Monday, July 19, 2010

Oils, Moyls and Whales . . . in Paris

Levi and I visited the Jewish Museum in Paris today. Tucked away in the historic Marais district far form tourist crowds, the museum chronicles the history of Europe’s Jews from medieval times through today. We saw Renaissance paintings of Venetian Jews enjoying a wedding and a bris. We marveled at magnificent and sacred relics wholly removed form those well known Christian works that draw crowds from the Vatican to St. Paul’s.

Viewing these sacred objects that are off the well trodden path was a rich and world-broadening experience.

My favorite pieces were the Hanukah menorahs, each elaborately decorative. One striking menorah featured a figure holding a sword atop the shemash (middle candle, used to light the others). Levi made an observation that started a rather unorthodox conversation.

“It must be oil.”

“That’s not a moyl.”


“It could be Judah the Macabee, the hero of the Hanukah story. Moyls don’t use swords.”

“What does that have to do with oil?”


“Yeah, see – it burns oil instead of candles.”

“Oh, I thought you said he was a moyl and that his sword was for circumcisions.”

I was then accused of inventing moyls where none existed and spending precious (and lately, rare) mental energy on infant genital torture. I pointed out another stunning menorah.

“No moyls there.”

“Whales? Where?”

We have become like crotchety old people, tottering around museums and arguing about oils, moyls and whales. Oy vey!

It’s evening now and Levi is scaling the dome of Sacre Coer while I marvel at the cathedral from the ground. Three hundred treacherous, winding stairs = Kimberly breaking her face. I opt instead to enjoy the city views laid out all around Montmartre, the one time residence of Degas, Monet, Van Gough, Picasso and Dali. It now hosts throngs of art-loving tourists who sit for street painters and slurp gelato while climbing up and down the steep streets in search of the homes of famous artists.

I take a moment to reflect on the last three days of non-stop action. Yesterday we attended mass at Notre Dame (you don’t need a secret catholic password) so as to enjoy the cathedral in its intended setting. The smells and bells don’t get any better than that! Statues of Biblical kings line the fa├žade of the church dedicated to Our Lady. The kings of Notre Dame lost their heads during the French revolution when patriots worshiped at the feet of Madame Guillotine and the people had no kings before god (especially since they mistakenly believed the statues to be French kings). A local man rescued these priceless works of art, secretly moving all of the multi-ton heads to his garden, where they were discovered in the 1970’s. We had the privilege of viewing the original heads of Notre Dame, now on display at the Cluny Museum. It was perhaps ironic foreshadowing that medieval Parisians chose the headless Saint Dennis at their patron. Matryed by decapitation in the third century, he supposedly picked up his head and kept going. Tres Parisian.

Yesterday we dined on escargot, croque madame, foie gras, steak tartar and cold strawberry soup which blew this strawberry lover’s wine-soaked mind. The strawberries here are actually red – and ripe! The French look down on what they call “plastic strawberries,” which are imported and white in the middle. I learned that raw beef actually tastes good (in France, where the meat can be trusted. Do NOT try this at home). If you’ve read nasty things about foie gras, check out this article about how the French treat their geese. I’d say we could take a lesson or two form our friends here.

This is my second time in Paris and it has only grown on me. From the old shoe salesman who babbled away in French to the obviously bewildered Levi to the flower draped balconies, this city does not disappoint. More to come. Au revior!

Song of the Day: Quelqu'un m'a dit by French First Lady Carla Bruni (back when she was a lowly supermodel)

Photos: Hunukah Menorah at the Jewish museum, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Levi eats escargot

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  1. Ah, the loveliness! I never really left the Cathedrals in Italy. Incense, gelatto, and stillettos on cobblestones...sigh.

    Make sure to do some of the French Keeessing while you're there. :D

  2. p.s. Hope the air traffic controllers aren't giving you travel heart ache!