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Jill McCracken’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 03 Feb 2011

Location: Paris, France

MapDiscovering the Medieval Marais

Today Kaslyne and I made our presentation in Taking to the Streets in Modern France. Kaslyne's article discussed the mystical image of unity that the Front Populaire felt compelled to maintain in order to bring together supporters. My chapter outlined how differing accounts in the Socialist and Communist newspapers eventually aided in the destruction of the image of the Popular Front in France as well as the disconcerted effort to portray the Spanish Civil War. I took it as an opportunity to discuss the use of historiography in history - a topic we surprisingly had not covered yet in a history class. I suppose that this isn't a traditional lecture-led style course though so I'm glad I had the opportunity to talk about it and explain the concept to non-history students. I feel like if that happened more often we would hear less complaining that not everyone is a history students.

For architecture class we met at Place de la Republique which stands where the bastion of Charles V's wall stood in medieval Paris. It is now a public monument to the French people to recall the French Revolution. The monument has the Marianne figure at the top and the common "Libertie, Fraternitie, Egalite" slogan emblazoned on it. Our prof mentioned that the olive branches she holds are symbols of peace and hope whereas the lions represent the power of the people. Demonstrations often begin here but the entire square is being remodeled and widened to minimize car traffic. Interestingly, if you look at the license plates of cars in Paris there is a little blue square that denotes the district that the car belongs to. Often you can see that most of the cars do not have "75" stamp representing Paris but instead have a suburb square - in reality not a lot of Parisians own cars at all.

We continued to the covered shopping Passage Vandome. The shop window was invented in Paris as a space specifically to showcase the workshop's wares. Prior to this invention, the fronts of shops were plain and did not exhibit goods at all. At the entrance to the passage the head of the god Mercury denoted that it was a place of commerce.

Passing through the streets of the third arrondisement, we kept seeing these squat green fountains with 3 or 4 graces on them on the edges of the squares. They are Wallace drinking fountains that were designed around 1880 as public water fountains for everyone to use. There used to be metal cups attached to hooks at the base of the fountains but they were removed because they were unhygienic. The fountains have been maintained to this day, so if you are thirsty in Paris, don't spend four euros on bottled water, just find a fountain and fill up your reusable water bottle!

We passed 6 rue de la Corderie which was the centre of the workers' movement in 1869 and the organizational centre of the 1870 Paris Commune. Marx would often write letters to this spot to converse with his French counterparts. We also entered the church of Sainte Elisabeth which offers Catholic religious services for Chinese Parisians. It holds one of the most magnificent organs that I have ever seen, rivaling the piece at Notre Dame.

We kept seeing the Parisian coat of arms everywhere in the 3rd - it is a small boat with three masts and it means that no matter how troubled the waters of history get, Paris will always stay afloat. We entered the 3rd's Town Hall which was decorated for Chinese New Year. Its ceiling had a great painting that depicted the main events of a man's life: birth, marriage, taxes and death.

We also passed Le Marché des Enfants Rouges which is supposedly the oldest food market in Paris. In English the name means "Market of the Red Children" and is derived from the connection to the orphanage nearby where the children wore red foulards to aid citizens in returning them "home" if they were lost. I always like looking at the names of cafes, they usually have something to do with the history of the neighbourhood in which they stand. Here in the 3rd we saw Le Café Rouge which also derived its name from the orphanage nearby. I like finding out these little hidden meanings.