I love Paris, but I don’t enjoy crowds and standing in line. People are sometimes shocked to hear what I haven’t seen in Paris. That’s because for me, Paris is about not having plans. I often wake up in the morning, step out from the hotel room, and see where chance takes me.
I also love London, but London is a city that demands you be someplace. You can’t simply stroll around with no destination in mind. You need to go from point A to point B to point C. There is so much to do and enjoy in London, I can easily fill my day. But one has the feeling in London there is no place simply to stand and do nothing. It isn’t built for slowness and contemplation.
I have to admit I avoid the tourist spots, because of my long line phobia, but I have always wanted to see the gargoyles of Notre Dame. I’ve passed Notre Dame more than once, looked at the long lines to climb up to see the gargoyles, and passed on to enjoy walking and moving rather than standing and sweating.
One of my favorite times to visit Paris, is winter. Tourists are far fewer, walking is very comfortable, and as a resident of New Hampshire I know how to dress for the cold. I figured winter was the perfect time for me to finally see those gargoyles.
My plan was to be first in line in the morning. However, my guide book was out of date, or had summer tourist hours, because I arrived to find I had over an hour to wait until the climb to the gargoyles was open. It was a very cold morning, however, the main church was open so I knew where to wait! I quietly crept in to find warmth and a church empty of tourists.
It was heavenly to walk without the sound of people speaking various languages and the sounds of endless photographs being taken. In the still dark winter morning the stained glass windows were subdued in color and the only sounds were the subdued voices of the priest and the congregation at morning mass.
I walked around and then took a seat near one of the smaller chapels. The gentle comforting voices of the congregation responding to the priest and the warmth of the chapel gave me a feeling of peace that is rare in a city that often packed with tourists with a long list of things to see. Sitting and doing nothing, I was perhaps as happy as I have ever been in Paris.
I was sitting there, translating what I could of the service, when an elderly man walked up to me and asked if I knew when the next mass would be. He had missed this early mass, and his whispered question in perfect Parisian French made me smile. He had taken me for a native. I replied in my very poor French that I was just a “visitor” and could not help him.
He then gestured to take the seat next to me. This gesture was pure French, and I gestured back “Please join me.” When I learned French in high school, the teacher insisted we stand when we spoke. She insisted we learn the gestures, the shrugs, the whole body language that speaking French demands. While my vocabulary is limited, I’ve often been complimented by the French I interact with on how good my accent and my gestures are. The French don’t demand perfection, but they do demand you give their language a good try. My suggestion for anyone trying to speak French, give it your all, and that includes expressive hand gestures, and shoulder shrugs!
My new friend introduced himself as “Mousier Dubois”. He asked the usual questions, where was I from, why was I here. He then joked with me, about how I was invading the Paris that belongs to the Parisians. Mousier Dubois informed me that everyone says they would love to live in Paris, but he laughed that foreigners forget Paris seems to belong to tourists much of the time. Parisian he informed me, have little places and times that belong just to them, and not to the tourist at all. “We don’t mind sharing sometimes, ” he wagged his finger at me, “But some times and places just belong to us!”
Early morning mass on a dark winter’s morning belongs to Parisians alone. He said he would allow me to stay, as I was dressed correctly. I pointed out that I could not insult the church by wearing a tank top with bra straps showing in such cold weather.
A side note here, please when visiting Paris, know churches are places of worship, not museums. You are welcome to come and visit, but please don’t dress like you are going to change a tire. Also, while not necessary, a hat or head covering is a lovely show of respect. Bra straps are a definite “non!”
As we passed time with whispers in a mixture of French, English and emotive hand gestures, I asked Mousier Dubois which was his favorite of the famous gargoyles. He shocked me by saying he had never made the climb to see them.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, as I only see the local museums and tourist spots where I live when I have company. I informed him it was time he went to see them, and that there was always going to be another mass he could attend! He agreed and we went off to be first in line for the day.
It was a very chilly day, so there were only a few people in line when we were allowed to climb. It was absolute joy to come out on the top and look at at a Paris still very much free from tourists and only sleepily coming awake on such a dark winter’s morning. I felt I was looking out on the Parisians Paris.
Mousier Dubois enjoyed the view greatly. He decided he enjoyed the elephant statue the best. We parted company after warming up over some hot chocolates in a local cafe, and for many years sent each other holiday cards until he passed away.
So here I share a few of those photographs taken in 2005. Not a very good camera, but a Paris few of us are lucky enough to see. Winter is indeed a very good time to visit Paris
- The best way to see Paris (briannapiazza.wordpress.com)
- Top Tourist Attractions In Paris (globalgoodgroup.com)