Monday, June 18, 2012

A Grave Day

On Sunday, we woke up to a rare sight—the sun. It was beautiful all day as we traipsed from the Pantheon to the Montparnasse Cemetery to the Luxembourg Gardens and then back to the Pantheon, which had been closed the first time due to a celebration honoring Jean Moulin, a hero of the resistance.

Given the situation with the Pantheon, our first stop was the cemetery at Montparnasse.  Cemeteries have long been on the tourist circuit in France.  Twain talks about visiting Pere Lachais in Innocents Abroad.   Our primary reason for visiting is to go to the graves of Alfred Dreyfus and Simone du Beauvoir, both of whom play central roles in the course.  It turns out that du Beauvoir was born on one side of the cemetery and bought an apartment on the other side.  She lived most of her life within a 10 block radius of where is she buried. 

The idea for the course was hatched here
Dreyfus’s grave is where the idea for this course was hatched.  Dr. Nell and I were at a seminar on Ignatian pedagogy together in Paris seven years ago where we were urged to motivate our students to “jump into the mystery.”  We visited the cemetery where quite unexpected I discovered Dreyfus’ grave. Dreyfus is related to my wife’s family and his trial played a seminal role in the creation of Israel.  It was a very moving moment for me and at that moment, Dr. Nell and I decided that we wanted to return with students to build an experience in which they could connect what they read with “stuff” on the ground (or in the case of the cemetery, folks in the ground.)

In front of the Pantheon
After a great picnic lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens, my favorite park in Paris, we made it back to the Pantheon and finished the day drinking coffee at the Café Deux Magots, a favorite stomping grounds of the Existentialists.  There, the students discussed choices that they have made in their lives and the outcomes of those choices, in preparation for their second paper.

A Shocking Exhibition

On the third day of the trip, we continued to check off visiting the “must see” sights of Paris by going to the Orsay and the Arc de eTriomph.  The weather was sketchy, clouds, wind and periodic showers punctuated by a little sunshine at the end.

The Orsay is such a different museum than the Louvre.  Housed in a renovated train station, it is full of light and easy to navigate.  The collection basically consists of art associated with the Impressionists and going forward.

This year, the special exhibit was nude women painted by Degas and it was positively shocking.   Degas never intended most of the images—paintings, monotypes and other kinds of media—to be displayed. They were discovered in his studio after his death.  And I can imagine why.  Perhaps the most graphic was a sex scene among women. While the commentary claimed the image was ambiguous, it wasn’t. 

Grad students lecture in the rain on a bridge over the Seine
There was image after image of women in brothels including an image of a man waiting for a women and the women waiting for clients.  One picture is informally called “The Rape,” and depicted a scene that the commentary said was probably just after an act of sexual violence.  The whole collection was kind of like discovering that Mark Twain had written a trunk load of pornographic novels.

The commentary noted that in this period there was a shift and the goal of art was no longer to capture beauty but truth.  And while Degas was going for the “real”—he urged Gervex to add a woman’s robe and corset to the picture Rolla, which shows a women sprawled on a bed with a fully clothed man standing by, to make it more realistic--I am not sure about what “truth” is contained in these pictures.  Maybe just that men objectify women.

Students politely listen in the rain
After the Orsay, we came to what for me is one of the best parts of the trip.  The  have graduate students, lecture about Zola’s novel The Masterpiece. The Seine river plays an important role in the novel and the lecture is delivered on a bridge crossing the river.  As the grad students talk about the Seine, the students can look at it themselves.  Yes, Paris is our classroom.

Our official LOYOLA U!
We finish the final part of the program by going to the Arc de Triomphe.  Paris has at least four great “vista” sights and this is one of the them.  It was also the perfect place to do what has now become a tradition of the students spelling out Loyola in countries they are visiting.  There was a little controversy about adding the U-- nobody wanted to do it--but I think it came out great.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Louvre, Montmartre, Orsay and Arc de Triomphe

 The course is getting off to a great start this year--despite the rain!

Yesterday, Friday, June 15, we went to the Louvre. Because the museum is so huge, Dr. King and I prepared an activity sheet and we sent the students off to find works of art related to the course. After a few hours at the Louvre, we went up to Montmartre to the Cimetière de Montmartre to visit the first tomb of the French writer and journalist, Emile Zola (tomorrow, we will visit his final resting place at the Panthéon!). Then, it was off to the "Martyrium" where we spent a few minutes reflecting on the origins of the Society of Jesus. Back in 1534, St. Ignatius Loyola and his friends made their first vows at the Martyrium. We also toured the Sacré Coeur Basilica and had some shopping time before dinner.
Paris Course students at Zola's "first" tomb

Basilique Sacré Coeur

Today, we visited the Musée d'Orsay, which houses a famous collection of impressionist paintings and nineteenth-century art; after lunch, our two graduate students gave presentations on the Pont des Arts. Grad students read extra books for the course. Today's presentations were on Emile Zola's novel The Masterpiece. Dena Ebert spoke about the relationship between painting and writing in the novel and Doug Allers discussed the role of the river Seine in the novel. They were great! Thanks to them both for such thought provoking presentations.

Doug Allers gives his presentation

Dena Ebert presenting on the Pont des Arts

Finally, we went to the Champs-Elysées and climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe where we had a wonderful view of Paris.

Loyola Paris Course undergrads "spell" Loyola U!

Tomorrow, the Pantheon, the Montparnasse Cemetery, the Luxembourg Gardens and a philosophical discussion at Les Deux Magots, a café that dates back to the 30s and 40s and was an 
existentialist hangout. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 2 at the Louvre

When you visit a place year after year, you experience small changes that occur.  A lot of those changes appear to be tres arbitrary.  With the museums of Paris, it seems that every year they change the entrances through which people (at least we) can enter and where you can or can’t take pictures.

This year, the Louvre has upgraded their audio guides, which are now 3-D video guides manufactured by Nintendo. That means as you move through the museum you can spend half your time or more looking at a video screen rather than the real stuff around you.  To me, this doesn’t seem like a good step forward.  The guides have GPS so you can know where you are at anytime (which is very difficult in a museum as complex as the Louvre) but unfortunately do not  help much in navigating through the museum.  Without that enduring voice that tells you it is recalculating every time you take a wrong turn, you have no idea if you are going in the right direction.  The cherry on top is that you get to bump into a lot of people has you watch yourself move from room to room on the screen. Every collision is collision between your life on the screen and your physical reality.

The new audio guide lists 46 “must see” pieces, thereby reducing the thousands or tens of thousands of items to 46 “must see” items. One of the ironies of the world in which we live is that as more information is available to us, the narrower our focus often gets.  Of course, I am guilty of participating in that process.  For our students, we reduced the “must see” pieces to three—the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and The Winged Victory (to be fair, we also require the students to find five other paintings associated with the course.)   On a larger scope, the “must see” list places for all of Paris can arguably be a short list as well—the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc d’Triomph. We do all of them, except for the Eiffel Tower, in the first two days of the trip.  I talked with some of the students and our “must see” list for New York is Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum, Times Square and a view of the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park.

I don't get the hype about the Mona Lisa
By pretty much common consensus, the Mona Lisa tops the “must see” list at the Louvre.  Frankly I don’t get the Mona Lisa.  I have listened to the commentaries but I just don’t get it.  The commentaries do not convince me.  I see a rather small painting of a rather plain woman.  I find the Mona Lisa like I found The Alamo in San Antonio, very underwhelming.  Repeated visits haven’t changed my mind.  I certainly don’t see ideal beauty or anything close.

This works for me
Across the room from the Mona Lisa hangs The Wedding at Cana.  The biggest painting in the Louvre, it is full of people and color.  Painted by Paolo Caliari in the 1560s, to me, it is a real statement piece.

I spent most of my time in the large format French paintings.  My personal favorite Liberty Leading the People, which I think is a powerful balance of the real and the ideal as well as the propaganda pieces, like Napoleon Among the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa by Gros and The Coronation of Napoleon which depict “historical” scenes that have either been significantly distorted or fabricated entirely.  I rarely think of paintings as propaganda but there you have it.
This never happened

After the Louvre, which took up most of the morning and early afternoon, we went to the Martyrium, where St. Ignatius and the other original Jesuits vowed to do something together after they had all become priests. We then went to Sacre Coeur church and Montmartre.

Tomorrow we get to check off two more items on the Paris “must see” list—the Orsay and the Arc d’Triomph.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The 2012 students have arrived!

Undergrads at the Hotel de Sully
Today was "airport day"--all the students in the 2012 Paris Study Course (CM385D/ML385D/LS771) have arrived!

Philippe-Auguste's Wall

On the way to the Hotel de Sens

We had a couple of anxious moments at the airport (sometimes it takes a few minutes to get through customs!), but all in all, the arrivals went very smoothly indeed and we managed to have everyone in Paris in the vicinity of the two hotels by noon. Check-ins happened by 2 p.m.; everyone was able to rest and freshen up prior to setting out on a walking tour of the Marais, another tradition of the course.
This year, we started by walking down the Rue de Turenne to the Place des Vosges. Originally named "Place Royale" when commissioned by king Henri IV in the early seventeenth century, it is a beautiful example of late renaissance architecture. After that, we visited the garden of the nearby Hotel de Sully, originally the private residence of one of Louis XIII's ministers. Wandering southward, we saw a portion of Philippe Auguste's wall, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Traveling west, we passed the Hotel de Sens and its gardens--this beautiful house (now a municipal library) was once home to Marguerite de Valois, also known as "la reine Margot."

At the Maison du Faucher

The "Maison du Faucher" on the Rue François Miron, is another vestige of medieval Paris--it dates from the 14th century. Finally, we passed the church St. Gervais-St. Protais and the Hôtel de Ville (town hall) on the way to Notre Dame.

Vespers at Notre Dame

The 2012 Paris Study Course group with Dr. Elliot King

We spent some time in Notre Dame--vespers were in progress!--and then had a wonderful crêpe dinner on the Ile-St.-Louis!

Tomorrow: the Louvre and Montmartre!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Here we are once again in Paris, ready to teach the on-site component of our Paris course! As we have done almost every year, Elliot King and I have arrived prior to the arrival of the students. We spent the afternoon and evening preparing for their arrival, however. Our first priority is making reservations at restaurants for the various dinners, the most important of which is the banquet--our last meal together. We have four reservations so far and we are both pleased with the results. We also spent some time working on the walking tour that we will do with students on Thursday afternoon, just after the students arrive. This year, our first walking tour will feature the history of Parisian architecture--I think the students will find it exciting!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Last picnic and goodbyes...

The students left for home yesterday!

Our time together passed so fast. Both Dr. King and I are so grateful these exceptional Loyola students chose to spend part of their summer with us.

Here are photos from our last picnic (on Saturday, June 25) at the Eiffel Tower.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gardens, Art and Luncheon on the Grass in Giverny

More showers today, but most of the time, just cool and breezy!

Like last year, instead of booking a "canned" tour, we went to Giverny like a lot of French people do--we took a regional train from the St. Lazare station to the little town of Vernon (across the Seine river from Giverny) and then transferred to a bus for a short ride to the village of Giverny.

We had a fantastic picnic today in Giverny--fresh French bread, cheese, sliced turkey and chicken, with all the fixings! The students had requested hummus, chips, apples and chocolate, too. We brought lots of food with us and had enough leftovers for a substantial snack on the train back to Paris this afternoon.

Our group reservation at Monet's house was at 1 p.m. The students explored the two gardens (both the "clos normand" and the Japanese water garden) and the house on their own and had free time until we met up again at the bus stop a bit after 4. After the train ride home, the students had a free evening; all day tomorrow is free as well!

I wonder what they'll do with their free day--can't wait to find out on Saturday....our last day in Paris before the students return home!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Philosophical conversations

A very inauspicious start to our day--it was raining cats and dogs this morning! Because last night was the annual Fête de la Musique (Music Festival), we let the students sleep in a bit this morning, so by the time we got to the Montparnasse Cemetery, the sky was actually blue!

Highlights of today's activities include:

  • visits to the tombs of Alfred Dreyfus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in the Cimetière Montparnasse

  • an intellectual discussion at the café "Les Deux Magots" (a famous existentialist hangout in the Faubourg Saint-Germain)

  • a presentation by grad students on a book by sociologist, writer and politician Azouz Begag

  • a delicious dinner in a North African restaurant, the Café Bistrot Toucan.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Versailles and very patient students!

Today was to be a "light" day....but Versailles turned out to be a little more complicated than anticipated!

For one thing, the weather continued to be not optimal--grey with intermittent light showers. At the château itself, there was only one line to get in. Normally, there is at least two--one for groups and one for individuals. The good news is that we had our museum passes so we didn't have to stand in the ticket line, just in the line to get in. The bad news is that we stood in line for an hour and a half. Despite all this, our students were patient and good-humored (thanks, guys!).

I love Versailles (usually!)--my area of specialization spans the 17th and 18th centuries of French literature and culture, and, as you can imagine, there is lots to see at Versailles that is relevant to the period from 1660 to the French revolution. I'm including in today's blog some neat paintings and sculptures displayed at Versailles that I particularly like. The first sculpture is a bust of Louis XIV during his very handsome youth. Then, I've included a painting of Louis XIV from later in life (note that even though he's no longer young, he positions himself in such a way that you can see his shapely legs--he was very proud of his legs and danced when he was a young man). The second sculpture is a bust of Marie Antoinette.

Tomorrow: the Montparnasse cemetary and a philosophical discussion at "Les Deux Magots"!

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Iffy" Weather and Program Modifications

Since the arrival of the students last Thursday, the weather here has been partly to mostly cloudy with showers. This morning, it was really raining! We had planned mostly an outdoor day, but modified the agenda to include mostly indoor activities.

We started the day at the Pantheon, the monument and tomb to the great heroes of France--the great 18th-century philosophes Voltaire and Rousseau (whose tombs are located there) are obvious examples. The Pantheon also houses the tombs of Marie and Pierre Curie (great scientists) and writers (Emile Zola, who we have studied in the course, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas), Jean Moulin (a hero of the French Resistance), and important politicians (such as JeanJaurès and Jean Monnet). I'm including, at right, a photo of Jean Moulin, which is part of the exhibit on the Resistance at the Musée de l'Armée (a museum that we visited yesterday). Moulin was quite a dashing figure (very handsome) and the story of his heroic refusal to break under torture by the Nazis is legendary.

Some of these names are more known to Americans than others; I think our students will have a lasting memory of Emile Zola, since we have "run into him" at the Orsay, in the Montmartre cemetary and now again at the Pantheon!

Afterwards, we spent about 45 minutes at the Orangerie viewing the huge canvasses of Monet's Les Nymphéas--beautiful impressionist paintings of Monet's Japanese garden at Giverny (we'll see it in person in a couple of days).

Lunch today was quick street food--many of us had falafel pitas at L'As du Falafel (the best falafel in the world), whose bustling take-out window is located on the Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish quarter. Delicious.

Finally, we visited the Musée Nationale d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme (the National Museum of Jewish Art and History) which houses a wonderful collection of European Jewish cultural and religious artifacts.

Dinner was Chinese food at a restaurant that Dr. King and I particularly like, Fong Lai, just around the corner from our hotel on the Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud--we highly recommend!

In sum, another fun and intellectually stimulating day with great examples of the wonderful international foods available in Paris!

House Museums

I have always been a great lover of house museums. I have visited the homes of 10 or 15 U.S. presidents . I loved seeing James Buchanan's stately mansion (he was the 15th president of the United States, for those of you who were wondering), Eisenhower's perfectly typical suburban-like home in Gettysburg and Teddy Roosevelt's place in Oyster Bay, which is adorned--if that is the right word--with the heads of dead animals. Visiting house museums I learned that Mark Twain was neighbors with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick in basically a one-room cabin. I think walking through a person's house connects you to historical characters in unique ways. You can imagine Twain chatting with Stowe in the back yard.

But there are house museums with the emphasis on the house and then there are house museums with the emphasis on the museum. In Paris, it is mainly the former. This trip Dr. Nell and I visited Alexander Dumas' house (he wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo) and the students visited the Rodin Museum in the Hotel Biron, which Rodin used as a workshop starting in 1908. In Dumas' case, the house generally holds artifacts about his life but none of the furnishings or decoration from the time he occupied the house. (There is a writing table in the mock-castle based on The Count of Monte Cristo that he used as his space to write)

Rodin's sculptures (and some paintings) are on display at the Rodin Museum including the ones everybody knows like The Kiss, The Gates of Hell (my favorite) and The Thinker. For some reason, when I saw The Thinker this time, all I could think about was the early 1960s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in which The Thinker was a touchstone statue on his college campus. The best character in that show, of course, was Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik cum airhead.

Don't misunderstand me. I learned a lot at both houses. Dumas was half-black. Rodin was educated by the Christian Brother and Rainier Maria Rilke served as his secretary. And Rodin suffered some serious set back in his career. He was refused admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Art and when he was commissioned to create a monument for Victor Hugo to be displayed at the Pantheon, the work was rejected by the Society for the People of Letters for lacking clarity and being vague. And he suffered some harsh criticism. One critic opined that his statute of the author Balzac pioneered a new way to portray the human body, a way in which a person's brains are outside the head. (The Society of the People of Letters apparently was a glutton for punishment. It had commissioned this statute as well. In the case of the Balzac piece, Monet, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec sprung to Rodin's defense. Finally, Rodin worked on The Gates of Hell for nearly 40 years.

Later in the week we will visit the "mother" of house museums, the palace at Versailles, and Claude Monet's home. Despite its opulence, I find it hard to imagine myself into the palace. At Monet's house (which also displays his work but still has some of his original furniture), I can feel him as a living breathing person. For me, that is what a house museum should do.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Napoleon, Military History and Rodin

We had another full day today! We scheduled a little later start (we left the hotel after10 a.m.) and got to Napoleon's tomb just before 11.

After a few introductory remarks, we spent about half an hour in Napoleon's tomb. We asked the students to look in particular at the way Napoleon is depicted (a question we had also asked at the Louvre). We then went just next door and visited the sections in the Musée de l'Armée (the Army Museum) that are devoted to the periods of the Franco-Prussian War, World Wars I and II.

After lunch, we all went to the Rodin Museum, which is very near Napoleon's Tomb and the Army Museum. The Rodin Museum is one of my favorite spots in Paris--not only are Rodin's masterpieces displayed beautifully in the gardens, but also there are lovely views of the baroque Dome Church where Napoleon's tomb is located as well as the Eiffel Tower.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Musée d'Orsay and Arc de Triomphe

A few showers aside, the weather is cool and pleasant. Today we all went to the Musée d'Orsay--an annual highlight of the course. Impressionist art and the culture of the late nineteenth century are featured in the first unit of the course; we are in particular interested in how art criticism shaped the artistic currents. We asked the students to view and study several art works that we had previously studied in our readings. Sadly, two of them, Manet's "Olympia" and the "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" have been removed from the collection and placed in a special exhibit on Manet's relationship to the modern. We didn't get the tickets to the special exhibition, so we didn't get to see these paintings!

We ask our graduate students to prepare and deliver a short presentation to the undergrads on a couple of extra books (books that the undergrads don't read). Today we had the first of these presentations--on Emile Zola's novel The Masterpiece. This novel's hero is based on the impressionist painter, Cézanne. Maureen McCann and Shannon Harkins did a great job in presenting the novel to the undergrads!

We also went to the Champs-Elysées and climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which presented many photo ops (and I'm including a sample in today's blog).

Finally, we had a great Italian dinner at a little restaurant around the corner from our hotel.

Tomorrow--Napoleon's tomb, the Museum of the Army and the Rodin Museum!

Unmanageable Museums

Dr. Nell and I will blog separately this year. Dr. Nell is going to be responsible for sending what I call "post cards from home." I will try to reflect a little bit and give some additional insight on each site we see, it part to give students in my Travel Reporting classes models of different kinds of travel reporting. So bear with me, and if all you want to do is see what we are doing, look for Dr. Nell's posts.

So here goes . When we promote this class during the school year, we promise the students that they will see all the A sites of Paris as well as many sites off the beaten track (like the Martyrium, where the founding Jesuits first promise to work with each other after they were all ordained, and which connects our students to nearly 500 years of Jesuit education). So we visit the Notre Dame on the day the students arrive. The second day we go to the Louvre and the the third day (today) we head to the Musee d' Orsay, the museum with works of the Impressionists (one of the foci of the course) and modern French art.

The Louvre is basically impossible to negotiate. Even with an audio guide it is very difficult to find your away around. To compensate, we give the students certain specific works to look for, some related to the class and some because they are the "it" pieces in the Louvre--The Mona Lisa, The Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo. Of all the thousands of pieces of art in the Louvre, those are the three that everybody must see. That is reductionism in the extreme.

For those of you who have not been there, the three large buildings joined in a U shape that make up the Louvre are cut up into hundreds of little rooms, each generally with a specific collection Technically you can move from wing to wing but it isn't easy. Wondering around, you can go directly from a collection of artifacts from Mesopotamia to 18th century French Sculpture. Nineteenth century French paintings are not next to 18th century French paintings and even when I look at a map and am not sure how to get from one section to the other. I once took a audio tour and still got lost. Often it is just easier to exit from one wing, cross the central lobby--which is heated up by being directly under the I.M Pei pyramid--and entering another lobby.

So it seems to me that you basically have two choices, wander around in this huge jumble of art and artifacts or build a sense of purpose that enables you to look at specific works and ignore others. You have to reduce the Louvre into something manageable. But even then, you are bound to get lost.

The Orsay is smaller than the Louvre and completely different in its architectural look. But it too is divided into small rooms. But while I find a visit to the Louvre wearying, I find the Orsay deeply affecting, and it is not just because of the works themselves,though that plays a role in it. The Louvre, for me, is a "must do" site. While the same sense of obligation exists for the Orsay (it is an A site afterall) the payoff seems more meaningful.

As for the students, the visits to both museums wears them out. But as they follow the direction given to them, they understand that they have taken steps forward.