Resolution for 2015

Read more Evelyn Waugh:


Despite the great variety of the characters you have created in your novels, it is very noticeable that you have never given a sympathetic or even a full-scale portrait of a working-class character. Is there any reason for this?


I don’t know them, and I’m not interested in them. No writer before the middle of the nineteenth century wrote about the working classes other than as grotesques or as pastoral decorations. Then when they were given the vote certain writers started to suck up to them.

From here.


Putting that undergrad classics elective to good use

Just some random photos from the exhibit on bronze age Greece at the Musée d’Archaologie national. The museum is west of Paris in a chateau in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.


Nice town. Will have to go back and see the rest of the museum too someday, since I went in the afternoon and didn’t have time to see the permanent collection.

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Lots of pottery, of course. Holding up pretty well for being almost 4000 years old.


Some sort of owl-themed drinking vessel from one of the Troys. I think Troy II, at one time thought to be the Homeric Illium, though that assessment has undergone revision.


The Mycenaean craftsmanship is not too shabby, though this is a replica and the axe on the head is a speculative addition by the creator of the replica.


Also replicas, though cast from the originals, of cups featuring detailed representations of men catching bulls in nets. Well, how else would you do it?


One great thing about living near Paris is the amount of free or inexpensive stuff there is to do here. On Sundays you can always find churches with musical preludes before the morning and evening mass (or culte du dimanche, if it’s protestant). Last night I went to Saint-Eustache next to Les Halles in the middle of Paris.


(That’s Notre Dame, not Saint-Eustace, but I try to illustrate my blathering with pretty photos and it’s the only half-decent one I took last night.)

It must be irritating to be a real parishioner at one of those churches. If there are any, I mean. People that is who regularly attend because it’s their church. (Or maybe that’s just my Presbyterianism showing. Maybe Catholics don’t think that way.) Or maybe they just accept the trade-off. Attend church in a soaring Renaissance/Gothic edifice with professional musical accompaniment and in exchange you have to put up with the hoards of tourists with their backpacks and shopping bags and cameras and video-recorders on sticks wandering across the nave in the middle of mass. (“Could you step back a bit from the communion rail? You’re blocking my shot.”)

The tourists filing out after the prelude as the soloist sang “Adeste fideles” was nice touch. I’m confident the apposite nature of the moment was lost on nearly all of them.

File this under things you don’t have to put up with when you attend an Église Réformée that owns what was intended to be the basement of an apartment block out in les banlieues had the developer not run out of money.

Let’s go look at infrastructure

It’s Christmas vacation, so the usual attractions are clogged full of tourists—when I walked past Notre Dame yesterday the line stretched to the far end of the square—so what better time to check out the less crowded attractions.

Today we visit the museum of the Paris sewer system.


That’s the inside of Le musée des égouts de Paris, located inside the current working sewers of the city. The smell is less bad than you’d expect.


One of the smaller collector branches. The small grey dot far down the tunnel is a rat.


The sewer itself with some machinery for dredging the sand and other debris.


Oooh. Cross sectional diagrams of all the different sections.


A giant wooden ball for cleaning round sections of the sewers. (It’s a bit smaller than the sewer. The water forced to go around it flushes the debris out ahead of it as the ball is forced downstream by the flow.)

Unfortunately, the most interesting parts of the museum are explanatory panels of the Parisian water system dating back to the Romans. (Well I liked it. Your mileage may vary.) Doesn’t make for great photos though.

Back above ground, walking past the Eiffel Tower, I noticed something I hadn’t before.


All the way around, just below the first deck of the tower is a list of names. Cauchy, Fresnel, Coulomb, Poinsot, Foucault, Poisson. (Yeah, it’s hard to see on the photo.) And that’s just part of one side. It’s just the kind of list to make the Math/Physics/Engineering fraternity feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Just to bring this post full circle, Belgrand, the engineer in charge of the sewers under Haussmann is up there too, second from the far left.

Least kosher meal ever

Tonight’s culinary experiment: Salade tiède de pommes de terre et pommes au boudin noir émietté.


So. Literally translated: lukewarm salad with potatoes and apples and crumbled boudin noir. What is boudin noir you ask? As per the official compendium of knowledge:

Boudin noir: A dark-hued blood sausage, containing pork, pig blood, and other ingredients.

Mmmmm. Pig blood sausage. Garnished with fresh mint. The dish tastes fine, but it’s taking a few glasses of Sauvingon Blanc to deal with the psychological aspect.

Panthéon, etc.

I finally managed to get a few photos of Orsay with the sun shining.

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Today the plan, such as it was, was to wander around the Latin Quarter. We begin with the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace. The grass is still flawless, but the trees have lost their leaves, the flowerbeds are bare and most of the fountains have been drained for the winter.


Still not bad, though presumably the spring or summer would be a better time to visit. The palace itself is the meeting place of the French Senate.


A few blocks away from the palace, the Panthéon. The dome is being repaired. Begun in 1758 by Louis XV as l’Église Ste. Geneviève, dedicated to the patron saint of the city, it wasn’t completed until 1790 after the revolution had already started.

The building was converted by one of the revolutionary governments into a mausoleum for great Frenchmen, though the 19th century saw it twice reconsecrated as a church, before reverting finally to the cult of the nation with the interment of Victor Hugo in 1885.


The contention is reflected in the interior. The neoclassical architecture echos that of St. Peter’s in Rome. The walls are decorated in murals recounting the life of Ste. Geneviève, the coronation of Charlemagne by the pope on Christmas day, 800, and the baptism of Clovis.


The sculptures on the other hand, are militantly secular: most notably the largest representing La Convention Nationale  where the high altar would otherwise be. Around the pillars supporting the dome are smaller works devoted to the Revolution. Normally, a massive Foucault pendulum would be suspended from the dome, though right now it’s been removed for the renovations.


Below, the crypt holds the remains of dozens of eminent Frenchmen, and one Polish woman. The standards for eminence have fallen and risen over the years. Following Voltaire (above) and Rousseau, whose influence, for better or for worse, is difficult to dispute, come a long list of politicians and military leaders interred there at the behest of Napoleon.


Between Waterloo in 1815 and the death of Hugo in 1885, only the architect of the building itself was interred in the crypt. Most of those buried thereafter are at least somewhat familiar.

At the moment, back upstairs, the north transept is entirely devoted to Jean Jaurès on the centennial of his assassination in 1914. Dozens of panels and a table of books by and about him recount the life, the writings, the reception, and influence of the French socialist.

The French commitment to socialism is however, as elsewhere, outside of a small cult of true believers, more sentimental than real. They may not name streets after Bastiat, nor gush over his memory, but a stroll through the Galeries Lafayette should be enough to convince anyone that the nation from which the English borrowed the terms laissez faire and entrepreneur, doesn’t really believe in socialism. Like the rest of the western world, France is a free market nation with a massive welfare state.


It’s like The Bay, but larger and more opulent. Much, much more opulent. And instead of being divided into menswear, women’s clothing, home furnishing, etc, it’s organised by brand. Chanel, Prada, BVLGARI, Armani…You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s hard to move in there with the crowds. Don’t know yet if it’s always like this or this is a Saturday-before-Christmas thing. Will go again in the new year and find out.

La Maison de Victor Hugo

IMG_20141213_144837 I attempted to learn French several years ago by reading Les Miserable, in French, unabridged. This turns out to be a terrible way to learn a language if you ever want to speak it someday. I did however, at one time, know about fifteen different synonyms and metaphorical ways to refer to the sewers of Paris.  Not very useful in everyday conversation, nor is conjugating all of your verbs in the passé simple likely to not make you sound odd to a normal French person.  (On the other hand, it does turn out to be remarkably handy for reading the labels in museums.) Moreover, what you hear in your head when reading a foreign language you haven’t learned verbally, even it the meaning is comprehended by you, is somewhat less likely to be understood when spoken aloud. At any rate, the next stop on our tour of Paris is the one-time home of Victor Hugo, now a museum. IMG_20141213_145436 The apartment where he once lived sits at 6 Place des Voges, on the corner of a park. Even in December in the rain, one could do  worse that the view from his windows. IMG_20141213_150427 Inside, the ceilings are about 12 or 14 ft high. This, if I recall correctly, is a reassembly of a room he decorated himself—he did more than just write—in the Chinese style. Not in this apartment, but for his mistress in a house they owned jointly on Jersey or Guernsey. (One of the two, he lived on both.) Chacun a son goût, I guess. IMG_20141213_142219 A copy of Hugo’s birth certificate. He was born in February of 1802, even if that’s not immediately obvious from his birth certificate. It being 1802, France was still using the ludicrous revolutionary calendar. (Thirty day months. Ten day weeks. Etc. Behold the triumph of Reason.) Hence the first line: Du huitième du mois de ventôse l’an Dix de la République. In English: the eighth of the windy month in the tenth year of the Republic. (They also experimented with the even more absurd decimal time, though that failed to catch on, though not for lack of trying.) C’est tout. One more week of work, and then two weeks vacation. It’s not a bad life.