Tag Archive | Louvre

French Friday #30: The king wuz here

Whew! It has been a little while since we’ve had a French Friday, hasn’t it? Here’s a fun one! (As usual, all photos are mine).

Every king needs a healthy dose of megalomania, right? The French kings weren’t lacking, that’s for sure. They were awfully fond of their building projects, and wanted to be certain that everyone knew who was behind it. What better way than to carve your name in stone? Names can get long, though, so initials or symbols serve the same purpose.

Queen mom and son at Ste. Chappelle in Paris.

Under the relief carvings of the book of Genesis on the upper porch of Sainte Chappelle, you see this castle and fleur-de-lis motif repeated. The castle represents Blanche de Castile, who served as regent for her son Louis IX (St. Louis), represented by the fleur-de-lis. These same images are also used on the floor tiles in the lower level of the church.

François 1st really kicked off the building party during the Renaissance. He was tired of living in drafty fortresses and decided that a king of his ilk needed something more magnificent. So he had the entire Louvre razed to the ground and built himself a new one. But that wasn’t enough, so he also commissioned the château at Fontainebleau. And Chambord. And several others. The man liked the good life. His personal symbol was the salamander, which hardly seems very kingly. But back in François’ time, the salamander was believed to be akin to dragons. Now we’re talking! That explains why you will see fire-breathing salamanders wherever François spent any time. François’ monogram was a double F, one often mirroring the other for symmetry. He also made sure that it graced all of his new construction.

François' golden F's and flaming salamander in Fontainebleau


That's one fierce salamander. Stone relief in Vincennes.

After Francois, came Henri II. He has one of the most recognizable monograms and one of the best stories behind it.

Look closely at the chandelier and ceiling and upper walls

On the chandelier, there are blue medallions with an H and three interlocking C’s alternating around. The H is obviously for Henri and the C’s are for his wife, Catherine de’ Medici. But the most famous of Henri’s monograms is the one just over the window at the left. The DHC.

A little clearer in black & white

Inexplicably, this is the only photo I have of this particular monogram, even though it was repeated with abandon throughout Fontainebleau and the Louvre, among several other châteaux. The H is visible in the center, flanked by forward and backward-facing C’s. Well, that’s what Henri told his wife. But if you look more closely, you’ll see that the “backward C” is, in fact, a D, which stood for Diane. That’s right — the other woman. Diane de Poitiers was Henri’s mistress, and there was no secret about it. She enjoyed such an important distinction at court that Henri had no qualms in incorporating her into his monogram all over France.

The next few kings also had monograms which are visible in the royal palaces, but no one was quite so full of himself as Louis XIV. Besides all the old places where he could build on additions and new wings, he also built Versailles, possibly for the sole purpose of putting his name everywhere. Ok, not really, but Louis XIV wanted to be in everyone’s head all the time. His monogram is the mirrored script L and his symbol is the sun, because he likened himself to Apollo.

Louie Louie! Floor at Les Invalides (unfortunately taken upside down. Whoops! But I flipped it so you could see the L's).


Bright and shiny as the sun. Main gate at Versailles.

Of course, history’s biggest megalomaniac left plenty of evidence of himself. Would you expect anything less? You’ll find N’s everywhere in Paris. Napoleon definitely left his mark. The subsequent revolutions and reinstatement of the monarchy erased a few and replaced them with their own symbols. Once again, I remember taking photos of at least a few of these N’s, but can’t seem to find them in my photo folder. You’ll have to take my word for it. Or better yet, take a trip to Paris, and snap a few shots yourself! I should start making lists of things I need to photograph whenever I do get to go back… But I digress.

Louis XVIII, post Napoleon, scraped off the N's, but left the Napoleonic lion. Hm. (Louvre)


Not to be outdone, the new République Française made sure to put its stamp on the Louvre.

So here’s a French-inspired craft project for all of you: Go brand your own house. Don’t they say, “a man’s home is his castle”? Well, that makes you king (or queen). And don’t let anyone forget it.



French Friday #26: Wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’

Last night, Konik woke up sad and scared. After cuddling with him for a few minutes, I put him back to bed and returned to my own. He went right back to sleep, but by that time, my brain wouldn’t turn off. For some reason, I started thinking about going to France. It’s not an unusual thought for me. I’ve been wishing for 6 years that we could go back. No, I’ve been dreaming about going back for fifteen years, ever since I returned from my first trip back in high school. I’ve tried to explain this longing to my family and to others who are curious about why I care so much about a country that isn’t my own. But it is mine.

Louvre courtyard

When we were living there, my parents and youngest brother came to visit us. My brother asked me if I missed the United States. It was a good question. I did miss the U.S., but in an entirely different way than how I miss France when I’m away from there. I explained to him that it’s like the difference between being away from family versus being away from a lover. I’ve lived away from my family pretty much since I left for college, with the exception of the year following my graduation. Since that time, it’s a good year if I see any member of my family twice in a 12-month span. I do miss them, and I look forward to those times when we can be together, but it’s not an all-consuming ache. When Mr. Gren and I were dating, he went away on a month-long trip to Slovakia (and proposed three days after he returned). While we were apart, my heart ached for him; I wanted to be in his company; I missed him.

Notre Dame south tower

As an American, the U.S. is my home, my family. I know the ins and outs, the good, the bad and the ugly about life in America, just like we all know the best and worst parts of our own family. Then we meet someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with. We know that person isn’t perfect and that there will be times that he or she frustrates the heck out of us, but they’re worth it. The love and passion is deep enough to forgive the faults.

Vertical view of the Eiffel Tower

France is far from a perfect place. It has flaws and failings, but I love it with all my heart. And my heart longs to be back there. I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to live there again, but I continually hope and dream for the day that we can visit again. Rana was born there and although she was only 9 months old when we returned to the States, she, too, feels some of that longing to be back. We’ve talked to her so much about our time there, and all the places we took her. At one year old, she recognized photos of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. She has heard our stories and can retell them as though she remembers the event. Picnicking on the Champs de Mars, squealing with joy at the sight of Winged Victory in the Louvre, falling asleep on the metro… And, funnily enough, Rana has some peculiar French mannerisms that I can only assume she absorbed through osmosis in her nine months there. France is in her blood, too.

Clock on the Hôtel de Ville

So last night, I was imagining what it would be like to finally take our family on a trip to France. My imagination skipped right over the 9 hour flight with three small children and fast-forwarded to the part where I could show them the Eiffel Tower in real life. Let them touch it. Stage a picture in the Champs de Mars where we had that picnic so long ago. I imagined their reaction at being in the courtyard of the Louvre, being able to dabble their fingers in the triangle pools, entering through the pyramid, seeing the sphinx, touching the walls of the medieval Louvre. I pictured their faces standing in front of Notre Dame’s imposing façade, hearing the beautiful tones of the organ, inhaling the incense, then going outside to admire the statue of Charlemagne (who they know all about thanks to the brilliant videos made by historyteachers on YouTube). I smiled at the thought of their wonderment at experiencing the market and introducing them to my vegetable man. And the best part of all would be knowing that then they would come away with their own conscious memories of all these sights, sounds, and smells. And it’s good to have someone to share memories with when that longing sets in.

Grounds at Versailles


French Friday #18: Louvre at night

I am a friend of the Louvre. Well, I used to be until my card expired. For 70 euros, Mr. Gren and I had annual passes to the Louvre which made us “Amis du Louvre.” One of the perks was being able to each bring in a guest after 6:00 p.m. And the awesome thing about that, is that most people aren’t even aware that the Louvre is open late two nights a week. Either that, or they all get hungry and can’t think past dinner plans. Too bad they didn’t also know about the food court in the Carousel du Louvre (long excavated corridor with a small boutique mall). It made for great date nights (those would be the times without guests) to ride the metro into the heart of Paris, eat an early dinner, and then head into the museum. There was so much to appreciate without throngs of people around. (As usual, all pictures are ours)

How's that for a view?

Our favorite area to visit at any time of day is the Medieval Louvre. It’s the remnants of the original building which the current building now sits upon. Few people seem to find this place because they’re distracted by the lure of the Egyptian artifacts, but they miss out on a cool experience. At night, we usually had the place to ourselves.

You can feel the history here.

Even the more famous attractions experience a bit of a respite at night, making for great photo ops and giving you an opportunity to really appreciate the art. From my first trip to the Louvre when I was 17, my spirit was taken with Winged Victory — Nike before it was a shoe. It should be disturbing that she no longer has a head, but the beauty and movement in this sculpture seems to make that irrelevant. Because of her location at the top of a staircase between two main hallways, there is always a crowd to fight through. Until night…

Even missing body parts, she still looks victorious

There’s another famous woman missing body parts who is also normally surrounded by people. Part of this is her odd placement in the middle of a corridor — she can’t help but be swallowed up in a crowd. But once again, at night, she seems to be forgotten.

Lonely Venus

She also inadvertently provided us with one of the coolest pictures we have ever taken. On the evening when we took my parents and younger brother (who got in free due to his age. Nice!) we noticed how the wing of the Louvre across the courtyard was lit up against the night sky. We took the picture and later were surprised to see that Venus de Milo made a cameo.

Even with our backs to her, Venus won't be ignored.

If you ever have plans to go to Paris, make sure you schedule in a night visit to the Louvre. It will be well worth it!

French Friday #11: The Doors

When I made my first trip to Paris in high school, there was a guy in my class whose name was Kenny Rogers, but he looked like Jim Morrison. He carved my name on a safety rail overlooking the gardens at Versailles because he thought it would be funny. Thanks, Kenny. And on our “free” day in the city, he chose to go to the cemetery Père Lachaise on the east side of Paris to visit Jim Morrison’s grave. Maybe it’s because he looked like Jim or maybe that was just a coincidence, but he was a fan of The Doors’ music. And that was the first I knew of Jim’s inglorious end and burial in Paris. But, those aren’t the doors I’m going to talk about today.

Once upon a time, architects designed buildings for quality and permanence and with the future in mind, they made sure that their buildings were as beautiful as possible. All sorts of artisans were employed to enhance these edifices — carpenters, masons, sculptors, painters, tile workers and more. Every part of the building received special artistic care, knowing that generations and generations would admire their work. In our young United States, a door is rarely a decorative feature, so enjoy some of these stunning works of art.

Portail St. Etienne at Notre Dame de Paris

This door is exclusively for the use of the bishops. This door is dedicated to Saint Stephen and the sculptures represent his martyrdom.

Interior doors in the Napoleon III apartments in the Louvre

Check out the gilding on those doors! They practically glow.

Main doors on a church in Dijon

Note how all the shapes on the door are raised.

Doors on the Palais de Justice in Grenoble

I like the waffle effect on this one.

Doors into an apartment in Grenoble

Around the corner from the apartment where I lived in Grenoble, was a tiny little street called Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For such a short and unimportant little road, it had some of the most interesting doors in the whole city. This set was one of them and the next is my very favorite.

Ancient mystery on a door

It features a Sator Square or magic square. It is a palindrome in all directions, reading Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas. The Latin words mean, roughly, Sower Moves towards Holds Work Wheel. No one knows for sure what that signifies, but theories abound! One idea is that it was a code for early Christians to find safe houses during times of persecution. The phrase Pater Noster can also be found in the square leaving AO for Alpha Omega. Alchemists and folk magicians have also laid claim to the Sator Square. Whatever it is, it’s fascinating!

How many interesting doors have you seen around town lately? It’s probably more likely that you’ve been listening to The Doors.


French Friday #8: What I like about you

Five years ago this week we returned to the States after three years in Paris. Three wonderful, infuriating, amazing, heart-wrenching years. And not a day goes by that we don’t miss it! This is not an exhaustive list, by an means, but, just for fun, here is a little album of things that we miss about living in France (all pictures are mine).

Mayonnaise in a tube. Seriously, the best mayonnaise ever.


Reliable public transportation (as long as they aren't on strike, that is).


Annual pass to the Louvre. Makes for great dates!


Quirky cars. Yes, that is fur on the wheel wells.


Finding history on every corner (plaques optional)


Amazing views. Sunset over Mont Valerien.


Hanging out in Napoleon's digs

There are lots of other things we miss that I don’t have photos of (but now that I’m looking, I wonder, Why not?!): good baguette, cheese, wine for 3€ a bottle, of course the markets, being able to walk anywhere we needed to go, plenty of interesting things to do or look at for free, wonderful little restaurants, fresh crêpes just to name a few more. We’re always scheming ways to get back. One of these days, we’ll make it, and then I will take pictures of all the things I missed the last time. 🙂