Enlightenment at the Sorbonne

The mysteries of medieval Paris and higher learning take the ETs to the Sorbonne

The Experienced Travelers seek enlightenment.  And when the path to knowledge is paved with eclectic food and shopping, they undertake the journey with rigor. So the ETs donned their academic regalia, and set out for the Latin Quarter on the left bank, one of the oldest areas of Paris.

Nurse was in a relaxed frame of mind, so I had to promise more than narrow medieval passages to get her on board. Fortunately, the area is filled with artisan jewelry studios, bookshops, small specialty stores and ethnic restaurants.  The deal was struck:  I admired moldy old stone in ancient streets while Nurse investigated uses for “found money”.

The Sorbonne, where the ETs could be lecturers in Economics on Found Money. Photo by Maggie Durbano

This colorful quartier has long been a center of learning.  During the 13th century, Parisian academics decamped from the Ile de la Cité for the left bank and established the Sorbonne as part of the University of Paris. Their freewheeling students followed, and vigorously upheld the medieval tradition of the endless frat party.  Certain young relatives of the ETs could have written this student’s plea from the Balades of Eustache Deschamps:

“Well-beloved father, I have not a penny, nor can I get any save through you, for all things at the University are so dear:…Moreover, I owe ten crowns in dues to the Provost, and can find no man to lend them to me;…I owe in every street, and am hard bested to free myself from such snares.”

Streets around the Sorbonne like the Rue Galande mix higher learning and inspired shopping. Photo by mbzt

Chief among notable students of the Sorbonne was Dante, who mentions the rue Fouarre in the Divine Comedy.  Rue Fouarre or “street of straw” was named for the straw market that was located here.  Lectures were held outdoors and students sat on the straw balancing writing implements on their knees.  The great scholars of Europe gathered to debate where to go for a beer after class.  The ETs, who require basic creature comforts, would not have embraced higher education in the 13th century. 

Today students still barhop through the Latin Quarter.  We regret that we are not the target demographic for the Caveau des Oubliettes on the rue Galande.  Formerly a 12th century prison, the club décor features oubliettes – dank one-man holes in the ground.  Oublier means “to forget”, which is exactly what happened to the unfortunate occupants. We expect customers of the Caveau still forget — after rounds of shots and a convivial evening in the old dungeons.

In search of chocolat chaud. Photo by Miss Joanne Felzer

By now it was time to distract Nurse from thoughts of wet straw and medieval torture.  The Café Panis on the Quai Montebello makes a perfect chocolat chaud, which bolstered Nurse’s spirits.  The thick melted chocolate and hot milk restored her fine color. Café Panis isn’t the most affordable stop, but the view of Notre Dame enchants the ETs every time.

Madness at Shakespere and Company

Nearby the Café Panis is Shakespeare and Company, a Latin Quarter institution that sells English-language books and serves as a hangout for fledgling American writers. This eccentric establishment is an acquired taste, but certain ETs like the buildings wonderful old bones.

The atmosphere is chaotic, with books piled everywhere.  It’s impossible to find anything, too crowded to browse, and the youthful staff is uninterested in middle-aged ETs when engaging young students need assistance.  On our last visit, we learned that S&C didn’t carry Georges Simenon’s Maigret books. I was outraged.  Thank goodness for Nurse’s Kindle.  In fairness, S&C has legions of fans and it’s worth a visit, if only to explore the interior of a very old building.   

The ETs retreated to Square Viviani after the tumultuous S&C, Photo by tangopaso

Nurse clearly needed fresh air, so we relaxed in the Place Viviani under the oldest tree in Paris. Adjacent to the square, the 13th-century church of St. Julien le Pauvre is as old as Notre Dame and hosts a series of excellent chamber concerts. 

Our Sorbonne adventure was worthwhile.  The ETs found that within a few blocks, you can browse artisan jewelry and used bookstores, meet a vegetarian friend for lunch, relax over a chocolat chaud, light a candle in one of the oldest churches in Paris, investigate fusion cuisine, then admire a spectacular view of Notre Dame.  

A delignted Nurse knows she can parlay her participation into another visit to the Centre Pompidou. Photo by Miss Joanne Felzer

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2 Responses to “Enlightenment at the Sorbonne”

  1. Museum Visit: The Cluny « Julie's Paris Says:

    […] and God-fearing. Royalty on the right bank, the clergy of Notre Dame on the island, and upstart Sorbonne intellectuals on the left bank. Since it’s my fantasy, I opted for the royal court, insuring ET […]

  2. Paris Neighborhoods:Rive Gauche – the 5th and 6th « Julie's Paris Says:

    […] ETs like to explore streets near the river,  like the rues Galande and Maitre-Albert where medieval Sorbonne students attended open-air classrooms.  Today you can shop the small boutiques and health food stores in the neighborhood and feel […]

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