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!