I remember when my high school French teacher talked about us, her students, going to Paris someday. I never believed it would happen. So, I sampled her French onion soup and even ate an escargot or two, because I really never thought I’d ever leave Ohio. It just didn’t happen back then. I didn’t know anyone who traveled. Well, life has surprises. Still, I traveled an awful lot of the world before I ever made it to Paris. It took way too many years to get to the City of Lights. But, when I finally made it to the heart of France, I again sampled French onion soup, a snail or two and even added crêpes Suzette in a café along the Seine to my discoveries. I knew for certain that one trip was not going to be enough. Of course, I wrote to my French teacher.
Paris has a web of underground metro trains that I found very confusing. On my first visit, I frequently found myself going the wrong way. But, I was in Paris and there was a continual smile on my face, no matter which direction I traveled. One of my friends gave me instructions on how to get to my first stop, the Louvre. Where else would an artist go? When I reached one connecting point, he said it might be a good place to go above ground to find a place to eat. So, I came up to the surface. To my left was Notre Dame Cathedral and to my right was the Eiffel Tower. Above were blue skies and I chucked the Louvre that day. It was time to walk Paris. And, it was a good move, too, because the rest of my stay in Paris was rainy and gray.
So, my first stop in Paris was Notre Dame Cathedral. I’d envisioned the isle on the Seine to be a garden with the cathedral tucked away in one small corner. Silly me. The place was a mass of concrete and elegant buildings. But, the cathedral was simply beautiful. And from there, I went on to explore so many historic monuments, museums, churches, restaurants, and delights that Paris has to offer, even if you barely can communicate in French. Sorry, Madame Heine.
That was my first trip. I made many more trips to Paris when I lived in Belgium for nine years. After all, it was just a day trip away, a frequent weekend destination. Yep, that was life in Europe.
One of my friends in Belgium had the most amazing job. François created and managed the website for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He called the place “the office”. How cool is that to have on your resume? Whenever he went to Paris, they put him up — for free — in an apartment right next to the Cathedral. He said that the morning bells blasted him from his bed. Who had travel envy?
That would be me.
Well, when he finally invited me to Paris with a free place to stay, he didn’t have to ask twice. And, he was right about the cathedral bells. While my host spent Saturday at work on the cathedral’s website, I went to see a museum expo featuring the works of Picasso and Matisse, which I had been dying to see. And during his work that day, François heard the rector of the cathedral say, “I wish I knew an artist who drew cartoons that appealed to children.”
Timing, as they say, is everything. My friend said that he knew an artist and he just happened to bring him to Paris. It’s one of the few times I ever felt that I was in the right place at the right time. Just as I strolled out of the exhibition, I got a phone call to come meet the rector.
So, I was on my way to Notre Dame and not as one of its millions upon millions of tourists. It’s one thing to say you can draw, and it is certainly nice when your friend can put in a good word for you at a cathedral. But, I arrived at Notre Dame with my website and clip art to show examples of my work. I knocked the rector’s socks off when he saw my art. Well, that is if he wore socks under his robe. Anyway, it’s always nice to impress anyone, with or without socks, and I was hired. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing for the people at Notre Dame, but right away it was clear that I had what they wanted. So, there would be even more trips to Paris for me also to work at “the office”.
As it turned out, the project was to illustrate an interactive computer presentation that explained the history of the cathedral. My cartoon was the host novice used throughout the presentation. If that wasn’t awesome enough, the rector made sure I got a private tour that included sitting at the cathedral organ, walking on the roof with gargoyles and a few other hidden passages that tourists don’t get to see. And one day when Gérard Depardieu happened to be in “the office”, I was pulled into the rector’s office for a meet and greet. The whole experience in Paris was a piece of heaven on earth, which I guess, Notre Dame is supposed to be anyway, or it was until April 15, 2019.
Hopefully, it will be again soon.
By Phillip Martin