un p’tit peu plus de Paris

Paris Seine panorama sm

Here’s the final batch of Paris sketches from last July’s visit. We really covered a lot of ground, but there’s a lot left to explore in future years. The thing about travel, I want to go everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere, I don’t really fancy places like Swindon, or Fallujah, or Minsk. I’m sure they have their charms, but they are a bit further down the wish list. I feel like you could explore Paris forever with a sketchbook. The above panorama was another morning walk across the Seine, pre-breakfast, I had a bit of time. I did most of the linework there and then, but had to add in that truck and a lot of the windows later, as well as colour it in. My tummy was rumbling, you know. This is the Pont au Change, looking across to the Île de la Cité and the impressive Palais de Justice and Conciergerie. This is the heart of historic Paris right here. Right next to where I sketched was a stone marker that said on the 19th August 1944, Jem Harrix, ‘Gardien de la Paix’, died for the liberation of Paris. Harrix was a fighter in the Resistance, although I couldn’t find out much more than that. I walked off to get the usual selection of morning pastries, and got ready for our day of sightseeing.

There was one day where we visited the Musée D’Orsay. My wife had been telling me about the Musée D’Orsay for years, she loved that place when she first visited it back in the late 90s. It really is one of the most impressive art museums in the world. Built into the building of a train station, which features giant clock faces that you can look out of to heart-stopping views across Paris. I loved seeing all the paintings by your Renoirs and your Monets, and enjoyed all the sculptures by your Rodins and your Degas, but it was the architecture of the space itself that inspired me the most. I would love to go back; you can never spend too much time in a museum though, because museum fatigue is a real thing.

Musee DOrsay sketches 1 sm

While taking a sitting down break, I sketched some of the sculptures quickly. It looked like a couple of them were almost doing a ‘Brucie’, that is, the Bruce Forsyth pose. More on the Brucie in another post perhaps, but it’s become one of those traditions now that when I go somewhere, I get a picture of me doing a ‘Brucie’. I got quite a few Brucies on this trip. I even got a Brucie at the Louvre in front of one of those massive paintings by David, though it was too crowded for a Brucie in front of the Mona Lisa. I got a Brucie at the Eiffel Tower, a Brucie at the Mont St Michel, a Brucie by the Seine, a Brucie in front of Van Gogh. You can only do one at each place, you don’t get nothing for a pair, not in this game. Anyway, I thought Rodin’s ‘Penseur’ had a touch of the Forsyth about him. This sculpture is from 1881! That’s a year older than Tottenham Hotspur. Rodin probably won more trophies too, yeah yeah.

Musee DOrsay Rodin sm

After leaving the museum we went down to the seine and grabbed some lunch by the river, some Breton food. We didn’t stay too long in our seat though, as were were harassed by loads of wasps. Big horrible wasps too that wouldn’t take buzz-off for an answer, and made me spill my drink. I was going to ask to see the wasps’ manager and complain about their behaviour, but it turns out wasps don’t care about your stupid lunchtime and just want to get all over everything you are trying to eat and threaten you with their stingers. They know you’ll give up, and they were right. So we gave up, and walked through the city towards the Eiffel Tower. I’m not sure why we didn’t get the bus, but we thought the walk would do us good. it was a nice walk, but our feet didn’t half need a rest by the time we reached the Champ de Mars. We took a good long rest there and enjoyed the view and the pleasant wasp-free weather, and sketched the scene below. We walked closer to the Tower, recreated a photo we took of our son ten years before, and crossed the Seine to walk up the Trocadero (where I managed to sneak in a quick Brucie). We didn’t go up the Tower this time. I’ve been to the top before. What is interesting is that nowadays it is not possible to just walk beneath the Eiffel Tower, you are rerouted around it, which is disappointing. I do love the Eiffel Tower though, as far as iconic buildings go, this is up there in the top three.

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We visited the Louvre too, but not on the same day as the Musee d’Orsay. My wife was surprised when I told her that I’d never been to the Louvre, in fact I’d never really been to any of the big Museums in Paris. In fact, none of the small ones either. I’ve not been to Paris that many times, and I usually wander about enjoying the streets. The Louvre was absolutely massive though. It’s big from the outside, but inside it feels even more gigantic. We did see the Mona Lisa of course, in that jam-packed little space (no Brucie; no room). I get it, it’s famous, but it’s not all that. You just have to say that you saw it and be done with it. It didn’t exactly have any impact on me such as when I saw Guernica in Madrid. Still, you got to see the famous thing, and anything by Leonardo da Vinci is worth taking a look at.

paris montmartre sm

After the Louvre, we rested those tired feet by going up to Montmartre and walking around that hilly neighbourhood, getting out at Abbesses Metro station and climbing a ridiculous spiral staircase that went on forever, I thought we’d end up on the Moon or somewhere. Despite being packed with people, I really like Montmartre and had a nice afternoon there in 2019 (see: https://petescully.com/2020/02/02/une-journee-breve-a-paris/). We took the Funicular up to Sacre Coeur, enjoyed the views, despaired at the stupid amount of those little padlocks on all the fences. Seriously everyone, stop doing that. Padlock peddlers walk around selling those little “love-locks” at silly prices. But honestly, are you going to come back in years to come with your spouse and look for your little padlock with your initials on them on that fence with thousands of others and go, yay, we were here before, wow. No, don’t be silly. There was that one bridge over the Seine, the Pont des Arts, where so many of these things had been placed by silly lovers, throwing their keys into the river like idiots, that the city actually tried to stop it, because there were so many that the bridge started suffer damage under the weight. So people, please give up the love-lock thing. Love is all you need, not a bloody padlock on a bridge or fence in some city miles away. Anyway. We went inside Sacre Coeur, I had never been in there before, and it’s really nice. From inside, we did notice that the building is distinctly, um, booby-shaped. We wlaked about the streets and squares, found a very cool shop called ‘Merde’ run by an artist selling his artwork along with lots of things that say ‘Merde’ on it; we got some stickers and stuff. I did a very quick outline sketch of the view of Le Consulat restaurant, but we were ready to go home, so I took a picture and did most of it later on. The Metro ride home was long and sleepy. We were flying back to America the next day, which was an eventful journey in itself. We loved our time in Paris, and I can’t wait to come back again.

Evening Strolls in Paris

shakespeare and co paris sm I like my early morning wandering and sketching when we have family trips away, out by myself when the others are still sleeping. But I also enjoy the evening stroll as well, a good way to work off a long day’s walking and sightseeing. I’m just so keen to explore and to look, and of course to sketch. So much life was within walking distance of our apartment. I ambled over to Shakespeare and Company, the famous English bookstore by the Seine that everyone has heard of. We came by earlier, but didn’t go in because the line to enter was ridiculous. I’ve seen long lines to get into bookstores before; the Livraria Lello in Porto, for example, where you actually had to buy a ticket to go in, it’s that famous; bookstores everywhere on the night the last Harry Potter book came out; and of course, Faculty Books on the Middlesex University campus, where I used to work twenty years ago, there was always a line on the first day of term so people could get their massively overpriced Pearsons textbooks for their Econometrics class. the line for Shakespeare and Company, while moving, was too long for us to consider. It’s not like Shakespeare himself was in there signing copies of Much Ado About Nothing. No, it’s just a really famous bookshop. Loads of famous writers have been involved with this place. Loads of them. Loads. It’s not the same Shakespeare and Company that Hemingway and Joyce are associated with, but it’s named after it, and it’s really famous in its own right. I went back in the evening, knowing it would still be open, which it was, but there was still a long line outside. Well, I thought, perfect time for a sketch. I drew the panorama pretty quickly, and drew people even more quickly. The great thing about sketching people in line is that they will be there for a while, but because they don’t want to lose their spot you never get them coming up to you to see why you are sketching. Not that anyone would, this is Paris, it’s full of artists. I never got to go inside the store, as it closed up while I was finishing up the drawing, but I’ve been in before. I think it was in about 1999, one evening down by the river, came across this shop, there was no line outside in those days. It was interesting, in an old bookshop kind of way. I’m glad I got my sketch this time. I am a sucker for old bookshops, and for new bookshops too. I like the smell of certain French bookshops, very clean and tidy, with so many of those particular books with the white spines, and always with a huge BD (bande dessinee) section.

Paris St Severin sm

We were located very close to the church of Saint Séverin, and having passed by earlier in the day I earmarked that one for a sketch on my evening walk. I drew the rear (the apse) from the busy intersection where Rue Saint-Jacques joins up with the Rue du Petit Pont. The setting sky was cinematic. Restaurants buzzed with life. Nearby at a cafe a lady was belting out Edith Piaf tunes. One of those motorcycle delivery drivers nearly knocked someone over shortcutting up the pavement. It was like being in a movie, and just like being at a movie, I really needed the toilet so I went back to the apartment.

I loved our apartment for hanging out in. My son and I had our ukuleles on this trip, so I would sit by the window strumming to all the noise of the traffic. It was just like being in a Netflix show. Just like when I’m watching a Netflix show, eventually I left the room and did something else. I walked a bit further afield on this night, crossing the Seine twice and heading for the wonderful Hotel de Ville. I’m drawing the Hotel de Ville alright, I said to myself. I love the Hotel de Ville. I’ve always been impressed with it, but I especially love how the summer evening light hits it and appears to turn it different colours as the sun sets. Or at least I did before I tried to sketch it. Conscious of time, I decided to zoom my poor ageing eyes in to some details on part of the roof (it’s a really big building), and draw backwards as it were. I always add the colour last, this time I was like no, I am laying down this golden colour now. A lot of sketchers work this way and they love it, they say it’s the best and you should do it, but here’s the thing – no it’s not. At least not for me. I suppose the technique just doesn’t fit how I draw, or maybe my paints are often a bit dry so don’t always produce the most vibrant colours (I usually prefer the more toned down colours), or maybe I just tried to get the colour I saw and then it bloody changed into something else. The sunlight was slowly slowly oh wait now quickly fading, so I had to draw quickly. I still like it though, it’s a story in itself. It was nice out, people passed by and said “très jolie!” and “bellissimo!” and “das ist so cool!” and “hmm yeah that’s quite nice”.

Paris Hotel de Ville

The Hotel de Ville holds one of my favourite memories of Paris though. In 1998, on the first night of my five-week twelve-country train-trip, after a day walking about Paris I went to the Place de l’Hotel de Ville to watch the World Cup Semi-Final on a big screen in a penned-off area with thousands of dancing Brazilians and chanting Dutch. Ronaldo’s Brazil up against Bergkamp’s Netherlands, being beamed up from the Velodrome in Marseille. I camped in with the Brazilians, of course they would be the most fun to spend this warm evening with. And the the game kicked off, and they were all very quiet, a bit nervous, none of the singing and samba I’d expected. I looked across to the Dutch fans, as you would expect it was a sea of orange, and they would not stop singing. They were having a great old time. The game was a bit tense, not a lot happening, so at half time I decided to switch sides and join the Dutch. The grass is always more orange I guess; a minute into the second half, Ronaldo scored for Brazil. Yet the Dutch kept on singing and having a great time, so I stuck with them. It was a long old second half too. It looked like a Brazil win; ok so, I had a night train to catch anyway from Gare de L’Est, heading to Strasbourg, I didn’t want to miss it. And then, shortly before full-time, Kluivert equalized for the Netherlands. The Place de l’Hotel de Ville erupted in a volcano or orange facepaint. We were going to extra time; I still had time to catch my train, yeah? The Dutch camp was the place to be, momentum was with them, and maybe this would not be Ronaldo’s World Cup after all? Looking anxiously at my watch, it went to penalties. For the Netherlands, it was not to be, as the Brazilian goalie Taffarel pulled off a couple of great saves. As soon as Brazil won, I immediately switched sides again and went back to the dancing samba party, a carnival of yellow wigs and plastic whistles. Everyone was hugging and dancing and cheering (well, not the Dutch I guess) but I didn’t have long to party, I dashed to the nearest Metro and just about made it to that last train to Alsace. This was 1998, Brazil were in the Final, this really was Ronaldo’s World Cup. (Narrator’s voice: it wasn’t). The next day I watched France beat Croatia, at my friend Roland’s house in Strasbourg, and Zidane and Company went on to beat Brazil 3-0 at the Stade de France.

Anyway with those memories in mind, I walked back to the apartment. A couple of nights before on the TV we had watched England women beat Sweden 4-0 in the semi-final of the Euros (they went on to win it of course!) and the night after, France were beaten by Germany. On this evening though we were just packing for our flight back to the US the next morning. this isn’t all my Paris sketching though, there’s one more post to come…

At the Corner of St. Germain, Paris

Paris Le Corner St Germain cafe

We took the train from Normandy to Paris, where we would spend a few days of Parisian touristing, museums, walking, people watching, and dodging people zipping along the road in the wrong direction on those hoverboard platform things. I like Paris, I really like Paris; I don’t know if I love Paris, but I really enjoy spending time there and it’s a place I love to wander about in. Actually I think I do love Paris. I don’t know; these days if say you don’t love a place it means you hate it, and wow no, I definitely don’t. Give me a chance to spend time in Paris, I’m there man, especially with my sketchbooks. So yeah, I love Paris. It’s just I still feel I don’t know it well enough. I’ve been quite a few times now, but most of my time in France has usually been in other places. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner; Paris is our sister city. It’s pretty great though. We stayed in an apartment just off the Boulevard St.Germain in the Quartier Latin, on the corner of a pedestrianized street and next to a pretty nice brasserie called Le Corner. That is where I would stop off of an evening and sit outside with a nice big cold beer, with the sketchbook, looking out at the Parisians, and if my wife or son were up in the apartment they could just call down out of the window. The apartment was nice, and more often than not we’d get food out and bring it back there, or cook up what we got from the supermarché. As always I would get up early to wander and sketch, and bring back pastries (I think my wife was getting a bit sick of all the pastries). I drew Le Corner, stood outside on the busy street after a day of exploring with the family, while they rested upstairs. That’s the Paris I love, busy not not too busy, vibrant and close by to stuff, and with a little table and a cold beer (or a wine, or an Orangina) always very close by. The sketch below was done on the first evening here, just sat down and drawing the world going by.

Paris Blvd St Germain people sm

We last visited Paris altogether back in 2012, when my son was only four, and we also stayed in the Latin Quarter, though a bit further south, near Rue Mouffetard. We loved that short trip. I was last in Paris in 2019 when I flew in for the day before heading to Brussels, and wandered about Montmartre; we all went to Disneyland Paris at the end of that trip, but not into the big city itself. I went a couple of times in the 90s on short trips, plus of course I went at the start and end of my 1998 European rail journey, and saw some of the World Cup there. I guess I have been quite a few times now, but perhaps because there is always more, I’m always left feeling like I barely saw it. Well, on this trip we checked off quite a few boxes and really saw a lot of the city, so it was a good trip. I’m glad we had this spot to come back to and relax though. While it was a family touristy trip, I still did a lot of sketching, in those moments when we needed a rest.

Paris people rue boutebrie

A Pair of Days at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris Castle sm
And so after so many places in Belgium and Holland we returned to France, and to our first visit to Disneyland Paris. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel for that walk-right-into-the-park experience, and we were not disappointed. My wife is a huge Disney parks fan but has only been to the original (like a million times) so this was a novel experience. I have to say I really liked it, it wasn’t as crowded, the sidewalks seemed to be wider, the two arcades behind Main Street were nice and accessible and I really liked the Castle. I had to sketch it. Everything was a bit different from California, Space Mountain for example (which is still Hyperspace Mountain) repeated Star Wars phrases in French (naturally) and had an outside starting point, while Thunder Mountain Railroad was definitely longer and faster, and was located on an island that the ride went under a tunnel to get to. I also really liked Pirates of the Caribbean (“les morts ne raccontent pas d’histoires!”), probably more than the Californian one. The maze of caves near the pirate ship too was so much fun to run around. And of course, serving champagne on Main Street during fireworks (though I didn’t indulge). So yes, we liked it.
Belgium Thalys to Paris sm
Our Thalys train from Brussels to Marne-La-Vallee was, amazingly, on time. I was sketching with the brush pen here, my son wearing his new Charleroi shirt. We spent some of our time on the train playing MarioKart on the Switch (I lost). When we got into Disneyland we had dinner at ‘King Ludwig’s Castle’, a lavishly decorated Bavarian themed restaurant, and we had hearty Bavarian fare (on our first night in France).
Disneyland Paris Fire Hydrant sm
On the other side of the main park, in the place where California Adventure would be, is a second park called Parc Walt Disney Studios. I liked it there, although there was not as much going on, except the incredible Ratatouille ride. That one we enjoyed. In that whole area there were a number of mobile food carts, one from each culinary area of France (crepes from Bretagne, tarte flambee from Alsace, cider from Normandy etc), and then around the corner there were more, but from different European countries (we had some nice sangria and tapas from Spain, while my son went back to enjoying his favourite Belgian waffles).
Disneyland Paris Ping Pong sm
The hotel was incredible. I enjoyed spending time in the pool, and they even gave my son a ball so he could have a kickaround on the grass (that made his trip). Above, I sketched my family playing ping-pong. Below, I tried one more fancy drink this time in the music-themed Cafe Fantasia. It was called the African Dream, made with rum, papaya, St Germain liqueur, lychee puree and bissap, I don’t know, I’ve heard of rum. It was tasty (and expensive), I got it because it looked like a vacation.

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Disneyland Paris Thunder Mountain sm
Above: Thunder Mountain Railroad, on an island in the middle of a lake. I drew this while tired legs were resting, colouring in later.
Eurostar Paris to London sm<
And finally, one more train journey, this time the Eurostar from Marne La Vallee to London, going back to the UK to see the family, go to a Spurs game at the new stadium, and hopefully unwind after a very busy trip.

pottering about paris

Paris Moulin Rouge
I really like Paris, but it has always felt like the city I never really got to know very well, and is better friends with other people. It’s not really very far from London, its history has long been bound up with every other country around it in some way – if Paris sneezes, Europe catches [insert whichever virus is trending that year], and yet from Britain it felt a world away; funny how the British see near neighbours. “Paris m’est inconnue“, a line I remember from Cyrano. My time spent in France was mostly down in the far south, which is why my French accent is so different (see also my time in Belgium, more on that in the next posts) (actually the real reason is that I’m just not that good at French) (I do have a degree in French though). But in all the times I have been to Paris, I realized that I’d only ever been there by myself once, and that was over 20 years ago, for the day, on my way elsewhere. I had been as a 13 year old kid on a day-trip with school, when I first entered Notre Dame and felt the cold ancient stone, and our bus went past the Moulin Rouge. I went when I was about 20 with a girl, that didn’t really work out, and all I really remember now is when I decided to go for a late night wander by myself and walked all over the city, exploring Paris after dark fearlessly and completely without any sort of map. I went another time (with another girl) and I remember going to Pere Lachaise and up Montmartre but little else, it was a long time ago. My solo visit was during the World Cup 1998, as the opening part of my summer-long European rail journey, and I spent the evening watching Brazil beat Holland on a big screen in front of the Hotel de Ville. I never went back, save for changing trains to catch the Eurostar, until my family and I went in 2012 when my son was quite young, and that was my favourite Paris visit, hitting many of the sights, watching Les Guignols in the Jardins de Luxembourg, and taking my son on all the metro lines because he liked being on the train. I really like Paris but have rarely been on a solo trip. And this day, well I was by myself, but it was another day trip. However I was determined to just wander about one area only, the steep hill of Montmartre. I landed at CDG, took an RER to Paris Nord, and set out on foot. And when I arrived on rue Pigalle, on the leafy traffic islands flanked by sexy DVD shops and nightclubs, I saw the one thing that reminded me I am back in France – a man pissing openly in the street, and nobody caring. Some things don’t change. That was a fairly common sight when I lived in Aix, but back then I was not Californian, and didn’t think anything of it. But hey when you gotta go you gotta go. Later that same day I went to Brussels, whose most famous statue is a boy very happily having a public wee.

So anyway, as you can see above, I stopped on Pigalle, and drew the famous Moulin Rouge. It’s so famous that Nicole Kidman made a film about it. It’s so famous that Rod Hull made a TV show about it, although he watered it down a bit. As I mentioned my French isn’t as great as it should be so I think Moulin Rouge means ‘Mussels in Lipstick’ but I didn’t go in to find out, so instead I just drew the big red windmill that is for some reason on the top. I know that the famous ‘can-can’ dance has something to do with this place, presumably it’s about canned mussels (which btw are fine but not as nice as fresh mussels). The can-can was very popular when I was a kid in around 1980-81, I think it had been released in the charts to compete with Shakin’ Stevens, and I remember at parties in our street people attempting to dance a can-can and kick their legs up high. So anyway I drew the windmill because I figured, I am going to be spending a good amount of time in the Netherlands on this trip, this will be the first windmill of many. Spoiler alert, this was the only one I drew. Incidentally, I decided to put a Gnome – a ‘Nain de Jardin’ – on my sketchbook. We all remember that film Amelie, in which there was a gnome that disappeared and traveled the world sending postcards back as you do. That film was set around here, so there’s a photo of me trying to do as the gnomes do (“when in Gnome…”), and failing because I couldn’t get the focus right on the background. This is filed under the chapter “Why I Am An Urban Sketcher (And Not An Instagram Photographer)”. All that said, I will intersperse these stories with the odd photo, such as this one and also the one of the little pixelated wall-sprite, to flesh out the experience. My little gnome, he is in French colours (or maybe Dutch flag colours), and has the sign of the Euro on his belt.
Paris Montmarte Cemetery
I love the big city. The big city is my natural environment. Put me in a big city and I’m like that video that always gets shared of a dog running out of a car into a lake and splashing around. Not that I splashed around in that bloke’s wee, but I just feel energized being back in the urban environment again. Davis, you ain’t Paris. But even I need some quiet time, so I went to Montmartre Cemetery and got all the quiet time I could want. I had never been there before, and it is quite a place, small and yet massive, with secluded corners and grand boulevards. Part of it runs underneath a bridge. I found a bench and sketched while the sound of trees and wind and crows gently muffled out the distant traffic. Peace and calm. Speaking of crows, seeing crows on gravestones was, I thought, the most gothic thing ever. Until I saw a dead crow on a gravestone. I like cemeteries, I am always careful not to walk across any graves and I’m solemn around the dead. We’re all going where they have gone, some way or other. Maybe not this cemetery though, you might have to be quite famous and French to end up here. I looked at the map showing where all the famous corpses were, most of whom I did not know. Except Adolphe Sax, Belgian inventor of the Saxophone. Francois Truffaut is buried here too, but I never watched his films, despite my degree in French, I kinda turned my nose up haughtily at Truffaut, as one of those film-makers that the university wannabes all said they loved at the pub when comparing coolness. “Oh you think that thing’s cool? Then I don’t,” was how I went about things. Even choosing my location for a year abroad, everyone went to France, so I went to Belgium, to be different. So anyway, I didn’t find Truffaut’s grave, and one day I might watch his films. Whoah…Edgar Degas was buried there. I found his grave. Foucault, he’s there too, though admittedly I know Foucault about him. And Emile Zola! I was impressed there. And Stendhal, I looked for his grave too. And the last name I had heard of was Nijinski, though I thought that was a racehorse.

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After a couple of hours spent among the dead, it was time for lunch. I climbed uphill into the windy streets of Montmartre, and found a nice little restaurant called Au Claire De La Lune, on Rue Poulbot. I sat outside, the most Parisian of settings, with a surprising lack of foreign tourists, everyone around me was French. I had sole with bearnaise sauce, and a Kronenbourg 1664. This was a good day.
Paris Rue Poulbot

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And finally I had to wander the streets around Sacre Coeur. I’m a big fan of Sacre Coeur, although I must admit, I have never been inside. I never gave myself time. I had time to sketch though, and I was pretty pleased with what I drew. The sky had character, and the view up to those white domes is one of the most iconic in the world. The view across Paris is jaw-dropping, but you can see the fire-damaged Notre Dame, missing the famous central spire. I didn’t go down to see what has happened to those ancient stones in that awful fire, but I gave her a nod of respect from afar.


Paris Sacre Coeur

And that was all the time I had. There was a train to catch, the high-speed Thalys, taking me to Brussels, a city I had a lot more history in, a springboard for a few days jaunting about Belgium, that country of rain, chocolate, frites, rain, moules, beer, and rain.

What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t going to rain, but it was going to get hot –  very, very hot.

 

Notre Dame, Resurgam

Notre Dame de Paris
I can’t quite believe it. When I saw the images yesterday that Notre Dame de Paris was on fire, it was an unreal jolt, as it was with many many other people. I watched the French news channel online, watched as the smoke filled the clear sky, as the flames engulfed the roof and threatened the towers, as the tall central spire burned orange and slowly tumbled, hoped desperately that the Parisian pompiers would stop the fire from completely destroying her. For me, Notre Dame is Paris, it is France, the heart of the country where so much national history has taken place; it was simultaneously a picturesque stone flower on an island in a river and an unbreakable gothic powerhouse. My wife was heartbroken to see the news; it was the very first building she ever visited in Europe. It just didn’t seem real that it could be destroyed like this, having survived so much. Instantly urban sketchers from around the world were sharing their sketches of Notre Dame. I went to sleep early last night, and awoke this morning to find that the building ultimately survived – severely damaged, with a distinct lack of roof, but the structure is for the most part intact, and the large rose windows mostly undamaged. She will be rebuilt, it will take a long time, but she’ll be back. I drew the sketch above while standing on the banks of the Seine one golden May evening in 2012, after a long day of walking and sightseeing. My young son had just been playing in the sandpits next to the cathedral, before my wife took him home on the Metro for some pre-dinner sleep, while I sketched. I love sketching cathedrals. I have a number of them framed  on the wall of my staircase at home. Notre Dame is one of the greatest cathedrals I’ve ever been to. I first went there when I was only 13, on a day trip to Paris during a school trip to northern France. I’ll never forget that day trip; we got off the coach near Notre Dame, and couldn’t believe it when we saw a policeman carrying an actual gun! Not something you saw in Britain. Notre Dame was so exciting for me. My big sister had been about a year before, and brought me back a metal Notre Dame keyring, which I treasured. I got her a keyring when I was there. Going inside I remember how dark it seemed compared to the bright sunlight outside. In those days, Notre Dame itself was much darker on the outside too, stone grey and stained from years of smoke and pollution. That was normal to me. The London I grew up in during the 1980s was full of blackened dirty buildings – when Westminster Abbey was finally polished to a gleaming white I didn’t recognize it. Similarly, when I came back to Notre Dame years later, it was still in the process of a deep cleanse, and I was astonished at its brightness. The things I remember the most from that first trip back in 1989 though were the immense rose windows, pouring in colourful light, so big and round that I could not believe that they were over 700 years old, and the coldness of the stone, ancient stone that I just knew could feel everything around it, that if it could speak would tell us tales of its history. I put my ears to the stone to see if I could hear it. I could hear it calling my name, “Scully! Oi, Scully!” but it turned out to be my mate Hooker telling me to stop hugging the cathedral and hurry back outside, everyone’s off to the Eiffel Tower.

I don’t remember if I ever went back inside, though I always made a point to at least go and see the cathedral every other time I went to Paris, which wasn’t actually many times. I went in 96 with this one girl for a couple of days, that wasn’t actually much fun, then again in 98 during the World Cup, but didn’t stay overnight, then again a year later (or maybe it was it a year before) with someone else I was going out with, and then not again for many years until our family trip in 2012 (those photos above are from then). I’m well overdue a visit to Paris. This year, definitely.

I was so shocked to see Notre Dame burn, but if I know one thing about cathedrals, I know they are built to last. She’ll be back. It may be a long time before I can finally go inside again, but when I do, I’ll bet the old stones have another story to tell me.

notre dame, the beautiful

Notre Dame de Paris
Oooh, you don’t get scenes like this in Davis.

This is the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, on the banks of the Seine in Paris. As if this magnificent building needed an introduction! At the end of a warm day full of sightseeing and playgrounds and puppets, we went to see Notre Dame in the late afternoon sunshine. Ever since I was a kid it was one of my favourite buildings; I visited there when I was about 12 or 13 with school and loved all the ancient cold stone and gargoyles and colourful rose windows. The grey pollution has all been scrubbed off now, and it glows in the golden early evening light. After some time playing in the sandpit next to the cathedral, my son went home for a pre-dinner nap with my wife while I stayed on to draw by the Seine. I stood next to those guys who draw all the portraits for the tourists (they seem to speak so many languages fluently) and drew this remarkable view. I think I have wanted to draw this for so many years now, so I savoured every moment.

les petites marionettes

Marionettes Luxembourg
We went to see the puppet show at the Luxembourg Gardens. I think I was expecting a kind of seaside type Punch and Judy thing in one of those little striped tents, but they had an acual theatre, the Theatre du Luxembourg, complete with cast photos of the famous marionettes lining the walls. I was pretty excited; I love puppets. It’s my secret ambition to be a puppeteer. As we entered, the lady at the ticket office informed us that the first four rows are reserved for the children; grown-ups must sit further back. We were not sure if our son, shy as he is, would want to sit among all the other kids all speaking French, but he loved the idea, bounding away without a thought, chatting in English with the odd French word to any kid sat around him (“I went to the Eiffel Tower! It was grande!”). All the kids were excited about the show, which was to be the Three Little Pigs, “Les Trois Petits Cochons”.

The host puppet, guignol, introduced the show, and all the kids joined in the singing. It was very entertaining – while it’s not exactly Cirque du Soleil, it is loveable puppetry of the sort I can’t get enough of. More entertaining was my son, who was very animated in his reactions to the story (which depsite being in French he could understand well enough). When the Big Bad Wolf (“le Vilain Loup”) failed to blow down the brick house he leapt to his feet shouting and pointing, “ha-ha!” At one point he recognized a French phrase and jumped up calling out to me, “Daddy! Daddy! They said ‘ça va bien’!” During the break, all the kids had their snack with parents and juice-boxes at the ready, before resuming the second half. It was all great entertainment, and afterwards we went and got an ice cream.

après-midi in the luxembourg gardens

Palais de Luxembourg, Paris
After a morning of Parisian sightseeing (principally the Eiffel Tower), we had lunch at Quick* and visited the Luxembourg Gardens. I had never been there before, but heard they were pretty, and they are. They are also a great place for kids – in addition to the puppet theatre (which I’ll write about in the next post), there was a large pond on which little wooden boats could be sailed, plus an absolutely enormous kids playground. You had to pay to go in there, but really it is massive, so while my wife took my son there to play among the Parisian children, I took twenty-five minutes to go and sketch the impressive Palais de Luxembourg. The Sun was shining so I found a nice shaded spot and sketched away, finishing the colour later. I really like Paris, it’s a sketching paradise. I really don’t know how you could live there and not sketch everything every day.

*Quick…my favourite French (well, it’s Belgian actually) fast food place. So nice to taste their ‘Long Chicken’ again after all these years.
Sketching in the Jardins Luxembourg

en bas et en haut

Water fountain at Champ de MarsTour Eiffel

So, there are no fire hydrants in Paris. None that I could find anyway. What I did find were nice drinking fountains, such as this one nearby to the Eiffel Tower, at Champs de Mars. Oh, and look, there is La Tour Eiffel herself. I just had to grab a quick sketch, while my son played (who was so excited about seeing the Tower that he had to pretend to be a race-car for a little while and do a few laps of the park). Sketched in the Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ sketchbook. When we got to the Tower (and we didn’t go up it), it was very foggy in that Parisian way, but as we passed beneath it the fog suddenyl burned away and the sun shone, in that very Parisian way. It was lovely weather we had.

More Paris sketches to come…