January 14, 2012
We visited the Palais du Luxembourg, which was commissioned by the queen Marie de Medicis as a comfortable alternative to the Louvre. The palace has been renovated twice in order to house the French Senate. We took a tour and were awed by the splendor and grandeur. Our eyes almost popped out upon feasting on this:
This room is like the Salle des pas Perdus at the Assemblée Nationale in that it serves as a media reception room. The guide told us how the ceiling paintings were commissioned by Napoleon to tell the history of France, starting at the ends of the room and converging on Napoleon in the center. His figure is slightly blocked by the chandelier cord in the above photo. The palace is truly a work of art, but it is also a symbol of power. Today, the public would react with outrage if the nation’s leader used taxes for such a lavish tribute to himself/herself.
Afterwards, we went to see L’Hemicycle, where the Senate holds its sessions. Not only did we see the spatious room, we sat in the cushioned red seats as we listened to Monsieur Jean-Louis Herin, directeur de la séance, discuss the role of the Senate. The Senate is one of two chambers in Parliament which is responsible for making laws. Its members must be at least 30 years old and are elected by indirect vote. Monsieur Herin told us that while the Assemblée Nationale represents la passion, the Sénat represents la raison. This makes complete sense to me after what I saw at the Assemblée Nationale.
I thought it was particularly interesting to learn that unlike U.S. Senators, members of the French Parliament are not attached to a particular geographic region but rather to particular communities. We were also introduced to the idea of serving an intérêt générale : it is kind of like a common interest but does not necessarily have to match public opinion. The theme of national unity is coming up over and over again on our trip.
Finally, us MIT students were fascinated by this contraption installed by Napoleon :
The pulley system allows the lazy to relay paper messages upstairs without actually climbing the staircase. Genius !