I woke this morning, having spent the whole night dreaming in French, with phrases running through my mind that I did not understand. I had to go and look them up! I do not understand the brain. How can I know and use things in dreams that I do not think I know and do not understand?
It occurs to me that in many ways I am having an immersion experience. Since my friends left, I hear no English at all unless it is on Skype or the occasional phone call, and only see it when I blog or read comments and e-mails. I have the TV on in French in the background the whole time I am in the flat just to keep the brain in touch with intonation and vocabulary.
Today I had a visit to Victor Hugo’s house and a return to the Musee Carnavalet on my wish list.
In both one can take photos but not with flash, so many of my pix have either not come out or are very strange. But I will put up what seems of interest.
So off I went. If you go through a door in one corner of the Place des Vosges you enter a house where Victor Hugo lived from 1832-1848. Apparently as soon as he looked at the first floor view over the Place des Vosges he decided to buy the house.
He was 30 when he moved into these apartments with his wife and four children. His original rooms here have been conserved and the correct furniture installed plus rooms from other houses have been introduced.
This is the Red Drawing room where society figures would be welcomed. It overlooks the Place des Vosges and Victor Hugo wrote “In Summer especially, it is ravishing! The perfume of the flowers and the leaves comes in through the windows so that our evening entertainments feel as though they happen as much in the Place des Vosges as in the Drawing Room . . . ”
He married a childhood friend Adele with whom he had his children, and with whom he lived when in France, but also had a long term mistress Juliette Drouet, with whom he travelled and who accompanied him into exile: under Naploleon III he went into exile in 1851 for his political beliefs and set up house in Guernsey.
Juliette Drouet was a French actress. She abandoned her career on the stage after becoming his mistress. She acted as his secretary and travelling companion and Juliette accompanied Hugo in his exile to the Channel Islands and wrote thousands of letters to him throughout her life.
He loved to potter around second hand markets and indulged his interest in painting and interior decoration by putting together some extremely unusual rooms, at least to modern eyes. He loved bright colours and pattern, and it must have been very dark for a great deal of the time and wanted to give his houses a feeling of inner force and mystery.
A veritable cacophany of design and colour riots in the Chinese Salon he designed for Juliette in Guernsey, even the ceiling is painted with dark colours:
The Dining Room from the same house in Guersey, Hauteville, is positively claustrophic to my eyes with the same pattern on the ceiling, walls, curtains and carpet as is the following salon:
He returned from exile in 1870 and was welcomed back into French Literary and Political Society. This Salon comes from another family home in France on the Rue de Clichy:
Again the ceiling is decorated in exactly the same material as the walls rendering the whole thing cosy in winter but so dark. Even though he wrote beside a window I am surprised his eyes did not give fail him in the gloom.
He was an extremely loving father who was decimated when child after child died: to see their portraits and listen to the poems he wrote to these dead children is very moving. As those of you who have read Les Miserables will know, he, like Dickens, was moved by the plight of the poor. He and his wife had occasional sales of their own goods to raise money to donate to charity but still lived in a style which can only be called luxurious, and very much of its time.
I had not fully realised before my visit just how multi- talented he was: poet, painter, essayist, novelist, statesman, human rights activist.
After three unsuccessful attempts, Hugo was finally elected to the Academie Francaise in 1841, solidifying his position in the world of French arts and letters. Thereafter he became increasingly involved in French politics. He was elevated to the peerage by King Louis Philippe in 1841 and entered the Higher Chamber where he spoke against the death penalty and social injustice, and in favour of freedom of the press and self-government for Poland. However, he was also becoming more supportive of the Republican form of government and, following the 1848 Revolution and the formation of the Second Republic, was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly.
When Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) seized complete power in 1851, establishing an anti-parliamentary constitution, Hugo openly declared him a traitor to France.
While in exile, Hugo published his famous political pamphlets against Napoleon III, which were banned in France, but nonetheless had a strong impact there.
He convinced the government of Queen Victoria to spare the lives of six Irish people convicted of terrorist activities and his influence was credited in the removal of the death penalty from the constitutions of Geneva, Portugal and Colombia. He had also pleaded for Benito Juarez to spare the recently captured emperor Maximilian I of Mexico but to no avail.
Although Napoleon III granted an amnesty to all political exiles in 1859, Hugo declined, as it meant he would have to curtail his criticisms of the government. It was only after Napoleon III fell from power and the Third Republic was proclaimed that Hugo finally returned to his homeland in 1870, where he was promptly elected to the National Assembly and the Senate.
He was in Paris during the siege by the Prussian army in 1870, famously eating animals given to him by the Paris zoo. As the siege continued, and food became ever more scarce, he wrote in his diary that he was reduced to “eating the unknown.”
Admission to the museum is free but it costs 5 euros to hire an audio guide. A kind official offered me one in English but I said I would try in French first as I could understand a lot although I could not speak much. He grinned.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit except for the two groups of school children, one of primary, and the other of secondary, age who were occupying two rooms, necessitating a wait of about 20 minutes before one could get in. But better that way than having them all over all the rooms and it was good to see them learning about their cultural history.
Many of the other visitors all seemed very pleasant too, polite, smiling, passing comments. So many that I would like to meet and get to know but how does one become friends with strangers one meets like this in a strange city. Some smile at me so much that I feel they might like to stop and chat but neither of us wishes to disturb the other.
Once I had had my fill, I set off back through the Place des Vosges to the Musee Carnavalet which is just round the corner. I am so lucky because being in the next block means that I can just pop in whenever I want to see a few things at a time. But that will have to be a separate post.