Friday, July 18, 2008

Paris: Day 22 - French Senate Tour

Today we visited the French Senate, which sits at the Luxembourg Palace. It was built for Marie de Medici (widow of Henri IV) in 1615 and modeled on the Pitti Palace in Florence. The courtyard of the building is the original courtyard, having not been touched throughout the intervening time. We had a French-speaking tour guide and one of my professors, Professor Lazerow, interpreted for the group. We watched a short video with English subtitles and then walked through the building.

We were able to sit in the gallery of the Senate chambers for a short time while a debate was occurring. Most of us understood very little of the debate! There were only 11 of 331 Senateurs present. Most or all of the Senateurs have other civil posts, such as mayor, of the city/town/region that they represent in the Senate. After leaving the gallery, we walked by the library (open only to Senateurs and their staffs) and one of the men debating was in the hallway. He was either a Senateur or from the Ministry involved with the bill in debate. He said hello to Luke and asked us if we were Americans. He then asked me where we were from, and I told him "Indiana" and that the others were from other places. He then welcomed us to either the Senate, to France, or to both!

One of the neat things about the Senate chambers is the security. Originally the security for the Senate were men who wore large golden chains around their necks with the keys to the chambers. In present times, the keys are no longer part of the attire, but they wear tuxedos with tails, a white bow tie, and a chain with large golden links. Their formal title in French translates roughly to the English word "usher" - which is fitting.

We went into a long room with a table given to the Senate, a seat used by Napoleon Bonaparte, and an original constitution of the Fifth Republic (signed in 1958). Napoleon set up the French Senate, which can never be disbanded. The Assemblee Nationale may be dismissed.

In addition to touring the Senate, we also rode the Metro for the first time today. Until now we have not needed or wanted to use it, but the Senate is a ways to walk when dressed nicely! Luke was a little apprehensive at first, but he got into it - at one point even holding onto the bar like I was! His tooth has come in a little more, so that we can feel the top of it now instead of just seeing white below the surface. He is chewing like crazy and slobbering everywhere!

Tomorrow morning early we leave for a weekend trip, so there will not be a blog posting until Sunday late (or maybe Monday morning, depending on the time we return). We are going to Chartres, Blois, Vouvray, Azay-le-rideau, Villandry, Chenonceau, and Chambord - tours of 4 castles, 1 cathedral, and 1 vineyard are scheduled, as well as a sound & light show at one of the castles Saturday night. We are looking forward to it!

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