Friday, April 6, 2012

Springtime in Paris - Rodin & Napoleon

Rodin's The Thinker
No matter how many days you spend in Paris, it never seems possible to see everything. This being my in-laws first trip, we thought we would take things slowly and try to cover the highlights. We did start the day off with brunch back at the St. Regis cafe. While the kids slept in for the morning, the adults had the opportunity to indulge in some wicked pancakes and Pain Perdue (otherwise known as French toast - funny how they don't use that term there!) The coffee and freshly squeezed OJ was wonderful, despite the typically long meal. We were ready to get our day started! 

Sunday happened to be the first Sunday of the month, which meant many of the museums had free admission. It also means many of them, including the Louvre, would be insanely crowded, so we thought we would cover at least one of the smaller ones. The Rodin museum, located near Les Invilades, is actually one of my favorite museums. The actual museum is currently under renovation, so the gardens (which I actually prefer) were open to the public that day. Rodin's wonderful sculptures, including The Thinker and the Doors to Hates are fascinating themselves, but set in the beautiful gardens around the museum with the spring flowers, they are really quite stunning. Everyone seemed to be out enjoying the wonderful weather and taking advantage of what really amounts to an outdoor museum. 

Les Invilades
The Rodin museum is located just around the block from Les Invilades, where that famous little dictator is laid to rest in the most obnoxiously large marble crypt one could imagine. The crypt is located in a chapel on one end of a campus of buildings that were at one time used as a military hospital. The buildings functioned like a small village, housing up to 4,000 injured soldiers and the necessary personnel to care for them. Now days the buildings house several military museums (NOT free on the first Sunday of the month), covering wars and their respective memorabilia from the medieval ages through the great world wars. Though we did meander through some of the older exhibits (basically a menagerie of coats of armor and medieval weapons), we moved our way on to the more interesting wings that cover WWI and WWII. 

My memory of high school history is a short unit that covered both of these wars from the American perspective, hitting the highlights of the major battles but never diving into too much detail. Honestly, at that time, it was enough for me. History seems to be honored more the older you get. I have always been a pretty avid reader, but since moving to Europe, I have become particularly interested in historical novels that cover this period of time. My interest in this devastating time period was actually fueled years ago when I met Joe's grandfather, Robert Gilmour. He was a Navy commander during WWII and would often tell family stories about his experiences. Though he never shared too much detail, he did often have interesting if not funny stories of his experiences. I have read through many of the documents he saved from that time period, as well as many of the newspaper articles and pictures the family saved. So, walking through a museum that covers the war from the European perspective, and the undeniable respect and gratefulness the Europeans had of the Allies back then, really does resonate with me. You can't help but gain a new perspective on the world when you can look around you and know that many of the buildings you pass had to be rebuilt after the devastation of these wars, not to mention the millions of people whose lives were personally affected. Coming from someone who has never served in the military, it gives you a whole new perspective on how much folks truly sacrificed for the freedom we so often take for granted. 

Dinner Sunday night was a "home" event with ingredients bought from all of the little stores on Ile St. Louis - cheese from the fromagerie, baguettes from the boulangerie, beef filet from the boucherie, white asparagus from the epicerie and, of course, some great French red wine. Even the accompanying music from our jazz band the previous night added to the ambiance of the evening, filling it with the songs that came from that same time period we had paid our respects to earlier. Who could possibly deny that our heroes from the 30's and 40's really were part of the world's greatest generation?

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