Not Just a City, but Living Theater


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InTriumph in Paris, The Exploits of Benjamin Franklin by David Schoenbrun, Benjamin Franklin’s observations about the city, its salons, and the hallowed courts of Versailles are included. Here are some highlights:

“The Civilities we everywhere receive give us the strongest Impressions of the French Politeness . . . At the Church of Notre Dame, when we went to see a Magnificent Illumination … we found an immense Crowd who were kept out by the Guards; but the Officer being told that we were Strangers from England, he immediately admitted us. . . Why don’t we practice this Urbanity to Frenchmen? Why should they be allow’d to outdo us in anything?”

Here was the Paris that Franklin observed: “The drinking water came from fresh springs and was filtered through sand. The streets, by constant sweeping, were fit to walk in and the people did walk, instead of being conveyed by carriages. Franklin was favorably impressed by Paris’ cubed paving stones, which “When worn on one side, may be turn’d and become new.”

On the other hand, Versailles impressed Franklin but also shocked him when he thought of the sheer cost, being estimated by some at eighty million pounds sterling.
“He marveled at the range of buildings, the gardens, the statues, figures, urns, the marble and bronze “of exquisite workmanship” finding it “beyond conception”. But he complained that “the Waterworks are out of Repair …there is, in short, both at Versailles and Paris a prodigious mixture of Magnificence and Negligence.”

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Keep your December calendar open when The Carnavalet Museum, 23 rue de Sevigne, 75003 and Musee des Arts et Metiers, 292 rue St. Martin will be presenting both the scientific and statesman aspect of Ben Franklin’s sojourn in the City of Light. For those of you who haven’t yet visited these two museums, you are in for a delightful day. The Carnavalet Museum steeped in the city of Paris’s rich history is particularly well-versed in the era of the French Revolution. (It’s one of my favorite museums in Paris).

Be sure to check out the Musee des Arts et Metiers site I’ve linked. It’s created by French students – in English. Chapeau!

As luck would have it in researching my past posts on the book The Triumph in Paris, I fell upon the site of www.BenFranklinLive.org and received a response from the venerable statesman ‘himself’, that is Christopher Lowell, a Ben Franklin impersonator, who happens to be a bilingual Francophile as well.

It was ‘Ben’ who gave me the ‘heads-up’ on the December exhibit at The Carnavalet and the Musee des Arts et Metiers. If you’d like to know more about Lowell’s upcoming events stateside – or his Ben Franklin video, you can check out his site.