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  • Friday, March 13, 2015

    Day trip to Rouen

    Northwest of Paris along the River Seine is the city of Rouen, Normandy. My friend Jana lived there for a year during college, so made a generous donation to send me on an all-inclusive day trip!
    I don't use the word charming very often. In fact, I don't know that I've ever used it unsarcastically, but as far as towns go, Rouen is pretty damned charming. It's full of cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered houses, towering Gothic cathedrals, shops, cafes, panini vendors, and plenty of fascinating history.

    From a list Jana sent me of places to see, I plotted out my route on a map. First stop was Tour Jeanne d'Arc, the Joan of Arc Tower. This is the only surviving part of the Castle of Rouen, where Joan of Arc was imprisoned in 1430. Today it houses a Joan of Arc museum.

    I knew very little about Joan of Arc before visiting Rouen. Here's a brief history, which you may already know. She claimed that God told her to join the French forces and lead France to victory in the Hundred Years War with England. Although not fighting directly, she held her banner and lead the French army to Orleans where they achieved a victory over the English. Later, she supposedly convinced the cautious France to go on the offensive, bolstered their resolve, and changed the course of that war. 

    Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces and was eventually moved to Rouen, England's main headquarters in France. This is a model of what the Castle of Rouen once looked like. 

    Once imprisoned, Joan of Arc would never leave the fortress since this is where she would be tried and executed for witchcraft and heresy. 

    Joan had become a popular figure among the French Forces, so rather than just kill her and turn her into a martyr, she was first tried by the church in order to discredit her. They charged her with several crimes, but basically it came down to her claiming that God directly contacted her and cross-dressing, because she wore male clothing and cut her hair short when joining the French military.
    After signing a confession in exchange for life imprisonment rather than execution, Joan put the male clothing back on because she could fasten her hosen, boots, and tunic together, which deterred molestation and rape while in prison. This labeled her as a relapsed heretic and she was sentenced to death.

    The reasons for wearing male clothing was argued in the trial, but practicality and rationality didn't really matter since this wasn't about cross-dressing, witchcraft, or heresy. Regardless of her actual role in the war, Joan's actions boosted moral among the French troops and paved the way for French victory. She didn't have a chance.

    At age 19, Joan was sent to this spot in the town center of Rouen and burned at the stake. Her ashes were cast into the River Seine. 

    Her popularity only increased after her death. She attained a mythical stature and has appeared in literature and art for centuries. She later became the patron saint of France and a national heroine. She was canonized by the pope in 1920. 
    Left photo: Statue near the site of execution. Right: Joan of Arc graffiti

    Since 1979, at the site where her pyre was lit, stands the Church of Saint Joan of Arc.

    Rouen is also home to the Rouen Cathedral, the subject of more than thirty paintings by Claude Monet.

    Monet rented rooms across the street from the cathedral where he would paint it from different times of day, seasons, and weather. 
    Before going to see the cathedral, I stopped to see one of those paintings at Rouen's Museum of Fine Arts.  This one is titled, Grey Weather.

    Unfortunately, construction on the western facade prevented me from taking a photo from Monet's viewpoint.

    And I wasn't able to get inside, but the outside was beautiful.

    Connecting the Place du Vieux Marché, where Joan of Arc was executed, and the Rouen Cathedral is France's first pedestrian street, the Rue du Gros-Horloge.

    The cobblestone street is full of shops, cafes, and half-timbered houses, three of which may have existed before the execution of Joan of Arc in 1431. 

    The road's name is derived from the Gros Horloge, a 14th-century astronomical clock, that it passes under.

    It is one of the oldest in France and possibly the largest of such clocks that exists.

    This is the Church of Saint-Maclou.

    Considered to be one of the best examples of the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture in France.

    I spent most of the day walking up and down streets taking photos. It's hard to put your camera away in this town.

    Which is why there are so many photos in this post. Mmm panini. I wish that sandwich never had to end.

    I love how the buildings sometimes lean out and no longer conform to any 90 degree angles. 

     This is the Church of Saint Ouen.

    I regret not going inside. After not being able to get into the other cathedrals, I guess I just assumed I couldn't.

    It's home to a very large original CavaillĂ©-Coll organ, which I know nothing about other than the name sounds photogenic.

    I tried to find some locations Jana talked about to take pictures for her, like the restaurants she loved and her old apartment. Unfortunately, her favorite place to eat is no longer in business, but I think it was near this block.

    Next I walked down her street, Rue Orbe.

    And took a picture of her old apartment for her. I hope these bring back some good memories.

    When I saw this behind her apartment, I knew she would have to remember it. Something like this doesn't go unnoticed.

    When the sun set, I decided it was time to get back on the train and head back to Paris. Thank you Jana for a great day in the "charming" town of Rouen, full of rich history, priceless works of art, and delicious french food and coffee. My trip to France is so much fuller now thanks to you.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2015

    The Louvre

    When I arrive in a new city, the first thing I want to do is check out their museums. I'm a little nerdy like that. That was doubley true in Paris, home of one of the greatest museums on Earth, The Louvre.

    I arrived an hour before they opened. That's why I'm taking a picture of the line from inside rather than standing in it.

    Under the glass pyramid

    And again before leaving. You can see the weather significantly improved.

    Of all the must see items at the Louvre, the Mona Lisa is on the top of most people's list, so I went their first to beat the crowd. Although a crowd had already formed.
    I'm laughing a little right now because I caught that bald mustachioed man taking selfies of himself all day. I didn't know I got a photo of him taking one here. 

    I can't quite figure out what I like about this picture. Maybe the way they seem to be glaring at the dude.

    And there she is. Quite impressive.

    The Mona Lisa wasn't my favorite painting in the Louvre, though. That goes to a painting back out in the hall, Death of a Virgin by Caravaggio, painted in 1604- 1606. 
    By the time you've walked around the Louvre all day, you've seen hundreds of devotional biblical scenes filled with iconography and holiness, the dead not dead, angels flying around above their heads. The subjects are often emotionless, unrealistic, and well, kind of boring after a while, like bad over-actors in dramatic movies. So the realism of this one stood out to me. Not only Mary's lifeless body with her feet spread apart and arm hanging limp, but also the sadness expressed by the apostles, and especially Mary Magdalene. It's empathetic and humanizing. For all of these reasons, the commissioning church hated it and chose not display it. 

    This is Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, by Antonio Canova. Cupid's mother, Venus, demanded that Psyche bring back a flask from the Underworld, which she was forbidden to open. Psyche's curiosity got the better of her and she breathed in the fumes and fell into a deathlike sleep. Cupid awakens his beloved by touching her gently with the tip of his arrow to see if she was dead. This depicts the moment that follows.  

    And speaking of Venus, the Louvre is also home to one of the most famous statues in the world, Venus de Milo. Or more accurately Aphrodite de Milo since it was found in Greece and it was the Romans who called the goddess Venus.

    The back wasn't as detailed, so it is presumed to have been intended to stand against a wall.

    Another famous statue in the museum is this wood-carved, Saint Mary Magdelene, attributed to Gregor Erhart in 1502 - 1503. This statue was originally suspended from the vault of a church and held up by carved angles. 

    Another one of the most famous sculptures in the world is this one of the Greek goddess Nike, called the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It is estimated to have been created around 200 BC.

    At one time, this was one of the most famous paintings in the Louvre, The Lacemaker by Johannes Vermeer. 

    Of course, the building itself is as impressive as anything inside it.

    Napoleon III Apartment

    And dining room

    If zombies destroy the world and I'm one of the few survivors, I'm going to move in here and eat my cereal at that table from one of the ornate bowls in the Roman antiquities department.

    Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel with the Louvre in the background. 

    The other side at sunset

    Oh, I can see the Eiffel Tower from here... I thought that a lot in Paris. 

    I can't say I love the glass pyramid, because it just doesn't fit the architecture around it, but it's very photogenic at night. I knew this because it was on the cover of my Algebra textbook in the ninth grade. I didn't care for it then either. I walked to the Big Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde and back waiting for the sun to set then took these photos.