Paris’s architectural charisma was irresistible. Ornate or simple, colorful or plain, the buildings all carried a unique temperament that was a vital part of this city. Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur, the two cathedrals that represented its grandeur, gave us the chance to walk into the past of Paris and savor its historical evolution via these two monumental cathedrals.
And yet they were so different from each other. Notre Dame was gray, solemn, almost forbidding. Its sharp outlines, towering spires and grotesque gargoyle statues demonstrated a textbook gothic style. Approaching its grand front façade, however, we were immediately drawn by the incredible level of details of the numerous statues around its doorways, telling stories silently but vividly. After a long wait in the queue, we climbed up the famous narrow and windy stone stairs to the top of one of the front towers. Our ascension by foot was laborious and slow, and yet enabled us to see the cross-shaped hall roof and its accompanying flying buttresses. It was a strange sensation viewing the vast city through arrays of gargoyles, some of which already worn out by the touch of ages. It was beyond my fascination what viewers in the past saw from these particular angles.
Sacré-Cœur, on the other hand, was pure white. Its hemispherical apse (back altar), together with numerous round arches, made the outline soft and mellow, marking the obvious oriental influence on the style. Located on top of Montmartre Hill, the highest point of Paris, it provided yet another overlook of the city. On the sunny and warm day of our visit, Paris was as radiant and vibrant as the cathedral itself. Meandering its periphery, we encountered a string duet playing under one of the cathedral’s side arch doors. We did not recognize the piece they were playing, but they were focused, skillful, and friendly, smiling at everyone that stopped to listen to them. The echoing music added to the serene, narrow alley such liveliness that it no longer felt like a relic, but something upbeat and relevant.
As protestants, touring a catholic church is always a mesmerizing experience. Early Christianity not only defined regional culture heritages, but also shaped European history. Notre Dame is considered the earliest Christian worship site in Paris, remained center of Catholicism in France, and witnessed numerous historic events there. Sacré-Cœur was constructed much later, after the defeat of Franco-Prussian War and the uprising of Paris Commune, to expiate the “decline of morals” during that turbulent period of time. How the faith for Christ guided the establishment of nations and yet became mere renditions of political agendas is profound. These astonishing artistic virtues of these cathedrals may be attributed to divine inspirations, or more indirectly, expression of worship and awe in a most ingenious form. And yet as time goes by, have they become the likes of other man-made wonders that boast the abilities of human mind and craftsmanship? Did the height of the spires and vastness of arches point to the path to eternity, or did they limit it?
Harmony Café also served a chicken dish that was earthy and comforting. Its version of poulet suprême, or the best of chicken, was pan-seared to perfection, tender and juice, served with a sweet-savory jux (thin sauce), on a bed of roasted mix vegetables that reminded me of ratatouille in a lighter, fresher form. I found the NYT Cooking’s chicken breast and chef Anne Burrell’s roasted veggie recipes gave very similar results to what we tasted in Paris. Click on the links to view the original recipes—my versions did not deviate from them significantly.
The chicken breasts in this recipe are seasoned and seared in an oven-proof skillet before the cooking is finished in the oven. The cooking juice of the chicken is then mixed with verjuice, which is a sweet-sour fruit juice, more chicken stock, and herbs before being reduced to the jus. Verjuice is not a common ingredient in the US, and I found that it could be replaced with the same amount of white wine vinegar and a little bit of sugar (to taste). The recipe also calls for a generous amount of Dijon mustard, which I think might be overpowering. I would reduce it in half or completely remove it, to allow the chicken flavor to shine.
The roasted veggie ratatouille requires cooking veggies in just 2 batches, which makes it less time-consuming than traditional ratatouille. The harder-to-cook veggies, Eggplant, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes, are sliced into the same thickness before being roasted in oven. Onions and bell peppers, which take less time to cook, are sautéed and then mixed with the roasted veggies after they are cooled and cut into smaller pieces. Vinegar and fresh herbs are added in the end to make the dish earthy-rich and fresh-tasting at the same time. —WZ