Following the andtheywalked ethos, don’t walk the same path twice, we make our way to climb the Arc de Triomphe. Today is cloudy but no rain.
We have timed our run to perfection, the queue at the ticket office begins to move as we attach ourselves to its tail end. Mission accomplished at last.
I stare from the Arc de Triomphe (which is devoted to victories on the battlefield and the soldiers killed in battle) to the Arc de Defense, a massive hollow cubical structure that you can see right through from the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Defense represents peace and the end of war.
The last two verses of my poem ‘Be my Billboard’ course through my mind
The irony of slaughter
To win but scant respite from sword and gun
The chance to wander weapon free
For the most is by the weapon won
By iron message scarified
I squarely bleed for the end of defense
And the end of war
And should I stumble by thee
Down Unhallowed street
Mock not my naked and bloody streaks
Lest I should grasp and write thee anew
To be my billboard
If you face the Louvre from the Arc de Triomphe the area to your left is dominated by the Sacre Coeur and the hill it has been built on. From the Arc roads radiate in all directions, we are atop a concrete spider in a bitumen web.
I estimate it is six kilometers from the Arc and we descend and set off along the busy Paris streets.
The hotel staff have looked at us like we are mad when we say we are walking to these tourist destinations, and always suggest the metro. What can you see in a train tunnel? The walls of the tunnel.
We are walking the streets of the real Paris now, no tourist traps, insane traffic, stylish beautiful people everywhere.
The Sacre Coeur sits atop the highest hill we have seen so far in Paris and the last part of the journey is via multiple steep staircases. At the top of the first the Pinball wizards make their re-appearance. Followed by street vendors selling flying flapping birds and Sacre Coeur miniatures (they tailor to site location, time of day/night and weather conditions)
We blast past them, scams averted again, and make our way to the Sacre Coeur itself.
The Sacre Coeur is a massive Catholic Church built to demonstrate beyond all doubt the power and magnificence of the Catholic faith.
Today when we visit this power seems to have diminished for as we approach the strains of AC/DC ‘Highway to Hell’ are blasting from a boombox as an exceedingly athletic guy performs feats of balance and bravado with a soccer ball atop one of the stone columns of the footpath rail.
I laugh at the irony and we enter the Sacre Coeur.
Respectful silence is a condition of entry (photography is not allowed) and we take a pew without speaking. The interior is enormous and in comparison to buildings such as the Louvre, relatively plain. We leave our pew and walk the ring around the altar. Everything is on a massive scale including the huge pipe organ that covers the entire wall above the passage of entry.
By this time both of us are tired and hungry yet we know we must pass beyond the limits of the cafes and restaurants that ring each tourist destination before we eat. The roads are winding and confusing as demonstrated by the right hand drive Mercedes with UK plates that passes us driving up a one way street and then backing down past us again, this time being closely pursued by a tourist bus.
By the time we find ourselves beyond the tourist ring we are lost and starving and head in a beeline for the nearest cafe we can see.
Once again everyone is so friendly and helpful, I have no idea where the haughty and aloof French cliché has come from. The lady serving us brings us water and fills it straight away as we gulp it down, she helps us work out where we are and takes our order.
I have seen Escargot on the menu and I am determined to eat some before I leave Paris, Pam looks at me with a queasy expression. The snails arrive in their shells bathed in garlic and herb butter. I have no idea how to eat them and the waitress laughs at me when I ask if I have to break the shells.
The Escargot are rubbery like Calamari and taste divine swimming in the garlic butter.
We make our way back towards the Arc de Triomphe along a different road to the one we had taken that morning. This road takes us over a bridge that passes through the middle of the Cimetiere Montmartre, an ancient cemetery where the bones of Paris’s artists, writers and elite rest. The crypts are green with moss and lichen. We had planned to stop and walk about this cemetery however by this time we are running out of puff and forge onwards.
Paris has many faces, and moving through districts on foot we are seeing them close up. We come to the beautiful serene Parc de Monceau which is surrounded by tall black iron fences with golden pikes adorning the top.
The Parc is an oasis in the busy city and we sit on a bench in the shade to watch Paris walk by us for a change.
Parisian’s in general are slender stylish attractive people, the women mostly tanned golden brown and gorgeous, the men sleek and debonair. The area surrounding the Parc appears to be the playground of the rich and famous. Between the Parc and the Arc de Triomphe we pass a Bugati Veyron (the first I have ever seen) surrounded by a group of chattering admirers.
By the time we arrive back at the hotel I realise I am in love with this city Paris and its beautiful welcoming people who speak in singsong sentences, serve great food and store history both in and outside their buildings.
Mick and Pam