Friday, October 9, 2020

Four Years Ago in Paris with Saint Denis

With today being the feast day of Saint Denis the first Bishop of Paris, I was reminded of where I was four years ago this day. Being in Paris myself, I was considering whether or not I would visit the Basilica of Saint Denis on his feast day. I decided not to visit, figuring it would probably be very busy and prevent me from exploring the basilica to my satisfaction, so I put it off for the next day. The next day I took a cab from my hotel, which was right across the street from Sorbonne University in the Latin Quarter, and finally arrived at the Basilica of Saint Denis nearly an hour later, being in a northern suburb of the city.

The Basilica of Saint Denis was one of my favorite places to visit in Paris. This basilica was the first to use all the elements of gothic architecture. It is an absolutely beautiful medieval building. As you walk through this basilica, it is as if you are walking through the long history of Paris, in all its glory. Forty-two kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm lay there, both in the crypt below and the main part of the church above. It is truly a space for the living and the dead, where the reposed sleep under a heavenly glow. Most fascinating is the imagery of Saint Denis, who is often depicted carrying his decapitated head. The basilica remains a vivid example of the beginnings of the Gothic movement and a laboratory to study the careful and brilliant transition from late Romanesque to Gothic style.
So much can be said of the basilica, but these things can be read elsewhere, though I highly encourage visitors to Paris to make a stop at the basilica at some point. After a few hours exploring the basilica, I decided to leave. This was my second to last full day to explore Paris, and I had a full schedule to check off all the places I wanted to go to. I had to catch a cab, and the ride was around an hour to my next destination. I had been having a bunch of problems with cabs in Paris. Everyone told me that every cab driver in Paris spoke English, but from my experience only about 50% of them actually did, or perhaps the other 50% wanted to take advantage of me. Not knowing the neighborhood around Saint Denis, I started walking around looking to hail a cab down. I was unsuccessful. Didn't even see one. What I did come to understand is that the Basilica of Saint Denis is surrounded by a very traditional Muslim community. In fact, walking around I felt like I was more in an Islamic society than anywhere I ever traveled in Turkey, which I found to be surprising. 
Almost two hours passed, and still no cab in sight. Then it started raining. And it was a strong downpour. I had no umbrella, so I confined myself under an outdoor covering of a store and waited out the storm for about another half hour. Then I remembered there were phone numbers in my guide book to call a cab, so I did. To my joy, they had a number where you can request cab drivers that spoke English. Within 15 minutes, he arrived, and thankfully spoke English very well.

The cab driver was a talkative young guy, who had lived in America for two years. It was an election year, just like this year, with Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton, just days away from the election, so he wanted to talk about American politics and get my opinion on various matters. He asked me who I was going to vote for, and even though by this time I was a very firm Trump supporter, to avoid any conflict I told him I was still undecided, but because I wanted to hear his opinion about Trump, I mentioned that I was leaning towards Trump, as I couldn't imagine myself supporting Hillary Clinton in any way, since she is probably the most corrupt politician in modern American history. He said that he liked a lot of what Trump stood for and believed that he would be good for America, but included the fact that as an inexperienced politician it would all be a gamble as to how he would do. I had mentioned to him that America is best run by a successful businessman like Trump than a politician, especially one who prioritizes the interests of America unlike the previous administration, but because Washington D.C. hates outsiders who do not pander to the status quo, he will probably have a very difficult presidency if he does win since he will expose the corruption of those who are more interested in profiting off of their positions of power rather than representing the American people. He also informed me about French politics, and since it was an election year for them too, he told me that he also was undecided, but was leaning towards Macron.

After what was already a long day, I finally arrived back at my hotel, and got ready for the second part of my day after a long unanticipated delay. My next stops were a few more museums and the tomb of Napoleon. I believe I put in at least 22,000 steps that day, the second most of my trip. That night I had to stay up extra late to catch the last debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I stayed up till four in the morning watching it, then woke up by eight to start another long day in Paris, the last of my trip. If I were to offer any advice based on my experience that day, I would say to make better arrangements going to and coming back from the Basilica of Saint Denis, to avoid wasting as much time as I did, but to still encourage people to make their way out there, since it is well worth the time and trouble.