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.

Another Great Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See pictures of the day’s adventure.

Victor Hugo

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Portrait of Victor Hugo from the museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our short history of Paris for more historical detail.

Paris Plages!

Part Paris Plages on the roadway beside the Seine.

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

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

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

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

See more photos of Paris-Plages.

Celebration of the Assumption of Mary

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

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

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

You can see a few photos of the event below:

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Paris Gardens!

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

Brenda in the same field after the flowers get going

Brenda in the field after the flowers get going

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

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

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

Visitors!

We have had quite a few visitors lately. The best part for me and Hugh is that each guest has interests that lead to new explorations and adventures for us. A recent guest whose first ever visit to Paris had a few things on his agenda: visit Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Rodin museum, the Musée d’Orsay, a boat ride under the bridges of the Seine, a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, dining at the Grand Colbert (the restaurant made famous by the Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson movie “Something’s Gotta Give”), a cooking class at La Cuisine cooking school, and a modern Architectural walking tour.

Even though our apartment is right next to the Seine, and we walk along it and cross the many bridges with regularity, we had not previously taken a boat ride. We found the hour long trip most enjoyable and now plan to take one at night too. Seeing the historical buildings lining the Seine from the boat perspective was exciting and so much easier than walking! There is a boarding point within a block of our apartment too-how great is that!

The visit to the Rodin museum was a first for us too. The gardens and outdoor and indoor sculptures were awe inspiring. I had not known that “The Thinker” would be mounted high on a pedestal nor that it was so large. Our friend was moved to tears by the sculpture of “The Kiss” which was truly beautiful. The day we visited, a wedding event was being staged in the gardens. We wished we could be guests for that enchanting event.

I organized a special private Louvre Tour through an excellent tour company, Paris Walks. Even though Hugh and I had a previous Louvre Tour, this one was even better. Our guide was passionate about art history and because we were so interested and she was having such a wonderful time our tour was extended almost an hour. Having a guide for the Louvre in my opinion is a must- it is just too overwhelming to do on your own. With a guide you can skip the waiting lines, go directly to the best areas and get an extensive history lesson.

Musée d’Orsay is a magical place. Just being inside the bulding and seeing the light stream through the high celings gives me a euphoric feeling. Then there is the artwork-Monet, Van Gogh, Gaugin just a few favorites, the art nouveau furniture, the sculptures, the dining area. I am so happy visitors want to experience this museum.

Cooking class is a blast! La Cuisine is a wonderful small cooking school only about half a mile north of our apartment. It offers a myriad of classes from cutting up a whole chicken and using all the parts to create a divine dinner (french onion soup with broth from the carcass, ailles de poulets from the wings, paupiettes de volaille-pounded flattened chicken breasts stuffed with herbes and mushrooms,) to making the perfect french baugette, or shopping at the local market for the best ingredients to make a sumptuous lunch. Our recent guest put the baugette making class high up on the enjoyment list.

Another new discovery for me and Hugh was made on the Modern Architecture Walk sponsored by Paris Walks. The Arab World Institute, which is less than half a mile east of our apartment, has a world class view of Paris from atop the sun terrace, and it is a free elevator ride to the top. While climbing to the top of Notre Dame can’t be beat, the Arab Institue elevator is a wonderful device ensuring that less nimble guests can view Paris from above. The walking tour also led us past the ebullient Frank Gehry cinematique, the controversial National Library which is designed like four open books, the brand new Cité de la Mode (les Docks) and the stunning Simone de Beauvoir footbridge.

Another dear friend arrived in Paris today. We will have many different experiences as she loves gardens!

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Fête de la Musique

Last night was Fête de la Musique, a free public musical event outdoors all over the city. What a party (fête means party) – there were literally tens of thousands of people roaming about until well into the morning. There were bands and performances on many street corners, including a great jazz group at the bar at the other end of our building. All we had to do was open the window. Launched in 1982 by the French Ministry for culture, the Fête de la Musique is now held in more than hundred countries in Europe and over the world. It takes place every 21st June, the day of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere.

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Here’s a web site that explains a little about this event.

http://www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr/en/International/presentation/

Unlike perhaps anything we do in the US, the government is deeply involved in organizing this now international social event.

Here are 2 short movies showing typical street performances we saw.

Picnic at the Eiffel Tower

Wendy Armstrong and her daughter Jess visited us recently, and they had the idea that we should have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We all had a great time. Here’s a short video of the lights when they flash on the hour.

Barbara Kingsolver at Shakespeare and Company

DSCF3115 Guess who I got to meet? One of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote The Poisonwood Bible among many other wonderful fiction novels, recently held a booksigning at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I bought her latest book, Flight Behaviour, which she signed for me. I love that I can walk a few blocks along the Seine, in full view of Notre Dame Cathedral to the most marvelous book store to meet one of my heroines!