Fenton & White See Heaven and Hell

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IN THIS WORLD, WONDERFUL AND TERRIBLE THINGS ARE OFTEN FOUND SIDE BY SIDE

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After our lunch, we decided to take a trip to a few lesser known sites.  These are places that don’t advertise with large banners and the crowds tend to be less (although for those who know about them, the line-ups can be long because they are smaller sites).  The first place we had decided to see was thanks to a note in a travel book about a moving monument known as The Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation.  This site is located behind Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, at the end of the Ile de la Cite.

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THE ENTRANCE TO THE PARK FOR THE MEMORIAL HAS A SIMPLE PLAQUE

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As you enter a small park, a gentleman in a concrete bunker comes out and explains (in French of course), the rules for visiting the monument.  You may take pictures inside and out, but they request that you respect other visitors, there is no filming, and you are not to share pictures of the inside of the monument’s images other than the central space.  The pictures in this blog will reflect those that we took outside.  I only have one photo from inside which is a stock photo from the web site for the monument itself.  It seemed irreverent to take pictures once we had entered the monument.

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THE VIEW TO THE SKY AS YOU DESCEND INTO THE COURTYARD OF THE MONUMENT

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So what is this site?  It is a monument to the 200 000 people who were deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.  This monument is located on the former morgue of Notre Dame and was designed by Georges-Henri Pingusson to evoke both the feelings of hopelessness that the deportees would have felt, and also a glimmer of hope that we can learn from the past; a reminder that terrible tragedies should warn us not to hurt our fellow man ever again.  To enter the monument, you descend from the gardens above down a set of stone stairs that take you into a courtyard shaped like the prow of the ship.  All around you are concrete walls, and above you only sky.

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THIS GRATE LOOKS OUT ONTO THE SEINE RIVER

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The paving stones all point to a grate that symbolizes the last view the deportees would have seen prior to entering the darkness of their transport, bound for trains that would take them to the concentration camps.  It is a chilling thought to imagine the emotions of those huddled waiting to be deported.

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THE ENTRANCE TO THE INSIDE IS NARROW AND LEADS INTO A DARK SPACE

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Entering the monument fills one with a sense of deep anxiety as you leave the light behind and enter the dark. The centre of the memorial has a long chamber with 200 000 lit crystals that symbolize those that were killed.  There is a circle with an eternal flame of memory to the left of this chamber.

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THE INNER CHAMBER

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To the right and left of the central chamber, one can walk through rooms that have artifacts (including urns with ashes from the camps), and photos and stories from those who went to the concentration camps. It is made clear that this is not in any way aimed at generating anger at the German people, but rather a remembrance of how a small number of terrible people who became the leaders of the camps and served the Nazi regime inflicted pain on others.  By the time we finished paying respects and reading through some emotionally moving letters, looking at photos and learning more about the lives of those in the camps (and many of the stories are those of how people maintained their spirits and managed to survive … incredible stories) , we went to leave the space.  The last thing you see before you go back into the daylight is the motto of the monument … Forgive … but never forget.  Forgive the past, but don’t let something like this happen again.

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WE MOVED FROM THE DEPORTATION MONUMENT TO A SLIGHTLY BETTER PLACE … PRISON.

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We were pretty stunned after leaving the monument, and took some time simply strolling the streets and reflecting on how to put more goodness into the world.  It took the wind out of our sails, but we had other things we wanted to see and pressed on.  The next stop on our tour of the Ile de la Cite, was a Gothic palace that became a royal residence, then the palace of justice and ultimately became a revolutionary prison.  It is a space known as Conciergerie.

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MARIE ANTOINETTE WORSHIPED IN THIS SMALL CHAPEL WHEN SHE WAS IMPRISONED AT CONCIERGERIE

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Now I realize that it must seem like we were seeing a lot for one day.  To put it in perspective, we traveled down to the Ile de la Cite by Metro, walked through the inside of Notre Dame de Paris for 30 minutes, then climbed to the top of the building for 45 minutes, then crossed a courtyard and spent 30 minutes in a linked historical exhibit (the Crypt).  After that we stopped for lunch.  Then after lunch, we walked a few hundred metres to see the Deportation monument (for about 30 minutes) and then headed down the street 5 blocks to see 2 remaining attractions that were side by side, and each took 30 minutes … and then of course .. it was time for a drink of wine before ending our day with one last site (alright, the final site, we were tuckered out) and then dinner.  The thing is that Paris is highly walkable, and there are many things in close proximity to one another.. so if you like to walk, make the most of your day.  Much of what we saw was architecture and it didn’t require the same focus as an art gallery with many different works.

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The Conciergerie is really a big open space, most famous as the prison that housed Marie Antoinette after the revolution.  The space can be toured using the English pamphlet in a very short time.  It is not very busy and they have clean washrooms. It was also on our Museum Pass, so it made sense to take a look.  We were so glad we took the time.

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ARTWORK ON DISPLAY AT THE CONCIERGERIE

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 During our visit, the site had been turned into a giant art gallery for Nuit Blanche earlier in the month and massive canvases were still on display.  The art was vibrant and uplifting.  A perfect way to lift our spirits.

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THIS WORK GLOWS IN THE DARK

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THESE LARGE PAINTINGS LOOKED RIGHT IN THIS VAST SPACE OF  VAULTED CEILINGS

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We wandered the artwork, saw a few of the jail cells, and were feeling a little better after the sobering start to our afternoon.  But we had one other place to see in the area … a place that could make one believe in Heaven.  A magical place right beside the Conciergerie called Sainte Chapelle.

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LOOKING UP AT SAINTE CHAPELLE FROM THE OUTSIDE

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Getting into Sainte Chapelle takes time.  It is literally right beside the Conciergerie, but it is also located on the grounds of the Supreme Court of France.  This means that security to get into the site is VERY high.  The line-ups can stretch around the block.   Why would anyone line up to see a small chapel?  Looking up at the building from the outside, it doesn’t seem that extraordinary.  We had to find out.  The guards take lunch from 1-2 PM and nobody can get in to the church at that time.  We lined up at 1:30 (when lines had lessened) and then when the security guards got back, we got in within 30 minutes.

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THE MAIN FLOOR CHAPEL IS LOVELY

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The main floor chapel is lovely and adorned with beautifully painted columns and warm colours and statues.  But it is the small spiral staircase near the entrance that leads to the magical place above.

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IN THE UPPER CHAPEL THE WALLS ARE MADE UP OF OVER 60 000 PIECES OF STAINED GLASS

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Pictures can never do justice to what you enter into.  You simply have to see it in person. In most churches, stained glass is highlighted in large stretches of wall.  In this magical place, the walls are all made of stained glass, with small pillars providing structural support.  It literally takes your breath away.

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THE RICHNESS OF HUES AND COLOURS IS EXTRAORDINARY

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THE CEILING IS STUNNING

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It is like standing inside a beautifully lit jewel box.

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THE KNAVE AT THE FRONT HOUSES A HARPSICHORD

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During the evenings, tickets can be purchased to attend classical concerts in this magnificent space.  We spent 30 minutes walking around staring up at the glass.  Each small circle in the windows tells the stories of the bible in pictures starting near the entrance with the book of Genesis and working your way around the space. It would take months to look through each circle and determine what passage of the Bible it pertained to.   We spent another 30 minutes in chairs  that were located opposite the doorway where the stairs entered the chapel and watched the faces of visitors as they saw the stained glass for the first time.  It was amazing to watch people’s jaws literally drop in amazement.  This space is one of the highlights of our trip to Paris, and if you love architecture, artistry or stained glass, you must go.  Arrive early and line up, and then spend some time meditating on how the world may have darkness and despair, but there are also things of light and extreme beauty in the world.  To give you a sense of scale, I have included the photo of the upper chapel from Wikipedia.  My camera couldn’t take this wide a picture.  But truly … pictures don’t do it justice.  You need to see it to believe it.

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SAINTE CHAPELLE UPPER CHAPEL (Photo from Wikipedia)

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By now it was nearing 3 PM and it was time for a glass of wine.  We ventured off the Ile de la Cite and made our way towards one of the most famous English bookshops in the world, Shakespeare and Company (noted for its rambling shape, and the fact that behind the book-cases are small rooms that travelers can rent to spend a night … the travelers rooms were closed when we were there).  They have a fine bakery  next door, but it all seemed so … not French.  Most of the books were in  English.  It was strange.

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THIS BOOK SHOP HAS BOOKSHELVES WITH HIDDEN ROOMS BEHIND IT FOR TRAVELERS

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IT WAS TIME FOR A GLASS OF WINE

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Instead we wandered up the street and found a cafe and ordered some wine.  It was time to relax and reflect on what we had seen before we did one last thing.

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Tomorrow … Pendulums, Parks and The Grand Palais

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Fenton & White

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