Paris - City of Light
On 31stst January to celebrate the end of the January modules Mrs Marshall, Miss Jammy-Fonbeney and Mr Ansell took eighteen Higher Line pupils of Art and French to Paris for three heady days of history and Art. Leaving far too early in the morning we travelled by train to Euston and then Eurostar to Paris, and emerged in the twilight from the metro station, Oberkampf, just by our hotel. Here we were delighted to meet Dan Church-Taylor (OS 2009) who is currently completing his work placement with the HSBC in Paris. We checked into the hotel and then ventured back on to the metro to Chatelet, the closest metro station to the Hippopotamus restaurant where we were booked in for our first French meal. As we came out through the art nouveau metro arch, we could see the silhouette of la Sainte Chapelle directly ahead, but no sign of the restaurant! Expertly guided by Dan (and his mobile sat nav) we threaded our way through the narrow streets straight to the bistro.
After a very pleasant meal, we bade Dan farewell, crossed the bridge to Notre Dame and admired the floodlit façade. Despite the bitter cold, Notre Dame began to weave its magic and we returned cheerful to the hotel, warmth and bed.
The next day we began sightseeing in earnest. By ten we were at Versailles and by 10.30 had met our guide for the Marie Antoinette wardrobe tour of the chateau. To Megan Ansbro’s delight the guide was the same man who featured in the BBC series “Versailles Stories" that we had watched in class after the exams last summer. For an hour and a half we were fascinated by his knowledge and expertise. We moved from room to room, in some we sat on the floor, in others we just stood and gaped as Dominique Grue(?) lead us through the harshness and suffering of everyday life in the chateau: children not being baptised until they were six or seven, not having names but just being referred to as Monsieur or Mademoiselle, being handed to a servant at birth, rarely seeing their mothers, girls married at the age of twelve, dying in childbirth shortly afterwards, aristocratic youths being expected to fight for King and country, courtly dresses that could weigh up to 36 pounds that were neither warm in winter not cool in the summer, corsets with whalebone pieces that bound a woman in so tightly that they frequently miscarried if pregnant. Above all, though, a life with no emotion, where Marie Antoinette’s every move was spied upon and criticised by all, including her mother. We moved from the intimacy of Marie Antoinette’s personal dining room to the dazzling splendour of the Hall of Mirrors.
Thoughtfully we made our way back to the centre of Paris in the bright sunshine but with a chill wind that kept the temperature at a numbing minus six. We strolled briskly from Bir Hakeim beneath the Eiffel Tower to the pier for a boat trip down the Seine. Cocooned beneath a perspex dome we warmed up and began to enjoy the different views of Paris from the river.
Mrs Marshall (a secret chocolat chaud fan) suggested that we all take refuge in a café before going to Place de la Bastille for our evening meal. This we willingly did and only reluctantly emerged half an hour later wiping away chocolate moustaches…Our second French dìner was slightly more adventurous than the night before, everyone trying steak although we still had to explain that we would like our meat a lot more cooked than a French chef would consider acceptable. The evening closed with a trip to the theatre to see Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at Le Theatre St Martin. Many found this hard to follow, but M Jourdain appearing virtually nude at the start of the final act did seem to excite a certain interest! Seriously though it was an excellent production with a lively, exuberant cast that was accessible to an English audience. After which excitement, as Pepys would say, “to bed”.
The following day we checked out of the hotel by 9.15, made our way to the Gare du Nord, left our luggage at the consigne and headed back through an even colder (-8) sunny morning to the Gare d’Orsay for an all too brief visit to the Impressionist gallery. The pupils split up into groups and made their way around on their own. As ever Van Gogh mesmerised and Lautrec entranced, the life sized oil on cardboard of Valentin Le Désossé or Jane Avril dancing remain etched in the mind’s eye. Dazzled we made our way back to the Gare du Nord and all too quickly boarded the Eurostar for home.
Paris, je t’aime!