Today is among my favorite days on this trip so far. It is different in the sense that we do not have to be anywhere at any given time. We are in total control over how and where and when we move about the city of Paris. And…we are doing it on foot–together–and we BOTH want to do it! So…on this beautiful, sunny, comfortably-warm day with a refreshingly cool breeze, we set off on a walking exploration around the fifth arrondissement where we are staying and into the St.-Germain-des-Pres (next-door) area to see what we could see.
LES JARDINS CLUNY: Actually, we passed by these gardens, but we could not go in. The gate was still locked…. The gardens are somehow affiliated with the Museum of the Middle Ages, and they were built on the ancient Roman thermal baths. The plants we’re supposedly grouped according to the medicinal function that they served. But…we only saw the plantings along the sides of the walkway to the gate….
STATUE OF MONTAIGNE: We passed a large statue of a man calmly pondering something…. Tourists were stopping to take photos with him, and, more specifically, they were rubbing his right foot. I noted that the right foot was much shinier than the other–golden rather than dark bronze-ish–probably due to the continual rubbing over time. It turns out that students at the Sorbonne (just down the street) rubbed his foot, hoping for good luck with their exams. So, this poor guy used to be in white marble, but, because of this rubbing tradition, the statue degraded in appearance. In 1989, it was re-built in bronze, ready to withstand repeated rubbing by students and tourists alike, not complaining about his shiny right shoe. Oh…I rubbed it, too. For more information, see https://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com/en/paris-insolite/statues-porte-bonheur-paris.
LA SORBONNE: As a French major in College, I had heard quite a bit about the Sorbonne in Paris, France. Although we could see the dome of the Sorbonne Chapel and the Sorbonne’s green observatory tower from where we live, basically, we finally walked down to see the grounds by heading to the Place de la Sorbonne. First of all, the international cafes in the plaza and the surrounding area, the stores, the book stores in and surrounding the Place de la Sorbonne, and so on, invite geeky tourists like us and other higher education students from different parts of the world to come and take a closer look. We could not go into the Sorbonne; there were armed security officers at every door for some reason. We did see a long, big building with La Sorbonne engraved on it. But…the Sorbonne is pretty spread out. We also saw signage on some of the buildings attesting to its affiliation with the University of Paris. In 1257, Robert de Sorbon established the College de Sorbonne as one of the colleges in the University of Paris. It was the site of French Revolution aggression but ordered reopened by Napoleon in 1808. In time, it became known as a theological studies institution, even though there were other disciplines taught/studied here. In 1968, it became the site of a large and violent student protest versus the police in Paris. Students were protesting the closure of the University of Paris campus at Nanterre. Ultimately, the students declared the Sorbonne as an “autonomous public university.” It is officially known as the Universite Sorbonne-Universite. In addition to the library and disciplinary faculties of study included in the Sorbonne, the university also claims the Sorbonne Chapel on site. For more information, see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorbonne.
CUTE MARKET HUTS ON THE SIDEWALK OF ST. GERMAIN-DES-PRES: As we walked, we came upon a row of little “houses” along the sidewalk that sold all sorts of items, from fresh seafood, to leather purses and attaches, to mechanical puzzles, to jewelry, to silk scarves, and so on. We looked but did not stop to buy. They just caught our eye because of their uniform appearance as roofed huts.
LES DEUX MAGOTS: John found this place, actually, and proposed it for today’s lunch! He knew that we would both like it–and we did! Not only did we get to eat lunch at an establishment that was regularly frequented by some of France’s most notable philosophers, artists, and writers, but we were also able to finally eat a simple baguette with cheese (for me) and with roast beef (for John)! We had fries (actually called French Fries on the menu–the first time we encountered this along our trip), but we chose to share a dessert later on closer to where we live. So, this place used to be a store on this spot in 1873. By 1885, it started serving alcohol somehow. In 1933, famous emergent artists, writers, and thinkers were coming by pretty regularly, such that the Cafe introduced the Prix des Deux Magots (the name just refers to a statue on its premises) for literary excellence/fame. And…lo and behold…all sorts of famous artists/writers came by on a regular basis. Who might they be? Well, do names such as Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarme,Triolet, Aragon, Gide, Giraudoux, Picasso, Leger, Prevert, Hemingway, Breton, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir…sound familiar? Today, the little cafe was pretty crowded, as we squeezed onto two small flimsy cane chairs around a 24-inch-in-diameter round table. We could literally rub elbows with our next-door neighbors if we wanted, that’s how close we were to one another. Still, to this day, artists come to relax and/or dine here, and so do fashion designers, political figures, and, of course, tourists–like US! For more information about this cafe, see http://www.lesdeuxmagots.fr/en/history-restaurant-paris.html.
EGLISE SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRES: This is THE oldest church in Paris! It dates back to 543, and it has survived, unsurprisingly, a tumultuous history: 886: Destroyed/burned by the Vikings; 1,000: Re-built; 1794: Part of the Church burned due to an explosion from stored gunpowder therein; mid-1800s: Part of the Church chopped off by Hassmann’s orders in order to make room for the Blvd. St-Germain. Building the Blvd. was part of the plan for renovating Paris….. EVEN SO, the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres managed to survive as one of the very rare Romanesque Churches in Paris. The St.-Symphorium Chapel immediately to the right as one enters through the main Church doors, is pretty naked in appearance: stone walls, flat wood ceiling, one small stone statue of Mary holding Jesus, and modern numbered tile markers for the Stations of the Cross. There is an altar and a cross. Some of those stone structures, though, date way back to the 11th century ! As for the main Church: There is ongoing renovation going on with all of the stained-glass windows (they are covered up completely, so I assume they are stained glass, but I did not see them first-hand); there is clearly a mix of artistic styles due to the continual renovation efforts across time/artistic preferences; one can see some romanesque and some gothic styles; the stained glass windows we do see are actually 19th-Century reproductions of the originals, which are in the Museum of the Middle Ages…. AND, this Church is beautiful in its own way! The blues, golds, reds, greens, creams in the domes and in the Romanesque columns are stunning. The tops of the columns are sculpted in ornate golds, greens, and reds. The columns themselves are decorated (crosses, stripes, and so on). Toward the main altar is a white stone-looking statue of Mary. It looks as if She was planning to hold the Child Jesus in her arms, but one does not know for sure. Mary is leaning over to one side toward [the Baby Jesus], and she is SMILING! This is pretty rare in Churches I have seen–Ever–and signals, perhaps a philosophic turn in how saints and holy figures were perceived at the time that this statue was being sculpted in the 13th century. So, why the partial statue? Well, the sign in the Church suggests that it was being sculpted from some stones from the nearby street but was never finished. The paintings and frescos are stunning. Some of the chapels seem to be enclosed within stone archways, also suggestive of the romanesque style. Then, again, white angel wings–two sets–modern-looking–stand in stark contrast to the reeds, greens, golds, creams, columns, and domes surrounding them. The pipe organ covers the entire area over the main entry to the Church. Lucky for us because there would be an organ recital this evening in this Church by Dr. Edward Maki-Schramm (an American) st al., and he/they must have been practicing while we were visiting. Our visit to St.-Germain-des-Pres was accompanied by the rich sounds of this 19th-century organ!
56 RUE JACOB: John had read that the Treaty of Paris (1783) was signed at the York Hotel, 56 Rue Jacob, in Paris. He also knew that the hotel no longer existed but that there would be a sign/plaque where it once was. The significance of this place is that it was here where the war between Great Britain and the United States was officially terminated. Therefore, it was here where the United States were officially declared independent from Great Britain! Alas, there was no plaque to read. There is the Typographie de Fermin Didot in the place of the Hotel York, and a square brown perhaps-this-is-where-the-plaque-might-have-once-been on the side of the exterior wall. I think that sign should be replaced, don’t you? After all, it is about Independence Day for the United States of America!
CONCIERGERIE CLOCK: I had read that a very old beautiful clock was atop the Conciergerie but that most people passed it by because they did not know to look up to notice it. So, on the way back to our apartment, I checked it out. It IS gorgeous, and, to me, Louis XIV is ever-so-evident by all of the gold and glitz of its appearance! The clock was originally built in 1371, and it is visible to the public passing by. Since 1371, many different kings have left their marks on the appearance of this clock–and so has the French Revolution. Henry the II, III, and IV had the greatest impact on this clock. The French Revolution just about destroyed it. In 1849, it was re-built, according to how it looked during the time of Louis XIV (1686). The colors on the clock are red, blue, lots of gold, some black, and some white. The clock face is white with black numbers and hands. There are two statues, one on each side of the face: one is law, and the other is justice. There is an inscription at the top of the clock; and there are two gold crowns at the very top to represent France and Poland, which composed the realm of Henry III. The initials are contested: Are they for Henri (II) and Catherine DeMedici, or are they for Diane de Poitiers (Henri II’s mistress)? Or? The enigma rages on….
LE PETIT PRINCE: So, I finally purchased a copy of Le Petit Prince from one of the green-box sellers along the Seine this afternoon. This version was only six Euros vs. the $10 or more through Amazon or even at Shakespeare and Company (around the corner here). It is NOT the official original version in French as de-St.-Exupery wrote it. But….alas, trying to purchase the original would be extremely costly, so…at least, I have this version, it is in French, and I can compare it with the translation of any English version I will ultimately buy. I have always known that translation is really an art–not just linguistic knowledge. One has to be able to pick up on context and nuance, for example, on idioms, expressions, the vernacular, and such. So, I am waiting to see which translation to English turns out to be the most authentic–and affordable. For example, I was looking for the Katherine Woods translation from the 1940s, but it is not longer available in book stores. It can be found/had–if only I one were willing to spend hundreds-to-thousands of dollars for one copy! Meanwhile, I will continue to read reviews on the various translations and the articles on authenticity in translation for this classic, which intrigue me, anyway.
All in all, this was a most enjoyable day, with just enough flaneur-ing and relaxation. We will head for coffee and/or some light dinner in one of the many eateries in the Latin Quarter just outside our front door. It is hard to believe that our time in France is drawing to an end (we leave for home in just two days). But…we are ever-so-grateful for what we have had so far, everything we have been so fortunate to see and do, and we look forward to a full day in Paris again tomorrow.