We started our day today by walking around the corner of Place des Vosges and spending some time in the house where Victor Hugo lived for 16 years. If that name is new to you, I recommend to your attention his two most famous novels: Notre Dame de Paris and Les Miserables. But he was about much more than epic novels. He was a master poet. He never got over the tragic drowning death of his beloved daughter Leopoldine, dedicating a book of poems to her (Contemplations). But fortunately he had other children, and his last collection was fitly titled How to be a Grandfather. I never knew about this collection until today; it’s now on my wish list in case my grandchildren want to get me a how-to book. This is a detail from a painting of his grandchildren in his apartment-become-museum:
He used his stature as a writer (novels, poems, stage plays) to promote causes. In addition to promoting the idea of a “United States of Europe” long before the European Union came into existence, he also helped raise funds for the poor children of Guernsey, England, where he lived for several years. One of his attempts was to get three of his writer friends to contribute an inkwell and a pen, and he had this writing table made to put in a fund-raising auction:
There were no takers in the bidding, so Hugo bought it himself. What do you suppose it would fetch today, this table with inkwells and pens used by Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, George Sand, and Alphonse Lamartine?
The apartment contains several busts of Hugo, all oversized. I wondered if this was because he himself was bigger than life. At his funeral two million people lined the route of the funeral cortege from the Madeleine church to the Pantheon, where his remains were laid to rest. This one bust, by the remarkable French Sculptor Rodin, captures for me the tiredness of a sensitive poet finally weighed down by the burdens of a life well lived.
After a good nap (and wee visit to the Coco Chanel center, where we managed to escape empty-handed), we took ourselves to Notre Dame for the weekly organ recital, followed by a taste of Nuit Blanche. Nuit Blanche is literally “white night”, but it is a euphemism for what Americans call an “all-nighter.” This event lasts from 7pm to 7am, and is marked by free street performances, open museums, and special exhibitions. Weeks ago, my intent was to stay out most of the night, sampling as much as possible. The realities of a pair of feet seven decades old took over, and we cut ourselves off after trying to figure out a special event involving large lighted letters. Here, you are invited to text your name to a special number and the operators will spell it out for you. In the ten minutes we were there, it never quite happened.
A later event was to let the observers vote on a message to be spelled out for aliens to see and perhaps guide their actions. The candidates:
And here are just a couple of random street art observations:
Well, Paris is fun, but we’re billing this trip as a wine country tour. Tomorrow we’re off to the heart of Champagne country, where the highlight will be a visit to Anita’s vines. I’ll explain that on Monday, when we actually get to see them up close and personal.