Anne of Austria was the wife of Louis XIII. When she after 23 years of marriage – at the age of 36 - at last gave birth to child, a son, the future Louis XIV, she decided in gratitude to build a chapel as part of a Benedictine convent she had previously founded. It seems that the seven year old son laid the cornerstone in 1645. The Val-de-Grâce church stood ready in 1667. One of the two architects was François Mansart. The roof painting is by Pierre Mignard (who gave the name to “mignardise” – a French word for delicacy), close friend of Molière. He later became “first painter” of the Royal court.

The Benedictine convent was used as a military hospital during the revolutionary years and the church was one of the few which escaped from vandalism. It remains therefore as it was and is certainly one of the best examples in Paris of baroque architecture. To make sure to have the marble floor saved, a sacristan had it covered by plaster; it was rediscovered only some decades later.

After the Revolution, the convent was converted to a military hospital and it still is, although open also to non military. Large modern buildings have been added in the 70’s. The hospital is normally the one where the French top officials are brought in case of need.

The old convent buildings have been transformed to a museum (photos not allowed) for French army medicine. They also house the Army Medical School.


How to get rid of old stuff

When I left my flat Saturday late morning, there were deviations and some smoke in the surrounding streets... Finally, there was nothing to worry about. The deviation was due to a large “vide grenier” sale and the smoke came from some sausage grilling. (I have a problem to translate the word “vide grenier”, which actually means emptying the attics, but different sources indicate “yard sale, car boot sale, bric-a-brac sale...”.) Anyhow, it was organised to allow the people in the neighbourhood to get rid of old stuff. The bus stop was closed.
It was an important one and was planned for the whole weekend. The ones selling Saturday would be replaced by others Sunday and the area covered by stands was large.
You could find almost anything ... and at very reasonable prices. I returned home with nothing except some photos.

Every hour there was a concert and some other musical entertainment.
As there are a number of bars and restaurants around, it was fairly easy to get restored. The weather was summer like.


Seine bridges - night shots

My two last posts have been a bit long to read. So, as a compensation, here is one with basically photos only.

Some ten months ago I made a number of posts on the Paris Seine bridges, with all photos taken daytime. I thought I could complete this by some night shots.

Some bridges are more or less illuminated and some are quite spectacular when the daylight is gone.

I made a tour along the Seine the other night going upstream. I took photos of some 15 bridges. I concentrated maybe on the Pont Alexandre III (also on the top photo).
Here is a small collection, more or less in order, going up the river. In some cases I took also pictures of the immediate surroundings, like of Place de la Concorde, of Grand Palais...

When I reached Pont des Arts, I gave up with a last shot of the next bridge, Pont Neuf, which may be part of a series of the remaining bridges; one night, when the weather is nice, I will continue the tour.
I wish you a nice weekend!



As mentioned in my previous post, I decided to stay in my area (Batignolles, Paris 17) during the Heritage Days, hoping to avoid the longest queues. I was a bit curious about the freemasonry and took the opportunity to visit the “Grand Loge de France” (rue Puteaux). As you can see, I could not quite avoid the queuing and it took a small hour to get in.

The building dates from the end of the 19th century and was first a monastery, then, after the separation of the State and the Church in 1905, a cabaret, until the freemasons bought the building in 1910. During WW II, the building was confiscated by the occupants.

The visit was very well organised and we got some very qualified guides who took us through the library, the “temples” (a smaller one and a bigger one, the old monastery chapel having been cut in two) and some other places.
We got thus some qualified explanations of the freemasonry movement and I also read through a bit of documentation. I’m not a freemason and had everything to learn. Maybe some of you would be interested to learn a bit of what I have gathered?

The origin of the freemasons is rather unclear. There are different tendencies linking it to some very ancient traditions, but you may conclude that there are links to guilds (or lodges) of the Middle Ages and possibly also to the Knight Templars who were executed or fled to Scotland around 1300. The word “free mason” may be linked to “franc maçon” (masons, church builders, who were free of taxation). The freemasons pretended to be builders, not of churches, but of more moral issues.

The foundation of today’s masonry rules seems to have its origins from 1717 – in London – and the constitution rules were published by a Scotsman, James Anderson, in 1723. One of the (two?) still existing copies of this document was shown during our visit.
Freemasons have played significant roles in society during especially the 18th, 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, basically in favour of the Revolutions, in the separation of Church and State, against fascism...

There have been and are today different tendencies of freemasonry, of more traditional obedience (ancients or “antients”) or referring to a more “modern” version. There is a certain separation between the Anglo-Saxon / American lodges and the European ones (often referred to as “orients”). Some are more neutral, like the one I visited, “Grand Loge de France”.

Today most lodges pretend to be in favour of free thinking, are not religious or clearly political, just open to free discussion and personal development, interpreting their mason symbols....

There seem totally to be some 5 million adherents in the world, whereof some 2 millions in the US and some 150 thousand in France, the biggest one, “Grand Orient de France” having some 47 thousand, the “Grand Loge de France” some 28 thousand.

I found a list of famous freemasons, which include most US presidents, until Gerald Ford and also an impressive list of personalities like: Christopher Wren, Bartholdi (Statue of Liberty), Eiffel, Chagall, Mucha, Citroën, J-H Dunant (Red Cross), Churchill, Conan Doyle, Goethe, Kipling, Walter Scott, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, PG Woodhouse, Nelson, Wellington, Alexander Fleming (penicillin), Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Liszt, Mozart, Schiller, Darwin, Allende, Bolivar, Garibaldi, King George VI, Napoleon, Franklin, La Fayette, Buffalo Bill (Cody), David Crocket, Henry Ford, Gilette, Hoover, DeMille, Al Johnson, Harpo Marx, John Wayne, Mark Twain, McArthur, Irving Berlin, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller, Jack Dempsey, Arnold Palmer...


Victor Jacquemont

In 1991 the European Council launched the European Heritage Days. Throughout Europe, thousands of sites, normally closed to public, open their doors for a few days in September, normally during a weekend. In France, these days took place this weekend.

I could have gone to the Elysée Palace (and have greeted Nicolas and Carla) or to the Paris Town Hall (and have greeted Bertrand), but the queues are enormous. I made the National Assembly two years ago, but this year I chose some more local and modest sites.

Different associations take the opportunity to create some local events. I went to one organised in the area where I live, Batignolles, Paris 17. My friend and historian Rodolphe Trouilleux, author of the bestseller Paris Insolite et Secret (just appearing in a new edition) had, together with actor and director Jean Grimaud, written a play about Victor Jacquemont, botanist, geologist and writer, who travelled to India in 1828 and died there of a disease at the age of 31, in 1832.

Many of us have regularly passed on the small rue Jacquemont, but hardly anybody of us would know anything about the person behind the name. We now know that it was worth learning something about him. His life was told in a number of scenes, played by some professional but mostly by amateur actors along the street and in the courtyards.

In a few words, what we learned about Victor Jacquemont: Excellent student of medicine, geology, botany, he was also highly interested in music and literature. He established friendship with Stendahl, Alexandre Dumas, Prosper Merimée (who wrote “Carmen”, which later gave the opera)... and got into an obviously too one-sided love with an Italian female singer. He was advised that the best way to forget was to travel. He travelled first to the U.S. (recommended by La Fayette, friend of the family) and Haïti. There he got a proposition to travel to India on a mission for the Jardin des Plantes (the Paris Botanical Gardens) - see previous post.

In India he visited Pondichéry, Calcutta, Lahore (met the emperor), Ladakh, Bardhaman... During the three and a half year he spent in India, he collected thousands of plants, stones, naturalized animals... all shipped back to France. His friends, especially Prosper Mérimée, saw to it that his work became known. The collection is today still preserved at the Jardin des Plantes and his wide and well written correspondence with family and friends has been published and the originals can be found at our National Library. A small temporary exhibition with samples had been organised – unfortunately I was not allowed to make any close-ups (copyright issues). There was also a small exhibition of especially embroidered art made by an Indian community.
Here you can get an idea of what Victor Jacquemont looked like, one portrait made by the wife of Propser Mérimée and another one by Claude Monet.

PS, added: It seems that Prosper never married (although he liked women). So, the portraitiste can not be his wife, which my source indicated. ? As Adam remarked, the portrait made by Monet must be made after the death of Victor; he started painiting some 30 years later.

Added: September 28: There is an error: The Monet paininig is well of a Victor Jacquemont, but another one!


Back in Paris

Back in Paris – at least for a while. Sorry for being absent from blogging for a too long time.

In Sweden, I was too busy to have the opportunity to do some real photographing, but at least here is a proof that I was there.

This is a statue, called “Poseidon”, which you can find in front of the Gothenburg Art Museum (and the Hasselblad Centre). The statue (by Carl Milles) which stands here since 1931 has become something like a symbol of the city.

I wish you a nice weekend!