The next time I read some article written by a “social media journalist” talking about how Americans are the worst tourists in the world, I am going to remember what I saw tonight.
MLW and I took off around 6 PM, heading in the direction of this mythical street I’d found in 2014. On that day, she was fighting off the thing I’d fought off so I went out for a couple of hours to go to the Pompidou Center, whose modern collection she had no interest in seeing. On the way there I found this little street, somewhere on the 5th arrondissement that was one of the few remnants of “ancient Paris.” Cobbled, narrow, partially covered by a glass dome, it was a cool place, and one whose location I could not remember for the life of me. So I went back to the blog for that day, looking for the name but found a single photograph instead. Enlarging that, I was able to read a business sign and searching, that, I found the name of the street – Cour de Commerce Saint-André.
First opened in 1776, the street follows the path of the 12thcentury walls erected by King Phillipe-August. Café Procope, one of the nicer restaurants is considered the first classic Parisian Café having opened its doors in 1686. Its regulars included Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde and George Sand. The street also has a somewhat nefarious relationship with the Guillotine. While not invented by Joseph Guillotin, he was its chief promoter and he used the basement at #9 to experiment with live sheep in 1792. No. 8 formerly housed the printing press of John-Paul Marat, one of the architects of the terror who was later murdered in his bathtub.
We found it, interestingly right across the street from the Starbuck on Saint-Germain that we had just visited this morning.
From there we went on to Notre Dame Cathedral. Knowing it was going to close at 6:45, we had about 45 minutes so we got in line and went inside. Friday night mass was underway so we were treated to organ music, some singing and plenty of incense which created sort of smoky background for the mass. Whether you are a church-goer or not there is something special about being in one of these ancient places and hearing the organ and bells. Just mystical. We stood and watched and listened to the priest as he delivered the service. Tonight, with a ceremony in progress, it felt as though it could have been 500 years ago.
Heading down one side to the other, I saw a large Chinese tour group push its way into the area marked for those attending mass. The entry was clearly marked in French, and I got it, but for a culture that lacks even informal training in cultural, and in particular religious norms, the signs meant nothing. Rather, they wanted that mythical shot of the setting sun shining though the massive window on the west (front) side of the church. So they pushed their way in, stood among the pews and raised their cameras. Right in front of the worshipers.
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling among the Chinese, here and in their homeland, and I’ve written about a lot of it. But this was even worse than the woman who used her baby as a battering ram to get me out of her way on an Air China flight in Dalian. This was just plain insulting, and it made me wonder why the church remains open during ceremonies. It’s not fair to those there to worship.
And it only got worse later. A woman from the congregation got up and came over and chided another pack of Chinese using their flashes to take photos of people in the front of the church. At that point we’d had it, the spell was broken.
We took a long way home, taking the time to explore some old streets clearly devoted to tourists. Lots of restaurants offering multi-language menus and foreign food, and every single one of them was packed.
For our dinner though, it was back to La Grande Epicerie and a nice picnic dinner to go consisting of truffle paté, Parma ham, cheddar cheese, le pain du chef, and little hot peppers stuffed with burrata. A couple of glasses of wine and a tangerine, and the day came to a perfect close.