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Séjour en France. Ch 3. Notre Dame de Paris; Shakespeare and Co bookstore; Moulin Rouge; cafe des 2 Moulins.

Updated on January 8, 2011

Before getting to the Notre Dame and as we were making our way from the Palace of Justice, I noticed a curious thing. Mike and Pete’s jerseys were the same colors, different designs, but same colors. Now, Pete woke up in one part of Paris, and Mike in another. So obviously they hadn’t planned this, but then, they are identical twins, and these things happen from time to time. I said to them, “Do you two realize what colors you are wearing?” They looked at me. “We are about to see the Notre Dame Cathedral and the two of you are wearing the colors of the University of Notre Dame?” They looked at each other’s jerseys and what they were wearing themselves.  "I didn't do it on purpose”, Mike said, “I don't even like Notre Dame. I hope for them to lose each time they play". Felista was stood by smiling. She knew.

The Notre Dame cathedral. And it is just a short walk and around a corner from here. We are about to set our eyes on it for the first time. Wise guy Peter said to me, “Look, off up over there, dad,” pointing in a direction away from the cathedral, “the Notre Dame.” It wasn’t Notre Dame at all, of course. He had it set up so I would see the Notre Dame for the first time, full force, as he had done when he took me to the Palace of Justice, the Wepler café, the Eiffel Tower. I like it. What a treat. He must love seeing his dad bouncing off the walls of imagination and stupification. Is that a word? I mean, look, I’ve been here less than two days and my skin is one constant pique from the thrills.

We continued along and innocent me, taking pictures of more of what was not moving than was moving, switching from zoom lens to regular lens wherever the need dictated, knowing we would get there but having no idea when, Pete tapped me on the shoulder and said,

"Okay, dad, look to your left. Whoa. And there it is. The Place. The Cathedral Notre Dame. Notre Dame de Paris. In French, Our Lady of Paris. Wow. I have heard about it all my life and suddenly I am standing before it. It is everything imagined, the two tall thick columns, the statues by the hundreds inside insets or not inside insets, on the face of it, on top of it, up and down the sides. Set in the middle of the cathedral the great round rose window, itself adorned with figures. Running up and down the sides gargoyles, gargoyles, and more gargoyles, all looking as if they are ready to jump or getting ready to jump. Well, they are getting ready to do something, that is for sure.

Glorious. Goodness. What a beautiful place. Parisians are so lucky to be living in this magnificent city. Living in this great country. Why wasn't I born here? What did I do wrong?Envy. Envy. Now I know the meaning of envy.

Mike's pretty happy.

Rose Window

The Notre Dame is mammoth, every space filled with ornate and intricately done sculptures. I guess when you work on something like this, there is no fooling around. Out front, rows and rows of people lined up to go inside and make their way down and around and up. Wow, can you imagine having something like this in your city, any city anywhere? Whew. I am told as great as this cathedral is, there are better in France. Really? The beauty of this is intoxicating.

The Gargoyles

What artistic workmanship

Can you imagine what it took to make this. Not just the heavy work. But the subtle work. The artists responsible for this. Amazing. There is nothing in my experience of anything I have ever seen or experienced that comes close to it.

Along the side

The back

Back around the front, just to peak my curiosity, I let my mind wander to the end of HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and Quasimodo throwing the priest off the side of the church and watching him spin and fall to his death. Imaging was easy. Finding that window, as well as the perch the priest looked down from and upon Esmeralda as she mesmerized and transfixed him, which caused his madness, was another matter altogether. There were windows enough and a courtyard below, surely, but I didn’t spend too much time trying to make sense of it. It had happened. That was enough.

After a while, a long while with this awesome beauty, someone had the bright idea that food was in order. Indeed. In for another treat. Food in France. So it was a walk across the Seine with the Notre Dame at our backs. I could see the backs of the famous bookstalls as we walked across the bridge. Rather famous, they are, and I was interested in seeing them enough spend a few quick minutes looking at them before going for food. After food, time to linger.

On our way to a cafe, we walked by some typical and beautiful Paris street views. It doesn't take long to realize beauty is the norm here. What a city.

It's outrageous. What care for beauty. What inspiration. Of course Paris is the most visited city in the world. The greatest gift we give to each other is beauty, and the numbers that come here bear that out. I wonder, do Parisians call their city the greatest in the world? I wouldn't think so. It just is. They know what they have. Wow. Yes, I know, I am repeating myself. Wow. Wow. Wow. I am completely blown away. And I have only seen tiny corners.

Hanging out amid fine art.

We thought we would need Euro's to buy food, and none of us had many with us, so we looked around to find some. Then we realized we didn’t need them, a credit card would do the trick and off we went to eat. We were close to café de Flore, where Jean-Paul Sartre hung out, but my stomach had more of my attention, so rather than work at venturing to find that café, we wandered along to what was before us to choose from.

We walked down one of the most interesting streets I had ever been on. It was at once an arcade, food court, plenty of restaurants and markets. Cobblestones underfoot, café's tightly squeezed together amid vendors selling on the streets without storefronts. What a festive place.

I saw a place with empty seats and decided this is where I wanted to eat.

“It is always a good sign to eat in a place where there are lots of people there already.” Mike said. There was one such place across the way. For some reason I won over and we sat in a place where no one had been sitting. Next time I go anywhere, I am following Mike’s rule. At the place I chose, the service was lousy, the waiter was not really accommodating. He should move to Boston, he'd fit right it.

Be that as it may, the food was outstanding. This is France, after all, and the beer was great. Fantastic. What beer in France is not great? But yes, Mike has much more experience than I in eating out. Sorry about that, Mike, sometimes having the honored seat of the father has its drawbacks, sometimes to the honored father as well as those who go along with him, and all must suffer the result. But wait, it is a little too easy to come to France and say the French are arrogant and this and that. A little too convenient. I am convinced we do that to prop ourselves up, working at trying to make ourselves feel better and, and this is important, saying something we will surely get agreement from at home. For my money, where I come from in Boston, Bostonians are the nastiest, ugliest, most ill-mannered and inconsiderate people I have ever encountered in my life. And their streets are filled with screeching horns and filthy with rubbish. For all the traffic on Paris streets, the streets are quiet and I didn't see strewn rubbish anywhere.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that the entire US citizenry is like that, they are not all like Bostonians. There are parts of the country where it is pure pleasure interacting with the people living there. Maine is one shining example. I love visiting there. The people from Maine are filled with positive energy and uplifting spirits. And not a stray piece of paper anywhere on their streets. And one more thing, in Paris not a thought for being mugged.

After that food experience it was off to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, directly across the street from the Notre Dame cathedral.

Shakespeare and Co Bookstore

This is a bookstore on the Left Bank that James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and so on, frequented. Not, however, Henry Miller. He was more interested in the French and being with French artists and people from other countries he had gotten to know. As he said in his book, BLACK SPRING:

“I hear no bell inside me when I bring these birds to the water closet. I pull the chain and down the sewer they go.”

Here, here Henry, I am sure if I lived here I would be the same. He did, however, think a lot of US writer, Sherwood Anderson, who wrote, WINESBURG, OHIO, and who spent a lot of time hanging out there. But Henry gave him hell for his undying love of the US. Miller thought Hemingway was just a macho caricature, with little more substance than a bully propped up by the US media.

Even though that is known, in a box off to the side were posters of Henry Miller the store was giving away for free.

Even though he disdained the place, Henry is most remembered today. Of course, there was a full array of his books, first editions and a large collection of new printings. I saw a first edition of his book of letters, LAWRENCE DURRELL & HENRY MILLER: A PRIVATE CORRESPONDENCE. I think the price tag was three hundred dollars. My friend McCrae actually gave me that book many years ago. She is a writer, a fiction writer, among other things. Fiction writers are just about the only writers I can take seriously. Anyone in their right minds can take seriously. Non-fiction books, for the most part, are little more than extended newspaper articles.

I have since turned my copy of Miller and Durrell's correspondence over to my equally zealous Henry Miller fan, son, Pete. Pete's a writer. Ah fiction, of course, and what do you know, he is just now putting the finishing touches on one of his books.

“I want to buy a book from this bookstore and have it on my bookshelf.” Mike said. “What book should I buy, dad?”

Tropic of Cancer, of course.”

And so, with full bellies, happy with beer and conversation, we started making our way to the Moulin Rouge. We walked along the Seine, stopping to linger in front of those green book stalls. Lots of posters, paintings and books. Seventy percent books, and an eight year waiting list for those to get one of those stalls. The books covers are plain, just the titles, authors names and none of the razzmatazz of the usual thing. I guess the substance inside the book is more important than what is on the outside here in France. Sounds right to me.

As Mike had said that he wanted to buy a book from the Shakespeare and Co bookstore, I wanted to buy a book from one of these book stalls. And I knew exactly what I wanted, a Guy de Maupassant book. The one I got was APPARITION. It is written in French, of course. Perfect.

I also got this.

Love the hat and the lips

And this. Edit Piaf, of course. How could I come to Paris and not want to take something of her home with me? At home I have a fairly hefty collection of her music. She is magnificent. Make that magnifique.

Edit Piaf

Then there was this I picked up. It is unbelievable how a person has to travel across an ocean to bring something home from home. We just don't care, do we? This lady had soul. Perhaps we don't see this poster because of her exposed breasts--and nipple. Well, the French, it appears to me, appreciate the beauty of female breasts. Throughout France I saw beautiful breasts everywhere. It was wonderful. The US has a lot of growing up to do.

And, of course, this. No one can come away from Paris without some representation of this.

Tournée du Chat Noir, by Theophile Steinlen. Late 1800's.

Tournée du Chat Noir

We began making our way to the Moulin Rouge, that is, The Red Windmill. Along the way Pete and I went on a hunt for a pack of butts and had great difficulty finding them. We’d ask people along the way, who were standing on a corner and talking and smoking cigarettes and they’d point us in a direction. Not a whole lot of help there. Not being able to find them, I told Pete to ask the next group and he said they’d just say, “Down there”, or “That way”, and they did. I suspect he could have asked the next question and might have gotten the information we needed. Finally he saw a sign that said supermarket, which was indeed in one of those pointed directions and we got cigarettes. They did not have my preference, but what they had was good enough. I might have gone for French smokes. Will.

While we were searching for smokes, Felista was looking for a bathroom. She had stopped at a toilette in the walkway, but when she pushed the button to open the door, the door would not open.

Then she tried knocking, no one there. Meanwhile there was a lady standing by seeing if Felista had any success. Not in service today, I guess.

Walking in these boulevards is like walking in parks. There are cars and buses aplenty on the outside roadways heading in opposite directions. The walkways themselves, wide enough for about thirty people to stand shoulder to shoulder across, are filled lots of flowers and shrubbery, beautifully drawn lampposts and plenty of trees. There are many benches to sit on and toilettes all along the way. The sound is a quiet din, people speaking to each other quietly, and speaking a lot. Lots of conversations taking place. Man, I wish I could speak French, I can only imagine what wonderful conversations I would hear. And when the French talk with each other, they lean in close together.

This is a big city, at the same time it is intimate. And the people are calm. I have not heard one high volume voice, no yelling, no loud disagreements. I get the sense of thoughtful, unhurried and unharried living. It is great. What an astounding experience. It makes the heart feel glad.

After that unsuccessful attempt at getting the toilet door opened, Mike graciously helped Felista find a place and that place was at a McDonalds. One thing about McDonald’s, whether in France or in the US, or anywhere I imagine, there is always a bathroom door open. McDonald’s. In France? I didn’t go into it, so I don’t know what it was like.

By the way, can you believe it? In France you can buy beer at McDonald’s. I guess beer and burgers do really work, don’t they? I also imagine the burgers are better here. It is easy to work out why that might be. First of all the French can cook, as we know, and, they demand that our meat we ship to them is at a higher grade than what we get at home. That may be one reason the French are in better shape than we are.

But then, we make the French pay a price for their demand that their people eat healthy food. We put a high tariff on the blue cheese they ship to the US. I guess you could say we make them pay pannance for their demand for their own good health. Also, though, consider that food is extremely important to the French, and not only that, when people visit France, they expect the food to be fantastic. You must start with quality, if you are going to have that quality.

While Felista and Mike were hunting down a bathroom, and after Pete and I successfully found those butts, I looked for a bathroom myself.

I stopped at a café whose main décor color is black with lots of brass. The place sparkles. It turns out it once was the famous and not so famous artist’s hangout. Now no more, apparently. Every place gets bourgeois at some point, I suppose, even here. It seems to be an unwritten rule that artists make places famous and then the money moves in.

And when the artists move out followers and dreamy people move in occupying the space the artists once were in, which wouldn’t be bad thing except when renovation happens, artists are not able to live in the new places and so have to move on. And they do and they always find another place, and start the whole thing again.

Basically artists want to be left alone to live in their imagination, and they concern themselves little with the trappings. They just work. And that work is what sits in museums across the world.

If they must be burdened by a job, their work could take a turn or two. The smart ones find jobs where they don’t have to think, using that work time to spend inside their imagination. And hopefully, by the time they are back at their easels, or the page or whatever, they have worked out whatever they needed to and gotten further along in their work.

Then there are the artists that get jobs that wear them out mentally and physically. I don’t know why an artist, any artist, and artists are always among the brightest people in any population, would allow themselves to get into a mentally and physically demanding job. But then, maybe those people who allow themselves to get into such a situation are not artists at all, but merely people playing at being artists. As I say, if an artist must work, the best thing to do is to get a mindless job where the imagination is left free to roam, and getting home from work, there is plenty of energy to write, paint, sculpt, or whatever. Then there is also the morning to do the art. One writer I know says he wakes up in the morning, gives his best hour of the day to his art and then spends the rest of the day taking care of the mundane.

Artists at work? Take a look at this Metro sign, as an example. How incredible is this?

Check out the elegance, top to bottom. Is this beauty or what? And it is just a street sign. Parisians, wow.

In that café, I asked the waiter if I could use the bathroom. He looked blankly at me. He didn’t understand. Then I remembered a friend of Pete's, Natalie, in Baltimore, told me to get to know the vocabulary of what I would need to get around, while in France. Toilette, I said to the waiter. He smiled, nodded, and opened a wrought iron gate, and extending this hand, elbow first, then his hand, pointing the way, sending me down a black granite spiral staircase that led to a door marked, Hommes. On the door next was the sign, Femmes. Hommes for men. Femmes for ladies. Very small. No wasted space, again, no wasted space, just enough to get done what needs done. Beautiful décor on the walls and tiles and paintings and fixtures. Unbelievable. Even the bathrooms here are works of art. However, no paper towels, only air hand dryers. It was really hot today so I went in to wash my face and did and had to use toilet paper, pink recycled toilet paper, to dry my face. It is like that all over Paris.

Returning Felista said Mike was so nice in helping her find a bathroom. "So nice about it", she said, "so kind and caring". She so appreciated his attentiveness.

In returning, she said there was a lady, from guess where, who had used the bathroom who was mortified that she actually had to squat over this small round aluminum bowl. “There was no toilet seat. I had to squat", she said, talking loudly, staccato-like, "Why don’t they have toilet seats"?

While standing in line waiting to use the toilet herself, Felista said she watched this lady flapping her arms, banging her hands on her tailored gray suit, her hair cut close to the neck and not one strand out of place, making her way to the sink to wash her hands. “And the toilet paper breaks apart in your hands”. Somehow I feel quite sure Parisians reading this will get a chuckle out of that little episode.

Felista said it was just a place to go to the bathroom with no trimmings or any of the comforts and, yes, thin pink recycled toilet paper that came apart in your hands. The toilet facility itself was a tiny, dark and small space, with just enough room to get done what had to be gotten done. In fact, she said the walls were so close, that if you wanted to raise up your arms, you could only bring them to elbow height. Basic, really. Is there something more needed?

That lady, and any like her, never mind that they might have had a different experience. What did they came here for, if all they were going to do was to eat in a MacDonald’s, or some place as familiar, stay at a Holiday Inn, and get driven around in a taxi cab? Do they think they are actually away from home? Bizarre. Geez, if I am here or in India or wherever, I want to be in with the people whose home it is and in some small way get a feel, even a piece of what their lives are, and what it is like to live here.

As we walked toward the Moulin Rouge, the sex shops began showing up more and more frequently. Sex is right out front. Actually, there are your mom and pop stores, restaurants, café’s interspersed with signs and pictures of bare breasted and beautiful women proudly displayed everywhere. No shame about sex here. And here is an erotic museum right in the middle of it all.

From afar we hear about these things and believe them, but actually seeing it astonishes. And it is happy section of town. That feeling is everywhere. This is great. It is clear that the people here know how to live and how to celebrate the natural instinct. What a liberation. It is fantastic seeing the celebration of our animal nature. The celebration of sex.

On the sidewalks in front of all this people of all ages and both sexes walking around, stopping and meandering, looking at this, reading that.

I wonder what the US would be if it the French had colonized it? Or, at the very least, if it had been heavily influenced by the French? I can only dream.

And finally, there it was, it was on me practically before I knew it. There is the great red windmill atop the wide black entrance to the theater in big red letters. There is the Moulin Rouge. 

At the same moment I was flipping out seeing the Moulin Rouge, I saw Pete and his friend from Baltimore, Carinne standing and talking and smiling, saying hello to each other for the first time on this side of the Atlantic. I was in ecstasy. I guess they could see it from their look. "Dad's in Heaven," Pete must be thinking. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Carrine and Pete

A couple of vibrant people, they are if I do say so and I do. A couple of scientists conversationaling and laughing in front of that world renowned place. Around here, just your everyday get together. What a sight.

Just below the windmill and inside the entranceway, high up on the walls in large panels are scenes of dancing people, high kicking ladies with dresses fluffed up and swinging side to side. Off to one corner is the most famous person to ever occupy a seat here, the person who made the Moulin Rouge famous, feet tucked underneath him, his ever present cognac on the table before him, hand busy sketching a pad, is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Well, I’ve come all this way to see this and here it is and here he is and here I am and holy shit. Wow. Chills? Indeed. Tears? Yes. Paris. I can only stand and stare.

So many people gathered here, cameras firing away, wandering inside and outside and inside the entry way.

Yes, lots of people know about this place and its honored artist. So many people have made their way through here and performed on the stage here. One Josephine Baker performed here a great deal. She was famous here. She left the US a nobody and became a celebrity here. She was loved. When she died they had a massive funeral for her. Makes me wish Henry Miller had died here rather than in the US. Over there it was a few words in a short column, having nothing to do with his literary talents and the impact he had on the future of writing both in the US and the world. Yes, had he died in France, he would have been recognized for the colossal writer he was.

Imagine, controversial author. Small minded writer who probably never read a word of Miller’s. Colossus of Maroussi, considered his best work? I like the book, in fact, the best character description I ever read is in that book, but to say it is best? Ah well, as I say, it is too bad he died in the US rather than France. Had he died in France he would have gotten the sendoff he deserved.

After that rush of excitement at the Moulin Rouge, another rush of excitement, we wandered up a side street to the Café des 2 Moulins. (Two Windmills). That is the café where the movie Amelie, was filmed. The cafe was the central character, or seemed to be.

Pete had set it up so that it would come as a complete surprise for both Felista and Mike. He had let me in on the surprise, so I got the pleasure of seeing their reactions.

Felista and I had seen the movie recently, Pete sent it to me a month or so ago, and a year or two ago Mike had loaned it to me. So I’d seen it twice before actually walking into the place. Felista and Mike did not know we were going to visit it until we stepped up to the entrance. The garden gnome that had played a major role in the movie, was right in front of them and on display on a counter as we walked through the front doors. Felista looked at the gnome sitting on there, looked at me with this not quite sure what was going on look on her face, then back at the gnome. Yes, a double take. Pete stood and smirked.

We sat many hours on the inside, while many people sat outside; the waiters moving back and forth from inside to out, taking care of customers in both places. First we had coffee, then a bite to eat. Pete and Mike and Carine drank beer, while Mike described why the shape of the Burgundy glass is the way it is. So delicate is this wine, he told us, that first it must always and only be poured to the widened point in the glass. Above the wine the top of the glass folds over to heighten the sense of the aroma  and the bouquet going into the nose, giving the wine additional impact on top of the taste of the wine. He also said that Burgundy is such a delicate wine it will actually change taste as the amount of wine is more or less in the glass, all because of temperature change. That’s one of the reasons it is always poured just to the widest part of the glass. That way it has its best opportunity to keep its integrity.

It really is a blast sitting here with Pete and Mike and Carrine, next to Felista, enjoying what they are enjoying and seeing them together and here we are in France. I still can hardly get used to the idea.

There I am tucked off into a corner, but not really in a corner, right next to them, in fact, it just looks like I am off in a corner, to the left taking a picture them and of myself.

Pete and Carrine had gone out for a few minutes on the pavement to, and when I looked out the window to where they were, I spied across the street a place selling baguettes. That is, long crispy loaves of bread, what we in the US call French bread. I asked Pete if he’d go across the street with me and interpret for me while I looked around to see what I could buy for tomorrow's breakfast, and also to look around and see what other delectables might be there. (I don’t know what the greater pleasure is for me, interacting with the French or being with Pete while he interacts with them for me.

Turns out the only baguettes were display models, plastic, real ones sold out. Well, that was good for them, but for me, there were none to buy. But there was a wonderful assortment of a half dozen quiches. Good enough for me. I’m sure I’ll enjoy them. Didn’t expect them to be there and what a surprise. I bought one of each. I could see these were loaded with impact and substance. I can hardly wait to find out who they taste.

In any case, this whole experience for me is intoxicating. Pete’s interpreting for me, and Mike, in one of the greatest wine counties of the world, in a French café, discoursing on why a certain wine glass is cut the way it is and the integrity of the wine being poured into it. Such pleasure.

After we satisfied ourselves with food, we had to have a dessert. Listen, I never have desserts at home. But hey, I am in Paris, I don’t want to leave any restaurant without sampling dessert. Light, delicate and smooth and tasty. Tasty? Is that the best I can do? Geez, a spoonful in the mouth wants to stay and linger, never mind that there is the whole cupful to go. Well, each spoonful I savored. While I was having it, “Felista, you have got to try this”. I tell you, I can only shake my head in wonder of the tastes and quality. Also, the lightness and delicacy is amazing. Apparently desserts don't have to be heavy. Quality is what this is about.

café au lait after dessert


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    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      7 years ago from The English Midlands


      Your enthusiasm shines through!

      Paris is, indeed, a lovely city.

      And, yes, there are many, many amazing churches and cathedrals in France!

      Re: No toilet seat!

      ~ How did she cope when there was no toilet ~ just a hole in the ground!?

      Re: MacDonalds toilet doors always open.

      ~ Not all! I visited one in Birmingham, UK, only to find that I couldn't unlock the door to get out again. Once I did get it open, I discovered a bouncer waiting for me. I had visited 'the loo', while my family ordered our food ~ and he had decided that I was using their facilities without paying for anything. I wasn't happy :(

    • skip55 profile imageAUTHOR

      Skip Murray 

      7 years ago from Somerville, MA

      France Travel Inf.

      Thank you for your response. I really appreciate it. Paris is such a magnificent city, how could I not respond to it as I did? What a great place. Wish I had been born there instead of here in the US, especially since art and artistic culture are so important to me. Well, I am just at the beginning of this hub and I am having a blast working through my time there. It is almost, but not quite, like being there again. I am intending to go to Paris again next summer. Can I stand it?

    • France Travel Inf profile image

      France Travel Inf 

      7 years ago

      What a great view of Paris! You really did a wonderful job of capturing that "first time" experience of the city.

    • Guru-C profile image

      Cory Zacharia 

      7 years ago

      Wonderful travel writing! Fabulous hub. You really give an insider's view of Paris and the intellectual realm of the city's soul. PS: Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell... ah, such Parisian expats! They do transmit the Paris experience so deeply.


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