West Virginia University in Vendée, France
June 3, 1999
Yesterday was exhilerating in many ways, but we were all very tired from fighting the crowds and traffic that were forced on to the street by the Metro strike. Today the strike continues, so our planned trip to Saint-Denis, the first Gothic church in Europe and the traditional burial place of the French kings, is impossible. At least we have the comfort of knowing all our Vendéens have arrived in good order. Carolyn Graeber and Kathleen Kubal checked in to their rooms yesterday while we were on our tour. This morning Madame Benoist has proposed to lead us through the historic quarters of le Marais, where one finds some of the most interesting old buildings of Paris. Aware that some of our students are very tired from yesterday, we make this tour optional. Our group today is smaller than yesterday, but full of enthusiasm. Yesterday, Madame Benoist had come on foot from her home to our hotel, thus making her days' walk even longer than ours. Today we will meet her at the Fontaine des Innocents, near the Forum des Halles that we say yesterday. Below, we see how the the shopping areas are built into the earth where the giant old food markets once stood.
En route to the Marais, we pass by the Centre Pompidou, also called Beaubourg, which like the other national museums is on strike ("en grève").
The Centre Pompidou, is an amazing building that has a completely open structure on the inside. The interior floors rooms and halls can be moved and adjusted according the the needs of the exhibits that are brought here. This is why all the duct-work for this building is on the outside -- an innovation that created a great deal of controversy when the building first went up on the 1970's. The colors of the pipes indicate their function, blue air, green for water, red for transport (elevators, etc.), and yellow for electricity.
"Marais" in French means swamp or marsh. Les Marais in Paris were drained by the monks back in the middle ages, and very soon the area became one of the most elegant areas of the growing city. Our visit takes us to some of the most elegant "hôtels." This word indicates a very big house in town, usually with a large courts surrounded by walls and a vast residence. I would perhaps translate this word as "town castle." The wealthiest and most noble persons of France built and live(d) in these houses. Below is the Hôtel Salé, or Salted Hôtel called so because it way built in the 1500's with money from the salt tax. We will see later in Vendée that until recently salt was the best way to preserve food, and thus a vital commidity and major source of wealth. This particular hôtel happens to be home to the Picasso Museum. AND IT IS OPEN!!!
Below is the entry to the Picasso Museum, which we are allowed to visit for free.
Madame Benoist is an expert in art history, and she is at her best before a painting she loves. Below she describes the portrait of Picasso's mistress and later wife, Olga.
Picasso's style evolved radically over the course of his long career. Below is a painting from later in his life. Note the face, which we see from the front, but which also has a number of profiles painted into its shadows.
After the terrible religious wars of the late 1500's the "Good King" Henri IV declared religious freedom with the Edict of Nantes. In an architectural reflection of his desire for peace and order, he built the Place Royale, now known a the Place des Vosges. This is a vast park surrounded on four sides by elegant houses built in perfect symetry. It is a great refuge from the noisy life of the modern French capital. This is truly another world and another time.
Henri IV's great minister Sully built a grand hôtel juxtopposed to les Vosges. Below is a facade of the Hôtel Sully with bas-reliefs representing two of the four seasons (the other two on the other side from here).
After a very pleasant morning Madame Benoist bids us farewell. We have a relaxing lunch in a café nearby, and are tempted to return to les Vosges to take a picture outside Victor Hugo's housed which Madame Benoist had pointed out to us across the square. To our surprise, this museum is open, too. The guards are one again very helpful and allow us once more to visit for free. Photos are allowed inside, but only without a flash. My hand trembled a bit, but the picture below seemed emblematic of our 1999 stay in Paris.
Below, the portrait room in Hugo's house.
The guards of the Victor Hugo house suggested the we also try to see the nearby Musée Carnavalet, which they believed was also open. The Carnavalet is a museum of history and archeology, documenting France's development from the earliest pre-history up to the end of the monarchy. Below, some of our Vendéens examine an exhibit on the signs used on the old streets of Paris.
A few tools from stone-age France:
A portrait of king François Ier (Francis the First), great friend of Leonardo da Vinci (as seen in the movie Ever After). Later we will visit his famous castle, Chambord.
Below, today's group poses in the gardens of the Musée Carnavalet.
After the Carnavalet, we make our way back to the hôtel where we discuss our plans for the departure for Vendée tomorrow. We can only pray that the Metro strike will be over by the time we make the trek to the Gare Montparnasse.
Stay tuned to WVU-V!
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