A year ago, I began posting snapshot views of Paris during our trip to that wonderful city. Since then, I've heard from many people who enjoyed those posts. Encouraged by the positive comments and interest, I spent the summer writing a manuscript that detailed our exploration of the City of Light. At the time, I was not sure if it was for personal use or if I planned to share it with others. The project grew to include travel tips, historical anecdotes, and my views on art, waiters, movies, writers, coffee, and much, much more.
There's something here for everyone--those who have always wanted to visit Paris but think they'll never get the chance, those who plan to visit Paris, those who have already been, and even those who say they wouldn't be caught dead in Paris.
Excerpt from Room With Paris View
The Hôtel de Sens is not well known by Parisian tourists. It is out of the way, just off the main Rue de Rivoli. It has a fairytale appearance, like something you might see in Beauty and the Beast. It was built around the same time as Hôtel de Cluny, from 1498 to 1519. At one time, like many historical sites in Paris, it had become extremely rundown, but it has since been restored.
As I circled this treasure—taking photographs, as you might guess—a man about my age approached and asked if I would mind taking his picture in front of the hotel. I was happy to, of course. Though I found his conditions sort of odd.
“Would you please take it with all these bushes showing in front of me?” he asked, indicating a row of shrubbery on the street opposite the Hotel. His accent was British, and he was in fact driving a Land Rover which he must have brought over on the Chunnel Train.
“No problem,” I answered, promptly lining up the shot and snapping the picture. He quickly scanned the results.
“Uh, if you don’t mind, I just need…” he turned and bent his knees, to show me the angle he wanted. With the camera in hand, he framed the shot and pointed where he wanted to be in it. Half of the shot included the shrubbery. I couldn’t help but think about the Knights of Ni! who demanded shrubbery from King Arthur in that old Monty Python movie. I kept a straight face and did as he asked.
He was happier than a fifteen-year-old boy at the Moulin Rouge. Maybe he was a landscape artist who was writing a book. I dunno. But I was glad to help the guy out. It seemed unlikely that two men from separate worlds would meet on the same day as they visited an out-of-the-way old house in the middle of Paris.
We chatted a little, expressing our admiration for the wonderful old palace, then went back to our separate worlds. Somewhere in London or Surrey there is a photograph on a wall of a man in front of the Hôtel de Sens with a great shot of shrubbery in the foreground. I know, I made sure the shrubbery looked good. It obviously meant a lot to him.
If you should take the time to look up this wonderful jewel, be sure to notice the cannonball stuck in the wall just off to the side of the left turret (it’s left if you’re facing the main gate). Some idiot during the July Revolution of 1830 not only pointed a loaded cannon at this irreplaceable landmark, but he actually fired the stupid thing. Thankfully, the walls were stronger than his intellect.
The day I made this tour was Sunday, April the 22nd, a Presidential Election day for France. What intrigued me most was that you would not have known it unless you were paying attention. Just across the street from the Hôtel de Sens was an old school building bearing the words École Primaire Communale des Filles, which means it was a girl’s elementary school many years ago. It is still a school today; a paper sign tacked to a bulletin board at the entrance reads École Élémentaire Ave Maria. Interestingly enough, the original stone inscription shows heavy damage, as if someone had chiseled or hammered away at it, which is likely, considering the passionate uprisings that have occurred over the years. The French like to make all of these signs and symbols in permanent stone, then go to great lengths to erase them when they become enraged.
But this election was quite peaceful, and I watched old people and young men and tired ladies stand in line at the school for the chance to cast their ballot. It looked much like our own elections at home, where little old ladies run the election process to choose the leaders of a superpower. I’ve always been fascinated by that fact. I could not see who was running the show in the school but I would not have been surprised to find a few tough old birds like our League of Women Voters.
There is one last little irony about this voting location. The school was built against a portion of what was once King Phillipe-Auguste’s Wall (1190 to 1210 AD), which he ordered to be built for the city’s defense against the Plantagenets of Norman England while he was away on the Third Crusade. The wall was covered for many years, and it wasn’t until a row of houses was torn down that it was discovered. So King Philip’s wall now shelters a voting booth for the French democratic government.
For more information on the book, please visit the Saint James Infirmary Books website.
You can also order the book from Amazon (both print and Kindle editions are available).