Our Day of the Dead in the City of Light

Whoever said you can’t walk everywhere in Paris hasn’t met Michael and I. Last October we proved all naysayers wrong by the power of our own four feet. One of our best days of our week was the one we named our DAY OF THE DEAD.

No, we didn’t die that day. Trust me, it was a thematic name choice.

In Paris, we stayed in the 9th at an unassuming little hotel called Hôtel de Paris Saint Georges. We don’t go big on hotels, because they’re only for sleeping in when your goal is to take in every inch of every city you visit. The hotel is not important, as long as it’s clean.

Our first goal on the Day of the Dead was to make our way to Père Lachaise Cemetery all the way over in the 20th arrondissement. Google Maps told us it was a mere 5.2km away. A walk in the park that would take us 1 hour and 8 minutes, according to Google. Google also doesn’t know us. We knew we could cut that number down to an hour.

My first time in Paris was action packed with Left Bank Writers Retreat stuff, so I didn’t get to see Père Lachaise. The days were too fully planned out to sneak away, and the cemetery was closed at night. Who closes a cemetery at night?! The nerve!

I had several graves on my visiting wish-list, and we booked a walking tour at the cemetery to make things easy for us. It’s a huge cemetery!

Unfortunately, our Day of the Dead was going to begin with a fail. Not surprising, since we were still dead in the middle of the pandemic. The tour didn’t sell enough tickets, so it was cancelled. The worst part was that the tour company didn’t tell us it was cancelled. Michael and I stood by the designated Metro stop waiting for the guide to appear for far too long. After doing several somersaults and finally contacting the tour guide people, we discovered we had been waiting in vain. We were on our own.

Even though we didn’t see everyone on the list, we did manage to see a few of the famous people I wanted to visit. Having waited decades to see this historic cemetery, I was not disappointed. Sure, it would have been a hundred percent better with the accompaniment of a guide, but it was still an amazing morning!

Oscar Wilde

We saw Wilde, Piaf, Proust, Moliere, Balzac, Chopin, and Morrison, among others. Then we accepted our defeat and put Père Lachaise onto the bingo card for our next visit to Paris. Next time, hopefully, we will have a guide. There’s still quite a few people on my wish-list that we missed. Take my word for it, if you’re going to visit Père Lachaise, get a guided tour. You may think you can do it alone, but it is really overwhelming once you’re there. Even with a paper map or Google Maps. I was just too overwhelmed to remember half the names I wanted to visit. And we did some crisscrossing we could have avoided. GET. A. GUIDE.

Marcel Proust

With our mad dash throughout the cemetery over, we were off to our next stop! Did somebody say Panthéon?! And how does the Panthéon work into our Day of the Dead, you might ask if you’re not familiar with the building in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Off to the 5th arrondissement we go!

Panthéon, temple to all the gods. Sitting atop Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon (Built from 1758-1790), once a church, is now a mausoleum for the remains of France’s most distinguished citizens. This incarnation of a mausoleum could very well be the building’s last and eternal purpose.

Once we made the brisk 4.1km walk from Père Lachaise, with a quick stop at a yummy Indian restaurant we stumbled upon along the way, we were ready to meet more of history’s illustrious dead. 

We visited almost everyone resting there. From Voltaire to Zola.

Voltaire!

A highlight of the visit, for me as a writer and reader, was Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo.

Emile Zola
Alexandre Dumas
Victor Hugo

Since we were in the neighbourhood (the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement), we also visited Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which is just behind the Panthéon. This church was made newly famous after appearing in the movie Midnight in Paris. I had visited the church back in 2014 when the Panthéon was closed for some restorative work. We took an iconic (to us) photo of ourselves on the church steps where Gil sat in Midnight in Paris, right before he was whisked away into the Paris of the 1920s.

The 2014 Left-Bank Writers Retreat. Look it up, it’s an amazing retreat for writers. Takes place in Paris every year.

And here’s the facade of the church. The steps made famous in the movie are on the left hand side of the photo below.

Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, October, 2021.

After visiting the greatest of France’s late citizens, we were off to visit the bones of some of Paris’s late great cemeteries. Say that ten times fast. Anyway, Catacombes de Paris in the 14th arrondissement were the next stop on our Day of the Dead.

If you can, always get your tickets online in advance. You will avoid a headache, or even the possibility of being turned away at the door.

The Catacombes were another place I missed on my last visit to Paris, and, therefore, a must see during this visit. We made the 2.7km walk in no time, even with the quick detour through the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement! We couldn’t walk by this treasure when we could almost as easily walk through it!

The very modern entrance to a very gothic dungeon-like attraction.

Getting down to the dark underbelly was a feat in itself. The spiral staircase brought back memories of climbing the never-ending staircase to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, or the just-as-deadly staircase to the top of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. Paris sure does love the spiral staircase!

Climb down into the underbelly of Paris, via the endless spiral staircase…

The Catacombes were everything we hoped they would be. Death made creepy by darkness and dirt, with a little dripping wetness thrown in for good measure. We were under Paris, surrounded by the bones of millions of long-dead displaced Parisiennes.

Watch your head!

After the staircase comes a very narrow passageway with a low ceiling and damp darkness…

The Catacombes holds the remains of over 6 million people. It is something to see. If you’re visiting Paris and have no problems with mobility issues or claustrophobia, I highly recommend it. I will say, however, that it is probably a one and done. There are many places in Paris I will visit again and again. The Catacombes, incredible as it was to experience, probably isn’t one of them.

You really do become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of bones you see. And what is open to the public is merely the tip of the iceberg.

The crazy wide-eyed expression?!

The parts of the Catacombes open to public are roughly 1km in length. You’ll never guess where one arrives after climbing the almost identical spiral staircase up out of the dungeons of Paris. That’s right! A gift shop! All of the world’s attractions and rides now deposits its adventurers off into the coveted gift shop. A sure sign of Commerce Above All Else!

After our tour of dead things, we capped off our day at my restaurant of choice in the hopes of having a chance encounter with a ghost from Paris’s glorious literary past. Between the Catacombes and the Jardin du Luxembourg, you will come to one of Paris’s most famous literary restaurants. That’s saying a lot, as quite a few of Paris’s restaurants were made famous by the patronage of many of its literary elite from the time of the Lost Generation.

The one I chose was La Closerie des Lilas, which was a mere 850m from the Catacombes.

We had a lovely (if overpriced) meal outside on the patio while I imagined Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald tucked away in a corner making literary chatter and writing away in their battered journals while drinking light aperitifs.

And just like my son Jacob used to do whenever we visited a new restaurant when he was a little boy, I made the excuse to use the facilities so I could snoop around some.

At the bar, if you look closely enough, you will see a tiny brass nameplate screwed into the bar top at one of the available chairs. It says ERNEST HEMINGWAY. This is where Ernest sat at times.

With dinner over, so too was our day at its end. Almost. In Paris, the day is always only almost over…

La Closerie des Lilas, near the end of the daylight…

Now, we only had to walk home! And you bet we made some stops along the way. The dead things may have been behind us, but there was still a lot to see!

The Pantheon at sunset is quite stunning. So majestic.

After stopping to visit the Seine, we decided to make a little side-trip to Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île on the island, where I stayed during my first visit to Paris. Here’s to another 2.5km!

Can one even walk across the famous bridges of Paris without stopping to pay homage to the river that runs through it. Her majesty…

We had our meal at Closerie, but it was time for dessert! Where else but Amorino Saint Louis?! What else, but gelato?!

Amorino Saint Louis

Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île will always be one of my favourite places in Paris. When I stayed there in 2014, I loved to wake up early and get out into the tiny street and watch it come to life! Such simple magic!

Next! 750m to The Lady. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. I mean, it was right there! We couldn’t NOT visit. I know it’s closed, but just to walk by it…

Our Lady of Paris…

This concluded our Day of the Dead. After another 3.8km of walking through the nighttime streets of Paris, we were back at our hotel. It was time to sleep, to recoup and prepare for our next day of concurring the streets of Paris one footstep at a time!

My step counter for this day showed 35,173 steps, or 27.6km. Just a stroll in the big scheme of things. How often do you get to wander around the streets of Paris seeking out dead things?!

Our Triangle of Death on the Day of the Dead. (And, yes, all the hearts are places we visited during our week in Paris. All the best places! And not a single taxi, metro, bicycle or uber!)

Hemingway’s Paris – Immersive Writing Retreat on the Left Bank!

The Left Bank Writers Retreat – Writing At Hemingway’s Favorite Spots in Paris!

The 2014 Left Bank Writers Retreat faculty and students, of which I was a student. From their website header, this photo was taken by Sarah Suzor. We’re posing in front of Les Deux Magots.

(Full Disclosure: I have no affiliation with Left Bank Writers Retreat. I am merely a past participant who thoroughly enjoyed and cherished the experience given to me by the retreat.)

It appears that the 2022 Left Bank Writers Retreat is a go!

If you or someone in your family would love nothing more than to tour Hemingway’s Paris while going deeper with your writing craft in the midst of the city of love and light, look no further than the Left Bank Writers Retreat!

The knowledgeable faculty are not only experts in the craft of writing, but they’ll immerse you fully into the Paris that Hemingway knew as an expat writer back in the day when he lived and wrote in Paris. And they’re all lovely people you will immediately feel comfortable with as they guide you through your Paris experience.

For me, being a first time visitor to Paris, I was immediately at ease in the presence of the LBWR faculty! You really get a sense that they’re taking care of all the details. Even those evenings when the students are left to their own devices, the faculty is at the ready to answer any questions you may have prior to your individual adventuring.

Visit Hemingway’s haunts, lunch together, explore museums, be guided through neighborhoods that come to life with your LBWR guides! I really can’t say enough about how wonderful my experiences were with this retreat. I think of it fondly and often…these seven years on since participating.

Visit their site for all the details:

LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT

Next retreat is June 11-17, 2022!

There is still time to register, either for yourself or for a family member (should you be looking for the perfect Christmas Gift!).

From the front page of the website, a little rundown:

Eight writers will spend a week immersed in new experiences in the magical setting of Paris’s Left Bank. Part writers workshop, part tour of Paris, The Left Bank Writers Retreat is for anyone who would like to break out of a writing rut and build momentum in their work. Will you be one of the 2022 Left Bank Writers?

Cost: $1,999 includes morning workshops, breakfast, lunch each day at a fabulous restaurant, snacks,
museum passes, literary tours, Seine boat ride, Metro tickets and a farewell dinner celebration.

This retreat will enrich your writing life and give you a lifetime of memories. I cannot recommend it enough!

LBWR on FACEBOOK

Retreat Schedule

About Page – Introducing the Faculty

Head on over to the Left Bank Writers Retreat website now, so you can head on over to the Left Bank come June 2022!

When Paris is Possible – A Journal of Paris…

When I want to manifest something, I first bring it to life on my blog. For those paying attention, I always do this. I’ve become predictable, even.

Sometimes these notions I have first appear in my Twitter feed. And then I feel the need to solidify them by writing about them on my blog. It’s called accountability and it’s a way to hold myself to task. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Dollarama has such cute journals!

This is how my last novel, The Camino Club came about. At first, I dreamed it. Then I tweeted about my idea. And then, while I was preparing to walk my first Camino in 2014, I blogged about it. It was a kernel of an idea. So in order to hold myself accountable, I put out into the world that I would write a YA novel set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path.

That novel was published by Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press, in 2020. Ask me about launching a book during a pandemic. You know what, on second thought…don’t ask me. Nobody should have to do that!

Anyway, I’m also famous for digressing. Today I want to hold myself accountable for a new idea.

My dream this time is to release a journal of our upcoming short trip to Paris. It will only be a week in Paris…but a week is enough if you’re fast of your toes. Paris is a moveable feast. But it’s also a well constructed easily traversed city that’s perfectly laid out for the hiker and consummate walker. That happens to be what Michael and I are. We will take that city by storm, one footstep at a time…and we will cover it all!

And I will keep a daily journal. And if all goes according to plan, I will publish it. The only other thing I ever self-published was my short story set on the Camino called Light Near the End of the World. So this will be my 2nd journey into that world.

My short story set on the Camino.

I don’t have a plan, but I will write about the places we visit in Paris and how we got to those places. And I will write about food and restaurants and cafes and macarons and baguettes. I will cover everything that strikes my fancy. We’ll see how this goes.

I will probably start writing in the journal before I even get to Paris. This will be a personal account of ONE JOURNEY. We’re traveling during a pandemic and we’re getting to Paris via Iceland. I mean, anything can happen, right? We’ll see if we get there…and if and when we do, I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about.

I’m ready. With my Dollarama journal and the lovely bookmark I picked up somewhere along the way as its traveling companion, I will take notes on our Parisienne travels.

I hope this goes well! I’m so passionate about Paris. It appears in many of my short stories, and I am also currently writing a YA novel that takes place there. Wrapped somewhere in the reasoning for returning to Paris–one of my favourite cities in the world–is the excuse of doing some extra research for my novel in progress. But honestly, I just love it there so much. I want Michael to see it…and I want to see it again for the first time, through his eyes.

My Paris journal, with a Camino bookmark I received with an Etsy purchase.

Just over 40 days before our departure. Let’s hope the Delta Variant doesn’t keep us from our already postponed (we originally planned Paris for September, 2020) trip to the beautiful city of light!

Beauty’s Religion and it Christens Me with Wonder

“There are places I’ll remember all my life…” ~ In My Life, The Beatles (Rubber Soul)

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When I consider the lyrics of And If Venice Is Sinking by the Spirit of the West, I inevitably think of places like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. “‘Cause beauty’s religion and it’s christened me with wonder.” Not only is Notre Dame the very heart of one of the world’s most beloved cities, but it is also smack dab at the Point Zero mark of that city. There is an octagonal brass plate embedded in the ground just outside the front doors of Notre Dame. It’s marked, “POINT ZERO – DES ROUTES DE FRANCE”. The point from which all places are measured. If the heart is at the centre, then this would be the literal heart of Paris.

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When I was in Paris in 2014 for the Left Bank Writers Retreat, I stayed just down the street from the iconic Catholic cathedral… on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île. I made it a point to walk by–to touch–the cathedral every single day I was in Paris. I discovered that if you go just after sunrise, you can beat the throngs that appear and line up outside its front doors for the remainder of the day. You could have the entire inside of the cathedral virtually to yourself. This is what I did. And it was lovely. I was able to walk through the history housed in the massive cathedral at my own pace and marvel at the myriad of relics found under it impressive roof. And instead of feeling ill at ease by all the watching eyes of the gargoyles looking down from above, I felt protected. They were patrolling the heart of Paris, keeping everything in their arrondissement safe. And who was I to question that? They had been looking down on Paris for 750 years, give or take. Those gargoyles? They are my saints. They are enough religion for me.

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Our Lady of Paris suffered another setback yesterday, but she will rise again. She always does. She has, after all, survived even the French Revolution.

 

 

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Notre-Dame in the spring of 2014.

Inside Notre-Dame, I found a model of Notre-Dame. I hope they removed it before the most recent restoration project began.

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In 1831 Victor Hugo featured Our Lady in his famous literary masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. This is how I fell in love with the cathedral. I found her in a book.

The preface of Hugo’s book explains how graffiti was its catalyst…one word–ANArKH–engraved by hand into the wall in Notre Dame. That always shook me. It stayed with me…the spark that created a masterpiece. I could visualize that becoming, that blossoming, that eruption of creativity. It’s how ideas come to writers. It’s remarkable that we get a glimpse into this secret insight in the preface of Hugo’s book. It, in itself, is a gift. Anyway, the end of the preface is as follows:

“The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth. It is upon this word that this book is founded. March, 1831.”

Being a character in a novel has its perks. For Notre-Dame, the biggest perk became renewed interest and, ultimately, a restoration—which saw the addition of the iconic spire that toppled yesterday in a fire. That spire took many hearts with it when it fell into the flames. But don’t lose hope. Vive la France, Vive Paris, Vive Notre Dame. She will rise again. It may take some time, but she will do it. She sits inside the literal heart of a great nation and she is that great nation’s heart. They won’t let her die.

Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris – A Writer at Work – Please Excuse the Blog Silence…

I will be slipping into the blog cone of silence once again. (-: Today I head to Paris and the LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to go to Paris. It’s at the very top of my bucket list. In fact, a visit to the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris IS the #1 item on that list. And guess where I will be heading while I’m in Paris! (-:

I will be taking small workshops every day while I’m there…little exercises in the exploration of all things writing. On the menu is; poetry, finding your voice, place as character and more. PLUS—we will be exploring Hemingway’s Paris AND F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Paris.

You can find out about the retreat by clicking RIGHT HERE. You know, in case you’re thinking you may want to go to the retreat NEXT year. I hear it’s an annual thing. (-:

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

Do I wish to retrace the footsteps of Hemingway? Absolutely. His A MOVEABLE FEAST is one of my all-time favourite books. I’m going to attempt to re-read it on my flight over tonight. Although I tend to do nothing but sleep while on airplanes. I can’t seem to keep my eyes open. I’m not too worried about it, though. I have practically memorized the book. (-;

Some of my favourite Moveable Feast quotes:

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”~ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

“By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.”~ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

“For a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.”~ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

I’m going to Paris for Hemingway. And for Paris itself. I believe it to be a beautiful city. I’m about to find out if reality matches my belief…

 

See you on the flipside. (-:

Please don’t forget to check out my previous post! I’m having a fundraiser for MALESURVIVOR. For a limited time, 100% of the royalties of my book sales will be going towards their Weekend of Recovery Scholarship program.