As you pass under Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge on the Seine River in Paris, you see a variety of grimacing stone faces. They’re called mascarons and there are 381 of them. They might be satyrs, sylvans and other forest deities. Or they might be caricatures of friends and enemies of Henry IV. Here are my favorites:
In 1993, I was a Mormon missionary, wandering the streets of Paris, France, to spread the Good News. A favorite place to go for a break when knocking doors wasn’t working (which was most of the time) was Place Georges Pompidou, an open concrete square in front of a modern art museum where street performers, hawkers, caricature artists, pickpockets, and tourists gather.
The sights and sounds of this place are sticky in my otherwise-faded memory. A fat Portuguese caveman breathed fire and let you throw darts at his stomach for 20 francs. A drummer rocked out on a spare-parts set that featured a dangling banana – every so often he would scream “BANANA!” and hit it with his drumstick, flinging fruit flesh into the audience. We didn’t listen to much popular music as missionaries and it was a guilty pleasure to hear bands covering pagan tunes by The Smiths and The Beatles on guitars, violins, clarinets, and the occasional didgeridoo.
One rainy day, probably in May, only the die-hards were out performing. We stood under umbrellas and listened to this guy sing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? His accent was strong – “I waaaNOOO ha-ye-evah seen da rain?” Sticking with the weather theme, he moved next to The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun. The small audience laughed and gasped as the sun really did come out on the chorus! I don’t think I was particularly down at the time, but the coincidence brightened my day and has stuck in my aging brain all these 22 years.
In 2008, 15 years after my mission days, I had a business trip in Paris and scheduled some tourist time to visit a few of my old haunts. I went to the Pompidou Center and guess who was performing.
I learned from another YouTube video that his name is Yama Nico. I hope he’s there next time I visit. We need to talk.
On the way back from India last week, I had a 7.5-hour layover at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I arrived at 6am and then rushed through passport control to the train station (which is conveniently attached to the airport). I took a train to Gare du Nord and walked to Sacré Coeur to take a quick tour and snap some pictures. I had planned to make this my only stop, wandering around Montmartre a bit until I found a grocery store where I could get a stash of Cruesli au Chocolat cereal. But before long it turned into a challenge to see how many sights I could see before I needed to head back to the airport. I didn’t want to spend more money on a subway pass, so this was all on foot and took about three hours. I mapped it out on mappedometer.com and it looks like it was about 5 1/2 miles.
I was already kind of cutting it close to get back to the airport by the time I heard this band performing in the Chatelet train station, but I had to stop and get a quick video. I tracked down the band name later, which is Les Musiciens de Lviv, a Ukrainian band that has been playing Paris metro stations for years.
In the Orsay Museum in Paris, there’s a smallish painting by Eugène Burnand that really stands out for me. It’s Les Disciples Pierre et Jean courant au sépulcre le matin de la Résurrection (The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb On The Morning of the Resurrection).
I love the look of hope, and maybe a tiny bit of worry, on the faces of the apostles.
So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. – John 20:4