The Sacré-Coeur Basilica and Cimetiére du Pére-Lachaise

June 18, 2010

Today we went to Monmartre.  We went up by subway in the morning.  Once we got out of the subway we walked up a long hill with a great number of hair salons that specialized in hair extensions.  For one of the first times in our trip we were some of the only white people around.  After England this was nice to feel again.

We climbed up a long set of staircases and at last emerged above Paris at the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.  It was a more recent building built in 1877 and finished in 1914.  It was in a mock Romano-Byzantine style.  It was all right but not particularly imaginative.   The whole thing was done out of heavy stone bricks and low arches.  It was the sort of odd blend you get if you combined classical ideas of architecture with the less attractive modern techniques of building.  I was more impressed by the view of the dome from the outside then the mosaics and glass windows inside.

The windows were done in a modern style but intended to imitate traditional glass windows.  The problem was the lettering was in a modern script and they used modern glass colors that did not exist when most early church windows were done.  The result was a bit gaudy.  I’m note sure they were really going for tasteful though, if they were they would not have had two gift shops, machines selling pennies pressed with the basilicas symbol, and ten and two euro candles.  A lot of churches can be shameless about trying to raise money but large Catholic churches tend to be particularly bad about it. An episode involving moneylenders and temples comes to mind.  I understand it takes a lot of money to maintain these beautiful old churches but a bit more tact and taste is called for.

We made our way down the hill past young men selling Eiffel Tower key chains, a harp player, a couple beggars and large groups of tourists.  I really wonder who the hell buys all these models of the Eiffel tower, especially so far from the tower itself.

We walked to the Moulan Roughe and were under whelmed.   I suppose the movie inflated my expectations.  We took some photos but the shows were far too expensive to consider.  We walked back up the hill in a state of exhaustion and hunger to look for a Café that a friend of Anna’s recommended.  By the time we found it I was cranky and famished.

The food took forever but at last arrived and we had a decent lunch of fish and cold cuts.  We took the subway over to Cimetiére du Pére-Lachaise and bought a map.  We walked through it and saw, Georges Mélies, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin, and Heloise and Abelard. At Wilde’s grave we overheard several other Americans being impressively ignorant.  One lady asked us what he had written when she overheard us talking about the grave.

His tombstone was kind of strange.  It had a sort of Aztec like flying angle leaping up into the air against a large grey block.  It was covered in lipstick kisses and comments of admiration written in marker.  I think it may have been the most loved gravestone in the cemetery.  I usually object to marking gravestones but in this case I think it was appropriate.  I put on some lipstick and added my own kiss to the grave.

We went on through the graveyard and passed through the memorials to the Holocaust concentration camps.  There were gaunt statues of metal and stone and the warm afternoon seemed to grow cold.  It never seems right that sunlight and birds can surround anything so grave and heartbreaking.  As we walked we could hear the loud laughter of children in a playground lower on the hill from the graveyard.  There was a monument to the French resistance and another to the Spanish Civil War as well.

We finished up by visiting Heloise and Abelard’s grave.  It was covered in scaffolding and clearly in the midst of repairs but we could still see the statue of the two lovers together.

We took the subway again to the area around the National Opera where we went to Harry’s New York Bar where expatriate Americans like to hang out, or at least Hemmingway and Scot Fitzgerald once did.  Fitzgerald is said to have once passed out there.  We went out of our way to see it because of the history.

I had a Bloody Mary and Anna had a White Lady.  We debated Fitzgerald and “The Great Gatsby”.  I argued that I liked it and Anna argued that it was dull and overrated.  I said that the plot was a little odd and dull at some points but the first paragraph of the book was more then enough to make up for it.  Anna said she wasn’t that moved by it.  Our literary taste sometimes overlaps but not always.

We really liked the place until we got the bill, which nearly made me do the same as Fitzgerald did.  Twelve and a half euros per cocktail is a very painful thing for students.  We had never imagined drinks could cost so much.  Most bars in London usually the worst you can pay for a mixed drink is eight pounds and the usual price is six.  At other places in Paris the prices were similar.  The bar itself didn’t look that expensive or have any prices posted so we assumed it would be like the others.  That was a miscalculation.  I guess the history of the place or the proximity to the Opera allowed them to really ratchet up the prices. We swallowed our shock and paid.  Two drinks there cost as much as lunch.  Life is like that sometimes.  I know now to be careful of historical bars.

We took the subway home and got dinner at the supermarket, which was the best we could afford after the unexpectedly expensive drinks.  We ate in the room and at last rested.  Tomorrow we leave for Tours.

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About Policy Chick

I'm a first year Global Policies Masters student at the Lyndon B. Johnson LBJ School of Public Affairs
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