Paris: A Study in Contrasts

These past few days have been a study in contrasts. Top priority was to visit Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, the one Victor Hugo made famous in his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo’s book (like the subsequent movies based on it) did not provide our motivation. We didn’t need it. For any visitor to Paris this is a must!notre-dame-front

notre-dame-rearThe 12th  century master-piece has lost none of its drawing power. Myriads of sight-seers and worshipers throng the building and environs—and this was not a particularly busy day, we were told. Having the opportunity to gaze at the stained glass windows is reason enough for standing in line, but everywhere the eye turns there is more to take in: the statuary, the individual chapels, the soaring walls, the flying buttresses, and yes, the gargoyles on duty scaring off the evil spirits.

Gargoyles used to scare off the demons; now wire and spiked things do the job. Must be for a different kind of evil.
Gargoyles used to scare off the demons; now wire and spiked things do the job. Must be to ward off  a different kind of evil.

Signs request silence in the sanctuary and, surprisingly, people honor the request. I couldn’t help thinking, “This is holy ground.”

My own response piqued my curiosity. As I’ve noted before in this blog, I’m from a non-liturgical, free-church tradition. We don’t do statues and stained glass and edifices that will survive for centuries. We consider such extravagance a waste of money. (We don’t mind spending that much for football stadiums, but surely not for churches!) Yet even after a lifetime of conditioning, something in my soul still pauses to appreciate, to contemplate, to pray. And to thank God for the visionary souls of centuries ago who raised Notre Dame and other churches like it “to the glory of God.”

The contrast? The Georges Pompidou Center, named for the French president (1969-1974) who commissioned it. It houses Europe’s largest museum of modern art; it’s another must-see monument in this city of must-see monuments. I’ve been here before but wanted to return, to see whether it really is as ugly as I remembered from that first visit. It is. The best analogy I could think of for the design of this monstrosity is the brief late teen fad of wearing underwear on the outside. At the Pompidou you see it all. It’s totally utilitarian, with nary a nod in the direction of beauty, no exterior facing to hide the guts of the construction. The structural beams, the ductwork, the wiring, the joists and joints and nuts and bolts—all are on display.

With my earlier impression confirmed, I didn’t need (and Mike didn’t care) to pay the price to go inside to see the art works which I found so uninspiring last time. Brian was with me then and couldn’t stop commenting on one painting. It was all white except for a blue dot in the middle. It’s title? Le Bleu Dot. You remember an experience like that one.

pompidouOK, you expect this from the “clergy.” Here’s what’s missing in the Pompidou. In Notre Dame the movement is upward. The walls soar skyward, the long narrow gothic windows come to a point at the top, like multicolored tapers; the roof is steeply pitched. The eyes are directed heavenward. You can’t help it. God is the unifier of the architecture. But the Pompidou has nowhere to look, no destination for the eyes. God is dead, human intelligence rules and has no sense of direction. Pragmatism rules: this is how this thing works and that’s enough. Observe the machinery. Note how the building settles itself on the ground, leads your eyes up a few stories but brings them right back down. Cathedrals have spires that point to the eternal; the Pompidou does not aspire so it does not  inspire.

We’re glad we saw it, though.

There were other tourists on the bus. Honest.
There were other tourists on the bus. Honest.

I’m going to skip our tourist bus ride around Paris because the report would be so, well, touristy. I want to tell you about dinner. Mike found us a cozy Parisian café for an authentic French meal—I had (unsurprisingly) beef afloat a creamed pate de foie gras and he had the best roast duck I’ve ever tasted (yes, we shared). But that wasn’t the best part of the meal.

That was an enjoyable conversation with the young couple in the next table (about four inches separated our tables). Rodrigo and Karine are from Montreal, enjoying a second honeymoon. They came to Paris from Barcelona. Their enjoyment has been enhanced by her French and his Spanish (he’s originally from Chile), but these two would enjoy any adventure because of their positive spirit and friendliness. I warned them I’d post this picture Mike took. rodrigo-and-wifeThey are a good example of the consistently friendly, interesting, even charming people we’ve been meeting. I wish we lived closer to Rodrigo and Karine.

Our major visit the next day was the Louvre. Again we felt our poverty of time. This world-famous museum deserves our whole week; we gave it less than half a day.

Surprisingly, the Louvre's modern glass pyramid does not do violence to the ancient exterior.
Surprisingly, the Louvre’s modern glass pyramid does not do violence to the ancient exterior, but complements it.

You who have come to the Louvre know what I’m talking about. For you who haven’t, let me encourage you to check out Google images.

One of the multitude of galleries. The crowd is unusually small today
One of the multitude of galleries. The crowd is unusually small today

You’ll discover some of the art world’s most famous works here, including the one that we, like all other visitors, had to see, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. She still smiles her enigmatic smile, still entices the most visitors to the Louvre . She may be the star, but the whole supporting cast of art works also deserve a viewing.

Mona Lisa--tiny picture, big crowd!
Mona Lisa–tiny picture, big crowd!

If we get back to Paris, I hope to devote parts of many days to a more leisurely, intentional study of these masterworks.

I should have mentioned that of the many salons and galleries and interesting rooms in the Louvre, my favorite is Le Grand Louvre. It serves an excellent Caesar salad.

Joy at work while the boys play.
Joy at work while the boys play.

Well, this post must come to an end. Mike is sitting across the table from me, sending me a few of his favorite pictures. Too many for our limited space. So we must stop and say adieu. When next you hear from Lawsons on the Loose we’ll be in Dublin. Thanks for listening.

Okay, we couldn't find a doormat that says "auvoir" so this "hello" will have to do. Aloha works both ways in Hawaii!
Okay, we couldn’t find a doormat that says “adieu” so this “hello” will have to do. “Aloha” works both ways in Hawaii!

12 thoughts on “Paris: A Study in Contrasts”

  1. I find myself wanting to comment on every blog, but then it might seem like it was our blog, too. Just want to thank you for sharing your experiences. It is wonderful that you are sharing meals with so many friendly people. May God continue to bless you all in your travels. PS I was glad to hear that Mona Lisa made it back safely from her trip to the US.

  2. This message is being sent to you automatically regarding the terms of your agreement. You have exceeded your fun quotient for this rental period. If you continue to have fun you will be required to pay penalty fees to one of your velcro children. We recommend Brian.

    1. Excellent idea provided we submit it to all the velcro children so that they can choose their favorite. The contest might be close. Just saying.

  3. Roy, good commentary on the contrast between Notre Dame and Pompidou Center. On occasion, in my more confident-in-the-ultimate-correctness-of-all-my-opinions-youth, I could tell you all that was wrong with spending so much money and labor on cathedrals such as Notre Dame. But then, having seen such glorious works, I felt the same as you do! It’s nice to get old! –Chuck

  4. So enjoying reading and “hearing” not only about your travels but just awesome Dr. Lawson talk. Reagan may have won the title in the 80’s but you have our vote for being the Great Communicator! Love to you and Joy!

    1. Roy, I am back in SF, downloading all of my photos and tripping down memory lane. I do believe this was my best vacation of all times! But then you are my hero, staying on the road as a way of life…Lucky you!

      It was great fun meeting you and i look forward to following you on your adventure! blessings. Rose

  5. reading all these reports with great interest. our first trip to europe is to be next may, cruising down the rhine. and while it makes no sense, i, too, do not approve of massive amounts of money spent on churches (or homes, either), however, i want to see the old churches that did cost a fortune. and< God willing, will see a few next may.

    just spent two days with sherry erickson miller (remember her as your intern in the 1970s). carol alexander and mary brown nine and i went to chicago. sherry lives there…married to a fine christian man for many yrs., with three grown children. we get together 2x yr., either in chicago, here in indy, or somewhere in northern indiana. have a wonderful time…shopping, dinners out, movies, theater, and catching up, (i.e. gossiping!) even though sherry lives in chicago, she always stays at hotel with us…although we turn in earlier these days than we did ten yrs. ago.

    sherry is chairman of bd. this yr. at lincoln bible college, or whatever it is called these days.

    waiting for your next report!

    1. Donna–what a motley crew! Mary, Sherry, Carol, Donna. Yes, I remember Sherry (and the rest of you) well, and affectionately. Sherry was an outstanding intern who has subsequently had an exemplary career in ministry. (I didn’t know about her role as chair at LCU, but I can’t think of a better person for the job.) And I haven’t forgotten Mary and Carol, either; they made their mark 40+ years ago. Beautiful people!) Thanks for bringing them to mind. Please convey best wishes from Joy and me.

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