Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Day in Celebration of Higher Learning

May 6th, 2016- 11:30pm

The primary reason for this trip to Paris was for Camille and Wilson to take
the Advanced Placement US History exam at the American School of Paris in Saint Cloud.  The exam was at 9 this morning and lasted 3 hours-ugh.  With that out of the way, we ubered back to the city center as soon aspossible and celebrated with pastrami, french fries and cokes at the kosher  Then the three McGriffs headed out.
deli in our neighborhood-Schwartz's.

We walked from the Marais, with its narrow streets crowded with a few tourists and a lot of shoppers and moms with strollers headed to a park, across the Seine to the Ile St. Louis, which was relatively quiet until we approached Berthillon, the ice cream shop behind Notre Dame made famous by every tour book since the 1980s.  Paris has such a great "cafe culture" and by 3-4 in the afternoon, people start claiming their tables.  The crowds of tourists on the island seemed to be happy baking in the sun, eating ice cream and enjoying the view of Notre Dame's flying buttresses.  As a parent, I realize that I have to keep repeating myself often- things I have shared with Camille, Pete missed because he was too little (and probably more interested in ice cream).  And now, Camille and I can both "teach" him as we share the history and architecture of one of our favorite cities.

We quickly headed across the next bridge and into the neighborhood of St. Germain des Pres and up
the hill.  Here the crowd changes a little from hoards of tourists to more of a neighborhood scene, and as you approach the Pantheon, you are walking by the Sorbonne.  The sidewalks were crowded with college students getting out of class.

Built in 1755 by Soufflot, an architect hired by Louis XV, the basilica was originally dedicated as a monument to Saint Genevieve.  Everything about the architecture of the building celebrates the Period of Enlightenment; the structure blends ancient architectural shapes from Corinthian columns, vaults and flying buttresses from Gothic, and the dome inspired by the Renaissance.

In 1791, the basilica was transformed into the National Pantheon where by decree, it was transformed into a temple to honor the great men of the Nation.  Voltaire's remains were
transferred there and Rousseau was interred there forever-rivals in theory in life- they lie facing each other in the crypt.  Two different times it was turned back into a church until finally in 1885, the structure was returned to its civic importance for Victor Hugo's funeral.

It turned out that my children loved the story of Victor Hugo's funeral as much as I do.  They were impressed with the stories of emotional outpouring of the city for a political and academic figure.  Almost 100,000 people lined the streets from the Arc de Triomphe, where the speeches were given, down the Champs de Elyssee, where the procession traveled down and across the river and up the hill in St. Germain to its resting place in the Pantheon.  People camped overnight for a place on the route, there were over 800 wreaths, and all this for a man of ideas, thoughts and letters.  The article of that day in the NYtimes is worth reading
New York Times, June1, 1885

So, it can be said that the French have celebrated their thinkers- the men and women that created the Enlightenment, which is how they moved from a monarchy to a democracy--on the rational principles of equality.

Along with Rousseau, Voltaire, and Hugo, the crypt holds the remains of Marie Curie and her husband Pierre, Alexandre Dumas, leaders of the French Resistance and the French Revolution, and Leon Gambetta, founder of the 3rd republic.

In keeping with its celebration of thought- Foucault's pendulum was originally tested here and was rebuilt in the late 1900s.  The pendulum, pulled back one time a day, swings for over 24 hours, and at this latitude, the base on the floor rotates around the pendulum at 11 degrees an hour, proving that the Earth is round and revolving.  It took the 3 of us a long time to wrap our brains around the scientific principles and Pete has plans to make one at home...

After the Pantheon, we headed back down the hill to a much more recent spot for a great meeting of the minds-Shakespeare & Co.  This is ground zero for the Lost Generation. Owned by Sylvia Beech and frequented by Gertrude Stein, the bookstore would loan the apartments above the store for little or no rent to aspiring authors.

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso were all here- exchanging ideas, writing, thinking and being encouraged.  As crowded as it is, my family always manages to find a few great new additions to our library.

Today the topics were the French Resistance and Architecture.

So- just what I hoped for. Lots of really big concepts
and ideas to chew on, and hopefully we will seek more information to answer all the questions that came up.  And with virtual learning, we have the time to seek knowledge.  Another layer of enrichment, another layer of Paris.

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