Movie on Campus

July 17th, 2012

There is apparently a movie being filmed at Cite Universitaire today, which limited us from walking across the lawn to go to our rooms.  Naturally, I watched and took pictures of it from Phoebe’s window.  I really want to know what movie it is…

L’Hotel de Ville

July 16th, 2012


yet another hall of mirrors?

Today, a group of us went with MICEFA to tour the Hotel de Ville (City Hall).  The tour was in French…. so I understood barely any of it.  Jenna summarized part of it and I learned that it is the City Hall, it was burned during the Revolution and had to be built, and that it was one of the first buildings to have electricity.  That’s pretty cool and the architecture was beautiful, but I was pretty bored from at first trying to understand the tour guide and only understanding a few words here and there, then I gave up and took in the architecture.  It was grand with arches with columns, gold, stained glass windows, painted ceilings, and chandeliers.  I could definitely see similarities between it and Versailles and the Opera, yet it seemed less overwhelming (perhaps it’s simply because I’m too used to grandeur from the other two visits?).  Still, it gave the impression of the power and wealth of France, as was likely the purpose for the Second Empire design.

Because I was unfortunately unable to learn too much during the tour, I did a little research to try and fill the gaps.  The initial City Hall was constructed between 1533 and 1628.  In 1871, it was occupied by revolters who subsequently burned it down.  Once the government regained control, they held a competition for the re-design of the building (just like with the Opera-I guess that was a popular strategy).  Théodore Ballu and Edouard Deperthes won with the idea of rebuilding the exterior of the building as it was (I think the tour guide said they changed it slightly to take up less room?), but using a new design for the interior.  I think it’s interesting how they used this technique to preserve the facade of the original building, showing that even back then history and old architecture was valued at least to a degree.  It’s also similar to regulations in some historic districts.  The Hotel de Ville is still used as the City Hall today.

Also, I just wanted to point out that the square outside of City Hall was enlarged by Baron Haussmann because he went about changing and modernizing just about everywhere in central Paris.

Two Days Dedicated to the Dead

July 15th, 2012

As in any old major city, dealing with the dead is a serious issue; so, on Thursday, we went to the Catacombs and on Friday we went to the Père Lachaise cemetery to learn about how Paris solved their problem.

In the 19th century, most people were buried in a big pit, except for the rich who could afford to be buried in a church yard.  When Paris flooded, the dead bodies would contaminate the water, so the government had to come up with solutions to get the bodies away from the city.

It took two years (1786-1788) to transfer the bodies into the catacombs, which used to be quarries.  They added the bodies with the intention of having the catacombs be a tourist attraction, as evident by the arrangement of some of the bones.  There are quotes throughout the catacombs with the purpose of causing you to think about your own morality. For me, seeing all of the bones had a greater effect than the quotes.  I was amazed by all of bones from approximately 6 million people there, but then felt a little guilty about it because I don’t think I would want my own bones or that of family members to be displaced in such a way and used for tours.

I had been to the catacombs in Rome before this, but there the bones were tucked away in hole; so, when you toured, you could not see all of the individual bones.  It was more respectful to the dead (and was not created with the intention of becoming a tourist attraction), but you did not gain as much of a sense of the large quantity of the dead there nor reflect upon your own death and appearance generations later.

Père Lachaise cemetery was built in 1804 and at the time was outside of the city.  At first, no one wanted to be buried in it because it wasn’t sacred ground; so, famous people were reburied in the cemetery to attract people.  Ironically, now everyone wants to be buried in it and it is now competitive and very expensive.  There is very little green space in the cemetery because all of the lots are right next to each other and covered in stone or mausoleum. I was surprised that you can buy lots for only 10, 20, or 50 years if you can’t afford to be buried in there for perpetuity so that you can have family visit you there and have a claim to being in the ground there at some point.  Maybe I’m just not French enough to understand the appeal of that option?

It is really easy to get lost in the cemetery since it is so crowded with tombs and a lot of them look similar.  As you can see in the map layout, the design is a combination of curvilinear paths (English garden design) and more formal grids (French garden design).

After every class, we get either pastries or chocolates and, after these two days of classes, they were especially desired.  A quote from one of the days (I believe it was Professor Smith?): “chocolate is better than dorms.”

How Do Parisians Cover Up Construction Work?

July 13th, 2012

The Eiffel Tower

July 12th, 2012

The Eiffel TowerYesterday was all about the famous Eiffel Tower.  When we saw it on the boat tour on the first night (which was only a week and a half ago….WHAT?), I was a bit disappointed with the structure that most Americans think of when they think of Paris.  I was not as excited to finally be seeing it as I thought I should be.  Therefore, I was not as excited for yesterday’s class as I usually am (sidenote: I’m hopefully going to the Catacombes today which I am realllllly excited about).

As we walked to it and Professor Smith told us about its history, I was a bit more intrigued.  The Eiffel Tower was constructed 1887-1889 for the 1889 World Fair and to celebrate the Centennial of the Revolution.  It was a result of the Industrial Revolution and was the last symbol of France’s economic might. The Eiffel Tower required 2 1/2 million rivets and over 18,000 pieces of iron ( Eiffel Tower 1898  It was the tallest structure in the world for 50 years until the Chrysler building was finished.  While it was not built with the intention of staying permanently, it was kept because it was used as a radio tower.  Gustave Eiffel, the engineer behind the Eiffel Tower and who it is named after, said that the tower could be used as an observatory and a laboratory so that his work would not be torn down (

Now, a lot of preservation work is put into the Eiffel Tower.  The tower is constantly repainted so that the paint will protect the metal, preventing corrosion.  500 meters around the tower is preserved for the purpose of protecting the tower’s viewshed.  Only in Europe would they be able to do so in order to preserve an incredible viewshed.  I doubt enough Americans would care enough about a view to be willing to do so.

As we climbed up 668 steps, I was hating the Eiffel Tower; however, the view from the tower was completely worth it.

“Fancy Pants” Paris

July 10th, 2012

Today, we walked along the Rue de Rivoli, which was the first formal street designed to be commercial. It led us to the Place de la Concorde, which is the central access of the city.  This area contains all sorts of designer stores and the roads have vistas that lead to the Louvre, Champs Elysee, the National Assembly, and the Opera.  All of this activity causes the traffic and other noises to be hectic.

We stopped in Zara to shop…during class. I love how we are able to do that during class, but  it really does help us to get a sense of this major shopping area, which is important from a planning aspect, right?

We continued walking to the Opera Garnier, which is more ornate than Versailles (and I thought Versailles was ornate…) and really anything else in Paris.  It was built 1861-1876.  Orginially it was called Salle des Capucines, but the name was then changed to Palais Garnier after the architect, Charles Garnier.  It has marble floors, columns, chandeliers, and a LOT of gold since at the time “more is more.”  The proportions of the doorways, stairs, and rooms are huge to enhance the grandiose feeling.  The acoustics and view of the theater are not the best, but it would not have mattered to those coming because they would go to the opera to be seen.  It was a social scene, where the Paris’ elite would go to show off and gossip.  If we had come here before going to Versailles, I probably would have found Versailles boring in comparison.

After class, we went to Galleries Lafayette, one of the first department stores ever.  There were two buildings: one that had mostly house-ware and the other with clothing separated by designer.  Most of the products were aimed at women, with bright and colorful displays.  All of the appliances had multiple color options.  In the second building, I saw a beautiful Valentino dress, which cost 1,290 euros, which is more than my budget for the whole month.  It was crazy to see so much expensive clothing all it one place.  It and the shopping area put Tysons I II, an upscale mall from home, to shame.  I left the store feeling so overwhelmed.

RER rush hoursss

July 10th, 2012

Seriously, don’t ride the RER in Paris between 4:30 and 8:00pm if you want to avoid being packed in like  hot, sweaty sardines!

Versailles and Mass at Notre Dame

July 9th, 2012

On Saturday morning, the whole MICEFA group got on the RER and we went to Versailles.  It was drizzling and you could see the crowds entering Versailles, which didn’t seem promising.  At first, our audio tour taught us the history of the chateau, then we were lead through the rooms in the main part of the building, such as the Hall of Mirrors and the King and Queen’s Bedchambers.  Versailles is ridiculously ornate.  There is gold everywhere, the ceilings are painted, and there is rich wall paper and paintings on the walls.  It is hard to imagine how one lived in such a place, and harder still to imagine how normal it seemed to the royalty who called it their home.  The only major difference with how Versailles appears now, besides the lines and portions roped off, is the modern art displayed both inside the building and in the garden.  I thought that it deterred from understanding what Versailles looked and felt like at the time.


On Sunday morning, I went to mass at Notre Dame.  I did not understand what was going on most of the time, especially since it was in French and Latin, but it was still a spectacular experience with the incense, recitation, readings, and communion.

This weekend it has rained a fair amount.  If I was at Mary Washington, all of the girls would be wearing rainboots, but I have not seen a single pair in Paris.  In Paris, the women wear fashionable shoes no matter what the weather or the condition of the sidewalk.  The puddles on the sidewalk are not as bad here though because the sidewalks are slanted and have drains built in.

Today, there were multiple jets that flew over Paris.  Everyone on the streets stopped and watched them and took pictures (including me).  I tried to find out if there was any news about it, but couldn’t find any.

Tonight, in honor of our visit to Versailles, we watched Marie Antoinette.  I had never seen it before and honestly do not know much about how historically accurate or inaccurate it is, but it was really cool to see the palace in it and recognize the rooms.

Luxembourg Gardens and Musee D’Orsay

July 6th, 2012

Yesterday morning, I finally discovered the market near our school thanks to Phoebe, Rebecca, and Emily.  It will save me a lot of money, but sometimes the amazing French food is worth the extra money.

For class, we had a lovely day at the Luxembourg Gardens.  The gardens started off as a palace built for the queen regent in the 1600s.  Eventually, it became the Senate building and still is today.  Luxembourg Gardens grew over time as it was able to expand.  It has a lot of green space, with the differentiation between the French and English garden area being distinct.  The park also has tennis courts and the coolest playground I’ve ever seen.

All of the statues near the palace are of women.  The Salic Laws prohibited women from inheriting ancestral land which prevented women from holding positions of power, but the queen regent likely had them made to show that women can still be powerful.  One thing that I am curious about and may look up if I ever have the time to is whether or not the plants in the garden are the same as what was originally there or if those taking care of the garden have the freedom to change they types of plants.  The flowers were all annuals which is extremely expensive; something that Americans would not appreciate due to the cost.

Last night, we went to a comedy show, How to Become a Parisian in One Hour?, with everyone in the MICEFA program.  Oliver Giraud made fun of us Americans for being loud, using a lot of facial expressions/being really excited, and being too friendly.  The French, however, are apparently actuately depressed and rude.  He joked about how they don’t see the need to be nice to people they do not know.

Today, we went to the Musée D’Orsay, which was originally a train station.  Built in 1900 in the heart of the city, it was the most beautiful train station in Paris according to our tour guide.  I haven’t seen the others, so I cannot confirm how it compares to the others, but it was magnificent.  Once the station became too small for larger trains, it was converted into a museum to save the beautiful building.  It is a great example of adaptive re-use.  The museum kept the framework of the station while adding small rooms for the artwork.  They keep the original steelwork in its original green color, while making the new steelwork a dark brown to differentiate the two.  I thought that was a really clever way to make sure to differentiate between what is historically significant and what has been modified. As for the content of the museum, I am not an art expert, but I enjoyed seeing work by Monet and other famous impressionist artists and learning more about the art of the time and how the impressionists were criticized.

Notre Dame

July 5th, 2012

Yesterday, we visited Notre Dame and the two islands.  Notre Dame was magnificent.   It was constructed between 1163 and 1345 and replaced an old cathedral in order to better match Paris’s expansion and power (  The gothic style with its flying buttresses and the stain glass windows are an impressive feat.  However, I am curious about if the reason for the extensive time it took to build Notre Dame was not only due to technology.  Also, because there were different people in charge over construction over 200 years, I wonder if they made distinct changes to the design.

Professor Smith then gave us an assignment to find government buildings, which is easy to do since the island was the heart and fortress of Paris.  I found the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, which was the first hospital in Paris, founded in 651.  Unfortunately, much of the building was destroyed in a fire in 1772 and was then rebuilt  Today, it is still considered a quality hospital (

The second, smaller island was originally only used for farm land, until it was given to the church.  Then, it was sold and became an area of expensive apartments and shops (and good ice cream!).  After class, we tried to see if we could go up Notre Dame, but the line was already cut off for the day.

Yesterday with the 4th of July, but I almost forgot! To celebrate, we decided to have hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner in honor of America at a French restaurant.  We tried to talk to our waiter  about Independence Day, but he did not understand what we were talking about.


the French even make AMAZING hamburgers!