Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

16 August 2015

What If Charles V Had A Bicycle?

The hotel in which I'm staying is literally around the corner (all right, and a block away) from the Gare Montparnasse, a railroad station that from which trains depart to, and arrive from, Atlantic coastal cities such as La Rochelle and St. Malo.  It also happens to be very close to a some other interesting places--one in general and the other to me personally.  I cycled to them, and other places.

First to the general interest spot:  Rue Daguerre.  It's been closed off as a pedestrian mall where stands and shops sell everything from Asian fabrics to fresh-baked bread and crayfish that are scooped from a tank when customers buy them.  Most interesting of all--to me, anyway--were the two organ grinders who plied their trade.  Seeing and hearing them on a cool but bright Sunday morning mirrored and echoed the joie de vivre of Paris in the summer. 

On one hand, it seems sad that a street only a couple of blocks long should honor Louis Daguerre.  After all, very few, if any people, contributed as much to science and technology as well as art as he did with his daguerreotype.  What he did was, in essence, was to make it possible to create reproducible--and therefore transferrable-- images directly from real life. 

On another hand, it somehow seems appropriate that such a pedestrian mall would be named for him. Can you imagine what kinds of images he would make from it?

(What's commonly forgotten is that Daguerre was also an accomplished painter.  Then again, people forget that Albert Einstein was a better violinist than most and that Michelangelo was quite a good poet.)

From la rue Daguerre, I pedaled along the southern periphery of the city, past la Place Denfert-Rochereau to Cite Universitaire, the site of dormitories and maisons culturelles that are part of the University of Paris. The first time I came to this city, I stayed in la Maison Norvege.

The funny thing is that the first time I showed up there, the receptionist addressed me in Norwegian, which I have never spoken.  She later told me that I could have passed for a Norwegian--which, given my colorings and facial structure, makes sense.  Almost everywhere I have travelled, people have taken me for Scandanavian, Dutch or German.  Or, when my French was better than it is now (I can still get by with it), people in France, upon seeing and hearing me,  thought I was Breton, Normand or Alsatian.  Now, when I speak French, I am told that I have more of a German than an English or American accent.  How that happened, I don't know.

Anyway, from there I cycled over bridges and overpasses, into and out of Paris.  I rolled by belle epoque buildigs as well as glass-box towers that had even less charm than their stateside counterparts.  And I pedaled through suburbs as well as parts of the city no tourist ever sees.  In one of those suburbs--Ivry--I stopped in a store to buy some fruit and the African proprietors treated me royally.

Speaking of royal:  The highlight of today's ride was the Chateuau de Vincennes.  Think of Versailles without all of the fancy accoutrements and set up to house military weapons, prisoners, manuscripts and religious items as well as the king and his family, and you have Vincennes.

People often forget that a chateau, or castle, is usually not just a single building; it's a compound encompassing a number of buildings over a fairly wide expanse of land.  So it is with Vincennes. 

About Charles V, who commissioned and lived in it:  One might argue that he brought the Renaissance to France.  He commissioned translations of the Greek and Roman classics of literature and science into French, and classical influences can also be seen in the public works commissioned.  Perhaps it's no surprise that his cousin, Charles V of Bohemia, is also considered one of the master builders of that land, which now comprises much of the Czech Republic.

I think he could have used a bicycle to get around that compound, though!

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