A place about love, and light

This was written for a Thursday, but it is about the Thursday from two weeks ago. That’s the way of it around here for a bit as we go over our amazing travels. So cast your mind back two weeks …

Here’s one more hint about where we were. If you’re still trying to work it out, stay on this picture while your mind wanders over the globe. Soon below this photo it will be pretty apparent where we were.

So you’re ready, then?


Got your answer?

We’re here.

Paris, that is. France, not the one in Tennessee or Texas. (Though Paris, Tennessee is lovely this time of year…)

This is objectively better, however. And, no, I was in no danger on Pl. Charles de Gaulle taking the emptiest photograph possible.

The Avenue de la Grand Armee is in the background, and the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is behind me, and that’s probably as empty as I’ll ever see the road surrounding the Arc. More than our last visit, in 2015, when we spent a day in Paris. I wrote about that in three parts, and you can see those photos here. ( Part One, Part Two and Part Three.)

We’d taken students on an international trip to London and points beyond that year, and one of the points was Paris for the better part of a day. In doing that we walked 10 miles that day. We only covered 6.6 miles by foot on the day we’re talking about here, and that’s because we did more of the subway and the hop-on/hop-off tour bus, which is a grand way to get a basic understanding of any big city. And since it was a shorter walk this time, this day will just get one post instead of three. But there’s still a lot more here, so allez, allez, allez.

Let’s look at the primary sculptures on the Arc. It’s just a beautiful monument all the way around, and I feel like you could stare at it for days and constantly learn new things from it.

This is Le Triomphe de 1810, by the neoclassical sculptor Jean-Pierre Cortot. This sculpture features Napoleon Bonaparte, crowned by the goddess of Victory and celebrates the Treaty of Schönbrunn.

The Arc de Triomphe was intended to honor the victory of Bonaparte’s army at Austerlitz, before becoming a monument to all of his achievements and, today, I can show you a nice shot of two more of the main hauts-reliefs from the four pillars. One was obscured by some construction and rehab work. (All of Paris is perpetually being worked on, you see.)

Above these hauts-reliefs are six bas-reliefs recalling the battle of Austerlitz, the funeral of Marceau, the taking of Alexandria, the battle of Jemmapes, the passage of the pont d’Arcole and the battle of Aboukir.

This next one is Le Départ de 1792 (or La Marseillaise) by François Rude, and this is his most notable work, but if you hunt around Paris, you’ll find many of his other efforts. This famous work, though, celebrates the cause of the French First Republic during the uprising. Above the volunteers is the winged personification of Liberty. This imagery is a big rallying cry for the proud French. It has been a recruitment tool and a part of their military fund raising during World War I.

And this is La Paix de 1815, commemorating the Treaty of Paris of 1815, or the Second Treaty of Paris. See, once he escaped exile and returned to power, Bonaparte did his thing for a while again, until he had to abdicate again, and that ultimately brought about this treaty. And … well, look at some maps, and it is clear that Bonaparte is at the heart of things we see before us even now.

France lost the territorial gains of the Revolutionary armies in 1790–92, and was essentially reduced to little more than its 1790 boundaries, ordered to pay 700 million francs, and pay for an occupation army of 150,000 for five years. This got knocked down to three years. Also, it solidified Switzerland’s neutrality and excellent cough drop industry. So, while not exactly one of Bonaparte’s triumphs, he’s at the center of that, and so many other things. Antoine Étex created the peace sculpture. Opposite is another Étex piece, La Résistance de 1814, but we can’t see it here.

Also on the Arc you’ll find the names of the old French victories and generals. Beneath it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

Napoleon died in the South Atlantic, on British soil, having never seen this amazing monument. But when the French finally got his remains back almost 20 years later, and part of the state funeral he received on that cold December Tuesday in 1841 involved a horse-drawn hearse moving the body from the Arc de Triomphe to Les Invalides.

See? You learn all sorts of things on those hop-on/hop-off buses. The English narration was recorded by a young guy using the name Jean Claude. His English was very good. He taught us a lot.

From Jean Claude I learned that this is The Petit Palais, an art museum. It was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, and today it is home to the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts.

A few paragraphs ago I mentioned Les Invalides. Here it is, ordered up by Louis XIV in 1670 as a hospital and home for old and disabled soldiers. It was completed in 1676.

I mentioned Bonaparte being laid to rest there, dozens of other prominent historical figures are there, as well. And The Invalides has seen a lot of other French history, including, in 1879, when Parisian rioters went inside and took control of cannons and muskets stored in the cellars. They turned them on the Bastille during the revolution.

It continued on as a retirement home and hospital for military veterans (invalides) until the early 20th century.

Today the sprawling complex is home to the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a museum of military models, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, a 20th century research museum. The former hospital chapel is now national cathedral of the French military. The Royal Chapel is now known as the Dôme des Invalides. This is the tallest church building in Paris at 351 feet.

All that gold on the dome and on the sculptures leading up to it? That’s just under 30 pounds, Jean Claude told us. It was applied in 1989 or so and was worth something like $3.5 million dollars when the narration was recorded, which took place some time before Notre Dame burned.

I know that, because nothing of the April 2019 fire was on the recording, even though the bus goes right by it.

We’ll get a bit closer to Notre Dame this weekend, but first, enjoy the Académie Royale de Musique. The Paris Opera.

Prior to Covid, The Paris Opera was presenting about 380 performances of opera, ballet and other concerts, to a total audience of about 800,000 people a year. Given the foot traffic we saw, those numbers have surely bounced right back. Paris is once again a bustling city. Il n’y a pas de pandémie ici!

Which brings us back to that big stick pointing to the sky.

Did you know that it was an expo piece? Perhaps you’ve learned that it was supposed to have a limited lifespan? The locals weren’t especially fond of it in the early days, did you know that? Costly, ugly, potentially dangerous. (But what did they know?) The explosion of popularity around radio saved the Eiffel Tower. Score one for mass media.

I’m more and more Parisian by the day, I guess. Aside from when we were deliberately around the Eiffel Tower I didn’t even notice the Eiffel Tower.

Sorta like a good photobomb.

We went inside and up onto the Eiffel Tower. This is a steel mill.

Right now, the Eiffel Tower is undergoing a huge renovation. (All of Paris is perpetually being worked on, you see.) This, the signage says, is their most significant renovation in 40 years. The biggest part of the process includes repainting the tower. This is the 20th paint job in the tower’s history.

They scrape away the old paint, and literally slap on the new, same as any other project. (It isn’t as neat as paint jobs you’ve done around your house though. They’re painting by hand, but not for those staring from up close. They’re painting for speed. It’ll take six months.) We saw signs of all of this on our walk. We went up to the second level. These are the first steps.

That’s 704 steps, which didn’t seem like a lot before, or a lot after, but it was a fair amount during the actual walk.

It affords you lovely views, though. The photos I just showed you of the Eiffel Tower were from right over hhere.

We did not get to go to the top. It was closed. There were too many people.

It would have been fun to go up there.

The following photo is from the second floor. You can see the paint of 1961 coming through.

How do I know the year of that color? There’s a nice little graphic on the ground that shares the history of Eiffel Tower paints.

Turns out that, before they started painting it this time they asked the people of Paris what color they’d like to see on the Eiffel Tower. The answer was overwhelmingly “Pink.”

The people that do the actual deciding said “How about yellow brown, instead?”

And that’s what you’ll see, if you visit Paris, at least for the next seven years. And, then, the painters will be back to do it all again.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back, but from a different part of France. It’ll be amazing, so do stop by.

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