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Perusing Parisian culture

Geoff Johnston | Monday, March 22, 2004

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve last written. Right now, we are enjoying our Easter vacation: six weeks of relaxation from tutorials (yes, six; I’m somewhat embarrassed myself). But this long break affords us internationals a unique opportunity for travel (even for such stick-in-the-muds as myself) and I wanted to tell you about my adventures in Paris.Now, a few weeks ago my parents decided to make the trip here to England to visit Oxford, London and then Paris, and so I accompanied them to France.The first real snag hit when we tried to enter the Metro, the French rail system. I will admit that one of us was pick-pocketed, but in order to protect the innocent (or in this case, perhaps not-so) I won’t mention any names. The sting was actually pretty clever. What happened was that, as one of us was passing through the turnstile, a man came from behind and stopped the turnstile from fully turning over. Then, once it had clicked into place, and the person was struggling to move it forward, the criminal reached into his/her pocket, took the wallet and took off the other way, leaving the person caught in the turnstile. C’est la vie, eh?Well, other parts of Paris were a little more friendly. Notre Dame Cathedral lived up to its reputation and then some. We wandered around admiring the façade for a while, then went inside and enjoyed the beautiful stained glass and the world’s most immaculate pieta in the Lady’s Chapel. Unfortunately, the entrance to the towers was cordoned off for some reason, but luckily enough as we were passing by a woman decided she wanted to enjoy the view and unclipped the rope, and we gladly followed her up. The view from the gargoyles’ platform is breathtaking.First, you have an unobstructed view of all of Paris and the Seine, since Paris has enacted zoning regulations that limit the height of the buildings. Second, the gargoyles and chimeras themselves are fascinatingly detailed, and each one is frozen in a different pose: one is caught devouring some wild animal, another holds its face in its hands, fretting over some unknowable worry. When I visited I was wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt, and I fully expected meeting a few Domers there; thankfully I was not disappointed.We also visited St. Chapelle, a glorious little Gothic church strangely isolated amidst its surrounding office buildings, and built by Louis IX (Saint Louis) to house the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross. This Chapel is divided into two tiers, a lower chapel, which was for commoner folk, and an upper Chapel which was to serve as a reliquary for these artifacts. The upper chapel is hauntingly beautiful: three of its walls are dominated by huge stained glass panels stretching from the floor to its high ceilings, each depicting a different book of the Bible. We then visited the Louvre, which houses such treasures as the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. Thankfully we visited on a Wednesday evening, when the lines were short: a suggestion for all of you future travelers is to visit the touristy stuff on weekdays. Oh, and Mona’s “enigmatic smile?” Well, her smile really is unique: Leonardo purposefully painted it to appear vague and hazy, and the longer you stare at it the more possible emotions can be read from her face. Who could forget the Eiffel Tower? The Eiffel Tower is to Paris what the Dome is to Notre Dame: they both are so unforgettable, so grand that they define their relative areas. You can see the Eiffel Tower from anywhere in the city: during the day it stands as a symbol of progress and industry, and at night, when its huge lighthouse beam sweeps the sky over the city, it serves as a beacon beckoning people to the home of so much art and culture. And the food: France is famous for her desserts, and she did not disappoint. The chocolate and Nutella crepes, the soft ice-creams, the pastries for breakfast were all so rich, so fresh, uggh … and now it’s back to British food.I hope you all enjoyed your trip to Paris; I know I enjoyed reliving the sights and smells. Now where can I get a Nutella crepe around here?

Geoff Johnston is enjoying his break by traveling and reading. He hopes that the seniors are able to enjoy every minute of their last semester under the Dome. Go Irish! Contact Geoff Johnston at gjohnsto@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.