Print-On-Demand at the Librairie des Presses Universitaires de France

Daydreaming on the way to the secret hideout this morning, I missed the train stop. I got off at the next one, thinking to walk to the metro connection. A small bookstore caught my eye on rue Monsieur le Prince.

La librairie de Presses Universitaires de France“La librairie des puf” sells books from Les éditions PUF (Presses Universitaires de France), Belin, and Les éditions de l’Observatoire.

The thing is this: the books are printed in the shop.

When you order a book from their website, it’s printed on what looks like a photocopier attached to transparent box with various screens poking out, an Espresso Book Machine.

Espresso Book Machine
Espresso Book Machine

Fiona, the young lady keeping the shop, launched a print to show me how it worked. From an off-site server, she downloaded l’Antiquité orientale by Pierre Amiet, a reference in archaeology. The paper block is produced on a Xerox printer on one side, while the cover is printed on an Epson color printer attached to the opposite end. The two come together in a glass-encased binder with a shot of glue.

Printing cover
Printing cover
Gluing paperblock
Gluing paperblock
Trimming
Trimming

The machine grips the near-finished book to rotate and trim the sides, and drops it in the delivery slot. The whole process takes about 5 minutes. They’ll ship the product to you, or you can pick it up at the shop.

Voilà - a book
Voilà —a book!

They also have working space with wifi for free and coffee for a couple euros. I didn’t make it to the secret hideout today…

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Petit Lot at LM Opticien

Cette article existe en version française“Where can I get the book?”
“At LM Opticien, of course!”

I’ve said before that we never know what’s going to happen on an adventure. On a quest for glasses, we stumble upon a book…

Laëtitia has been my optician for the last 15 years. One day she said to me, “I’d like to sell your book in the shop.”

I asked how she got the idea to sell books in an eyeglass boutique.

“I like virtuous circles,” Laëtitia said. “Each one of us has to add our link to the chain, to bring everyone together.

Until Christmas at lm opticien, Petit Lot et le Grand Cor de la licorne
Until Christmas
at lm opticien

“Selling a book alongside a pair of glasses allows me to offer my clients another experience, to surprise them. It’s an opportunity to create an encounter. And an encounter can change everything.”

If, like the simpleton looking for his soul in the depths of colors, you see things upside down, you don’t need the loupe and the ring — a simple pair of glasses will do! Laëtitia and her team will be happy to welcome you into the boutique for your new glasses.

At the same time, you can flip through a book and read a few pages to test your vision.

Thanks to the glasses I got from Laëtitia, I see things right-side up!

 


Until Christmas, you’ll discover Petit Lot et le Grand Cor de la licorne on sale at LM Opticien: 18 avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, Paris 8è.

Don’t need glasses but looking for a good book to read in French? Continue your quest here: Petit Lot et le Grand Cor de la licorne.

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From Mont Valérien to Montparnasse

The Eiffel Tower from Mont Valérien to Les InvalidesYou may have seen this view before: the Eiffel Tower from the top of Tour Montparnasse. Have you noticed the mound below the horizon on the left?

 

Since antiquity, Mont Valérien was a high place of churches and hermits. Then, in the 19th century, long-range cannon came into wide use.

Tour Montparnasse  footman to the Iron LadyThis photo shows the return view: Tour Montparnasse (right) plays footman to the Iron Lady.

Louis-Phillip, last King of the French, made Mont Valérien a domain of the state in 1830 and built a star-shaped fort atop the hill in the 1840s. It was the only fort of the Parisian defensive belt to hold out against the enemy in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

During the war, 10,000 cannon shots were fired from the 162-meter high fortress. The largest cannon, named “La Valérie” by the troops, weighed 14 tons and had a range of 8 km (5 mi.).

Almost 150 years later, the fort remains. Now a modern military installation, it’s open to the public only on la journée de la patrimoine, French heritage day. The rest of the year, the best view is from a park just outside the curtain wall. From there, all of Paris is at your feet, and Tour Montparnasse is 8 km away…

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Muses of Montparnasse

In time primordial, before there were such things as music, story, or any art,
Earth and Sky were quiet, for no thought could yet be formed.
High atop Mount Helicon a winged horse touched hooves to ground,
Where sprung from Earth a fountain, jet of water unto Sky.
So from Gaia Mother Earth and Uranus Father Sky,
Were begat Melete and Mneme and Aoide, Muses of practice, memory, and song.

The concept of an inspirational muse was born as early as the eighth century BC. In that period, Hesiod dedicates the poetic Theogony as “a rhapsody in honor of the Muses.”

In his Description of Greece, the AD seventh-century Greek tourist Pausanias tells of two generations of Muses. The first consists of three elder Muses, daughters of Gaia and Uranus, born as water nymphs on Mount Helicon.

A second generation, offspring of the god-king Zeus and the memory goddess Mnemosyne, gives us the nine Muses of classical Greek mythology. Pausanias has the sisters comfortably installed in their home at the top of Mount Parnassus, one of Greece’s highest peaks.

Each Muse presides over her own domain:

Calliope — eloquence, epic poetry
Clio — history
Euterpe — music, song, lyric poetry
Erato — love poetry, elegy
Melpomene — tragedy
Polyhymnia — hymns, lyric poetry, pantomime
Terpsichore — dance
Thalia — comedy
Urania — astronomy 

Relief sculpture from a second-century Roman sarcophagusRelief sculpture of the nine Muses
from a second-century Roman sarcophagus, now at the Louvre

Such was the status quo until the seventeenth century, when artists, inspired by the Muses, began to imagine each their own personal muse:

“In the seventeenth century, muse was extended to the inspiration of each poet (1665, Boileau), often evoked in the feminine…”
—Muse entry from a French language historical dictionary, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, Alain Rey (translation mine)

Instead of inspiring the multitude, the third generation muse tends to the creative spark within an individual artist. Furthermore, while in previous generations muses were feminine, in modern times a muse’s gender is open to the artist’s interpretation:

“Traditionally, the muses were women, but mine’s a guy; I’m afraid we’ll just have to live with that.” —Stephen King, On Writing

Meanwhile, still in the seventeenth century, students at the University of Paris, La Sorbonne, held regular poetry recitals to test their wit. They chose for their venue the Pré-aux-Clercs, an abandoned stretch of land along the Seine given to the university by Charlemagne and neighbored by the Church of Saint-Germain des Prés.

In addition to love sonnets and heroic epics, bawdy limericks and derisive satire were among favorite forms. These later, fueled by quantities of alcohol and directed at clergy and church ladies, prompted a veritable war between students and churchmen. At least one death was reported in ensuing riots. Eventually, the university sold the land, and the students were encouraged to take their Dead Poets Society elsewhere.

On the outskirts of the city, a mound of rubble, piled up from a nearby stone quarry, became a convenient dumping ground. Once the city walls were pushed beyond the man-made hill, the dumping ceased, and nature reclaimed its rights.

Over time the mound was packed into a smooth hillock. It was covered with high grass and rampant weeds when the student poets moved in. Having learned well their lessons in Greek mythology, they welcomed inspiration to the recital space by naming the hill after the Greek home of Muses. 

Veuë d'une partie de l'église des carmes“View of part of Carmes Deschaussez Church
and the grand gallery of the Louvre”

In this seventeenth-century drawing by Israel Silvestre, the butte of Montmartre rises in the background, while the artist does his work on Mont de Parnasse (foreground)

The hill itself is long gone now, flattened to make way for Parisian boulevards. However, the name remains. As the city grew, the neighborhood that sprouted up around the old trash heap became known as Montparnasse.

Most recently, in the 1970s, the city’s only sky scraper was pulled up out of the ground: Tour Montparnasse, new home for muses.

Montparnasse Tower over the Jardin de LuxembourgMontparnasse Tower reaches into the sky over the Jardin de Luxembourg

 

 

 

 

 


The first part of this article is myth: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon” (Merriam-Webster). In this case, the myth explains the source of human inspiration.

The second part is legend: “a story coming down from the past; especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable” (Merriam-Webster). Though many guide books and historical street atlases make reference to the hell-raising student poets, I've found no primary source to support the story.


 

Plan de Paris en 1657Map of Paris
Johannes Janssonius, 1657

The map is oriented with north to the lower left corner. “Mont de Parnasse” is found in the upper right. The site today is Place Pablo-Picasso in the 6th arrondissement. It’s completely flat.

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Millet’s Paris

Between the Second French Revolution (1830) and the Third (1848), was the reign of Louis-Philippe. France would later have one more emperor, but Louis-Philippe was its last king.

During the First French Revolution, the ruling National Convention abolished the monarchy. Beginning in 1792, a series of parliamentary regimes called the First Republic followed. It was a period of wars and civil unrest that began with the Terror and gave way to the First Empire in 1804.

After the fall of Napoléon I in 1815, the monarchy was restored. Under Louis XVIII then Charles X, though the King of France was limited by a constitution, he still enjoyed divine right and the nation conceded to the absolute sovereign.

This period, called the Restoration, ended with the Trois Glorieuses, the Second Revolution named after the “Three Glorious” days in July, 1830, in which it took place. The last king was then installed. No divine right, no absolute sovereign, not even properly King of France, Louis-Philippe was titled “King of the French.”

Occupied with matters of state and his own head, Louis-Philippe, like the Restoration kings before him, paid little attention to the state of the capital. This was Victor Hugo’s Paris: impoverished, polluted, overpopulated, and disease-ridden. The growing working class, fuel for a nascent industrial economy, crowded the city center. Population density rose to 100,000 per square kilometer (compared to today’s 20,000/km2), a propitious environment for the spread of cholera. Above this cityscape, increased iron and coal production clouded the air with black soot.

In winter 1837, Jean-François Millet left his Normandy homeland. In a letter to Alfred Sensier, the peasant-painter later wrote (translation mine):

“I left with a heavy heart, and everything I saw on the road and in Paris only afflicted me more. Seeing the wide, straight roads, the trees in lines, the flat plains, the pastures so rich in verdure and livestock, that they seemed to me rather theater decor than real nature…! And Paris, black, muddy, smoky, where I arrived one evening, was for me the most painful as well as the most discouraging.”

Les Halles by Léon Augustin Lhermite

Les Halles by Léon Augustin Lhermite (1895)

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Rez de Jardin, Bibliotèque François Mitterrand

Bibliotèque François MitterrandI met Tom at a café I call the field office. Tom teaches history of religion to high school sophomores in Arizona. He comes to Paris every year to do research at the Bibliotèque François Mitterrand.

Tom said, “I work six floors under ground on the garden level.”

I said, “I gotta see that,” and we made plans to meet the next day.

 

Tom wasn't kidding. The Rez de Jardin is the research floor at the BnF. This photo was taken from the entrance level overlooking the garden, which is rather more like a forest.

Rez de JardinJardin at the Bibliotèque François Mitterrand

Below, the garden is surrounded by room after room of books and work spaces. Labeled by letters K through Y, the rooms are classed by subject: philosophy, history, science and technology, economics, politics, art and literature, and the rare book reserve.

Rare booksTom gave me a tour. We got as far as the rare book reserve…

The rare books are kept in room Y. To get to room Y, there’s a door in the back of room T. The door leads to a narrow elevator that goes up two floors into a low-ceiling space, filled with chest-high book cases, quiet, and dimly lit. A friendly, young man took our accreditation cards and let us browse. I was hoping he’d give us white cotton gloves.

Genesis  Gutenberg BibleThese are facsimiles of Caxton’s 1485 edition of Le Morte d’Arthur and a Gutenberg Bible.

Caxton's edition of Malory  1485

 

 No gloves required.

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Hanami, Ancient Japanese Tradition

The way opens between two hedge rows. Birds chitter within. Entering by a narrow lane, the world blooms into rosy hues. A soft breeze through branches carries the delicate scent of cherry blossoms. Cherry tree in bloom  Parc de SceauxCheckered blankets spread beneath them, well dressed men and women clink glasses. Laughing children roll in lush green grass. Tiny birds flit from branch to branch, tree to tree, twittering the news: “Spring, spring! Springtime is here!”

I walked into a cherry orchard at the Parc de Sceaux. All the trees were in full bloom, all the people were there to see them, and everyone brought a picnic.

Cherry blossoms  pink and white  dazzle in sunlightA Japanese guy set up a camera on a tripod. Its lens, as long as my forearm, extended toward pink and white blossoms, dazzling in the sunlight. The hollow pop of a cork leaving a Champagne bottle turned heads and made a girl giggle.

“Is there a party?” I asked the guy, my American accent coming through the French.

“Hanami,” he said with a Japanese accent, “ancient Japanese custom, big spring celebration.”

We chatted for a few minutes while he lined up a shot with the camera. I took a few photos as well and made a note to look up this custom when I got home. This is what I’ve found so far:

In eighth-century Japan, neighboring Chinese culture was considered more sophisticated. Such was its influence that the Japanese capital, Nara, was modeled after its Chinese counterpart, including numerous plum trees imported from China. Plum trees bloom in late February and mark the end of winter.

Tranquility beneath a cherry tree

Emperor Saga in the early ninth century is credited as the first to throw a party in a blooming orchard. Thus Hanami, “flower viewing” in Japanese, began among the elite of the imperial court.

Due to a rebellion in China, that country’s exports to Japan halted. This intercultural rupture is marked by the 894 abolition of Japan’s official delegations to China, which required an arduous crossing of the Sea of Japan. Reduced influence from the mainland allowed an independent Japanese culture to flourish, and the native cherry tree gained in popularity over the old plum tree. Blooming at the end of March, cherry blossoms mark the arrival of spring.

Curious margin note: The popularity of plum and cherry blossoms is measured by the number of mentions each receives throughout history in various writings, such as chronicles, diaries, and poetry, including waka and haiku. So many mentions for plums in this century versus only this many for cherries. The next couple centuries see an increase in cherry mentions and a decrease in plums. Vote for your favorite thing in writing!

Yayoi or Sangatsu  Asukayama Hanami
Yayoi or Sangatsu, Asukayama Hanami (Third Lunar Month, Blossom Viewing at Asuka Hill) by Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820), from the series Jūnikagetsu (Twelve Months), between 1772 and 1776. Color woodblock print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Hanami remained a practice of the elite until the eighteenth century. His people suffering from poverty, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune invited local subjects into a private cherry orchard to share in the springtime festival, which included a feast as well as cherry blossoms. The event was well received. The shogun then ordered the planting of cherry trees along rivers and lanes and encouraged the people to participate in the annual event.

Today, Hanami is as popular as ever in Japan, and the custom has spread around the world. In April of each year, some 200 Japanese cherry trees attract members of the local Japanese community and Parisians to two orchards in the Parc de Sceaux, south of Paris.

I’m still hunting down the provenance of these particular trees. I’ll update this article when I find out. Meanwhile, if you want to see the spectacle, it’s happening this week!

 

Stephen Wendell lives near the Parc de Sceaux, where he goes for a daily run. He is the author of the Littlelot series of children’s books and The Way to Vict’ry, a book of three haiku inspired by Sun Tzu, Matthieu Ricard, and a magpie flight instructor.

Northern cherry orchard  west of the Grand Canal

View of the northern (pink) cherry tree orchard, west of the Grand Canal, Parc de Sceaux

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History of the World in Doors

I love doors. Whenever Catherine and I go exploring in a town or village, I always fall behind because I'm looking at them. I have the idea that you could tell the history of civilization talking about doors.

This one, opposite the corner of rue Monsieur Le Prince and rue Dupuytren, integrates the window above. Check out the carved Earth motif. There are other things in there, too, including a book. I'm going to have to find out who made this door and why.

Door Monsieur Le Prince Dupuytren

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