Archives for October 2013

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)

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?


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.