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…

under the sea to paris

Eurostar to Paris

We went to Paris!! It had been a very long time, for me at least; France 98 I think was the last time, except when passing through en route to somewhere more southerly. We took the Eurostar from St.Pancras; my four-year-old son had been looking forward to this for a long time, the TGV Eurostar that goes under the sea all the way to Paris. He was so excited he had the hiccups. “This is the first time I’ve been to Paris with the hiccups!” he said. When we sat down however his window seat didn’t actually have a window; thankfully the kind French lady in the seat behind offered to swap seats, so he got his wish. We really had to go back to France this year; it’s ten years since my wife and I first Rue Daubentonmet in Aix, and we have been away too long.I sketched the above drawing in my Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ sketchbook, in dark blue micron and watercolour. I have taken the Eurostar many times to Brussels, but only once before to Paris. It’s quicker now, and St.Pancras is a beautiful station, but I do miss the old Waterloo departure, seeing the Thames as you rumble out of London.

We got to Paris, and packed onto the RER and the Metro to our apartment down in the 5th arrondissement. We rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter rather than stay at a hotel, and I must say it was an excellent decision, though we were only there two nights. This part of Paris is completely unknown to me, and I just loved it straight away; it’s nice south of the river! There was a bakery on the corner of the street, opposite the Metro, and a small supermarket around the corner, which was like heaven – so many familiar everyday things from ten years ago: my favourite French cereals, all the different Oranginas, all the different cheeses. It’s the miscellaneous details I like. The area had lots of shops, and I particularly love French bookshops (except that I can never work out the prices of things due to their card-shop-esque coding system). I picked up for my son a story book about the Eiffel Tower running away to see the world.

I had to draw the view from the apartment at night, and got a large bottle of Leffe Ruby (which was a lot fruitier than I expected it to be, and bubblier – it fizzed all over the place, so I only had less than one glass) and some cheese. It’s nice to be in Paris. Must go back more regularly!

More Paris sketches to come…

“i don’t want chocolates, i want paris”

"i don't want a box of chocolates, i want paris!"

No, I’m not in France. I drew this from a photo, the Cathedral of Sacre-Coeur in Paris’s Montmartre, for the Pence Gallery’s Valentine’s Day thing. Imagine it in a black frame with a red matte, and there you have it. Drawn with that favourite brown-black Uniball signo dx um-151 pen (yes you do have to say the whole name of the pen, it’s like announcing royalty) on classic cream Canson paper. It’s been a long time since I was last in Paris. I think it was when I changed a train there, a much delayed Eurostar, more than ten years ago.

Happy Valentine’s Day!