Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mathematicians in Paris - III

The Eglise Saint-Germain-des Pres gave its name to the whole quarter around it (which is also part of Latin Quarter). The church was the intellectual center of Catholic church until French Revolution when the church lost most of its power but the intellectual traditions in this area lived on. We walked into this church to look for Rene Descartes resting place. He had many addresses while he was alive, and his remains also travelled - first he was buried in Sweden, where he died, then later transferred to Paris -  to the Eglise Saint Etienne-du-Mont, later to Eglise-Saint-Germain-des-Pres (some sources say that only his heart is buried there). In 1792 it was decided that Descartes should be interred in the Pantheon but nothing has changed so far - his "final address" is still the Eglise -Saint-Germain-des-Pres, between two scholarly monks.
Next to the church is a little garden with a sculpture for the poet Guilliaume Apollinaire, who is credited of coining the term surrealism. He thought that " Geometry is to the plastic arts what grammar is to the art of the writer.".
If one would try to put up signs for famous intellectuals who left their footprints in the area of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, then  very little space for pedestrians would be left there. On the busy corner across from Eglise Saint-Germain-des Pres I attempted to snap a photo of Les Deux Magots - a cafe that opened in 1875 in the space previously occupied by the fabric shop and which bills itself The Rendezvous of Intellectual Elite. The narrow slice in front of it is called the Place Jean-Paul-Sartre-Simone de Beauvoir. There are several other famous cafes in the area known as traditional meeting places for intellectuals, for example Cafe de Flore, or Brasserie Lipp,
but we, mathematicians, headed for La Procope following its official address 13 rue de-l' Ancienne-Comedie.  (Next time I would like to try the other entrance we missed - at 128 Blvd. St. Germain there is an entrance into the lovely passage built by the ancient Paris wall.)
In this "world's oldest cafe" Voltaire and Napoleon Bonaparte have been patrons and that of course overshadows other guests. French encyclopedists were meeting here, among them Diderot and d'Alambert.
We thought that two hours for lunch will be enough time. Apparently not in this place. We were led to the table on the ground floor. While waiting for food to arrive we had plenty of time to soak in the place where discussions among various celebrities (did I mention Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robespierre, Alexander von Humboldt, Alfred de Musset, and George Sand?) have taken place in the past.
 During our lunch I watched a group of visiting German students who clearly were on budget in Paris but had decided to celebrate there stay in a place where authors from their textbooks once had come. Across from us there was an impatient elderly lady waiting for her date. I was curious to guess who would come. My guess that she is a professor was correct (do we all have some professional marks on our foreheads?). Her date was slightly late, and it was her graduate student whom she had invited for a treat, and his lunch was wrapped in a long lecture on philosophical topics.

I used an excuse "to wash my hands" to find that Dames are one floor up, so I had a chance to peak into other dining rooms as well. One of them even has Voltaire's desk.

The name for the street cafe La Procope is on comes from the fact that across from it was the original house of La Comédie-Française.
The sign is quite high up and easy can be missed.
We had to finish our philosophically long lunch and rush to the Institute of Henri Poincare to see mathematical models there, but I will write about it more properly later.
We came back to the Left Bank some other day to look for more places of historical-mathematical interest.
Thanks to David Burke to point out that:
"Saint Germain-des-Pres was not part of the Latin Quarter. They were separate, even rival, entities sharing the medieval Left Bank. Philippe Auguste's 13th century wall ran between them.  It ran from the Seine along today's Rue Mazarine, up Rue Monsieur le Prince, looped around (actually just inside) today's Place de la Contrescarpe, and down Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine to the river.  That wall was built to protect the Latin Quarter."
In several tour guides Saint-Germain-des-Pres and Latin Quarter are mixed together perhaps because today there is no such strict line between them.
Walking towards Seine rue L'Ancienne Comedie turns into Rue Mazarine. Seems like this is an approximate place of the residence for employees of de l'Academie des Sciences. David Smith in his paper mentioned that Gaston Darboux official residence was at No.3 Rue Mazarine when he was secretaire perpetuel de l'Academie des Sciences.
Rue de Mazarine leads to Institute de France - the most prestigious institution established by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635 as the official guardian of the French language. Under its auspices in 1666 l'Academie des Sciences was founded - to encourage and protect French scientific research.  The domed landmark at the end of this street is the Bibliotheque Mazarine - beautiful museum of the books and the working library.
In 17th century Rue Mazarine would be a place where theater companies set up shops at former tennis courts. A plaque on a present day building at No.12 marks the place where Theatre Illustre that lasted only a year but the name of one of its actors, young Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, forever is written in the history of theater. We know him as Moliere.
Rue de Seine was at one time an address of Legendre.  
Marquis de Condorcet was wearing many hats. One of them was a mathematician, but he was sentenced to death for his political activities.
On No.2 Rue Christine Laplace lived in 1802.  When Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas had to leave their legendary atelier in the Monparnasse, they moved to No.5 Rue Christine, close to the Picasso studio that was just around the corner - at No.7 rue de Grands-Augustins.

Close to Rue Christine is  Rue de Savoie where at No. 13 is an inscription that tells that Sophie Germain died there on June 27, 1831.

At the time Victor Hugo wrote his Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) the cathedral was neglected, and even thought to be demolished. Hugo's book was the first work of fiction that brought a city alive, and, as he hoped,  the success of the book sparked the public interest and started a campaign to save Gothic architecture. The Eglise Saint-Sulpice is the second largest in the city, only slightly smaller than Notre Dame. The building is very harmonic one, if to ignore two mismatched towers.

The Place Saint-Sulpice infront of the church has the busy Fontaine des Quatres Points Cardinaux in its center. Working fountain in January... For somebody from Ithaca it was hard to believe it is possible in wintertime. This place was beloved place for writers Henri Miller and Anatol France. I believe that some mathematicians have been walking there too, unfortunately they do not usually leave notes about that. Near there used to be the Cafe de la Mairie, favorite of the Surrealists, and of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, when they lived nearby.

The Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire were baptized in the church of Saint-Sulpice, and Victor Hugo was married there, but these facts were not enough to attract tourists until this church appeared in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
The book must have annoyed a lot of clergy in the church because next to the famous gnomon there is a big sign that Brown's book is pure fiction. There is also a translation of original gnomon's description.
These gnomons in early days were built in several churches but lost their usefulness after powerful telescopes were invented.
The Baroque chapel on Place de La Sorbonne was commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu and completed in 1635. It is now the sole remaining building of the pre-revolutionary Sorbonne, still the favourite student gathering place. At No.1 Charles Hermitte died in 1901. David Smith mentioned a medallion to Hermitte on the wall of the chapel.

Several mathematicians lived near Luxembourg Gardens. At no.12 Rue de Tournon, near the entrance to the Palais du Luxembourg Cauchy and Leverrier lived. Cauchy was a prolific writer - he wrote about 800 research papers. in the late 1750's on Rue de Tournon at No.27 lived Giacomo Casanova, whose name also associates with large numbers but not the research papers...

The Henri Poincare Institute is near the Luxembourg Gardens. Henri Poincare  is buried in Poincare family vault in famous Cemetery of Montparnasse. Other mathematicians there are Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis, Jean Nicolas Pierre Hachette, Urbain Le Verrier.

About our visit at the Institute Henri Poincare next time.

PS. My literary knowledge comes from David Burke's very enlightening book  Writer's in Paris.

PSS. March 25 NewYork Times also has a piece about Paris A Paris Farewell by Amy Thomas - sorry if starting March 28 it will not be available...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mathematicians in Paris - II

As I mentioned before, my inspiration to find "mathematical" places in Paris came from David Eugene Smith Historical-Mathematical Paris (The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Mar. - Apr., 1923), pp. 107-113).
David Eugene Smith  (1860-1944) was born in Cortland, NY, just a little more than 20 miles from Ithaca, where I live now. When he died, "the world lost one of the most colorful and influential figures in the fields of the history and teaching of mathematics".(in memorium). Prof. Smith travelled to lecture and to stay in Paris numerous times over the period of 40 years. He was a passionate collector of books, letters and various memorabilia of interest of math historian. From the letters he collected and other sources he learned the addresses of mathematicians in Paris. I was intrigued what I would be able to find 88 years later after his account of "historical-mathematical" Paris was published.
Prof. Smith suggested to start with the most ancient part of the city - the Lutetia, now a part of the Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame stands. In the ancient Palais de Justice there is a little gem of Gothic architecture - Sainte Chapelle. One of its canons was Rollandus, who wrote a general treatise on mathematics c.1425, now this manuscript is in Plimpton Library, Columbia University, New York City.
There is no need to have a mathematical reason to visit Sainte Chapelle - some say it is the best Gothic architecture example. If you have a choice - go there on sunny day to enjoy the stained glass windows!

This picture on the wall can be a little geometry puzzle:

On the other side of the Palais de Justice it is possible to visit the most ancient prison of the city if interested to see Conciergerie.

The Notre-Dame Cathedral, mathematically, is most interesting for its Gothic arches and flying butresses.

Between Rue Lagrange and Rue Dante there is a little connector which is all what's left from Rue de Fouarre (street of straw bundles) - the most influential street in medieval times on the Left Bank. In 1215 the rebel intellectuals founded the University of Paris. There were no classrooms available, therefore lessons were taught outdoors, with the students sitting on the bundles of straw.(according to David Burke's Writers in Paris) Across from Notre-Dame the oldest trees in Paris shadow the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre.

"Consecrated in 1220, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was just nearing completion when the newly established University of Paris began setting up shop next door. And as the university had no buildings, this little church became its chapel and assembly hall. In the 1520's students rioted and trashed the church, so clergy banned firther assemblies. Albertus Magnus advocated for peacful coexistence os science and religion there and his student Thomas Aquinas lectured there (according D. Burke's book). David Smith mentions both of them lecturing in the convent of the Dominicans or Jacobins that from 1217 to 1790 used to be next to place where now is the Pantheon. There is a plague on the wall there too (currently it is the building of the library).

We enjoyed two beautiful piano performances there. One of my favorite piano pieces is Liszt's Hungarian Rapsody No.2. This was the first time I listen to it live in the concert sitting very close to this piano and watching Herbert du Plessis perform. (I was too shy to ask him how many times he had played this piece since his first performance at the age of 8.)

The Pantheon is neo-classic temple built on the highest point of the Latin Quarter. It is a place where French grandes hommes are burried (only two are women - Marie Curie and Sophie Berthelot). In 1851, physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth by his experiment conducted in the Panthéon, by constructing a 67 meter Foucault pendulum beneath the central dome. Mathematicians Lagrange, Lazare Carnot, Paul Painleve , physicist Jean Perrin are burried there, and both Pierre and Marie Curie were enshrined in the crypt in April 1995. Gaspard Monge and Marquis de Condorcet were buried at the time of the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution.
There is still a monument at Pere Lachese cemetery at the first burial place for Monge.

If you face the entrance of the Pantheon on the left behind it you see the Eglise Saint-Etienne-du Mont where Pascal is buried. Descartes was first buried here also but in 1819 his remains were transferred to the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

In this alcove Pascal's neighbour is Racine, the name you will recognize if you are familiar with the history of theatre.

Rue Descartes  took me to the Ecole Politechnique, which was founded during the French Revolution by two mathematicians - Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge and has always been one of the most elite schools as one can see from the list of notable Ecole Politechnique alumni.

If somebody knows whose portraits are those above the name of the school, please let me know.
Rue Descartes took me to the Place de la Contrescarpe which was the center of the area that in Middle Ages lay outside the city walls. It has long been a haven for outsiders, real and fictional. It was this area described by Balzac in his Le Pere Goriot, one of my required readings in high school. It was this area where young Ernest Hemingway with his wife Hadley had his first home in Paris.

Rue Rollins No. 14 is one of many addresses where Rene Descartes lived.

His famous portrait by Dutch painter Frans Hals (1580-1666) is in Louvre.
According David Smith Rue Rollins No.2 was the house of Marguerite Perier - Pascal's sister, and Blaise Pascal died there.

Returning back to Place de la Contrescarpe I continue my walk on Rue Moufetard, famous ancient market street that has been featured in many literary works by the writers who enjoyed this lively area. It is getting dark, soon restaurants will start to open their door for diners, my thoughts are turning away from mathematical interests towards to the memories of literary descriptions of the area. Another mathematical walk will be next time.
p.s. I am adding here
Paris sites by J. Kiernan (1/26/99) which he posted on Historia Matematica mailing list in 1999.

A good place to begin is the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers on
Boulevard de Sabastopol. The museum contains one of Pascal's original
adding machines. Near-by are the Archives National. Before you reach
the Seine you will pass Tour St. Jacques. Inside the tower there is
a statue of Pascal commemorating his experiments on air pressure.
To the right is the Louvre which contains a Frans Hals portrait of
Descartes and a Houdin statue of Pascal. As you cross the Seine at the Pont des Arts you will arrive at the Academie des Sciences. Take Rue Bonaparte to the Church of St. Germain de Pres. Inside there is a cenotaph dedicated to Descartes. Follow Boul. St. Germain to the inn La Procope and have the lunch special (if its not dinnertime yet!). In one direction you will find the birthplace of Sophie Germain. If you follow Rue M. de Prince to the end, at No. 54 you will find a plaque commemorating Pascal's (n-1)th domicile. Now follow Rue Sufflot to the Pantheon. Spend some time there. Behind the Pantheon is St. Etienne de Mont, Pascal's church. You will find two plaques and a bust inside. Behind the church is 16 Rue Rollin where Descartes once lived. Continue past Rue Monge to the Jardin des Plants. Inside you will find a statue of its curator, Buffon. Double back to Rue Monge and follow it to the Ecole Polytechnique, the home of an entire class of 19th Century mathematicians. Nearby is the
University including College de France, where Roberval taught, and the
Sorbonne. The University is one of the oldest in Europe and specialized in theology and logic.

On another day you may wish to start out at Port Royal, the refuge of Pascal, and walk to the Observatory which is only open to the public once a month by appointment. Behind the Place Denfert Rocherau there is the Hotel Sophie Germain. Nearby there is a market on Rue Daguerre. Walking down this rue you will pass Rue Gassendi and Rue Fermat. Make a left to Cimetiere de Montparnasse, the burial place of Poincare. On the other side of the cimetiere is Rue Huyghens.

If you visit the Tour Eiffel, you will find several plaques dedicated
to mathematicians. Nearby is 108 Rue de Bac where Laplace resided.
Across the Seine is the Palais de la Decouverte which has exhibits on the history of mathematics. Condorcet met his fate at Place de Concorde.

If you take the train just south of Paris to the suburb of Acueil, you will find many commemorations of Laplace. If you want to see his birthplace, you need to take a train from Gare St. Lazare to Pont L'Eveque. About 7 km away is the small town of Beaumont en Auge. You can walk it on a nice day.

The cathedral at Chartres is a living monument to education. On the West
Portal there are relief personifications of the seven liberal arts. These
include Pythagoras, Aristotle and Ptolemy. Take time to investigate the
circular maze inside the cathedral.