Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Louise and Anne and Blanche and Judith and Esther

This is what beloved Josselin looks like at 6:15 in the morning - a pretty rare shot now that the main square is filled with people all day long. I smile to think that the sun used to rise only at 8:45 a.m. when we first arrived. Pretty radical difference, since it rises at around 5:45 a.m. now. Another cool Brittany development.

And this is what my favorite passage near the old Bibliothèque Nationale looks like now. By "old" BN, I mean the site between rue Richelieu and rue Vivienne in the 2nd arrondissment. That's where the entire BN used to be, but I don't know how they fit all of the books there. It's where I did my dissertation research in 1995-1996, and where Donna was on sabbatical the same year and thus everything was splendid all the time. We'd go looking for lunch places and one day found this passage which is filled with really cheap, kitschy stuff (knitted acrylic cozys for your Kleenex boxes sort of thing), but we loved it. I think that you can see that the ceiling is kind of patched together. Still, a passage is a wonderful thing.

This is what I felt like today at the BN. After the requisite withering comment by an "acceuil" (welcome) person, who brilliantly had me apologizing within20 seconds of arrival because "je ne comprend rien à votre affaire" (I don't understand a thing about your situation) (which, I don't need to tell you, was totally ordinary, but the BN staff just has to get that withering comment in). Anyway, after the requisite wincing had been produced, it was as though the doors of paradise had opened. The BN is under a major restoration project and will be until (ready?) 2017. 17. I was expecting total non-functionality, but they have actually achieved some really amazing efficiency (maybe they should have major renovations all the time!). If there's one thing French bureaucracy is really good at doing, it's reinventing the wheel. The problem is that in France, each time the wheel is reinvented, it has something else added to it, another condition or contingency. Take even, for example, language. The French I was reading today was written in the 16th century and there are no accents (no accents!) and almost no capital letters. The ending of words vary and the spellings change, and guess what? I could still understand what was being written (in fact, I was stunned at some of the stuff that I read, but more on that in a second). When the Académie Française made it its appointed mission to standardize the French language, they also complicated it to a tremendous degree. French without accents - it would make all the difference, and you'd get your tense from the context, not just from the grammar. Oh well, a girl can dream.

But all this to say that I had four manuscripts I wanted to look at, and two of them were in Microfilm (no problem, I expected that) but the other two have never had a microfilm made. This means (drumroll) that I get to look at the original manuscripts tomorrow morning!!! (it's like getting a "pass" card in a board game!) - one is a description of the Holy Land owned by François Ier and the other is this wild collection of letters from a sultan written to various kings and republics and translated into French (and also owned by François Ier). The room you see here is where I'll be reading the original manuscripts (they've now put desks in there).

And this is what it used to look like! I spent the afternoon (from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.) working through the microfilms downstairs in the Salle Ovale (in yesterday's blog) and getting my eyes used to the script. It happened so much more quickly this time than in December 2008. And what I read was just amazing: one manuscript was an account of the funeral proceedings for Anne de Bretagne (among other things, I discovered that Louise did indeed know of Anne de Bretagne's monumental tomb for her parents - this will help my Prudence/self-fashioning argument tremendously!); and the other was a compilation of Acts and Actions of Blanche de Castille (a wonderful argument for female Regent Rule using everybody from Judith and Esther to make the point - also, a really, really weird mention of Turks being behind the Albigensian heresy - will have to follow up that most strange lead). I feel very ready for tomorrow morning - we'll see if the BN gods continue to smile upon me. In the meantime, some things never change: the toilets are in the courtyard (as they are in any renovation at the BN) and you still have those machines that will give you the best 35 cent espresso money (well, 35 cents) can buy there.

And here is the Pont des Arts on my walk back across the river from the BN. This was my dad's favorite bridge in Paris - he talked about walking and pausing on it many, many times during his stay here in 1948-49. I can barely imagine all that he was thinking through, emerging from WWII, going to Columbia on the G.I. bill, and then doing a Sweet Briar Junior Year Abroad (they came over by boat!!!). Today, tons of people hang out on the Pont des Arts and some even intertwine a lock within its metal frame and then, in a vow of forever love, throw away the key into the Seine. I've heard that the police come by in the night and break the locks off, but I'll choose to ignore that: there were plenty of locks there today. So the Pont des Arts is filled with love and street musicians and a sprinkling of hippies, Dad. It'll always be your bridge in my heart, though.

I was crossing the bridge to go meet Laura and Eleanor for dinner and hear all about their great Paris adventures. Hard to believe that they left Brittany two days ago (although not so hard when you see Eleanor's fantabulous new beret - three cheers for her for wanting one and for actually finding one in Paris!) (Sacré Coeur neighborhood apparently). We had a great dinner with lots of reminiscing and already some plotting about future trips together. They leave to return to the States in the morning - bon voyage!!!

And finally, I wanted to show you a couple of views from my wonderful little hotel room. I'm on the 7th floor of the Hotel Saint-Pierre on rue de l'Ecole de Medecine. To my right, there is the Eiffel Tower....

...and to my left, the Pantheon. Very lucky life, this.

1 comment:

  1. oh wow! I am so excited to think that you are probably reading those manuscripts as I am writing this! Enjoy every second and I can't wait to read about them tomorrow! Bisous à toi et à toute la famille :)