Thomas Jefferson, after his time abroad as the American Ambassador to France, once said “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself if I tried. Just when you start slipping into dozy complacency about the treasures all around, a new discovery flashes in your path that rekindles the spark of wonderment you felt in your belly (in your soul?) on your first day in Paris.
It’s a reminder of historical accomplishments and at the same time an enticing invitation to unlock that latent genius that we all secretly hope lies within us. If by nothing else than simple osmosis, being surrounded by inspired objects makes inspiration seem that much more attainable. And that, for me, is when Paris is at its best.
One of these moments happened when I got off the métro at the station of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, along the #4 line. It’s been converted into a sort of temporary museum, showcasing facsimiles of noteworthy documents over the last couple of centuries. There was such an impressive collection of artists, musicians, and other brilliant thinkers that even though it would make me late for my street-level appointment, I had to run my camera along the length of both the uptown and downtown platforms. Some highlights:
A 1945 top-secret memo from Eisenhower, signaling the defeat of the Nazis and the end of World War II…
…next to an 1809 manuscript by Napoleon’s hand…
…next to a Renaissance-era letter to the Pope by French king Francois the 1st:
You could watch Einstein’s pen working out his General Theory of Relativity…
…and Marie Curie’s calculations during her breakthrough research of radioactivity:
There were also some intriguing musical documents including a score written in Mozart’s hand in 1786, followed by that of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and Debussy, respectively:
Some extraordinary objects left behind by some of history’s greatest artists were also on display. Three portions of Delacroix’s sketchbooks from 1825 were a pleasure to take in:
As was a charming letter and self portrait by Henri Matisse:
The sketchbooks of Toulouse-Lautrec proved that during the Belle Époque, inspiration could strike the page at any moment:
And even without a drawing the handwritten letters of Impressionist artists take on their own gravitas, as in Monet’s letter here, written to help raise money for the purchase of a Manet masterpiece so it wouldn’t leave France in the hands of an American collector:
Or here where Degas writes a note to Manet himself to thank him for a gift, beginning with “My dear Manet, you had hoped to please me and you have succeeded.”:
Finally, to prove that the Impressionists weren’t the only ones pushing the limits of 19th century creativity, a few pages of Thomas Edison’s notebooks showed a glimpse of how he too would change the world:
And that was that–a flash of history and of brilliant minds and of ink-dipped quills–and all I had to do was exit a subway train. Paris at its best, indeed.
Unexpected historical “exhibits” like this are one of the biggest reasons I love Paris — and unexpected topics like this are one of the many, many reasons I love your blog. Between your insightful comments and your lovely photos, you’ve assembled a wonderful réportage. Thank you!
You’re welcome as always Heather. Thanks for being such a loyal reader! It’s fun to throw unexpected topics out there when you know somebody’s on the other end to appreciate it.
Ah, your top shot is beautiful and mysterious, Corey! I also love this post. You were inspired and now you inspire us. What a gift! And yes, I agree with you and Thomas Jefferson, magic and inspiration strike often while strolling the streets of Paris. It’s true. Like lightning, and then fall in love with the city all over again. T. (I keep strolling up and down your post. I’m enjoying studying the writing samples.)
Thanks so much Theadora! Hey we really need to grab a cup of tea in the city sometime and exchange blogger perspectives. Your site is hands-down one of the best Paris blogs around and it’d be cool to meet up!
Like you said, falling in love with Paris all over again is one of my favorite past times; I try to make it happen as often as possible. :) Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for stopping by.
You lucky, you! Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome DE, thanks so much for stopping by!
Just fascinating!!! I remember going to the Atlanta History Museum a few years ago and seeing the handwritten notes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr — and there is something so pedestrian, poignant, moving and personal about seeing handwritten notes and musings, sketches and off-the-cuff calculations by people who have changed history and art! I LOVE this post!! Thanks for sharing your Paris, FF!
Thank you too Betty for your enthusiasm! Really glad that you continue to follow my blog and are always willing to leave a comment.
You’re right about the personal connection factor of these documents. I think that because the act of writing is something that we all do, there’s a direct accessibility and connection for the viewer, something you might not feel in front of a painting if you’re not a painter yourself, for example.
Thanks for a thought provoking comment, as usual! Take care Betty.
Wow it’s truly amazing to have them all in one place! It somehow makes them that much more impressive knowing their cumulative effect!
I totally agree Emily, it’s more impressive that way for sure. Thanks a lot for stopping by and commenting. Take care!
If it had been me who stepped off the subway and saw this exhibit, I’d still be there… Thanks so much for thinking of us by sharing these marvelous pieces of the past.
My pleasure Linda. The first joy is finding this stuff, the second is sharing it! Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting!
Finding, sharing, how generous you are; and what a delight to follow.
Thank you Maureen! It’s a pleasure to hear that. :)
I love how something like a hand written note, at first glance can look so basic, so simple, yet be so utterly important and significant in the eyes of history and culture. Beautiful post!
Glad you liked it Hailey, thanks for stopping by.