Jay Cross
Jay Cross

New blog
Links & more

Subscribe with Bloglines
Enter your email address to subscribe to Internet Time Blog.

Blood in the Streets
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
pittYesterday evening Leonard Pitt gave a talk on Pride & Passion: The Histrionics of Paris Urban Design at Mechanics Library in downtown San Francisco. Leonard is is an actor, teacher, self-taught historian, and author of Promenades dans le Paris Disparu, a best-selling walking guide book (in French).

The Mechanics' Institute is the oldest library on the West Coast and one of the oldest chess clubs in the United States. It was organized in 1854 when San Francisco was a frontier community far removed from anywhere by a small group of citizens as a center for adult technical education. In its early days, the Mechanics' Institute was an important center for adult education in the city, and the hub for social and cultural activities. In 1866, the Institute sold its California Street property and bought the site of its present home on Post Street. In 1868, in recognition of the Institute's pioneer work in the field of technical education, the University of California made the president an ex-officio member of the University's Board of Regents. When San Francisco was leveled by the 1906 earthquake and fire, the collections and building were completely destroyed. The loss included the Institute's priceless files of California newspapers, its complete set of British patent reports dating back to James I of England (1603-1625), its collections of technical, scientific and artistic works, plus its Post Street building and pavilion.

mainroom535x375I became a member of the Institute in the 70s when a budget crisis threatened to close San Francico's public libraries. Dues were something like $35/year. This gave me access not only to books and magazines, but to a tranquil oasis in the heart of downtown. The Institute's reading rooms look much the same today as they did 90 years ago except for banks of PCs connected to the net.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from Leonard, announcing last night's presentation. Friends of Leonard get in free, including generous portions of vin et fromage to get in the right spirit. I'd met Leonard at The 4th International Conference on Neuroesthetics in January of this year. At the time, I wrote "Empathy is about listening (and Leonards’s teacher taught Marcel Marceau). He's into mime. Interesting how people mediate their experience. What we say about face holds true for body. He’s watched feet from Paris cafés. For days. The great whoosh of experience. You take it in, not analyze in it."

coverlgLeonard moved to Paris in the early sixties, about the time I was moving away. (I went to Paris-American High School for freshman and sophmore years.) He knows the City of LIghts intimately. The Institute described his 90-minute presentation and slide show, noting that City planning is usually the result of a reasoned process of deliberation. But in the case of Paris, the design of many sections of the city was triggered by violent emotions. Come hear the stories behind Les Halles, the Louvre, Palais Royal, and parts of the Left Bank by one of the Bay Area's most passionate Francophiles.

Paris was developed with "a pencil and a poke in the eye." The pencil refers to rational city planning. Baron Hausseman not only blasted medieval buildings to create boulevards, he also brought in clean water and the world's finest sewer system. The poke in the eye is a reference to the joust which cost Henry II his life, after which his wife Catherine de Medicis decreed that the royal castle where this happened by reduced to dust; that spot is now the Place des Vosges.

Walk2ChanoinesseBE2B055 Walk3ChanoinesseAF2B054
1865 ..................... Now
Emotion drove the shape of Paris. Most of its sidewalks have been covered with blood at one time or another. Rather than the logic of the pencil, most major planning decisions have been based on grief, humiliation, lust, and shame. Leonard told stories of the Palais Royale, then and now. When, in 1789, the palace's owner lacked funds to complete the wall around his gardens (because he'd squandered his fortune on debauchery), a commercial arcade was erected, thus creating the world's first shopping center. The arcade may have been blessed with the first example of that shopping center necessity -- an indoor WC.

When I lived in Paris as a kid, I loved walking in the Palais Royale. No cars allowed! The rows of shops sold fancy war decorations and stamps for collectors. I remember buying a stamp from a very old man in one of those shops when I was 15. Things looked mush the same when I walked through the Palais in 2002.

Gardens of the Palais

Order of the Garter

Chastity among the tin soldier set

I bought a copy of Leonard's book -- he volunteered to email me the English version from which the French was translated. I'll also be interviewing Leonard for my book on Informal Learning, for Leonard's formal education stopped before completing high school.

My blog used to be called "Watch Jay Learn." Perhaps I should go back to that. Reflection is precious. I'm happy I find time for it.


Post a Comment

<< Home

About Us | Contact Us | Home |

Powered by Blogger

Copyright 2005, Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California