Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sabbatical Day 5

Friday, 9 June 2017

This was the day that included, in tours anyway, the underlying justification for including Paris on my sabbatical itinerary. Today and tomorrow would be the days crowded with tours and a comparatively tight schedule. And today's schedule, I'll tell you now, got the best of us.

By now we were getting the hang of using the Metropolitan transit system. We had used it quite effectively (though perhaps not so efficiently; you can ask me about that, sometime) on Thursday, to get to the palace of Versailles and back. Today, we took the Metro to Montmartre - a Paris neighborhood built on this curious outcropping, a hill which is the highest point in the city but which rises without any remaining geological indication. It is simply there.

Montmartre from the ascent to Sacré-Cœur
Our hotel was located in the heart of tourist territory, on boulevard Haussmann near boulevard des Italiens and surrounded by restaurants serving mostly east Asian fare - Japanese, Korean, Chinese. There was an occasional brasserie, coffee house, or other restaurant, but if we wanted French regional cuisine (like the crepes we enjoyed on Tuesday evening at a Bretagne-themed restaurant near the Pompidou, the rib steak we would consume in quantity on Saturday evening not far from the Eiffel Tower, or the croques we would have in a pinch) then we had to escape the gravity of l'Opéra.

Montmartre is more of a residential section of the city, also an enclave of artists and Bohemians. Streets are tree-lined and narrower than the boulevards near us. They contained similarly less traffic. And some portions just seemed dedicated to stairways for the sake of scaling the steep incline.

It was a cool breeze, a breath of fresh air for all three of us. And it was our first destination of the day.

Display case at Le Grenier à Pain Coulaincourt
We found our guide near the boulangerie, Le Grenier à Pain Coulaincourt (one of eleven Paris locations of Le Grenier à Pain), and were treated to a delightful bakery tour as baguettes and croissants and a variety of other breads and pastries were being prepared.

At the conclusion of the tour, we were given each a baguette and a croissant to take with us. And these we stored in my backpack so that our hands would be free for the railings and banisters necessary when we accepted the challenge of the hill's ascent. We could see Sacré-Cœur above us and decided to make our approach, fully knowing that we were expected in Montparnasse at two o'clock for our tour of Paris Noir but rejoicing in a Paris that was such a far cry from Versailles in almost every way.

Sacré-Cœur from the garden behind
The basilica of Sacré-Cœur is a wonder to behold, not only because of it being so unlikely situated atop that curious hill but because - with its domes and whitewashed exterior - it is ecclesial architecture unlike any other church in Paris. We knew that lunch might end up being our baguettes and some water from a street merchant, but such a fast would be well worth the witness.

Near the top of the hill, we realized that we were approaching from behind the basilica. Like Notre Dame, Sacré-Cœur has a small park just to its south and east. This day, there was a young father stretching after a run while his very little daughter enjoyed "tummy time" on a blanket in the grass, and some women enjoying a conversation under a vine-covered pergola. We rested for a moment on a bench in the shade of a grand old, spreading tree and made a snack of some pieces of one of our baguettes.

Recovered from our climb, we continued on to the church... which, once we circled round to the front, was ANYTHING but the idyllic, gentle setting where we had taken our tour eaten our snack. There were hawkers and street performers and so many tourists! Granted, there was also a magnificent view of the city, but there were so many distractions that, had it not been for Coco snapping photos, I think I might have abandoned the moment.

Seeing the queue in front of the church and the hew of the crowd all around, at about 12:15 we fled Sacré-Cœur, vowing someday to return to Montmartre but realizing that we were likely going to be late for the start of our Paris Noir tour.

The Metro deposited us at the Opéra. Coco was indicating by then that the heat was taking its toll, and she might not be fit for a three- to four-hour walking tour. Then, as we made our way single file down a particularly narrow stretch of sidewalk along the rue Laffitte, I at the front heard a cry and looked back about ten yards, to see Gwen seated on the curb holding her knee and rocking. Coco said, "Didn't you hear her go down?!" and sat beside her to comfort her.

I confessed that I had not heard her fall and rushed back to offer comfort and whatever first aid I might. The knee was indeed swollen, but it wasn't bleeding and didn't seem broken. My first thought was that we were going to need some ice for that knee (and, as it turned out, her hip too). My second thought was that our afternoon tour was about to be scrapped.

Coco and I gathered Gwen up. We were only about a block and a half from the hotel, and she was able with moderate assistance to limp herself there.

I sent the two of them up to the room, while I went to the bar to solicit some ice. The bartender, upon hearing the need, hurried to the kitchen and emerged with a towel which he filled without any sort of lining. I moved as swiftly as I could, to keep ahead of dripping and deliver it as much intact as I could to my injured daughter.

When I got to the room, Coco volunteered that the afternoon was not going to go as planned. She and Gwen would stay behind and entertain themselves while I raced to the Place du Panthéon.

I called ahead to our afternoon tour guide, Kevi, using my phone (down to about an 8% charge), to say that we were down to one in our group and that this one would be late. "Signal me when you reach Panthéon," he said, "and I will let you know where we are."

By the end of the call, my phone was at 4%. So, I grabbed our charging stick, turned off the phone, and plugged it into the stick as I ran to the Metro.

I needed to take the No. 9 train to get to the Panthéon. If I could catch one in the next five minutes, I might be able to arrive at Place du Panthéon before Kevi had finished his first description. But I ran straight down the nearest descent to the tracks and found myself at the No. 8. Looking on a map, it appeared as though I could catch a No. 9 just a few blocks down. I resurfaced, and hustled farther east on boulevard Haussmann - not the direction I needed to go (south), but I wanted simply to board the 9 rather than have to transfer, some distance away.

Half a mile and ten minutes later, I still hadn't found a stop for the 9. So, I went ahead and caught the 8, backtracking to the Opéra where I could transfer. By the time I was aboard the 9, it was half an hour later. There was no way to catch Kevi and the group at the Panthéon. Now, I put all my faith in the phone.

The stick wasn't lighting up the charging indicator, and it was difficult to tell whether the outflow indicator on the stick was glowing blue (as it should have been, if it was charging the phone). So, I turned on the phone to see how much charge it had. It read 8%. And now, here came my stop.

I alighted, surfaced, and walked a quarter mile or so to the Place, trying my best to remember a map I'd seen almost an hour ago and to follow street signs. Forty-five minutes late, I found the Place almost empty but certainly with no sign of a group of English-speaking people on a Paris Noir tour.

The phone now at 6%, I tapped out a message to Kevi that I had arrived and began walking around the neighborhood.


A notification sounded on the phone to indicate that I had received a text message. Thank heaven! I thought. I was going to be able to find them!

The message was from Coco, reporting minutes after I'd left that my passport and wallet were still with her in the room. I had taken off the belt that contained them when settling Gwen down and applying the ice and had exited in such a flurry that I hadn't put it back on.

As quickly as I could, I put the phone in "Ultra Power Saving" mode. The screen became almost unreadable, but I thought, At least I'm going to be able to receive Kevi's reply.

No reply.

I widened my search to the next ring of blocks around the Panthéon. I saw no one, and the phone reported nothing from Kevi.

I wondered whether Ultra Power Saving mode might not only render the screen dark but might also turn off sound alarms. The sun was so bright that I decided to try one last time to turn up the brightness of the screen to see whether I'd received his reply. Power read "2%" as I went to my Messages app.

Then the screen went black.

A mix of despair and anger settled in me, with surrender too, though, but also a measure of relief that I would have more time with Coco and Gwen than the day was allowing up to now. Gradually I wended my way back to the stop for the No. 9 Metro.

Back at the room, when I plugged the phone back into its wall charger and turned it on, it immediately rang with a notification from Kevi: "We are at Luxembourg garden." That evening as I spoke with my Paris tour agent, she said, "You were probably right going back to the hotel, anyway. You'd have likely had a hard time finding him at the Garden; it's a big place."

UPDATE, 16 July
Fittingly on the evening of Bastille Day, 14 July, I had another a conversation with Julia Browne - the agent who arranged, and for a great part conceived of, the Paris Noir tour we were to have taken a little over a month ago. She said she was newly returned to Toronto after a Boston screening of her agency's new film about the tour, which had won an award for Best Documentary. Julia said that she and Kevi were corresponding, to be able to supply me with the notes they use for their tours so that I could develop a presentation for my congregation. She further offered to bring the film to St. Louis, if the church would foot the bill for her to bring it here... "Next year, though," she said. "I've already booked it for as much as I can this year."

Read all my Sabbatical 2017 postings.

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