Jan 9, 2010

Peter in the snow, with no luggage

Paris, it seems, shuts down if there is 2 cm of snow on the ground.

Today before venturing out to a café for my first hit of caffeine, I phoned the airline baggage hotline.  "No problem, your bag arrived last night, it will be delivered by noon."  My friend offered to stay and wait for the delivery, so I sallied forth.  As a side note, the Metro system in Paris is fantastic.  There are 14 different subway lines, plus two different train companies.  There is a single ticketing system and there are several stations which allow transfers from Metro to RER without an extra fare.  According to one site, there is not a building in Paris less than 300 m from a station.

My first call was at Sainte Chapelle, which has been constructed by the order of St. Louis (aka Louis IX) in the 13th century to house relics.  Two-thirds of the stained glass windows which remain date to this time, and are the oldest in Paris.  After winding my way through the Metro I arrived to discover a sign -- Fermée.  I asked the person at the door whether he thought it would be open tomorrow, and was rewarded with a shrug and the reply, "It depends on the weather."

Fine.  On to the Eiffel Tower, although I had my suspicions.  Sure enough, I got some wonderfully monochromatic photos from ground level, but the elevators (and the stairs, although that was never a serious option for me) were closed due to snow and frost.

Well, then.  L'Arc de Triomphe should be weather resistant.  One or two transfers later and I emerged on to the street from the Metro station.  The Arc was there, sure enough.  I got what I hope will be some decent pics and then looked around for the ticket kiosk to buy admission to the roof.  Guess what?

After a brief detour for lunch and a session of puzzling over the map of the transit system, I headed towards Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre.  It's built like a traditional Byzantine cathedral, but there was no possibility of confusing it for an Orthodox structure once inside.  The walls were bare stone except for the huge mosaic in the apse, which extended on the ceiling the length of the altar area.  The only other colour was found in the numerous side chapels.  As I walked in following the flow of tourists, I happened to turn back for a glance at the rear wall.  I was surprised to see an altar there, flanked with two mosaics.  Looking more closely, I realized that the mosaic on the left of the altar (i.e. on my right) was Christ calling the first disciples to "Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men."  The icon opposite it depicted Christ lifting Peter out of the water as he was sinking.  For some reason, seeing these two icons of my patron saint really moved me.  Even yesterday at the Louvre, there were unexpected sightings of St. Peter.  Well okay, perhaps I should have expected to see paintings of the chief of the apostles in an art museum, but I certainly did not go looking for them.

While Sacré-Coeur is certainly big, the real treat for me came around the corner.  On approaching the basilica, I had noticed another, much smaller church across the street.  Across the street, but also 3 or 4 metres higher than street level where I was standing.  I followed the signs to St. Pierre de Montmartre which took me through a very scenic (and touristic) neighbourhood of Montmartre.  Art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants, and not a few sketch artists who were very eager to do a caricature or serious sketch.  I wound up bantering with Luigi, but even after he realized he was not going to get any money from me he was willing to keep talking.  Charming guy, and did not mind posing for me to take a photo of him.  (In Egypt, I would immediately have faced a demand for money after taking the picture.)

Then I found St. Pierre.  The building suffered greatly under the Revolution, but was returned to use as a church in the 19th century.  It looks like the oldest of the furnishings are the paintings, of which at least one was commissioned in 1839 for the parish.  The stained glass windows, the pews, and the altar all seem to be of late 20th century provenance.  I noticed none of this at first glance.

My first impression of St. Pierre de Montmartre was that of silence.  The door was open, there was a sign requesting silence and respectful behaviour since this is a house of God, of worship, and of prayer.  There was not, as at Sacré-Coeur, a churchwarden hissing at the gentlemen who forgot to remove their hats.  There were not, as at Sacré-Coeur, hundreds of tourists murmuring and milling about.  There were two or three other people inside, so I slipped in, breathed in deeply, and began to look around.  Walking down a side aisle, I wound up at the side altar and noticed one of those Romantic paintings.  There was no indication of the artist's name, but as I looked closer I realized that the figure warming his hands at the charcoal brazier was none other than St. Peter.  He was turned to face the maiden behind him to his left, and behind her in the shadows was a soldier.  I spend some time at that side altar, just sitting in the chill.

Eventually I got up and continued my tour of the church.  It was no surprise to see the statute of Peter seated on a chair holding two keys, with the inscription TU ES PETRUS ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM.

Since all of my walking clothes except my outer fleece jacket are in my luggage, I got fairly chilly on the way back to St-Serge.  It was with some disappointment (but no real surprise) to learn that my bag had still not been delivered.  When I called the airline at 6:00 pm, I was told that the bag could not be delivered yesterday because of the snow, but that it was out for delivery right now and I should get it before midnight.  Hmmmph. After Vigil at St-Serge, I had dinner with Sharif and we got to talking.  Theories of biblical interpretation, a comparison of the banking systems of France, Canada, and Mexico, Mexican beer (they never drink Corona except as a last resort, rather like Australians and Foster's) -- the conversation wandered.  Eventually Sharif looked at the clock and said, "Oh yes, we were waiting for your luggage!"

Tomorrow morning, I plan to attend Liturgy at Saint Alexandre Nevsky Cathedral.  Before leaving, I intend to contact the airline and tell them I will be picking the bag up at the airport myself that afternoon.  Since I have bought a non-refundable train ticket out of Paris on Monday, I really do hope they will manage to contact the delivery company and have the bag returned to the airport for me.  (If things really work out well, perhaps they'll even reimburse me the extra travel costs or at the very least give me a lift back into the city.)

Stay tuned!

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