Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day 11: Another Christmas Day in Paris

Last year, despite the snowy days leading up to Dec. 25, Christmas Day shone through, bright and sunny.
This year, the weather cooperated yet again with a partly cloudy but dry Christmas Day.
Since most of the shops and restaurants are closed and people are celebrating the holiday with family and friends -- Paris was relatively empty and it was an ideal day to walk and be outdoors.

First stop, at the massive and historic St. Sulpice church for Christmas mass.

The church is one of my favorites - gorgeous interiors, soaring ceilings but not too elaborate stained glass windows. It also has two large murals painted by noted painter Eugene Delacroix, in the St. Agnes Chapel.
St. Sulpice is an active parish and there were many parishioners already seated, waiting for the service to begin.

Another reason I love going to Sunday mass at St. Sulpice -- the church is famous for its pipe organ, one of the best in France.
There is a free organ recital after the 10:30 am mass, every Sunday.
This marvelous instrument dates back to the 1860s and the weekly Sunday performances by the head organist himself, Daniel Roth, are not to be missed.
The music is uplifting, vibrant and transports you up and up -- as it crescendoes throughout the building.

St. Sulpice is walking distance to the Luxembourg gardens, another favorite place to go for a nice and quiet walk.
It may be winter and the trees may have lost all their foliage but it is still a beautifully planned and well laid out park.

Lunchtime finds us at Luxembourg and what better place to have a picnic lunch!
We buy le french hamburger (fish for me!) at a Quick branch across the park.
Quick is a Belgian hamburger chain -- Europe's answer to McDonalds.

We sit across the Medici Fountain -- on these ubiquitous park benches.
Sitting on a park bench in any park or small square in Paris is one of my
favorite things to do!

Pigeons join us to catch some stray french fries and bread crumbs.
We are also joined by this large tabby cat who thinks we have set up
these pigeons so he can have a nice lunch.
He doesn't succeed though and goes away hungry, perhaps to his
old, boring bowl of cat food back home.
Not to worry, this isn't a stray cat as evinced by the blue collar and i.d tag that he wears.
He probably considers Luxembourg Gardens as his happy hunting grounds.

Late in the afternoon, we hie off to another free organ recital, this time at the huge St. Eustache church in the Les Halles area.
The organ at St. Eustache is even bigger than the ones in St. Sulpice and Notre Dame and is the biggest pipe organ in France.
We haven't heard it played yet and a Christmas Day concert is a wonderful chance to do so.

Here is the organ at St. Eustache -- set at the back of the Cathedral.
The church quickly fills up and soon it is standing room only.
We're glad we came early so we get very good seats.

Unlike the organ in St. Sulpice where the organist plays above you, the organ at St. Eustache has been modified to be played at the nave of the church.
This is the master of the organ at St. Eustache, M. Jean Guillol. He also supervised the reconstruction of this organ and has been the master organist since the 1960s.
He plays four pieces for this free 30 minute recital -- taking the organ through its paces, changing the voice and tone with the variety of sounds the organ can play.
The pieces range from a sweeping and traditional fugue by Bach to more light and unfamiliar (at least to me) pieces where the organ sometimes sounds as if it were a hundred tiny bells, all tinkling!
What a great Christmas Day musical gift -- to have heard (again) the uplifting sound of the St. Sulpice organ and to be introduced to this stupendous instrument, the organ at St. Eustache!

After the concert, we walk to the banks of the Seine to catch the bus home -- since it's Christmas Day, there are less buses running and we wait a while for bus 27.

Back at the apartment and time to have a Christmas day dinner! Roast pork with potatoes for Jay and a smoked salmon for me! Brown rice gives dinner that needed touch of home!
It's been a memorable and terrific Christmas day in Paris!

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