The job of minder at the Sacre Coeur must be a wearing one. As I sit here in a pew, observing the men in blue jackets, I wonder about the structure of their days. Guardians of the sacrality of prayer time, of silence, of respectful dress, these men are met with an unending buffet of adversity–served up all too heartily by us tourists.
Of course, there is the ignorance of visitors to deal with; Monsieur, please remove your hat. Madame, you cannot go that way through the ropes!
But then there are the more careless offenses; indeed, one cannot go too long without hearing hears the valiant “shhhh”s directed towards overzealous visitors almost as frequently as one hears the shutter click from a camera that wasn’t supposed to be used. Ah! There’s one now! I slide my gaze over to a minder just in time to see the grimace of exasperation.
I imagine these men may carry a burden of discouragement because many affronts occur so quickly that there’s barely time for them to raise a sternly waving finger or direct a pointed glare.
But there! Finally a threat that can be addressed! An eager, middle-aged photographer (one who had already been reprimanded for trying to cut through the barriers) is once again on the road to delinquency. He is now in the area cordoned off specifically for prayer (an area where there are strictly NO photographs, as the multitude of signs will remind you), leaning awkwardly out of a pew that’s placed directly in front of the fantastically constructed altar. I wonder if he has a back problem, or is merely using his pious frame to shield his camera–much like a middle schooler using his desk to “hide” his phone.
But now he’s making a move. The angle of stealth no longer satisfies him. There he goes, brazenly standing up, camera clicking in full glory as he attempts to capture the soaring grace of the cathedral. The charade has been dropped (after all, if his eyes were closed in prayer, how would he know where to aim his camera?), and the game is afoot! A plan is coordinated and the walkie talkies come out. Not soon after, Camera Man seems to realize that he’s been spotted. Casually schlumping away from the altar, he hastily places his camera back in its case as if it had never seen the rosy, stained-glass window light of day to begin with. But he cannot escape the minder who is there to meet him at the end of the altar, stern finger at the ready. The natural order of things is restored.
And although solemn faced for the ordeal, I suspect the minders are not as apathetic towards their work as that might suggest. After all, they work to make sure that this place–an educational experience where the sacred and profane mix, where people of all cultures come to learn of beauty, whether its spiritual or otherwise–is noble work. And when faced with a child whose eyes are as wide as dinner plates in wonder, I’ve even seen a minder crack a smile.
And, regardless of all the noisy visitors and disregarded signs and sneaky photos, here, in the ongoing struggle with tourist etiquette, this one battle has been won. I would cheer–but I don’t want to be “shhhh”d.