Tuesday, July 8: Le Rouge et le Noir et le Pizza

Today was my World Lit. I class’s first field trip. We went to the Bibliothèque Nationale-Richelieu to see Greek vases from the collection of the duc de Luynes and the other objects in the permanent collection on display as the “Museum of Medals, Coins, and Antiques”–about four rooms full of cameos, medals, coins, vases, figurines, and other good stuff. The Richelieu site is worth visiting just to see the building, as it is rather grand. We were disappointed that we could not go into the Salle Ovale but you have to have a reader’s card (which costs money) and they do not allow photos. Nor would they have looked kindly on a dozen Americans trooping through, gawking, and chatting. We’ve been working with the students on their “Paris voices.” It’s true, I’m afraid, that Americans are loud–especially young American women with higher-pitched voices that carry farther. I have all of a sudden discovered a lower register of my voice to use; it’s very handy!

We ended up being very early to the BNF; I was worried about being late and the reservation confirmation sounded very strict about the need to show up 15 minutes early. In the event, we were about 25 minutes early and the exhibit did not open till 1:00 p.m., which was our assigned time. On the up side, however, we did not have to pay. Ancient artifacts: good. Free access to same: even better! I asked the students to find a Greek vase that depicted something they recognized from mythology, a question to answer via research, and another object that they thought was interesting. I found a few bits of recognizable mythology, a question that I got answered on the spot, and LOTS of interesting things, all of which you can see after the jump.

Poseidon (spear + fish)

Zeus (thunderbolt)

Odysseus questioning the spirit of Tiresias in the underworld 
(okay, I had to read the card to figure this one out)

My question was: why are the vases red and black? The answer was on this placard:

In short: the clay is red; the glaze is black. Black figures are painted on; red figures are left unpainted against a black background. White highlights are also used. The bottom of the placard explains what the different shapes were used for.
Here are the interesting things I found:
A cameo ring depicting Oliver Cromwell

An Egyptian scarab. The card explains that the ancient Egyptians saw the scarab beetle as a symbol of rebirth because they thought it died and was reborn from its own remains.

Cuneiform!
When we left the BNF, we crossed the street to the “Galerie Vivienne,” one of the arcade-style shopping passages of which Paris has several. This one contained a couple of used-book sellers, one of which was closed but had crates of bargain-priced books outside the store with signs posted:
1 livre = 2€
3 livres = 5€
6 livres = 10€
En cas d’absence, faites glisser l’argent 
au-dessous de la porte.
Dear readers, I found a single 18mo volume from a 4-volume set of De Imitatione Christi, dated 1789, in one of the crates. Tiny, tiny hand-set type on pale blue rag paper in a very worn leather binding. Never have I been happier to try to make a 2€ coin slide under a door.
Flush with triumph I went back to the Bourse metro stop where a small street market was set up, and ate a brick for the first time. Through some linguisto-gastronomic transformation, Moroccans in France are using an English word to designate an Arab pastry: a folded square of something like phyllo containing chicken or cheese or what have you. The one I got contained chèvre, tomato, and basil, and it was delicious! I ate it under the overhang of the Agence France Presse building across the street because by the time I paid for it, the sprinkle of rain had become a downpour. Made a dash into the metro, walked to Carrefour Market in a moderate shower, exited into no rain at all. Got cocky and stopped at Marionnaud to see what was soldé only to find it was pouring again when I left. I came home with the wettest feet in Paris, I swear.
The final challenge for today was our first official Pizza Night: this year on the program we have pizza one night a week and charcuterie one night a week. As Pizza Team Leader I had several excellent assistants and we got 25 pizzas served and cleaned up in 2 different houses in under an hour. I will never understand, however, why students prefer plain cheese pizza to all the crazy stuff you can get on pizza in France. Bring on the shrimp, fried egg, and capers!
To quote Samuel Pepys: And so to bed.

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