Our Monday in Rouen started before the sun came up and we didn’t get back until after dark. Needing rest, we spent Tuesday relaxing in Amiens, walking around the old town, soaking up the cathedral, sipping cafés and in the case of my brother, eating lots of crêpes. I lost count of how many crêpes he tried but as he explained, it was necessary to eat enough to tide him over until his next visit to France.

On Wednesday we left for Paris where we would stay until his flight back to the US. On our first day we had the goal of seeing two Joan of Arc statues by Emmanual Frémiet. The first is located near the Louvre at the Place des Pyramides (so named to commemorate Napoléon’s victory over the Mamluks at the Battle of the Pyramids). The statue marks the location where Joan was wounded by a crossbolt to the leg as she led the charge to retake Paris in 1429. The attack was unsuccessful and Paris was not regained by the monarchy until 1436, years after Joan’s death.

Statue équestre de Jeanne d’Arc, 1874 (place des Pyramides)

Frémiet was best known as an animal sculptor when he was commissioned by the state to make the Joan of Arc equestrian statue. With realism as his goal he selected a rather large breed of warhorse to model, which however made for odd proportions to the rider, who after all was a 17 year old girl. The statue was placed in 1874, in solid bronze without gilding. It was poorly received by the public who felt the relative sizes of the two creatures should reflect their relative importance and he came under harsh criticism. Frémiet becomes tormented by what he came to see as a flawed work. Twenty five years later it was necessary to temporarily remove the statue for construction of the first line of the Paris metro. Unbeknownst to anyone, he had privately cast a new version at his own expense, with a taller Joan and other stylistic changes. After the metro construction was complete he secretly replaced the old statue with the new one, gilded in gold ostensibly as a gift from him to the city, but in actual fact to disguise the new bronze. He went so far as to melt the original in order to eliminate it forever. Oddly, no one noticed the bait and switch, but four years later the hoax was finally discovered, at which time it created for him a second scandal…

Frémiet carved his second Joan of Arc a year after the equestrian version. Taking into account the criticisms of the original as being too harsh and severe, he subsequently attempted to feminize his subject, now shown kneeling in prayer. Presented at the Salon of 1875 it sadly did not find any buyers and it never went beyond the plaster stage. The plaster can now be found in the Petits Palais museum which we visited next.

Jeanne d’Arc en prière, 1875 (Petit Palais)

After these visits we walked the full length of the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, with possibly another crêpe along the way. The Romans started quite the fad with the invention of the triumphal arch several millennia ago, and Napoléon’s version (which he never saw completed), while no longer the largest in the world, is definitely now the most iconic. Its placement at the center of 12 radiating avenues in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet certainly intensifies the visual impact, and the historical events it has witnessed over the last century give it a gravity beyond what Napoléon’s ego could have manufactured.

Arc de Triomphe

After all our wanderings around it started to get dark and our thoughts turned from crêpes to possibly dinner. We found ourselves on the Rive Gauche around 7 PM (at this time of year already dark by then for several hours), and we walked by scores of restaurants and cafés but noticed that nowhere was anyone eating anything, only drinking (the seating for most of these places is outside on the street, so it is easy to see). It seemed unlikely that nowhere would be serving food, and more likely that we were witnessing the French schedule of things, which does not emphasize dinner. We finally picked a place that looked comfortable (l’Atlas on Rue du Buci) and my brother had the sufficient French to confirm that yes, food was indeed served whenever you want, even though you might look out of place eating at 7 PM, which we absolutely did. I’m sure that eating on a tourist’s schedule is one of the many dead giveaways of a foreigner in Paris (prior to opening one’s mouth).

My brother ordered a steak and I got beef tartare, not having any clue what that was but understanding at least that it should have beef in it. My guess was correct, beef tartare is simply a large patty of ground beef. Every American would be familiar with it, the only difference is that Americans cook their beef patties and put them on hamburgers, and this was completely raw. But it did come with french fries.

Anyway it tasted fine, and more importantly I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with food poisoning. The beef is not ground in the same way it is in America (in a machine that would contain germs), but rather by hand with clean knives.

After dinner we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower in order to watch it “sparkle,” which it does for five minutes once an hour at night. I don’t remember the sparkling effect from childhood, and I believe it was only begun in 2000.

I do remember as a kid that all around the Eiffel Tower were guys selling trinkets to tourists, miniature Eiffel Towers but also in great numbers a little plastic bird with flapping wings that you could wind up (it had a rubber band inside) and that could fly (briefly and erratically). People were even throwing them off the second level of the tower itself, an activity that today would no doubt be strictly prohibited. I remember pestering my Dad to no end, working in concert with the hard selling vendors who also pestered him to no end, until he finally bought me one. I couldn’t wait to get home to fly it, whereupon it went directly into the neighbor’s yard and probably caused my Dad to have to experience another embarrassing conversation.

Today the birds are gone but they are still selling miniature Eiffel Towers, only they now have blinking battery-powered lights to imitate the sparkle show. There are literally hundreds of individuals hawking these trinkets all around the area near the tower, you don’t have to walk more than 15 feet from one sales guy before you hit the next sales guy, and in some areas you may only have to walk 5 feet, or 5 inches.

When I was a kid, my memory is that the salesmen, however obnoxious or persistent they may have been, were at least French. Today they are universally foreign immigrants, mostly South African, selling illegally, as can be seen whenever a police car approaches and immediately all the tourists are treated to a grand display of high speed sprinting, blankets full of blinking Eiffel towers in tow. However perhaps as a consequence of the illicit nature of their enterprise, these vendors did not seem nearly as pushy as the French ones I remember from childhood.

Back at the hotel I had the opportunity to watch TV for the first time since I’ve been here. We watched an episode of Camping Paradis which I rather enjoyed, it was goofy and simple but in a relatively innocent way. Surprisingly most of the shows on TV were actually American, dubbed in French. This made me feel very sorry for the French. It was great that we rescued them in WWII and all, but give them a few generations of American television and they probably would have been better off under Hitler.