As the sun spills in my window, I type this to the beat of the pianist who practices across the way- this time, in concert with a young woman who is frantically chasing his tune with a cello. It’s the most beautiful scene on this magnificent day following yesterday’s Bastille Day celebrations.
Last night we returned from Versailles after a day of cycling around acre upon acre of gardens before becoming blinded by the vast amounts of gold used to decorate the gates of the palace- so opulent and extravagant, the mind boggles. The hall of mirrors and the kings chamber met our weary eyes just before 5 pm and I left with a much better understanding of why the the people overthrew the monarchy and took control of the government. Louis XV and Marie Antoinette signaled the end of the French monarchy in this country- their legacy (at least in an architectural sense), is nothing short of bold (which of course, rhymes with gold).
So much history is written on the grounds of a good revolt, and today as Dad and I schlepped around the Pantheon in all its grandeur (seemingly modest in comparison to our experiences of the day before), we were again reminded of the barbaric behaviours from a time long ago (so many years, that I always lose count and tend to mix my decades up), particularly through the huge works of Classicism that line the walls.
The Pantheon was comissioned in 1744 by Louis XV with a brief to rival Saint Peters in Rome (a bit of competition never hurts). I always like to play a visit to this overwhelming monument which pays hommage to dignaturies of the empire; major authors and figures in the fight for equality; powerful voices who gave life to democracy and civic values at the dawn of the French Revolution, as well as those who have shown courage and resistance.
In the crypt below it is a slightly more peaceful and dignified affair with names such as Scholelcher (responsible for the abolishment of slavery), Jaurès (the father of French Socialism), Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseu, Condorcet, Monge, Grégoire as well as Brossolette, Moulin and Zay – the latter three who resisted the Nazi occupier and the Vichy regime. More recently, scientists Pierre and Marie Curie were laid to rest here in honour of their discoveries on radium after also dually receiving a Nobel Prize for this incredible work.
It is always sobering to pay a visit to the ‘Plaque of the Righteous’ in the crypt, which honours those who helped Jews hide during WW2- this wall serves as a reminder that in our crashing past there has also been humble acts of kindness and relative peace. Paris is incredibly interesting like this, and another place that fills me with a similar feeling of reassurance is the Grand Musquée located in the 5th Arondossiment – it too has played a recent role in protecting the vulnerable throughout the Second World War (I wrote about this in an earlier blog post titled, ‘La Femme Parisienne’ January, 2017).
This post will be shorter than normal as I have an important date with my travel companion tonight and I need to go and ready myself out of my exploring gear and into something more decent, but I will leave you with an image of Dad and I belting up to the Somme again tomorrow for a day trip (with our cousin Saskia Holloway). He, in a brand new pair of snazzy blue braces (replacing his yellow ones which have served him well on our travels) and me at the helm of a Fiat 500.
As I finish, the pianist hits a rapid, frenzied crescendo and his cello playing friend has disappeared off the scene- hopefully for a well earned Aperol Spritz. I know that’s where my mind is currently located.
Pictured: Marianne- the national symbol of the French Republic, a personification of liberty and reason and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. Today as we visited Place de Republique she stood tall under a blue sky, jet-stream included.