I’ve always believed it’s my duty as a citizen to be engaged and informed. But lately I find myself reacting to the news in ways I never used to. It’s a reflexive and visceral response — even when events don’t directly affect me.

My instinct is to discuss these events, because they’re important. But then I consider that my friends’ emotions are probably as raw and frayed as my own. That’s when I decide to post a photo of a puppy instead of an editorial.

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That’s also why I escaped into my archives this afternoon to unearth the photos from Arles I’ve been promising.

Arles (pronounced “Arrrrles,” like a pirate) was founded in about 600 B.C. by the Greeks, who named their city Theline. The Romans took possession in 123 B.C. and immediately began improving their new outpost. You’ll find little vestiges of those early days all over town.

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But there are lots of big Roman remnants, too — such as the Arènes d’Arles (Arles Amphitheater), which still dominates the center of town. In its heyday up to 20,000 people would gather here to watch gladiatorial spectacles, but today this UNESCO World Heritage Site is more likely to host concerts, plays, and the occasional French bullfight.

I enjoyed visiting at different times every day to see how the light changed.

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If the saying is that “all roads lead to Rome,” in Arles it’s “all roads lead to the Amphitheater.”

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The architecture is astounding both in its sturdiness and its austerity. See how the arches not only buttress the weight of the seats above, but also create corridors for the spectators?

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This entrance to the arena would have been covered in smooth plaster back in the day.

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Arles boasts an ancient Roman theater, too, which is also still in use. Clever Esteban found us a gorgeous and surprisingly inexpensive apartment that overlooked the ruins. I never got tired of hearing the tour groups go by, their narration in a confetti of languages.

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On one particularly rainy day we visited the Cryptoporiques — a labyrinth of underground cellars and tunnels that date to the first century. They once served as a foundation for the Forum, and as a means of moving goods into the busy marketplace.

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We also walked about a mile out of town to visit the Alyscamps (Elysian Fields, or Roman cemetery). I’d read that during the late 1700s and early 1800s the local farmers had carted off the Roman sarcophagi and repurposed them as troughs to water their cattle.

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But in spite of this — and the general state of disrepair — it still felt like hallowed ground. I got goosebumps imagining that people had been walking along their ancestors’ tombs on this very road for centuries.

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Our visit happened to coincide with the Recontres d’Arles international photography festival, which in 2016 focused on the (mostly female) human nude. The exhibits were dispersed throughout several venues, including a number of churches. But since this is a family blog I’ll only show you the churches.

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Insiders’ tip: If you look closely, you’ll notice that Arles’ former denizens had an unhealthy obsession with being eaten by lions.

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One of the oldest churches is the Cloître St. Trophime, which was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. The west portal is a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture …

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… and is only a hint of what you’ll see inside. I’ll leave it to Wikipedia to detail the Biblical stories that are sculpted into the columns — but see if you can spot which sections are Romanesque, and which are Gothic.

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During our strolls we encountered some of the sites Vincent van Gogh painted when he lived here in 1888. Amid the vibrant colors and warm midday sun it was difficult to imagine the despair that consumed him in Arles, and that eventually claimed his life.

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But apart from the rich history, what I enjoyed most was simply strolling through Arles. Although it has some 50,000 residents the old city is compact — and delightful to explore on foot, thanks to a network of pedestrian-only streets.

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When I got up early — even on a market day — the small residential streets felt deserted. I grew so accustomed to being alone in the mornings, in fact, that when I did spot the occasional human form it seemed jarring.

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Some of the streets, near the top of the hill, felt particularly village-like.

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Speaking of the hilltop: The overlook was well worth finding for the views.

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It was also from the overlook that I first spotted some wonderful street art.

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The city of Arles may be ancient, but its residents are young at heart.

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From beautiful doorways …

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… to flower-adorned windows …

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… to ancient courtyards and alleys, lots of details in Arles caught my eye.

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But with the benefit of time, these small impressions have all coalesced into a deeper appreciation for the centuries of history and tradition that intersect in Arles.

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It’s a powerful reminder that other civilizations have survived turmoil and conflict over the centuries — and a call to hope that ours will, too.

 


Before visiting a new city Esteban and I usually read up on its history. But thanks to an overambitious itinerary, we knew little about Rouen when we arrived in September of 2015.

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Rouen was among Europe’s most prosperous and influential cities during the Middle Ages.

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Our first night was a blur (I’ll tell you about the bedbugs sometime …), and we spent our first full day doing laundry (see the parenthetical statement above). So it wasn’t until our second night that we saw the magnificent cathedral — and then, only as a backdrop for the son et lumière light show.

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When I finally did see the cathedral, it was awe-inspiring both in its size and intricacy.

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But not until our last morning did I sneak a peek of the gorgeous Gothic interior.

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On one side of the ambulatory there was an exhibit about World War II. It was there I learned that Rouen had been heavily bombed, and the cathedral seriously damaged. If you look closely you can see a few modern restorations, such as these stained-glass windows.

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One photo in the exhibit showed the French flag flying over the city’s ruins.

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Another poster showed the fire-gutted cathedral. The heat from the fire had been so intense that it melted the battant of the church’s oldest and largest bell, Jeanne d’Arc (bottom image, on the right).

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Some of the photos showed light pouring into the cathedral through gaping holes in the roof; others showed the craftsmen who had poured in to repair the 12th-century sanctuary.

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I didn’t expect to revisit these memories a few months later in New Orleans, of all places — but they came flooding back when Esteban and I visited the National World War II Museum with our friends Liz and James.

Upon entering we were given an electronic “dog tag” that would allow us to follow one enlisted man’s journey through the war. My man was named Paul Tibbets.

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Born in 1915 in Illinois, Tibbets fell in love with aviation as a boy, after a barnstorming pilot promoting Baby Ruth candy bars let him ride along. Although he studied medicine for two years to appease his father, Tibbets enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps 1937 and qualified as a pilot in 1938.

He quickly gained such a reputation for his skill and temperament that he became the personal pilot to General George S. Patton, among other Army brass.

When the United States entered World War II, Tibbets shipped out to England and began flying heavy bombing raids over Europe. Again proving himself skillful and level-headed, he was named commanding officer of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group, flying B-17 Flying Fortresses.

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One of the exhibits showing the devastation from Allied raids.

Tibbets was also chosen to lead the first daylight bombing raid over Europe — an exceedingly dangerous task. His target? ROUEN. My legs felt shaky when I realized that “my” man had been responsible for the smoldering ruins in the photos I’d seen only a few months earlier.

Esteban’s, James’ and Liz’s dog tags led us in different directions, so we meandered into the Pacific theater.

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I thought of my distant relative Douglas Munro — the only Coast Guardsman to have been awarded the Medal of Honor — but didn’t find him among the profiles of courage. You can read his story here.

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It was moving to see some of the men’s belongings — especially their handwritten diaries and their sketches. I wish we’d had time to read more of the accounts, which ranged from descriptions of daily routine to accounts of unimaginable horror.

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In fact, I appreciated this about the museum: The curators showed us the machines of war, but also their devastating effects. In remembering conflict, history too often forgets the human cost.

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We were nearing the exit, and I was growing worried I’d somehow missed the end of Tibbets’ story. There was one more stop on his tour, though.

In March of 1943 Tibbets returned to the U.S. to help test the new B-29 Superfortress, and in September 1944 he was given command of the 509th Composite Group, a new squadron with a top-secret mission.

On August 6, 1945 Tibbets and his crew of 11 men — many of whom had flown with him in Europe — took off from Tinian Island. Tibbets had named the airplane Enola Gay, after his mother. Its destination was Hiroshima.

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My legs felt weak once again as I looked at the flight log from that fateful day and surveyed some of the artifacts that were later recovered. I couldn’t stop staring at the melted glass bottles.

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“Did Tibbets know what he was about to do?” I wondered. “Did he regret having carried out his mission?”

You can hear the answer to these questions for yourself, in Tibbets’ own voice.

Tibbets retired from the U.S. Air Force on August 31, 1966. He moved to Columbus Ohio 10 years later, where he was president of Executive Jet Aviation until he retired in 1985. Paul Tibbets died in 2007 at the age of 92.

According to biography.com, “He requested no funeral and no headstone, fearing it would provide his detractors with a place to protest. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered over the English Channel.”

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Today marks the 72nd anniversary of Tibbets’ flight over Hiroshima.

In his classic piece Hiroshima John Hersey wrote that,

What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it’s been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima.”

May we never lose our collective memory of what happened at Hiroshima.


The words “thank you” can’t begin to convey my gratitude for the outpouring of support after my last post. I’m thrilled to report that Esteban is fully recovered and back to his daily routine. “This is the age of miracles and wonders,” as Paul Simon wrote.

Although it was distressing to spend so much time in the hospital last week, the long waits did inspire me to clean out the photos on my phone.

Most are snapshots of animals I’ve spotted during my morning walks. Like this fly that spotted me back …

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… and this rabbit that wanted nothing to do with me.

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On one particularly hot day I saw a cat so torpid it couldn’t even open its eyes …

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… unlike this moth, which was studying me so intently it went cross-eyed.

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One photo brought back my sadness in April as I took one last look at France …

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… and my horror during another trip when I woke up covered in bedbugs. (On the plus side, I’m apparently now an expert in biting pests.)

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In fact, I was surprised by how many screenshots I’d taken of news articles over the past year. Like this ambiguous subhead (was the shark snorkeling in the Bahamas?) …

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… and this head-scratch-inducing photo. If anyone can explain the role Fluffernutter sandwiches played in World War I, I’d be grateful.

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Well, that’s my attempt at changing the subject from health woes back to photos. Thank you again for your kind and buoying words over the past few days. I promise to come back soon with a few more stories from Esteban’s and my visit to Arles.

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It’s been a rough 10 days, friends. On July 9 my husband Esteban woke up with shortness of breath and a tight chest. In a scene that was eerily reminiscent of his first heart attack six years ago, we piled into the car and sped to the emergency room.

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The only photo I’ve taken in the past week.

“It doesn’t seem to be your heart,” concluded the attending physician after a plethora of needle pokes and x-rays. We were sent home, and I urged Esteban to schedule a stress test … just in case.

The stress test revealed that it was his heart, unfortunately — and the results were so alarming that he was scheduled for an angioplasty the very next morning.

Neither of us slept well that night: Just reading the risks could kill you. (“The device may accidentally pierce an artery. It may poke a hole in your heart. It may introduce bacteria and give you a fatal infection. In rare cases, it may cause embolism or a stroke …”)

Plus, there was a chance Esteban would have a heart attack overnight. I found myself waking up every few minutes to listen for his breathing.

We reported for his appointment at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday and spent almost 12 hours in the hospital. In spite of the long wait, it seemed miraculous to me that he could go home the same day — and that the only evidence of heart surgery was tiny puncture wound on Esteban’s wrist. He seemed remarkably chipper, too.

But on Saturday morning he awoke looking kind of grayish and again had the shortness of breath, so back we went to the emergency room. The same nurse from the previous week was there. Now the routine seemed familiar: Hook up the monitors. Put in an I.V. Test the blood. Wait for the doctor.

“We’re going to admit you,” said the doctor.

Coming home on Saturday night reminded me of that first heart attack, too: Once again we had strewn clothes about in our haste, and left the sink full of dirty dishes.

And once again the emptiness struck me. What if every night were like this? The silence and loneliness were unbearable.

Luckily, Esteban and I once again got a reprieve. I brought him home yesterday afternoon, tucked him into bed, and made a giant batch of his favorite heart-healthy soup.

Now I’m listening for the familiar sounds of a Monday: His alarm kicking in, the soft padding of his feet on the wood floor, the squeeeeaaak of the bedroom door opening …

And when he finally does emerge I’ll be extra-grateful to throw my arms around him and wish him a good morning.

Of all the Monday mornings I’ve seen so far, today is my hands-down favorite.


As an amateur photographer I have lots of bad habits, but by far the worst is not looking at my photos after I take them.

Over time, the weight of all those photos becomes oppressive, as it can take hours to sort through my mostly crappy snapshots to pick out a handful of favorites. Eventually the task feels so daunting that taking new photos seems pointless, since it will only add to the backlog on my hard drive.

But over the past month I’ve begun to chip away at that backlog, by sifting through 15 years’ worth of family snapshots and sending the highlights to my loved ones.

And last weekend I turned my attention back to Arles. (Remember the weekly market I described some six weeks ago?) Here is just a small appetizer of the Arles buffet to come.

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Roman ruins jut out of the ground all over town — like the remains of this enormous first-century B.C. arena, which could once seat 20,000 spectators.
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Thick fog only made this particular morning even more beautiful and peaceful.
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I loved how the famous Provençal sun found its way into even the narrowest of streets.
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This cat demanded to be pet — and then bit me. Ingrate! But I forgave him because he matched the scenery so perfectly.
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Well, there’s the appetizer I promised. Stay tuned for the full feast of sun-baked, Roman-ruined, cat-adorned photos, yet to come!


The sky at home is (yet again) drippy and dark, so I’m turning to my archives for some sunshine.

Esteban and I spent a few days in Arles last year. Because we’re both history buffs, we were keen to see the Roman ruins and the well-preserved medieval city.

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But mostly we came for the Provençal sun — and the bright colors it inspires. Those were on display at the huge Saturday market , which fills the length of the Boulevard des Lices every week.

The market has two sections: The first, on the eastern end of the boulevard, features durable goods from purses to pots and pants. We didn’t need upholstery fabric by the yard, however, so we kept our visit short.

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The other half of the market, on the western end of town, is all about flowers and food.

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I loved watching the locals interact with the vendors. Many knew each other, and shopping seemed to be as much a social occasion as a weekly errand.

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I especially loved the friendly butcher who pressed me into service as a (terrible) translator for some German tourists — although I found it a bit unnerving that he punctuated his conversation with a large knife.

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Still, his gourmet sausages were delicious. He told me the cattle were raised locally and gave me precise directions to the farm — you know, in case I wanted to visit the herd.

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There were dozens of other specialty booths, from pottery to spices and greens.

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My favorite booths featured the local specialties — such as these regional cheeses spiced with basil and pimento. When the shopkeeper asked for my order, I almost said “One of everything, please.”

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But sun-kissed Provence is most famous for its produce — and on that score, the market did not disappoint.

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I’m slowly sifting through the rest of my photos from Arles, so I’ll be back with more soon. (Especially if this dreary weather continues. Sigh.)


From its doorknobs to its house numbers, Paris is rich in architectural details. But it was the city’s iconic pavers that led me on my most recent historical adventure.

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In some streets the pavers are still arranged in beautiful fan-like patterns.

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The rue de l’Abreuvoir offers a nice view of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, above — if you can ignore the pavers.

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I was at one of my favorite spots along the Seine, on the Quai de Bourbon …

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… when I noticed a missing paver.

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I began poking at the hole with my foot to dislodge the cigarette butts, when a man approached. “You must not disturb the pavés,” he said, looking both stern and concerned.

My French is wobbly — and I’ve not yet been able to confirm the penalty — but I’m pretty sure he said “five years in jail” for removing a paver. I’d intended no such act, but still the encounter rattled me.

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Serious crimes in Paris get you a complimentary tour of the Palais de Justice (in the background). But I skipped it because none of my guidebooks recommended it.

But you know what they say about forbidden fruit: Soon I was obsessed with the idea of obtaining a paver. Legally, of course!

The city has been tearing out the pavers and replacing them with asphalt since the May 1968 riots, in which students turned the granite blocks into missiles aimed at the police. Surely City Hall might have saved a few?

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The Fontaine St. Michel, to the right in the frame above, is a favorite meeting spot for Parisians — and a traditional site for protests, too.

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Some of the 1968 riots took place near the Place St. Michel, so officials paved over this nearby crosswalk to prevent subsequent paver-hurlings.

That’s how I found this article — “Paris offrez-vous un pavé du Trocadéro.”  Translation: for €50 (plus €40 shipping to the U.S.) you can legally obtain a paver from the Place du Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower.

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The Place du Trocadéro — a great spot for spotting the Eiffel Tower.

Pavé de Paris also throws in a small wooden crate and a bilingual booklet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said their website.

This made me curious: Why was Pavé de Paris enclosing a copy of the resolution France’s National Assembly drafted? Seeking the connection, I pondered some of the people and places from the 1789 revolution.

Was the paver somehow related to the cheering crowds that gathered at the Place de la Révolution to watch madame la guillotine claim her victims’ heads?

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The site of the guillotine was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795.

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Or was it related to the Conciergerie, where so many doomed prisoners awaited their executions? I thought especially of Marie Antoinette, writing one last entry in her prayer book before two white horses carried her to her death:

This 16th of Oct. at 4:30 in the morning
My God, have mercy on me!
My eyes have no more tears
to weep for you my poor
children; farewell, farewell!

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Conciergerie 1080542 CLHL BW BLOGThe oldest portions of the Conciergerie go back to the 12th century. It was also in 1186 that Philippe-Auguste ordered the first paved Parisian streets.

Then my mind turned to Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the physician and politician who opposed the death penalty, but who ironically gave the guillotine its name.

Outraged by the messy and often inhumane executions he was witnessing in Paris, Guillotin had hoped a more humane method of execution would at least be one step closer to ending the practice.

Supposedly the “instant decapitation machine” he proposed was tested on sheep at his office on the Cour du Commerce Saint-André. I wonder how the owners of Le Procope — the coffee shop next door — felt about all the bleating and bleeding.

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On the right side of the frame above, look for Le Procope’s overhead sign. The façade of the white building to the right of it has a plaque mentioning Dr. Guillotin. Also, notice the pavers!

Only in hindsight, as I sought a connection to the pavers, did I realize I’d visited all of these sites.

But my question remained unanswered: What did any of this have to do with the more modern Place du Trocadéro where Pavé de Paris obtained its pavers?

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A more careful read of both the Parisien article and the Pavé de Paris website cleared up my confusion: The booklet didn’t contain the 1789 revolution Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but rather the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the United Nations ratified at the Trocadéro in 1948.

Aaaah, I seeee …

Although I took a wrong turn in one sense, in another my mission was a success: I’d discovered the pavers’ omnipresence through centuries of history, and their starring role in many pivotal moments.

Anyway. Back to Pavé de Paris. My (totally legally obtained, nothing at all to see here, officer) paver arrived last week!

But I’ve decided not to keep it, because it’s the perfect gift for a certain young man named Noah, a fellow lover of Paris who will soon graduate from law school. I think he’ll enjoy using it as a bookend for his law books — but he’ll also have his first paver for storming the Bastille … just in case.

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Thank you for tagging along the past few days, and for all of your creative guesses. I will be back soon with more stories from the City of Light.

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The Cour du Commerce Saint-André in Paris’ sixth arrondissement is little more than a cobbled alley. Open only to pedestrians, it connects the tony and traffic-choked Boulevard Saint-Germain with the bustling little rue de Buci. But when you step onto its uneven paving stones, you’re stepping onto a spot where centuries of history converge. (Full disclosure: The Cour du Commerce was torn up for renovation during Esteban’s and my last visit, so these photos date from 2009 and 2010, respectively.)

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This is my fifth and penultimate clue in a series about how everything in Paris is connected. See the past four days’ posts for other hints — and please check back on Sunday for the full story.

This is my fourth post in series about the unexpected historical connections that abound in Paris. See the past three days’ posts for other clues — or tune in on Sunday for the full story.

The Place de la Concorde is not only Paris’ largest public square, but arguably its most historic. Its name changes alone — Place Louis XV, Place de la Révolution, and finally Place de la Concorde — hint at its role in France’s transition from a monarchy to a republic.

From its two fountains representing the rivers and seas to its Egyptian obelisk and its views of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel tower, it’s also among Paris’ more photogenic spots. But do I have any decent photos of what I’ve just described? Not really. So in this post I’ll attempt to make up for lack of quality with volume.

Concorde 1230925 BW BLOG

Concorde at night 1040858 bw BLOG

Concorde 1230936 BW 3 BLOG

Concorde 1230955 BW BLOG

Pro tip: The Pont de la Concorde is a great spot for enjoying sunsets.

Eiffel concorde sunset 1080446 CL BLOG

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. More tomorrow!


Although I missed the supermoon in Paris, seeing the moon set behind the Conciergerie was a lovely consolation. How many men and women have gazed at la lune from their prison cells over the centuries?

Conciergerie moonset 1080266 BW3 BLOG

This is my third post about the unexpected ties that bind Paris’ historical sites. See the past two days’ posts for other clues — or tune in on Sunday for the full story.



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