Sunday, February 3, 2013

X marks this Latin Quarter spot

This remarkable color photo of a spot in the Latin Quarter (Paris)—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—was taken almost a century ago, in 1914:

Click to enlarge

The street names evoke famous edifices. The Ecole Polytechnique, founded just after the French Revolution, has always been a temple of scientific research and education.

The entry into the Polytechnique is still much the same as in this old monochrome photo:

The school itself has now been relocated in Palaiseau, on the edge of Paris, and the old buildings have been taken over by the French Ministry of Research.

The Montagne-Saint-Geneviève is a hill in the Latin Quarter that takes its name from the primeval patron saint of Paris, Geneviève [423-512], who is said to have saved the city from being overrun by the barbarian Huns of Attila. In her later years, Geneviève used to climb up a track (itinerary of today's rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève) in order to pray in an abbey founded on top of the hill by Clovis [466-511], the first Christian king of France, and his queen Clotilde.

Saint Geneviève, King Clovis and Queen Clotilde.

Today, the only remnant of the original monastery that still exists is a splendid white stone edifice, referred to as the Clovis Tower, in the grounds of a nearby school.

The school in question is the lovely and prestigious Lycée Henri IV, where I spent three of my earliest years in Paris (from 1963 to 1965) working as an assistant teacher of English.

That marvelous period of my life in the heart of Paris (while residing at the Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement) marked my initiation into the French language, culture and traditions... and it was no coincidence that the 1965 semester culminated in my marriage to a French girl from Brittany, Christine, and my decision to consider France as my adoptive land.

Let me return to the opening image of this blog post. The publication of that photo was accompanied by a recent image of the same spot, which hasn't changed a lot, visually, over the last hundred years:

Google Maps provided me with another view of this intersection, including a glimpse of the start of the block a little lower down in the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève:

In the company of staff from the Lycée Henri IV (including my friend François Leonelli, now an honorary French prefect and—according to recent news—vice-president of Unicef France), the corner café with a red-brick façade was a regular haunt during those carefree days in the Latin Quarter.

The name, Les Pipos, was an old-fashioned term for students of the nearby Ecole Polytechnique... more commonly referred to by means of a single capital letter: X. I should explain that many of my students at the Lycée Henri IV were in fact "preparing" (as they say in French educational jargon) their possibly-forthcoming entry into the great X establishment.

I like to think that X marks this Latin Quarter spot—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—that symbolizes a far-reaching change in my existence.


  1. Early Grafton - Early Paris

    William ex-Grafton NSW, a programme played on ABC TV, 4/2/2013 in Australia may interest you.

    Sam Cullen, Australian philanthropist at a London auction, bought for $100,000 a rare collection of Lindt photographs taken in a Grafton studio 1873. They are of the Clarence Valley Aboriginal Community from Swan Creek nearby? posed uniquely in a western studio setting. This purchase set off a mystery search for answers as to who they were and today's ancestors.

    Aborigines displaying marked difference in body shape, healthier demeanour but large sad eyes, on the brink of displacement from the old ways. Don't know if you can access from France this link posted here but programme 'Australian Story' is one half hour with Gallery of photos. Much was filmed and discussed in Grafton over several recent years.

    Sam Cullen, retired, was relentless in
    pursuit of Grafton's haunting history and has donated this historical find. Photographic history of this nature is hard to come by in this country.

    Titled 'The Light of Day' or view on 'iview' ABC online.

    Enjoyed the Paris architecture you posted.

  2. Remey: Readers discovering your interesting comment (which I intend to handle more fully in a forthcoming blog post) would not normally know that you and I have already met up recently through e-mails in a quite different domain, far removed from Grafton, where we talked about the great Mediterranean writer Lawrence Durrell and Provence. Now, I must be careful in talking to you, because an anonymous reader of my allusions to Durrell and his daughter considered recently that my words express a "chauvinistic, narrow-minded attempt to clutch, by over-stretched association, at the coattails of those responsible for making art". I don't know you well enough, dear Remey, to judge whether or not you belong to the distinguished Soviet-style elite of those responsible for making art. So, I wouldn't like to suggest that I seize chauvinistically upon your information concerning my birthplace of Grafton as an over-stretched association providing me with a pretext to clutch at your coattails (if indeed you happen to wear such things). I might say, more seriously, that I found it strange that certain people were frankly disturbed when I did not rush to join them in condemning Lawrence Durrell as an incestuous molester. I think such people are either sick or stupid.

  3. William: The ABC "Light of day", Australian Story is my single information source. Photos of a Grafton aboriginal history from Lindt's studio record were unique for 1873. Please reveal all on your blog, offering insider details of previous Grafton notoriety, glossed over by the ABC or on Sam Cullen's hidden motivation or Lindt's high-handed treatment. Whatever the sad or glad news, you have a lived-in opinion. Go to it.

    It's Australian IRONY that is so baffling, frustrating and provoking to others. Let's have much more of it. Soviet-style elite and pretentious coattail wearing!! A neighbour, fell about hugging her cat hysterically as an opinion of such over-stretched imaginative description of me. William please oblige us with your Grafton based view of this programme. Australia awaits, thanks you.

    The Durrell discussion is now found on your blog and with your permission I just might enter a very ordinary opinion or two coming up shortly. Many people do seem to confuse Durrell's writing with a projection of their own dark shadow onto his humanity which is a great pity. Cheers.