Archives for August 2013

Another Great Adventure

Brenda looking for something else to do.You might wonder how we figure out what to do each day. Well often things are well planned – visitors, appointments, concerts, etc., but some days the plan just evolves. Here is an example.

We set out to see the Jardin de la Nouvelle France, which Brenda read about on a Paris Blog – the writer went on and on about it being a hidden treasure and a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. I looked at the map and noted that it was tucked in behind the Grand Palais on the other side of the building from the Champs Elysees. We had walked by it before, and I knew exactly where to go, so after a quick ride on the Metro – voila – we arrived.

It was a small park and we finished exploring the whole place in about 5 minutes. We couldn’t find some of the items we thought were there (the link above shows statues and a memorial scupture to French explorers of Canada), so figuring we must have misunderstood, we decided to explore several other park areas along the Champs Elysees. We found several other park areas and some large statues, but not an afternoon’s entertainment. We meandered onward. You can just follow along on Google Maps if you want.

I suggested that we go to WH Smith, an English language bookstore near Place de la Concord. We walked along the Champs Élysées until we reached Place de la Concorde. We looked along the Champs Élysées for the Élysée Palace, where the President of France lives. We could see the flag, but security was heavy, and we couldn’t get a good look at the building. I noticed we were right by the US Embassy, so tried to take a photo – but no – I heard the sharp whistle of the nearby guard warning me that no photos are permitted. You have to be able to whistle loudly with your fingers to make it on the police and security forces here.

We visited WH Smith. Brenda bought Elle magazine in French. I noticed this huge building at Place de la Madeleine – looks sort of like the Parthenon in Athens. Must investigate. Enroute we used Yelp to find the closest boulangerie, where we stopped for a sandwich. We first saw the building at Madeleine the night we were going to see a Melody Gardot concert. We had walked over there looking for another metro station after our metro train caught on fire and we were evacuated.

The big building turned out to be a Catholic church – L’église de la Madeleine (Church of Mary Magdaline). An older church originally on the site was replaced by a design selected by Emperor Napoleon I, Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée (“Temple to the Glory of the Great Army”). The old church was razed, but the Temple was not completed before Napoleon was forced to step down. The design was finally completed many years later, and it was again consecrated as a Catholic church, opening in 1842. Services are held here daily. Chopin’s funeral was held at this church. The neoclassical design is massive, and the interior is spectacular.

Along the way to see the church, we spotted another huge cathedral down the road – what was that? After departing L’église de la Madeleine, we hiked up Boulevard Malesherbes to the next church, which turned out to be L’église Saint Augustin de Paris. This massive church was not as light and bright and spectacular as L’église de la Madeleine but still very impressive. Outside it is a statue of Joan of Arc, erected in 1896. Inside was a sign noting that in 1886 a man named Charles de Foucauld was converted to Catholicism. He became a priest and spent many years spreading the faith in the Sahara in southern Algeria. He was assassinated and became a Catholic martyr in 1916. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. According to Wikipedia:

The Prefect of Paris, Baron Haussmann was responsible for much of the design of the layout of Paris’s rectilinear avenues, which called for prestigious edifices. Saint-Augustin was built between 1860 and 1871 by Victor Baltard (architect of Les Halles) in an eclectic and vaguely Byzantine style. It is almost 100 metres in length, with a dome height of 80 metres, and was one of the first sizable buildings in Paris constructed about a metal frame.

So that was how we spent the day. That night I posted to Facebook about a shop we passed along the way – Odiot.

See pictures of the day’s adventure.

Victor Hugo

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Portrait of Victor Hugo from the museum

No extended trip to Paris would be complete without delving into the life of French poet, writer, artist, and politician Victor Hugo. His literary achievements and fame go far beyond his two best known works in the English speaking world, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Miserables“. Later in life he was also a well known politician and member of the French Assembly and Senate. He is buried among France’s most famous intellectual heroes at the Pantheon, just a few blocks up the hill from our apartment.

Hugo was born in 1803 – Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his military success and would soon become Emperor Napoleon I. Hugo’s father was a high ranking officer in Napoleon’s army, and his mother was a Catholic loyal to the King. Thus Hugo’s parents were politically at odds. The family settled in Paris by the time of Victor’s birth, but because of his father’s travels, Victor was able from an early age to see some of the world outside France. His beliefs, however, started out more like his mother’s. He was educated primarily in Paris and married his childhood sweetheart Adèle in 1822. They had 5 children. One died in infancy. The oldest daughter Lèopoldine drowned in the Seine at age 19 along with her husband, who was trying to save her. This was a great loss to Hugo and the frequent subject of his poetry. Later in life he lost his wife and 2 sons in a short period, then committed his daughter Adèle to an insane asylum. He was no stranger to heart rending effects of love and loss, and his writing reveals the impact such loss has in the lives of his characters.

Hugo’s first novel, Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was published in 1831, the same year he moved into a fine apartment at Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. Though Hugo later spent a considerable amount of time living elsewhere, a family friend purchased the apartment at Place de Vosges after Hugo’s death and donated it to the City of Paris to become today’s Victor Hugo Museum.

The museum combines elements and artifacts from throughout Hugo’s life. It also displays his artwork. Though not a professional artist, he was talented and loved to sketch and draw.

The novel Notre Dame de Paris was a huge success. It has a host of characters, including the hunchback Quasimodo, the gypsy Esmeralda, an aspiring writer Pierre Gringoire, Archdeacon Claude Frollo (who both raised a younger brother and adopted Quasimodo), the valiant officer Phoebus, a grieving mother locked for life in Tour Roland, King Louis XI, and of course the Church itself. Prior to reading the book, I had always thought of Quasimodo as some kind of monster or comic character who haunted the Cathedral, but he is actually a very real human with severe deformities trying to find a life during the middle ages. I won’t go into further detail about the novel in the hope that some of you might give the English version a try. It remains today a fascinating and gripping story.

Hugo was a romanticist, and in the novel he explored the nature of love and other aspects of psychology through the various characters. He also presented a thorough historical representation of Paris in the 15th Century. It was fascinating to read his descriptions of medieval churches, squares, and streets that still exist near where we live. Unfortunately many of these places were destroyed in the urban renewal of Paris that occurred under Napoleon III from 1850 – 1870. Hugo also spent a portion of the book describing how the printing press had become the death of architecture. In modern times the lament is that the Internet has become the death of the print industry. One effect of the novel was to shame the City of Paris into restoring Notre Dame de Paris, which attracted thousands of visitors after the novel’s publication. It also inspired an interest in preserving other pre-renaissance buildings in Paris. If you look at the photo tour below, you’ll see based on the shops and restaurants nearby the Cathedral, the novel still plays a major role in attracting the interests of tourists.

In 1841 Hugo was elected to the Académie Français (the elite body of distinguished writers who make recommendations regarding the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language) and was appointed by King Louis Philippe as a Peer of France (a position of nobility in the government). Hugo opposed the death penalty and advocated social injustice. More and more he became an advocate of republican government. At the time of the 2nd Republic in 1848, he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and Legislative Assembly. This all came apart when Napoleon III staged a coup d’état in 1851 and declared himself to be Emperor. Hugo declared Napoleon III a traitor to France and left the country, eventually settling on the Isle of Guernsey, where he lived from 1851 to 1870. He refused to return until the republic was restored.

In 1862 Hugo published a novel about social misery and injustice, “Les Miserables”. Although it was panned by some early critics, it became popular by highlighting important social issues, and its impact was such that these issues were soon to be addressed by the French National Assembly. The work remains popular today not only as a novel, but also in opera and in the movies.

Hugo returned to Paris in 1870, where he remained active as a writer and politician until his death in 1885. His last novel, judged to be among his finest works, was “Ninety Three” (Quatre-vingt-treize), published in 1874. This work dealt with The Reign of Terror, that inglorious period of the Revolution when so many enemies of the government were beheaded.

View the photo gallery of images related to Victor Hugo, including photos from the Museum, photos of artwork depicting scenes from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and photos of businesses around the church showing the continuing interest and influence in the story.

See our short history of Paris for more historical detail.

From the French Revolution to a Stable Democracy

Our Paris apartment is in the building to the right of the bridge, shown in this painting done at the time of the Paris Commune.

Our Paris apartment is in the building to the right of the bridge, shown in this painting done at the time of the Paris Commune, a part of the long road to a stable democracy

I look at the current efforts in the Middle East to establish democratic government (Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, and others) and wonder if the world expects too much too soon. Abraham Lincoln said it well when he expressed in his 2nd Inaugural Address his amazement at how much more difficult the Civil War had been than he or others had expected.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

The French Revolution provides an example of how much effort it might take for any of these governments to become stable democracies. Years pass by as institutions are established and political deadlocks are resolved. Stability is elusive. Consider the French timeline.

  1. After about 800 years of rule by a king, the French staged a revolution in 1789 and proclaimed the first republic in 1792. The Girondists attempted to form a constitutional monarchy as was done in England, but ultimately lost out to the Jacobins, who abolished the Monarchy and established the First Republic. They set up a dictatorial government around the Committee for Public Safety. In a reign of terror, they executed more than 2500 Parisians and more than 14,500 French. Ultimately, the members of the committee are executed.
  2. In 1799 the popular general Napoleon returned from success in battle and overthrew the government, naming himself as emperor. He ruled as an autocrat, albeit to the benefit of France, until he was forced from rule in 1813 and ultimately defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
  3. The French brought back a member of the Bourbon family, Louis XVIII, to be king again, reigning from 1814 – 1824. He was then replaced by another king, Charles X, who continued to struggle between implementing the goals of the revolution and reverting to the customs of the old monarchy.
  4. In 1830 Charles gave up the throne to King Louis Phillipe, who made an enlightened attempt to set up a constitutional monarchy. It ultimately failed in 1848 and he was removed. The 2nd Republic was formed.
  5. An election was held and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the still popular general, was elected. In 1851 the legislature deadlocked, and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte staged a military coup, declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III. France again had autocratic rule until 1870, when Napoleon III was captured in battle against the Prussians.
  6. A new government was formed and elections were held. The winners campaigned on a popular peace platform. When they took control they signed a treaty with the Prussians. The settlement included huge war reparations, loss of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces, and 30,000 Prussian occupation troops. A public outcry ensued and once again there was a revolt.
  7. A communist anarchist insurrection (the Paris Commune) formed in 1871 and established parallel local governments in parts of the city. Although elected as the city council, the Commune proclaimed its authority to rule all of France. Rioting broke out. The Tuleries Palace (at the Louvre) and Hotel de Ville (City Hall), as well as other important buildings, were burned. The elected Versailles government launched a counter offensive using the army. There was fighting in the streets and thousands were killed. The elected government regained control, and stability was finally established until World War II, when France fell to the Germans.

From the time of the Revolution, it took 80 years of turmoil before a stable democracy was established in France.

Paris Plages!

Part Paris Plages on the roadway beside the Seine.

Part of Paris Plages runs along the roadway beside the Seine.

Since July 20th the City of Paris has transformed the Seine and the front of Hotel de Ville (city hall) into Paris-Plages (Paris beaches). Truckloads of sand were brought in to form beaches along portions of the Seine. Roads along the river, normally heavily trafficked, are closed as part of the event. There is beach volleyball in front of City Hall. There are beach chairs, misters to help you cool off, a floating swimming pool, areas for dancing, snack and beverage stands, even an air conditioned trailer for the first aid people to hang out. A couple prohibitions – no topless bathing and no swimming in the Seine. The event is funded by local sponsors, but sponsorship signage is unobtrusive (and I don’t know who sponsored the event – how effective is that?).

Paris-Plages was started in 2002 by Bertrand Delanoë, the Mayor of Paris. At first it was criticized for being a costly waste, but the populace has since warmed up to it, and the beaches are now packed every day. Many citizens of Paris leave town for vacation in August because the city is often hot and humid and the town center is packed with tourists. Paris-Plages was a way to provide something for those who are left behind.

The Mayor has goals improve the quality of life, reduce pollution, and cut down on vehicle traffic within the city and pedestrian malls. Paris-Plages is just one effort to achieve these goals. We’ve seen the front square of Hotel de Ville transformed continually this year. First it was an ice rink, then a garden area, then a tennis court with big screen TV for the French Open, then a rock concert stage, now a beach volleyball court. Another popular program has been Vélib’ (combination of the French “vélo” and “libre” meaning “free bicycles”) which gives Parisians access to inexpensive rental bicycles available in stations all around Paris. Our Paris friends keep urging us to try these – we’ll have to report back.

See more photos of Paris-Plages.

Celebration of the Assumption of Mary

Tonight we saw police in the street outside our apartment as we were leaving the building. A short time later we were engulfed in a parade celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Clergy and several thousand Catholic followers from Notre Dame paraded down our street to celebrate the Assumption of Mary. We had heard the church bells and observed a large group with candles proceeding to the church last night, but didn’t know of the parade we now observed.

If you’ve studied the Bible you may have noted that it doesn’t contain much information about Mary and Joseph. As far as I know they are not a big part of the message of the Gospel. Yet at the same time, one need not look far to find Mary as an iconic figure in the Catholic Church. Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris) is a reference to Mary, not to mention the US university you see on TV every weekend in the fall. The figure of the Virgin Mary in sculpture and paintings may be as common as artwork for Christ. While I could try to decipher the terminology of the church, suffice it to say that the Catholic Church realized that Mary was an important part of their message of Christianity. Even before 500 AD there was tacit acceptance that the end of Mary’s life was a holy event and that the anniversary was to be celebrated and recognized.

It was not until 1950 that the Catholic Church officially incorporated the Assumption into its dogma, thus vouching for a practice that had long been condoned. This event was noted at the time by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung to be “the most important religious event since the Reformation”. Protestant movements have not similarly included Mary, to which Jung at the time commented,”Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women. But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of a ‘divine’ woman. . . . The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation.” He said that many years ago, but his observation seems rather modern to me.

You can see a few photos of the event below:

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Paris Gardens!

Our summer visitors have enjoyed exploring some of Paris’s many gardens. Two of their favorites were the Jardins des Plantes and the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Brenda in the same field after the flowers get going

Brenda in the field after the flowers get going

Jardins des Plantes-Paris’s main botanical garden was founded in 1626. It was planted as a medicinal herb garden in 1635 by Louis XIII’ s physician, Guy de la Brosse. There are over 4500 plants in these spectacular grounds and they are only a short walk along the Seine from our apartment!  About 3 hectares (7.5 acres) of the total 25 hectares are planted in stunning display gardens. There is also a magical rose garden, an alpine garden, Mexican and Australian hothouses, a labyrinth and a zoo.  The Jardin des Plantes maintains a botanical school and 4 museum galleries.

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Jardin du Luxembourg is located a bit further away from our apartment but still within walking distance-my 87 year old mother had no trouble strolling there with me! We love the wide tree lined pathways, the ice cream vendors conveniently located at the entry gates, the combination of traditional French and English gardens, the fountains and sculptures. There is even a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty. When Henry the IV was assassinated in 1610, his wife, Marie de Medicis, had the Palais de Luxembourg and surrounding gardens built to be like those of her childhood home in Florence, Italy. She did not want to continue living at the Louvre with the memory of her slain husband. We explain a little more of the history in this previous entry about the gardens. The Palais de Luxembourg has been home to many other historical events and is now home to the French Senate.