As my readers know,  I love to write about the intersections of French history, language, art and culture (this was my Defense Thesis for my French MA) in my blog posts. However, in this series, FRANCE, REVISITED, I am also trying to share with you my emotional connections to these places. This has been challenging, but also very enlightening!

The Irish call these “the thin places” where it appears heaven and earth touch.

For me, one of those places sits nestled in le quartier just outside the Musée du Moyen-Âge, more commonly known as the Musée de Cluny, in a private garden looking out on the bustling intersection of blvds Saint Michel and Saint Germain-des-Pres.  This is the heart of the Latin Quarter and les origines de Paris.

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(Photo credit: Poete: Une vie de Paris)

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Gallo-Romain thermal baths of Musee de Cluny

In an instant I am in the 1st century just outside the thermal baths where the Gallo-Romains recreated their beloved Rome in the earliest days of Lutetia long before the spires of the Notre Dame towered above. Where they laid the first paved roads leading up to rue Soufflot and rue Saint-Jacques, near the Pantheon (see post).

Then in a flash I can be caught up in the noise and fires during the French Revolution as the people of the streets took their stand and built the barricades to hold off the Royal troops. The Paris of Hugo’s Les Miserables comes to life on these boulevards (see post).

Caillebotte’s “Rainy Day Paris”

Or, my favorite era, in the 19th century, where I can see the “modernity” of the Impressionists tableaux in the pace of life, and beauty in the everyday lives of common ordinary people. Just happy to be alive and able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a shared meal or cup of coffee, the aroma of the flowers and their natural beauty. Where Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III rebuilt the iconic Paris we see today (see post) and its infrastructure to comply with the growing demands of a large city.

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My sketch of Gilbert Jeune librairie while sitting in Musee de Cluny courtyard

Then I find myself immediately brought back to the modern world of the hustle and bustle as I hear the honking sound of the French police racing to and fro and see the students of the Sorbonne, hurrying to their classes, just as I did five years ago in my study abroad semester. I spent many an hour in the Gibert Jeune librairie across the street and in the nearby Starbucks preparing for my classes. This was my neighborhood during those six months.

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Sorbonne, study abroad 2012
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Musee de Cluny courtyard


A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the Musée de Cluny including my first visit inspired by Tracy Chevalier’s Lady and the Unicorn tapestries located on the top floor of the museum (see post). This is a MAGICAL museum with a combination of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, formerly home to Mary Tudor. The museum houses one the largest collections of medieval and Renaissance objects, including Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the decapitated heads of Judah from the Notre Dame, broken pieces the original stained glass of Saint-Denis, Saint-Chapelle and the Notre Dame Cathedral. So many treasures!

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Musee de Cluny
Gallery of French Kings and sculptures from Notre Dame; Musee de Cluny 2012

This “thin place” has become for me one of my safe places. It is one of the first places One of those places where I feel fully alive with a union between the past and the present. Being an old soul, I resonate with all the chapters and times lived outside this garden. Within me all these times come to life in a harmonious symphony of thoughts and emotions stirring life deep inside my heart and soul.

Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)