October 29th, 2008


Notre Dame de Paris--10/26

We've spent a lot of time, over the past dunnomany years, walking past Notre Dame. The long lines have discouraged us from going inside often, but I like the outside best anyway. And now I know a lot more about it than I did, thanks to Maud, whose soutenance de these we went to on Friday.

For instance. I knew that in the 19th Century, Violet Leduc repaired what the Revolution had done to the facade, but I didn't know that he'd added bits that hadn't been there before. The spire, for instance. The Adam and Eve on the gallery running under the two square towers were possibly inside originally, or elsewhere on the facade--in any case, not where they are now. And the famous flying buttresses? Leduc added them, entirely for show. They don't add a thing to the stability or strength of the building. Sure are pretty, though.

And those shutters in the towers, the ones that keep you from seeing the bells? They direct the sound of the bells down to the plaza. Each of the three portals is from a different century, the left-hand one having been moved across the street from an older church they tore down to build Notre Dame. We spent some time looking at the carved folds on the robes of the saints. Finer folds that outline the body beneath (like a wet t-shirt contest, Maud said) are older. The more monumental folds, that ignore the fact there's a body there, those are slightly more recent (none of us is very good at exact dates, I'm afraid). And less monumental folds, combined with a certain modelesque cant of the hip and twist of the torso, those are practically modern.

So there we are, listening to Maud tell us about the Medieval frame of mind, and the correspondences they saw between everything. Like, for instance, the way the Ark of the Covenant contained the Old Law in the same way that the Virgin Mary contained (in the person of Jesus) the New Law.

At which point, an old guy in a Van Dyke beard and a tweed jacket, who'd been hovering behind us listening, went ballistic. He was very excited and spoke very fast, but the gist of his objection was that Maud was telling us things that weren't true, that there was no Old Law or New Law, and it was wrong to lie to people.

Well. Maud, who knows a nut when she sees one, thanked him politely for his help, after which she switched to English, and he subsided. Not 10 minutes later, we overheard him lecturing a pair of bewildered tourists, in English, on the beauties of the north portal. Jealous guide? Religious fanatic? Who knows? But it certainly added a bit of spice to the afternoon.

We spent the rest of the day wandering about, looking at odd little nooks of carving (see my new icon), stopping for bread and new walnuts and figs and some hot red wine and bread and butter at a cafe. Then we went to Maud's tiny, perfect apartment, where her husband cooked us a wonderful dinner of soup made of chestnut squash (which I don't think you can get at home, more's the pity, because it's delicious) and a shrimp salad with a garlic and white bean sauce of total wonderfulness. Maud coached Ellen in reading the beginning of Swordspoint in French, and we talked about word derivations (toilettes comes ultimately from toile, cloth used for cleaning, through the room where you got clean and dressed (if you were rich, bien sur). It's always plural, apparently.) and Cuba and Medieval art and Life, the Universe, and Everything. A very lovely evening.