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Friday, October 15, 2010

Les Andelys

Our first stop is at the companion villages of Les Andelys.  There are two of these, a small one and a littler one.  Our boat docks at the tiny village, Petit Andelys.  Our first destination is a short steep hike to the ruins of a 12th century castle, Château Galliard.  Looking at this unprepossessing little village, you would never suspect the epic proportions of the dramatic tale that surrounds this quiet little place.  It is a tale of unbridled competition and internecine family conflict.  It touches upon drug-crazed assassins, shipwrecks, courtly love, durance vile, crusades, king’s ransoms and civil rights and cannibalism and the very latest innovations in military architecture.   Get comfy, this may take a while!

The ruins of Chateau Galliard overlooking the Seine valley

It is quite unlikely that you have ever heard of Chateau Gâlliard unless you have already visited, or are an ardent student of 12th century warfare between the French and the Normans.  However almost everyone has heard of Richard, Coeur de Lion (or Richard the Lionhearted, if you are wedded to the English version of this story).  If this looks to you like another fight shaping up between two peoples who are really essential the same folks, you are right again.

Richard, Coeur de Lion, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany.
Normandy is so named because it was occupied by Northmen, or Vikings if you prefer.  You know the sort: long ships with dragon prows, bushy beards, big axes and who drink way too much mead; pagans who worshipped a one-eyed god who fought giants in his spare time.  They sell credit cards for Capital One now!  An apt metaphor really, what with the rapaciously high interest rates and high fees courant in 2010.  Vikings were the scourge of the costal areas of Western Europe between the 8th and 12th centuries.  Actually, it is a little unclear that the Northmen who settled in Normandy are those same Vikings straight out of central casting.  What is clear is they were not Franks, the German tribes who settled in Paris several hundred years earlier.  In 911, the King of France, Charles the Simple, defeated Rollo, one of these raiders, but granted him land centered on Rouen in what would later be called Normandy, on conditions that he convert to Christianity, marry into Charles’s family, and swear fealty.  Rollo and his heirs would be the King of France’s men; pledged to send him money, troops, and fight for him personally at times of need, but got to rule Normandy in return.  Prior to that time, the Vikings sailed right up the Seine and raided Paris. Charles thought that by giving Rouen to Rollo, he would buffer these attacks, which in retrospect does not seem simple at all, and it proved quite effective.  The Northmen in turn got land that was mostly Frankish by population, and adopted the French language and customs of the area.   By the 11th century, Normandy was distinctively French in culture and language, but also a fractious and ambitious dukedom on the French border.  Normans would go on to conquer Sicily, much of southern Italy, parts of Albania, the Holy Land and Cyprus.  As we shall recount in a forthcoming chapter, they would also gain the English crown in 1066 and become Kings of England.  By the later part of the 12th century, King Philippe Auguste of France, Charles’s grandson, was understandably uncomfortable with such a powerhouse now on his flank and coveted the rich Norman lands for himself to rule directly.

The Vikings got around, green areas were subject to frequent raids.  What's in your wallet?
Richard ruled England and Normandy for 10 eventful years, from 1189-1199.  He scarcely set foot in Britain, preferring instead to crusade and war in Southern France.  As a very strong-willed fellow from a strong-willed family, he was in nearly constant conflict, eventually squabbling with his father, Henry II (you may remember him from the movies The Lion in Winter and  Becket) and his brothers over succession and land rights for his brother, John.  This conflict eventually became open warfare.  Richard took over as King of England after combined forces belonging to John, Richard, and Philippe August defeated Henry II in battle over Anjou.  Henry is said to have died at the news that John, his favorite, had taken arms against him.  Richard and John didn’t get along at all well. A hint about how all that is going to turn out:  one of John’s notorious epithets is ‘Lackland.’  Richard was a sometime ally (and a sometime strong rival) of Philip Auguste, King of France, and the two monarchs shared an extensive common border that ran right through Andelys, which explains the need to make Château Galliard on this spot.  He was a man who could not be counted on to play nice, even within his own family, and his strong will would eventually cost him dearly, lionized or not.

Richard I of England and Philippe Auguste of France, and Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, would learn of the fall of Jerusalem and heed Pope Gregory VIII’s call to organize the Third Crusade.  That means an all expenses paid trip to the Holy Land to fight the infidel Saracens led by the notorious Saladin.  Oh, and the fine print reads that the expenses of raising, equipping and transporting the holy army fall on the kings, not the Church!  So Richard heavily taxed England to raise and equip the 8000 men and 100 ships he brought to the effort to retake Jerusalem.  His was the largest contingent to actually reach the Holy Land when Barbarossa drowned fording a river en route and his troops, demoralized, returned home.
Travel to the Third Crusade.  Frederick Barbarossa only made it as far as the cross!

Not to call Richard irascible or anything, but on the way to the Holy Land he stopped at both Sicily and Cyprus and got into disputes with the local rulers that led to his conquering both islands.  Perhaps this is understandable.  Both local rulers were relatives!  In the Holy Land, he assisted in the conquest of Acre.  Richard’s help in the Crusade included a series of disputes about precedence in command— a fairly common problem in the Crusades, where the nobles who led them had great trouble agreeing who would be in charge.   One of the disputes caused Leopold V of Austria to depart in anger when Richard’s men cast down Leopold’s banner from the walls of Acre.  Another, arose when Conrad of Montefort was elected king of Jerusalem—a trifle prematurely as said election took place before the Third Crusaders had even  conquered the Holy City!  Not that said election did Conrad the slightest good.  When shortly thereafter a hashishin murdered Conrad, Richard was strongly suspected of arranging the killing. The Shi’a assassins were fierce opponents of the Sunnis and of Saladin, the leader in the fight against the Third Crusaders.  This is where the 'drug-crazed' assassins come in.  It was widely understood that the suicidal Shi’ite assassins smoked hashish to acquire visions of the heaven they would enter after they were killed for their deeds--‘Hashish’ and ‘assassin’ come from the same Arabic root–but the evidence that they actually smoked hashish for this purpose is rather slim, and probably reflects Sunni propaganda to the effect that that is how crazy you had to be to believe Shi’a religious doctrines the Sunnis already proclaimed to be apostate. And while we can’t completely clear Richard’s name in regard to Conrad, there is no real evidence he ordered the killing. 

Hashish is residue scraped from the flower tops of Cannabis sativa, otherwise know as marijuana.  Assassins probably didn't regularly use this, but had poor PR!  A classic illustration of winners writing the history!

While both were in Acre, Richard was subordinate to Philippe Auguste, who was nominally his liege, but Richard commanded when Philippe fell sick and returned to France.  Richard then enjoyed considerable success fighting in the Holy Land, but lacked the forces to retake Jerusalem.  In September of 1192, anxious about possible mischief at home from brother John and King Philippe, Richard negotiated peace with Saladin.  He bowed to the inevitable and acquiesced to Moslem administration of the Holy City, but secured free passage for Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, and then sailed for home.  Shipwrecked, and continuing on his way by land, Richard was captured in Saxony by Leopold V (yes, the very same guy who left the Crusade in disgust because he was dissed in Acre).   Leopold handed Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor who held him for for a ransom of 65,000 pounds of silver – a sum that required crippling taxation to fund.  His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (she is famous for fighting with Henry II and establishing the tradition of courtly love) took two years to raise the requisite funds to secure his release, even after several Papal excommunications failed to free Richard. (The Pope was notoriously touchy about secular interference with his Crusaders.)  So Richard did not reclaim his throne until early 1194, and had to put down another rebellion by his brother John and re-conquer much of Normandy.  Richard did catch a break when the Holy Roman Emperor disregarded an impassioned missive from Philippe Auguste to refuse the money and keep Richard locked up and throw away the key!

Chateau Gaillard as it might have looked when Richard built it, a retouched photo.

In 1196, Richard seized church land (another dispute, the details of which I will spare you, but it took years to resolve!) and began construction of Château Gaillard and the village of Little Andelys for the obvious purpose of defending his realm from Philippe Auguste’s territorial ambitions.  It was sited so as to command a bend of the Seine and as a base for watching over the plateau which extended between Rouen and Paris.  Thus it was perfectly positioned to dominate the main transportation link between these two strategic cities. The castle was to be a state-of-the-art facility according to the siegecraft of the times.  Richard had apparently learned a great deal about military fortifications in the Holy Land while on crusade.  Château Galliard had several innovations that had not been employed before in Western Europe.  These include the first stone machicolations employed in the west.  These are parapets and protective walls overhanging the outer walls of the castle that allow a garrison to be protected when dropping rocks and boiling ‘oil’ on attackers who are attempting to storm the walls.  Up to this time, machicolations were constructed of wood, which offered some protection, but were highly vulnerable to being set alight by flaming projectiles.  All those tales about pouring boiling oil on attackers certainly did not come from Western Europe.  No one had any oil!  They had plenty of pigs though, so the real danger came from getting scalded by liquefied animal fat!  The castle keep also had oval sculpted outer walls.  This offered structural advantages when faced with bombardment.  They were stronger than flat walls, and it was much harder to strike a perpendicular blow to curved walls given the precision of the siege technology of the times.  As effective as this innovation was, Château Galliard is the only place in Western Europe where this was done.  Rounded walls also allowed a wider field of fire for archers firing through arrow slits in them.  Richard is thought to have designed the castle personally, and lavished $15-20,000 pounds on it, several times the amount he spent on all fortifications combined in England during that period.  

You can see machicolations at the top of the central keep, or dunjon.  They are incomplete becasue the top of the tower was decapitated.

Today, only the inner keep of dungeon is still mostly intact.  Parts of the first concentric ring of walls still stand, while all the other inner buildings are collapsed to their foundations.  The outer layer of walls is built from the ubiquitous white limestone I have already discussed.  Loose chert was used to fill a two foot inner space between the outer layers of limestone.  Chert is an extremely hard and durable rock, and was too difficult to shape into blocks in the 12th century, but this design made for extremely durable walls.  Château Galliard was invincible to bombardment by siege weapons during the 12th and 13th centuries. 

We climb the hill, and walk through the dry moat that surrounded the dismantled outer walls.  The view of Petit Andelys and the Seine valley is beautiful, even in a cloudy sky that threatens rain.  One certainly can readily imagine the sense of power that placing this fortification on these commanding heights would project.  Yet we stop to hear the guide’s account of the fortification and its construction in the small chapel which has crumbled to the point that its walls form a convenient ledge on which we sat listening to his account.  Wild flowers now grow through the gaps in the scattered stones and wild grass makes our floor.  Château Galliard is now a momento mori.  The cistern has been covered over with a modern grate.  The French have become tired of retrieving the bodies of the overly adventurous or suicidal from it.

The dunjon up close.  You can see where the overhang of the machicolations has been destroyed.  Photo by the author.

Listening to our guide in the ruins of the chapel.  Another group from our boat tours the uphill bastion Philippe's forces took first in the background. The hill behind us was denuded of trees in Richard's time.  Photo by the author.

Our chapel is actually the site of Château Galliard’s demise.  In 1199, only two years after the completion of his masterwork, Richard took an arrow during the siege of minor castle in Limousin.  He thought so little of the intensity of the battle that he not even put his armor on, and had earlier been dodging the occasional arrow from the undermanned battlements.  When he was hit, it was in the hand; barely a scratch!  His men took that castle soon thereafter, and the enemy archer was captured and brought before Richard.  He is said to have been a mere boy, who claimed he was avenging a father and brothers slain in campaign against Richard.  Everyone expected the boy would pay for this act with his life, but Richard generously pardoned him.   Richard’s wound, however, didn’t heal, sepsis set in, and on April 6, Richard died in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  His lands and the English crown passed to his hated brother, John.  

The plan for Chateau Gaillard.  The uphill bastion is at the top of this map, the chapel is the rectangular structure marked 'H', and the cistern at 'F', the keep at M.

In 1202, Philippe Auguste resumed his efforts to recapture Normandy.  John left Château Galliard inadequately garrisoned, and in September 1203 Philippe’s forces besieged it.  In a siege lasting 7 months, they first took the uphill bastion, mining under one of its towers, then worked upon the tougher main fortification’s outer works.  The 1,500-2,000 residents of Petit Andelys took refuge in the Château Galliard during the siege, but when supplies started to run low, the castle commander negotiated the release of a thousand of them and the French commander allowed them to leave. When Philippe heard of this, he insisted that the remaining civilians be made to stay in the castle, knowing that forcing the speedy depletion of food and water would hasten its fall.  In the late fall of 1203, the Château Galliard commander turned them out anyway, and the French opened fire on the next group of 500-1000 trying to cross their lines.  The desperate citizens tried to return, but the gate was locked against them.  They took refuge under the castle’s outer wall, and over half died of exposure and starvation during the ensuing winter.  There were tales of cannibalism before Philippe arrived to take command personally in February of 1204 and allowed the survivors to pass.  Later that month, a French contingent scaled an ‘unscalable’ cliff on the castle’s less defended side and gained entrance through the chapel.  Rumors that they slithered up a privy shoot to gain entrance are mentioned but flatly denied by our guide!  They overcame some surprised guards and burned the inner buildings and opened the outer gates, forcing the defenders to retreat to the keep.  On March 6, 1204, the garrison surrendered.  Philippe would go on to take Rouen a month later, and then take all of Normandy from John before the close of the year.  The lands given to Rollo now belonged directly to the King of France.  

Philippe Auguste taking possession of Acre, 1191.  He is the eventual winner in the struggle over Normandy.

Perhaps you think that is the end of the story, but, of course, it is not so.  Saladin died of yellow fever in 1197.  No military leader would rise to unite Moslems until the Sultan Mehmet captured Constantinople in 1453.   Pope Gregory the VIII, died shortly after having ordered the Third Crusade in 1187. He would be dead years before Richard, Philippe and Leopold departed for the Holy Land.  For nearly a hundred years more, popes would continue to order a long series of crusades to recover Jerusalem, until the last one finally petered out a failure in 1291.  None of these significantly bettered the results achieved by Richard.   King John would die of dysentery in 1216 in the midst of a civil war with his nobles whose resentments at excessive taxation were only partially assuaged by the Magna Carta.  He never recovered any of his lost lands, and died with a reputation so blackened that no English monarch since has taken the name of ‘John.’  He is known to this day as “Bad King John.”  The Magna Carta, however, is generally thought of as the founding document in the preservation of individual liberties in English common law, and of course, in our own civil rights.

King John signing the Magna Carta; a much better moment for us than for him!

Eleanor of Aquitaine would survive not only her estranged husband, but six of her eight offspring.  The tradition of courtly love popularized in her French Court survives to this day, greatly influencing modern notions of romantic love --- with mixed results.  Eleanor died in April of 1204 and was buried with Henry II.  Hopefully they have since shared a peace that eluded them in life. 

Philippe Auguste would outlive all of these opponents.  When he died in 1223, about 75% of modern France owed him fealty or was directly controlled by the French crown.  Among his more lasting accomplishments:  he began the building of the military fortifications that lie under the present day Louvre, started the Parisian market Les Halles which still stands and operates today, and continued the construction of Le Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.

But later French leaders would be unable to consolidate Philippe Auguste’s territorial conquests.  Normandy would never again function as a separate state, but would be occupied by the English and be extensively fought over during the 100 Years War.  Château Galliard was repaired by Philippe after his conquest in 1204.  It would serve as a prison, a guest house for dispossessed Scottish royalty, and more until, in 1599, it was ordered demolished by Henry IV of France as a threat to Les Andelys, and part of the outer ring of walls was taken down.  For years after, pieces of the outer walls have been re-purposed for use in local construction.  Today its dismantlement has ceased and its perservation assured as a national landmark.

Richard I was ambitious about his burial as he had been in life.  His entrails were buried in Chalus, where he died; the rest of his body was buried with his father, and later his mother, in Anjou.  His leonine heart is buried in Le Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen, where we shall visit it in just a few days.  English memory has been, I think, rather kind to Richard, given his taxation, his absence, and his general neglect of his realm for other priorities.  He is noted for his courage, his piety, and his success in battle.  He was far more of a warrior than a builder, Château Galliard notwithstanding. 

And what of the heroic young archer pardoned by Richard?  He did not long survive the king, either.  After Richard’s death, the boy was apprehended, flayed alive and then hung by one of Richard’s more vengeful captains.  It simply wouldn’t do to have commoners killing nobility, even in war, and getting away with it.  Especially not a king!

Petit Andelys as seen from the ruins.  The River Baroness can be seen in the center.  Photo by the author.

The little town or Petit Andelys, built as an afterthought to Châteaux Galliard, however, survived the trauma of its fall in 1204.  Looking at the sleepy little town, one wouldn’t guess its former importance or its residents’ brutal past.  But for those who recognize it, the evidence is prominent.  Today it has about the same population as it did then.  We tour it briefly before getting back on the boat.  It has cobbled streets, only few stores including one tiny grocery where I practiced my French buying a bottle of calvados.    Today, it seems rather tolerant of English speaking tourists that wander among the ruins and consider the epic scope and shocking brevity of Richard Lionheart’s efforts to preserve an independent Normandy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Le Bateau, and The Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre

The centerpiece of our trip to France is river cruising the Seine, Saône, and Rhône Rivers.  Today we board the River Baroness, docked at Port Javel-Bas in the 15th Arrondissement.  This is the southwestern portion of the old city not far from the Trocadero and Eiffel Tower, and we will take a walk around this area later.  But our first order of business this Sunday is getting acquainted with our boat.

Our boat, with the bridge and sun deck structures stowed.
The River Baroness is the oldest and probably the least nice of our cruise line’s fleet.  We have opted for the least expensive staterooms, so we are at the bottom of the boat and our room is mostly below the water line.  This scarcely matters as we will spend little time in its cramped quarters.  There is no place to properly use a computer, and later we will find that Internet connectivity is down for the entire cruise anyway!  There proves to be some persistent difficulty with their satellite up-link.  The crew is much inconvenienced by this problem, too.  Their solution is to make sure we complain vociferously about it.  Request granted!  This will prove to be the only inconvenience of the entire cruise, but, in conjunction with the fact that we are unable to get our computer to connect with wireless networks in other locales that are functioning just fine, means that we experience an unprecedented lack of communications on the entire trip.  My Droid doesn’t work at all, using my spouse’s phone--an unlocked Razor--is prohibitively expensive for calls back to the states, so we are quite fortunate that nothing truly gothic happened while we were away.  Worse, all those I-Phone users who were willing to put up with AT&T are fully connected in Paris!  So the moral of this story is don’t take your Droid to Europe and expect it to work.  This is a real deprivation for me, since I love maps and acutely miss the GPS features.

Our room was exactly like this, except we had a smaller porthole instead of a window and no statue!
The River Baroness is 361 feet long (a little longer than a football field, including the end zones), 35.5 feet wide and has a very shallow draft of 4 feet.  When we stand on the floor of our cabin, that is the hull, so if she hits a rock, we will quickly get wet!  The Seine, has been fully domesticated by the French government, and its depth is mostly controlled by the same system of locks that allow navigation almost all year long.  Paris last flooded in 1910, water seeping up from the river through the extensive sewer system, although the Seine never crested its bank within the city limits.  This made a mess of life for the residents and did about $1.5 billion in damage in contemporary dollars.  The Seine in Paris is 36 meters above sea level.   We will be descending through six locks at various points, so scraping bottom shouldn’t be a problem.  By the time we reach the Norman capital city of Rouen, we will be rising and falling with the tide.  And given that some of the Paris bridges have been in place for many hundreds of years, (Pont Neuf, is hardly ‘new’ anymore--It is now the oldest bridge still in use within the city, built in the time of Shakespeare between 1577 and 1606).  The River Barones’s command center (also commonly referred to as the ‘bridge’ in English), raises and lowers to get under some of the bridges.  The Baroness will not actually be sailing under Pont Neuf this trip, but the first time it sails under Pont Mirabelle, I will have to lower my head slightly as I stand on the sun deck and sip sparkling wine celebrating the beginning of our cruise!  

Paris flooding in 1910
The Baroness is essentially a glamorous barge, and is suitable only for cruising this particular river because of the aforementioned lock and bridge and water level requirements.  We will see lots of similar ships on the busy Seine.  As scenic as the river is, it is an important economic waterway for bringing raw materials up from the industrial and port facilities of Le Havre, particularly building materials, petroleum distillates, and natural gas. 

The Baroness was built in Arnhem, the hull assembled in three complete sections, and then welded together and floated before 14 months of intensive work was done adding the mechanicals, staterooms, galley and fixtures to fit her out for cruising.  With such a shallow draft she is completely un-seaworthy in the open ocean, and had to be sailed into a lock ship, essentially a giant water-borne lock.  The water was then pumped out and the transport ship sailed the modest distance between Arnhem and Le Havre, sea water was pumped  back in and the Baroness sailed out into her new home on the Seine.   After 14 years of operation she is due for a trip back to Arnhem for a complete refit next year.

We were in category three.  The three assembly sections are the bow forward of the staterooms, center section comprised entirely of staterooms, and the stern with engines and crews quarters.

About 1/3 of her space is devoted to the staterooms.  Except for one suite, these are all the same size, but on the upper deck they afford better views.  Another third is devoted to the lounge, reception dining, ship’s boutique, and a little kitchenette are where coffee, tea and water and ice are available for the passengers.  The remaining third includes the mechanicals, galley, and crews quarters.  On top of all of this is the sun deck that runs the entire length of the ship, with a collapsing covered area that must be taken down when cruising under most bridges, but is quickly erected by the crew when we are docked for any extended period.

The name of the Seine is derived from the Latin world for snake, and that metaphor is well applied to our course.  It is a mature river with lots of bends and ox bows as it winds to the estuary of Le Havre and our westernmost destination of Honfleur.  We will be traveling through a 100-200 meter deep valley carved through chalky limestone, all formed from the skeletons prehistoric sea creatures.  At many points we will see outcrops of this limestone which formed about 167 million years ago in the bed of a shallow sea.  This stone has been quarried for construction for much of the last 2000 years, and it is the building material for many castles, cathedrals, and mundane buildings throughout northern and western France.  It was transported to London to make the White Tower.  We will mostly visit Normandy through the bottom of this valley.  The Seine is connected to the Saône and Rhône, and to the Rhine by a series of canals maintained by the French government, and small pleasure craft and houseboats make extensive use of these connections, but the River Baroness is far too large to navigate these.  When it comes time for us to sail these other rivers, we will need to change boats.

The Seine Valley in the Autumn, near Paris
The general procedure on this cruise will be for the boat to sail during the evening and stop at a port-of-call for most of the day while the passengers go out on various tours.  River Baroness has space for 128 passengers, but we are slightly under-subscribed at 102.  All are Anglophones.  Most come from The United States, but Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Israel are represented.  On the Seine portion of our cruise, none of the passengers are French!  Most are couples between 50 and 80 years of age.  There is only one child.

The crew is of mixed European origin.  The captain and a few senior sailors are French.  The service staff is mostly eastern European, our cruise line has a recruiting program in Hungary.  The chef and purser are Portuguese.  The room attendants are all female, the restaurant staff mixed and the sailors all men.  All the crew work a schedule of two weeks on and one off for the sailing season which lasts from April through December.  In our crew of about 40, there are ten serious couples or marriages from among shipmates.  Clearly this is an unusual and demanding lifestyle.  Perhaps these relationships partially explain the high esprit du corps. Only a minority live in France when not aboard.  They area seasoned team and their customer service skills and morale appear excellent.  The reception and wait staff are very fluent in English, although only one is a native English speaker, our Cruise Director, A J. who is British.  

This is Martin, Assistant Director of the Dining Room.  He thought quality customer service meant pretending to spill coffee in the lap of innocent and unsuspecting guests.  I guess he was correct!  Who knew?  Photo by the victim.
How good is the customer service?  One of our fellow travelers had a medical problem that required a trip to the emergency room.  A J had to drop coordinating all the various tours that were out and broker the passengers’ interactions with the emergency medical personnel.  The emergency was quickly resolved, and rather than drop the passenger and his wife back aboard ship, A J personally served as their tour guide for the morning tour they had missed!  While that is a stand out example, special attention is routinely and graciously provided!

We were most impressed that at every point we were treated like adults.  Examples include no corkage fees for personal alcohol except in the lounge, and very informal policies about coming and going from the ship at its various stops.  You take your boarding pass from reception and just go, and return it when check back in.  No one wound up being left behind on any of our many stops.  Tours operated smoothly, and the modest size of the ship meant that little time was spent queuing and waiting around for activities to commence.  It was a very smooth operation that exemplified hospitality at its finest.   I would only warn away two groups of clients.  The ship would be quite difficult for disabled and handicapped people, with lots of stairs to negotiate.  And the activities were poorly suited to children.  The one on board got lots of extra attention, but activities were not geared to his age level.

We ate every breakfast and dinner available on board ship and about half of the available lunches.  Breakfasts and lunch were buffet style, and had a wide range of alternatives and very good food, some of it quite elaborate, eggs Benedict, Black Forest tortes, profiteroles, paella, are examples.  Wine was served at dinner and was free and free-flowing.  The bar was almost always open, but we did not often sample its choices.  Dinners were often in French style, and classics like escargot and rabbit were served and were very good.  I had only one dish I thought was weak:  our Portuguese chef did not seem to understand how to make the arcane American hamburger!  Well, we did not take this cruise for burgers and fries anyway!  All of this constituted a serious hazard to our waistlines, and discussion of the good food and problems of self-restraint was a popular dinner conversation topic!

A particularly photogenic salad.  Photo by the gourmand.

Having ensconced ourselves in our quarters and enjoyed our first lunch, our traveling companions decide we should visit Montmartre, and specifically the Basilique de Sacré Coeur built on this hill overlooking Paris.  So we travel there by cab and spend the afternoon.  It is sunny and hazy, so we do not get lovely pictures of the city, but Sacré Coeur itself is resplendent and pristine in the sunlight.  It’s travertine walls gleam, forever protected from the soot of the industrial revolution by that stone’s property of extruding tiny amounts of calcite, which is white.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Montmartre, Paris

After the French Revolution, the French seem to have had a late 19th century return to religion, as if all those confiscations of church property and defaced statues weighed on their collective conscience.  Paris, Lyon and Marseilles would all have elaborate late 1800’s cathedrals placed on high ground overlooking the cities. All are built in neo-Romanesque style.  Sacrè Coeur was started in 1875 and the sins of the Paris Communards in 1870-71, which included the execution of the Archbishop of Paris, were a specific instigation to the project.  This made its construction a political football between leftists and royalist/Roman Catholic parties in the Chamber of Deputies.  A bill halting its construction was narrowly passed, then struck down on a technicality, and finally was not reintroduced during the next legislative session, thereby ending efforts to block the project.  George Clemenceau, later President of France during World War I and the ensuing Paris Peace Conference that produced the Treaty of Versailles, was one of the forceful advocates for cancellation of the project.  The Basilica was concentrated in 1919, and by then, the national dialogue shifted somewhat and it became a nationalist symbol and debate has subsided.

A barricade on Montmartre.  The Paris commune arose because of a vacuum of power following Napoleon III's capture in the Battle of Sedan and the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.  A testing ground for communism, it was brutally put down by the conservative French government elected immediately after the French had lost on the battlefield.

I liked the outside of this church, with its three lovely tapered domes, better than the inside, which, despite a lovely mosaic, is very dark.  It is possible to take an arduous climb to the central dome and look out upon the Paris landscape from among its subordinate decorative spires.  We did this on our last visit, but none of us is up for the hundreds of steps this time.  Instead we amble down from the peak of Montmartre, and shop along the way.  I buy my spouse some lovely hand-made beaded ear rings that look perfect in her long hair, and we are sufficiently tired when we get to the bottom that we only drive by the infamous Moulin Rouge.  We saw a great show there last time, but this time we will pass up the alternative cabaret performance offered through our cruise provider at the Lido after another couple complained about feeling packed in like sardines and said the show compared unfavorably with the one at the Moulin Rouge.

A view from Montmartre on our walk down the hill.  Photo by the author.
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec's self-portrait at the Moulin Rouge.  The cabaret is credited with the invention of the infamous Can-Can, which was quite risque in a time when the sight of a well turned ankle was thought to be overpowering.
The Moulin Rouge today.  Montmarte still enjoys a decadent reputation due to its proximity to the Pigale, Paris's infamous red-light district during the late Victorian period.  It is said to be so today, but we did not verify this personally.
Later in the evening, our boat pushes off, and we watch from the sun deck as the suburbs and industrial areas of Paris pass in the golden late afternoon glow before we have dinner. We return later to sip wine as evening closes in and the lights come on to dance on the water against the darkening shores.  Bon soir, indeed!
Another image from Google, but it gives you a good feel for night on the Seine!  For best results, add wine!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paris III: La Rive Droite and Sainte Chapelle

On our last full free day in Paris before the river cruise begins, our traveling companions are taking a tour of the Musèe d’Orsay, and we decide to walk the St. Germain de Près shopping district and meet them in the early afternoon at the pyramid of the Louvre.  My spouse is intent on antique shopping, although we cannot seem to agree whether the only antique we bought on our last trip didn’t come from the Marais.  We have already walked a good deal of the shopping near to this district several days ago on our way back for Le Jardin de Luxembourg, so we are fairly businesslike until we get to Èglise Sainte-Sulpice, and then we start to amble among the high class stores there.  In fact, very few antique shops are in evidence, but there are lots of nice boutiques of every other type.  England may be a nation of shopkeepers, but we like the French ones.  We pass the Deux Magots  (the Two Magi, there are no larvae in the food!) where we had a lovely lunch a decade ago while an oompah band performed across the street.  No famous philosophers were in evidence then either.  I am thrilled to learn, however, that absinthe is back on the market after almost a century of disrepute.  But it is too near mid-day when we arrive to indulge my fantasies of fin de siècle decadence.  In fact, we wind up hurrying away from this area to rendezvous with our friends when they have finished their tour.  

The two Chinese commercial agents that give Les Deux Magots its name.  a particular favorite of John Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Picasso, Hemingway and others.  Now it is the particular favorite of teaming hoards of tourists like us.
When we meet, they are simply raving about their tour guide.  We have yet to partake of an organized tour of anything, but our companions’ enthusiasm is influential, and we will opt for most of the optional tours on our trip.  Unlike many cruise lines, our cruise includes tours every day, but there are also optional ones for an extra fee.  These are usually accompanied by native French tour guide.  With 80 million visitors a year, France is leaving nothing to chance in the interpretation of her culture.  Tour guides are all licensed by a government agency and we found them to be gracious and very knowledgeable.  After reading this, you will see that I have latent tour guide tendencies, but must first polish up my language skills if I wish to do it in French!  

This Arch is smaller and less famous than the one a Place D'Etiole, and is dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte for his victories in 1806-1808.  The other one was commissioned at the same time, took thirty years to build, and was so grand that after World War I ended, someone flew a bi-plane through it!  This one stands where the Tuilleries Palace used to, and is of more modest scale.  The statue of Peace riding a Chariot constitutes posthumous defeat for Napoleon.  After defeating the Austrians and annexing Venice, the French swiped the horses from St. Marks Cathedral and put them here.  After Waterloo, The Bourbons returned the horses and in 1828 had this statue placed on top instead to commemorate their restoration.  Perhaps it is called 'carrousel' because what goes around comes around?

 After our rendezvous, we go for a walk under Napoleon's first triumphal arch, l'Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and into Le Jardin de Tuilleries, dodging hawkers and beggars as we go.  Particularly impressive are the legions of Balkan refugees all sporting alarmingly similar appearing leg casts.  They all start by asking if you speak English!  I didn’t know we were that obvious, but to a trained eye, I guess we are.  And trained eye is the operative term; if you arrive early enough any morning you can see them marching out together and receiving assigned begging territories from their handlers. This is a thoroughly professional cadre of beggars. There are also legions of black Africans, none of whom are begging, but all are selling cheap trinkets, mostly shiny metallic models of the Eiffel Tower, or sunglasses.  We settle on a gallaterie under carefully manicured chestnuts and have a lunch of beer and crepes before retracing our path past the Ferris wheel (worked so well in London I guess they had to try setting one up in the Tuilleries!), a state fair mid-way mall full of rigged games we know better than to play (this tacky excursion being necessitated by careful bathroom placement—an added indignity, French public restrooms are often operated as a concession—it costs .20 € to go!).  Then we take a tacky walk down Rue Tivoli.  All along the north side of the Louvre it is a mile-long tourist trap as could easily be found in Gatlinburg, Key West, or Virginia Beach.

This was an prominent landmark at night from our hotel room window three miles away next to Gare Montparnasse.  It is taken down for the winter.
Our destination is Isle de la Citè and Sainte Chapelle.  For me, this is the one must-revisit attraction from our previous trip, even though the day is clouding over.  Sainte Chapelle is actually nestled in a rather unlikely place, the Conciergerie, which was, for several centuries, a notorious prison.  Marie Antoinette and Danton were lodged here in some of its better quarters as they awaited executions for treason from the Convention and Directory during the French Revolution.  Later, Napoleon III would be incarcerated here by the restored Bourbon monarchy.  Now it is Le Palais de Justice, part of the headquarters for the French police. 

The Conciergerie as depicted in a masterpiece of the Northern Renaissance, Les Tres Riches Heurs du Duc de Berry.  It is essentially an illuminated day planner.  It is called a book of hours because of the canonical hours; matin, lauds and vespers, etc in which the faithful were expected to pray.

But in the 13th century the Conciergerie served as a royal palace, and King (later Saint) Louis IX built Sainte Chapelle to house the brand new Crown of Thorns and various other relics purchased at pawn from Venice which had taken them as collateral from returning crusaders.  They had rescued it from the 'imminent' fall of Constantinople--Byzantium was in decline due to the depredations of the Seljuk Turks at that time, but didn't actually fall til 1453.   

I must confess that my first reaction was sarcastic:  “Like, the Real Crown of Thorns?”  After 1300 years, how sure could you be?  Did they even know Jesus’ hat size?  But the early Christians had long venerated anything to do with the Passion of Christ.   The Pope certified to the authenticity of these holy relics, and Louis was utterly serious; his goal was nothing less than saving the church by making Paris a spiritual center to replace Byzantium and vie with Rome.   He would go on to be sainted for his efforts, the only monarch to achieve Sainthood.   He is the source of the name for St. Louis Missouri, as well as St Louis Obispo and countless other like-named places around the world.  And the Crown of Thorns now resides in Notre Dame de Paris just down the street in a reliquary that is anything but understated!

If you have the Crown of Thorns, pruned or not, you cannot just put it anywhere!  This reliquary is in Notre Dame de Paris and was made long after its sojourn at Sainte Chapelle.
My cynicism is not entirely misplaced.  Sainte Chapelle was seriously damaged and some of the lesser reliquaries melted down during the Revolution.  The Crown of Thorns itself has undergone some dis-assembly and some of the thorns were given out to various other Cathedrals.  But the attraction of Sainte Chapelle, for me, is the stained glass.  Fortunately most of this glorious work was carefully preserved during the Revolution, and taken down and preserved again during World War II, so that 70% of the glass work is original.  Although the chapel is small, the glass is delicately set in light, soaring stonework and is far more beautiful than Notre Dame de Paris, or the other churches we are yet to see in our travels.  This is the religious high point for me, a dedicated agnostic.  In vying for leadership of a faltering Christian (Rome had been sacked and the Church was struggling with the schism that resulted in the Eastern Orthodox Church) community, Louis has commissioned some of the most beautiful Christian art ever.  The stained glass tells the classic Old and New Testament stories, and recounts the history of the relics Louis acquired for worship there.

Taken from the roof, this exterior view doesn't make Sainte Chapelle look as out of place in the Palais de Justice as it does from the street.
On a sunny day, the light through these windows far outshines the Crown Jewels.  There are only 6 colors; ruby, sapphire, pale green, yellow and violet and clear.  But the effect emerging into the chapel from below by a dark and narrow winding stair is overpowering.  On a cloudy one like the day of our visit, they are merely spectacular.  Unlike most of the major Gothic cathedrals, Sainte Chapelle was executed by one architect over a three-year period, an astonishingly short span compared to the other building programs that often extended over more than 100 years and saw a progression of styles.  So it has a unified style and cohesive artistic vision, a rare thing in Gothic architecture.  Much of this must be attributed to careful restoration.  We will learn just how fragile these achievements are as we encounter other evidence of the Wars of Religion, and of the Revolution later in Normandy and Burgundy.

This area was being restored during our visit and we could not view any of it.  This beautiful photo does as much justice as fine photography can to a breathtaking experience.
The colors were all from metallic salts added to the glass itself, mostly iron, copper, cobalt and gold.  They were also painted, but generally not to add color.

On the day of our visit, the entire nave is obscured by scaffolding.  It is undergoing another restoration.  It had begun to rain lightly as we waited in line, which was actually refreshing given the heat.  However, after an hour within, I find myself leaving sadly, and wondering how many times I will be able to return to this glorious place before I die.  Whenever it comes, it will be sad to leave for the last time.  Whenever that visit comes?  Death comes?