For the past two months I have been in Paris, and for the past two months I have been reading Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. It's been a literary history lesson, and one that twice has required murder mystery breaks. But aside from my brain-breaks it's been an interesting way to learn about and experience Paris in a different way. I mean, there's very little chance I would have read 58 pages on the battle of Waterloo if they weren't pages 301 to 359.
Also, since Victor Hugo lived in Paris for much of his life (1802-1885) I have visited many places that were part of his life. For instance: Notre Dame. In and of itself, the behemoth church is worth visiting. I mean, Napoleon's coronation was held there, and it's over 800 years old. But! It's also the setting for Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a novel that called attention to the church and spurred a time of restoration. Go Victor! I visited a museum dedicated specifically to the author and located in an apartment where he lived. Nice digs, great location. I walked by the church where he was married many times.
Not only that, I visited places that appear in Les Miserables. The Jardin du Luxemborg has a recurring role in the novel and is also one of my favorite places in Paris. Funnily enough, my guide books says it's a perfect place to imagine how wealthy Parisian in the 1800's spent their leisure time. And so, I spent a few hours, book in hand, reclining by the reflecting pool. The novel also mentions specific streets and bridges that I have walked.
The cemetery Pere Lachaise is also mentioned in his book. A mother bemoans how, being poor, her son will be buried at the bottom of the hill where he will never see light again, and therefore the oppression by the rich continues even in death. Pere Lachaise is a very famous cemetery, possibly the most famous in the world, and naturally it was on my custom-made "to see" list. I visited, and indeed the cemetery covers a large hill. Of course, I feel pretty certain that, at this point, the cemetery is so exclusive that any burial plot acquired would be considered a good one. However, if it were 1833, Jim Morrison would be poor and Oscar Wilde quite nicely off given their burial positions.
On the other hand, ol' Vicor himself made out pretty well. His final resting place is the crypt at the Pantheon, which is reserved for the elite of the elite French. Score!
Hugo also stands the test of time when he writes, "Suddenly she knew the whole science of the hat, the dress, the cloak, the boot, the cuff, the material that hangs well, the becoming color, the science that makes the Parisian woman something so charming, so deep, and so dangerous. The phrase "alluring woman" was invented for her." Man, he hit the nail on the head with that one. Over 150 years later, Parisian woman are still stylish and possess a confidence in their style unseen elsewhere.
In the 980 pages I have read thus far (leaving me just under 500 to go) I have found a few lines I particularly enjoy, and since I'm a giving person I wanted to share. They are:
"Satan must have squatted for a moment in some corner of the hole Thenardier lived and studied this hideous masterpiece."
"As he was witty twice over -- first with his own wit, then with the wit that was attributed to him--"
With that, I bid adieu to Paris and bury my nose into page 981.