After spending the better part of the day at Versailles, I hopped back on the RER train back to central Paris to see Sainte-Chapelle. Somehow, I completely missed this on my last visit—I walked right past it! It’s nestled in the Palais de Justice and you can’t see it from street level, so that’s my excuse.
There isn’t really a way to describe how gorgeous this was. It was literally breathtaking. The lower chapel is underwhelming, so my expectations were set low. I walked up a narrow winding staircase to reach the upper chapel and when I reached the top, I caught my breath and whispered, “Wow.”
Sainte-Chapelle is small relative to other, grander gothic churches, yet it’s so incredibly beautiful that I stood in the chapel for forty minutes, soaking it in. I only wished I had a ladder, so I could see more of the scenes up close and try to figure out what they depicted!
I loved the pamphlet’s description of how the windows “create a feeling of entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem, bathed in light and colour.” I haven’t seen heaven yet, but I think this might not be far from the truth. (Except that in heaven, there won’t be scaffolding! The windows on the left side are undergoing restoration, so that was a bit of an eyesore amid the beauty.)
In the evening, I met A at Hotel de Ville for a free exhibit of Robert Doisneau’s photographic documentation of Les Halles, a marketplace that was demolished in the 1970s.
While I was waiting, a camcorder dad gave his toddler some bread, thinking, It’ll be so great to have footage of our adorable daughter feeding the pigeons!
First of all, blegh, pigeons are gross. Second of all, bleeeggghhh. To top it off, her older brother started chasing and kicking the pigeons around. And it’s all caught on tape. Good one.
I hadn’t heard of Robert Doisneau, and I didn’t know much about Les Halles before seeing this exhibit. Truth be told, I don’t understand any French so the text descriptions didn’t help me much, either. But the photos were beautiful, active, impressive, joyous, pensive. I can tell Doisneau had a great sense of humor. And he loved Les Halles—he took his first picture there in 1933, and went back year after year after year all the way through the 70s, often photographing the same street corners with different people at different times.
It was a very nostalgic exhibit, well-placed for the plans to restore the Les Halles area. But it was also really touching and moving, which is a testament to Doisneau’s persistence and photographic skill. He made friends with people in the market, and you can tell because they’re so comfortable under his lens. By the time you reach the end of the exhibit, you’ve spent time behind that lens too, witnessing the work and the laughter of years. And you feel embraced by this community, and experience the collective grief when it was demolished.
*This exhibit is free, and runs through the end of the month. A tells me the lines are usually incredibly long—you might not find it to be worth an hours-long wait. But I love black and white photography, and it was both a very manageable and very local experience, outside of the typical Louvre / Orsay / Rodin / etc. museums that you can get lost in all day.
We went back to A’s place for dinner. I can’t get over how nice A’s place is. It’s partly the space itself, a recently renovated studio in the heart of Paris! But also A’s homey touch and fully outfitted kitchen make for a very cozy experience and a real-world, adults-live-here environment, which is so refreshing after living in a dorm for seven months. The wonders of a home-cooked meal! Our pasta dinner could practically have been served at a restaurant.
But the best part was dessert. A makes the most amazing cookies, ever. She used to bake often in college, and she once filled the largest Tupperware you’ve ever seen to the brim with chocolate chip cookies for me. I shared some with my suitemates, but to be honest I ate most of them myself, and they were gone in a heartbeat.
I’m no francophile, but I have respect for French food. The ingredients are better, and the food is prepared better. So take A’s baking skills and mix in some French butter and chocolate to make them, and you end up with a very tasty cookie and a very happy me.
My last morning in Paris. These are the streets that Doisneau used to photograph so diligently in the wee hours. I could see why Doisneau liked to be at the market in the early morning to take photos—something about the peace, the slow waking, the sense of possibility that pervades the stillness.
Every time I leave a city, I take a final lingering look, wanting to savor it in case I don’t come back. Seeing the way my last few trips, including this one, have gone though, I guess you can never tell.
So Paris, until next time, adieu!
*Thanks A for being such a warm, lovely host and staying up past your bedtime for me! Can I have your cookie recipe? :)