Paris Day 3
Paris is lovely in November. I love walking on the fallen leaves especially when the sun is shining so I decided to walk along the Seine listening to “Les Feuilles Mortes” (known in English as “Autumn Leaves”). The lyrics of this song were written by Surrealist poet and screenwriter, Jacques Prévert: The falling leaves drift by the window…Since you went away the days grow long And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.
My plan for the day was to head towards Canal Saint-Martin and see the area that had inspired so many of Alfred Sisley’s paintings. The canal also appears in the film Amélie (where she’s skipping stones at the locks) and in Simenon’s Maigret and the Headless Corpse (Maigret et le corps sans tête) where a chopped up corpse is found in the canal.
Somehow I got distracted and, instead, took a long walk along the Seine and then back towards Notre Dame. Two things I noted with interest: one, many architects have carved their names on the building they’ve constructed just as a painter signs a painting. Two, all around Paris you can see the city’s coat of arms, a ship floating on a rough sea, with the inscription Fluctuat nec mergitur which basically means “tossed but not sunk”.
Victor Hugo was only 29 years old when, in 1831, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published. The tragic story is that of the gypsy dancer, Esméralda, and the hunchback, Quasimodo. Esméralda falls obsessively in love with the wrong guy, Captain Phoebus (much like the story of Hugo’s daughter, Adele, and her fixation with Lieutenant Pinson that led to her complete mental breakdown). Because of her beauty, men wanted Esméralda’s body not her being. All except Quasimodo.
Esméralda is accused of crimes she didn’t commit and hung in public for the crowds to see. Quasimodo, seeing her hanging and knowing his step-father, Frollo is responsible, decides to vindicate Esméralda and pushes Frollo off the roof of Notre-Dame.
A major theme in Hugo’s story is the contrast between the grotesque and the sublime. Hugo wrote The Hunchback while Notre Dame was being restored (1843–1864) under the direction of Violette-le-Duc, an architect fixated with the grotesque. In fact, the gargoyles (which are really chimera) were added at this time and not during the period of the original construction of the cathedral. Working for Violette-le-Duc during the restoration was a hunchback sculptor who, some speculate, inspired Hugo’s Quasimodo. He was known as Mon Le Bossu, the hunchback.
Can you imagine Le Bossu sculpting a gargoyle?
I tried reading some of Notre Dame’s narrative relief sculptures. Of particular interest was that of the Virgin’s portal (first portal of the façade) with its ménage à trios—Adam, Eve and Lilith. Here Lilith is represented as a melusine, snake-woman.
Lilith is a Jewish mythological figure whose name roughly translates as “night creature” and, according to some folklore, was considered Adam’s first wife. Apparently, Lilith left Adam because she didn’t like his domineering attitude in and out of the bedroom. So she started an affair with archangel turned demon, Samael.
Not wanting Adam to be left alone, God then created Eve.
Towards A Photogenic Lifestyle Observation: I’ve never been attracted to the grotesque. However, turning fears into picture postcards is a real talent. So how do I learn to make something spooky in my life photogenic?