One Day in Paris

I woke up at a leisurely hour for my first full day in France, lovely weather, perfect for a run. One of the reasons I took up running was so I would be able to explore places I visited faster than walking and yet more closely than biking or driving. For Paris, I had it in my head to run along the Seine, so I headed in that direction. My table neighbors at the Pig’s Head (I’ll always call it that because of the sign) suggested a route but… I’m terrible at directions and ended up meandering all over the city, nearly ten miles according to my app.

What a great way to see Paris, stopping to take plenty of photos along the way. I have a very bad habit of running much farther than I intend to at the beginning–I only meant to take a half hour jog, but became so mesmerized by PARIS that I kept going until suddenly I realized I was miles from the hotel. Without my prepurchased Metro ticket, sadly. This screen cap from my running app still amazes me, my “Paris crack run,” since being in Paris was as stimulating (or so I hear).

paris run map and stats

Place de la Republique was freshly graffitied with messages connected to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. I was surprised to see that this sort of thing was allowed–big difference between American monuments and French. On I went, in search of the Tuileries, the Seine, anything gorgeous to run along or through. But anywhere in Paris will do, or so it was on this the first full day of my first visit.

As for my garden run… well, it was not till much later that I looked at the map and realized it was the garden of the Palais Royale. The layout fooled me, from the little I knew of the Tuileries. Here’s my vid of the experience:

So many charming sidewalk cafes of course. But also such surprises everywhere I turned. It was just SO MUCH PARIS, all so French and very exciting for me to finally be able to take in after so many years of dreaming about this visit.

Beautiful old churches, majestic buildings, charming details…

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Finally I managed to find my hotel, picking up a baguette mixte and pain au chocolat along the way. I devoured them in my room as I rested, stretched, and cleaned up before headingwpid-wp-1443118710898.jpeg out for some leisurely sightseeing. This time I brought my prepurchased Metro day pass to cut down on the walking. It looks like a regular paper ticket, but it allows you to access the Metro and buses all over the city… unless you happen to get it anywhere near your cell phone, as I discovered the hard way. The second or third time I went to use it, the gate just buzzed at me instead of opening. Fortunately, most of the stations have humans working in them, so I turned toward the booth by the gate. For the first time I happened to notice a placard, asking the relevant question: “Votre billet est demagnetise?” with a jolly looking cartoon figure holding a ticket. There was more information written there, including something about not storing your ticket near a cell phone. No one tells you this! I thought I was out of luck, but the attendant didn’t seem too concerned. She said she couldn’t replace it, but she would open the gate for me.

What about the rest of the day though? I thought more about what she said, and realized that maybe she meant she was unable to replace it. The attendant in the next station was able to take care of it for me, and I was able to make my way all over the city for the rest of the day, my precious pass carefully stowed far away from my cell phone.

 

[pics, pics, pics]

All I could think about though was how badly I wanted to come back to this wonderful city, to explore it more at my leisure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paris, France

Somehow, in all my years of dreaming about a trip to France, I never heard that the country is mostly rural. As the plane approached our destination at Charles de Gaulle Airport I was amazed at all the farmland surrounding it. The various sizes and textures of the fields led me to believe that they were mostly small farms producing a variety of crops. This visit, for me, was about internalizing French culture, so the realization that this was a land of small, independent farms set the scene for the rest of my time there. (I have not researched this bit of information, but I did get this impression based on my observations.)

While I do remember showing my passport to someone who probably asked me the purpose of my visit, I do not remember ever seeing any sign of customs. I grabbed my suitcase from the belt and started walking, wheeling this ungainly beast along, in search of one of the ATMs I heard were plentiful there. MUST HAVE EUROCASH. Such focus. Cash in hand, I set out for the bus stop for the Air France coach that would take me to the city. Once out in the fresh air and sunshine, it hit me that no one ever asked me if I had anything to declare. Did I miss it or do they just not bother? All the hysteria about airport searches turned out to be a bit exaggerated, at least for France.

The bus ride to Paris was pleasant. All the excitement kept me from sleeping much on the plane and I was transfixed with the sights along the way, trying to absorb every detail. It’s quite a distance from the airport to the city center,perhaps a 40 minute drive. My stop was Gare de Lyon, not far from my hotel. It made it easier to buy the round trip ticket for that stop, especially since the last leg of my journey was to drop me off there. Why the TGV can’t just go directly to CDG is perhaps a question for greater minds or powers. For now, we have to deal with these transfers.

Paris. All of it so beautiful and amazing, on such a perfect sunny day too.  The bus dropped me off and suddenly there I was walking down the sidewalk feeling like I was in any city anywhere in the world. Actually, it reminded me a bit of Dakar, where I’d visited many years before. So many Senegalese or other Africans in their traditional attire. One of them asked me directions, which stunned me, having literally just set foot on French soil–well, concrete, to be exact. Quite a few people asked me directions during my brief time in Paris. Glad to find that I was able to blend in so thoroughly.

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My small but comfortable room, very nice bed!

My hotel, the Hotel Grand Francais, was lovely, perhaps a 20 minute walk from the station that took me longer for having such a load to carry*. I was pleased to almost manage to check in without having the desk clerk speak English, but when she had specific information to give me regarding keys and breakfast, she asked me if I would prefer English for clarity. Since my comprehension of French is rather limited and I didn’t want to waste her time, I said yes.

My room had such an inviting bathtub that I immediately settled in for a soak to revive myself. Whenever I travel, I refuse to succumb to “jet lag,” convinced that it’s in the mind. So I’ll stay awake no matter what the time is back home, forcing myself to acclimate. Somewhat… because I do believe I was a bit addled wandering the streets after my bath in search of dinner.

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Something more substantial than the snack or drink this sign suggests. I love the French custom of handwriting their signs and menus. The human element is essential here.

For some reason I was afraid to speak French, so worried I’d make a mistake or someone would laugh at me. I popped in to a bar/restaurant on Rue Chanzy called Le Chardenoux to see if I could get dinner, but they weren’t open yet. At least that’s what I thought the bartender said, and judging by the empty tables, that seemed to be an accurate conclusion–honestly, a lot of my apparent language skills are a bit of a guessing game. I ordered a Stella and drank it at the gorgeous old marble bar from the turn of the 19th century with my bag on the adjacent stool. Just the sort of place that I imagined my favorite American expatriates from the 1920s might frequent, basking in the court of Gertrude Stein and such. An old woman entered from where she’d been sitting outside and said something to me that sounded sarcastic, something about not wanting to disturb me–that word, “deranger,” I believe. So I picked up my bag in case she meant to sit there, but then the bartender told her I didn’t speak French and she shrugged. I had no idea what had just happened but I wanted to get out and get some food so I wouldn’t be quite so dazed.

 

Across the street I stumbled upon La Patisserie Cyril Lignac,  where I ordered a gorgeous little kouign amann to tide me over till I found the courage to order dinner somewhere. Again, the response of the clerk baffled me–why didn’t people sound like they did on my RFI broadcasts? The pastry fueled me up enough to get me to a restaurant that was actually open, La Ravigote (which is a sauce) on Rue de Montreuil. And perfect: it had a sign with a pig’s head outside and tables on the sidewalk too. Somehow I managed to order a fairly complicated meal from a waiter who didn’t seem to speak a word of English. Later in the evening a couple of men sat at the table next to me and we chatted a bit, first in French then in English then both, back and forth. They told me this was a local hangout, everything made on the premises and very popular in the neighborhood. What luck then! The prices were reasonable too. A man who seemed to be the proprietor would greet many of the guests with French cheek kisses, lending an air of hospitality to the place.

Cyclists rarely wear helmets in Paris.
Cyclists rarely wear helmets in Paris.
The
The “plat,” consisting of house-made assorted sausages.

Unfortunately, I misunderstood the waiter regarding the half bottle of wine–I thought he was telling me they didn’t serve half bottles (despite what the menu said), but in fact the way they did it there was to set the bottle on the table and charge you according to how much you drank from it. My neighbors explained this to me, but by then I was already well into the second half! But considering it was my first day in France, my very first dinner there, it somehow seemed fitting to drink an entire bottle of wine during the course of an evening. Oh, and of course there was lots of PIG to go with it: an assortment of sausages to begin with, then roast pig’s foot for dinner. Creme brulee for dessert–everything perfect of course. The bread goes without saying, perfect.

Roast pig's foot and some perfect
Roast pig’s foot and some perfect “frites,” so good that ketchup never occurred to me.
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Creme brulee and the rest of the wine.

Such a perfect finish to my first day in France! Back to my hotel where I fell into a well-earned sleep.

*Note: I DO NOT LIKE TAKING TAXIS, mostly due to a very bad experience with a taxi driver in Warsaw years ago. Yes, I know I need to get over it!

Who is Saint Guinefort?

guinefort wood surrounded by villagesSaint Guinefort was a folk (non-canonical) saint in a small area of France about 20 miles from Lyon. He was known for his healing miracles, especially of children. The details of his legend and the rites of veneration as practiced in the 13th century were preserved by a visiting Inquisitor, Stephen of Bourbon, who wrote extensively of his travels. The peasants near Villeneuve and Villars-en-Dombe told him about how they would take their sick children to by healed at the woodland shrine of their local saint, named Guinefort. Stephen had never heard of this saint, so imagine his surprise when they told him he was actually a greyhound! They shared with him the tragic legend of the Holy Greyhound, but even more shocking was their description of the rites of veneration. Stephen banned the practices upon pain of “spoliation” and had the site destroyed.

So goes his text. But what of the legend? and what of the rites? Because despite Stephen’s efforts, the cult and its practices continued almost unchanged until the 1930s. I find the legend itself heartbreaking:

In the diocese of Lyons, close to the ville of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed (dolentes) that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed.

But the castle was in due course destroyed by divine will, and the land reduced to a desert abandoned by its inhabitants. The local peasants hearing of the dog’s noble deed and innocent death, began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs.

Tragic indeed, but what an invitation to run down the rabbit hole in search of answers to the many questions these few lines raise. Planting a memorial grove of trees sounds very fitting, but why on earth would they throw the dog’s body down a well then fill it with stones? And while his heroism in saving his little human charge is beyond question, how did he become known as the healer of children?

Let’s touch on the rites of veneration, which are more of an abduction into that rabbit hole than invitation:

They were seduced and often cheated by the Devil so that he might in this way lead men into error. Women especially, with sick or poorly children, carried them to the place, and went off a league to another nearby castle where an old woman could teach them a ritual for making offerings and invocations to the demons and lead them to the right spot. When they got there, they offered salt and certain other things, hung the child’s little clothes (diapers?) on the bramble bushes around, fixing them on the thorns. They then put the naked baby through the opening between the trunks of two trees, the mother standing on one side and throwing her child nine times to the old woman on the other side, while invoking the demons to adjure the fauns in the wood of “Rimite” to take the sick and failing child which they said belonged to them (the fauns) and return to them their own child big, plump, live and healthy. Once this was closeup of Bois Saint Guignefort mapdone, the killer mothers took the baby and placed it naked at the foot of the tree on the straws of a cradle, lit at both ends two candles a thumbsbreadth thick with fire they had brought with them and fastened them on the trunk above. Then, while the candles were consumed, they went far enough away that they could neither hear nor see the child. In this way the burning candles burned up and killed a number of babies, as we have heard from others in the same place.

One woman told me that after she had invoked the fauns and left, she saw a wolf leaving the wood and going to the child and the wolf (or the devil in wolf’s form, so she said) would have devoured it had she not been moved by her maternal feelings and prevented it. On the other hand, if when they returned they found the child alive, they picked it up and carried it to a swiftly flowing river nearby, called the Chalaronne [tributary of the Saône], and immersed it nine times, to the point where if it escaped dying on the spot or soon after, it must have had very tough innards.

We went to the place and assembled the people and preached against the practice. We then had the dead dog dug up and the grove of trees cut down and burned along with the dog’s bones. Then we had an edict enacted by the lords of the land threatening the spoliation and fining of any people who gathered there for such a purpose in future.

Where to begin… so many questions, few of which I found adequately addressed no matter where I looked. I had the strong sense of the presence of something Celtic here, what is known as a “survival” of ancient religious practices, but I never did find any such discussion beyond brief comments regarding the “Gaulish” nature of the rites. What better choice then for my master’s thesis, to find my own answers and naturally to find even more questions along the way. The Guinefort cult existed in the oral tradition of a marginalized people in an isolated part of France, so there is little documentation. And yet, from my studies of the Celts, I knew that they had a tendency to look in the between places, so I focused on such liminalities, writing my thesis about “nothing”–but the very special sort of nothing that is liminality.

My life will never be the same since this story captured my imagination and mind. During these past few years of research into the world of Saint Guinefort’s supplicants in the Dombes, my heart and soul followed suit. Now I am about to board a plane to France to see how much of Saint Guinefort and his cult’s survivals I can find.  I’ll write of my adventures here!

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Votive Hound Figurine from Temple of Nodens, Lydney Park, England

This introductory post is pinned to the top of my blog. The rest of the posts are dated from the most recent to the oldest, in accordance with the blog format–scroll down if you want to begin at the beginning. Although I managed to write a few posts in media res, I found it nearly impossible to find the time during my big adventure. So much to do and see, not to mention the physical challenges of so much horseback riding, walking, running, and biking, that I chose to be fully present as much as possible so I could write about it upon my return. My many photos and social media posts help me piece together a timeline, jogging my memory as well. I departed for France on July 29 and returned August 12, so assume that most posts dated during that period are either backdated or heavily edited!

En Route, first trip to France and going in Style!

Air France contacted me not long before my departure to ask if I’d like to purchase an upgrade to Business Class. The price was reasonable and I figured it would make my first flight in many years less horrific. Sadly, I could not find the Air France lounge at Logan till the last minute. It’s tucked away in Terminal E, and perhaps the discretion is on purpose, to keep the strays out. Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get to spend too much time tucked away in the civilized and boozy comfort, I did have time for a very quick glass of a lovely white Bordeaux. French, of course. Then on to the plane, where I was very pleased to be greeted IN FRENCH, allowing me to pretend that somehow maybe I was blending in? They serve champagne as soon as you are seated and… again, what have I been drinking my entire life? Not even in France yet and already ruined.

When they brought the menu I saw no point in sleeping any time soon. I knew this would happen, that Business Class would be so magnifique that I wouldn’t want to sleep or even get off the plane ever at all. Oh, and lucky me, not having a neighbor. So I could steal the unused pillow if I wanted (I did). Not long after takeoff they carted drinks through the cabin and the first course for dinner followed soon after. I was too caught up in the luxurious vibe to explore the electronic entertainment options with much interest. Who cares, when the food, drinks, and service are so engaging!

Air France Business Class was really a lovely experience, worth every penny. Here are a couple of shots of my meals. Damned good for airline food!

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