Christmas Mass at Notre Dame

Why travel 5,000 miles for Christmas if you don’t go to Mass at one of the world’s most famous cathedrals?

We chickened out on the idea of Midnight Mass fearing a) the rain might move in before we could get in b) staying awake that late and c) size of the crowds. So we opted instead for the 8 p.m. International Mass.

Security at Ile de France was pervasive. Our closest bridge, Pont au Double, a small pedestrian only crossing, was closed off completely, and we were redirected to the larger Petit Pont (despite the name). Security guards in both blue (police) and camo (military) swarmed everywhere. But the entry and inspection were quick, and even though it was 7:40 by the time we approached the cathedral entrance, we walked straight in and found two seats on the right hand side with full views to the altar.

This was the International Mass. The celebrant was from Benin. I have a hard time understanding French with a French accent, much less French with an African accent. And Pére Romuald was a most expressive speaker, frequently lowering his voice to a whisper and taking pauses so long, I swear I thought he was either having a seizure or had lost his place in the homily script.

This was proof perfect of my long-held conviction that Mass should still be celebrated in Latin, so that no matter where in the world you attend, you know what they are saying.

Nonetheless, the choir and organ were magnificent. Oddly, Notre Dame at night is relatively dim and monochromatic, since no light is beaming through the stained glass windows. The huge vaulted ceiling looked like a sepia toned engraving.

Mass was over by 9:30 p.m., and we saw very few people in line for the main attraction at midnight. Of course, it was still two and a half hours away, but somehow we expected larger crowds, even at this early time.

By 9:30 on Christmas Eve, Paris was very quiet outside the cathedral. We stopped at Cafe du Metro for a quick Joyeaux Noel glass of champagne, and we were only the third occupied table. The walk home up the hill was equally quiet and still, with only a handful of people on the streets. All the bars and bistros were closed. The pulse and energy of Paris had retired for the holiday evening.


A memorable dinner

2015-12-24 11.25.23It’s hard to find a bad meal in Paris (although we did the first time we were here), but we have never been blown away by any meal we have had. Until last night. And it was right across the street from our apartment.

You can read all about the menu and service at Ciasa Mia on the usual web sites, so there is no point repeating it here. But what the reviews don’t tell you is that our 55 eu tasting menu included seven–we counted–different amuse bouches ranging from pin-sized parfaits to chocolate wafers and fried pea pods.

But one stood out. Our table was situated directly across from the kitchen, so we could watch the entire event. Chef Samuel separated an egg yolk by hand, placed each yolk in its own dish and drew out all extraneous white with a syringe. Then he extracted most of the inside of the yolk with another syringe and filled what was left of the yolk with smoked octopus paste, drizzling truffle oil around the entire creation.

This results in a taste the likes of which we had never experienced.

And the wine list included some very reasonable selections.  The first two, of course, were out. I have a knack for finding the wines everyone else loved first. We settled on a very nice Primativo for only 33 eu. In the States, it would be a $60 bottle.

We had arrived at the very American hour of 7:30 p.m. but did not leave until nearly 10 p.m. Now I can say that we have been blown away by a meal in Paris, an incredible Italian experience that included no pasta.

The Garnier Opera

The Opera not is included in the Paris Museum Pass, but it’s worth a visit under any circumstances. Admission is 11 eu plus another 5 for the audio guide. Outwardly, the building is a spectacular example of over-the-top 19th century French architecture. The interior lives up to the exterior. The audio guided walking tour takes only about an hour. Since the weather is unseasonably warm, we were able to step out on to the balcony to watch the traffic and view the neighborhood.2015-12-23 13.22.21

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Days and nights in Paris

As Christmas nears, our university neighborhood has become much quieter. Students have gone home for the holidays, and the street on front of our apartment is no longer a place for smokers to gather outside the bars. Yes, even France has banned smoking inside public places.

The days of the winter soltice here are very short. The sun sets before 5 p.m., but does not rise until nearly 9 a.m. We just can’t seem to wake up before light, so our days inevitably start late. So what…

Fourth–and last day–of museum march

2015-12-22 12.37.19Off we went for three train rides of two stops each to the Arts et Metiers Museum, basically the engineering and inventions museum of France. Lots of trains, planes hanging from the old church, an entire section on printing, steam engines, cars and other mechanical implements. After some three hours of that, we headed back the way we came to visit the Musee D’Orsay, one of the great art museums in the world.

And once again, the Museum Pass paid its own way, as we walked through a special line to enter, a special line for security and a special line right into the main room of this century-old train station. The line to buy tickets queued up for at least a half hour.

Once inside, we never made it past the second floor, but who cares? It’s free with the Museum Pass.

Lynn’s foot hurt, so we retreated to our ‘hood to buy a poulet rotî (rotisserie chicken), cheese, wine and a few vegetables to complete the round of necessities for life. On the way home, we stopped at L’Annexe, a little bar at the end of our street for a real cocktail. Scotch tastes so much better with eau de Paris.


The start of museum visits

Saturday December 19

Today begins the museum orgy.

Since the Pantheon looms right over our apartment, we visit in the morning to tour and purchase a four-day Paris Pass. Without going into the details of each museum (you can read all about those on the Internet), we are now obligated to get our money’s worth by visiting at least three museums a day for the next four days.

However, one aspect of the Paris Pass that cannot be quantified is the opportunity to go through a special line, sort of like TSA Pre-Check. We sail through the entrance while others wait in line to pay.

Unfortunately, Parisian museums do not have bistros, so after a few hours of culture, we are really thirsty. Time to walk back for beers on Blvd St. Germain.

What goes around, goes around. Foucault made his most famous pendulum (his second) when he suspended a 28 kg brass-coated lead bob with a 67 meter long wire from the dome of the Panthéon, Paris. The plane of the pendulum's swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours. The original bob used in 1851 at the Panthéon was moved in 1855 to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris. A second temporary installation was made for the 50th anniversary in 1902
What goes around, goes around. Foucault made his most famous pendulum (his second) when he suspended a 28 kg brass-coated lead bob with a 67 meter long wire from the dome of the Panthéon, Paris. The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours. The original bob used in 1851 at the Panthéon was moved in 1855 to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris. A second temporary installation was made for the 50th anniversary in 1902


A visit to the Spanish Consulate

2015-12-18 13.13.54Friday December 18

We pay a visit to the Spanish Consulate all the way across town. Pourquoi? you may ask. There is a story here, which we have saved until now.

The day before we left New Orleans was filled with errands and goodbyes, so that it was 3:30 p.m. before I could get home to print out boarding passes for our flight.

To my shock and horror, the boarding passes printed out with a legend at the top saying “visa required.” I had never seen that before.

My first instinct was to call the local French Consulate, who was most friendly and said that we didn’t need any sort of visa as long as we were not to be in France more than 90 days. That is true, but we would be in Europe altogether more than 90 days. She didn’t seem concerned.

Meanwhile I also sent an e-mail to the French Consulate in Houston, where visa are actually issued. That official called back and said we can only stay in Europe for a total of 90 days. Otherwise, we need a long-term visa, which takes weeks to obtain.

Checking the web, Google confirms that visits to the so-called Schengen Zone (the EU) are limited to 90 days without a visa. Feeling foolish and naive, I called Delta to change our return date to within the 90 day period so we would be able to leave. We can settle the issue once we get to Europe.

Delta accommodated, albeit with a $600 change fee.

But the new boarding passes only say “passport required” this time.

Thus our visit to the Spanish Consulate in Paris way up on Blvd., Malesherbes.

There, a very friendly official led us to a back room to talk to an equally friendly official, who says she cannot issue a visa but doesn’t really think one is necessary anyway, since we are already here. She advised us to plan for a full month in Barcelona, but check with the local police when we arrive. All pretty casual. She doesn’t see a problem.

Encouraged, if not completely convinced, we walked down Blvd. Wagram to the Arc de Triomphe, where a line of at least six police cars stand guard along the street in front of the roundabout. Each car has at least two officers, all dressed in flak jackets and carrying large weapons. We later saw a group of four soldiers in camo and automatic weapons enter a bistro as if they are in attack mode. Since there was no news otherwise, we assume they were practicing.

Paris is on alert.