June 28th, 2011

black white

In which I am vanquished by Napoleon

So my initial plan for today had three to five stops on it. We went off happily on the Metro to the Musée d’Orsay where, when faced with several miles of line, all baking in the sun, we decided to continue on to our next planned stop and come back later, when the line might not be so bad. It was a nice walk along the Seine to Les Invalides. We spent the entire rest of the day there.

First, we had to get inside without getting entangled in the prohibited lawn:

Once inside, we found cannons:

Napoleon had the sense to be buried in a nice cool marble church. I liked looking at the extremely grandiose everything in there, both because the whole thing was over the top and because I could lean against cold walls. T. loved it.

Les Invalides also houses the Musee de L’Armée. They have approximately ten gazillion swords, knives, halberds, pikes, muskets, daggers, and the like just in the medieval and renaissance section. I have now seen more suits of armor than I thought possible. T. took pictures of almost every single one. I liked this helmet and visor:

In one section called the armory, there were ranks of suits of armor, visors closed, menacing: faceless men ready to fight other faceless men. It was creepy and at the same time explained to some extent to me the need for glory. If no one can see your face, if you become one metal man among many, perhaps you need the glory to remind you that you exist, that the work you do with sword and mace and battle axe can perhaps be something beyond dehumanizing violence. I don’t believe that, myself, but I see how it could help some people.

I actually felt sick to my stomach in the section devoted to the world wars. Trench warfare. And the damage was not left to my imagination or depicted in paint, but in actual photographs. There was also a trench coat from a soldier who died in the trenches, still coated in mud. T. could appreciate the layout of the various barbed wire barriers and the paths through them and the trench guns from a tactical perspective, but I couldn’t get past the fact that the trenches were real and people really killed and died in them in hundreds of thousands.

Another large exhibit explored the history of wars from Louis XIV through Napoleon III. Again, T. was fascinated by the varieties of uniform, the different weapons, and, of course, the portraits of Napoleon.

Charles de Gaulle, naturally, had his own exhibit all to himself. It traced his life from birth in pretty much exhaustive detail. My brain was pretty full by that point, so what I retained is that he is one of the few men who didn’t look totally ridiculous in a kepi.

There is also an exhibit of “figurines” (read: dolls) in armor from the time of Alexander through uniforms from Napoleon’s time. The craftsmanship was amazing. In fact, the craftsmanship of pretty much everything in the museum was extraordinary.

Somewhere in there, we managed to eat lunch in the museum cafeteria. When we finally emerged from the museum, it was drizzling and there was thunder and lightning. We walked back to our hotel along the river in the rain, grateful for the slight coolness it brought.