This week-end is the Journées du Patrimoine - Heritage Days. France has many buildings that are not open to the public, or where some parts are off-limits. Today a lot of them are going to be open to anyone with patience.
|Maison Internationale, entrance|
|Foundation of the United States, on left|
So I decide to go see something I could have gone to see any time since first arriving in Paris in 1968: the Cité Universitaire.
What is the Cité Universitaire? It’s the residential campus of the various Universités de Paris, which were all one university until the Student Riots of 1968. It grew out of the horror of World War I, “to promote peaceful understanding between students, researchers and artists of different nations”. And it was also needed to counter the housing crisis of those post-war years.
The first buildings opened in 1925, on land that lay beyond the avenue circling Paris on the south, where the city’s fortifications had stood. It groups 6,000 students in 40 different “houses”, many of which were intended initially for a given country. Japan, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Greece Argentina, Holland, Switzerland and the United States all had their own as of the early years. Iran built its structure in 1969, under the Shah, on the last lot remaining.
In the center, at the entrance, is the Maison Internationale, built largely with funds provided by John Rockefeller Jr.
Recently Paris has granted additional land to the Cité and three new national buildings will go up, the first promised to South Korea. Plus a very modern unit for the Ile de France, the region including Paris, already under construction using green technology.
|Maison Internationale and lawn|
I head off downhill to the Métro and then transfer to the fast cross-town B-line to the south border of Paris. It only takes half an hour. The Cité is right across the boulevard from the Métro. All you have to do is run the gauntlet of the new modern tramway line that now circles most of Paris on its municipal border. The tramway also separates the Cité from the Parc Montsouris, a municipal park with 38 acres of English landscape gardens, lawns, a small lake and miles of paths. Perfect for a student who is easily distracted.
|House of Mexico|
I choose the left and go down the steps, past families enjoying a bit of greenery inside the city. (Definitely not students, these people.) To my right is the House of Mexico, complete with depictions of Aztecs across its facade; there’s even a Mayan-style circular stone calendar in the courtyard (real or a copy?) - I can see it through the windows but the doors open only with a magnetic-strip pass key (as will be the case everywhere except the House of Norway, which is setting up for some sort of concert or presentation). Across from Mexico is the Foundation of the United States, one of the Ivy League look-alikes; no wall here to keep the border between the two “safe”! Along this “street” are the Brits, the Japanese, the Spaniards, Italians, Swiss, then the Swedes, Danes (smaller country, smaller size) and Norwegians, all together in a kind of mini-Scandinavia. Thrown in there for good ethnic measure are Morocco, India and Brazil... and that rounds out the left end of the campus.
|Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe|
In these residences, rooms for mere students run 400-550 € per month ($450-615) but are only 11-18 m2 large (118-194 sq ft). “Each room offers access to a washbasin, a shower, toilets and a kitchen, within the room or on the same floor.” Which means you may have to go down the hall to hose down, which is what I had to do in Stockwell Hall at the University of Michigan - it made for interesting conversations and budding friendships while brushing one’s teeth. Post-doctoral researchers and senior teacher/researchers have priority for studio apartments, all of which have a kitchenette. They’re much larger (ha!): 18-25 m2 (194-270 sq ft) for studio apartments for singles and 25-35 m2 (270-380 sq ft) for couples. “Sometimes researchers are accommodated in rooms, but normally students have priority for this type of accommodation” (the lucky dogs!).
Besides, it’s almost 6 o’clock. Time to head home.
As I get off the Métro back at my Montmartre starting point, I notice a familiar-looking pink headband on a little girl. She and her mother were on the same Métro as me on my way out three hours ago. We find we both live in the same neighborhood.
|House of Greece|
17 Boulevard Jourdan
Métro: RER B - Cité Universitaire