Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Dupuytren Museum and Other Secrets of the Left Bank

Spending a month in Paris gives you plenty of time to go off the beaten track, and it would be hard to imagine any place further off the track than this one: The Dupuytren Museum.  You know by now that we have a certain fascination with the bizarre, and Dupuytren definitely qualifies. 

First we have to set the stage.  The museum is hidden within the School of Medicine, part of the famous French Sorbonne complex in the university quarter on the Left Bank.  In fact, we had to ask for directions in order to find it within the courtyards of the old university buildings.  A sign instructed us to ring the buzzer, and soon a white-haired professor led us thru an entrance vestibule far into the bowels of a creaky, old building that looked like a scene from a Charles Dickens novel.  On both sides of us, overloaded floor-to-ceiling bookcases (about 12 feet high) were stacked with dusty research books, papers, and all kinds of centuries-old paraphernalia. The elderly gent, who spoke no English, collected our admission and led us into the museum's single room where anatomical oddities rested on row after row of glass shelves.

The museum was originally established in 1835 as the Museum of Pathological Anatomy of the Medicine Faculty of the University of Paris for the purpose of studying disease and malformations.  The collection contains 6,000 curiosities many dating back to the 17th c. including skeletons, wax models, and all kinds of actual body parts preserved in jars!  Here is just a partial list to give you an idea: a hand with gangrene, skulls of hydrocephalus victims, fetuses of conjoined twins (some with 2 heads on one body).  Really ghastly stuff!  It's actually hard to say if the purpose here was really education or just morbid fascination.

We never realized that so much could go wrong with the human body, but after seeing this museum, we will never complain about small aches and pains again! 

Anne has a book called "Hidden Paris," (is there a book about Paris that she hasn't read?), and the book led us to this secret corner of the city.  This pretty little hideaway at the Sorbonne was originally the cloister of the Petits Augustins Monastery and is now part of the Beaux-Arts School.

It seemed like an odd spot, but the little courtyard also contained a war memorial listing some of the fallen from both WWI and WWII.  These "mort pour la patrie" (died for the country) monuments appear all over France and are a constant reminder of the devastating losses of two world wars.

For a change of pace, we walked over to the former home of Serge Gainsbourg, a notorious French singer songwriter .  He died in 1991, but as you can see, his home is still covered with graffiti from lovelorn fans.  He was one of the original bad boys of popular music, known for his love of alcohol, cigarettes, and beautiful women like Brigitte Bardot with whom he had a brief affair.  You may know his "breathy" song called "Je t'aime." 

We crossed over the Seine and walked through the Tuileries garden where we found this colorful new sculpture.  Love the title: "Flowers that Bloom at Midnight" by the female sculptor Yayoi Kusama.

No matter where you go in Paris, the magic always surrounds you.  Like in this view of the obelisk on Place de la Concorde with the Eiffel in the background.

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