My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

Beth Kaplan logo

visiting the jewel-box

Yesterday morning the sun was actually shining – it’s been chilly and grey for days here – so my morning’s activity was clear: the Sainte-Chapelle, which should be seen in sunshine. I was lucky enough, during a visit to Paris in my twenties, to stumble upon it – no security in those days, I just walked in and gasped, and then had the pleasure of listening to a choir of American schoolgirls, there to sing for us. 

It’s one of the most beautiful rooms on earth. Built in the early 1200’s to house holy relics including the Crown of Thorns, it’s one of two “only visible remains of the oldest palace of the kings of France.” Entering it is like walking into a jewel box, as the walls are almost entirely vast stained glass windows. Tourists chatter as they climb the narrow, winding staircase and are instantly stilled when they reach the top. 

It’s not only the artistry and colour of the incredible windows – 15 of them with, apparently, 1,113 individual scenes from the Bible – storytelling in stained glass. But the walls are hand-painted to resemble cloth, the pillars and vaulted ceiling are painted, the woodwork is carved and gilt, there are statues, insets, paintings. We tourists looked foolish, I thought, firing our cameras at the sparkling light, trying to capture it and take it home. I among them.

There are chairs along the walls, so we could sit and watch the sun as it moved from window to window. The artistry and sheer work involved in deciding on the 1,113 scenes, drawing them, firing and colouring the glass and cutting the millions of pieces to fit is beyond comprehension.
There’s a lovely little chapel downstairs as well, where the servants worshipped while the king was upstairs praying, bathed in colours. It’s too bad they’ve put a postcard and souvenir store in here – talk about spoiling the mood. And unfortunately, the same goes for Notre-Dame, where I went right afterwards for a heady dose of early Catholicism. The magnificent old lady holds coin-operated machines offering Notre-Dame medals for 2 euros, signs about the cost of the candles, on and on. The engineering and architecture are jaw-dropping, the sheer immensity, the towering grandeur. My favourite thing was a maquette with little dolls, showing how construction began in the mid-twelfth century – with donkeys hauling stone, cut by hand by stone masons and hauled up by levers and pulleys. Again, almost beyond comprehension, how they built something so massive with such primitive technology. Tucked away is a lovely statue of Saint Joan – 1412-1431. It’s easy to forget she was only nineteen when she died.
But it felt more like visiting a supermarket of history and religion than a sacred place. I felt much more spirituality in the smaller, empty churches a stone’s throw away, like St. Germain Auxerrois or St. Germain des Pres. 
Since I was being a typical tourist, the next place on my tourist list was the Café le Flore in St. Germain, for a grand crème – a big café au lait. Quel plaisir, to sit in the sunshine savouring the delicious coffee, which came on a silver tray with a pot of coffee and another of hot milk, enough for 2 cups. I could have sat there all day if I’d wanted, channelling M. Sartre and Mlle. de Beauvoir, but was chased away by the conversation of the couple right behind me, who were discussing, in fluent French and English, the polyps in her intestine. He wanted intervention and she didn’t, and finally I could take it no more, either I had to add my opinion or move on. I went inside to look around first – aaah. There were two large bowls full of ice and bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne already, at midday, and a workman was unloading crates of smoked salmon. I almost went back and sat down again, but the couple were still arguing, so I moved on.
Swanned about the Latin Quarter again, and finally back through my favourite haunt, the Jardins du Luxembourg, where this time I saw the apiary. Yes, they keep bees and make honey right in the middle of Paris. The bakeries all around the park had long line-ups outside, and I saw why – students were buying a sandwich for lunch in the park, which was jammed on this gorgeous hot day. It made me laugh, though – there are chairs and benches everywhere, but you’re forbidden to sit or walk on the actual grass, except for a narrow green strip near the east gate. There it was like a beach in Japan – no space at all. 
Today we’re back to cool and grey, which is bad for sightseeing and good for work. I went this morning to the market in the rue Monge, and again thought, I wonder if these French know the quality of what is on offer. It’s an outdoor market under little canvas strips, as are most of the street markets in the squares in the city, and the produce, cheese, meat, fruit – succulent, fresh, perfect, as it could only be for the most discerning grocery shoppers on the planet. 
I bought a lettuce.



3 Responses to “visiting the jewel-box”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi there just came upon your blog via Yahoo after I entered in, "Blogger: Born to Blog by Beth Kaplan" or perhaps something
    similar (can't quite remember exactly). In any case, I'm delighted I found it because your subject material is exactly what I'm searching for (writing a university paper) and I hope you don't mind if I collect some material
    from here and I will of course credit you as the reference.
    Thank you so much.

    my web-site:

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi! Quick question that's completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my iphone. I'm trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to correct this issue.
    If you have any recommendations, please share. Cheers!

    Also visit my website – high tech high north county phone number

  3. Anonymous says:

    First of all I would like to say great blog! I had a quick question in which I'd like to ask if you don't mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear
    your head before writing. I've had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Thank you!

    My homepage :: weight loss patches that really work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.


Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.


I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.


Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


Juliet in Paris, Spain and Beyond
Juliet is a Canadian who’s lived for decades in Paris and writes about her travels and the many things that interest her.