"back in the day" but can barely cough up our own phone numbers?
With our dumbed down "just-Google-it" brains, it's getting tougher and
tougher to recall specific names and significant numbers.
Yet words -- particularly the written word -- hold
an everlasting power over our lives.
Momentous words are meant to last, especially if there's a paper trail left behind.
And that's exactly why I chose to spend one of my too few precious
Paris afternoons in a decidedly wordy place.
The National Archives reside in a stately Marais mansion
christened Hôtel de Soubise.
Rare documents dominate many of the rooms -- but like so many treasured
finds in Paris, a visitor is rewarded with a double dose of abundance.
As if rooms filled with treasured papers, chronicles, maps and records
of France's long and eloquent narrative isn't enough,
the chateau's chambers are filled to the brim with a collection
of art, furniture, and classic French style.
In the midst of this history lesson, you'll be treated to elegant carvings,
gilded mirrors and splendid details that would befit a princess.
And yes, at one time a princess actually lived here.
Typical of Paris, this place delivers above and beyond the call of duty.
At every corner, there's an "Oh wait, there's more....."
Napoleon's last will & testament circa 1821 are such examples -- are
pretty impressive in their own right -- BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
As I stood there, entranced by the final letters of Marie Antoinette,
I felt for a moment as if I were living in real-time history.
Written from her prison cell just hours before her head was separated
from her shoulders, the doomed queen shared her most intimate
feelings in the saddest, sweetest way.
In real agony, the deposed royal thought little of herself.
She shed tears for those in her close circle of friends and family
rather than singing the blues about the fate of her own royal noggin.
Her husband was already dead, guillotined nearly a year earlier.
Dispassionate about braving the scaffold, she worried only for her children.
Marie begged her sister-in-law (to whom the letter was addressed) to soothe
things over for her kids, insisting they need not avenge her death.
It's words like these that bring history to life.
The power of the pen.
"Words are the only things that last forever."
William Hazlitt, British writer/philosopher
events of France in a visually engaging manner.
Their oldest document dates to 673.
Historical maps, the French Constitution of Fifth Republic and the
Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) are displayed in original form
under one gorgeous roof.
Look for the exhibit which uncovers encoded writing.
Secret codes and encrypted messages are more in the class of a
Da Vinci Code movie than a rare documents library.
Cardinal Richelieu, Charlemagne, and Hugh Capet are just a
few of the authors/lightning rods of this historical treasury.
Pen & ink and movers & shakers have long formed the perfect union.
by Joan of Arc; surely you'll be convinced of the degree to which
the French have pride in maintaining their historical pearls.
Odd pictograph signatures look like autographs
appropriated from creatures from another planet;
but no, they are simply signatures from the time of Charlemagne.
If King Louis XVI's journal isn't your cup of tea, you need not worry.
Take your own journal out to the manicured gardens
and celebrate the beauty and power of words on paper.
In this stirring location, you may be emboldened to compose
a post that will go down in the annals of time!
for the Princess of Soubise.
For princess wanna-be's -- you know who you are -- it's the ultimate fantasy.
Don't miss the Chambre de la Princesse -- carved and gilded,
it's a girlie-girl vision that never gets dated.
Disney princesses don't have anything on this lucky lady.
As a visitor it's good to know, indulging in someone else's
dream-come-true is good for your health.
"Fairytales can come true. You've got to make them happen -- it all depends on you."
Princess Tiana from the Disney feature "The Princess and the Frog"
I do believe, I do believe, I do believe....
Sinuous curves and egg shaped rooms are the perfect backdrop
for paintings by Francois Boucher and Charles-Joseph Natoire.
Venus and Adonis look down from the ceiling in the princess chamber.
illuminated by shimmering chandeliers and gilded mirrors.
Oh to be a house hunter back in the 18th century....
Hôtel de Soubise's sweeping space offers temporary exhibits,
by and large based on important events in French history.
My timing was good; I discovered a detailed account of Paris circa 1968,
a piece of history I had long hoped to understand from a French perspective.
Living in the U.S., 1968 has always been known as a year of crisis.
It turns out it was the same for the French.
School history covered little of it, as a general rule
referring to student strife and unrest in Paris.
It seems our own chaos overshadowed what was happening to our oldest ally.
We had our Vietnam, assassinations and sexual awakening.
France had a societal change that began in 1968 and didn't let go.
The National Archives' special exhibit was brutally disturbing.
Images showed this was far more than just an outpouring of youthful frustration.
and the Sorbonne filled with students openly calling for revolution.
Poets and musicians energized the mob, followed soon by
the regular working man frustrated with France's politics of privilege
championed by fuddy-duddy President Charles de Gaulle.
The "people" demanded anti-authoritarianism.
They fought for the impossible, the rally cry of social revolution.
Two thirds of the French workforce went on strike or were affected by them.
Cobblestones in the Latin Quarter were dug up and hurled at police while the gendarmes, in turn, fired water cannon at the protesting crowds.
Life in beautiful Paris grew ugly.
This is a good reminder that badass days eventually settle down.
As we watch unpleasant events today in real time, it's comforting to
reflect back on "the good old days" that weren't so good after all.
for your first or second visit to the City of Light -- but I promise, as you yearn
to know Paris better and deeper, this is an exceptional destination.
The chest-thumping entertainment stuff we normally pursue can wait.
Digging deep into a country's culture is fulfilling.
A walk through Hôtel de Soubise feels like a whispered hallelujah to France.
Consider this. You can get to know people by watching and listening to them.
What better way to wrap your head around French history than by
"meeting" many of the great doers and shakers.
Truly, these archives are Paris people-watching at its best.
"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."