Unexpected Discoveries in France

Travel is famously a broadening experience. While visiting other countries and other places, especially ones with longer histories, one can find both inspiration and surprises. On our recent Viking River Cruise in France, I found some of both.

The Emerson Colonial Staircase

When I wrote about the Emerson Colonial Theater in March, I mentioned that the orchestra lobby had been modeled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. I didn’t know of a similar inspiration for the staircase—which has an interesting design.
Two weeks ago, I was touring Rouen Cathedral and stopped short when I saw a staircase the looked, well, familiar. I stopped and took a picture. Here are the two staircases side by side.

Emerson Colonial Theater, Notre Dame Cathedral Rouen France, staircaseSources of Inspiration

Now, it’s entirely possible that architect Clarence Blackall had never seen Notre Dame Cathedral in Rouen, France, when he designed the Emerson Colonial, which opened in 1900. It’s also possible that Versailles has a similar staircase, which I have never seen.

Notre Dame Cathedral Rouen France, west facade

Rouen Cathedral — West Facade

We opted out of the Versailles excursion on our Viking River Cruise because it only lasted four hours—nowhere near long enough to see much of such an enormous site. Also, we chose not to go on a 95-degree day when Versailles would be both crowded and very hot.

Most of the photos I have seen, however, show staircases at Versailles that are significantly larger, grander, and more sweeping than the one in Rouen. Perhaps Clarence Blackall saw the one in Rouen Cathedral on a tour of France and later thought, “I could fit that design into the theater.”

At any rate, I found the similarity strong enough to stop me in my tracks and take a picture. I leave the decision to you.

Finding Thomas Jefferson in France

Thomas Jefferson, memorial plaque, Vienne FranceAnother unexpected encounter was this plaque dedicated to Thomas Jefferson that we found in Vienne, France. Mr. Jefferson visited Vienne along with United States Diplomat and fellow Francophile Benjamin Franklin on a tour of France in 1787. The citizens of Vienne raised this plaque in 2009 as a symbol of French and American friendship.

Thomas Jefferson served as the United States Minister to France from 1785 to 1789. The plaque honors his contribution as the senior writer of the American Declaration of Independence and a lover of France. It says:

“He travels through our territories and promotes to the United States our heritage land, and culture. A humanist, he shares our values of freedom. With his friend Lafayette, he plays a key role in drafting the French Constitution and the declaration of human rights for man and citizen in 1788. A bridge for friendship. 222 anniversary of the French revolution.”

The Thomas Jefferson plaque is located on the wall of a building opposite the Roman Temple d’Auguste et Livie on the place du Palais. In fact, Mr. Jefferson may have used the temple as inspiration for some of his neo-classical designs in the new United States.

It seems that inspiration can come from anyone, anywhere, who has the eyes to see. And it can pop up at any time, even when you least expect it.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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