Northern Ireland: Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast

Looking into a cell block at the Crumlin Road Jail Belfast

Looking into a cell block at the Crumlin Road Jail Belfast

The Belfast Visitor’s Center advised us to take the tour of Crumlin Road Jail (called Crumlin Road Gaol), so this was the first place we visited when we came to town. The jail was built in 1846 during the Victorian era and was home to more than 25,000 prisoners before it closed in the 1996.

The Victorian design was intended to house about 500 prisoners (one to a cell in isolation) , but during the turbulent years of “The Troubles”, prison population grew to about 1500. We saw all the basic elements of prison life. First we saw where the prisoners were received and how they were washed, photographed, and processed. They gave up all their personal effects and lived in isolation, the method then favored by the British to best ensure rehabilitation. Our guide showed us the rooms and procedures used to control prisoners at all times when they were outside their cells. There were women guards for women prisoners and male guards for male prisoners. The prison design was meant to convince prisoners that someone was watching them at all times. We marched into the tunnel that led under the road to the courthouse (now burned down), where the prisoners were taken to stand trial. The Warden’s office was the only room with carpet, so going to see the warden was being “called on the carpet”.

At first the policy for political prisoners was to segregate Republican and Unionist prisoners in different prison wings. In later years the policy was changed to integrate them. After this policy change, political prisoners avoided potentially volatile confrontations by voluntarily segregating themselves to maintain order. Over its history the prison witnessed riots, escapes, births, deaths, hunger strikes, and marriages.

We saw the cell for condemned prisoners. There were 17 executions over the life of the prison, the last of which was in the ’60s. Condemned prisoners did not know that the hanging chamber was only a few feet from their cell, and they weren’t told the date of their execution until the night before it was to occur. They were guarded at all times to prevent suicide. Guards socialized with them and became friends. The English prison system had very scientific procedures to ensure the most humane death possible by hanging. For instance the length of the rope and fall from the scaffold were precisely calculated using the condemned’s height and weight. Executed prisoners were confirmed to be dead in the chamber beneath the scaffold and then placed in wooden coffins and buried in unmarked graves on the site of the prison.

We saw the execution chamber and the room where deaths were verified. It was also the room where other prisoners were punished by flogging.

Visiting the prison provided us with some interesting background about life in Belfast, grim as it might seem. We missed a further attraction – the paranormal tours at night, where ex-inmates show why the jail is one of the most haunted sites in Belfast.

See a photo tour of the Crumlin Road Jail.

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)
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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!

How Visitors Helped Us Learn About Paris

IMG_4283One of the many experiences I have been lucky to have while living in Paris this year is spending time with guests, both family and friends, and especially getting to host Paris visitors. Some have been here before and some are first time visitors, but regardless, I get to see the city again through their eyes. Each guest has his or her Paris bucket list.

Jeff and Carrie Goller helped us plan a delicious dinner at Restaurant Gallopin. They also invited us to dinner at their apartment on Rue Claire. Carrie is an excellent cook!

My friend Randi Strong Petersen insisted that we see the night lights at the Eiffel Tower, so we had an absolutely magical evening with a clear sky and a full moon. Randi took us on our first foray into the Champs Elysees, as well as many other parts of Paris. We also went with Randi on our first trip to Montmartre, a wonderful part of town that we’ve visited repeatedly and encouraged other guests to visit. Randi’s son Kiel lives in London and comes often to Paris, so we’ve been able to have dinner with him.

Most visitors want to see Notre Dame. Luckily our apartment is right across the street. Wendy Armstrong and daughter Jess Jewett wanted to climb the stairs to the top of the cathedral so we spent a magical hour viewing the city with them on a splendid sunny day. Previously we had thought that it was would be too hard to stand in the long line and struggle up 387 stairs to the top of the south tower but it was definitely worth it. And a photo op at the Pont d’Archeveche with the Cathedral in the background is a must – almost everyone has done that. Surprisingly only one of our guests has installed a lock on the famous bridge (maybe too touristy?)

We took Wendy and Jess on the Paris Fashion Walk, a look at the high end houses of fashion design that influence fashion throughout the world. Wendy and Jess suggested that we have a late picnic supper on the Champs de Mars so we could watch the lights come on the Eiffel Tower – another ‘first” worth repeating. What a beautiful, magical night.

Wendy wanted a Parisian fascinator – she’d hosted a fascinator party back when we lived in Poulsbo. Turns out there is a fascinator store just down our side street – Rue de Bievre. I now own a “fascinator” (special hair decoration) to celebrate special evenings out, and I got the chance to meet the lovely store owner.

Sometimes we can only meet a guest for dinner, as we did with Lauren Meyer, who stopped by the last night of a business trip in late March. It was fun to hear how her Bainbridge Island based company was working to arrange tours in France. Lauren also shared some of the secrets of French cooking.

Our friend Don Merry wanted to go on a Seine River cruise, so we helped him organize that – we hadn’t done that before even though the river boats are just across the street. What a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of so many of the city’s marvels and enjoy the fresh air. I love watching the faces of our friends as they view the Hotel de Ville, Louvre, Grand Palais, Musee d’Orsay and of course the Eiffel Tower from the boat. We’ve passed along Don’s idea to numerous other guests, including my mom and sister.

Don had lots of other ideas, for instance something to do that first day when you’re trying to recover from the jet lag. We ended up on a Paris Walk looking at modern architecture. We’d never have done that except for Don’s interest in it. As a result we learned about completely different part of town just down the road from us.

Don brought us to some great places to eat – a lunch at the Grand Colbert – the restaurant where they filmed “Something’s Got to Give” with Jack Nicholson and Dianne Keaton. Don’s suggestion to have lunch at Les Georges Paris, the restaurant atop the Pompidou Center completed  a splendid summer afternoon.  One of the most famous cafe’s along Boulevard Saint Germain, Cafe de Flore, where Picasso and his friends used to hang out was another opportunity to enjoy French cuisine on a lovely summer day.

Most visitors want to spend some time at museums. For those who want to see the Louvre, I think their best bet is to use a guide. The place is just too big and overwhelming, and with a guide there is no time wasted standing in line or trying to “find” the Mona Lisa. Plus the guides have unlimited knowledge about the art work and history and can tailor a the visit to the guest’s interests. When Don visited we hired a guide for an evening tour. Even though Hugh and I had already had one Louvre tour with Paris Walks, our evening guide provided so much new information that I would not have traded the opportunity for anything.

It was because of Don’s list (he had a big one) that we made our first visits to the Orsay and Rodin museums. Both are magical places to enjoy with our friends, and because of our first experiences we’ve been able to show these special places to other visitors.

Jeff and Laurie Tolman were interested in seeing the Holocaust Museum nearby us in the Marais – that was a powerful experience that has helped us understand so many other aspects of Paris history.

My friend Jonlee Joseph told me about the unique tapestries at the museum of medieval history, Musée de Cluny. The tapestries are actually on loan to Japan until November, a disappointment, but Jonlee’s knowledge will help us add this to our understanding of important art in Paris. We’ve been to the Cluny in the meantime, and it is fascinating even without the tapestries.

Our friend Carl Swanstrom had been to Paris before. He led our first foray into Pere Lachaise cemetery. It was Carl’s idea for he and Hugh to explore the military history museum at Invalides. They spent hours wandering around there. Carl also got Hugh to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at sunset. You may have already seen some of our great photos from that trip.

Gabe Gaylord and Jim Korzetz told us how much they enjoyed the Locaboat as a way to quickly learn about the town, and Pat McFadden and her group from Edward Jones told us how valuable it was for them to take the Hop on Hop off Bus as a way to conveniently get to all the important places with one cheap and easy pass. We went to dinner with Cliff and Angie Despeaux, who were in town on their honeymoon before moving on Germany. They told us about how to stay in Paris on a budget and provided an excellent example of how to keep the vacation focus on having fun.

Our fellow (star) Realtor from Realogics Sotheby’s Int’l Real Estate Dennis Paige and wife Peggy visited in early September. A trip to Paris had been symbolized by a map on Dennis’s bulletin board for many years – so he was fulfilling a dream. They had a great vacation and were wonderful company for us. Also in September we got together with Monty and Janis Bolstad – Monty worked with Hugh at the Applied Physics Laboratory at UW when both were younger and they had fun catching up with each other.

More recently we were visited by John Becker and Dianne Rodway, two very successful Portland Realtors whom we’ve known for many years. Dianne helped me find some great new places to shop in Paris, and we got to meet Dianne’s English host family from when she was an exchange student in college. John helped us pick some excellent French wine and shared with us a huge album of photos he took on their trip. It was great seeing them.

Most recently we spent time with Mary McAlhany and Patrick Gahan, who were in Paris as the first leg of a longer vacation. We met them for dinner and had them over to our apartment for dinner on several occasions. Our good friends took us on our first trip to Versailles which we enjoyed immensely.

Nearly all of our visitors have enjoyed visiting Paris’s famous gardens, particularly the Luxembourg Gardens and the Jardins des Plantes, but also the Tuileries Garden. My mom and sister Joani really focused on non tourist aspects of Paris during their visit rather than trying to see all the famous attractions. We spent much of our time going to the gardens and experiencing the local markets and the joys of French cooking as best we could manage in our tiny kitchen. I never tire of strolling through the wonderful gardens. They change so dramatically from season to season. Watching the French relax in the parks is inspiring.

And is it ever fun to go out to eat with friends who want a “real French dining experience”. We have been able to offer our guests a chance to dine fairly inexpensively at restaurants in our neighborhood, helping them to get away from the tourist fare and to experience perhaps more authentic French dining experience. I love to try to explain what this dish is or to avoid that one. Unfortunately for one recent guest we didn’t know that the house specialty, andouillette sausage, really is made of ground pork intestines. We won’t make that mistake again!!!

Here is a photo gallery with some comments showing many of our visitors this year.

Story of a painting in my parent’s living room

Irene Cahen d'Anvers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Irene Cahen d’Anvers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I’ve been told that this story is confusing. If you need to get a pencil and paper please do so now.

An inexpensive copy of this painting used to hang in my parent’s living room in Peoria, Illinois, when I was growing up. The original, titled “Mademoiselle Irène Cahen d’Anvers”, was painted in 1880 by the famous Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir after he received a commission from the Cahen d’Anvers family of Paris. Irène was then 11 years old. When the work was completed, the family told Renoir that they did not like the painting and offered only 1500 francs, far less than the painter’s normal fee, to purchase both this painting and another showing Irène’s two younger sisters.

Our story begins last weekend, when we were on a Paris-Walks Tour showing Paris of the Impressionists. The tour focused on Parc Monceau and the nearby neighborhood l’Europe. Our guide displayed the picture while talking about two large houses in the neighborhood and how the son of one of the owners had rejected joining the family business so he could study art. That son later became a collector of art and financial backer of the Impressionists. The story of the Impressionists in this part of Paris we’ll save for another time, but that painting – it was in my parent’s living room – who was that person again?

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Oriel Caine of Paris Walks shows us the photo in her notebook

In 1868, a Sephardic Jewish banking family from Constantinople moved to Paris. Two brothers, Behor Abraham Camondo and Nissim Camondo, purchased and built houses on side-by-side lots adjoining what is today the beautiful Park Monceau. Behor died and passed his home to his son Isaac. Isaac was the son who decided to study art. Nissim died and passed his home to his son Möise. Möise later (in 1912) rebuilds the other property into a masterpiece of 18th century French art and furniture. However, long before that, in 1891 he married Iréne Cahen D’Anvers (the woman in the painting), and they had two children, Nissim and Béatrice. They were married just 5 years before separating and later divorcing, and when they separated, the children remained with their father Möise. In 1896 Irène (the woman in the painting) converted to Catholicism and ran off with the Camondo’s stable man, Count Charles Sampieri. The painting of Iréne was given back to Iréne’s mother as part of the divorce settlement, and in 1910 she gave the portrait to Iréne’s daughter Béatrice.

Family home of Moise de Camondo, where the children grew up

Family home of Moise de Camondo, where the children grew up

World War I began in 1914, and late in the war tragedy struck when in 1917 Nissim (Möise’s son) was killed in aerial combat in Lorraine. This was a great blow to his father Möise, who from that point withdrew from public life. In 1918 his daughter Béatrice married Léon Reinach and had two children, Fanny and Bertrand. They purchased their own home, so Möise was then alone in his large mansion. Moïse died in 1935, with his fortune largely going to his daughter Béatrice. His mansion and art collection were donated to the City of Paris to establish Musee Nissim de Camondo to honor his deceased son Nissim.

In 1940 the Germans invaded and occupied France. Prior to that time Béatrice had divorced Léon and converted to Catholicism. She was very wealthy and well connected socially, and thinking she was safe from the Nazi’s harassment of Jews, she ignored Léon’s warning to take the children out of the country. In 1943 they were all arrested – Béatrice, Léon and their children and were sent to an internment camp and then to Auschwitz, where they were all killed. Béatrice’s estranged mother Irène (the woman in the painting), now separated from Charles the former stable man, was able to save herself from arrest by hiding behind her former husband’s Italian last name and religion.

The Renoir painting was confiscated from Béatrice in 1941 by the Germans and became the property of General Hermann Göring in Paris. He sold it to an art dealer representing Emil Bürhle, a Swiss collector and head of an arms manufacturing business. In 1946 Irène saw the painting of herself on display at an exhibition of Paris art, and she applied for and eventually succeeded in having it returned to her custody. In 1949 she sold the painting through a gallery, and the purchaser was Emil Georg Bürhle, the same person who bought it previously. The painting remains today in the Bürhle Foundation Museum in Zurich.

According to several sources, Irène was the sole heir to daughter Béatrice’s fortune from the former de Camondo estate. Sources say that she gambled away or otherwise spent the money made on that portrait and the entire Camondo fortune in casinos in southern France during the many years before 1963, when she died in Paris at age 91.

I sent a post card of the painting to my 91 year old mother with a note telling the story of  Irène, her family, and the picture that was in our living room.

A Visit to the Sénat

Main staircase to the Luxembourg Palace

Grand Staircase of the Palais du Luxembourg

As part of the event called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we toured the Sénat, which is one of two legislative houses of the French government, similar to (but also different from) the Senate and House of Representatives in the US. The Sénat represents grass roots France, providing a voice for the governments of all municipalities. It also represents French citizens living abroad, who do not have a voice in the National Assembly. In France the government (the President of the Republic and his ministers) has priority in setting the agenda before the legislative assemblies, though members of the both assemblies may also introduce legislation and time is set aside in their monthly agenda for the discussion of member’s legislation.

There are 348 senators, each elected for a period of 6 years with elections held every 3 years to renew half of the members of the house. Senators are elected indirectly by electoral colleges made up mostly of delegates of municipal councils. The number of senators from any given municipality varies according to its population. The Sénate cannot make the government resign, but Senators can investigate and question ministers of the government. It also has a committee specifically dedicated to the review of legislation and regulations of the European Union. And  it also participates in various ways in the international relations of France. Although the President of the Republic can dissolve the National Assembly, he or she must consult with the President of the Sénat prior to doing so. The Sénate cannot be dissolved.

Until an election can be held, the President of the Sénat also is tasked with temporarily replacing the President of the Republic should he die or resign. The President of the Sénat is elected to a 3 year term. There is a managing committee of 25 senators, including 8 deputy speakers, 3 Questers who handle the management and administration of the Sénat, and 14 secretaries who supervise voting. There are 7 standing committees, one of which is assigned to review each new piece of legislation.

Our tour was of the Sénate quarters in the Luxembourg Palace (Palais du Luxembourg), built following the death of King Henry IV by his wife Marie de’ Medici starting in 1612. It was declared a National Palace in 1791 after the Revolution. Our tour started at the Petit Luxembourg, to the west of the Palais du Luxembourg, and connected to it through interior courts. The Petit Luxembourg was the sixteenth-century original hôtel of the duc de Piney-Luxembourg and was rebuilt during the construction of the Luxembourg Palace. It was once the home of Cardinal Richelieu. Since 1958, the Petit-Luxembourg has been the official residence of the President of the French Senate (président du Sénat). We saw the public spaces used by the Sénat President.

Then we proceeded into the Luxembourg Palace and up the grand staircase, through the various salons and offices, through the spectacular library with paintings by Eugene Delacroix and a fabulous view of the gardens, then into the Sénat chambers, then to the huge  golden Conference Hall and yet another spectacular space with Sénat Archives. Lastly we saw a short film about the Sénat and toured some of the media spaces. You can see some photos of our tour at this photo tour.

Hôtel de Ville

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Hotel de Ville with beach volley ball court and palms set up in the square

Every year during a weekend in September the French government opens for public touring many buildings normally closed to the public. The event is called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, and one way we took advantage of the opportunity was to see Hôtel de Ville (city hall).

Hôtel in French is used in the name of many different types of buildings. Some hotels are hotels, but the name can apply also to hospital buildings, private residences, police stations and government buildings. Hôtel de Ville is the standard term for city hall. I had no idea that it wasn’t a hotel the first time I saw it. Unlike City Hall in Poulsbo, Hôtel de Ville is not a place you can wander into to pay your water bill – each of the city’s administrative districts (called arrondissements), has its own building for the normal interactions between citizens and government. Hôtel de Ville is where city council meets and the mayor lives, though the current mayor Bertrand Delanoë declined to live there and opened up his flat as a nursery for workers children and for the display of public works of art.

Hôtel de Ville was established in 1357 by Etienne Marcel, then provost (mayor) of the merchants. In those days he would have had jurisdiction over the affairs on the right bank. Paris had separate administrations for the left bank (colleges and the University of Paris) and for Île de la Cité. The square in front was then called Place de la Grève (now Place de l’Hôtel de Ville) and was used for public floggings and executions. You can see a good description in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. These days it is used for more mundane public entertainment – an ice skating rink, a garden show complete with tons of dirt, trees and grasses planted, & lawn chairs, a tennis court with big screen and lots of chairs to view the French open, a rock concert, or beach volleyball courts with tons of sand for Paris Plage.

In 1537 King François I established plans for a new building in the Renaissance style. He was also rebuilding the Louvre Palace in a similar manner. Work on the new Hôtel de Ville was not completed until 1628 during the reign of Louis XIII, but no further changes were made after that for the next 200 years. During the French Revolution in 1789, the mayor was killed by an angry crowd, and a few years later the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre, leader of the Terror that was such a destructive part of the Revolution, was wounded (prior to his execution) when he fled there after the National Convention had voted to execute him and other members of his Committee for Public Safety. In 1835 two more wings were added to allow more space for the government. During the revolt of the Paris Commune following the Franco Prussian War of 1870, the Communards burned the building down. Hôtel de Ville was redesigned and rebuilt from 1870 to 1892 using the same exterior stone walls but redesigning the interior in the 19th century style.

Our tour was fantastic. The city had employees on hand to explain many details about the building and promote some aspects of local government. The huge halls and staircases were spectacular. There were people to explain how the parquet floors are made, about the special hardware they use on doors, how the old furniture is maintained, how the heating system is maintained, and how they keep the clocks working. They showed how the city saves money on electricity by converting the chandeliers and other lights to LED lighting. They showed art work made from recycled materials, and other artworks displayed in the Mayor’s quarters. We saw the chambers for the city council, as well as their huge library. The extensive Mayor’s office was reserved for last. The art work in the mayor’s office is on loan from museums and private parties.

See more photos of Hôtel de Ville.

Food, Wine, Flowers and Music at Parc Floral de Paris

Parc Floral de Paris

Parc Floral de Paris

Saturday we went to Parc Floral de Paris, the same park where Brenda was locked inside last winter, to see the 11th Annual Seafood, Wine, and Gastronomy Exhibition. Our hair stylist Catherine Calvar had given us tickets the last time visited her. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we took the ever familiar Metro line 1 back to Vincennes and made our way to the park.

Parc Floral is about 75 acres – a very large public space with gardens, playgrounds, exhibition halls, an outdoor concert area, ponds, miniature golf, and all sorts of other amusements. The Tuileries Garden near the Louvre is nearly as large at 70 acres, but Parc Floral is surrounded by the Bois de Vincennes (woods of Vincennes), so it has the feeling of a much larger space in the countryside.

We were headed to the exhibition, but first we were distracted by the beautiful gardens, which we had not seen since winter. The grasses and flowers of many types were in full display – it made us regret we hadn’t made it back in the spring and earlier in the summer. We’ve included some photos in our slide show for your enjoyment. We also saw someone practicing for a free public concert to be held later in the afternoon, so we made a note to check back after the exhibition.

Brenda outside the sea and vineyard trade show.

Brenda outside the sea and vineyard trade show.

Then we proceeded to the “Salon, Mer, and Vigne and Gastronomie” at one of the park’s pavilions. What we found was a far larger and more magnificent show than we had imagined. There were literally hundreds of artisans selling wine, cookies, spices, escargots, cheeses, foie gras, smoked seafood, candied fruits, breads, dried meats, chocolate, spices, and much more. We spent a couple hours milling around – bought some wine, some chocolate, some spices – my pack was getting heavy. Les Jardins de Morgane was Brenda’s favorite-sampled many of the beautiful honey soaked fruits! The owner told us his plan to take his daughter on a visit to New York as a reward for her good grades in school. It had been her dream to go there since she was a child. The owner was a lawyer by trade, but had taken over the family business and was working very hard to keep it going. We had a nice lunch with roast duck and french fries. You can see more of the gastronomy in our slide show below.

So then we realized we were a bit late for the public concert so we hustled back to that side of the park. The seating was pretty full and a group with string quartet with piano was playing. You can view the Utube video to see and hear a bit of what it was like.

While we had expected that it would be good, it was better than that – professional at a very high level. The group playing, we later discovered was Ensemble Syntonia. This award winning ensemble has been together some 14 years and has produced 5 albums. Follow the link to hear some of their music.

After a couple pieces by the group, another woman joined them. I figured she was an amateur, perhaps a local university student, joining them to play a piece. She was dressed less formally and didn’t appear to be a veteran of such situations. I was hoping she’d hold up under the stress of playing before an audience. Turned out I had nothing to fear – she was totally awesome. After the fact we found out her name was Sarah Nemtanu. Here’s a little about her – be sure to go to the link and hear her play!

When reading about Sarah Nemtanu’s many musical accomplishments in 2012, it is hard to believe that she is only thirty-one years old. At the age of twenty-one she became the joint leader and violin soloist of the Orchestre National de France, and in 2007 she won the French classical music industry’s Instrumental Soloist Revelation award.

In 2009 she was the ‘real’ violinist in Radu Mihaileanu’s film Le Concert. Before all this, however, Sarah Nemtanu began violin studies with her father, Vladimir, the leader of the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. She then studied with Gérard Poulet at the Paris Conservatoire, graduating with first prizes in violin and chamber music when she was sixteen.

Following the awards she won at the Saint-Jean de Luz and Antonio Stradivari competitions, she was introduced to the public in Brahms’ Double Concerto with Gautier Capuçon, conducted by Emmanuel Krivine. Her solo appearances with the Orchestre National de France, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Swedish Radio Orchestra, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have earned high praise, and she has performed with such conductors as Bernard Haitink, Sir Colin Davis and Riccardo Muti in some of the world’s most prestigious venues.

Her repertoire encompasses the solo and chamber literature, and she enjoys revisiting the ‘classics’, as her recording Gypsic (Naïve) shows. She also appreciates a variety of non-classical music, as demonstrated by her performances with Richard Galliano, Chilly Gonzales, Ibrahim Maalouf, and the singer Juliette. Sharing her expertise is important to her, and she participates in a variety of causes including the French association Musique et Santé. She also teaches young musicians in master classes and other pedagogical settings.

The violin she plays, made by Giovanni Baptista Guadagnini in 1784, is generously loaned by the prestigious Zilber-Rampal Foundation.

After the concert we headed home on the Metro – all of our expectations had been exceeded.

View slide show.

Visit to the Arc de Triomphe

Hugh and Brenda at Place de l'Étoile - Feb 2013

Hugh and Brenda at Place de l’Étoile – Feb 2013

What we term as a visit to the Arc de Triomphe actually consisted of several visits. Many of our visitors have wanted to see it. There is a tunnel under the wide circle around the monument so you can avoid having to cross the street in the chaotic traffic of this huge round-a-bout, and the view from the top is stunning. On one visit I spent a wonderful evening there watching the city lights come on.

The Arc is one of the most famous monuments in the world. It has a longer formal name, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Étoile is French for star, and the famous round where streets join at the Arc is called Place de l’Étoile. There is another smaller but similar arc at the Louvre called the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

The Arc was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon I following his victory in the Battle of Austerlitz (fought in the modern Czech Republic), one of Napoleon’s most daring and famous victories. The Arc honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), basically corresponding to the periods of the First Republic and then Napoleon’s First Empire. These wars were complex. At the time of the revolution, other imperial governments wanted to support France’s fallen monarchy and feared that similar populist uprisings might occur in their kingdoms. The Holy Roman Emperor was also the brother of French Queen Marie Antoinette, so he had an interest. The Austrian Empire, Prussians, Russians, and English, as well as others at various times, opposed the French and their allies. These conflicts occurred for nearly 25 years in various seemingly interminable phases throughout Europe and North Africa, until first Napoleon’s defeat in Russia and then his subsequent loss at Waterloo put an end to the conflict.

After a long period of construction, the monument was completed in about 1835 during the reign of King Louis Phillipe. It is about 165 feet high by 150 feet wide and 75 feet deep. The arch is so large that in 1919 a daredevil pilot flew his biplane through it. Four main sculptures depicting the Departure of the Volunteers (1792), the Triumph (1810), the Resistance (1813), and the Peace (1815) adorn the legs of the monument. Six reliefs on the upper facades depict famous battles (including Austerlitz) and the funeral of the famous Revolutionary War General Marceau. Shields across the top are engraved with the names of significant victories. The names of Generals and battles won are also engraved on the inside of the monument. At the base is the French tomb of the unknown soldier. The eternal flame for the unknown soldier was the inspiration for the eternal flame at John F Kennedy’s grave. Also mounted at the base are brass memorial plates honoring soldiers from various more recent battles in French history.

The arch is a focal point of many events, Bastille Day ceremonies, the return of Napoleon’s remains to Paris (he is buried at Invalides), the funeral of Victor Hugo, the celebration of the end of WWI and WWII (as well as by the Nazi’s when France was occupied). Every year the Tour de France bicycle race ends here.

See some photos of the monument and the view from the top.