Monday, March 26, 2018

A walk through Paris

Condorcet (1743-1794)

When I went to Paris last week, it was because I wanted to see Händel’s opera Alcina. It was performed by a dream cast with the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who has a voice like an angel, and the mezzo Cecilia Bartoli in the leading parts. The story of Alcina has been taken from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso and it is about the knight Ruggiero who has fallen in love with the sorceress Alcina and who was in her clutches, just as the Greek hero Odysseus who was in Calypso’s grasp, as Homer told us.
However, I wanted to do more than just take the train to Paris, go to the theater, spend the night in a hotel and return home next day. It wasn’t the first time that I was in Paris and now I decided simply to take a walk downtown. Or rather, it would not be a simple walk but a walk with two themes: a sociological theme and a philosophical theme. I got the idea for the sociological theme when I walked from the railway station to my hotel after my arrival in Paris: To point my camera down and to photograph what I saw. I’ll upload this photograph report of Paris soon to my photo website, and I’ll tell you when I do. Here I’ll write about the philosophical theme: Taking pictures of statues of philosophers.
There are statues of gods, statues of persons and statues of animals. You find them in public and in buildings, like churches and government buildings. They tell a lot about whom and what society considers important and worth to honour. Since Paris is a big town, you find there many statues, and I had to make a choice. I could have made it myself easy and have gone to the Louvre: Hundreds of statues adorn its façades. Statues of scientists, writers, craftsmen, philosophers, and others who made France great (or so they think). However, I preferred to take a real walk and are you surprised that the first man I photographed was Montaigne? I found him somewhere on the side of a little park, sitting on a stone and friendly smiling. A statue of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, drinking milk from a she-wolf nearby. Montaigne loved Rome but even more he loved Paris. “Paris has my heart since my childhood”, as an inscription on the statue says. He came there often, although it took him a horse ride of more than a week from his castle near Bordeaux. Did you know that Montaigne spent a night in the prison of the Bastille? In one of the civil wars that raged in France then he was run in by one of the warring factions and shut up there. But as soon as Catherina de Medici, the mighty mother of the king of France, heard about it, he was released.
I find Montesquieu and Voltaire next together in another little park: The former represented by a bust, the latter full length with a coat on his shoulders and a book in his left hand. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu gave us the idea that there are three administrative powers: the executive power, the legislative power and the judicial power. These three powers must be separated and kept independent of each other, so he says; and many states do. And need I to introduce Voltaire, which is actually the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet? He was an advocate of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and separation of state and church, although he defended the freedom of speech more for himself than for others. His literary production was enormous with 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. Like Montaigne, he spent some time in the Bastille: Not one day but eleven months.
Then Condorcet. I find him between the Mint and the Institute of France, on the border of the Seine. The full name of this politician, mathematician and philosopher was Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis of Condorcet. He has been a director of the Mint and a member of the French Academy of Sciences. In 1794 he died a mysterious death in prison.
Next I walk to the Louvre and take pictures of some of the philosophers’ statues there. Not Descartes, whom I had photographed already long ago in Descartes, his town of birth – which was later named after him – but Pascal and Rousseau. Then it’s time to go to the opera, and I walk to the Théâtre de Champs Élysées in the Avenue de Montaigne.

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