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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Welcome 2011 Paris Students!

We've all arrived in Paris, France, for the Paris Study Course: Communication and Culture in Contemporary and Modern France! Students arrived yesterday and, despite just a few glitches, we picked up the students at the airport (two students had already arrived, so they met us at the hotel). After a pretty grueling day of travel and arrival, everyone got a good night sleep and we started bright and early today.

Highlights of our activities included: three hours in the Louvre, contemplating works that are important to the subject matter in the course (by artists such as Delacroix, David and Gros). Oh, and we saw the Mona Lisa, too! We went up to the Montmartre and visited Emile Zola's first tomb (hint: he has a second tomb that we will visit later) and the Martyrium, the chapel where St. Ignatius of Loyola and his first companions made their first vows. We also spent a few minutes in Sacré Coeur and toured the wonderful Montmartre district. Finally, we had dinner at a restaurant in Montmartre. Tomorrow, the Musée d'Orsay and more paintings that we are studying in our course!