April in Paris 2—When I Paint My Masterpiece and the Perfect Book

Notre Dame During the Day: Pre-2019 Fire

Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.

She said, “I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.”

Leonard Cohen: “Joan of Arc”

April in Paris—1 was last week’s book story. It ends with my exhausted body falling into bed on Thursday night April 11, 2019 after a day of walking—mostly uphill to Montmartre. This story will cover Friday, April 12 through my departure home on April 15, 2019.

Friday—I awoke early and tapped away at my laptop. I was 6 hours ahead of Maryland time. I completed that book story and emailed it across the ocean. I went downstairs and asked the front desk to summon a taxi.

The driver was of “Berber” descent he explained in pretty good English. He wanted to open a Couscous restaurant in New York City. Throughout the ride, he kept shaking a dozen Euro coins in one hand. I had asked him to take me to the Palais Royale where one of the world’s premier rare book shows was being held. About ten minutes into the ride I checked my phone.

“Ummm…I meant the Grand Palais.”

The driver seemed a bit perturbed. I didn’t understand why. The trip was on the “meter.” Looking at the map in the DK Guide, the two Palais were not too far apart.

He pulled up across the street from the venue. It is a stunning building of glass and steel. An enormous French flag flowed freely from a flagpole atop the uppermost dome in the center of the building.

He told me he did not take credit cards. This was to be a theme for the rest of the trip in Paris. Most everyone wants cash.

It was a bit of a maze to get to the entrance. Security fencing is set up so you have to zig-zag back and forth to get in.

As a member of the ABAA, I am also a member of ILAB. ILAB was a sponsor of the show. My membership card should have got me in free. Nope. I just received blank stares when I held out my card and tried to explain that to several different faces behind several glass windows. I paid my 10 Euros (cash) and went in. It was breathtaking. I wandered up and down the aisles of the booksellers who filled up half the hall. Then I walked through the other half which was art and antiques. Everything on display was stunningly beautiful. Most of it was quite expensive. I presumed the unpriced items were even more so. I don’t know what the French term for POR (Price on Request) is. I decided not to learn.

A friend had asked me to “bring back a book from Paree.” That first day in Montmartre and its neighborhood, I had passed a number of bookstores. Also, a number of the sites had lots of books in their gift shops. Nope. Nothing even close. This choice had to be just right. I had a secondary mission in Paris. The Quest for the Perfect Book.

To say there were thousands of fabulous books in the Grand Palais would be an understatement. But there was something wrong with them—for my purposes. They were too perfect, pristine. They seemed to have no heart. That was all in my head of course. I spent a couple hours wandering through the show. I watched craftspeople making paper and gilding books.

Here’s a link to the show. You can explore the Gallery … https://www.salondulivrerare.paris

I wanted to see Paris now. I stepped outside. The thousands of horse chestnut trees—Marronier—were just beginning to bloom. Very few of the upright white and pink candelabras blossoms were open. The leaf clusters which appear like palmless hands pointing downward were the brilliant green of early spring immaturity.

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I stepped over to a long row of them and looked up. I’ve always loved Buckeye trees. I planted some in my old home. As a child, I would play a chestnut game with other kids. We would thread a shoelace through a large nut. A large knot at one end kept the buckeye from sliding off. One child would hold out the string dangling from his hand. The other would whip his nut at the suspended nut in an attempt break it. The game is called “Conkers.” I would look forward to fall. We would throw sticks up into the trees in order to dislodge the ripe nuts in their prickly green covers.

I felt a drip strike my cheek. The skies were quite clear—azure blue. Looking over at my left shoulder, I saw a large white splat of pigeon poop starting to slide down my lapel. Some people see this as a sign of good luck. I just hoped the crap would come out of my favorite jacket.

I headed over to the pathway along the Seine and started walking. Soon I saw the l’Orangerie.

I purchased a two-day Museum Pass there, which was to save me a great deal of money and time. With it in hand I could bypass many lines of people waiting to buy tickets at many venues. From there, I headed to the Louvre stepping through the acres of trees and ponds in the dusty Tuileries.

I’d read the Lourve was impossible during regular hours. This was a beautiful Friday afternoon. I rode the escalator into and under the “Pyramid.” It wasn’t crowded at all.

There commenced hours of acres and acres of oil paintings and sculptures and tapestries. Winged Victory, the cluster of da Vincis. Mona Lisa, of course. I wandered past the Botticelli fresco.

“Does the art make me breathless, or am I having a coronary?”

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I was literally out of breath. The impressions were deep and broad and meaningful. Angels, gods, corpses and naked people…

The Louvre is vast…just vast. It was some hours before I surrendered—after taking a glass of wine from an outdoor cafe situated on a terrace overlooking the Place du Pyramides with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

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As I sat and collected myself, I thought on how many images and statues of Joan of Arc I had seen in just the first 24 hours of wandering. The Leonard Cohen song began playing over and over in my mind. It was to replay many times in the next few days. Ultimately, it was sung to myself in despair.

Sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I thought of all the beautiful things I’d seen. Then Dylan played for a bit:

Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

It WAS time to head back to my hotel—all the way up in Clichy.

But, no, no date…

I walked around the neighborhood up there in Clichy. It is a bit of a working class area. Dozens of hollow eyed and hollow cheeked men walked on the sidewalks or crowded into small cafes or hookah bars.

I found a little shop. It was kind of a bodega. I wanted a bottle of wine in my room. The place had about 30 varieties to choose from. I’m very old school about wine. I eschew twist tops whenever possible. In restaurants I will inquire—”Which of these is NOT a twist top?”

Of course, in Paris, I had no corkscrew. This place only had one bottle with a twist top. It was a white I had never heard of. “Lichette—Les Caves Vernaux.” It was my only choice. It cost all of 3.95 Euro. I’m in France for God’s sake, and I’m buying crap wine…with a twist top!

I paid. Cash.

I took it back to my room. It wasn’t dreadful. It worked just fine. I read and wrote and planned for tomorrow.


“Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I’ve watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.”

“And who are you?” she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
“Why, I’m fire,” he replied,
“And I love your solitude, I love your pride.”

Leonard Cohen: “Joan of Arc”

This would be a day to get things done. I had initial plans—a rare thing. I had checked, and the Chapel at Saint Chappelle opened at 9 am. I had the taxi drop me off at the Pont Neuf, and from there crossed the Seine over to the Île de la Cité. I was the first to arrive at the entrance. Some people started lining up behind me. 9 am arrived and…nothing. 905, 910, 915… we were peering around the corner trying to see when they would let us in. The little man in an ill fitting uniform eventually showed up, and I wandered in. The little church with its vast walls of stained glass is one of the most beautiful spaces in the world. From there I went to the Conciergerie—most noted for being a prison during the Terror. Marie Antoinette waited here until the wagon came to take her across the Seine to the guillotine.

Then I made my way to Notre Dame. It was still pretty early, so the crowds were not vast.

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I entered the shrine. There was Joan. Looking up at the roof—and heaven above.

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I took some pictures. The shots of the Altar were backlit and appeared a bit foggy or smoky.

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I didn’t want to wait to go out to the roof. Why, oh why, did I make that choice? I’d been up there before. If I’d gotten a ticket, I would have had to return in a couple hours and…stand in line.

Back out into the light I made my way across the rest of the Seine and into the Latin Quarter. My first stop there was Shakespeare and Company.

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This iconic bookstore is a chaotic jumble of rooms and halls and stairways. Every book purchased gets stamped: “Shakespeare & Co. Kilomètre Zéro Paris on the front end paper.

I looked and looked, and although there were books I would want, I knew I would have to carry them the rest of the day. If I’d found the Perfect Book for my friend, I certainly would have done that labor (if the book wasn’t too heavy…lol)

The rest of the day I wandered from neighborhood to neighborhood and site to site. A couple from Frederick were in town, and we were going to meet for dinner at 7:15 across from the Luxembourg Gardens. That was the goal that led my steps through the Latin Quarter, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Luxembourg Quarter. The path led me to the Cluny Museum where among other magnificent Middle Ages artifacts is the series of the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries.

I found my way to the Pantheon and visited the tombs of Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo among many others. In the transept are the 8 large murals and paintings that tell the story of Joan of Arc.


From there to the Musée d’Orsay. Then to Napoleon’s tomb.

It was then time to head toward Luxembourg Gardens and my dinner rendezvous.

I turned this way and that and then was finally on the right road. Holding my DK Guidebook in my hand, I read the tiny words on the map. I was only a couple blocks away. I got to the restaurant and discovered I was 25 minutes early. I recalled a little bookstore a couple blocks behind me. I turned and walked back to the little blue shop sticking out into the oblique corner like the prow of a ship.

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I twisted the door knob and pushed. I felt I almost burst into the cramped dim space from the bright light outside.

A little old bookseller looked up at me surprised. She then looked up at the clock. 6:55. I’d seen on the door. The shop closed at “19:00″—in five minutes. It was as if my forehead was on a string. I stepped across to a wall of glass cases like I was being reeled in. The first—the only book—I saw in the whole store was a slim tan thing. I could read the title:

La Flute de Jade:

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I knew that was it. I just “knew.”

I indicated I’d like to see it. The shopkeeper removed it from the case and handed it to me. I flipped it open. It was beautiful from front board to endpaper to title page to frontispiece to printed page to the final colophon.

“Oui,” I said.

She stepped behind the sales counter with the book in hand.

“Je suis une…ummm…bookseller,” I stammered as I withdrew a business card from a pocket inside my blazer.

“Ahhh! Bon!” she scribbled 60 on a piece of paper indicating I would get a 10 Euro discount.

She said something about the Fair, and I indicated that, yes, I was in town for the fair.

She gently erased the pencil price and slipped the book into a small pink bag. She sealed the flap with a tiny piece of tape.

“Accepte vous Master Card?”

She shook her head. I paid cash.

I felt as if every step of that long day had led me to that book.

There are few perfect things in the world. Few perfect days or events or… I slipped the little volume of perfection into my jacket pocket. The book and my friend would be a perfect match.

My Maryland friends were on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. It was a wonderful meal in the very tiny French restaurant. Coq au Vin, if you must know.


“Then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,”
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.

And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of Joan of Arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

Leonard Cohen: “Joan of Arc”

It was my last full day. I would fly out early Monday afternoon.

I asked the cabbie to take me to the Place de Gaulle. I surveyed the Arc de Triomphe and headed toward the Champs d’Elysee. It was blocked by portable fencing. I knew there was marathon going on and presumed that was it. As I walked down the street, I saw the debris from Saturday’s Yellow Vest protests. Tons of trash and, oddly, a few hundred bags of clothes were being gathered up.

I’d decided to visit the book show once more. In the Grand Palais, there was also an exhibition called La Lune—Du Voyage Réel aux Voyages Imaginaires. I’m a Cancer and therefore guided—or is it—misled by the moon. Anyway, I’ve always used that as an excuse for my moodiness.

It is a wondrous exhibition. It honors the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing. But I need to finish this up. So here you go:


I was very moved by many of the paintings and exhibits. Very. I ALMOST bought the exhibition catalogue, but it was a very large book.

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I walked through the book show again and then crossed the street to the Petit Palais.

Joan of Arc:

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I wandered and indeed crossed paths with the Marathon. Its final stretch goes along the Seine. There were bands playing every few hundred yards. Hundreds of participants ran, jogged or walked. Many posed with their phones for selfies with the Eiffel Tower leaning behind them.

I went across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower.

It was now late afternoon. I took a cab all the way back to the Grand Palais so I could buy the heavy book for myself. It was full of lunar treasures. I had a decent dinner at Le Chat Blanc. I wanted to visit Maxims and walked to that. It is closed Sundays… A friend had recommended Aux Chien qui Fume (The Dog Who Smokes.) It was getting dark. I had a couple glasses of Sancerre. This bistro is on Rue du Pont Neuf. I stepped out into the night and decided to walk to Notre Dame once more. I stood before it illuminated in the cold white light and took her picture.

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Then back the hotel.


It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of Joan of Arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.

I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?

Leonard Cohen: “Joan of Arc”

I was in Charles de Gaulle Airport standing in a cattle line when a text came in from a friend. It showed flames rising from the roof of Notre Dame.

It is the following Friday.

I still can’t process that something so eternal and enduring can be lost.

Will it be rebuilt in 5? 10? years or as some are saying 40 years?

It can never be the same. There are no giant ancient trees to supply the roof beams.



2 Comments on Article

  1. Andy commented on

    My God, just imagine if that book fair had been scheduled for a week or two later. What you would have missed.

    1. Chuck replied on

      I am glad I got to see it a couple times last week
      It is so heartbreaking
      I still can’t really fathom it

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Andy.

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