Sunday, July 27, 2014

עברי, דבר עברית

I was tickled to see that the two directions of transit on this Paris metro line allow a choice between Ivry  (Hebrew) and Villejuif (Jewish Town.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Islamic Art at the Louvre

(Content note: This is basically pictures and captions, not a review.)

The new Islamic art galleries at the Louvre are fantastic. It's a bit of a TARDIS in there, with a small upper gallery and what looks like a small lower gallery that actually opens up and ends up being much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Most of the collection is Iranian, but there is a good variety, and very thoughtful display. The one surprising thing was the lack of works on paper.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paris on a Sunday (Part II)

This is Ste. Chapelle. And that is all that needs to be said:

Paris on a Sunday (Part I)

I was really excited to visit Notre Dame for the first time since reading Michael Camille's Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity, a book that argues for a basically Victorian interpretation of the gargoyle program on the building, set into motion by the nineteenth-century restorers. It's a brilliant book and I highly recommend it, although it's hard to get one's hands on a print copy anymore (as I discovered while futiley trying to get it for my mom for her birthday), but my conclusion, having been in the space, was that the scale of the building limits the force of Camille's argument to a certain extent: His thinking is totally sound and innovative and brilliant for the gargoyles and chimeras to which it applies; but there are loads that don't fit into his categories.

In any event, it was Sunday when I visited, which was interesting anthropologically as much as architecturally.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre

I liked this gargoyle on the façade of Sacre Coeur because you can see really clearly how it is actually a rainwater runoff spout.

Neo-Mudéjar Paris

The Great Mosque of Paris was built in the 1920s in a style variously described as Neo-Mudéjar, Islamic-Byzantine Revival, and Hispano-Moresque. It's a style in the register of some of the Islamic(ate) architecture in Spain and North Africa. 

Adventures in Not Speaking French

I ate lunch at the café at the Great Mosque this afternoon and could not for the life of me explain to the waiter that I could read the French menu perfectly well and didn't need an English one despite the fact that I didn't understand a word of what he had told me about why I couldn't eat lunch on the patio but had to eat indoors even though other people were eating lunch on the patio. It was a little bit "Excuse me, does anyone here speak English? Or even ancient Greek?" Vestiges of Oriental Studies and all. Frankly, I think I'd have an easier time getting around in 1930s Cairo.


A guy in his early 20s came up to me and started to ask me something in French, and I stopped him and said, "I'm sorry. I don't speak French." And he said, "Oh, you speak English. That's a relief." He was obviously an American college student, and asked me if I knew where something was. I didn't. And he said, totally innocently: "So what are you doing here if you don't speak French?" If that's the attitude that American college students are developing about travel and language study, maybe we're not in such bad shape after all.


On my way home, I stopped to buy a baguette. There were two Korean kids in the bakery, obviously tourists (their parents were standing outside) trying to buy macarons in very halting English, and the baker either did not speak English or was feigning not doing. And he turned to me, and I could understand the gist of what he was saying, which was a huge complaint about why people can't just learn to speak French. I figured that wasn't the moment to mention that I haven't either. I managed to buy my baguette without incident. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Liberté, Egalité, Laicité (not necessarily in that order)

I. Laicité

I accidentally (because this kind of thing seems to happen to me) wandered into a celebration of Vespers by nuns and priests who belong to the Monastic Orders of Jerusalem at the church of San Gervais. 

This was my one shot at a surreptitious photo; it's not great:

I'm always moved by the ceremony of high church activities, but what really struck me, especially after watching a woman walk in with her young daughter was how hollow the French calls for laicité really are. If you are a French Catholic and can just wander in off the street to your own religious service because that's just what the very fabric of your society looks like — if as a kid you simply know you belong — then what you're calling for when you ask your society to be secular is for you to be able to continue on in your life, religious unmarked rather than secular, while placing a burden of invisibility on people whose religious lives are not quite so literally built into the shape of the city.

II. Egalité

III. Liberté

I like this and think it's clever — don't get me wrong. Somebody seems to be turning traffic signs into stations of the cross.

Andalusi Textiles at the Institut du Monde Arabe

On loan from the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid.

Granada, Nasrid, 13th and 14th centuries:

Post-1492 Almería:

 Textiles that are being described as specifically Andalusi from north Africa post 1492:

A video at the end of the exhibition followed a day in the work life of a man who took over his family textile workshop in Chouen from his father, and demonstrated some of the techniques described and shown throughout:

And the self-indulgent yet obligatory selfie from the panoramic roof garden with Notre Dame in the background:

Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom From Expression in Higher Education

This one isn't about the Middle Ages, but rather about current trends in higher education:

Remember in elementary school when you'd divide up teams for Jeopardy in social sutdies or for flag football in physical education? And at some point, somebody would invariably shout: "Let's do boys versus girls!"  Winning gender got bragging rights and sometimes Reece's cups or pencil erasers shaped like little animals as a prize. Those are fair stakes for boys-versus-girls competitions. 

This week the Supreme Court divided up as the boys' team and the girls' team. At stake were the credibility of the institution and women's access to health care. The boys' team won.

The Supreme Court ruled that private corporations with sincere religious beliefs (!) against contraception can sign a waiver that allows them not to pay for insurance policies that cover contraception; the federal government will provide that coverage for employees. Only a few days later, in a 6-3 decision, boys-versus-girls, it gave a special exception Wheaton College, which claimed that it was against its institutional religious beliefs to even sign the waiver because then it would be complicit in its female employees getting birth control. 

In essence the court has allowed Wheaton college to trap its female employees in a no-man's land, with their health care not covered by an employer that does not pay for contraception and not covered by a federal government whose participation in the matter has not been triggered by a declaration of faith. 

I think that the real problem with the Wheaton College decision is that the college is requesting special treatment not because of its religious beliefs but rather because it refuses to stand up and be counted for them. The institution is not asserting that because it is a Christian college it will not pay for women's coverage of contraception. It is asking for a right not to cover women's health care without stating a reason why.

It's so twisted around that it's almost hard to define the problem. The college wants to exercise its freedom of religion without exercising freedom of religion. It wants to say that it can't say that it can't do something because of its faith.  It does not want freedom of religious expression. It wants freedom from religious expression while still reaping the benefits of the freedom to exercise religion and act upon religious belief. It does not want freedom of religion. It wants freedom of religion and freedom from the rest of the world continuing to function around the wide berth carved out for that freedom.

Wheaton College is no longer asserting its right to the free exercise of its religion. Rather, it is asserting a right ripped unsensibly from another context: a right to remain silent. It is the paradoxial reductio ad absurdum of Christian colleges that do not believe that  their academic missions include the freedom of expression and the freedom to question and to investigate and research and form conclusions. It has gone so far that they no longer believe in the expression of their own beliefs. Wheaton College's religious expression is not the problem. Its assertion of its right to remain silent, and to wield its religious beliefs over women's lives sheltered by that cloak of silence that is the problem.

And to borrow a slogan from another campaign and another period in the history of sexual health: silence kills.

"Regard us then as Beings..."

— Abigail Adams to John Adams, written at Braintree, 3/31/1776

A historical document for the fourth of July, a little bit outside of my historical period. High-res images available here and here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When the Storm Starts Stopping the Drops Stop Dropping

I'd been inside all day working on a translation for the book, so when the storm that is currently rampaging through the northeast and promises to continue doing so well into the weekend broke for a little bit, I went out to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. The break didn't last long and I got caught out when it started to rain again. As is customary, some enterprising musicians were serenading the people trapped under Washington's arch. I like that the Empire State Building is visible through the trees in this photo (which pride dictates I mention is an actual photograph and not a still taken from the video below, which illustrates one last-ditch effort by the musicians before they, too, give in to the rain. You main have to turn the volume up to hear over the din of the rain.)