A quintessential component of Sewanee, and perhaps its very essence, is its location nestled on the Cumberland Plateau. Acres of forests, trails, streams, mountains, caves, and scenic lookouts beckon contemplation of nature’s beauty. The presence of that which remains hardly touched by mankind is a consistent object of adoration, fascination, and education at Sewanee; one can escape the material world and lose herself in nature.
This phenomenon is seemingly nonexistent in Paris, and yet there is a striking similarity between Sewanee’s relationship with nature and Paris’s relationship with mankind. Sewanee celebrates the grandeur of the natural world; one is reminded of her smallness amongst the vastness of the cosmos. Paris celebrates the grandeur of humanity; the city is a manifestation of thousands of years of human accomplishments, triumphs, and failures. The wilderness of Sewanee and the metropolis of Paris, while seeming opposites, both encourage a deeper reflection of one’s place in the world.
This parallel occurred to me during a walk to the Louvre this week. While strolling down the Boulevard Saint-Michel, I casually glanced over my shoulder and the Panthéon was in my direct line of sight. There I was, hardly taking note of my surroundings and merely focusing on getting to class on time, and on a street away was a neoclassical masterpiece and the burial place of some of the most influential intellectuals in French history (Hugo, Zola, Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Curie, and others). Stumbling upon the Panthéon (our group wil return there soon for a more formal encounter) is by no means a casual event, but in Paris it is a part of daily life. The Panthéon is just one of hundreds of historically relevant sites throughout the city, and it is easy to get lost amongst them.
Le panthéon sur la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève à Paris.
I have attempted to make a conscious effort to take in my surroundings and contemplate the importance of place. Seeing the same monuments, artworks, cathedrals, and streets as millions of others before me makes me realize my contingency in the grand scheme of human existence. The city is a synthesis of so many different periods of human history. Egyptian artwork in the Louvre stands near baroque and rococo rooms used by 17th and 18th century kings, and all of this is being captured by iPhone cameras. There is no one time period that defines the city, and as the past is celebrated, the city is evolving constantly. The city’s fast rhythm makes the influence of Paris throughout history daunting and difficult to understand. The city, like nature, evolves and changes over time, ensuring that there is always a new facet to discover, and as the semester continues I will eagerly continue my exploration.
Sophie explique le théâtre dans la rue
À la maison de Balzac.
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine.
Breaux et Caroline with tee-shirts and medals from “We Run Paris 2016”.