It was one of those moments where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
We were spending the morning at the Musée D’Orsay, the Paris museum which houses one of the finest collections of impressionist paintings in the world. An American couple were standing beside us. The wife was clearly thrilled to be soaking in the artwork. The husband was grumbling that ESPN wasn’t available in their hotel.
“That’s a portrait of Marcel Proust,” the lady explained to her weary husband. “He was a famous mime.” Now lord knows that 1) I’m not the most cultured guy on the planet and 2) I watch more than my fair share of ESPN. But I do happen to know that Marcel Proust was an 19th Century author and that Marcel Marceau was a mime who died less than 10 years ago.
COME ON PEOPLE! Stop making us dumb Americans look even dumber!
And so began day four in Paris. The Musée D’Orsay, by the way, is one of the most wonderful museums in Paris. Housed in a former train station, the exhibit halls are roomy and the many visitors can move through without stumbling over each other.
The collections of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir and others are just staggering. You can get within inches of the paintings to admire the brush strokes and technique of these artists who turned the art world upside down in the 19th Century. (Note to tourists who are coming to Paris soon. All of the Renoir paintings are on loan to Japan for a temporary exhibit.)
After a quick lunch and a rest at our Airbnb apartment, we walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral. Unlike St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey in London, there is no charge to visit Notre Dame. It is – thank God – still primarily a church and not just a tourist attraction.
Candlelight flickers in front of ancient chapels as worshippers and tourists alike light candles in memories of loved ones. The Rosary windows are as stunningly beautiful as ever as the fading sunlight of the afternoon streams in, giving a mystic quality to the cathedral.
A quick prayer later, we walk out of the cathedral, across a small park and into the rambling hallways of the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. This English-language bookstore has long been a fixture in Paris and is a great place to browse through books old and new. You can sit down and read. You can go upstairs and listen to poetry or a musician.
You might even be able to find a book by, or about, Marcel Proust. I’m just saying…
When one of your sons is not only a lover of jazz but a flat-out expert, then there’s only one thing to do while in Paris. Head to Le Duc des Lombards and catch a jazz act. So that’s what we did. Yonathan Avishai and the Modern Times Quintet played up a storm in this tiny club, which has been one of the mainstays of the jazz scene in Paris for more than 30 years. Only about 30 people can squeeze onto the floor of the club, with another couple of dozen spread out along the outer walls. Get there early if you want to get a great seat (we did!).
After a couple hours of jazz, we sat outside the Pompidou Centre at a café, sharing crepes and memories… and planning for more great times in the City of Light.