Tag Archives: 5th Arrondissement

Musée National du Moyen Age (Musée de Cluny)

Yesterday was the first Sunday of November, and on the first Sunday of the month here in Paris, many museums that normally charge to enter open their doors for free visits. I chose to go to the Musée Cluny for the first time yesterday. It is a favorite of one of my friends back home, so I thought I’d go see what all the fuss was about. Now I think it’s one of my favorites, too.

The building that houses the museum is very impressive. It was begun in the 14th century, and in 1843 it was turned into a museum. It is located right at the intersection of the Boulevard St-Michel and the Boulevard St-Germain, which is a busy area on the left bank. The hôtel is surrounded by really beautiful gardens that are always free to enter. Since it’s getting to be winter, the gardens were not at their most spectacular yesterday so I’ll definitely be back in the spring to see them at their finest. They were still nice though.

The entrance to the museum is located just off a nice medium-sized courtyard that immediately transports you back in time. I entered (for free!) and got an audio guide for €1, but I quickly abandoned it (you’ll see why later).

The first thing I saw was a room of stained glass from the 12th and 13th centuries. It was really beautiful, and I was surprised that it was in such good condition. The glass is from medieval churches in France, and it was illuminated all over the small room that housed it.

Next I moved on to a large open room that had the original sculptures from the Notre Dame de Paris. They were fantastic. Several massive heads representing the Kings of Judah were there; they had been plundered from the Notre Dame during the revolution because they represented monarchs. They were found in 1977 buried during excavation to build a garage. There were also many saints, but they were missing their heads. I believe these statues were also victims of the revolution. Fun fact: all of the original sculptures on the Notre Dame (and many other medieval locations around town) were originally done in color! You can see some red pigmentation on the lips and cheeks of the statues if you look closely, and some darker colors in the eyes. I had no idea. The room is vast and contains all types of original sculptures from Notre Dame. It also hosts concerts throughout the year, which would be a really cool venue to see some classical music. Yesterday they were getting ready for a concert of medieval chant music when I was there. Fantastic.

The next room I saw was quite a treat: the building is partially built on the site of 1st-3rd century Roman baths! The cavernous room is still intact, and you can see where the pool was, some baths, and large indoor sporting area. How amazing.

Then I went through rooms and rooms of medieval sculptures, books (they have some very nice illuminated manuscripts), art, tapestries, artifacts, and anything else you can think of. Some of my favorites were a chapel in the building with incredible vaulted ceilings and some medieval wooden chair stalls, a collection of rings, some shields and armor, and a collection of kitchen apparatuses and knives.

Ring Collection

Tapestries

Chapel Ceiling

 

Shields at the top of the Display Case

Armor

At some point you come to the absolute highlight of the museum: La dame à la Licorne tapestries (“The Lady and the Unicorn“). They are six tapestries from around the year 1500 that are huge and magnificent. They portray a woman with a unicorn and lion surrounded by flowers, trees, and other animals (my favorite is the monkey). They are considered one of the most important works of the middle ages in Europe. I sat for a while on a bench just trying to absorb them all. There is a lot to look at in them. I couldn’t take pictures of these gorgeous tapestries because they’re in a dark room (I assume for preservation purposes). Click the underlined title in the beginning of this paragraph for the wikipedia article, which contains pictures of all six tapestries.

My favorite part of the trip was a complete surprise. There were at least a couple of art students in each room to talk to the visitors about the art in the room. I don’t know if this was a special event, or if they always do that on the first Sunday of the month, or why they were there, but it was fantastic! The students would talk to a group of people, and you could walk over and listen to them explain a certain piece or collection, or sometimes if they didn’t have a group and they saw you take a particular interest in something, they’d come over and ask if you wanted an explanation of the piece that interested you. This happened to me, and I of course said yes, and I had a wonderful discussion with an art student about the array of influences on the statues from the Sainte-Chapelle and how the revolutionaries cut off the heads of the statues. I was able to ask all kinds of questions, and she was very knowledgeable. I learned so much from the students about the museum’s collection that I never would have known if I’d been listening to the audio guide, which only had short descriptions of the highlights. The students were able to tailor their discussions to the particular audience, and I saw a very patient girl talking to some well-behaved children that couldn’t have been older than about 5 all about unicorns and answering their questions. It was a really fantastic way to experience the museum. The discussions were all in French, so Anglophones should bring a Francophone friend who is very patient and able to translate. I am assuming that they had the students there yesterday because it was the first Sunday of the month, so a lot of Parisians come to the museums. That’s just a guess though. If anyone knows more information about the art students at the museum, please leave a comment; I’d love to learn more about the program.

I highly recommend this museum. It was a great collection. I could have stayed much longer than I did.

New words: créancier/débiteur (creditor/debtor), un point-virgule (semicolon), une virgule (comma, math: decimal point, because they use commas instead), selon (according to), selon que (depending on whether), s’agir (to be about), à défaut de (in the absence of/lack of/failing), rattachement (unification, incorporation), concubine (partner/cohabitant, but you only use this if you live with someone with whom you are in a relationship, also it doesn’t have the same connotation as in English as far as I can tell), alimentaire (dietary), gestion (management), le chômage (unemployment), exprimer (to express)

Shakespeare & Company Bookstore

I just went to the most wonderful place. I have a few posts I need to catch up on, but this place was so incredible that I need to write about it right now, before I forget anything! Photos were forbidden, so you will just have to come and see it for yourself.

Today I am free as a bird, with no classes and no immediately pressing business to take care of. (This is my first such day in Paris.) I am getting over a cold, so I had a very lazy morning sleeping in, reading a book, and catching up on NPR podcasts. It’s a beautiful day, so I eventually decided to venture out. I went to a park across the street to read a book for a while in the shade from Notre Dame, but then it got a little too warm and I wanted to go inside. I decided to go to Shakespeare & Company, which is just around the corner from my apartment.

I had originally heard of Shakespeare & Company years ago, when I was studying abroad in Italy. We were nearing the end of our program, and my friend was planning to travel to Paris afterward. I asked where she would stay, since we were all out of money at that point. She told me she had heard that artists can stay at a famous bookstore there in exchange for helping out in the bookstore. She told me all about the bookstore and the bohemian artists there. I always remembered the name of the bookstore, Shakespeare & Company, and today I finally visited it.

When I first walked in, I was immediately struck by the endless amount of books covering every imaginable surface. Wooden bookshelves cover every wall, above every doorway, and underneath and along the staircase. Even the walkways between rooms are narrow because one side is covered in bookshelves. The books are lined up on the shelves, and if there is room left at the top they are stacked horizontally on top of the books. Oh, and they are in English, which is wonderful for a bibliophile ex-pat like me.

There are nooks and crannies everywhere, and the little kid in me immediately wanted to explore. The store is somewhat of a small labyrinth; the floorplan is haphazard, leaving you to discover the poetry, fiction, mysteries, art, etc. as you wind through the store. The random layout of the store is probably due to the fact that the owner kept extending the store by purchasing apartments and stores next to and above his original small shop. The walls are stone (although you can’t see much of them behind all the books), and the ceilings have exposed beams, as many places in Paris do. The floors are stone with tiles laid in them in a kind of random mosaic. The rooms have cool names like “The Blue Oyster Tearoom” and “The Old Smokey Reading Room.” There is a covered hole in the ground where you can throw coins for the starving artists at Shakespeare & Company.

The downstairs is where all of the new books for sale are kept. When you climb the stairs, you reach the library. None of the books in the library are for sale; they are there for anyone to sit and read. There are many couches and chairs and books. The windows in the front room open out onto a view of the Notre Dame. There are beds up there where artist/guests stay, a chess set, and even a piano. The owner’s motto is painted onto a wall: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” There is also a kind of “writer’s hut,” which is like a child’s fort. There are walls built around it maybe four feet high with an opening. There are small colorful lights on the outside, and inside is a chair and a desk with a typewriter on it. There is also another typewriter in a room with couches. Anyone is allowed to use the typewriters in the library.

The upstairs rooms encircle a courtyard that begins on the second floor and uses the roof of the first floor as the ground. Today there was an artist who had climbed out into the courtyard and was gluing model airplanes suspended from fishing wire in the courtyard. She was chatting up to another artist who was staying in another room on the other side of the building.

The entire shop was quite an experience. I will definitely be back, probably frequently. I highly suggest coming here to look around, read a book, buy a book, and maybe even write a book. This place is so unique. Visitors to Paris should definitely experience it.

Le Panthéon

Last weekend I went to the Panthéon with a friend. I had never been before, and it was definitely something to cross off the list, since I walk by it frequently. It’s hard to miss, as the building towers over much of the 5th arrondissement and many roads seem to lead to it. I knew nothing about it, so I went out of curiosity.

The building has a fascinating history. In 1744 king Louis XV was ill and vowed that if he recovered he would build a church to honor St. Genevieve, who was born in Nanterre and lived in Paris. He recovered, and the church was begun. However, it was not completed until  the early stages of the French Revolution, and the revolutionaries were not great fans of the church, to say the least (that’s The Church, capitalized; I read somewhere that they liked Jesus because he was poor and also railed against the man, but they killed a lot of priests because anyway because the clergy was the First Estate under the Ancien Régime). They turned it into a place for the burial of great Frenchman. It has gone back and forth over the years, sometimes becoming a church and then returning to a civic building.

The feeling inside is strange because it has the feeling of a church, but instead of alters and such there are statues of revolutionaries.

One of the most interesting features is the Foucault Pendulum. It’s a huge pendulum suspended from the top of the Panthéon almost to the ground. The pendulum was an experiment to demonstrate the phenomenon that the earth (and the Panthéon) revolves around the path of the pendulum’s swing, which remains the same. There is a “clock” that doesn’t move and marks the 24 hours of the day below the pendulum, and by looking at the pendulum’s swing, you can tell what time it is because of the earth’s rotation.

I was immediately confused by the large gap between the 24th hour of the clock and the top (the start of the next day). I watched the video in French and English (just to be sure I hadn’t missed the explanation), and they didn’t discuss it. I flipped through the books they were selling and didn’t find an explanation about the gap. Wikipedia saved the day by providing the answer (as usual). The article also contains a nice animation of the phenomenon. I am not smart enough to completely understand it, but the basic explanation for the gap is that the latitude of France causes the rotation of the earth around a single point in France (such as the pendulum) to take 32.7 hours. If we did the experiment at the North or South Pole, the earth would rotate around the pendulum in 24 hours. This is possibly more information than you wanted to know, but it drove me crazy for the rest of the day.

The main event for the Panthéon is underneath it, where many of France’s finest are buried. To be interred there is an honor, and it takes a Parliamentary act to get a resting place down there. We saw the graves of Rousseau, Voltaire, Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Louis Braille (who invented–you guessed it!–braille). There are many graves down there, but we breezed through it relatively quickly. Graves all look mostly alike.

Rousseau's Grave

New Words: tromé (verlan for métro), les flics (style familier for police), une cible (a target), l’effroi (fear), soupçon (suspect), en douce (secretly), misérable (poor, but not just poor, extremely poor, without any money at all), rogner (to cut/make smaller/reduce), moitié (half/halfway, as in half of the bill)

Jardin du Luxembourg

This morning I went for a run in the Luxembourg garden. It was fantastic. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a runner. At all. However, I plan to eat a lot of baguettes, cheese, and crème brûlée in the next couple of years (I’ve already gotten off to a great start!), and I figure I should pre-empt the calories while I still can.

The garden and palace were begun in 1611 for Marie de Médicis, the widow of Henry IV. There is a large palace and massive grounds. Today, the palace houses the Sénat (one of the legislative houses of the government).

Luxembourg Palace

Even though the weather today was chilly, the sun was out and so were the Parisians. There were garden chairs all over the grounds, and people were sitting and relaxing and enjoying the sun. There was a fountain where kids drove small remote-controlled sailboats (some simple, some very elaborate).

Fountain with Sailboats

The gardens were filled with people. There were many joggers going all around the sand path that circumnavigates the grounds, and I joined the ranks this morning. There were also at least 4 groups I saw doing doing t’ai chi, some jugglers practicing, and people stretching and doing sit-ups. There is a huge playground where it seemed like a thousand kids were running around, shrieking, swinging on the swings, climbing on the playset, and having a great time. There was also a large area where many adults (mostly men, but I saw at least one woman) were playing pétanque, which looked a lot like bocci ball. There were some tennis courts, and apparently chess is played there as well, although I didn’t see it.

Bee Hives

There is also an area with several bee hives where they have a beekeeping school. Once the honey is harvested, they sell it in the garden. I plan to purchase some once that happens. The bee houses originated long ago but were removed. They were recently added again, and would-be beekeepers can once again learn the skill right here in Paris.

The gardens themselves are magnificent. I’m no horticulturist, but the flowers and fruits are beautiful. They grow more varieties of pears than I have ever seen, and each type is carefully labeled. Oh yeah, and for some reason they grow some of the fruit in bags. I haven’t figured that one out.

Apples

Pears

Palace and Garden

This was a beautiful place to start the day.