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A Medieval Treasure in the Heart of Paris

To say that there are an unlimited number of fun things to do in Paris is quite the understatement. But for most people who visit, you only have a limited time and you want to see as much as possible. With limited time and for most of us, limited budgets, you have to make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.
On most everyone’s list, you have to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc de Triomph, Notre Dame and all the major sites that are listed in your guidebooks. Let’s face it, Paris would not be Paris without these attractions, but in addition to the major sites, there are any number of smaller destinations in the city that are worth the time to visit and will fit into just about any travel budget.
One of my absolute favourites is the Musée de Cluny which houses the Musée Nationale du Moyen Age (The National Museum of the Middle Ages). This place is one of the jewels of the city. The 15th century hotel (it served as a residence for the abbot and visiting dignitaries who would come and visit the Cluniac monastery which sadly is no longer there) was built on the former Gallo-Roman baths which date to the 3-4th centuries. Some of the remains can be seen from Rue St Germain, while the remaining parts are housed inside the museum.

The remains of the Gallo-Roman baths make a perfect setting for early medieval artifacts, some of which are the original sculptures from Notre Dame.

The remains of the Gallo-Roman baths make a perfect setting for early medieval artifacts, some of which are the original sculptures from Notre Dame.

Its permanent holdings are a stunning collection of some fantastic pieces of medieval art. Its centrepiece is the Unicorn tapestries. One day, I will have to do a blog post just on the tapestries, but trust me they are worth the price of admission alone.

Just a few examples from the Unicorn Tapestries.  One day, they will be there own blog post.

Just a few examples from the Unicorn Tapestries.
One day, they will be there own blog post.

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Also, it hosts temporary exhibitions. Currently, the exhibition is a collection of Swabian (a region from western Germany) sculptures from the 15th and 16th centuries.

When one talks about old world craftsmanship, this is what they are talking about.

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The emotional realism in Northern European art at the end of the Middle Ages was unsurpassed anywhere else.

The emotional realism in Northern European art at the end of the Middle Ages was unsurpassed anywhere else.

One of the striking things is the humanity that is captured in sculptures.

One of the striking things is the humanity that is captured in sculptures.

A jolly little infant Jesus

A jolly little infant Jesus

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So if you are looking for something a little different, just a little off the beaten path (not too far, cross the street and you’re in the Latin Quarter, just a few minutes away from Notre Dame) check out the Musée Nationale du Moyen Age and treat yourself to a different side of Paris. And at 8-9€, your vacation will be the richer for it.

Among its permanent collections, is a fine collection of ivory inlaid books and other items.  As beautiful as they are, knowing the toll on the animals who were hunted for their tusks, the admiration is tempered a little

Among its permanent collections, is a fine collection of ivory inlaid books and other items. As beautiful as they are, knowing the toll on the animals who were hunted for their tusks, the admiration is tempered a little

You can visit their website at: http://www.musee-moyenage.fr/

This is one of my favourite pieces of art. It is a diptych depicting King David and the French king, Louis XII being anointed.  The message is clear: Louis XII is a modern day David, who as king was considered God's chosen ruler. One day, I hope though to get a better image of it.

This is one of my favourite pieces of art. It is a diptych depicting King David and the French king, Louis XII being anointed. The message is clear: Louis XII is a modern day David, who as king was considered God’s chosen ruler.
One day, I hope though to get a better image of it.

And as with all museums in Paris, it is free on the first Sunday of the month.

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The Historic Churches of Kitchener, Ontario

After my last trip to Paris, I have been inspired to spend more time enjoying and appreciating the place where I actually live.  For the past decade or so, I have called Kitchener home.  It’s a great place to live and with a bit of an adventurous spirit, it is really easy to find all kinds of hidden and not so hidden gems in the city.

Right now, Kitchener is becoming home to a burgeoning tech sector which is doing so much to modernize the immediate downtown core and its surrounding area.  As welcomed as the modernizing trend is, Kitchener also boasts of some really beautiful late 19th-century and early 20th-century architecture, especially when it comes to its religious architecture.

Kitchener has been influenced by a German Lutheranism that has bestowed a rich architectural legacy in the form of European influenced neo-gothic churches that still dominate the urban environment of the city.

I decided that in order to more fully appreciate what Kitchener has to offer, I wanted to explore the beauty of those churches.

What follows is are some images from that exploration and I hope that you’ll enjoy viewing the images as much I enjoyed taking them.

These images are of St Joseph’s church located on the corner of Madison and Courtland.  As you can see, it boasts some fine examples of Romanesque style.

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For a moment, you can imagine yourself in Europe and a lot cheaper too.

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These images are taken from St Matthew’s at 54 Benton St.  The building dates from 1914.

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Spring is slowly coming to Kitchener.

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And what’s a church without it’s rose window?

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This of course historic St Paul’s on Queen St, just past Joseph St. While not as large as some of its neighbours, it is one of the real gems in Kitchener.

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1889, yes, I’d say that counts as historic.

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St Andrew’s on the corner of Queen and Weber Streets.

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A nice reminder of what the role of the church is and even in an affluent society such as ours, there are those who are not as fortunate and should not be ignored or overlooked.

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One of the neat details from these buildings.

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These are taken from St Mary’s at 56 Duke St.  It is one of the largest churches in the city, dominating the downtown landscape with its neogothic red brick exterior.

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They just don’t build them like this anymore.

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I have only taken a few of St John the Evangelist. I highly recommend visiting this place and take the time to explore the interior. It is a stunningly beautiful space and even the non-religiously inclined a visit will be more than worth it.

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Five Patisseries You Need to Visit in Paris

This past April, I spent a week in my beloved Paris. I first came to the city years ago when I was doing research for my PhD and I fell instantly in love with the place. One of the things that I fell in love with was of course the food, and in particular, the pastries.

This of course is not hardly surprising: after all, who doesn’t love French pasties? I will eat obscene amounts of lemon tarts, Paris-Brests, and mille feuilles, but my favourite are eclairs. No matter how long I am in the city, I eat at least one a day and it is not out of the realm of possibility for me to eat several in a day and with boulangeries/patisseries on almost every corner of Paris, I never suffer from a lack of options.

This time, although I only took a quick vacation, I decided that I would actually start trying to systematically rate the different boulangeries/paterisseries I visited. One day, I would love to be able to visit every shop in Paris – but hat a another ambition for another time. But I was able to visit a few anyway. It was easy enough since there were three within walking distance from where I was staying the in 18th, just off the metro station Macardet-Poissoniers. So what follows is a very, and I mean very short list of some of the very good boulangeries/patisseries that I recommend you visit should you find yourself in Paris. Or, explore the city and find your own favourite patisserie. You can’t miss them.

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On the corner of Rue Ordener and Rue de Clignancourt, this boulangerie has a very modern feel. It offers a selection of extremely good eclairs. The selection is limited to the traditional chocolate and café, but the quality is unquestionable. At 2€, they are less expensive than many places which average around 2.40€, but the price has no bearing on their quality. I highly recommend this place. And the baguettes are manna from heaven.
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On Rue St Honoré just as you come up to the Tuilleries from the direction of the Louvre is this boulangerie/patisserie. Not quite and eclaire but similar enough, they sold a fantastic violet religieuse for about 2.40€ and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. Somtimes floral flavours can be too light, but not this one. It was excellent and the flavour was exquisite.
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One of my favourite boulangerie/patisseries is Gosselin on Rue St Honoré as you are heading towards Châtelet. I first came across this place in 2013 and they sell a wide range of flavours, including many floral types – notably rose and lavender. They are fantastic and I always now make a point of going there no matter where I am staying in the city. They have a website: http://www.patisseriegosselin.com. They are definitely worth the visit. They are closed on weekends.
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This boulangerie is found on the corner of Rue Simart and Eugène Sue. It won best patisserie on the Île de France in 2014, and based on my experience, it is a well earned victory. They have a raspberry eclaire that is an absolute standout. At 2.40€, these eclaires are really worth every euro cent. They are closed on Wednesdays.

Thoughts on the Staff Cuts at Laurier

Even people with a slight familiarity with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan are of course aware of his aphorism that life is nasty, brutish and short, accurately describing the life of those who work at Wilfrid Laurier University. And yet there is so much more to his work than just slogan that fits on a bumper sticker.

Recently, I started Anthony Pagden’s Enlightenment and Why it Still Matters (Random House, 2013) and I realized that I needed to start reading Hobbes again. Not since my undergrad days had I read Leviathan in any great depth, and so I started. It was nice to engage with 17th century English political thought again and as I was reading I came across a passage that stood out to me. In Part 1, chapter 11, Hobbes writes: “Men that have a strong opinion of their own wisdome in matters of government, are disposed to Ambition.” This sentence stood out because it speaks to the rationale behind some very poor decisions at Laurier recently.

For years, cuts have been made to universities across Canada. This has led to rise of precarious labour among adjunct and contract faculty who have few courses to teach at poverty level wages and job security. Just this Monday (9 March) Laurier made (in admin speak) redundant 22 staff positions. The cuts were brutal in their execution and in the impact they will have on the university to function as an institution of higher learning.

Our President claims that these cuts are necessary for the financial health of the university which flies in the face of Laurier’s actual healthy fiscal position. Rather our President sees the university as a business as opposed to an institution whose core mission is to educate and therefore should be run like a business despite the lasting damage that is being done because of this administrative philosophy. No, this is a case of a university president with a strong opinion of his own wisdom being disposed to ambition. But it is not the ambition to make the entire school one of the best in the country, it is instead the ambition to bestow largesse on one sector at the expense of the rest of the university. And it is the ambition of a man whose desire of creating a legacy for himself can only be built on the smouldering wreckage of a once great institution.

And so to fuel the ambition of a university president, and as the impact of these latest cuts make themselves felt throughout the university community, Hobbes’ dictum is tragically real. Life at Laurier has become “nasty, brutish, and short” because by time this Senior Administration is done, there will be no arts, letters, or society – just a hollowed out shell as a monument to one man’s ambition.

A Book Review Francois de Belleforest’s Le Cinquiesme Tome des Histoires Tragiques

Hervé-Thomas Campagne must be commended on this volume. Published under the
auspices of Librairie Droz’s Textes Littéraires Français, this is the first modern critical edition of the French historian and cosmographer François de Belleforest, and it does not disappoint. Campagne’s introduction, which goes on for more than a hundred pages, presents a comprehensive and highly sophisticated study of the historical and cultural background behind Belleforest’s work.

François de Belleforest was a prolific and well-regarded historian during the reigns of Charles IX and Henri III . The first volume of the Histoire Tragique appeared in 1559, and subsequent volumes continued until Belleforest published the first edition of the Cinquiesme Tome in 1570, which was quickly revised with four additional chapters and pub- lished in 1572 . Despite the current obscurity of Belleforest’s works, his Histoires Tragiques present important insights into the practice of history in sixteenth-century France. The first four volumes of the Histoires Tragiques were based on translations and retellings of the works of the Italian storyteller Matteo Bandello. Campagne argues that Belleforest’s reliance on Bandello’s stories indicates how deeply Italian dramatic models had permeated French historical writing by the 1560s, which transformed history into a form of theatrical performance. Sixteenth-century readers would have recognized the sense of performance suggested by the term histoire tragique. Tragic histories find their origins in classical Greek tragic drama revived during the Renaissance.

Imitation of the structures of Greek tragedy amplified the didactic power of the Histoires Tragiques. Moral lessons were to be gleaned from Greco-Roman tragedies that were given new life by European humanists. Adopting classical dramatic structures, the twelve chapters that comprise the Cinquiesme Tome should be regarded as mises en scène in which Belleforest’s historical subjects perform as on stage. For example, chapter 11 recounts the downfall of the medieval Danish king Canute, at the hands of his brother Olav who led a rebellion of the nobility against the king after his conversion to Christianity. The narrative structure of this chapter, as in the case of the other chapters, is based on lengthy harangues in the Thucydidean tradition. In the end, Canute is murdered at the altar of a Christian church by the pagan and barbarous Danes.

Campagne argues that these “seditious” harangues are performances for a theatrum mundi . The invented speeches populating this chapter were scripted precisely to demon- strate to the audience the evils arising from sedition against legitimate and godly rulers . As Campagne further notes, even the narrative of Canute’s demise takes on the guise of stage directions . Indeed, these harangues, in keeping with the structures of tragic dramas, serve the same function as Greek choruses through which Belleforest could transpose important moral lessons into the historical narrative.

Belleforest’s work also reveals the extent to which confessional and cultural identities shaped his historical narratives. None of the twelve chapters in the Cinquiesme Tome deals directly with contemporary French history, and yet each speaks to Belleforest’s own identity as a Catholic and loyal subject to the Valois monarchy. In Belleforest’s version of the history of Hamlet, or Amleth as it appears in this French text, which appears thirty years prior to Shakespeare’s version, the reader was to reflect on the atrocities of the fratricidal nature of the violence of the Religious Wars. The story of a Christian—read Catholic—king, murdered by his barbarous and pagan subjects would have resonated with his French read- ership . Even more to the point, the story of Canute and his rebellious brother Olav became a cautionary tale of the fratricidal conflict between Henri III and the duc d’’Alençon, with the Danish rebel nobility standing in for the malcontents whom Henri had to face down in 1570.

The editors at Droz should also be commended. The scholarly apparatus of this edition
is excellent . Each of the chapters is followed up by ample and comprehensive contextual
endnotes that provide much-needed explanations for the more obscure aspects of Bellefo-
rest’s work. This is a first-rate work that leaves this reader hopeful that Belleforest’s other
volumes of the Histoires Tragiques will be given the same critical treatment. And now with
Librairie Droz’s new publication of a critical edition of Matteo Bandello’s Aleran et Adélasie,
scholars of France’s early modern cultural and intellectual history have at their hands even
greater resources to trace the currents in the cultural and intellectual developments of late
Valois France.

A Discontented Winter

"Could have been worse, I could have been stuck in a cask malmsey wine."

“Could have been worse, I could have been stuck in a cask malmsey wine.”

One of my absolute favourite pieces of literature is Shakespeare’s Richard III. I think it is one of his gretest plays, notwithstanding Hamlet’s invention of the human (to borrow from Harold Bloom). The play works on so many levels; in the person of Richard we have a character so gleefully free of any bindings of a conscience that he ranks up with that other arch villain in the Shakespearian canon, Iago. Although for my money I think Richard is a better villain in that he is more psychologically complex. Iago is evil because he is evil as the embodiment of ontological badness, whereas Richard’s ambition drives him to increasingly desperate acts of brutality, culminating with the murder of his nephews in the Tower of London.

But Richard is more than his ambition, he is able to destroy because no matter how repulsed we may be of him – and he does repulsive things; in the first lines of the first act he sets in motion the eventual execution of his brother Clarence by their older brother Edward IV – we are drawn to him like moths to a flame, or flies caught in the web of a spider. As an audience we can’t help but be seduced by him just as Anne, the widow of Henry VI’s son Edward who was also murdered by Richard, is in turn seduced in what must be considered one of the greatest erotic exchanges as Richard seduces the widow of the man he murdered literally over the coffin of the dead Edward.
As a tragedy we know that all of Richard’s evil acts will culminate with his downfall at Bosworth. But even here, Richard charges straight towards his fate: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” is a giant middle finger to fate.

One of the other reasons why I am a fan of this play is what it says about Tudor politics in late Elizabethan Englans. The play is the final part of his monumental Wars of the Roses series. This series made up of Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Henry VI parts 1-3 cover the events from the usurpation of Richard II’s throne by his cousin Henry IV and the subsequent Hundred Years War and civil wars after the premature death of Henry V. These plays are regarded as following the actual history of this period fairly closely. This conscientiousness is thrown out the window with Richard III.

It is of course not surprising that this would be case given that Richard was killed by the grandfather of the reigning Queen and that by time of the play’s publication, the stability of the Tudor dynasty was again put into question by Elizabeth’s refusal to marry and produce an heir. Being married to England to England may have played well with the locals, but it seems that as a husband, England was incapable of knocking up the Queen.
After 1485, Henry VII had to continue to prove his legitimacy. This obsession took on unhealthy proportions under the reign of Henry VIII with the historical irony of the author of the black legend of Richard that was the template for Shakespeare’s play, Thomas Moore falling under the executioner’s axe for his opposition to Henry’s efforts to secure the Tudor claim to the throne.

There have been innumerable productions of the play, the most memorable being of course Lawrence Olivier’s portrayal. However, my favourite performance was that of the RSC in the late 1980s which was broadcast during TVO’s 20th anniversary. (The link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JeoCIbCFPA) One of the early examples of playing with the staging of Shakespeare in modern contexts, the performance was brilliant because it tapped into how prescient the themes in Richard III are today. The questions of political legitimacy and myth making are depicted in stunning visuals – Margaret, the widow of Henry VI as a washed up Margaret Thatcher. Shakespeare, drawing on anti-Yorkist propaganda originating at the end of the 15th century was able to legitimize the reign of a Queen by destroying the legitimacy of a King.

There are no wars more brutal than family wars. Gergory of Tours’ History of the Franks

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I am teaching a course on how medieval and early modern historians used history to create a national identities. This poses many questions surrounding the claims of authenticity, for example. Another question that arises concerns itself with how does one define history and what exactly is a historian.

Today we have a pretty clear idea I think of what history is and what a historian is. Anyone that studies past events or people, or even past cultures and ideas can be considered a historian. There is an expectation that this historian will do her best to provide an objective interpretation of the past.

However, this was not always the case. One of the first books that my students will tackle will be Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. This work is still considered one of the best sources for understanding the early years of Merovingian France. The Merovingians were the Frankish tribe who dominated Western Europe for centuries and provided the first kings of the slowly evolving Frankish kingdom. But Gregory of Tours was also a bishop of the important city of Tours, coming from a wealthy and well connected patrician family.

Why is this book important apart from being one of the more comprehensive histories of sixth century France. For one thing, in Gregory’s history the role of the Church and God were never far from the narrative, even when relating the founder of the Merovingian state, Clovis’ act of vengeful brutality in book 11, chapter 27, in the well known incident involving the vase of Soissons where the Frankish ruler waited a year to exact a murderous penalty from a soldier who had refused to return this vase to the church at Soissons the soldier had looted. Clovis was no doubt a bad ass, there some problems with the accuracy of this story. But for Gregory, those doubts were easily swept aside, after all what better than to show how Clovis was a defender of the rights of the church. Bashing in the skull of someone was small potatoes because Clovis had earlier converted to the right kind of Christianity and ensured that the Franks would be Catholic as Christianity was rebranding itself after the Arian controversies. So, in the grand scheme of things, a few bashed in skulls and the extermination of your family is really a small price to pay.

The other important thing about Gregory’s work is that as a chronicle, Gregory attempted to simply relate various episodes from Frankish history, but also to counter the influence of the Liber Historiae Francorum (which my students will also read – awesome, I know).

During Gregory’s lifetime a civil war had broken out between two factions of the Merovingian family, led by the wives of rival clients who insisted on attempting to kidnap and murder each other in the bloodsport known as Merovingian politics. Brunhild, the widow of Sigismund (murdered at the instigation of the woman her murdered her sister). Fredegund, the wife of Chilperic and the woman who instigated the murder of Sigismund and murdered the sister of Brunhild. The authors of the Liber Historiae Francorum had come out in favour of Fredegund – not surprising since by the time the Liber was being compiled, Fredegund’s faction had triumphed. One doesn’t need to have a PhD to realize that it’s good form to remember which side your baguette is buttered on.
Gregory on the other hand, supported Brunhild’s faction and although he died before Brunhild was executed by Chilperic by being drawn and quartered, sought to discredit the Liber Historiae Francorum. Gregory was interested in doing this also because he disliked the fanciful myth making in the Liber which had the Franks being descended from Francus, a solider fleeing from the fall of Troy. Gregory was interested in real history.

To be fair, claims of descent from Trojans was a commonplace, after all doesn’t sound better to claim descent from a hero of the Trojan War (even if he did run away like a little girl) than to acknowledge the truth – that you were obscure tribes people from the wilds of Germany who made by building on the remaining structures of the Roman Empire.

Gregory on the other hand didn’t buy the mythic origins of the Franks and sought to discredit the Liber Historiae Francorum. In book II, chapters 9-10, he offers a more believable explanation of the origins of the Franks. However, as already noted, Gregory’s work fully accepted the role of God in the unfolding of history and his first book outlines a lengthy history form the Creation of the world to the coming of the Franks, with the result that, while it’s silly to think the first Franks came from Troy, it was because they were plugged into a Christian cosmological history that explained their success over their neighbours because God favoured them.
The History of the Franks is a great read and really deserves to be read by a wider audience. Gregory of Tours had a talent for storytelling which is one of the many reasons many of our favourite stories of Merovingian France have continued to entertain us even today. But it is also a useful introduction to the evolving nature of what history looked like and how it was used to legitimize the successes of a nation.