Paris, Part 3: Random Sights

27 Jul

Since I don’t have a Facebook page to share the rest of my Paris trip with friends and family, I thought I’d use this to post other pictures from my trip to Paris in the first week of July. It’s all pretty cinematic in its own way, so why not use my film blog? Besides, a friend of mine who’s not a film buff complained that the last entry was just a bunch of film posters. Hopefully, this will satisfy her.

One of the things that struck me on my first day there during a walk in the neighborhood around my hotel was the presence of historic sights in just about any direction. I turned the corner from Boulevard St. Michel onto Rue Soufflot in order to search for an ATM so I could pull out some Euros, and what did I see at the end of the block?

What was this?!

I would soon learn this massive and ornate structure was called the Pantheon, something I’d never heard of before. On a whim I went in and paid the admission fee (7 Euros and change) and was astounded at the domed ceiling and all the artwork visible on the walls. It was apparently conceived as some kind of commemoration of St. Genevieve (Paris’s patron saint) and begun during the reign of Louis XV and then repurposed after the revolution as a general monument to France and a mausoleum for notable French citizens.

The young lady at the door had told me to check out the crypt first, so I went downstairs into a maze of corridors and chambers and came across the tombs of some very famous Frenchmen, starting with Voltaire and Rousseau. (There was a statue of Voltaire next to his tomb.) There was a small room containing three tombs: Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Alexander Dumas! Imagine the literary conversations those three are having when us pesky tourists aren’t around. If I’d known about this I would brought some books for them to sign. There is a cinematic connection here. All three have had famous movies based on their books and I’ve seen movies in which two of them had been portrayed by actors. THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937) starred Paul Muni in an Oscar-nominated performance in the title role. (The film itself won Best Picture.) And BLACK MAGIC (1949), which starred Orson Welles as the famous illusionist, Cagliostro, offered a prologue in which Alexander Dumas, both pere and fils, have a conversation about Cagliostro. The elder Dumas was played by Berry Kroeger and the younger by Raymond Burr!

Paul Muni as Emile Zola

Out of respect for the spirits resting quietly in the place, I took no pictures in the crypt.

Back upstairs I marveled at the architecture, the design and the abundance of artwork.

My only quibble was the contemporary touch provided by photos on the floor and ceiling of thousands of faces. I didn’t immediately grasp the point of this.

(However, there is, in fact, a perfectly lovely cause behind it and my French contact, Melina, explains it in the comments section below, along with other helpful remarks.)

Jumping past the Japan Expo to Friday, July 4 (not a holiday in Paris), I found myself at the Arenes de Lutece, remnant of a Roman arena constructed in the first century A.D., when the place was called Gaul. There was a long history related to the rediscovery of the site during an excavation prompted by Emperor Louis Napoleon’s ambitious urban renewal project during the mid-19th century, followed by a long, ultimately successful campaign to preserve and restore the site.

The old Gladiator himself:

This was the oldest human-built structure I’d ever visited in its original site.

I wouldn’t have known about this place if it hadn’t been for my French guide, Melina, a Parisian native who’s also a fan of Japanese pop groups and was someone I knew through an internet forum devoted to the groups we like and had also attended the events at Japan Expo.

We were later joined by her boyfriend, Albert, French-born of Vietnamese ancestry. Both spoke English, Albert quite well, and they were able to fix the French cell phone I bought so the instructions and texting were in English. (None of the grown-ups whose help I’d sought had thought to do that.)

Melina is studying literature and languages in her school (French, English, German, Old Greek) and has taught herself Japanese. Albert is off to college and his major in school was science and math.

We took a walk in the Jardin des Plantes, past the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle, but it started raining so I cut short my picture taking. I didn’t have an umbrella, but we walked up to the River Seine and eventually boarded an elevated subway.

Later, I headed on my own to finally walk through the Luxembourg Gardens, which was across the street from my hotel.

I remember hearing a complaint about the scarcity of statues of notable women in New York’s parks and public monuments. They don’t have that problem in Paris. There were statues of women all around the park.

There’s a great discovery to be made if you just take a stroll in the north of the park:

Near the park is the Church of St. Sulpice:

Inside was a wall containing hundreds of names of men and women who’d perished in World War One, which began a hundred years ago this summer. The common feature of the people named? All were parishioners of this church. Pretty sobering, I daresay. I didn’t take pictures of it.

The next day found me going to Versailles, which I referenced briefly in Part 1 of the Paris entries. I had learned it was going to rain heavy on Sunday and I knew I’d be standing outside on a line at Versailles, so I made Versailles my Saturday trip. It rained also, but lightly, and the wait outside was just over 30 minutes.

The palace is pretty overwhelming. There’s art in every room on the walls and on the ceilings. It’s a museum now and they didn’t have to import any artwork. It was all there.

There was one special exhibit that intrigued me: “China at Versailles: Art and Diplomacy in the 18th Century,” devoted to diplomatic relations between France and China during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. The emperor in China during part of that time was Emperor Qianlong (aka Chien Lung), a legendary figure who was portrayed in a whole series of Shaw Bros. movies in the 1970s (all of which I have).

No picture taking was allowed in the exhibition area, but I did buy the book accompanying the exhibit.

Sunday found me at the Musee d’Orsay, referenced briefly in one of my earlier posts, in a longer wait on line outside in a heavier rain. (I should have stuck to my original plan and saved Versailles for Sunday.)

This museum was fashioned from an old train station:

Most of the exhibits didn’t allow photos, so I got only a few inside:

But the Van Gogh exhibit was great, as were all the impressionists on the top floor. Plus a side room devoted to Orientalisme, in which there were huge canvases boasting magnificent scenes of life in some of the areas the French colonized in the Middle East, North Africa and Africa.

I meant to go to the Louvre afterwards, but the rain and the daunting prospect of another long wait outside sent me instead through the Garden of Tuileries. I stopped at an outdoor café, with umbrellas over the tables, to grab a quick lunch (a tuna sandwich) to fuel the rest of the day’s activities. While I was sitting there, it started pouring. So I stayed where I was until it slowed down about an hour later. In the meantime, I ordered a glass of wine, my only alcoholic beverage during the entire trip, and watched a group of biking tourists cope with the rain.

And with a view like this, the garden with the Louvre in the background, it wasn’t bad.

I’ve already covered some of my discoveries around the hotel on subsequent walks, but I’ll add some others I haven’t yet mentioned.

The Fontaine St. Michel:

And the Sorbonne:

At 9:00 PM in the evening.

And here’s what the neighborhood looked like at 10 PM:

And, finally, another shot from my first evening there, the closest I ever got to the Eiffel Tower:

 

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7 Responses to “Paris, Part 3: Random Sights”

  1. Dennis July 28, 2014 at 6:26 PM #

    Wow. Perfect. I’m currently planning a trip to Belgium and France. It will take a lot of preparation as I don’t speak a lick of French yet and I have never been a Francophile. But it has been recommended to me that I should see Paris so I’m psyched. So far on my Paris list is the sewers tour and Paris St Germain.

    • briandanacamp July 28, 2014 at 6:40 PM #

      Actually, my young friends dropped me off at the Catacombs after my with them and recommended I go down to see it, but when I got to the entrance, the line was really long and I didn’t want to be underground in a cramped space with crowds (hey, I’ve got the New York subway for that!), so I opted for the Church of St. Sulpice and Luxembourg Gardens. As for not knowing French, I found that I could get by just fine speaking English. More merchants and customer service people in Paris speak English than not.

      • Dennis August 9, 2015 at 7:11 PM #

        I’m just looking at this again after a year. I actually learned enough French to hold short conversations. We went to St Sulpice. Impressive. I saw the list of parishioners who died in WWI. I took pics. I saw the things referenced in The Davinci Code. The line at Musee D’Orsay at 9:00 Sunday morning was long but much longer when we got out. We went straight to the Art Nouveau section. Your cousin Gordon visited the catacombs and recommended it highly.

  2. Robert Regan July 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM #

    Another winner, Brian? The Musee d’Orsay has a big movie connection. Orson Welles shot most of The Trial there before its transformation.

  3. Meikochi August 2, 2014 at 7:11 PM #

    Hi Brian !
    I read with interest all your posts about your trip and wanted to clarify a few things :
    the dome of the Pantheon was damaged and had to be renovated. That’s why a fundraising began and every person who donated could be photographed and now that the renovation started, an artist created the big photo you saw in the Pantheon, which is composed of hundreds of those portraits (among the thousands they took).
    I forgot to tell you that there’s a little Statue of Liberty in the Musée d’Orsay (which was in Luxembourg Garden until 2012).
    Also, almost statues of women you saw in Luxembourg Garden represent many queens of France (it might because the original backer of that garden was Marie de Medicis, but I’m not sure if it’s the main reason or not).
    Finally, thanks again for sharing all those pictures !

    • briandanacamp August 2, 2014 at 9:45 PM #

      Thanks for your helpful background information. I went back and revised my sentence on the meaning of all the photos in the Pantheon. I also remembered that I’d taken a picture of the Statue of Liberty exhibited at the Musee d’Orsay and I went back and added it to my section on that museum.

  4. Dennis August 8, 2014 at 3:18 PM #

    Is there a connection between the gigantic clock at Musee d’orsay and the clock in the Hugo Cabret movie? (Remember, the Hugo Cabret audio book had sound design by your nephew.)

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