Monthly Archives: February 2012

Musée du Louvre: Ancient Egyptian Collection

The Louvre.

The most visited art museum in the world. One of the world’s largest museums and a historic monument as well. At least, according to its wikipedia article. I’m not surprised. It’s . . . overwhelming. So I’ve decided to break it down and present it to you in pieces. Collection by collection. That seems much more manageable. I have a Louvre card, which gets me into the museum for free without waiting in line, so I’ll make many smaller trips every so often and report back. This will be much more pleasant for me (because to try to see it all in one day or one weekend or even one week would be insane and would result in a lot of stress, a very sore back and feet, a foggy brain overwhelmed with all of the information I’d taken in over such a short period, and a very poor idea of what to write about the millions of items I’d witnessed) and for you (because any article I wrote afterward would surely be disorganized, too long, and insufficient on all of its many subjects). So we will take baby steps. I started with my favorite: Ancient Egypt.

I have been fascinated with Ancient Egypt ever since the sixth grade when we finished the Mesopotamia unit and started learning about the pharaohs, gods, pyramids, and mummies of Ancient Egypt. It captures the imagination. It’s fascinating. Plus, they had mummies; need I say more? The maestro came to visit this month, and we went to the Louvre a couple of times. It’s the kind of place that you could go to many times and still constantly be making new discoveries.

The Louvre has over 50,000 pieces in its Ancient Egypt collection. The thing that struck me most about every single item, as obvious as it is, was its age. We saw beautifully made objects that are 5,000 years old. 5,000 years old! And they’re still so impressive. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how old some of these objects and statues and artwork are. I am also amazed by how long Ancient Egypt existed.  As a point of reference: America has been a country for less than 250 years; Ancient Egypt lasted for almost 3,000 years.

I won’t try to catalogue all of the incredible things we saw, because they’re too numerous. I will just say that some of my favorites were the statues. Many of them were larger than life. They have statues of pharaohs and gods and animals. They have a temple you can go inside of. A giant sphinx greets you as you enter the Ancient Egypt collection. It’s amazing.

They have a lot of sarcophagi, which are stunningly detailed with many layers.

They have incredible objects from daily life as well, including jewelry and clothes and mirrors, and even musical instruments.

I’ve saved the best for last. In my opinion, the pièce de résistance in the entire collection is the mummy. Yes, you read that right. There is an actual mummy in the museum that can be viewed from 360 degrees. They even have the jars containing the organs with it. Ahhhhh! I will admit, I was delightfully freaked out by the mummy. It’s incredible. You can see the shape of the 5,000 year old face and where the nose protrudes. The person was quite short, not surprisingly. You can see every tiny finger individually bandaged. It’s all evenly and carefully wrapped and preserved. Even the ears. If, like me, you have a vivid imagination, you half expect the mummy to bolt upright and look at you with its blank bandaged face from behind the glass. I was very jumpy as I circled it and bent down to look more closely. Thank goodness the maestro was there. I made him stand between the mummy and myself while I had my back turned to read the sign on the wall. I got the chills from looking at this former person from ancient times. I was completely freaked out (though I played it mostly cool) and yet the maestro practically had to drag me away because we were late for a friend’s birthday dinner. How awesome. An actual mummy.

I am probably biased because I love Ancient Egypt so much, but you MUST visit this collection. Leave yourself plenty of time. It’s extensive, and it’s all well worth seeing. There’s a small temple you can go into, and tons of statues and objects to see. They have the book of the dead spread out on a wall. They have rows of statues, and many hieroglyphics  in stone and on papyrus. It really captures the imagination. The whole thing is impressive.

New words: décalage horaires (time change), désormais (henceforth), en tant que tel (as such), au-delà (beyond), quant à (as to), jumeaux (twins), la chute (fall), chut (hush), le fusible (the fuse), la candidature (application, like for a job)



University in France

Hello world! I’m sorry I disappeared for a while. I went back to the states for the holidays, and when I came back to France it was time to gear up for exams. I’ve just emerged from the madness and I’m back to my adventures around Paris and posting about them. It’s been very (very very) cold in the last couple of weeks, and we’ve even had some light snow. But in spite of the awful weather, I have soldiered on and done some sightseeing (mostly indoors). I should have lots of new material up here in the coming weeks, so enjoy.

Now that I’ve got a full semester under my belt, I wanted to do a post about school. First, some background. I am a law student. In the US, this means that I already graduated from a 4 year university with a bachelor’s degree and I’ve now almost completed my 3 year legal education. In France, however, it’s completely different.

French students take the Baccalaureate exam when they’re 17. Anyone who passes the “Bac” has the legal right to a university education. Practically all of the universities in France are public (There are a handful of private universities, but until recently they were considered to be of a much lower quality. Apparently that’s starting to change.). So the state provides an education to anyone who has passed the bac. Students who want to enter the grandes-écoles (the most famous and competitive schools) have to take another exam. Once students are admitted into a university, they start their legal education right away. They spend their first 3 years of university doing their License in law. After they’ve finished the License they spend one year doing the Master 1. That’s what I’m doing right now, my Master 1. There are many many students in the program, and they are all competing to get into a Master 2 program, which is the next year-long program. More on that later. After the Master 2, students can apply for a doctorate-level degree, which I believe takes 3 years. Anyone who has at least a Master 1 can become a lawyer (either a juriste or an avocat, a distinction we don’t have in the states).

So the program I am in right now is the Master 1. It’s a 2 semester program, and in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve gone back to college. The classes are huge. There are hundreds of people in each class, and they’re held in big amphitheaters where the professors sit at a desk on the stage and talk at the students for an hour and a half twice a week. Because France uses a civil law (codified) system, there isn’t much explanation or analysis or interpretation or discussion. They just tell us what the law is and we take notes (the French students type practically every word the professor says in paragraph form; they think that the way I take notes is crazy). The professors give their lectures in outline form (they will literally say “Second part, chapter 1, paragraph 1” and the title of that paragraph before launching into the lecture). For the exam, we memorize everything in our notes, and we regurgitate all of that information for the test. That’s it. There is  no analysis because none is needed. Whatever is in the code is the law. That’s all they need to know. There is no binding case law (although case law is provided as an example and you get bonus points if you can memorize some cases the professor mentions). Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) judgments are usually about three paragraphs long. Sometimes less. Overall, it’s a much simpler system to learn, so studying it is less, well, less involved than studying US law. You just memorize laws from the code. You must have a good memory though; there’s a lot more information to memorize than in the US.

There’s also something called travaux dirigés (“TD”) which is exactly like those weekly section meetings in undergrad with a TA who is a doctorate student. They assign extra reading related to the lecture topics and give exams and things. I’m not doing TD because I’m very fortunate and got an exception because of other academic activities. My friends all have to take TD and it stresses them out.

One thing that I find amusing is the students who take handwritten notes. I would say that about 1/3 of the students take their notes by hand, and it’s crazy to watch. First, all French students have the same handwriting because they worked so hard on it in school. At first, it was hard for me to read because it’s all in cursive and it’s slightly different from how most people in the US write, but once you get used to it you can read almost anyone’s writing, because as I said they all write the same. They use booklets of crazy lined paper called Seyès Ruling paper that teaches children how to make even, proportionate letters when they’re learning how to write. The paper looks like graph paper, except there are many more horizontal lines and the vertical lines are not evenly spaced. The students are taught as children where on this “grid” each letter starts, stops, and connects, so that they write uniformly. They still all use it here at the university, and it comes in folded feuilles, so the students start with a stack of them and fill them up over the course of a lecture. Then they put them in a binder and keep adding to it all semester with new booklets of notes.

They almost all use fountain pens (which are very common here and can be found in any price range from super cheap to super expensive and everything in between). And they use different colored pens to make certain parts of the notes stand out. It’s impressive, because at the same time they’ll all put down their main pen, pick up the colored pen, write whatever they needed to write in the new colored ink, then put down the colored pen and pick back up the main pen to continue writing in one smooth motion. It all happens very quickly. Even more impressive is when they highlight. They usually have 2 different colored highlighters, and whenever they highlight anything they use a small ruler so that the line is straight. When this happens, they go through the whole process I just mentioned but add the ruler into it as well. It’s a well-choreographed process so that they don’t miss anything the professor says. I find it amusing, but they are also amused by the way I take notes, so we’re even.

Anyway, the academic environment means that the Master 1 is a lot like college in the states. Half the students never go to class. If you can buy notes (or get them from a friend), you don’t need to go, so they don’t bother. The students that do go are divided into two groups: the workers and the slackers. In the front of the classroom sit the students who are competing hard to get into a Master 2 program. They diligently type every word the professor says and they never miss a class. They work very hard all week every week. They take their studies very seriously and they read treatises about the subjects they’re studying. The slackers mystify me. They come to class, but they sit in the back and talk LOUDLY to their friends and graffiti on the desks with white out pens and generally just hang out. I do not understand why they come to class at all. I mean, if you’re not going to get anything out if it, you might as well do something fun instead and just skip it. It’s not like you get credit for being there. Once, my friend said that a girl was having a full-volume conversation on her cell phone in the middle of class….and the phone was on speaker. Crazy. They should just ditch.

The semester continues on like that for weeks and weeks. Lectures, note-taking, and TD if you have it. Then we get a week off to study for exams. Exams are given either written or orally. There is a minimum required amount of each form of exam that each student has to take, so you can’t take them all written or all oral. At first, I was terrified about the prospect of oral exams since they’re in French. They’re not actually so bad. The professor gives you a topic and you tell them everything you know about that topic. Then they thank you and you leave. The whole thing is done in 10 minutes. The written tests are much shorter than my law school exams in the states: only 2 hours. They are all hand-written and during most of them you’re allowed to use the code, so students are flipping furiously through their copies of the code.

That’s been my experience so far. Not very academically fulfilling, but fortunately I have friends in the Master 2, which is what I’ll be taking next year. Their very positive experiences in the Master 2 give me hope. The Master 2 is very selective, so there are only about 20 students in each program. This means that the classes are very small and much more student-driven. The students read articles by legal scholars and then the scholars will come and have a discussion with the students. They go on field trips to conferences. The students give presentations. They all know each other and all of the professors well. It sounds great.

So that’s school. At least, that’s my experience so far. I’ll be back to posting about cool things around Paris later this week. It’s good to be back!