Eisenhower in Paris

The only President I’ve ever seen in person was Dwight Eisenhower. It was 1956, and we lived in Peoria, Illinois. You might think that a 5 year old would not remember much of what happened back then, but I already knew who he was and what he looked like. He was revered in our family for being a great leader in World War II. Fortunately we have the Internet to help with the details – Eisenhower spoke at Bradley University on September 25, 1956. Election campaigns back then didn’t start two years before the election. Before the event there was a parade up Main Street, and my parents took my brother Pete and me to see the President. I remember the cold night air and eventually after a cavalcade of other cars, the President passing by, waving from the back seat of his limousine. That was it – I saw the President.

At his speech in Peoria that night, President Eisenhower recognized Senate Minority Leader Everette Dirksen, who was from the nearby town of Pekin, and also Robert Michel from Peoria, who at that time was running for Congress from Peoria’s Congressional District. Michel would be elected and would eventually become the House Minority Leader. He was also the Congressman who in 1969 gave me my appointment to the Naval Academy. I have an old letter from Senator Dirksen congratulating me upon my appointment. Eisenhower died in March 1969 after a long illness, and Dirksen died in September of that year. My brother Chris and his wife Michele raised their family in Pekin, and both my parents lived there at the end of their lives. Many times I’ve run by the statue of Dirksen in Pekin’s Mineral Springs Park. Many aspects of my future life were represented in the President’s 1956 speech in Peoria.

Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

Nearly 60 years have passed since I saw President Eisenhower, but recently I received an email from my friend and former colleague Monty Bolstad. We used to work together at the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington. He was reading a biography of Dwight Eisenhower by Jean Edward Smith (Eisenhower in War and Peace), and he asked me if the experience described in this quote about Eisenhower was my experience with trying to learn French: “Eisenhower initially relished his post to Paris. He and Mamie commenced daily French lessons, and Ike set out to explore Paris on foot. After three months of daily instruction, Eisenhower became proficient at reading and writing French, but the spoken word eluded him. ‘Major,’ said his French teacher, ‘you are one of the best readers of French and translators of the written language that I have among my students, but you are the worst candidate as a French linguist I have ever tried to teach.’ Ike persevered for a year, but his effort to speak French proved hopeless. Mamie, for her part, began enthusiastically but soon lost patience.”

Eisenhower had come to Paris when he was assigned to General John J. Pershing’s Battle Monuments Commission. His job was to create a guide to the American WWI battlefields in Europe. It was a complete history, battle by battle, of the American war on the western front. When the job was completed, Eisenhower was the best informed officer in the Army on the strategy and battle tactics that Pershing had employed, other then Pershing himself and his director of operations, Fox Conner.

Eisenhowers lived upstairs in this photo of the apartment at 68 Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

Eisenhowers lived upstairs in this photo of the apartment at 68 Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

In July 1928 Eisenhower and his wife Mamie arrived in Paris, Mamie taking a plush apartment in the 16th arrondissement about a mile downstream from the Eiffel Tower and close by the Bois de Boulogne. The apartment was on the 1st floor (2nd floor US) at 68 Quai d’Auteuil, owned at the time by the Comtesse de Villefranche. It was beautifully furnished, and the Eisenhowers soon became the social center for their friends in Paris and guests visiting France. Because of exchange rates, Paris was then very inexpensive for Americans, and the apartment was far more elegant than the Eisenhowers could have afforded on his salary in the US. The quai where Eisenhower lived is now called Quai Louis Blériot, named after a French engineer and aviator who invented the first headlamp for trucks and who also was the first person to fly across the English Channel. The adjoining quai is Quai Saint-Exupéry, so after the war they must have renamed some of the streets after French aviators. Eisenhower would walk to work each day to Pershing’s headquarters at 20 rue Molitor, a few blocks down the road. I walked there one day and took photos of both buildings, still today much as they must have been back then.

View across the Seine near the old Eisenhower apartment

View across the Seine near the old Eisenhower apartment

Though the area on the right bank hasn’t changed much, the Eisenhower’s view across the Seine has changed markedly. The Citroën factory that used to be across the river is now Parc André Citroën. It has the world’s largest hot air balloon, tethered so that groups of tourists can rise up and take in the city, and then re-descend without an uncontrolled flight over central Paris. Many of the other left bank buildings in this area have been torn down as part of modernization that started in the ’60s and ‘70s.

I had always assumed that though Eisenhower graduated in the middle of his West Point class and was a middling officer very junior in the army leadership at the start of World War II, his meteoric rise to Supreme Allied Commander was because he performed successfully in the war whereas many more senior to him had failed. It turns out he had been on this trajectory for many years before the war.

In 1920 he met George Patton, 6 years his senior and already well known for his heroic service in World War I. Together they worked on radical new strategies for tank warfare, so radical that they incurred the wrath of the Army for publishing ideas that conflicted with existing doctrine.That same year Congress reduced the size of the Army to 288,000, about one tenth of its 2.4 million wartime strength. Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of major, a rank he would retain for the next 16 years. The tank core was abolished, and Eisenhower decided to return to the infantry.

Balloon airborne above Parc André Citroën

Balloon airborne above Parc André Citroën

Before the officers parted company, Patton hosted a party in the honor of Brigadier General Fox Conner, and Eisenhower’s were invited. Conner came to the party to meet Eisenhower as a result of the high recommendation of Patton. Conner had a long discussion with Eisenhower and asked him many questions about his views on armored warfare. In 1922 Eisenhower was assigned to the 20th Infantry Brigade working as a staff officer for Fox Conner in Panama. Conner spent many hours during that tour educating Eisenhower about history, warfare, and the Army.

Conner had been on the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) staff working for General Pershing. Conner helped Eisenhower to receive orders in 1925 to Command and General Staff School (CGSS), where he studied the problems of military command. Eisenhower finished ranked first of 245 in his class. Conner then helped Eisenhower to receive assignment to the Battle Monuments Commission, headed by General of the Armies John J Pershing. Pershing, who had already served in the Army’s senior-most position, Chief of Staff, was at that time the only 6 star general in the US Military. Eventually Congress also conferred this honor on George Washington.

Pershing's quarters and office at 20 rue Molitor

Pershing’s quarters and office at 20 rue Molitor

When working for Pershing, Eisenhower met George Marshall, who would eventually become Army Chief of Staff and Eisenhower’s boss throughout World War II. He also worked directly for Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur and later worked with MacArthur to train and equip the Philippine Military. Thus starting in about 1920, Eisenhower met and impressed a series of most influential seniors who helped guide his career to the pinnacle of army leadership. In little more than 10 weeks in 1942, he moved ahead of 228 general officers of greater seniority to become a lieutenant general (3 stars) and command the Allied invasion of North Africa. In 1943, he was promoted to full general and directed the invasion of Sicily and Italy.

Eisenhower became the Supreme Allied Commander for the D-Day invasion and for the eventual ending of the war in Europe. With the exception of Marshall and MacArthur, he had more political experience than any officer in the American Army. He was chosen because of his political sensitivity. He worked successfully with military and civilian leaders of the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and other countries involved in the war effort. He was not a great tactician, and in fact made several blunders during the war that cost lives and time in completing the effort. But he was unrivaled as a decisive, organized, leader with a deft political touch, effective communications skills, extensive knowledge of history, and extraordinary common sense. He kept a diverse coalition working in harmony. He was, incidentally, the only one at the Potsdam Conference who felt the US should not drop the atomic bomb.

After the War he served as Army Chief of Staff. He then retired to become President of Columbia University, but went back on active duty and returned to Paris to lead the effort to start NATO. Then he campaigned successfully and was elected the 34th President of the United States.

He was the only 20th Century President to preside over 8 years of peace and prosperity. He negotiated an end to the Korean War, opposed segregation and integrated the nation’s schools and institutions, successfully opposed the red baiting of the McCarthy era, contained the communist threat, balanced the budget, continued social programs of the New Deal, sponsored building of the interstate highway system and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, successfully opposed the French and English effort to seize control of the Suez Canal from Egypt, twice refused requests of the Joint Chiefs to authorize the use of nuclear weapons, warned against unwarranted influence of the military industrial complex, and promoted peace and understanding as the way forward.

View of Paris from the bridge by Eisenhower's 1928 apartment

View of Paris from the bridge by Eisenhower’s 1928 apartment

In the ’70s I remember visiting Eisenhower’s home in Abilene, KS, and in the car reading Is Paris Burning by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. It was about the German plan to blow up Paris when the Germans retreated as the Allies were advancing. German generals defied Hitler, ignoring his order to defend the city and refusing to blow it up. Eisenhower didn’t want to spend the resources to liberate Paris, but was convinced to do so by Charles de Gaulle, for whom he had great respect. Eisenhower deftly outmaneuvered President Roosevelt and the State Department, who did not like and refused to support de Gaulle. He allowed the French Army to liberate the city and allowed de Gaulle to establish leadership in what otherwise could have been a fractious battle for control. By providing a civil affairs agreement and recognizing de Gaulle as the de facto head of the French state, Eisenhower avoided the problematic issue of establishing administrative control over liberated France.

So we get back to that question about whether I had the same problems as General Eisenhower in learning French. In 3 months of daily lessons the General could supposedly read and write very well in French, but struggled to speak understandably. We know that he was renowned for his excellent memory and that he possessed extraordinary drive. For me (after 3 years), understanding the spoken French is the hard part. They seem to be able to understand when I speak. Still, if General and former President Eisenhower were to speak French to me, I don’t think I would have any complaints about his accent.

Visit to the Swedish Club

Our group “meet up” at Lili et Riton in Montparnasse

Our group “meet up” at Lili et Riton in Montparnasse

Last week we received an invitation from an acquaintance to go to a mixed French and English group get together at a local Paris cafe, Lili et Riton in Montparnasse. It was followed by a light dinner and jazz music fest at a place called Cercle Suédois (Swedish Club). Brenda and I showed up at the cafe well after the get together had started. Brenda sat down across from me and started speaking in English and French with the man next to her. Another man arrived, still bundled in wool coat, scarf, and hat and sat down next to me.

His name was Didier, and he was most interesting. We had a wide ranging conversation – first me telling him in French about our lives and how we ended up moving to Paris, then him telling me about being a Parisian who moved to paradise, which for him was the west coast of Florida near Naples. He said in passing that his life with women in Florida was thus far a disaster. His French breeding was somehow holding him back. He spoke about nuances of French language – what words you choose and how you present yourself are very important. He noticed that I still had the price sticker on my 2 euro notebook – sign of a person who doesn’t pay attention to appearances. He pointed out that if you say, “je suis à la retraite” (I am retired), people will think you are old and living on a state pension, whereas if you say, “j’ai pris ma retraite” (I have taken my retirement), it conveys that you were able to retire by choice when you were younger. He asked me whether the requirement to be appointed to West Point or the Naval Academy by a Senator or Congressman meant that only the sons and daughters of aristocrats could go to those schools. I assured him that that wasn’t the case. We talked about currency exchange rates. His opinion was that the value of the dollar was largely dependent upon the strength of the US Military. Think about that. When he departed I thanked him and wished him well. He asked me to convey his goodbyes to the others so he wouldn’t have to interrupt their conversations – yet another sign of good breeding in France. After he left, others in the group asked me who he was. Nobody knew him.


Short video of Jazz ensemble at the Cercle Suédois

Enjoying the evening at Circle Suédois with jazz group playing in the background

Enjoying the evening at Circle Suédois with jazz group playing in the background

The group conversation went on some time longer, then we all departed for the Swedish Club, located on the 2nd floor of a building on Rue Rivoli between Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome, one of the tonier neighborhoods in Paris. On Wednesday nights the club has live jazz and serves light fare for dinner, all for a very reasonable price. Our host Frederick helped our group of 10 crowd around a table near the band. The food, conversation, and music were delightful. A grand evening out.

There was something else about the Swedish Club – a door to another room with the label plate “Nobel.” Someone in our group told me that Alfred Nobel used to have an office there where he awarded Nobel prizes. I took a photo of the room (which looked like a dining room) and the label plate. I did some research and found there was much more to the story.

Site of Nobel’s former Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré

I finally found out that Nobel’s Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré had been torn down to build this now famous art nouveau building

Nobel was a very rich Swedish industrialist and entrepreneur. Over his lifetime he became one of the richest men in the world. Though born in Sweden, Noble’s family moved to St Petersburg, Russia, when he was 9. His engineer father moved his business there, invented the rotary lathe used in the manufacture of plywood, and the underwater mine. He also started a profitable factory making explosives in Russia. Alfred and his 3 brothers received a first class education -learning several languages, poetry, chemistry and physics. Because his father wanted him to work in the family business Alfred was sent to Europe and the US for further training in chemical engineering. Alfred met an Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero, who invented nitroglycerin, a highly volatile and explosive material. For many years Alfred tested compounds to mix with nitroglycerin in order to make a stable, usable explosive. In 1867, he succeeded, patenting the material under the name dynamite. Yes, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite! The new explosive coupled with other inventions at the time drastically reduced the cost of major construction and could be readily applied to military weapons technology. Nobel became rich and extremely busy founding factories and laboratories in 90 different locations in 20 countries.

Nobel loved Paris. In 1875 he moved there and bought a house at what is today 59 avenue Raymond Poincaré. The original house was completely rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style by a subsequent owner. In 1876 Nobel advertised for a personal secretary, and hired an Austrian woman named Bertha Kinsky. She only worked for him a short time before deciding to return to Austria and marry Count Arthur Von Suttner. In spite of this Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms, and became a prominent figure in the peace movement.

Room where Nobel signed his will

Nobel’s last will and testament was signed in this room at Cercle Suédois

In 1890, Nobel was accused by the French government of treason for selling advanced explosives to Italy. He decided to leave Paris and move to San Remo on the Italian Riviera. In 1895 he returned to Paris, and on November 27th composed his last will and testament before four Swedish witnesses at the Swedish Club in Paris, in the very room where I took the photo. The will was a paragraph just 300 words long. No lawyer was involved. In that document he directed that upon his death all his assets would be converted to cash, invested for a safe return, and the capital would be used to fund annual prizes to those who contributed the most to benefit mankind in the preceding year. The equal shares were to be distributed in following categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace and the fraternity of nations. It is believed that his choice of the last category was influenced by his long relationship with Bertha von Suttner. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Upon Nobel’s death in 1896, the will specified that his wealth was to be given to a foundation that did not yet exist. His executors, two engineers he trusted, did not know they had been so named. It took the Swedish Academies and the Norwegian Parliament (assigned in the will to grant the various awards) two years of debating before they formed a foundation. Then there were a great many challenges to this will from the governments of France and Sweden, various family members, and academies within Sweden. Eventually all questions were resolved, and in 1901 the first prizes were awarded.

There is also an annual Nobel Prize in Economics, though this was not part of Nobel’s original will. The prize was established in 1968 by a donation from Sweden’s central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, on the bank’s 300th anniversary. Although it is not one of the prizes that Alfred Nobel established in his will in 1895, it is referred to along with the other Nobel Prizes by the Nobel Foundation. Winners are announced with the other Nobel Prize winners, and receive the award at the same ceremony. In 2001, Nobel’s grand nephew Peter Nobel asked the Bank of Sweden to differentiate this award from the original five categories by declaring it “in Alfred Nobel’s memory”.

And lastly, if you’re in the Naples, FL area and meet a nice French man named Didier, there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Running into John Paul Jones in Paris

Brenda and I were on our way to dinner with our French friends Catherine and Jacques when Catherine was talking about her decision years ago to give up a good paying job and start her own small business in France. She acknowledged that there was risk in starting her small business, but she said it provided her not only with enough money to live on, but also the freedom to live the kind of life she wanted. Brenda and I acknowledged that freedom was a big factor in our own experience as owners of a small business. Then Catherine said, “On n’a rien sans risque” (one has nothing without risk), which called to my mind the saying in English, “those who will not risk cannot win.” My search to find the owner of that phrase lead me on another Paris adventure.

Crypt of John Paul Jones at the US Naval Academy

Crypt of John Paul Jones at the US Naval Academy

I searched the Internet for the source, figuring I had probably learned it years ago from Reef Points, the manual of style issued to freshmen (called Plebes) at the U.S. Naval Academy. Reef Points contained a treasure trove of famous naval sayings that we plebes were supposed to be able to recite at any given moment. The source of the quote was John Paul Jones, not the one who played for Led Zeppelin, but instead the most famous American naval officer of the Revolutionary War. He was buried in the crypt of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland, a tomb I knew well from my midshipman days. The 21 ton marble sarcophagus and perpetual honor guard are not perhaps as magnificent as the tomb of Napoleon at Invalides in Paris (after which it was modeled), but I would say the tomb is competitive in grandeur with the tombs of Washington and Lincoln.

On the Naval Academy’s public affairs web page I also learned that John Paul Jones died alone in a Paris apartment and was first buried in Paris, where his body remained for more than 100 years before being taken to America. How did he end up in Paris? Here is a short version of how that happened.

John Paul Jones is a fascinating character. He was born John Paul in Scotland in 1747 and started working on merchant ships when he was 13. He first became master of a ship when his ship’s captain and first mate died of yellow fever, and John returned the ship and crew home to safety. On his second voyage as master, he flogged and accidentally killed a member of his crew. He then decided to leave Scotland and become captain of an English flagged vessel in the West Indies. During that stint he again killed a crew member, this time in self defense during a dispute over wages. So he decided to move again in the early 1770s, leaving his fortune behind and traveling to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he expected to live with his brother. Unfortunately, he found that his brother had recently died, leaving neither family nor heirs, so John set about putting his brother’s affairs in order. It was during this time that John Paul took the last name of Jones. The exact reason why remains a mystery. In 1775 he moved to Philadelphia seeking to volunteer for the newly formed Continental Navy.

John Paul Jones by Moreau le Jeune - 1780

John Paul Jones by Moreau le Jeune – 1780

With the help of members of the Continental Congress, Jones gained appointment as a first lieutenant in the Continental Navy. In 1776 he was assigned command of the sloop Providence and quickly established himself in action against the British in Nova Scotia. At the same time he had a disagreement with his commodore (a recurring theme in Jones’s career) and was reassigned to another ship, USS Ranger, and was sent to France with the hope that he would be able to engage the British in their home waters. In 1778 France signed a treaty formally recognizing the new American republic. The French Navy rendered their first salute to Captain Jones and Ranger. Subsequently Ranger departed to find targets to attack in England. After some coastal raids that startled the British, Ranger successfully attacked and captured the British sloop of war HMS Drake near Carrickfergus castle in Northern Ireland, a place we have previously visited. There was again a dispute in the victory, Jones accusing a junior officer of crimes so that he alone would be seen as the hero. All was eventually resolved and the parties moved on.

In 1779 Jones took command of a larger warship, Bonhomme Richard, which he sailed into British waters with a squadron of five colonial ships in the company of French and Spanish fleets. It was here that he had his most famous battle with the British frigate HMS Serapis (the Battle of Flamborough Head). Jones and his crew succeeded in capturing Serapis, lashing the two ships together so they could board and defeat the British crew. They sailed both ships back to Holland, but unfortunately the Bonhomme Richard was too badly damaged in the fight and sunk enroute. When questioned by the Captain of Serapis early in the battle whether the Americans had struck the colors of their smaller ship, outmanned and outgunned, Jones reputedly uttered his most famous saying, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Thus John Paul Jones had made a name for himself as ship Captain in the two most significant victories against the British in the Revolutionary War. Symbolically they raised confidence both for the Colonists and for the foreign nations supporting their cause. King Louis XVI of France awarded Jones the French title of “Chevalier” (knight).

John Paul Jones apartment was in this building at 19 (then 42), Rue de Tournon, Paris - just a stone's throw from the Luxembourg Palace.

John Paul Jones apartment was in this building at 19 (then 42), Rue de Tournon, Paris – just a stone’s throw from the Luxembourg Palace.

Placard on Jones former residence on Rue de Tournon, Paris.

Placard on Jones former residence on Rue de Tournon, Paris.

In 1782 Jones was waiting for another American command, USS United States, but before the ship was finished the government decided to give it to France as a replacement for the wrecked La Magnifique, a French ship lost in Boston Harbor during the war. Jones was given an assignment to return to Europe to recover prizes owing to the US from the War, but this assignment didn’t provide steady work. In 1787 he signed a contract with Catherine the Great of Russia to become a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy and to help Russia engage the Turkish Navy in the Black Sea. He once again had military success, but also again had difficulty with his boss, Russian Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potëmkin. Potëmkin is also the source of the adjective Potemkin, meaning something having a false or deceptive appearance – but that is another story. Potëmkin opposed Jones’s military successes, preferring that another Russian Prince receive credit for them. Potëmkin eventually found a way to discredit Jones and send him back to Saint Petersburg. There Jones was later accused of the rape of a 12 year old girl. He was exonerated with the help of the French representative at the Russian court and left Russia a failure. He solicited to serve with other European governments, but had no success. He returned to Paris in 1790 and retired, living alone in an apartment on Rue de Tournon, a short distance from the Luxembourg Palace (today’s French Senate). The French Revolution had already started, but Louis XVI was still King.

On July 18, 1792, Jones died alone in his room of pneumonia and a kidney ailment. He was 45 years old. This quote from an article by J. Dennis Robinson describes Jones as he was in Paris,

According to Jones’ biographer Samuel Eliot Morison, the Chevalier’s worst enemy was ultimately his own “colossal egotism.” His tireless self-promotion and self-aggrandizing, in the end, simply became tiresome. He lived and died a very lonely man.

A life mask made for this sculpture of Jones was used by French doctors to confirm his identity when his body was recovered from a former French cemetery.

A life mask made for this sculpture of Jones by Jean Antoine Houdon in 1780 was used by French doctors to confirm his identity when his body was recovered from a former French cemetery.

The French government had Jones body placed in a lead lined casket purchased by a friend and buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery, which was a special burial ground for foreign protestants. It was located near the Canal Saint Martin and today’s Saint Louis Hospital, near the corner of Rue des Ecluses Saint-Martin and Rue de la Grange aux Belles. The cemetery was sold as a parcel of land after the French Revolution and was later used as a garden, a place to bury animals, and a place where gamblers bet on animal fights. Even later it was paved over and buildings were constructed upon it.

A century thereafter, President Teddy Roosevelt elevated Jones to the status of hero. He wanted to build up the US Navy and persuaded Congress to authorize $35,000 to bring John Paul Jones back to the United States. The American Ambassador to France, Horace Porter, conducted a search for six years before succeeding in 1905 in locating and identifying Jones’s body. Searchers located the casket by using metal sounding rods to bore into the ground at the former cemetery. When Jones was first buried, the French embalmed the body and sealed the casket so that Jones’s remains would be well preserved. They hoped that America would someday retrieve their lost hero. A team of French physicians made a positive identification by comparing facial measurements with a life mask previously used for a sculpture of Jones. His body was sent on a train to the coast and transferred to a U.S. Navy ship for transport back to the United States. In April 1906 more than 1000 people attended a memorial service at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. In addition to Ambassador Horace Porter, speakers included the Governor of Maryland and President Teddy Roosevelt, who used the memory of Jones to advocate a more powerful US Navy. As one article said, “in the end Jones got what he had always wanted, permanent honor and attention.”

All of this was a surprise to me. I went to Rue de Tournon and found Jones’s residence, which I had passed many times before. The place where he was buried is just over a mile north of us, a neighborhood we have visited before, but in no way resembling the cemetery where he was originally buried.

You may get the sense that Jones reputation was rehabilitated at the start of the 20th Century. At the time of his death he was alone and unwanted. Gouverneur Morris, then Minister of France for the US, ordered as inexpensive a funeral as possible, and he chose not to attend. There was no effort to return Jones’s body to the United States. Jones had been cantankerous and left few if any friends in Paris. In the 19th century American authors painted him as an adventurous hero. The British viewed him as a pirate. The US Navy’s Officer Corps did not regard him or the limited events of the Continental Navy as important to the history of the US Navy. After more than 100 years, a US President hoping to build a strong navy helped fund the search for Jones body, and once found, ensured his return to the US as a naval hero. A biography of Jones in 1900 written by Augustus C. Buell painted Jones as a highly professional officer who could be quoted and studied as part of the development of a professional officer corps. Unfortunately, Buell invented some of the source material he used in his biography, including at least one of Jones’s quotes used in the Naval Academy Reef Points. Jones’s quote “those who will not risk cannot win”, is still widely published, though I think that quote too is a forgery. The only source I could find attributed the quote to Jones’s letter to French Admiral Kersaint in 1791, which has been identified as a forgery of Buell. Nonetheless, Jones reputation as the father of the Navy’s officer corps and model of a professional officer was confirmed more truthfully by others and seems to have survived.

So let’s see now…I was looking for the source of an American quote so I could tell our French friend Catherine about it. You should have seen me trying to relate this story to her in French. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell summarized the monomyth common to the structure of all myths about heros.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons upon his fellow man.

As for many, the journey of John Paul Jones from human to hero was bigger than his life.

Vacation to the Dominican Republic

Barcelo Dominican Beach Hotel

Barcelo Dominican Beach Hotel

In September our French friends Cat and Jacques invited us to go on vacation with them. They were planning a trip to the Dominican Republic. Since we are in effect already on vacation in Paris, it didn’t seem like a good idea to me, but they told Brenda and me to think about it and that we would be welcome to join them if we wanted. Brenda liked that we would have hot sunny weather, and we thought what better chance to improve our French than to be able to practice with our fun French friends all day long on vacation.

For many in France, French resorts like Saint Tropez or the Normandy coast are too expensive, so they choose to go outside the country to get more for their money. Our friends take vacation just two weeks a year, and for them the appeal of a destination vacation with a fixed price, including airfare, bus transportation, hotel, all meals, and many amenities is compelling. Travel companies in France offer these types of vacations to many lower cost destinations outside France, including Greece, Portugal, Morocco, Turkey, and in our case the Dominican Republic. The innovator of these types of vacations was probably Club Med, but our trip was organized by a French Company called Promovacances. We paid extra to select a smaller (though still big) beach hotel, the Barcelo Dominican Beach, and to travel on an Air France direct flight to Punta Cana instead of a lower cost airline with lower baggage limits and a flight transfer at Santo Domingo. Cost per person for 2 weeks was about 1600€. We figured that we would have spent at least half the cost of our vacation just in typical day-to-day expenses in Paris, so by that measure it was quite affordable.

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Rough sketch of Hispanola Island and points of interest

The Dominican Republic is located on Hispanola Island, a part of the Caribbean island group Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispanola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Cayman Islands), and shares the island with the country of Haiti. Hispanola was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 when his flagship the Santa Maria grounded and sank. He left behind a contingent of men who established a community on the north coast in what is now Haiti. That community was destroyed by the native population, but another contingent from Spain returned the following year and established a community on the south coast that eventually became Santo Domingo, the oldest European settlement in the Americas.

In just a few years, the originally large native population was decimated by European diseases, declining from an estimated 250,000 in 1492 to 14,000 in 1517. In 1574 a census documented 1,000 Spaniards and 12,000 African slaves. The Spanish moved on to colonize other parts of the Americas, and English, French, and Dutch pirates started to operate along the island coast. To avoid the pirates, the Spanish colony moved closer to Santo Domingo on the south coast, and the pirates established bases on the vacated north and west coasts.

In 1665 France’s Louis XIV officially recognized the French colony of Saint-Dominique (not to be confused with the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo on the eastern 2/3 of the island). In 1697 Spain officially ceded the western third of the island to France (part of the settlement at the conclusion of the 9 Years War in Europe). The population of this western colony grew, and it became an important trade hub supplying sugar to Europe using its slave population to keep prices low. After the French Revolution in the 1790’s, France was at war with Spain, England, Russia, and the Dutch in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The Peace of Basel, which produced three treaties during the Revolutionary Wars, included a provision where Spain ceded the eastern two thirds of the island to France. French colonists started to move into what had been the Spanish part of the island.

Meanwhile, the French Revolution abolished slavery in 1794. Unfortunately Napoleon reimposed slavery in 1802, and the previously emancipated slaves staged an upheaval in the French colony of Saint-Dominique. At the same time, more than half of the French army in Saint-Dominique contracted yellow fever. The French decided to remove their devastated army in 1803, and the new independent nation of Haiti was formed in 1804, becoming the second republic in the Americas. The United States and Great Britain refused to recognize the Haitian government for fear of what that would mean for slavery in their countries. The US imposed an embargo, the French imposed demands for compensation for property they had lost. Thus Haiti was saddled with debts that turned it into one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and it remains so today. The former Spanish colony on the eastern two thirds of the island, Santo Domingo, remained in French control. In 1805 Haitian troops invaded Santo Domingo and sacked two towns, killing many citizens and thus fueling animosity between the two countries that still exists today.

In 1808, settlers in Santo Domingo revolted against French rule and with the help of the British, returned the eastern two thirds of the island to Spanish control. In 1821 the colony declared its independence from Spain, only to be invaded again and conquered by the Haitians, who abolished slavery and nationalized private property. The education system collapsed, and the university was shutdown. Farmers were drafted into the Haitian army. The economy faltered and the freed men rebelled against the Haitian rulers. Eventually, after 22 years of Haitian rule, a nationalist army organized and won the Dominican War of Independence in 1844. They established a constitution modeled on that of the United States.

Unfortunately the government proved to be very unstable and endured many years of power struggle between competing factions, resulting in civil war, assassinations, and many changes of government. The US invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916 and finally departed in 1922. In 1924, elections were held that for the first time produced 6 years of stable government. The economy grew rapidly, even when Rafael Trujillo established in 1930 an iron fisted dictatorship that continued for 30 years. In the 1960s the country returned to democratic government, and though there are still ups and downs, it has grown into the 2nd largest economy of Central America and the Caribbean. While agriculture remains the largest sector, tourism is a rapidly rising area of growth in the service economy.

Our hotel was the Barcelo Dominican Beach at Punta Cana, on the far eastern tip of the island. It was along the north shore facing the Atlantic Ocean, but we were close enough to the point so that we could also visit the south shore, facing the Caribbean. In this part of the Dominican Republic, as well as other areas along the coast, there (based on looking at the Google map) must be hundreds of huge hotels, each walled off from the general public and having guards stationed along the beach to keep the wandering purveyors of paragliding, island tours, sunglass sales, massages, etc. from harassing the tourists as they sit in their beach chairs watching the waves come in.

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Guard on our beach watching one of the motorboats next door make his evening landing at full speed.

A typical day at our resort looked like this: Breakfast was served buffet style at a large open air space with both inside and outside seating. It was wonderful and included everything an American or European might expect – breads, cold cuts, fresh fruits and juices, eggs and different meats on the grill, platters of scrambled eggs, potatoes, rice, beans, pancakes, waffles, toasts, cereals, butter and cheeses. Waiters circulated serving hot coffee and tea. After breakfast every day we would go to the hotel lobby to have a café latté and check in on the hotel’s WIFI, which did not extend to the rooms and was reliably slow. Lunch was a similar feast of great variety, served with a glass of wine or beer if you wanted. Before dinner we would always meet at the lounge for a cocktail, our favorite being a mojito. For dinner there was the buffet, but also Brazilian, Mexican, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian full service restaurants. We alternated between the specialty restaurants for dinner. There was also a beach grill and a seafood restaurant that served meals under the stars. We would go to the beach every day and swim in the ocean or in one of the 3 large hotel pools. After dinner every night we would go to a show called “The Spectacle”, which would feature singing, dancing, and frequently skits with audience participation. Although there were featured singers and dancers who we understood performed at a number of the local hotels, the masters of ceremonies and most of the entertainers also worked by day at our hotel. After a week or so all of them looked like family to us. The entertainment was at a very high level and always kept us interested. A couple days it rained and we spent the afternoon at the Starbucks-like coffee shop drinking lattés. Every other day or so we would work out at the health club. None of these amenities cost us anything additional to our up front trip fee.

The waiters and waitresses were always cheerful and many spoke some French or English. A number of them quickly got to know who we were. There was a contest with voting each day on Trip Advisor to see who was the best waiter or entertainer at the hotel. Unfortunately the Internet service made it difficult to vote.

Brenda enjoys her lobster dinner

Brenda and her lobster on her birthday

We did opt for some extras – we paid extra for a fantastic lobster dinner under the stars for Brenda’s birthday. Dinner was great and the atmosphere not to be found anywhere else. Brenda had a massage at the Spa one day. Also we could add the cost of trips or tours booked through the hotel to our room bill.

Cat and Jacques quickly made friends during their beach walks with a young man who represented a shop along the beach. The way the system worked, every purchase could be negotiated, and the store you negotiated with didn’t have to carry the item. Tell them what you wanted and they would go find it. Everyone would make a percentage. Everyone was in the customer referral business. Everyone in our group purchased something from the stores along the beach.

One afternoon we took a taxi to a local mall at nearby San Juan. Everything was priced in dollars rather than the local currency of Dominican Pesos (about 40 pesos to the dollar). The mall was pretty much like being in America.

Brenda and Jacques at the town center market in Higuey

Brenda and Jacques at the town center market in Higuey

One day we took a taxi ride to Higuey (eegway), a city of about 300,000 and the capital of our province of La Altagracia. The city is named after a native chiefdom that was there when Columbus arrived. We first visited the most prominent monument, the large Basilica of Altagracia. Afterwards we had our driver take us into the heart of town to see what it was like to shop on the streets. He first delivered us to a shop where he must have had some arrangement. We looked at merchandise but didn’t purchase anything and then asked if our driver would take us into a shopping district in the center of town. This was an exciting experience that left us far from other tourists, but we were followed at every step by people asking what we needed so they could help us find it and thus earn a commission. One woman who spoke French had some success. Cat and Brenda bought bracelets of Larimar, the green blue stone that is only found in the Dominican Republic. There were lots of clothes and local artwork for sale at these stores, as well as chickens and lots of other things from the farm that don’t turn up at your local butcher shop.

The church at Altos de Chavon

The church at Altos de Chavon

Another day we took a bus ride and catamaran cruise including dance lessons and music, snorkeling, swimming at the pristine island beach at Catalina Island, and a lobster lunch aboard a paddlewheel riverboat on the Chavón River. The bus trip took us through the Casa de Campo resort complex, the flagship of the La Romana All Inclusive Resorts area. It was my understanding listening to our French tour guide that the main customers for the large homes in this resort were American, though we also know that there was a large amount of investment in island real estate by other foreigners. We visited Altos de Chavón, a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village located just minutes from La Romana. None of us knew at the time that it wasn’t part of the original Spanish settlement of the island. It was built by craftsmen from the Dominican Republic in 1976. It has a large 5000 seat amphitheater, which featured an opening concert in 1982 by Frank Sinatra. Everything looks as old as advertised, and it has great shops and restaurants to add atmosphere to the appearance of antiquity. The cruise and lunch were fun. There was heavy rain in the afternoon but we were swimming so it wasn’t too discouraging. The cruise took place near the town of La Romana along the south facing coast, so we had a chance to swim in the Caribbean as well as the Atlantic.

Harbor at Bayahibe

Harbor at Bayahibe

Our last great adventure outside of the resort was to take the bus to Bayahibe (byaeebay), a town also along the south shore 10 miles east of La Romana. Cat had learned from one of guys along the local beach that there was a direct bus there from the small town just down the street from the gated entry to our resort. We headed off searching for the bus stop, which we eventually found when a bus pulled up to a corner. We quickly learned that there was no direct bus. Instead we went on the hour long trip to Higuey, and then at at that bus station caught another bus that took us to a place on the highway somewhere, and from there we caught a ride with a hotel bus whose enterprising driver picked us up. An enterprising girl waiting at the drop off with us negotiated a commission from the bus driver by getting us to come aboard and telling us his price. Bayahibe didn’t have much of a town, but it did have a beautiful harbor and beach, where we spent a wonderful afternoon. Afterwords we dined at the Captain Kidd Restaurante and Pizzeria, which was très bon!

Naturally there was no easy bus trip back to the hotel. First we rode in a jam packed van into the town of La Romana, the third largest city in the Dominican Republic with a metropolitan population of about 250,000. We learned from a girl on our bus that there was a bus leaving promptly for Higuey, so we literally jumped off our bus, paying the driver and yelling at the little boys grabbing for our bags and money, and wound through a crowd to another bus, which we hopped on in total faith that it would go to Higuey. We sat in the back of the bus and became acquainted with a boy sitting just ahead of us who was obviously curious about the foreigners who didn’t speak Spanish. Eventually I also met his father, who sat next to me and gave his son stern glances and instructions to behave. He also helped me figure out bus fare and, between each of our non existent knowledge of the other’s language, we discussed that it was good that his son had a father (he didn’t have a mother anymore), that the Dominican Republic had produced some great baseball players, and that there were lots of other parts of the country that we should see and visit. He warned us to take a taxi to our hotel from Higuey and that we should be wary of people at the bus station. Still, once we arrived in Higuey we accompanied a women who had been on our La Romana bus and was kind enough to steer us to a bus that took us back to our hotel.

Moon and beach behind the pool after dinner

Moon and beach behind the pool after dinner

There were many other fun times on this vacation. One significant achievement – we learned to play Scrabble in French, not well mind you. Jacques and I have lost every time so far to those heartless language mavens Cat and Brenda. We monitored the tropical storm Edouard, which passed north of us in the Atlantic during our stay. It caused some rain but had little other effect. We also got to participate in the Air France pilot’s strike, which delayed our return trip by several hours and forced us to fly home on Air Caraïbes instead of Air France. Here we were pretty lucky. Other than cramped economy class seating, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.

Here is a photo tour showing some of what we saw on our trip.

100th Anniversary of World War I

A large map of France showing fortifications around Paris at the time of World War I

A large map of France showing fortifications around Paris at the time of World War I

August marks the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I, an event that transformed Europe and produced a lasting effect on France. In Paris there have been several recent exhibitions showing various aspects of the war through French eyes. Unlike World War II, where the threat of destruction was everywhere, World War I in France was confined to a strip of countryside running from the North Sea along the French-Belgian border and across France to the Swiss border. The land in this wide strip was devastated, first by the various armies digging on each side up to 4 networks of trenches fortified with barbed wire and concrete, and then through the explosions of many millions of shells and even more bullets. The same land was consecrated by the death of millions of French, German, English, and eventually American soldiers, many of whose bodies were never recovered.

Europe in 1914 was at peace, and most governments had been stable for many years. In France, it was the time of the Belle Époch, the period from the end of the Franco Prussian War in 1871 until the start of World War I. It was a golden age of achievements in science, art, and literature. There were strong links between countries in banking and commerce. Continental Europe, though some parts were still imperial, was a civilization of European enlightenment, respect for constitutional principles, the rule of law, and representative government. The war would damage this civilization, bring on the rise of totalitarianism in Russia, Spain, Italy, and Germany and set the stage for World War II.

Civilization, life itself, is something learned and invented… After several years of peace men forget it all too easily. They come to believe that culture is innate, that it is identical with nature. But savagery is always lurking two steps away, and it regains a foothold as soon as one stumbles.

Saint-Beuve, quoted by George Eliot in Impressions of Theophrastus Such

The idea of sending the French army into battle became a rallying point for the country.

The idea of sending the French army into battle had broad public support

Beneath the peace and prosperity, there was in France a cultural battle pitting a conservative viewpoint, which wanted to preserve religious and cultural heritage (including the monarchy) and a liberal viewpoint, which embraced the ideas of the 18th century thinkers who had fostered the French Revolution (including most contentiously the separation of the church from the state). The rhetoric between these two parties was contentious, like the rhetoric in modern day America. War was one idea that both groups, tired of years of public bickering and scandals, found they could support. A way to revive the spirit of unity and progress! Also the French were still angry at the Germans for the loss of their territories in Alsace and Lorraine in 1871. The public expectation was that the war would be quickly brought to an end.

The start of World War I

The war started in a most curious manner. The heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Arch Duke Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated on June 28, 1914, by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo, Bosnia – then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassins were armed and assisted by a nationalist organization from nearby Serbia, a country which had gained its independence from the Turkish Empire. Many ethnic Serbs lived in Bosnia. The state of Serbia was sponsoring nationalist terrorists to rise up against the Austro-Hungarian government (similar to the current activities of Russia in the Ukraine). The Austro-Hungarian government ruled an empire with 5 languages and a dozen religions, so they could scarcely let this external ethnic threat go unanswered. They decided to threaten military action against Serbia.

Pictures of some of the defenses - note that the entry doors to Notre Dame are all bricked up.

Pictures of some of the defenses – note that the entry doors to Notre Dame are all bricked up.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Italy, who each pledged to support the other in the event of an attack by an outside power. There was a possibility that Russia might decide to come to Serbia’s assistance. Worried about the military consequences of attacking Serbia, Austria-Hungary sought diplomatic support from the German Emperor. There was a mutual assistance alliance between Russia and France in case either was attacked by Germany. There was also an understanding between Britain and France to lend assistance if the vital interests of either were judged to be threatened.

Germany agreed to fully support Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarians dithered for 3 weeks before submitting a diplomatic note of demands to Serbia. Serbia was ready to accept all the demands (which would have prevented war) when they heard from their diplomat in Russia that the Czar was fiercely pro-Serbian and had declared a period preparatory to war (a pre mobilization of troops so to speak). This caused the Serbians to amend their response to Austria-Hungary and reject some of the conditions. While the Serbian army mobilized, the diplomats to all the major powers conferred to try to work out a solution to the crisis.

French soldiers mobilizing for war

French soldiers mobilizing for war

The problem was that the diplomatic efforts were superseded by war planning. The armies needed time to call up reserves and move troops into positions to defend against an attack. The Russians actually mobilized half their Army, and the Czar agreed to fully mobilise on July 30th. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, cousin of the Czar, sent a telegraph to him urging Russia to remain a spectator in the conflict without involving Europe in “the most horrible war she has ever witnessed.”. The evening of July 29th the Czar cancelled his mobilization order – just in time. Unfortunately, Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, determined that unless Germany mobilized immediately, they would be vulnerable on their eastern frontier should war commence. He decided to greatly exceed his authority and inform the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff to mobilize immediately, and that Germany would mobilize as well. The Austro-Hungarians put the order to mobilize before the Emperor Franz Josef, who signed and returned it on July 31st. Russia backtracked and declared general mobilization too. On August 1st Germany mobilized against Russia. The French, fearing a loss of territory from a German first strike, actually mobilized an hour earlier than the Germans. The British declared war on August 4th after Germany failed to respond to a British request that they cease their attack on Belgium.

The War

(I’ll keep it short)

Purple is the closest approach of the German front to Paris. Blue is the approximate front for most of the fighting from 1915 - 1918. Gray is the line the German's fell back to at war's end.

Purple is the closest approach of the German front to Paris. Blue is the approximate front for most of the fighting from 1915 – 1918. Gray is the line the German’s fell back to at war’s end.

World War I spread to involve fighting in Europe, Africa, and Asia. It was a huge and complicated conflict. Considering only the major activities in France, here is a link to a map showing the the western front. Germany had a plan called the Schlieffen Plan to end the war with France and England in six weeks. It involved bringing overwhelming force to sweep through Belgium and across northern France, then turning south to envelop Paris and the northern part of the country. The French plan of attack was to go into Germany through Alsace. Neither of these plans worked out as intended.

The Germans encountered much more resistance from the Belgians than they expected, and then they encountered strong resistance from the British. The French attack reached German territory and then was driven back in a counterattack. Eventually the French General Joffre decided on August 23rd that the offensive plan was failing and ordered troops to withdraw from the front to defensive positions. French troops retreated towards Paris with the Germans in hot pursuit. German logistics worsened, French logistics improved. The French organized a counter attack at the Marne River – the Germans had come within 30 miles of Paris. The counter attack had success, and eventually the Germans concluded that their plan for rapid defeat of the French had failed. They withdrew back beyond the Marne to the Aisne River and its tributaries, giving up the ground they had taken in the previous 2 weeks.

Photograph showing digging of the trenches.

Photograph showing digging of the trenches.

Thus began a new phase of the War – trench warfare. The German Schlieffen plan was designed to win the war in the west before the Russian troops could become a threat to Germany in the east. The German army ran out of time and was ordered to fortify and defend its positions in the west while troops were redeployed to fight on the eastern front. The line of trenches by the end of 1914 was 475 miles long – from the North Sea to Swiss border. In 1915 the French and English had little success against the German defenses. In 1916, the Germans tried to take the offensive at Verdun against the French General Pétain, but in the end not much was gained, and each side had over 200,000 killed or wounded. The Somme was an allied offensive led by the British General Haig. In trench warfare, the lightly protected attackers always suffered horrific casualties trying to dislodge the entrenched defenders. First one side would attack until they were repulsed, then the other side would attack. The attacks at The Somme yielded little ground, and Germany and the Allies each had more than 600,000 killed or wounded after months of battle.

In 1917, the French forces staged mutinies against the war. Their demands were more leave, better food, better treatment for soldier’s families, and lastly, a way to find peace. The French placed Philippe Pétain as Commander of the Army. Pétain made changes in doctrine to provide defense in depth, changes in tactics to limit the number of casualties in battle, and changes to policy to provide simpler and more regular leave. Gradually the crisis of the French army abated. Other countries were to have their own crises of morale during the war.

In April 1917, the US declared war on Germany. Despite efforts by President Woodrow Wilson to remain neutral and bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare plus other factors finally brought the US into the War. America had a large navy but a very small army, and was otherwise unprepared to make an immediate contribution. General John J Pershing arrived in France in June 1917. By August 1918, America had sent 1,300,000 men to Europe.

Local exhibits were erected in the form of a trench surrounded by woods.

Local exhibits were erected in the form of a trench surrounded by woods.

The Germans were released from their eastern front by the collapse of the Russian Army when the Czar of Russia was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Russia had agreed to peace terms with Germany, ceding it territory for an end to warfare. Germany’s plan was to redeploy their troops from the east for one last all or nothing offensive in the west. The Germans still had a numerical superiority, and their plan was to attack before the Americans could mass forces to join the effort. The German aim was to push the British forces in northern France along the Belgian border back into the sea, then to sweep down upon the French forces. Thus on 21 March 1918, 76 German divisions attacked 28 British divisions of lesser quality first using deadly chlorine and phosgene gas and then bombarding them with millions of artillery shells. After the onslaught, the German attackers overran the British positions and pressed into France, attempting to roll up the British against the sea. As the allied armies fell back, they held a meeting between British and French to coordinate strategy, and both countries agreed to respond under the allied leadership of French General Ferdinand Foch. Foch’s coordinated strategy allowed the allies to staunch the assault.

The German’s tried several other assaults, all stopped short of taking Paris. Eventually the Germans could see that they didn’t have the population to provide enough new soldiers to make up for their continuing losses in battle. With an ever growing American army and the allies also possessing great superiority in tanks and other hardware, the Germans finally decided to fall back to the Hindenburg line and pursue negotiations for an armistice.

Aftermath of the War

Typical memorial to French war dead. On far left and far right are columns added for World War II. The rest of the names are from World War I, about 5 times as many.

Typical memorial to French war dead. On far left and far right are columns added for World War II. The rest of the names are from World War I, about 5 times as many in this instance.

There were some great inventions and legacies as a result of the war. The Wall Street Journal published an informative section on legacies of the Great War. These include minor achievements like the development of Pilates and more significant ones like the invention of plastic surgery. Of course there were also many new developments in warfare. The war created new countries and unfortunately also fostered the beginnings of the Middle East conflict. However, all these changes were overshadowed by the horrible, indescribable losses. Just consider some of the sacrifices of France:

The bodies of over half of the men killed in action were never recovered. There were 1.7 million French war dead in a country of 40 million. Twice that many were injured. Some 13% of the men of fighting age were killed. Among the youngest recruits aged 19-22 when the war broke out, 35-37% were killed. There were 680,000 widows. The total French losses in World War II were greater than those of the US. On a per capita basis, they were 5 times the American losses. Yet the French lost more than 3 times as many people in World War I than they did in World War II. A whole generation had been wiped out.

Shortly after the war ended and partly as a result of the problems of poor health and sanitation caused by the war, a Spanish flu would rage through Europe and kill more people than had been killed in the war. The liberation of peoples formerly in the Austro-Hungarian or German Empire brought little relief for the ethnic animosities that contributed to starting the war, and neither did the totalitarian revolution in Russia. The rancors and instabilities left behind only led to an even more destructive war a generation later. For all parties World War I was a terrible mistake.

Valentine’s Day in Paris

Abelard and his school on the hill dedicated to Saint Genevive (near today's Pantheon)

Abelard and his school on the hill dedicated to Saint Genevive (near today’s Pantheon) – wall painting at the Sorbonne.

Like in the US, stores milk Valentine’s day in Paris for as many sales of chocolate and hearts and roses and you name it as possible. Plus, Paris is for lovers so there’s no shortage of kissing going on. Still Paris has its own literature that conveys the spriit of Valentine’s Day in a more permanent sense.

Valentine’s Day may come to you as either an awkward moment (pour moi) or a day to be celebrated (pour ma femme) in all its glory. Wikipedia refers to the Roman presbyter (Christian leader) Saint Valentine, of whom some say:

A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.

The English author Geoffrey Chaucer was the first associated with this idea as an expression of romantic love. In Paris we can find a couple of examples of the Valentine ideal that go way beyond what most men and women are willing to commit to in modern society.

First there is the story of Peter Abelard and Héloïse. Pierre Abelard was a well known scholar in Paris in the early 12th century,  “the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century”. Abelard’s career brought him to the Cathedral School at Notre Dame de Paris, the epitome for his profession, and it was then that his scholastic life was interrupted by his meeting with Héloïse d’Argente, who was under the care of her uncle, the secular canon Fulbert. She attracted Abelard’s attention with her remarkable knowledge of classical letters. In about 1116 he began an affair with her, and she became pregnant (and gave birth to a son named Astrolabe). He sent her to Brittany to live with his family. As a cleric of the Church he could not be married. He arranged a secret marriage to her through Fulbert, but when Fulbert disclosed it, Abelard sent Héloïse to the convent at Argenteuil, where she led the life of a Nun. Fulbert arranged for Abelard to be castrated, ending his romantic career. Abelard became a monk at the monastery of Saint Denis near Paris.

The graves of Pierre Abelard and Héloïse d'Argenteuil, side by side at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

The graves of Pierre Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil, side by side at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Here he published his famous work Historia Calamitatum (known in English as “Story of His Misfortunes” or “A history of my Calamities”), which is a readable window into the life of an academic of the church prior to founding of the first university in Paris. His thoughts on his relationship with Héloïse were a key part. She responded with a letter to him, and they began a correspondence, though they could never again be together. The letters revealed both her continued devotion and his regrets for the troubles his love had caused.

Abelard’s later writings and teachings were controversial, and he was accused of heresy by Bernard of Clairvaux and condemned by the Pope. He was assigned to a monastery and his books were to be burned. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny intervened. He reconciled Abelard with Bernard and the Pope and persuaded everyone that it was enough that Abelard remain under the protection of Cluny. Abelard passed away in 1142, his accusations largely resolved, and his reputation as a wise scholar restored. Héloïse died in 1163.

Though some researchers dispute this, it is thought that Héloïse’s bones were placed alongside Pierre’s when she died. At the behest of Napoleon’s wife Josephine Bonaparte, their bones were moved to a well known tomb at Père-Lachaise cemetery, where today “lovers from all over the world visit the tomb where the remains of Heloise and Abelard rest eternally together.” I’ll have to say we were among those who have visited.

Now a second story, shorter than the first. At the end of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame“, there is this passage relating the fates of Quasi Modo and Esmeralda (translated):

“…they found among those hideous carcasses two skeletons, one of which held the other in its embrace. One of these skeletons, which was that of a woman, still had a few strips of garment which had once been white, and around her neck was to be seen a string of adrèzarach beads with a little silk bag ornamented with green glass, which was open and empty. These objects were of so little value that the executioner had probably not cared for them. The other, which held this one in a close embrace, was the skeleton of a man. It was noticed that his spinal column was crooked, his head seated on his shoulder blades, and that one leg was shorter than the other. Moreover there was no fracture of the vertebrae at the nape of the neck, and it was evident that he had not been hanged. Hence the man to whom it had belonged had come thither and had died there. When they tried to detach the skeleton which he held in his embrace, he fell to dust.”

There – that’s some Valentine’s Day for you.

Northern Ireland: The Troubles

Tour of “The Troubles” in Catholic Belfast

Memorial mural to the Troubles on Falls Road, Belfast

Memorial mural to the Troubles on Falls Road, Belfast

As part of our Belfast visit we wanted to learn more about the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles”. Anyone old enough can remember how from the early ’70s until well into the ’90s, year after year, every day there would be stories in the news of bombings and killings and disagreements and fighting in Northern Ireland. How did Northern Ireland come to be? What was the fighting all about? How did it start and finally end?

There’s a great deal of complexity to Irish history, and we can only skim the surface in a short article. Still, the story of this conflict needs to be told because it is like so many others that perpetuate in our world today, whether it be the problems with race relations in the US, the conflict over the state of Israel, or the civil wars in Syria, Afganistan, Iraq, Egypt, and numerous other states.

There are two sides to every argument. The British and their Unionist followers in Northern Ireland had political and governmental goals that to them seemed every bit as valid and necessary as the Irish Republican reasoning that we heard about during our tour. The safety and security of a large portion of the population was at risk through the actions of rebellious minority group. The Irish Republicans whose rights were being oppressed decided to stand up until their grievances were addressed. The best practice for doing this has yet to be invented. Redressing the problems caused when one people subjects another people to their will and discriminates against them is painfully difficult – witness efforts in the US to undo slavery.

We’ll describe our tour and afterwards provide more historical details of the period leading up to “The Troubles”, a short history of Irish Republicanism, and a basic historical recounting of period of “The Troubles”.

Jack Duffin on left as our group winds up Falls Avenue in Belfast

Jack Duffin on left as our group winds up Falls Avenue in Belfast. He is talking about how large numbers of Catholics were suddenly displaced from their homes by security forces.

Brenda and I took a more than 2 hour walking tour of Belfast along Falls Road heading west from downtown. Falls Road runs through the center of the Catholic neighborhood in West Belfast. A couple of major streets to the north was Shankill Rd, which was the heart of the Protestent neighborhood. These two neighborhoods were where many of the incidents of “The Troubles” took place.

Our guide was a staunch Republican (a supporter of a free Irish state and usually a Catholic) named Jack Duffin. He is a left leaning supporter of the Irish Republican Army who would like to see Northern Ireland become part of the Republic of Ireland. Jack was born and raised in the same neighborhoods where the fighting occurred. He had been on the front lines, and many of his friends were killed or arrested during the course of the conflict. Jack now works for a company called Coiste, which has a small office near the tour route and also a great web site at http://www.coiste.ie, where you can learn more about the story of “The Troubles”.

There were only 7 in our group – five from the US and two from Italy. From the US we had a Ph.D. graduate student doing research for his thesis, a UCLA Ph.D student and her boyfriend who were enroute to Egypt for similar studies, and us.

Our tour started at the Divis Tower, the location of one of the early neighborhood battles of 1969, then past Saint Comgell’s Primary School, where we could see some of the bullet holes in the concrete and brick. We stopped at a memorial for the Republicans martyrs from one neighborhood and across the street saw a block of murals supporting various situations involving human rights all over the world. A short while later we stopped at a library funded by Andrew Carnegie. Jack pointed out that the Republicans have a museum in an old factory building that was a linen factory back in the days when Belfast was the largest producer of linen in the world. He described how miserable working conditions were for those early factory workers.

We passed several building murals dedicated to players of the Belfast Celtic Football Club, reportedly one of the best soccer teams in the world from 1891 to 1949. The football club ended in 1949 as a result of fighting between Catholic team members and Protestant fans.

Mural for Bobby Sands and Sinn Fein Headquarters

Mural for Bobby Sands near Sinn Fein Headquarters

There was a memorial on the side of one building for the martyr Bobby Sands. Bobby Sands was a leader of a Hunger Strike in 1981 while he was imprisoned at Her Majesty’s Maze Prison south of Belfast. The Catholic prisoners sent there during “The Troubles” considered themselves to be prisoners of war. In the early ’70s the British government had agreed to grant these prisoners a Special Category Status, allowing political prisoners of the conflict to not wear the normal prison uniforms, not perform prison work, to freely communicate with one another, and the right to one visit, one parcel, and one letter per week. These rights were revoked by the British in 1976, and the hunger strike was a protest that these rights had been removed. Bobby Sands died of starvation after 66 days. During the hunger strike, Sands was elected in a special election to the British House of Commons, though he died of hunger in prison before he could ever take his elected seat.

We stopped in front of the local Sinn Féin office, with memorial placards above the door to fallen members of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles. One was Pat McGeown, a leader who died in 1996 from complications started during his hunger strike in prison in 1981. Another was to Máire Drumm, Vice President of Sinn Féin when she was assassinated in 1976. Two other placards were memorials to 6 members who had been killed by the RUC in the early ’90s.

We passed by the place where President Bill Clinton met with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in November 1995. Adams has been President of Sinn Féin since 1983. President Clinton was revered by the Catholic community for his support of Gerry Adams and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Royal Hospital, where the first air conditioner was installed, where defibrillator paddles were invented, where modern gunshot wound treatment was advanced.

Royal Hospital, where the first air conditioner was installed, where defibrillator paddles were invented, where modern gunshot wound treatment was advanced.

A couple blocks later we passed by the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, where Gerry Adams’s life was saved after an assassination attempt in 1984. As a result of the many assaults during “The Troubles”, the hospital became a cutting edge facility for the treatment of gunshot woulds. It also made another significant contribution to emergency medicine – a doctor there invented the portable defibrillator. The hospital was also the world’s first air conditioned public building, the unit having been developed by the Sirocco Works in Belfast in 1906.

We continued along Falls Rd, eventually reaching another area where the street side was lined with posters, one still demanding justice for a bombing in 1971 that killed fifteen patrons at McGurk’s Bar. Individual posters cited the death of over 200 Republicans, showing each to have been murdered at the hands of the Unionist paramilitary groups, the police, or British troops. Jack knew a number of them personally and recounted for us each of their stories.

We went by the home of James Connolly, where he lived in Belfast from 1910 to 1913. Connolly was a socialist politician and leader of trade unions who is revered for his advocacy of Irish nationalism and independence. In 1916 he led a group of volunteers in what became known as the Easter Rising. The Irish Nationalists attacked and took over various areas of Dublin and proclaimed Ireland as an independent republic. The British troops quickly quelled the uprising, and Connolly was badly wounded and had only a short time to live. Still, the British found him guilty of treason, tied him to a chair (since he could not stand) and executed him. Such martyrdom did not go unnoticed – the public awareness soon increased public support for Irish nationalism.

Memorial to some of the fallen Republicans at the Catholic Cemetery on Andersontown Rd in Belfast

Memorial to some of the fallen Republicans at the Catholic Cemetery on Andersontown Rd in Belfast

The tour ended by passing the Protestant Falls Park cemetery, where many of the Unionist victims are buried, and then proceeded to the Catholic Milltown cemetery on the opposite side of the road, where we viewed many graves of the Nationalists, including Bobby Sands.

Our tour ended in the dark and the rain, and afterwards we all went together to a nearby club where we hoisted a pint of Guiness to our guide and to the memory of those in the conflict. The Americans in our group were highly interested in “The Troubles”, and we enjoyed the stimulating discussion. On our cab ride home, the driver related his own feelings about “The Troubles”. He also noted that we’d just come from the most Republican club in town.

See more photos of the tour.

Some history leading up to “The Troubles”

How did Scots and English become the majority in Northern Ireland?

According to a Wikipedia article, the area that is now Northern Ireland was sparsely populated by Gaelic Irish, clans or tribes that migrated seasonally with their cattle. It was the most Gaelic part of Ireland. In the 1590s, the forces of the Gaelic Irish chieftains fought the Nine Years War to oppose English rule in Ireland. The war was throughout Ireland, but was mainly fought in the northern province of Ulster. The English won the war, and in in 1601, in exchange for King James I pardoning the chieftains, they gave up control of their land to England, a substantial part of what is now Northern Ireland. At the end of the war this area was sparsely populated with perhaps 25,000 to 45,000 people.

In 1609 the English organized to colonize a substantial portion of the counties of Ulster, redistributing the land to Protestants from England and Scotland. The English intention was to civilize the Ulster region and to anglicize the Irish, including converting them to Protestantism. The principal landowners, known as Undertakers, were wealthy men from Scotland and England who undertook to import tenants from their own estates. All tenants were to be English speaking and Protestant. Veterans of the Nine Years War also lobbied successfully to receive land grants, these to be paid for by subsidies from other organizations within England. Also the remaining portions of Northern Ireland that were not part of the official plantation, including the area around Belfast, were planted with immigrants in many cases by the private land owners.

In 1641 there was a massacre of about 4000 Protestant settlers when the Irish Catholic population staged a rebellion on the Ulster plantation. Another 8000 Protestants went home as a result. The English sent a force of 10,000 to quell the rebellion, and they committed many atrocities against the Catholics. After the conflict, there were no more Catholic landowners in the Ulster region, but so many of the tenants in the plantation areas had left that the percentage of immigrants was actually greatest in the privately settled areas closer to what is now Belfast.

After England’s William III conquered Ireland in 1691, a complicated series of acts were put in place to limit and discriminate against the Irish Catholics and also those Presbyterian Protestants who would not swear an oath of allegiance to the King. These included exclusion from public office, a ban on interfaith marriages and the state’s refusal to recognize marriage of Presbyterians, barring of Catholics from holding firearms, exclusion from the legal profession and judiciary, ban on converting from Protestantism to Catholicism, and many more similar restrictions. Many of these restrictions were later repealed, but they remained as a strongly resonant element in the politics of Irish Catholicism for long afterwards.

The author and sociologist Allan G Johnson describes how over the years of English control, the English subjected the native Irish to discrimination:

“The British came to view the Irish as something like a separate species altogether, possessing inferior traits that were biologically passed from one generation to the next. In this, the British were inventing a concept of race that made it a path of least resistance to see other peoples as subhuman if not nonhuman, making it easier to objectify them and more difficult to feel empathy for them as members of their own kind, both integral to the exertion of control over others.”

This historical undercurrent eventually resurfaced in the tension between the Irish Catholics and ancestors of the migrant English and Scottish Protestants that boiled over in the a period of civil conflict between 1969 and 1998 known as “The Troubles”.

History of Irish Republicanism

History of Irish Republicanism from the Coiste web site:

Following the enforced partition of Ireland by the British Government in 1921 the newly elected Unionist Government in the Six Counties set about establishing a form of religious apartheid,’a protestant parliament for a protestant people’, as one former Unionist prime minister described it. In the decades between 1921 and 1969, Catholics and Nationalists bore the brunt of institutionalised discrimination and state repression. No opposition to Unionist rule was tolerated.

By the 1960s the Northern Ireland Civil Rights association was formed, and began to campaign peacefully for basic civil rights – one person one vote and an end to discrimination in housing and employment. That peaceful campaign was met with violence by the Unionist regime; demonstrators were attacked with batons, tear gas and eventually live bullets. Whipped into a frenzy of sectarian hatred and fear, loyalist mobs supported by the police force (RUC and B Specials) swept into Nationalist districts throughout Belfast on the night of the 15th August. Hundreds of Nationalist homes and businesses were attacked and destroyed leaving thousands of Nationalists homeless. That evening Gerard Mc Auley, just 15 years of age, was shot and killed by Loyalists. Later Patrick Rooney just 9 years of age was shot and killed by the RUC. Trooper Mc Cabe who was on home leave at the time from his regiment in the British Army was also shot and killed by the RUC in the Divis Street area.

Before 1969 the IRA was a relatively small organisation, made up for most part of older men and women who had previously fought military campaigns against British rule in Ireland. After the suppression of the civil rights movement and the pogroms, hundreds of men and women joined the ranks of the IRA. The British Government ordered British troops onto the streets again and the perennial struggle between the British and Irish Republicans began again.

Short history of the period of “The Troubles”

Wikipedia provides an overview of “The Troubles”:

“The Troubles” refers to the three decades of violence between elements of Northern Ireland’s Irish nationalist community (mainly self-identified as Irish and/or Roman Catholic) and its unionist community (mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant). The conflict was the result of discrimination against the Irish nationalist/Catholic minority by the unionist/Protestant majority and the question of Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom.

In 1964 Nationalist Catholic Irish began a civil rights campaign to end restrictions on government hiring, gerrymandering of election districts, changing of the vote from 1 vote per household to 1 vote per person, reform of the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was almost 100% Protestant), and repeal of special powers that enabled search without a warrant, imprisonment without trial, banishment of assembly, etc. During the period from 1964 to 1969 the Unionists organized several loyalist paramilitary groups: the Ulter Volunteer Force (UVF) among people in the Shankill Rd neighborhood north of Falls Rd; the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC) set up a paramilitary style wing called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV). During the same period the Nationalists formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). During these years there are skirmishes but not outbreaks, and the Nationalists continued to press their case for civil rights.

In 1969, loyalist paramilitary groups bombed electricity and water installations in Northern Ireland, and cast blame upon the then dormant Irish Republican Army. Outside of Belfast, there was fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Derry. Loyalists in Belfast invaded the Republican neighborhoods, burned houses and businesses. Republicans exchanged gunfire with Loyalists and the RUC. British troops were deployed to restore order.

During the period 1970 to 1972, violence escalated and over 500 people lost their lives . Two more Republican groups formed, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Official Irish Republican Army. Our tour guide was a member of the Official IRA and described the Provisional IRA members as being angered and driven to action by their loss, but not ideologically in tune with the political ideas of the Official IRA. The newer Provisional IRA was more attuned to armed struggle. Unionists imposed a “Falls Curfew” upon the residents of the Falls Rd . Also they imposed internment without trial, almost always applied to the Republicans rather than the Unionists. By 1972 the Provisional IRA had carried out a destructive campaign of violence, killing about 100 soldiers and carrying out more than 1300 bombing of mostly commercial targets. The Official IRA carried out a similar campaign. Loyalist paramilitary groups retaliated by assassinating Republicans, and both Protestants and Catholics were displaced out of their communities by force.

In 1972, the government of Great Britain passed emergency legislation dissolving the Loyalist Government at Stormont, Northern Ireland and introducing direct rule from London.

In 1974 an effort to achieve a cease fire failed, and for the rest of the 1970’s the two sides traded violent attacks. In 1981 ten Republican prisoners starved themselves to death as they advocated restoring a political status to the Republicans in Northern Ireland. The first to die, Bobby Sands, was elected to Parliament. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral. The IRA received arms from Muammar Gaddafi of Libya during this period. During the ’80s, the paramilitary violence between Unionists and Republicans continued unabated.

Sinn Fein headquarters on Falls Road

Sinn Fein headquarters on Falls Road

In the late ’80s, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, sought a negotiated end to the conflict. After prolonged negotiations between Loyalists, Republicans, and the British, the first cease fire was declared in 1994. Subsequent violence interrupted this first attempt. The IRA bombed targets in the UK.

In 1997 a second cease fire was declared with the assistance of the US government as negotiations without the agreement of Sinn Féin became known as the Good Friday Agreement. Later in the year Sinn Féin agreed to the conditions. President Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland during this time and arranged a US visa for Gerry Adams. He met with leaders of both sides of the conflict and today is well remembered for his influence in helping to bring an end to “The Troubles”.

Though some violence still occurred, the second cease fire has largely held up and a political process has begun. Self government has been restored to Northern Ireland, and the police force has been reformed. There are still some significant problems to be resolved.

Between 1969 and 2001, 3526 people were killed. More statistics of casualties can be found here.

When the north was divided from the rest of Ireland and kept British in 1921, Northern Ireland was about 70% Unionist. Today the percentage of Unionists has dwindled to about 48%, according to our tour guide. Sinn Féin has grown to be the second largest political party in Northern Ireland.

Concerts at Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

We’ve attended several concerts at Notre Dame de Paris. According to the church’s web site, sacred music has been an important part of Catholic worship for 1500 years. There is wonder in knowing that there have been perhaps 35 generations of worship in that place – many more if you count the Roman religious sites that existed there since about 50 AD. The gothic architecture has inspired people to look upward and consider their existence for a very long time, and the effect is no different today.

Sometimes when the mood of the music is right, I’ve found myself recalling the story of the Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, thinking about the scenes with Quasimodo, La Esmèralda, and Archdeacon Claude Frollo. The darkened cloisters, candles and spotlights illuminating selected works of art help the drama to come alive.

Sitting in a concert can bring to mind some of the church’s long history. In medieval days those darkened cloisters were the meeting places for members of the congregation. One can imagine the bustle and noise of a church filled each day with people meeting friends and exchanging news and ideas. At night it was cold and sombre and dark. The church was also the chief source of education and learning that provided impetus for the growth of Paris’s Latin Quarter. The religious music program at Notre Dame is a continuation of that focus on education.

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame - now at the Cluny Museum

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame – now at the Cluny Museum

During the Revolution, the mobs broke the windows and took everything of value from the church, including all but one of the bells. They also chopped off the heads and knocked down the statues of all the biblical kings that adorn the front of the building. The mobs mistakenly thought that the statues of biblical kings were those of the hated kings of France. In 1977, long after the figures of the kings had been replaced on the front of the building, the old heads and statues were rediscovered by workers digging around the foundation of a local Paris bank building. These relics of Notre Dame are now on display at Musée de Cluny. Napoleon chose the church as the site of his crowning and coronation as Emperor in 1807, as documented by the famous painting by Jacques Louis David. Even in our own short history in Paris, the church has become a familiar place to admire and visit, and going to concerts provides a perfect opportunity.

The 8000 pipe organ is one of the world’s largest and most famous, and the sound is magnificent. You can see and hear the organ in this U-tube video, which shows the instrument and explains (in French) some about how it works. I recorded a sample of a chorale concert featuring new compositions by 15 composers for a “Notre Dame Choir Book”. The concert music started out pretty dark and heavy with lots of minor chords, but fortunately the music became more hopeful as the night proceeded. The kids singing are between 12 and 14 years old, and they are really impressive. Here is part of the final piece, “Ô Notre Dame du soir” (Our lady of the evening – my apologies in advance for my poor movie making skills):

The lyrics are in French but translated were translated in the program as follows:

Our lady of the Evening,
Whose light shines forth after sunset,
Our hope through the night,
O joy!
Bestow your maternal care
upon us,
Shining star in the overcoming darkness,
O Queen of heaven!
Your tender smile
Is a reflection of God’s tenderness for His
children in exile,
Mother of forgiveness who gave us your Son,
Lead us to Jesus, the Light that was born of
you.
You who dissipate darkness,
O most compassionate,
sweet Virgin Mary!

A Visit to the Assemblée Nationale

Chambers of the Assembly

Chambers of the Assembly – l’hémicycle

Like our previous articles about the Sénat, Hôtel de Ville, and Sorbonne during the special weekend for Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we also went to the Assemblée Nationale, the French legislative branch lower house. The Assemblée Nationale is not normally open to the public.

A little about the Assemblée Nationale – it consists of 577 members elected directly by the public in a two election process. All candidates compete in the first round of the election. Then in many cases the two candidates with the most votes in round 1 compete in round 2, though it’s possible for a candidate to win outright on the 1st round if he/she has a simple majority. Members serve a term of 5 years. The President of the Republic has the power to dissolve the Assemblée Nationale – a way to resolve stalemates, and the Assemblée has the power to overthrow the executive (the Prime Minister and Ministers of the Cabinet) through a vote of no confidence. In practice neither of these measures are exercised because the President and majority of the Assemblée are from the same party, and the President’s term coincides with those of the members of the Assemblée, so throughout his/her term, there is a majority from his/her party to defeat such a vote. A vote to censure the executive branch is usually a form of protest that can never pass. The Assemblée is presided over by the President of the Assemblée, currently Claude Bartolone. The President is from the majority party. He also has several vice presidents from the other parties.

The Assemblée meets in the Palais Bourbon, which is located along the Seine across the river from Place de la Concorde. The Palais was built by Louis XIV for one of his daughters, Louise François de Bourbon. Construction was completed in 1728. The President of the Assemblée resides in an adjoining building, the Hôtel de Lassay. Our tour visited parts of both these buildings.

We waited probably an hour in a long line outside before reaching the entry to the Hôtel de Lassay. We proceeded through the opulent public spaces of that building and then along the corridor joining it to the Palais Bourbon. All along the way there were placards in French explaining details of the spaces and how that space is used in the daily operation of the legislature. Too many details to cover for you. The highlights of the Palais Bourbon were the assembly chambers, with a huge skylight in the overhead. The library with ceilings by the famous French painter Eugene Delacroix was spectacular. It contained such works as the trial transcript of Joan d’Arc, an Aztec calendar, a copy of the constitution annotated by Robespierre, and numerous articles and manuscripts by Lamartine, Hugo, Clemenceau, Jaurès, and other famous French statesmen.

You can see a photo tour here, and there is a more comprehensive virtual tour on the French web site here.

Tour of the Sorbonne

Main entry into the Sorbonne

Like our previous articles about the Sénat and Hôtel de Ville, during the special weekend for Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we also went to the historic Sorbonne, which is not normally open to the public. A lovely couple we met on one of the Paris Walks told us about this special weekend or we never would have known. La Sorbonne was first a college started in the middle ages, part of the loose affiliation known as the University of Paris, which still adorns the entry, and now refers to the historic building in the Latin Quarter of Paris, which is used in part by four different universities:

  • Panthéon-Sorbonne University (Paris I), which also houses the observatory of the Sorbonne and the Sorbonne Law School.
  • Sorbonne Nouvelle University (Paris III)
  • Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV), which also houses the “School of Journalism (CELSA)” and the “Maison de la Recherche”
  • Paris Descartes University: Faculté des Sciences Humaines et Sociales – Sorbonne (Paris V)
paris_city_wall

Shown outline is the Phillip Augustus city wall. The portion inside the wall south of (below) the Seine River is the Latin Quarter.

I was hoping to find a simple explanation for origin of colleges and universities in the Latin Quarter – but no (more details here). The simplest starting point is that the church, represented by the Cathedral at Notre Dame, encouraged development of schools on the left bank. Students could be identified because the tops of their heads were shaven, and those with that identification were under the protection of the church, and not subject to the King’s laws or courts. Paris, as is shown in the diagram of the city wall of Phillip Augustus, which was completed in about 1215, included portions on the right bank and left bank with a core on Île de la Cité. The Latin quarter is in the south (bottom) part of the picture. The right bank (north part) was governed by the Provost (mayor of the merchants – he lived at Hôtel de Ville). The King lived on Île de la Cité and governed that space. On the left bank the students were only accountable to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the King had no authority there. Originally there were the palace school, the school of Notre Dame, and the Saint Geneviève Abbey, as well as numerous smaller schools. The school of Saint Victor later rose to rival the earlier schools, and the palace school faded in importance. One of its most famous professors (I must point out) was Hugh of Saint Victor. It seems, though the literature is not positive, that these three remaining schools formed the University of Paris in about 1208. The students were also organized by nations, a fraternity like arrangement where students of certain nationalities spoke a common language and complied with a certain set of rules.

The chapel at the Sorbonne was destroyed in the French Revolution

The chapel at the Sorbonne was destroyed in the French Revolution – painting at the Carnavalet Museum

The Collège de Sorbonne, was founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon. The Latin quarter had many scholar residents who taught students. The original colleges were started to house and feed the students rather than to provide classrooms and administration for the faculty. In later years the college was reformed to become the university it is today.

France’s principal minister under Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, is represented today as an important figure in the life of the Sorbonne. In 1622, Richelieu was elected the proviseur or principal of the Sorbonne. He presided over the renovation of the college’s buildings, and over the construction of its famous chapel, where he is now entombed. There is more about his internment at the Chapel of the Sorbonne (from the Wikipedia article):

Richelieu died on 4 December 1642, aged 57. His body was embalmed, and interred at the church of the Sorbonne. (On hearing of Richelieu’s death, Pope Urban is said to have remarked, “If there is a God, Richelieu will have much to answer for. If there is not, he lived a successful life.”) During the French Revolution, the corpse was removed from its tomb, and the mummified front of his head, having been removed and replaced during the original embalming process, was stolen. It ended up in the possession of Nicholas Armez of Brittany by 1796, and he occasionally exhibited the well-preserved face. His nephew, Louis-Philippe Armez, inherited it and also occasionally exhibited it and lent it out for study. In 1866, Napoleon III persuaded Armez to return the face to the government for re-interment with the rest of Richelieu’s body.

The French Revolution also destroyed the chapel, which has not been completely restored to this day and is only opened on special occasions. Our photo tour below includes photos of the present day chapel.

The 20th Century again brought a major transformation to the Sorbonne and the University of Paris. Following contentious demonstrations and riots at the University in 1968, in 1970 the University of Paris was reorganized into 13 autonomous successor universities, four of which occupy the historic building of the Sorbonne, as noted above.

From the Paris-Sorbonne University web site:

Paris Sorbonne University is the main inheritor of the old Sorbonne, which dates back to the 13th century. It was one of the first universities in the world.

The biggest complex in France, dedicated to Literature, Languages, Civilizations, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is located on the original medieval foundations, and now extends to the Latin Quarter and to other areas in Paris.

The University has two characteristics : rich culture and tradition, with top-quality researchers, and therefore an excellent scientific reputation shown through publications and international exchanges; its concern to constantly adapt to present day social and technological changes and to encourage as many students as possible to study at Paris-Sorbonne while preparing for their future careers. The Sorbonne incites its students to think freely, to construct their own judgment, so that they can become responsible and inventive citizens who can promote dignity and peace culture.

Our photo tour to tries to capture some of this famous institution. See the photo captions to find out more about some of the famous people who studied and taught there. Many have had an influence on our lives in America. Also in the photo tour (and potentially of more interest to some) are photos of some Paris fashions that were on display in the main salon as we passed through. Magnifique!