Today was a very French Day, in honor of Bastille Day, the beginning of the French Revolution. However, as French as our day was, we encountered Americans everywhere we went. It was actually pretty astounding – a couple of times during the day I would have thought myself back in the States had my eyes been closed. But no matter, I wasn’t going to allow my pesky compatriots ruin a beautiful day in Paris.
We started at the Conciergerie, a place my husband and I had never visited and a fitting site to celebrate Bastille Day. After functioning as the royal palace during the medieval era, it was transformed into a prison – an especially notorious one during the Revolution – that was a short-lived (pun intended) home to Marie Antoinette and Robespierre before they fell victim to the guillotine.
In the photo below, a cell with prisoners who were able to buy their way out of the commoners’ overcrowded cells and into a semi-private suite with mattresses instead of straw on the ground.
After we left the place where people awaited death, we visited the place where people prayed for eternal life – Sainte Chapelle, a chapel built during the reign of Louis IX, or Saint Louis, in the 13th century. Famous for its gothic architecture and stained glass windows that narrate biblical stories (the iconography of which was the subject of my senior thesis in art history), it’s still as breathtakingly beautiful as I remember it.
We then had lunch on the Left Bank and returned to the Luxembourg Gardens so that the girls could play in the amazing playground (with so many Americans it felt like I was in Central Park) and see Le Guignol, a marionette show (overrun with Americans – really, they should offer English-language versions for all the tourists!). In the video below, Chloe and Sophie are having a blast on one of the playground’s attractions, something that we’d never see back home because parents are so paranoid about their kids getting hurt.
We took in some other sights as well – including the Sorbonne (I told the girls they might attend university there someday) and the Pantheon, we found ourselves at the place Contrescarpe, near rue Mouffetard, which brought back lots of memories. It was in a restaurant on that square, La Truffiere, that my husband almost proposed to me but refrained when two Japanese businessmen sat down right next to us. The restaurant is still there.
We ended our meanderings on a particularly high note – and a very French one at that – an old-fashioned accordion concert (called a “bal musette”) to celebrate Bastille Day.
For Chloe, the highpoint of the day was the bag of candy pictured below – Gummy Smurfs, or “Schtroumpfs,” as they’re called here. It really doesn’t take much to make kids happy.
Anyway, have to run. In a short while, we’ll be watching the Bastille Day fireworks from our balcony. How I love this vacation!