Great architecture is about existing in interior space.
We took the metro to the Tour Eiffel.
The Tour Eiffel was surprisingly moving. Unlike some things that look way better in photos and stupider in real life, the Tour Eiffel was much much much much more amazing.
The gray and the green and the blue, chérie. The dome of that arc that made a bulb of the sky.
The intricate work in the iron. It was so much more decorative than I knew it would be!
Seeing the Tour Eiffel was more moving than I thought it would be. I almost started crying. I was so excited. So happy to see it, to be under the huge space of that unsolid dome. I was really there, I was in Paris, the Tour Eiffel existed in space and it existed much better than I even could have imagined it in two dimensions.
The way the arches swooped down to continue their circles—!
We walked to the Arc de Triomphe.
I really liked the Arc de Triomphe a lot. Did Napoleon make it? I don’t know.
We had to figure out how to get there. It’s in the middle of the Place de Charles de Gaulle. We eventually found the stairs. They went to a tunnel that went under the roundabout.
The underside of the Arc de Triomphe was beautiful, chérie. The fleurs whose name I should know but I forget. I stood on the worn bronze eagle in the middle and looked up and marveled at the stonework. I turned behind me and saw the eternal flame and read “Ici repose un soldat français mort pour la patrie 1914-1918” and I was unexpectedly almost moved to tears.
(The way that the talk to people who have died for the patrie!)
I saw that one statue, the haut-relief on the right front side, Nike, Winged Victory, Liberty Leading the People, and their eyes, chérie, I have never seen anything like the wild and desperate look in their eyes.
I sketched it and felt bad that Caitlin had to wait for me, and a little kid came and watched over my shoulder.
That was it for the sightseeing, really. We walked down the Champs-Elysées, big shopping center like other big cities I’ve seen and beautiful people and beggars laid against the ground, do not look at me, I am not worthy, here is my shaking cup, unclean, unclean.
We walked past so many beautiful buildings and I wish I knew what I was seeing.
We walked through the Tuileries. Gardens, park, ordered, reglé. I thought about how all this, and the cascades of columns alentour, were all made for one person, the royal family, that this giant space was only for three or four people, and now it all belongs to everyone.
I saw a lot of great architecture this week. And I wrote in all of them.
Profitons-nous-en. Read them all.
Why, when I got seven and a half hours of sleep today, must I be so tired? Here in Notre Dame, here in this voûte d'arrêtes, in this negative space that seeks to transcend heaven and earth and sky, lift up the vaults to let the light in, here where almost a millennia of people have worshipped and lived and died?
Sanctuary, sanctuary. I wish I could see these vaults with the eyes of a peasant from the Middle Ages, where this would be the representation of heaven, lift your eyes up to the sky and take the sacrament, and not with the eyes of an art history student who sees the dark colors of some of the bricks and thinks about the hands that built them.
It's darker here than I thought it would be, chérie. They told me they lifted up the roof to let the light in—
But why oh why do people circle in the ambulatory when they could be coming in to sit on these wicker benches and state up at the sky?
I wish I weren't in a fog, wish I weren't in a daze.
I wish I could see this cathedral as the people from the 1100s could see it, before it was even built. It took centuries to make buildings back then, chérie. It took as much time to make this building as the entire existence of the United States of America.
I lit a candle and then I blew it out and put it in my bag, and I didn't know if you were allowed to light a candle and then blow it out.
They told me they lift up the roof to dissolve the walls and let the light in.
And you know, I see those columns, those impossibly thin, tall, columns, and you know, they really do lift up my eyes toward the sky.
I was standing underneath the archivoltes of the front entrance of Notre Dame, Final Judgement, looking up, about to step forward, imagining I was a peasant on a the pale sandy path entering this church and pondering the state of my immortal soul, when appeared quietly and out of nowhere my hole in the crowd a slight slender dark little woman and a pen and a wrinkled piece of paper, four gold teeth parallel on either side of her mouth, smile, "Do you speak English?", accent clean.
I thought of Brett, of gypsies and pickpockets and petitions, saw the signatures already on her paper, wondered who she had fleeced, "Non, merci," and I turned, and she turned without a word or even a crestfallen face, this is the everyday, ça va aller, and I checked my bag and my card and my wallet, and everything was well. But I wasn't expecting this to happen here, people told me there would be gypsies at the Eiffel Tower.
Can you imagine worshipping a silent God, holding up two fingers, carved from stone?
And yet, when I climbed the stairs je pouvait me ressentir le Saint-Esprit, and when I climbed up that narrow close round staircase and emerged into that vast and delicate interior space of the chapel, I saw l'achevé of those walls dissolved by light and all I could say was « Bien fait, bien fait, bien fait. »
You are le roi de France.
You stand there in your light, in your chapel. Your hair is long and curly and it tumbles down your shoulders and on your neck.
This is your space, these are your castles, these are your fleurs-de-lis.
What do you think about God, chéri? You know that this chapel and this mass is for you.
You've grown up here, chéri. You've known nothing but this mass and this room. Nothing but these voûtes and these lights and these colors.
(I unfocus my eyes and I can see you sweeping by, chéri, sweeping in your robes, across this very floor, coming out your private door, surrounded by everybody. Standing on that parquet with your heraldry. This place was built by your very ancestors. It was built for you.)
(A million other people have walked this very floor, chéri, have seen your interior space, have seen your colors. I tried to fathom that your eyes saw these same windows, the same sharpness, the same colors, not soft and fuzzed and faded like we see of the distant past. I tried to see with your eyes, that it was a real for you as it is for me.)
(A million other people have walked this floor, chéri, including me. But it was not for us that this was built, chéri—it was built for you.)
Is it even special to you, chéri? You are the roi de France.
Today, we climbed the towers of Notre Dame and, as I was expecting nothing, I was amazed that we could walk along the roof, see those famous sculptures of fantastic beasts and demons, see the view that Quasimodo saw, Out There, imagine what it would be like to know nothing but the cathedral, to see other people only as frantic moving dots from above, to never to have been below.
We saw the bell towers, chéri, the bells, fait de plomb, rung by eight men, rung twelve times a day. Can you imagine him running, climbing around the bois?
What an incredible thing it would be to work at the top of Notre Dame and see that view chaque jour, chaque jour? I thought of Shelby and I thought of her Disneyland job and I thought that it's just not the same.
I feel like there is a difference between historical locations in France and in America. I feel like tours there are too regulated, too scripted, they don't let you see the things you're supposed to see.
Here we climbed the towers and saw the gargouilles and saw a panoramic view of Paris, and I looked down and wanted to understand what Quasimodo would see.
Quasimodo's not real, chérie, but the people of the Moyen-Âge were.
Not sure how to write about this—
We entered into the Pantheon, and the light was white, and open, and light.
The space here is so open, such a comfortable size, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the Golden Proportion—
The ceiling is crenelated, I want to say, though I know that's not the right word, it brings the right sense—
The space here is so classical, arches and arches and columns and columns and space and space and white stone and gray light. This, as with all the other things, has been all about interior space. I wandered around in open-mouthed wonder—how could I do anything else?
The space in here is comfortable, gentle. Even the lights from the high semicircular windows are tinted with pale, gentle shades of green, orange, blue. The lights fill up the domes. The light here is soft. The air is comfortable, and cool.
I am unspeakably unhappy that the top of the dome is blocked off. Isn't this dome the whole reason we went to the Pantheon—!
But the ground of the floor underneath is made of inlays of color in the marble. I love the colors in the marble.
Such a harmony to this space, beautiful, really—the pale light, the soft colors, the balance between open spaces and spaces of intense detail. Well done, l'architecte.
There are paintings on the walls, scenes from pictures of the history of France that I know, Clovis, Jean d'Arc, Sainte Geneviève, Saint Louis—
I went down to the crypt, the air darker, the air more cool—
(Oh, but the air here just turned a bit more soft as the sun went away for an instant—can you imagine being here on a rainy day?)
I thought of all the people who have been in this room, Église Sainte-Geneviève, Temple of Reason, Panthéon.
I touched a column when I first got here, saw it stacked with mortar with a hint of red, ran my fingers through its perfect semicircle flutes, imagined carving it with a chisel, thought of the bead and cove stick, imagined carving each and every one of those semicircle flutes so they are perfect, so they are the same, so they are perfectly smooth, the edges perfectly sharp, and I could not imagine carving it at all.
Saint-Étienne Part II
I went into the église for Sainte Genevieve again, and—
I GET IT NOW.
I saw the lights and the colors coming through stained glass windows I hadn't seen before—I took a step back, I gasped when I saw them near the roof, I walked around in wide-mouthed wonder—
And then I understood, I understood why they dissolved the walls and raised the roof—it was for this feeling inside, this feeling of inexpressible joy.