Showing posts with label Latin Quarter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Latin Quarter. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chain-saw attack of the Sun King's elephant

If this story had emerged in the press next Monday, I would have concluded immediately that it's an April Fool's Day tale. We learned this morning that an unfortunate animal in Paris was incapable of resisting the attack of a maniac armed with a chain-saw. In any case, the beast in question—an elephant that been given to Louis XIV in 1668 by the king of Portugal—had been dead for ages, and was residing in peace (up until last night) in the natural science museum in the Latin Quarter.

The 20-year-old attacker, who had succeeded in crudely hacking off the elephant's left tusk, was captured in a nearby street by police who had been alerted by the unfamiliar morning sounds of a chain-saw inside a museum. We must of course presume that the alleged chain-saw assailant is innocent, at least up until a law court were to condemn him. Whatever the precise description of the crime with which he'll be charged, the fellow will be better off than if he'd been charged by the living beast itself, back in the days of the Sun King... who would have promptly had the culprit drawn and quartered for daring to touch the tusks of the royal elephant.

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.