Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Nickel Tour of Mr. Jefferson's Paris

Hey, Americans! Take a nickel out of your wallet. Flip it over to tails. What do you see?

Monticello, of course, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

But did you know that Monticello-- and ergo the nickel -- would be significantly different if it were not for Jefferson's stay in Paris from 1784-1789?

Now look at the Hotel de Salm, located next to the Musee d'Orsay.

Does anything ring a bell?

During his five years in Paris, Mr. Jefferson was besotted with the building, which he viewed regularly from the Tuileries on his daily walks. He loved the building so much that after returning to Virginia from Paris he had Monticello's roof torn town and installed the dome, inspired by the Hotel de Salm, which created Monticello as we know it today.

So here's today's Nickel Tour of Mr. Jefferson's Paris. It takes about half an hour on foot. Much less on line!

Start across from the Hotel de Salm, at the statue of Mr. Jefferson erected in 2006.

Look at the architectural drawing in Mr. Jefferson's right hand. It shows the drawings of the original Monticello (what the flip-side of the nickel would have looked like...).

Hmm. Today, the quill in Mr. Jefferson's left hand was sporting a frilly party lei. Maybe he was celebrating in between the two presidential nomination conventions?











In any case, Mr. Jefferson's statue is looking directly across the street at his dear Hotel de Salm.

The Hotel de Salm now houses the Museum of the Legion d'Honneur, definitely worth a visit. Entrance is free, and as you breeze in the door you can wave to the crowds standing in lines to buy tickets at the Musee d'Orsay. Be sure to peek around at the back entrance of the Hotel de Salm on rue de Lille, and see the rows of columns and courtyards, which I am convinced must have inspired some of Mr. Jefferson's columns at the University of Virginia.

Then stroll a few blocks south on rue de Bellechasse and peek in the courtyard at the Ministry of Defense, Department of Anciens combattants, and around the corner on rue de Grenelle see the exterior of the Temple de Pentemont, currently under renovation. Jefferson didn't stay there, but his daughters Patsy and Polly were boarding students there while he was Minister to France. It was known as the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, and was a presitgious convent school for young ladies from the finest families.

I like to imagine that when Mr. Jefferson was looking longingly across the river to the Hotel de Salm, he was also thinking not only about architecture, but also about his daughter(s) just up the street at school.

Of course, there are many, many other spots to see on a Jefferson walking tour (maybe the $2-bill tour, not the nickel tour...) of Paris and environs.

"Today’s visitor to Paris can follow Jefferson’s route from his house on the rue de Berri, down the Champs-Elysées, and across the Place de la Concorde to the Tuileries gardens," wrote Diana Ketcham in a 1995 article in American Heritage magazine.

The excellent AH article provides a nearly exhaustive list of places that Mr. Jefferson visited or would have visited in Paris. And I can't wait to check out the sites it mentions that I haven't seen yet.


But selfishly, I love today's Nickel Tour because it's all on the street where I live. I mean, how lucky can a Polly get?

1 comment:

Evelyn said...

I always walk down rue Bellechasse when I visit Paris...to shop at Annick Goutal! Next time I'm there, I'll do the Thomas Jefferson tour instead. Thanks for sharing this connection between France and the US.

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