Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don't pity the gargoyles

Dusk atop the Notre Dame bell tower and the river Seine makes her presence known. On the horizon she begins the charge, a silver glimmer ducking around towers and teapot domes, hidden at one curve, brazenly obvious around another.
From this vantage point, the river’s importance is obvious. It has been Paris' greatest soldier and liberating cleanser. It has been a demarcation line between left and right, Bourgeoisie and Bohemian, and a friendly landmark for many a wandering visitor. Its current is near impossible to judge, ebbing and flowing in modern times with tourism barges and Gendarmerie police boats.
In so many ways, the river is the source of the City of Light. All walks of life gather near it, over it, on it and all Parisian monuments sit back at a respectable distance. Its proletariat power is unmatched in the city limits.
And yet the Seine, filled to the banks with history, splits in deference to the island housing Paris’ most enigmatic, manmade creation – the cathedral of Notre Dame.
High atop the majestic cathedral, I stepped to the wall to gaze upon the river and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. All of Paris was spread out before me. At every angle the nooks and notches of this famous place of worship held a mysterious vibe, quirky and gothic all at once. It took me a moment to realize that the bit of macabre whimsy was emanating from the motionless figures perched out over oblivion.
The gargoyle hanging out next to me had a permanent, toothy smirk and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was laughing at how great his view was, or perhaps that the great river Seine had to bow to him and his brethren, a bunch of water-gurgling stone monkeys. I assumed it was probably a bit of both.
There was no denying that Quasimodo and his immobile buddies had themselves a prime piece of Parisian real estate. Atop the bell tower at Notre Dame, there is a jaw-dropping panorama in all directions. No matter which way you look, there exists a place, a person, or an experience that leaves you in awe.
I began to think of the string of unforgettable moments I had during my time in Paris. There were, of course, the landmarks: Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arc du Triomph, the list goes on.
There was, of course, the food. To this day, there has been no taste quite like munching on a fresh crepe sucre or crepe Nutella that was made in front of me by a street vendor.
And there was, of course, the history. The old paper musk that filled the Shakespeare & Company bookstore lingered, in a good way. That old bookstore was graced by the likes of Walt Whitman and countless other writers over the years. There’s even a small bed, desk, sink and typewrite upstairs free for any upstart/struggling writer to utilize. Few purchases in my life have given me the same amount of chills as the book I bought there – a copy of Shakespeare’s “Othello & Cymbeline” from the year 1900.
But for my money, nothing in Paris tops Notre Dame. 
The previous day, I went into the cathedral and toured its depths while the priest conducted a Mass in French. His voice, echoing through the hollow stone, brought such warmth that he made this massive structure feel intimate. In my gratitude, I lit a prayer candle and became part of the congregation in my own tiny, flickering way.
But it wasn’t until I spent 30 minutes in line to climb 300 stairs that I truly appreciated Notre Dame and by extension, Paris.
At the top, the best moment came when my camera battery ran out. All I could do was enjoy the view through my own eyes – unimpeded by a lens.
Victor Hugo might have wanted us to pity his humble hunchback, but me, I envy him. Not just because of the view, but because he’ll forever be in the pages of Paris. I had to leave the City of Lights six hours later on a high-speed train.
But you won’t hear any complaints out of me. I've heard the squawking paparazzi around the Mona Lisa; I’ve eaten escargot at a street cafĂ©; I've smelled fresh-baked baguettes; I’ve read a book on the lawn under the Eiffel Tower.
Up on top of the Notre Dame bell tower, I've seen a gargoyle smile at the setting sun. And if it’s good enough for the gargoyles, it’s good enough for me.

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