked around for, yes, another hour, and NOTHING. There was ONE Japanese restaurant that has vegetable tempura, but they were closed. Finally, I did give up and bought some grapes (Mmmmm ... French grapes) and apple juice, and sat on the steps with some homeless people and ate it. I also had some roasted nuts (Not sure what kind, look up "arachides"--translation = spiders. Just kidding! It's peanuts.) While I was eating said nuts, I dropped one and a skinny little pigeon came and ate it. He swallowed it whole! I was impressed. I then dropped a grape because I thought it would be cute to watch a pigeon peck open a grape. But he completely ignored it. Finicky little bugger.

After dinner the Eiffel Tower started to sound very crowded and very far away, and I began to be aware of just how tired I was and just how sore my legs and feet were. Then I devised a plan: right by the Louvre is a HUGE ferris wheel. I could ride on that, see the Eiffel Tower, and call it a day. Is seeing the famed monument as good as going there? (Contrary to popular movies, the Eiffel Tower is NOT clearly visible from every window is Paris?? I know, right?) The answer, for me at least, was: you betcha.

The ferris wheel had over twenty compartments that sat four people each, and there were only four of us in line so I would figured I would get my own compartment. Not so: they put us all in one: me, a woman of about sixty in a fabulous white lace hat/dress ensemble, one whom I presumed to be her son, a middle-aged guy in an unbuttoned to mid-chest Hawaiian shirt, and his four year-old son,who was certifiably adorable. The grandma was excited when I got in the compartment with them instead of being miffed that I was crashing their family moment, so I knew she was cool. She ended up talking the whole time. She would yell/whoop with delight every time the ferris wheel moved, and kept making comments to the little boy such as "Isn't this fun?" or "Look at this view! Isn't it magnificent?" She was pretty much my favorite old lady of all time. I hated to get off. And the view of Paris was, for the record, truly magnificent.

One more story of note for today. I got hit on by my first French guy. I decided to take the metro home, seeing as I was hot and tired, and as I was walking into the underground tunnel I paused to dig through my bag to find my metro ticket. As I was standing there a young guy also paused to dig through his bag for his pass, and he turned to me and said something. He actually said like a whole paragraph before he asked a question (I actually thought he was asking me if I had an extra ticket) and I responded (In English) "I'm sorry, I don't speak French." To which he apologized and backed off. However, when I was standing by the map trying to figure out what line to take, he appeared again and helped me figure out which line to take. I guess he kinda liked the damsel in distress thing I had going on. He was cute but his English was lousy. By combining his lousy English and my lousy French, I learned that:

1. His name was Sufjan (But he had never heard of Sufjan Stevens).
2. He was from Algeria.
3. He works as a cook at an elementary school.
4. He likes Paris a lot.
5. He has never been to the United States.
6. He wants to learn English but needs motivation.
7. He thinks I am very nice and pretty.

He ended up walking me on the two metro lines and all the way back to my street. He offered to buy me dinner but I politely declined. He also bumblingly asked for my phone number, which I did not give him, but I did give him my email address. In different circumstances this probably would have seemed really shady, but I listened to my instincts and I am truly convinced that he really was just a nice guy who wanted to help me navigate the subway and was dazzled by my beauty. And really, who can blame him?*

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that he gave me a piece of gum on the metro, but I waited until he put HIS piece in his mouth before I opened mine. I may be sexy, but I'm not stupid.**


**That was also a joke, except for the part about me not being stupid. I'm really not.


Ashley said...

What an interesting day--I'm so glad you recorded it.

I hope your Algerian guy had teeth. "Tudtad? Hogy, szep vagy?"

L'homme Masqued said...

What more do you need than alcohol and ice cream? I submit, nothing!

Mel said...


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