AN EARLY EVENING IN PARIS

????????????????????????????????????????“…at the intersection near Saint-Eustache, the opening to the Rue Rambuteau was blocked by a barricade of orange pumpkins in two rows, sprawling at their ease and swelling out their bellies. Here and there gleamed the varnished golden brown of a basket of onions, the blood-red of a heap of tomatoes, the soft yellow of a display of cucumbers, and the deep mauve of aubergines; while large black radish, laid down in funereal carpets, formed dark patches in the brilliance of the early morning…”

This beautiful passage was written by Emile Zola in his La Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris). An immensely descriptive, humorous and exciting novel, it is the third of his twenty-volume series of Les Rougon-Maquart novels; still little known in this country.

La Ventre de Paris captures the essence of Le Forum des Halles: the central gathering place and traditional market integral to the lives of Parisians for 800 years.

In 1971 the food stalls of Les Halles were removed. Intricate glass and metal sculptures were built-in their place, which though controversial, create the strong impression that you are standing in a former open-air market -and it is today every bit as colorful and chaotic as it was in Zola’s day.

I love this bustling nucleus of Paris: its noise and confusion; the filthy, arrogant pigeons that march around us as if they own the place (which of course they do in their little bird brains). I am fond of the restaurants where I spent innumerable hours in (in another life and many years ago) like La Poule au Pot and Au Pied de Cochon, which is open 24 hours.

Here, at the tip of Rue Montorgueil, in the midst of the bailemme that is Les Halles sits Saint Eustache church, a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. Designed by Italian architect Domenico da Cortona, the construction was lengthy (1532-1637). During that period the gothic style fell out of fashion in favor of renaissance, which explains why a gothic church features unexpected renaissance details. It has a ground-plan analogous to that of Notre Dame with a nave of five bays and a choir aisle with 24 chapels. The high cupola reaches a height of 190 feet.

So, I was in Paris -breathing in the city rather than exploring her, and casually I strolled inside Saint Eustache. It was the first time in almost 20 years that I ventured within its sacred walls. No, I did not take a trip down memory lane. I just admired my surrounding silently. Saint Eustache has not changed much.

The beautiful stained glass windows, which were created by Antoine Soulignac, and likely modeled after drawings by Philippe de Champaigne were still there. Intact and with the perfect radiance of a minor masterpiece.

The pipe organ, containing 8,000 pipes, is the largest in France. It was silent during my visit, but it is a sleeping giant capable of producing some of the world’s perfect music.

And of course I admired the paintings by Santi di Tito, fellow renaissance brethren to Piero della Francesca (and fellow citizen) and Rubens.

The church was mainly empty. A couple of tourists were looking around with tired faces and uninspired expressions. The silence was covering the gorgeous interior like a warm blanket. A beautiful woman with striking red hair was admiring the expansive interior, walking slowly, her figure occasionally obscured by the shadow created by the game of light.

I sat in a chair, thinking of the young Louis XIV taking his first Communion here. In my mind I saw the Cardinal Richelieu and Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (the future madame de Pompadour) being baptized, and I saw the distressed face of Mozart at the funeral of his mother. I also saw the happy expression of Moliere getting married to Armande Claire Bejarde. I thought of all of them, all of the events that have happened here at Saint Eustache.

One thing has become clear since my last visit. Saint Eustache requires a great deal of love and attention. Centuries of smoke from the candles have left a dirty gray coat on the walls; the marble pillars are chipped in many places; chairs are scattered around like fallen leaves. Many of the 24 chapels are as unkempt as the hair of a rock star.

Saint Eustache parish hosts numerous activities, and touches the lives of many in the phantasmagorical surrounding that is Les Halles. Music, both sacred and contemporary can be heard here regularly, and the rotations of expositions and events make Saint Eustache as busy as an American airport on Thanksgiving. Social justice and community outreach also play a fundamental role in the life of the parish; and the Center Cerise, a cultural hub for artists and arts group (some well-known) is housed here.

Sancerre is a great white wine. Produced in the easter region of the Loire Valley, it is a semi-dry variety that comes from Sauvignon-Blanc grapes. In my opinion it is also a perfect aperitif. It is what I was drinking in the evening after my visit to Saint Eustache, sitting at a cafe’ across from the church and the Rue Montorgueil. As I was sipping that flawless, cold Sancerre, I thought about the universal value of art and architecture. Of how sacred places of worship are fundamental pieces of the community everywhere, and beautiful architecture is the mirror of an intense community life.

Yes, indeed universal.

Just like those pigeons that were lazily moving about outside Saint Eustache.

118 Comments

Filed under Sacred Architecture, Paris, Churches, Arts, French Wines, Emile Zola

118 responses to “AN EARLY EVENING IN PARIS

  1. Thanks for following. I enjoyed your post, as I love Paris. Reading about Rue Montorgueil reminded me of my favorite cafe, which is near the other end of that lovely street. A picture of it is in this post.

  2. Thank you for this. Paris is my favorite city in the world.

  3. Chaotiqual

    Reblogged this on chaotiqual.

  4. At first I thought you are going to open more on Zola’s Rougon-Macquart (by the way it’s masculin “Le ventre”, minor detail), then you became quite one with the city itself. I am (was) more a Montmartre tourist but I enjoyed the narrative line in your post.

  5. patriciaddrury

    Incredible descriptive writing that hooked me instantly. I will follow your blog and want to be notified when you post, I am a new fan. You draw pictures with your words and I need them, because now I see…. thanks for the follow, likewise as well!

  6. Wonderful , I was armchair traveling ! I have been to these places and was instantly transported back thru your piece ! Tks for stopping by my site ! 🙂

  7. johnlmalone

    I’ve never been to Paris but I’ve viewed Woody Allen’s homage to that city —‘Midnight In Paris’ — four or five times. and thanks btw for following my blog — though sadly it has yet to gain a comment 😦

  8. museconfuse

    Wish I could I be there now…

  9. wonderfully evocative writing! i raise my glass of sancerre to you..

  10. meg33

    I am reading “The Invisible Bridge” by Julie Orringer – set largely in Paris on the eve of the second world war and images of the city fill my mind. On my last visit to Paris, I had a glass of Sancerre – so cold and flawless as you say – sitting outside at a small cafe. Thank you for the visions of Paris you evoke.

  11. I read a novel about Renoir painting his famous Boating Party (I loaned the book to a friend and can’t remember the title right now), but what fascinated me as much as the story line was how the author brought the French people and places to life. Your post has that same feeling. Really enjoyed this.

  12. “… game of light” – I could see the sunlight dancing – beautifully descriptive and a delight to read. My first trip to Paris was in 1973 – after Les Halles was functional as a market and before it was transformed. I will have a brief stopover in Paris in the spring – I must decide how best to spend it.

  13. stanito

    Truly loved this post Gianfranco, I wished I had read this before my last trip to Paris, it would have been more special 🙂
    Your writing is amazing and engaging.

  14. alatecablebillisnotdead

    Thank you for dropping by my blog. I don’t speak Italian but I love Italy (I’ve been to Rome and Florence), Italian food and culture.

    I failed to visit this place in Paris the last time I was there. Your post has convinced me to check it out soon.

    Looking forward to reading your English posts. (Or I could just Google translate them).

    Thank you!

  15. Yes please more English! 🙂
    Very beautiful and inspiring writing. When I read something like this it makes me want to become better. Also, now, I must see this church!

  16. :)) Actually, my accent is pretty good. Really. Ma io non so molti parole. Ok I’m trying!

  17. Your writing is beautiful and evocative.

    I hope I wasn’t one of those bored looking tourists in the church. Not long ago, I stayed in Paris for a month. I’d been there as a tourist before, but I wanted to spend sometime just being there without any expectations other than enjoying myself. I stayed in the Sentier, just north of Montorgeuil, so I got to know the area fairly well.

    Since so many metro lines converge at Les Halles, I found that I frequently walked down rue Montorgeuil, which was convenient for picking up dinner.

    I’m looking to go back again soon. Thanks for the post.

  18. An unmissable place in Paris. Chances are that you get in and are immediately taken out of this world by the music played on the organ.

  19. If there is ever a World Citizen Passport, Paris will be the first, or second entry necessary to validate. New York could be number one, I guess, just for the chaos. Reminds me of Twain’s comment, “Heaven for atmosphere, Hell for company.” Figure out own connection…I did.
    Later…

  20. So many beautiful buildings “to the glory of…” Both God and mankind. Many thanks for your visit.

  21. ajaytao2010

    Nice reading about you.

    Thanks. for visiting my blog Ajaytao2010@wordpress.com. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may definitely find something of your interest.

  22. Thanks for a lovely read . . .and thanks for visiting my blog. I’ll be back again.

  23. I have never been to Paris, but I’m happy to have read such a lovely description!
    Thanks for stopping by today!
    http://www.mihaelagruia.com

  24. Beautifully written. I was in Paris only last w/e. If only I’d read this last week!

  25. What a beautiful post. I felt like I was there.

  26. Awww, beauty at its most primal. Thank you for sharing your lovely evening

  27. arnoldtd

    Great pictures. Really makes me want to see Paris. I paint expressive animals. Will follow you. I want to read more

  28. Shards Of DuBois

    nice shot!!! great angles!
    did you get any shots of any stained glass??? I would LOVE to see them.. if you did?? and thanks for stoppin by .. 🙂

  29. Such a lovely, visual post. I look forward to reading more. Thank you for your follow as well.

  30. beautiful…you took me right back to that little cafe at the end of Rue Montorgueil. How I loved watching all the bustle go by.

  31. lebeckster

    This is beautiful. You have a wonderful writer’s voice. I was able to imagine the church as you must have seen it and I am grateful.

  32. you have the most delicious way with words… now I am longing for Paris again…..merci!

  33. Jennifer

    It’s as if I were there myself..the image is so vivid, I’m not sure if I saw it through your eyes or my own

  34. xthanks for following my site. fascinated by yours. pendryw

  35. I’ll be there again next week; Paris, the most beautiful and exciting of cities. Also the most enthralling. Each visit allows me new insights into its character, and I never tire of it.

  36. A beautiful evocation of my favorite city in the world. For a little “travel postcard” of Paris, you might sometime want to read my post, “Jewel Hidden in the Heart of Paris,” on my nonfiction blog at http://thomsblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/travel-review-sainte-chappelle-jewel.html. Thanks again for posting this lovely meditation.

  37. I loved this lyrical evocation of my favorite city in the world. For a little “travel postcard” from Paris, sometime you might want to read a post on my nonfiction blog, “Jewel Hidden in the Heart of Paris,” at http://thomsblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/travel-review-sainte-chappelle-jewel.html.

    Thanks again for this lovely piece!

  38. Thank you for following my blog, Gianfranco, and for leading me to yours. It is a real treasure! I lived for fourteen years in rue Rambuteau and obviously know the quartier well. Your post brings back fond memories. Saint Eustache was my favourite Paris church, our children played in the playground of Les Halles just in front of it.

  39. yes, a wonderful piece of writing. An old editor of mine said one of the hall marks, the qualities of good writing about place, was that it makes you want to go to and be in a place. Yours does that.I’d love to see this church now and to see les halles again, (it has been many years) But I suppose another quality is that such writing makes you feel like you are already there. Yours does that also. I look forward to returning for more posts. Thank you for following. -Arran.

  40. Wow, you write so eloquently. Paris is on my travel list for the near future and I can only hope I will be able to “see” it just as you have described.

    Thank you for following my blog. It feels nice knowing people are reading it, however new I may be to the blog world.

  41. I would love to hear the organ in Saint Eustache and experience the echo that remains when the music stops.
    Thanks for following my Posts!

  42. Argus

    You have a great writing style. Just a few words conjure images that change my mood.
    Time to explore …

  43. tucsonmike

    I was last in Paris in 2010. Being there got me to write an ebook novel about it called An Affair of the Heart.

  44. Beautiful! My daughter has been in love with Paris since she was very young. She has not been, I have not been either. Perhaps there is a slim chance that she and I will go together…someday. I will be reading your posts. Thanks for looking in at mine 🙂

  45. Christina George

    Reblogged this on The Treasure Trove and commented:
    Ah, La Ville-Lumière…

  46. CrysiCube

    I cant wait to visit Paris **on my to do list** this was an awesome post

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