Part Two of our trip includes my top two *free* things to do in Paris. Number one is to pretend you want to eat at the Georges restaurant at the top of the Centre Pompidou. You get to ride the glass-housed escalator on the outside of the building all the way to the top and get (in my humble opinion) the best view over Paris because it actually includes the Eiffel Tower in its vista (see 3rd photo down). Number two is the Bibliothèque Mazarine library, part of the Institut de France on the Left Bank, one of the most prestigious learned societies in the world (see the final photo).
Although it's free, visiting the library does require that you have a very high threshold for feelings of intense shame; photo ID; and two passport photos. In the tradition of French bureaucracy we had to complete a form just to be admitted into the library and then go to a second desk to fill in another form to be assigned a desk to sit at. In order to actually touch one of the thousands of priceless antique tomes which line the walls from floor to ceiling would have probably required another ten forms, an IQ test and a stool sample, so we chose to skip this step.
We were then ushered across the world's squeakiest floor to our desks, where we felt obliged to spend the next 15 minutes pretending we were engaged in very important research. To say we stood out would be a gross understatement - not only we were not wearing beige, we were below 50 years old and clearly foreign. Our case was not helped by the fact we had neglected to bring any real stationery, so we sat - amidst France's most learned intellectuals - writing into our miniature 2-inch pads with pink glitter pens trying our best not to look at each other lest we burst into laughter. We lasted 15 minutes before we had take a rather shameful walk to the admissions desk and inform them we were leaving. Anyhow, it was worth it. The place is AMAZING!
Unfortunately you can't take photos, largely because the place is so silent that the clunk of a camera shutter would probably make everyone's ears bleed. You can get an idea of how breathtaking this library is by taking a look at these photos made available by Wikimedia Commons.