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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Parisian Splendour: Part Trois

Sunday morning I woke up early again to arrive at the Louvre before opening hours (9:00). I knew from the line I had seen the previous day that it would get crowded fast. I took the metro to the museum and entered through the carousel, the underground entrance which also includes a shopping center. Arriving early was great as I got in without having to stand in line. The museum is massive, so I went to the most famous wing first, knowing it would fill up fast. One of the first works I came across was the Nike of Samothrace:
This Greek statue was sculpted sometime around 190 BC and originally stood in a theatre. It depicts Nike, the winged goddess of victory and thus likely symbolized some military victory. After this, I walked through a great hall of paintings. These included Renaissance works by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and the strange paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo in which fruit, flowers, and twigs form portraits. Off of this hall was an open room which contained one of the museums most famous possessions, da Vinci's 1506 painting, Mona Lisa. This was quite impressive to see in person and a throng of people already gathered around the portrait which was roped off so that people could not get within five feet of it, and was behind several layers of glass.

I then walked to the basement of the museum which serves as a smaller museum of the history of the Louvre as a palace. Here, the original medieval foundations are visible:
and this model of the original palace was on display:
Back upstairs I went to the hall of Greek antiquities and saw another of the museum's famous pieces, the Venus de Milo:
The sculpture is Greek and originates from around 130-100BC. The arms of the statue have never been found. It was discovered on the island of Milos and possibly depicts the Greek goddess Aphrodite (called Venus by the Romans).

I walked through more of the gallery and saw a small section of Spanish art which included paintings by El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya. I also saw some paintings by the Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt. One of my favorite rooms was the collection of French Romantic paintings by Eugène Delacroix, Jacques-Louis David, and Théodore Géricault. These included David's The Coronation of Napoleon, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (a patriotic depiction of the feminine spirit of France, Marianne, leading Parisians in the 'July Revolution' of 1830), and Géricault's Raft of the Medusa.

From one of the upper floors I took this picture of the courtyard and glass pyramid in front of the museum:

Underneath this great pyramid in the entrance/exit to the museum is this inverted pyramid:

I left the Louvre and met up with Melissa and Nicolas in the district known as Le Marais. We met near the Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum of Paris which has an interesting, industrial exterior. (In the second picture, see if you can find a particularly French clown):
The museum was built in the 1970s. Outside is the Stravinsky Fountain by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle, although in this picture, the water is not flowing:

We went inside the Centre which also features a large public library. We walked through this for a while, past several people hunched in front of video screens wathing television streamed from America, England, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Hundreds of people sat at desks studying in the large, spacious floors of the library. It featured an enormous English-language section which included several rare American books.

Outside the museum/library, stood this typically Parisian apartment complex:
We then walked to the Jewish district of the city, located within Le Marais. This was an old disctrict with narrow streets and high buildings. Several traditional Jewish restaurants lined the streets. Sundays are particularly lively in this district as things that are closed elsewhere in the city are open there (Saturday is the Sabbath in the Jewish religion and thus the businesses in the area are closed on that day). We came across a school which had this plaque beside its door:
It reads roughly: "To the memory of the little children of this elementary school who were taken between 1942 and 1944 because they were Jews. They were the innocent victims of the barbaric Nazis who were assisted by the collaborationist Vichy Government. They were exterminated in the death camps. Never forget." In 1940, early in the Second World War, France fell to Hitler's Germany. The Nazis controlled the northern portion of France (which includes Paris) and established a puppet government under the leadership of the French general Marshal Philippe Pétain. Some brave French men and women joined resistance groups to undermine the Nazi influence in several ways including smuggling Jews and escaped Allied prisoners of war out of France. After the war, Pétain stood trial and was found guilty of treason. He was sentenced to death by firing squad, but President Charles de Gaulle commuted this to a life sentence due to his advanced age. (The ring below the plaque is used for hanging flowers).

We stopped at a restaurant and got a falafel and a Coke, then walked around the area some more. Here are some pictures of the Jewish district:
We left the Jewish District and walked around the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. It was constructed under Henri IV (who was involved in the French Religious Wars between Calvinists and Catholics and was assassinated) between 1605-1612. The place was used in the 1600s for military parades and royal cermonies. The houses along the place were some of the wealthiest places of residence and housed many famous Parisians, most notably Victor Hugo. Here are some photos. Notice the unevenness of the windows, which is mostly evident in the second picture:
We walked past this Medieval tower that was meant to be a church, but was never completed:
We then went to Les Halles, a shopping center. Mostly everything was closed because it was Sunday, but the area is significant because it was once the central market of Paris. It originated in the 1100s and merchants would come from all over selling their goods which included artisan products, food, and the exotic spices which once fueled the exploration of the world and produced wars. The markets closed in 1971 and were replaced with modernist architecture. The early 20th century iron shelters are the only relic of the once bustling center of the city:
Here is a modernist apartment complex (which I often associate with the Paris of the late 1960s) that stands on the edge of Les Halles:
Many Parisians (Nicolas included) hate the modernist architecture around Les Halles only because it obscures the splendor of the nearby Church of Saint-Eustache, a church named for the Roman martyr who claimed to have had a vision of the crucifixion appear to him between the antlers of a stag (this is the explanation for the symbol on bottles of the German liquer, Jaegermeister).
The church was constructed from 1532-1637. It was a famous site for baptisms with both the powerful (and corrupt) Cardinal Richelieu and the comedic playwright Molière being baptised here before its completion.

We walked through the adjacent neighborhood and came across a restaurant whose specialty was easily perceived:
From here we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower:
The Eiffel Tower is a 1,063 foot tall iron structure built between 1887 to 1889 for the 1889 World's Fair. At the time of its construction it was the tallest man-made structure in the world. It was designed by the French engineer Gustave Eiffel. Eiffel also helped construct the Statue of Liberty. Today it serves as a radio and television transmission tower and has become the most popular symbol of the city. (In 1912, the Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt fell to his death from the tower while attempting to demonstrate his haplessly-designed parachute suit).

After this, it was time for me to head back to the airport. Melissa and Nicolas rode with me on the metro until I got to the train which took me to the airport. We said our goodbyes there. I am truly grateful to them for acting as hosts and guides to their city.
When I got to the airport I learned my flight had been delayed, as it had been in Rome. I walked around the duty-free shop and perused French wines and cheeses. I picked up a copy of the free airport magazine and read an interview with Audrey Tatou as a collection of Parisians and Madrileños slept in their chairs around me.
The flight seemed much longer than the one into Paris. When I arrived in Madrid, the metro and train stations were closed, so I had to take a couple of buses to reach Alcalá de Henares. I arrived at my apartment somewhere around 4:30 in the morning. The next day of work was rough, but I caught up on my sleep during the rest of the week.
More to come soon as Cody and I moved to a new apartment and I discovered a very cool Madrid neighborhood.

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