The Bells, The Bells

It was only fair I asked The Mister about his birthday weekend preferences. After all, it was his birthday.  He decided on an unstructured, casual three days of aimless wandering through Paris with occasional good food and serendipitous moments.  I agreed. Mostly. After all, the plans I make often fall through and I adjust well when it happens (this is a lie), so what is the point of over-planning?

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The morning’s un-planned plan included a leisurely walk through the streets of Saint-Germain, along the Seine, through the Tuileries Gardens and over to the Musee d’Orsay for art-looking and lunch.  The unplanned part of the plan involved a trip to the local pharmacy. I swear to you, on every trip to Paris, no matter who I’m with, someone needs to find and utilize a Parisian pharmacy.  This trip, the someone was me.  Parisians design their pharmacies for maximum embarrassment.  No slinking up the aisles in search of familiar remedies, no plucking things off the shelf  and hiding them in your basket, no skulking to the self-checkout line..non non non. In Paris, you are warmly greeted by the Person In Charge, who offers to help you with any embarrassing problem you might have as long as you can articulate it clearly in French (or type it into your blackberry, hit translate and pray to the Google translate gods).  I survived the exchange although I’m not sure the pharmacist did.

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We walked from the pharmacy to the Il de la Cite and into the shadow of Notre Dame.  It seemed a sin to walk by without going in to gaze on the glorious colors of the rose window, so we decided to spend few minutes inside the Cathedral warming our hands, our feet and  our hearts. The crowd seemed unusually heavy for a mid-February Friday, but the line moved quickly.  As we entered the Cathedral, we could see huge church bells lining the floor of the nave from the entrance to the altar.  Each magnificent bell stood alone, roped off and surrounded by hordes of camera-toting admirers.

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Bells have been a part of Notre Dame’s ecclesiastical life since the 12th century, but the ravages of time, war and reconstruction left the Cathedral with bells of poor construction and questionable musical quality. As part of the Cathedral’s 850th birthday, the church commissioned new bells to replace the substandard bells currently hanging in the towers.  Only one original bell, Emmanuel, will remain in place.  The newly recast bells are named in honor of saints and people significant to the history of Notre Dame…Marie (Mary), Gabriel (in honor of St. Gabriel), Anne-Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Etienne (Stephen), Benoit-Joseph, Maurice and Jean-Marie. The bells are displayed in the Cathedral nave until the end of February and are scheduled for their first celebratory ringing on Palm Sunday, 23 March.  If you are curious to hear what the bells sounded like at the end of the 18th century and how they will sound after reinstallation, click here. If you are interested in the process of replacing the bells, click here and practice your French or make up the dialogue as you go along like I do.

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The Mister and I spent a few more minutes in the Cathedral absorbing the atmosphere and admiring the beautiful windows before heading back out into the city.

Plead on, O bells, that thy sweet voice
May still forever be
An intercession to rejoice
Benign divinity;
And that thy tuneful grace may fall
Like dew, a quickening balm,
Upon the arid hearts of all,
O bells of Notre Dame!

from The Bells Of Notre Dame, Eugene Field  (1850-1895)

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