Monday, September 22, 2008
Journées du Patrimoine
The weather couldn't have been better this weekend for les Journées du Patrimoine, the one time each year when many historic sites, including embassies, government buildings, and churches, are open for public visits and tours. I really wanted to see where the French senate meets in the Palais du Luxembourg, but I used up all my political capital with my family last year when we stood in line for 3 and a half hours for a glimpse at the interiors of the Palais de l'Elysée, where Nicholas Sarkozy does his thing. This time, we headed out early and breezed into the Hôtel de Marigny, once a private mansion, now the spot where visiting heads of state get to stay while on official visits. Last fall, Qaddafi pitched his tent on the back lawn. On Saturday, the garden looked no worse for the wear and both the private apartments and the official reception rooms were spit and polished, the tables in both the small and grand dining rooms set with Baccarat crystal and Sèvres porcelain. Just up the block, we stood in line for less than 30 minutes to sneak a peak at the offices of the Ministry of the Interior at the Hôtel Beauvau, perhaps less fussy in its decor but still pretty impressive with Empire style furnishings. The minister's desk had the look of being cleaned up at the last moment, with stacks of paper and reports shoved on a side table. The interior ministry's buildings were taken over by the Gestapo during the Occupation and we saw a cell where members of the French resistance were kept during interrogations. Its walls were covered with drawings and handwritten messages, left by prisoners unsure of their fate. Some were messages of love to family and sweethearts. Others urged colleagues to be courageous. Vive la France indeed.