Sunday, February 7, 2010

Le Marais

This morning, I had a "Somewhere in Time" moment. I was looking through my purse, and I came across a $20 bill. Luckily, traveling to Europe isn't exactly the same as what Christopher Reeve did in that movie, so seeing the American money didn't destroy the French illusion in my mind. That would have been disappointing - to have to go back before seeing the Jewish/gay quarter!

This is a picture of the little kids learning how to ice skate (see the next paragraph)

So, Le Marais. It is one of the oldest areas in Paris. Michel was so knowledgeable that I feel as though it's my duty to share everything he said with whoever reads this blog. We started at La Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, where there’s an ice skating rink. Alexandra and I watched the adorable little kids skating around, trying to touch their instructor, who ended up saying “Me touchez, ne me poussez pas!” (Touch me, don’t push me!) Then, Michel showed up, wasn't the slightest bit surprised at seeing Alexandra (because she had apparently told him already that we knew each other!), and started the tour. Michel started by telling us that the whole area was created when Paris started to expand beyond the two islands in the middle of the Seine. The kings started building huge castles on the banks of the river (like the Louvre and the castle at this place). But, all the land was swampy (the French word for swamp is “marais”) so they took sand and stone to dry the land up so they could build. This type of stone was called “grève” and when the workers would refuse to carry any more, they would “faire la grève” or go on strike. So, the area was originally called La Place de Grève, which some may recognize as the famous spot in Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo where Esméralda was hanged. Quasimodo and Frollo watched from Notre-Dame, which is right near there, and when Frollo told Quasimodo that he had caught the gypsy girl, Quasimodo pushed him off the top of the tower. Anyway, La Place de Grève was also where nobles were guillotined during the French Revolution (1789). So, that’s why they built the ice skating rink – the kids wear little blades on their feet. After Michel told us that, I definitely didn’t want to ice skate anymore…

This is the ice skating rink again, and the pretty building behind it.
These are houses from the Middle Ages.

Our trip through Le Marais was in chronological order. We started by walking by buildings from the Middle Ages (they’re easy to recognize because they’re not perfectly straight, have a lot of wooden supports on the outside, and are narrow), then moved on to Renaissance houses (which have paved entryways so the horse hooves could announce visitors and then a private outdoor area with geometrically perfect gardens in the spirit of Descartes!), then onto slightly later times with Louis XIII’s square (La Place Royale – renamed La Place des Vosges due to the Revolution) and then, finally, Le Marais.

This is the house from the Renaissance - note the "Cartesian" garden

I forgot to mention the Great Wall of Paris. They don't really call it that, but I think that name captures the essential idea. One of the kings during the Middle Ages had to leave to go on a crusade, and was afraid that Paris might be attacked during his absence. So, he built a wall around the city. The important thing about this wall is that it's not around the islands - it's actually on the banks. So, it was the first time someone thought of Paris as expanding beyond the river. 

The wall that was supposed to protect Paris. 

Le Marais is filled with Jews and gays, but I didn’t see any gays (then again, they aren’t always as obvious as the Jews). They don’t have signs on their buildings proclaiming that they’re gay, whereas the Jews have Hebrew signs everywhere. It was a great area, though. Everything was open on a Sunday, including a place where Alexandra and I got some great falafel (l’As de Falafel or The Ace of Falafel). And, we talked to Michel about the strange movie that he had Alexandra’s class watch for her class. When neither of us would give him a straight answer about how we liked the film, he admitted that, since he was supposed to tell them to see movies in theaters, if there weren’t any good movies out at the time of the class, then he was forced to tell them to see a bad one – so yes, he agreed that the movie was horrible!

The "I'm Jewish" labels were all over Le Marais.

This is enough of an entry for today. I want to go to bed now so I can get a good night’s sleep before my entrance tomorrow into the French educational system, starting with l’ENS, the hardest school here! And, after my course, I’m going to meet Justine in La Cour aux Ernests (the courtyard with the fish) for lunch. Hopefully, I’ll really feel like a French student! Then again, I’m being very French right now – I’m going to bed before the Superbowl even starts. 

1 comment:

  1. What a great tour you had. I loved the picture of the beautiful house that is set way back - it would be a wonderful summer house for your Dad. Can't wait to hear how your first French class goes. The Colts lost the Superbowl - you probably already heard. So I am sure that the Champlins are sad today.