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Paris: A Notre Dame walking (and reading) tour

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Notre Dame de Paris
Falling for Notre Dame at dusk. Photos by Theadora Brack

By Theadora Brack in Paris—

Toots, I did it again. I fell head over heels in love with Paris all over de nouveau.

Setting the scene, I had just finished inspecting a slew of hotels in the Latin Quarter, and was headed to meet friends at the wine bar 5ème CRU. This Cheapo haven is located at 7 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, so I decided to trek it there by way of the River Seine.

And there she was. As I turned the corner at the river, there was no mistaking the Cathédrale Notre Dame, glowing like an over-sized Lucite jewelry box. I got all smitten. Tears were shed, which caught me off guard (because I tend not to find inspiration at touristic hotspots), but on this bewitching night—there was nary a soul in sight. It was summertime and the swooning was easy.

Notre Dame at night

For the love of Quasimodo and Esmeralda, let’s take a sentimental journey, shall we?

Stop one: Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
6 Place Parvis Notre Dame
5th arrondissement (Métro: Saint Michel)
Web site

Queen of the French cathedrals

This iconic darling has had its share of monumental ups and downs throughout the centuries. Maurice de Sully (that’s “Bishop” to you) set the project in motion back in 1163. It was a very good year, but as time marched on, it took a toll on the cathedral’s interior and exterior. Well, we’ve all been there. Touché!

Thank writer and historic preservation activist Victor Hugo for jump-starting a sensational sightseeing frenzy, along with the much-needed renovation that followed the publication of his very first novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, in 1831 (released in English in 1833 as The Hunchback of Notre Dame much to the author’s dismay). A “vast symphony in stone” is how the eloquent and passionate Hugo described Notre Dame.

Notre DameWord quickly spread, making Hugo a literary superstar, and inspiring beaucoup de visitors to pay homage with copies of the book in hand. However, at the time Notre Dame was pretty much in ruins because of the French Revolution and general lack of routine maintenance. Cheapos, it was high time for an extreme makeover: cathedral edition!

Paved paradise

Enter architect Viollet-le-Duc in 1841. Contributing his own interpretive gothic revival twist, he added a fantastical spire, and gargoyles to keep the evil spirits at bay, along with a good cleaning and various other minor changes.

Shortly (bare)after, 19th-century urban renewalist Baron Haussmann completed the redo by demolishing the medieval houses surrounding the church and creating a public square. Times are always a-changing.

Shakespeare & Company bookshop

Shakespeare & Company

Second stop: Shakespeare and Company
37 Rue Bûcherie
5th arrondissement (Métro Saint Michel)
Web site

To read or not to read, daddy-o

Yearning for your own copy of Notre-Dame de Paris? After getting an eyeful of the real thing, stop by the English bookshop Shakespeare and Company, located across the street in a former 16th-century monastery. Both paperback and hardcopies of the book are available.

A favorite Beat Generation haunt, George Whitman (Walt Whitman’s nephew) opened the rue Bûcherie location in 1951, under the name of “Le Mistral.” He changed its name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to his friend Sylvia Beach after she closed up the original shop by the same name, which had been a few blocks away. And yes, film buffs, here on rue Bûcherie is where the opening scene in the film Before Sunset was shot!

Stop Three: 5ème CRU Cave à Vin
7 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
5th arrondissement (Métro Cardinal Lemoine)

Are you ready for a break? Keep walking along Quai de la Tournelle until you reach Cardinal Lemoine, and then make a right. The wine cave and bar is located a few doors up on the left. A perfect place for quiet reflection on our mad, mad world, the wine is inexpensive, and their charcuterie and fromage platters are divine.

Paris Notre Dame

My favorite passage

I’ve decided to end this week’s post with one of my favorite passages from Notre Dame de Paris. Enjoy and keep on ringing the bells, Cheapos!

On that day the air was so fresh and clear that Quasimodo felt his affection for his bells returning. Clapping his hands, he ran to and fro from one rope to another, awakening his six songsters by this voice and his gestures, as a maestro leads his skilled musicians.

“Go on! Go on, Gabrielle!” he said, “Pour all your music into the square. Today’s a feast day. Thibauld, don’t be lazy. You’re slowing down! Go, go on! Are you becoming rusty, loafer? That’s it. Quick! Quick! Don’t let the clapper be seen. Make them all deaf like me. That’s it, bravo! Thibauld! Guillaume! Guillaume! You’re the biggest, but Pasquier’s the smallest, and Pasquier swings better than you! Those who can hear, I’ll wager you, hear him better than you! Well done! Gabrielle! Louder, louder! Hey! You up there, you sparrows! I don’t see you making any noise. What’s the matter with those brazen beaks of yours, that seems to be yawning when they ought to be singing? Come on, work! Sing! There’s beautiful sunshine; we have to have beautiful music!

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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