The Roman bathhouse at Cluny was lost for almost a thousand years. Destroyed in the barbarian invasions sometime around the 3rd century, memory of the grand remains on the South Bank faded as inhabitants migrated to the more easily defended Ile de la Cite. With vaults fifty feet high, a simple public utility was grander than almost anything that would be constructed in France for the next millennium. In time, the frigidarium of the baths would be incorporated into the Abbey of Cluny until its original purpose was rediscovered in the modern era.
Though rich in so many ways, Americans are poor in perspective. Our mental universe always balanced on the neurotic knife-edge of the present. We are truly young, with all the passionate extremism and impatience of teenagers.
A slow visit to Paris was a fine way to remember time. From Roman ruins to Medieval churches to the still-throbbing cabarets, you’re left feeling pleasantly small. So much of what matters is larger than a lifetime, and mostly untouched by the worries and struggles of today’s to-do list. It was a healthy escape.
At the flea market in Saint Ouen the next Paris is taking shape, youthful and unruly, fueled by the optimism of immigrants. In a cafe in St Germain, a rich, comfortable, stylish present basks in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Meanwhile an old, dying way still struggles against irrelevance, donning their sad yellow vests and shouting into the void. Cycles of history all run together, framed by an ancient backdrop.
Like an underground river, a relatively consistent current of culture runs beneath this historical march. We visited one of Picasso’s old haunts, Au Lapin Agile, where modern Parisians continue Montmartre’s cabaret tradition. Other similar dives, many of them literally underground, link an age-old past to an unforeseeable future.
It was a great trip, much needed.