Safe and Sound

Les Invalides

This morning, Paris awoke me with church bells instead of the usual construction noises outside my window, as if to say, "Happy two weeks!" Similarly, my one-week survival present from the homeland of gastronomy was a gourmet dinner of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a Twix ice cream bar. These past fourteen days have been a whirlwind of exploration, homesickness, solitude and new friends, but Tuesday, the anniversary of my arrival, is always a good day.

To the members of the Brown community I already know, especially Urmila, I'm sorry for not having the time to write sooner, and I hope this post will serve as adequate evidence that I am not dead. For the rest, a quick introduction - I'm here for the Brown International Scholars Program, taking a look at Latin epigraphy outside of the temporal and geographical constraints of ancient Rome.

I'm a Classics major who has always had a strong interest in French civilization, so it's the perfect way for me to spend a summer. Just being in France after having studied its language for the past 10 years has led to a lot of new discoveries on my part, but so far, the results of my inscription-cruising have been Paris' biggest surprise yet. I expected most of the city's Latin inscriptions to be from the Roman period and the Middle Ages.

However, I was shocked to find that most of them date from after the 16th century, when Francis I effectively banned the use of Latin from the country. They're everywhere! A few personal favorites so far: a church's 1918 entreaty to God to protect them from "aereis machinis barbarorum," or armored machines of the barbarians (German bombs), and a stone marking the old Paris prime meridian with the name of the king who commissioned it completely scratched out by vengeful revolutionaries - a prime example of what the Romans would call "damnatio memoriae," or condemnation of memory.

On the whole, I'm astonished by the diversity and quality of the inscriptions I've found so far. To every fellow student or professor who has ever thought that Latin written outside of Italy and after 476 CE is not "real" Latin, I invite you to come along with me on this journey. I'm going to spare the gory linguistic details in this blog, but if you ever want to discuss Neo-Latin, you can reach me in the comments!

Anyways, back to the 21st century. I'm quite glad that Maggie prepared us for the "first three weeks" phenomenon, which was everything she said it would be. Also, as I predicted, the most difficult part for me so far has been human interaction - I'm not working with an organization or living with other students, so other people have been hard to come by.

Luckily, I finally heard back from my mentor, and I've been periodically meeting up with friends and friends-of-friends who are in the area, all of whom have been nothing but hospitable and wonderful adventure companions. Together we've walked through cemeteries and braved the French social scene (which of the two is more frightening?). Tonight was the Fete de la Musique, a free music festival held throughout the city at the beginning of summer.

My friend Chris and I hung out outside the Louvre pyramid and listened to an orchestra concert going on inside. Even as I type this in my apartment as I'm about to go to bed, I can still hear music outside my window. Tomorrow, it'll be back to the sound of construction, but after two weeks of the craziest adjustment of my life, I almost like it better that way.