Jars of Brains and Other Things They Don’t Tell You About Paris

Today I began with another visit to la Cathédrale de Notre Dame and then walked through the Île de la Cité, passing by the Palais de Justice and Conciergerie, before heading to the Hôtel de la Ville and the accompanying fashionable district including the Galeries Lafayette (no, I didn’t go in—-nothing, except Notre-Dame, was open that early), followed by a visit to Le Centre Pompidou and the Quartier de l’Horloge, followed by a trip to the Place de la Bastille and the surrounding area leading to the Opéra de la Bastille. I then found myself at the Gare de Lyon, from where I went to the Jardins des Plantes and the Galleries of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology and then to la Grand Galerie de l’Évolution, passing through the gardens on the way there. Walking by the Mosque de Paris, I went through la Rue Moufftard and the Place Monge before visiting the Pantheon, which was then followed by a visit to the Odéon stop and the shopping area in that environs—including le Grand…something or other…and then la Sorbonne and the Quartier Latin. Afterwards, I went to a different ice cream place on the Île Saint-Louis, and then another one called Cocoa and something (I think it may have been Cocoa et Chocolat), and then la Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris one last time, where I bought a book on the stained glass more out of a desire to make sure it continues to be maintained than anything else.

The Centre Pompidou opens annoyingly late--11 a.m.--so I didn't go in, which was a shame because I wanted to take one of the crazy lifts and see what things looked like from the inside out (although I had full plans to avoid the art; but they do have free exhibits there). Walking up to that building was madness. It is the craziest thing I have ever seen, and I could feel my brain trying to wrap itself around the oddity of the visual information. Seriously, what the hell. It's cool, though; considering how La Tour Eiffel was also thought a monstrosity when first erected (ha, ha...erotic statements about Paris are stupid), though, I think people will get used to this. The funny thing is that you can see part of Notre-Dame from the west end, facing south, and the contrast is remarkable.

The Gare de Lyon is a fantastic building. I actually found it more visually pleasing than the Opera of the Bastille; I walked by the latter three times before realizing that, yes, I'd seen it. (Actually, I was kind of surprised to have walked to the Gare de Lyon; but it was on the way to where I wanted to go, so a fortuitous coincidence.)

The Jardin des Plantes is pretty nice...gardens, all sorts of things related to biology. My favorite was the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy and its many brains in jars, not to mention dissected animals. Pretty cool stuff. The Grand Gallery of Evolution was also quite impressive, although looking at the section of extinct/extremely endangered animals, I couldn't help but wonder how the presence of these taxidermied animals had helped the problem. They were pretty honest about how the process worked, though; there was an explanation--with possibly real pelts--of taxidermy. In general I've noticed that Europeans don't feel as obligated to sugarcoat things.

The Pantheon: I didn't realize how damn huge it was. It used to be a church, you see; and besides the nicely covered corpses inside, there are some excellent paintings--my personal favorite being St. Denis (the protector of...ah...Paris, or perhaps all of France) picking up his severed head (yes, he did eventually fall down dead, but only in front of a more appropriate place than that where he was executed, and that's all the detail I remember).

Quartier Latin is great for shopping. Would that the exchange rate had been better.

I had pamplemousse rose glace in a disappointingly small cone; I always forget why I dislike grapefruit, but I was reminded. After this, I decided to have some proper ice cream and discovered an amazing store with an orange front advertising sorbet balls covered in dark chocolate. Until this point, I was doing alright with French, but I managed to forget the word for flavor until I'd asked the question in English (why does that happen so often?). Nevertheless, they were incredibly delicious. Dark chocolate that's been in the freezer on a hot summer day and is also filled with all manner of delicious, exotic fruits, walking down St Louis towards the Seine and the Notre Dame--good end to a day.

Even better end to the trip: visiting the Notre Dame de Paris one last time. It's definitely my favorite monument in the world (at last, I can say that and mean it; although I would like to revisit the Lotus Temple of the Baha'i in Delhi...and also see the Taj Mahal, not just keep going by it); and there are many contenders for second.

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