Thursday, October 29, 2015

Paris: Montmarte, Sacré Coeur, and Salvador Dalí

Paris, viewed from Montmarte
After two consecutive days of enduring interminably long queues, I decided that my third day in Paris would entail sightseeing that did not require waiting in line. And so, Wednesday morning I set out for Montmarte to see what I might see.

Sacré Coeur
Montmarte is the high ground of Paris. That is, Montmarte is the name given to the historic district that sits atop the eponymous hill from which Paris appears to spread out before you like an infinitely complex spider web.
Inside Sacré Coeur
Atop Montmarte sits the imposing and magnificent Sacré Coeur Catholic church and basilica,  constructed over a 15 year period at the beginning of the 20th century. The church was built as a sort of penance by the French people for their "moral decline" over the century since the revolution, which they believed was the true cause of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871.

Admission into the church is free and the crowd, while significant, was not oppressive.

The architectural beauty of the church, both inside and out, is mind-boggling. Signs inside the church urge visitors to be respectfully silent, but such a solemnity, a holiness, pervades the church that the signs seem unnecessary. It is unimaginable that someone could enter such a place and be oblivious to it.

I sat for a while at a pew. My thoughts, befuddled and diffident at first, grew placid and serene over time. I felt a longing to see my wife. And I was acutely aware of the many miles between us.

But I was reconciled to it, somehow. It was as if I knew that, at that moment, each of us was at our appointed place. It's hard to explain and I don't want to go down that path too far, anyway. I can't write anything that anyone (myself included) would understand.

When I finally did make my way outside, into the cold Paris air, I felt alone and lonely. I reminded myself that this is a journey I chose. And I chose it knowing that, at times, I would be lonely. That was enough to hold me over.

Narrow stone street in Montmarte
I wandered around Montmarte for a while. There were many merchants selling tourist trinkets, and some quaint cafes selling coffee and sandwiches. And, just by chance, I stumbled on a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dalí, tucked away in a little alley.

This sculpture is, somehow, a self-portrait of the artist
Salvador Dalí, of course, is the modern artist famous for his recurring motif of melting clocks. The museum was not at all crowded and the collection was manageable such that you could wander through the place and feel as if you'd seen it all in an hour or so. Which I did.

Note the melting clock at the top of the torso, and the egg. Recurring motifs in Dalí's work
Dalí was a tormented fellow, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. His parents had had a son named Salvatore, who died before Dalí was born. Throughout his life, Dalí struggled with the memory of his namesake brother. That struggle is reflected in his work.

This sculpture is an interpretation of the Holy Trinity
I can't say I have a clear understanding of his work, but I do find it fascinating.

And, Dalí, eccentric that he was, is attributed with one of my favorite quotations: "There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad."

It was a full day, and I returned to my hotel footsore and tired, but feeling it was a day well-spent. I've decided that the best days are those that come to me, rather than those I have to chase. Make sense?

Maybe not. I don't know. I'm in Paris. That's all I can say.


Anonymous said...

Some French people felt the need for a national penance for the "sins" of the 3rd Republic. Others saw (and still see) Sacré Coeur as a symbol of the occupation of Paris by the rest of the country that took place in 1871 with the fall of the Paris Commune. Still, it is a very beautiful place and a great view.

Roger Buck said...

The 3rd Republic is not correct here. It had hardly begun in 1873 when the initiative for massive penance began to construct the basilica. And in any event, the 3rd Republic approved the building of the Basilica at that point! The building could not have commenced without the 3rd Republic, which had begun in 1871.

Also, I don't think the word sins deserves quotation marks here. Given the utter horrors of the commune, rounding up thousands of innocent people in cold blood, (including the surprisingly liberal-progressive Archbishop of Paris of the time) this is more understandable than many modern commentators would have us believe. (Personally, I believe those commentators are often highly, highly invested in forgetting …)

But I am glad you found some peace and silence there, Dade.