It is my first time in the city. We have seminars every morning, in a tiny attic classroom in the heart of Montparnasse. Usually we are taken to cafés for lunch, discuss the day's ideas over a three-course meal, and then embark on a field trip for the rest of the afternoon. Every morning I wake up, in a little room in the historic Foyer International des Etudients, and wonder what it will feel like to be a student of architecture, or philosophy, or impressionist art. We cross academic disciplines with easy, measured strides, using the city as a theme against these sweeping variations. Each evening we take laptops and wine up to the terrace to watch the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower and finish our assignments. I learn the city metro map. I start dreaming in French.
As part of my scholarship agreement, I write. These postcard-journals are based on extracts from those diaries.
Day 1 // History // "France's changing elites in an age of Revolution" // The Concierge
Day 2 // Philosophy // "A Right to Revolution?" // The Pantheon
A morning with good discussion and space for ideas. Lunch very snapchat-able. Great salmon and cheery waiters. Pantheon vast and beautiful, quiet, a living space - even in the crypt. Said hello briefly to Zola, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo, and Curie. Lots of space down there for more: optimistic. A building which has seen lots of lives: church, warehouse, gravesite, tourist attraction. Paris is a malleable city. Wandered with the girls through the student quarter; bought crepes, a book, some time to get lost and get found again. Post from America waiting for me at reception back at le foyer. Mon copain habite en California, and he sent me a novel I meant to buy last time I was there. Silly of me to think there would be time for reading while I was here, perhaps. Perhaps it had something to do with wanting to call this a home.
Day 3 // Literature // "Queer Paris" // Walking seminar
So interesting to see "my" seminar through the eyes of students from other disciplines. Class is an intro to Queer theory, really: I want to talk about Judith Butler, but it's not the time. Walking seminar takes us to Les Deux Magots for the obligatory selfie, then through winding streets and metro tunnels to the red light district. As seedy as expected. A good chat about who controls this area, and why, and for whose benefit. (Spoiler: not the working girls.)
A skip and a jump, and the streets a block north are full of sweet boutiques and fancy ice cream parlours. Left to our own devices, we trek up the hill to Montmartre. Narrow streets, Picasso's residence, the Sacre-Coeur. An hour looking out across the city, then down the hill and underground, and back to the Latin Quarter. Jo and I spend a long time in Shakespeare and Co., where I buy my own copy of Giovanni's Room and have it stamped by the man at the desk. Shop cat asleep on an armchair, notes to budding writers hidden under the staircase, notes left on the mirror upstairs. I add my in the upper left corner, under a slat, for next time.
Day 4 // Art // "Picasso: An Artistic Revolution" // The Picasso Museum
Really great seminar. Had an interesting conversation about the MA courses in Paris with our professor over lunch in the sunny courtyard. Lots of us interested in coming back for postgraduate study, I think - if only the funding existed. I have my heart set on the USA for grad school, but the English department's interdisciplinary MA in the Contemporary, which is part-taught here at Reid Hall, is on my shortlist. Like San Francisco, I feel foreign but at home here. Plus: no jet lag.
A short metro ride and a long walk through beautiful medieval streets. Picasso museum stark and modern - Prof Peter dislikes this, but I don't. Really great work, complimented by the morning's lecture. Everyone's faces end up looking a bit strange. A wander through the 4th Arrondissement: we all have coffees in a corner café and split up to follow our own paths through the streets. Charlie Hebdo graffiti in the Jewish quarter. No nerves, no police. Perhaps we will see more of that next week. We walk ourselves home. I know the layout of this city better than most of central London.
Day 5 // Politics // "Immigration in Paris" // The Immigration Museum
Days 6 & 7 // Weekend
I walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg to the Arc de Triomphe, and then spend the whole day strolling down the Champs-Élysées and through the Jardin des Tuileries to the Louvre, over the Seine and down the left bank to the islands, and then home. I visit an exhibition on Germaine Krull at the Jeu de Paume, and sit for a long time with espressos outside cafés in the 4th arrondissement. Light and awe in Sainte-Chappelle. Dropping pennies at Point Zéro. Quiet evenings, working in the bibliothèque at sundown.
Day 8 // History // "Révolution nationale: Pétain, Vichy, and the Occupation" // Mémorial de la Shoah
Wrote double my normal amount in today's seminar; it turns out I really knew next to nothing about the intricacies of the Vichy government or the political and cultural right-leaning mood of France in the early 1900s. When we have been exploring the Jewish quarter previously, we have seen memorials to individuals and resistance fighters on the walls of buildings, and these have often mentioned the role of the Vichy regime: it was interesting to put the final pieces together today and make sense of it all. Falafal was great, and we enjoyed the hidden garden too - the boys and I went back there on our break and snoozed.
Very moved by the Memorial de la Shoah, and in particular the granite star underneath the street-level memorial. The room containing boxes of index cards which held the details of French Jews was especially powerful. The punctum for me was the handwritten note attached to one card, written in German on paper ripped from a square-lined notepad. There was definitely a sense that these were documents which had not been touched since the end of the war, and which held a lot of fear and shame. The Memorial is probably the best place for them.
- Also, it occurred to me that this sort of visual record would not exist, if the same thing were to happen today: all our records are kept electronically on computers. This is a shame (potentially dangerous?), as it was the visuality which was so striking here - the number of records and the handwriting.
I found some Rosas in the photographs of the deported at the end of the exhibition. Lots of security outside - reminders of January. Was the main courtyard once open to the public, without the gates and airport style security? Did they employ the man dressed in the funeral suit to welcome prospective guests, because the soldiers are intimidating?
Got lost along the Seine with Charlotte on the way home and stumbled on the Rue des Deux-Ponts. There was testimony in the exhibition from the survivors of a family who lived right here and were deported to Auschwitz. Odd to stand there now and realise how little time has passed.
Day 9 // Architecture // "The Urban Renewal of Paris" // Walking tour of Haussman's city
Fantastic seminar this morning: revealed an aspect of the city (this city? many cities?) which I had barely taken into consideration before. Lots of food for thought re: the way space impacts community, behaviour, revolt… Surprised - unfortunately - at the insidious undertones of Haussmann's "renewal" (it wasn't really for the benefit of the common plebs, after all…) After walking around Paris for a week and a half, I'd failed to notice what was right under my nose: evidence of the way the state controls space. Enjoyed telling family back home all about the things we'd learnt this evening too - though it was apparent that the best way to understand the subject is to experience the space. Our walking seminar this afternoon was, I guess then, the best choice for our excursion today.
After the tour we did some exploring ourselves: Bellevue felt rough compared to the cité and its tourist(/Haussmann!) finery, but truly this was "real" Paris, much closer to the city Napoleon wanted to do away with. It's the people who own the streets here - just look at the graffiti. Plus, hipster coffee shops with great Nutella muffins, endless shelves of books to browse, and comfy chairs. Not the place to plan revolutions, perhaps, but good for a place to think over interesting seminars.
Day 11 // Art // "French Revolution: creation and destruction" // The Louvre
Glass, stone, and sky. Hidden masterpieces. Selfie sticks at the Mona Lisa. (No one getting it quite right.)
Day 11 // Art // "Russian Revolution: its impact on art" // Centre Pompidou
Translating Le Monde before lunch. Escalator trails. Colour and Kandinsky. The view from the top. Quiet moments in a hidden chapel on the way home.
Day 12 // Art // "Revolutions and Reflections in the 19th Century" // Musée d'Orsay
Trains and timetables made art and light. Umbrellas in summer. One last wonder. Le fin.