Month: May 2014

City of love graffiti

So, one of the enduring myths about Paris is that it is a – no, make that the , city of love. I had to take a picture of this piece of graffiti, a declaration of love, a literal writing on the wall. The graffiti basically is from someone too afraid to reveal his/her true feelings, and feels unable to ever dare say it.. A love that dares not say it loves.

Paris and Reckoning

It’s a moment of reckoning again. Or not. The current furore surrounding the French  political ‘earthquake’  –  brought about by significant far-right party gains in recently held European elections –  seems to be the cusp of one of many moments of ‘reckoning’ that have shaped French political life and Parisian history. Indeed, the theme of ‘reckoning’ appears at many key turning points in the dynamic trajectory of French (and Parisian) history. There are a few, striking images that come to mind in reflecting upon the theme of ‘reckoning’ in French political life: Place de la Bastille It is a poignant monument  within the city that signifies this theme of ‘reckoning’ in Parisian history and French political life. It symbolizes not only a moment of reckoning for the old order but also one  of redemption. It is as much a symbol of the Parisian bourgeoisie’s determination to dismantle a system that was no longer supportable  as it is a symbol of other key themes (progress, human flourishing, innovation). Marie Antoinette This image of Marie Antoinette on her knees …

Imagining Central Paris of the Middle Ages: A comment on bells and the medieval soundscape

If only one could time travel – the sensory experience of Paris of the middle ages would be interesting to have, but as a 21st century being. This little advertisement for a DVD tour through Paris of the middle ages had to serve as the next best thing to a time machine, it offers a useful tool to begin to imagine how Paris could have been experienced, through the senses, at the time. In terms of trying to determine the sounds of the time, it seems especially important to be attentive to the church bells of Notre Dame that was one of the more key, distinguishing landmarks – if this imagined representation is anything to go by; In an era where there was no recorded sound,  the bells offered a consistent sound effect to scenes of daily city life: a  sound of a predictable quality and tenor. This predictable sound stands in strong contrast to our world where several programmed sounds form part of our city soundscapes. In addition to the programmed sounds that we may carry with us …

The Basilica of Sacré Coeur as dialectic

The Basilica of the Sacré Coeur On Montmartre is a Parisian landmark that has long inspired debate and divided opinion – both on superficial grounds (is it hideous or comely?) to more profound discussions about its meaning. The site of the Basilica draws linkages to pre-Christian religious practice, later Christian martyrs and modern France trying to grapple with church/state relations. The Basilica itself  dates back to the late 19th Century. It emerged out of yet another interesting period in Parisian and French history. The early 1870s were a moment of more soul searching for the city and France: A third republic had been declared on the back of discontent with the finer details of democracy at the time. The performance of France against the Prussians on the battle field was lackluster and seen as divine punishment for France’s sins by Paris’s leading cleric at the time. According to the archbishop, France had committed too many sins against the church and as such, had lost in battle as divine retribution.   He also added that the rise …

Music and (renaissance) History – La Salle de Bal, Château de Fontainebleau

The palace of Fontainebleau  is not quite in Paris, but it is a great place to take a quick and dirty lesson in French history. It bears the footprints of epochs from the middle ages to the mid 19th century. A few of the pre-visit readings also seemed to say that the history covers at least 900 years, one of the large coffee table books in the Château’s bookshop simply rounds off these numbers and s talks about the 1,000 years of history of the Palace. Whatever the case,  it is clear, there is a lot to take in. This is a great thing – one can increase their history literacy pretty quickly. But, it can also be overwhelming. The Chateau is rich in detail and demands attention to details from several time periods, a constant agility to jump through time in just one visit.  It is a rich concentration of history and demands several revisits.  This blogger will  certainly rerun. Many times, starting off with an exploration of its many gardens that could not be …

A History of Paris through Plants

Who needs museums to read history? Just take a walk through a forest. Well, this is a dramatic  and silly proposition that  does not  deserve response and that would lead to a slow spiritual death for this blogger if it were affirmative. Yet, there is something to be said for observing the oldest inhabitants of Paris: its plant life.  While walking through the Bois de Vincennes, a former royal hunting ground,  I was reminded of an article I came across in the New Yorker some months ago. The article basically spoke to the underrated intelligence and endurance of plant life. How do these thoughts join up, you say?  I do not know. But I would venture to say that to understand the history of the city, it may be interesting to work through some natural history of Paris textbooks.  The resilience of plant life may offer within it clues to some of the city’s history and key turning points, who knows? It struck me during a sublime and beautiful walk through Vincennes that these former …

Basilique St. Denis, a ‘visual’ to the past

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/95643462″>Basilique Saint Denis, Paris</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user4635806″>George</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> The Basilica of St. Denis fell outside of Paris of its day but was absolutely central to its political and cultural life. Today it is right on the city’s margins. A visit to St. Denis today may entail snaking through a labyrinthine market, stumbling across two euro dolls,  kitschy iPhone covers and the occasional discount steak or chicken. The symphony of languages and dialects is at once energizing and disorienting –  accents of French native to West Africa, arabic spoken with distinct north African cadence, homemade French, peppered with popular phrases, anglicisms and argot meld into the soundscape.  Eurozone crisis country  languages also strengthen the texture of the neighborhood’s sound –  Spanish and Portuguese hold their own along the rest. It is a vibrant neighborhood.  A marginal urban zone. A world of difference from its past. Political Power in France of today  lies far from  basilica. The  religious symbols  of power no longer hold the same significance. Indeed, the republics that succeeded the demise of monarchy  reshaped  significance …