Skye Duke: Paris 2022

Metro Line 1 / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Over Under Paris: Line 1

By Skye Duke of Florida International University, in Paris during July 2022

1. Charles de Gaulle-Etoile

Arc de Triomphe / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

When using metro line 1, it often feels as though it was built with the intention of catering to the average tourist in Paris. This stop leads straight up to the Arc de Triomph, arguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. This metro stop enforces the accessibility in which the metro system grants, as it puts the user directly where they intend to go.

Built in 1806 for Napoleon, the monument serves as celebration of Frances victories. The artistic mind behind it was architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin. It was inspired by the Arc of Titus, in a neoclassical style. The monument took 30 years to build, and has the names of victories and generals involved inscribed on it. Notably, in 1921, an unnamed soldier who fought in World War 1 was buried beneath the Arch. An eternal flame, that is relit everyday, burns in tribute to all those soldiers who were left unidentified following World War I and II. I was personally not aware that the monument is now a memorial for these wars though I have seen various images of the Arc de Triomphe surrounded by Nazi symbolism during the time period. The monument proves that a place is not defined by its past and the rhetoric of those who intend to cause harm. The monument is still effective in celebrating the achievements of France, proven by the millions that visit from far and wide.

2. George V

This metro stop brings you right into the centre of Champs Elysees, coming out right next to Louis Vuitton. The metro stop was opened in the 1900, and was renamed in 1920 in order to acknowledge the efforts of the UK during World War 1, George V being the King at the time. The original name being Alma station, originating from a battle with a similar name. This area is where the Tour de France concludes its race, along with hosting the military parade on Bastille day. It is one of the most famous commercial roads in the world, perfect for shopping and taking in the bustling atmosphere of Paris. This strip of Paris is somewhat at odds with its surroundings. The Arc de Triomphe visible all the way down serving as a relic of the past, conflicting with the superficial and modern nature of the district. I consider whether the thousands in which flood down the street to spend obscene amounts of money in designer stores fully understand the historical significance of the area, as their eyes occasionally drift over the monument commissioned by Napoleon.

3. Tuileries

Dante and Virgil / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The Jardin des Tuileries are beautiful, located right next to where the Tuileries metro stop surfaces. Entering the gardens feels almost as though one leaves Paris. Within the gardens sits the Musee de l’Orangerie, which is also extremely close to another stop on line one called Concorde. The art museum is known for its collection of Monet pieces, one of which being the famous Water Lilies. Pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir and Rousseau can all be found in the museum, making it a popular and important attraction for art lovers. 

The Musee d’Orsay was perhaps one of my favorite places we went during the trip. I unfortunately missed the class due to covid but was given the opportunity to attend on an Over Under day. The art museum is located in a perfect position in relation to its proximity to the Tuileries, only a ten minute walk away from the metro stop. In this museum, I discovered my new favorite painting of all time, titled Dante and Virgil. Painted by William Adolphe Bouguereau in 1850, the painting is raw and dark. I have not been able to stop thinking about it.

That being said, I left both museums with a new love for impressionism (and Monet). I have always thought the style to be beautiful and impressive, but I do tend to feel drawn to art that displays blatant passion, where emotions drip from the paintings. And yet I also have a fixation of things with hidden truths, where an outward appearance conceals whats below the surface. Impressionism and its nuanced social and political connotations are as intriguing as the artistic skills are impressive. I recently did a project on Oscar Wilde, who argued that politics have no place in art. That art exists for the purpose of being art. I did find a lot of what he said profound when reading through some of his work, and his writing was often beautiful. But I vehemently disagree with his stance in aestheticism. I think that art can be beautiful in its simplicity but context, intentional meaning in which relates to society, can only enrich art, instead of devaluing it.

4. Louvre Rivoli

This is a stop where you know where you are instantly. The museum’s experience starts from the moment you look out the window, before the doors even open. The darkly lit but moody ambience prepares one for the overwhelming art that you are about to be immersed into. The Louvre is famous globally, and it is easy to understand why. 

As someone who is completely obsessed with Greek mythology, to see statues of the gods that I have grown up learning about and spent my life consumed by, all of which were crafted in a different time, was an amazing experience. The statue of Nike is not only beautiful but a piece of art that I have talked about for years. That in a sense sums up the experience of entering and exploring the Louvre museum – seeing world famous pieces of art that you have spent your life learning about and seeing… and being expected to remain calm and composed. 

The Louvre houses over 30,000 pieces of art, and on a daily basis has around 15,000 visitors, and I’d wager that every single one of them flocks to see the Mona Lisa. The painting is indeed worth the visit and I do not intend to diminish its significance. Yet, it does amuse me that perhaps one of the smallest paintings in the whole museum is the most famous… and that leads me to consider the process of an art piece becoming immortalised by history. Humans choose which pieces become famous, which pieces stand the test of time.

Art, or the process of viewing it, is somewhat of a humbling experience. To look upon a piece of the world, a remnant of the creator’s time and mind. To feel their emotions, to see their souls bared in such a brave way. That they had the courage to put paint to canvas, to let everything of themselves pour out into the world. I find that I don’t let myself release enough of myself, for fear that the world simply doesn’t care. I wonder if these revered artists trembled as they shared their work? Wonder if they doubted themselves, thought silence, or in their cases an absence of work was better than being vulnerable. I find passion in writing. But I don’t share it with the world often. I ponder, after having seen so much incredible art, what the world would have been had Leonardo da Vinci let insecurity win when bringing the Mona Lisa into the world. The Louvre inspired me, in ways that I can’t begin to express. But I will leave Paris with a new will to write, and to live with much less fear of the world.

5. Chatelet

Perhaps one of the most surprising stops, in regard to impact, was Chatalet, though not for any reasons one may assume. Of course, the stop was our point of intersection for line one and line four which was potentially our most used line as it was at the university, and the surrounding area hosted a plethora of stores and shopping places. It was a Uyghurs protest that caught my attention. There were dozens of people chanting in uniform against the horrific situation, and not a single person was paying them any attention.

Last year I attended a forum held by the Human Rights Foundation, where some of the most prominent activists were present and spoke on various human rights issues. It was during this that I truly learnt of the atrocities that are occurring in China. It is disturbing that this human rights issue is not widely known, or considered. I left feeling complicit in my ignorance… and had a certificate in human rights and political transition added to my major by the next day.

This protest truly forced me to consider the Eurocentric nature of outrage in regard to human rights issues. The Ukrainian flag has (rightfully) been all over France, the country’s display of solidarity. Whilst my point by no means seeks to undermine Ukraine’s situation and the importance of aiding and addressing the current affairs, there are issues I find with the dismissal of other severe conflicts. I have seen people on the streets collecting money for Ukraine, I have seen flags and posters to raise awareness. And yet, this protest did not grasp any sympathy or attention from those around them, and I do believe it to be due to a lack of understanding the severity of the issue – this is all because of a lack of awareness and effort in offering aid. 

6. Hotel de Ville

Paris City Hall / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

The stop named Hotel de Ville was the home to City Hall. The neo-renaissance building itself is impressive, the landmark becoming so much more so when considering that it symbolises the deep well of history in regard to France and its politics. Revered as being at the forefront of human rights, the French Revolution is of the most impactful in regard to such broad scale change. The building has housed the city council since 1357. Outside the hall stands a display which expresses the importance of standing up for human rights, and presents three prominent activists, Dennis Mukwege, Loujain Al Hathloul and Nasrin Sotoudeh. The pursuit and process of prioritising human rights feels fundamental to the foundations of the country, as it is built upon a revolution in which demanded equality and justice for all.

That being said, whilst the country feels fairly progressive and safe, there are certain elements that forces one to quickly remember the reality that France, like all countries, bears the burden of modern life and the threats that come with it. One cannot enter City Hall, as it is a functioning government building, but they can enter the tourist information centre which is a part of the opulent building. To enter, your bag must be checked and there are metal detectors to walk through. All to get some pamphlets and buy some souvenirs. The stark reality of terrorism in the modern world is reminded through even the smallest elements such as this. Frances anti terrorism tactics are peppered throughout the city, in the armed forces strolling under the Eiffel Tower and the security measures in museums along with tourism heavy areas.

7. Saint Paul

Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

This stop is named after a church right by where it surfaces, Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. Its beautiful, built using the baroque style in the 17th century under, funded by Louis XIII. This church is notable in that it is first in the shift to completely abandon the gothic style utilised in churches. It is a Catholic church, which I thought was interesting as the surrounding area was once the Jewish Quarter. This stop brings access to the district of Le Marais, which from my exploration has a plethora of cute tourist catering cafes and shops. Whilst it was busy, full of tourists, the cobblestone feel, along with the old buildings and tucked away courtyards made the area of my favourites. It is of the oldest districts in Paris and the Jewish population settled there in 13th century. Additionally, Victor Hugo once lived here, a famous novelist known for writing works such as Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

8. Bastille

July Column / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Bastille is a fairly significant stop in regard to history. The statue known as the July Column serves as a monument of the Revolution of 1830, which sought to rid Charles X of his thrown, after it had been reestablished following the initial French Revolution. It is huge and forces one to consider the history of France and the importance of its revolutions. It is impactful, standing on the grounds in which Bastille prison once stood, knowing the significance of the French Revolution and the events which occurred. The statue sits right next to Opera Bastille, an opera house. And across from both lived a group of homeless people.

To see two things so grand, surrounded by a camp of homeless people was jarring. A statue that can be associated with an emphasis on human rights and a better life for all, beside those abandoned by society.

It is easy to analyse the changes that have occurred, and claim Paris to be the blueprint in rights – but it is equally as important to acknowledge that Paris is still facing modern issues, where equality and justice is denied to certain groups. The Storming of the Bastille was an integral part of Revolution, which ultimately brought about the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and it is a stark contrast to be stood on the grounds of a place that now represents these ideals whilst next to those that society often deems less than. 

9. Gare de Lyon

In leaving Paris to go to Brussels, it became apparent that the appeal of transportation in France exceeds that of the metro but also includes the ease in which moving between European countries hold. This metro stop is conveniently connected to the main train station and the RER. Entering the station named Gare de Lyon left me with the feeling of France opening up before my eyes. The station was built in 1855, and is divided into three halls. 101 million pass through the station a year, highlighting its significance in travel. The station is considered a historical monument, and is known for its architecture and clock tower. The accessibility of transportation in this country allows makes the world feel small, in the sense that you can really go anywhere. A couple minutes away is Quai de Bercy Bus Station, which equally makes leaving the country doable.

10. Chateau de Vincennes 

Chateau de Vincennes / Photograph taken by Olivia Guthrie / CC by 4.0

As someone who has spent their life obsessing over the genre of high fantasy, walking up to Chateau de Vincennes whisked me away to a different place. The Keep itself felt reminiscent of Game of Thrones, the medieval stone, winding staircases, cobblestone corridors. The Sun King’s presence is felt in the Chateau. Whilst it was built originally to be a hunting lodge, like Versailles, the place was built up and developed to suit the stylistic demands of the court. Louis VIX himself had design influence, having spent time adding to the Chateau before deciding Versailles to be the home of the court. The fact can be easily determined by the Versailles-like feel of the buildings surrounding the Keep. 

It was an interesting contrast to walk the halls of a 14th century Keep and look out down onto modern scaffolding – these two things so at odds with each other, competing for a place in time. It is places like this that astound me as to the permanence in which certain historical places manage to hold. I wonder if time is cruel or kind to its victims, is a place not better preserved if it were left in its time? Does a place of the past still belong solely to that period when modernity has claimed it so? 

I have contemplated this throughout the trip, as I have been so awed by what we’ve seen. I cannot help but consider what other wonders once existed but were simply claimed by time. These places serve almost as a reminder of the past but also all that’s been lost.

References

Bureau, P. C. and V. (n.d.). Arc de Triomphe – Paris Tourist Office. en.parisinfo.com. Retrieved from https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71396/Arc-de-Triomphe

Bureau, P. C. and V. (n.d.). Hôtel de Ville de Paris – paris tourist office. en.parisinfo.com. Retrieved from https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71544/Hotel-de-Ville-de-Paris

Bureau, P. C. and V. (n.d.). Église Saint-Paul Saint-Louis du Marais – Paris tourist office. en.parisinfo.com. Retrieved from https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71949/%C3%89glise-Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis-du-Marais

Gare de Lyon – Paris Tourist Office. en.parisinfo.com. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://en.parisinfo.com/transport/73400/Gare-de-Lyon

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