“On My Way to Class through the Latin Quarter”
This week marks the half-way point of My Parisian Journey and I finally feel like a part of my neighborhood. This sense of belonging includes getting to know the people behind the faces that I see every day. There’s Gabriel who owns my boulangerie with cannolloni crepes that melt in your mouth, Bruno who owns my patisserie with the best flan-natural in the city, Mou Mou who makes my Friday night nutella crepes, and Kayser who makes an eggplant-fromage quiche that I have to say “no” to as I pass by each day!
As I walk down the streets of the Latin Quarter, I am reminded daily of the reason that I chose this particular arrondisment to live in while I study abroad. This area gets its name from the latin language which was once widely spoken here around the universities as it was the international language during the Middle Ages.
One of the main landmarks which I pass every day is the Pantheon, built in 1744 by Louis XV and is the burial place for “National Heroes” such as Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas, Madame Curie, Rousseau, Zola, and Louis Braille. It is such an impressive building complete with Doric-style Corinthian columns and a unique triple dome.
I also walk through the neighborhoods of my favorite French literary characters such as Balzac’s Père Goriot and Hugo’s Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. In fact, I am currently reading the part of Les Miserables where Jean Valjean is running from Javert (yet again) and I follow his path each morning on my way to the Sorbonne down rue Saint-Jacques all the way to my apartment near Pont Austerlitz where Valjean finally escapes from Javert and takes refuge in the Abbey across the Seine.
In addition, as I walk to my Grammaire class near the Val de Grace, I pass the Maison Vauquer on rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève where Balzac’s Père Goriot lived. The neighborhood is just as Balzac describes in the introduction of his novel:
“The house is of three storeys, with attic chambers.It is built of rough blocks of stone, plastered with theyellow wash that gives so contemptible a character to half the houses of Paris. The five windows of each storey of the facade have small panes and are provided with green blinds, none of which correspond in height, giving to the outside of the house an aspect of uncomfortable irregularity. At the narrow or street end, the house has two windows on each storey; those on the ground-floor have no blinds, and are protected by iron gratings.” (1835, Père Goriot, p.2)
Part of the charm of this district is the architecture. Some of the streets were reconstructed by Baron Hausmann (1853-1870) and have the typical Haussmann façade which uses horizontal lines that often continue from one building to the next and iron covered balconies and cornices which are perfectly aligned. The remaining Latin Quarter retains old Paris with narrow streets, stone walls and painted doors.
Finally, what would a Latin Quarter be without bookshops, or libraries as they are called here. (The place where you go to check out a book is called a “bibliotheque”!) My favorite is actually the English librarie Shakespeare and Company. I am devoting my next blog to this wonderland of historical literature and study nooks!
So on this Saturday, 1 December, with the sun shining (finally) and a temperature of -2 (Celsius!) I will venture into the Latin Quarter with a latin quote from Horace:
Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero (Seize the day, don’t let it go without taking advantage of it!)