Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Walk 7: Marais Walk 1

The institute building, where we have classes, is in the Marais, so I'm there virtually every weekday but had no idea what it had to offer. Turns out it's got a lot.

This is a remnant of L'Enceinte, the Philippe Auguste Wall, begun around 1200 to make Paris an impregnable fortress.* Its completion succeeded in giving Paris the time and security necessary to build itself up a little throughout the coming century--up 'til then it hadn't been much to look at. The text for my French Civ. class dealt quite a bit with Philippe Auguste--dude had some serious gumption. Aged nine and standing in front of the castle of England's Henry II, Philippe Auguste is reported to have remarked: "I only wish this pile of stones could be silver, gold, or diamonds...the more precious the materials of this castle, the greater pleasure I will have in possessing it when it falls into my hands." Age nine.

*Okay, I admit it, I made a bit of a pun. I couldn't resist. Enceinte translates as both outer wall and pregnant. Hence, it's funny, you see, that I called the wall (l'enceinte) impregnable.

We had to go maybe two blocks to find the next stop on our walk: L'Eglise Saint-Paul Saint-Louis. It's totally unassuming from the outside (kindly note how cute Ariel and Hanna look with their umbrellas):

And typically, Parisian-ly beautiful on the inside.

On to the Place des Vosges, where the only thing we cared to see was Victor Hugo's house. I love Les Miserables, and, I suppose, thought that being in the author's house would be a memorable experience. In all reality it was (surprise) just a house. One, granted, full of Victor Hugo's stuff, but just a house nevertheless. The most interesting thing in it was this group of French schoolchildren.

There are a lot of aspects of the French educational system with which I disagree. Don't get me started. But I love the emphasis they place on their own country's history, including their literary history. It is extremely common, as I visit historical site after historical site for these walks, to see groups of school kids, from la maternelle to les lycées, on field trips around the city. You can't turn a corner in the Louvre without running into a group of chatty fourth graders. The average middle-schooler here has a fairly firm grasp on everyone from Flaubert to Napoleon to DeGaulle, from the Franco-Prussian War to the student riots of '68. They cultivate in their students a sense of attachment to history that you just don't see in the States, and I think it serves to elevate the level of respect and appreciation they have for their country. The United States has a noble history, a heritage of which we can be proud, and I am deeply saddened at the general apathy and even disdain its citizens express for their own nation. Here, we could take a page from France's book.

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