“An Evening in Paris” with Professor Emeritus Charles Rearick

On Monday evening, November 4, 2013, in the Claire T. Carney Library Grand Reading Room, the Boivin Center for French Language and Culture presented its first program of the fall season, “An Evening in Paris” with Professor Emeritus Charles Rearick.  The program began with the announcement of the two new members of the Boivin Center Board of Directors- Suzette Almeida, professor of French at Salve Regina University and Bridget Teboh, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  The two new members will join the other Board members that include James Beardsley, Michelle Cheyne, Albert Dumoulin, Stephanie O’Hara, Norman Valiquette, Cynthia Yoken and Mel Yoken, director of the Boivin Center.

Dr. Mel Yoken presented a lifetime membership to the Center to Madame Lillian Lamoureux.  Madame Lamoureux has been an active member of the Franco-American community for over 70 years.  A vibrant 93 year old, she continues to be a presence in the Franco-American community.  Madame Lamoureux addressed the filled-to-capacity audience in both French and in English, thanking the Boivin Center for giving her this great honor.

Dr. Yoken introduced Matt Litchfield, currently a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth who is studying French.  Matt was nominated by Dr. Yoken for the prestigious AATF award for being an outstanding student of French at Norton High School which he won.  Matt thanked Professor Yoken for nominating him.  Dr. Yoken presented him with the press release announcing his winning the award, the AATF certificate of the award and the AATF medal.

The main speaker of the evening was introduced by James Beardsley.  Charles Rearick is a professor emeritus in history from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  He is the author of several books and articles on French history and culture including The French in Love and War, Pleasures of the Belle Époque, New Perspectives in Modern Paris and his latest book, Paris Dreams, Paris Memories.  The program began with the recording of songs by Edith Piaf.  Professor Rearick explained how Piaf’s music can be heard throughout Paris as the country commemorates the 50th anniversary of her death.  He told how everyone sings along with Piaf’s recordings demonstrating their love of her music to this day.

Professor Rearick showed an overview of Paris taken in the last century demonstrating the grandeur of the city.  He spoke of the reputation that Paris has had since the Middle Ages of being the most beautiful city in the world.  He described how Paris has been depicted as the “queen of cities,” “the most civilized of cities,” a “Paradise.”  It is a reputation which Paris’s rulers, merchants and populace have tried to continue.

He showed a picture of the Champs Elysées as it appeared in the 1920’s and spoke of how it was built to impress the world, to demonstrate its amazing continuity of greatness in the arts, medicine, literature, philosophy, science and technology.  He called Paris a city of promise and modernity.

He also spoke of the new “Paris” that is trying to be “green” with its green spaces and with its pushing back of the automobile and the encouragement of walking and cycling in the city.  He showed pictures of the new quays of the left bank with its green promenade and with man-made green islands providing a place of serenity and relaxation in Paris.  Buildings are being built with natural construction including green on the rooftops, on the façades and even the construction of insect hotels to keep the environment in balance.

He told of how the tram has returned to Paris with green along the tracks and the possibility of using sheep to mow the grass naturally.  He spoke of the possibility of using technology to keep the sheep from wandering into traffic. 

He showed pictures of the new construction seen throughout the core of the city of Paris but also showed how dilapidated houses can still be seen outside the core. He then explored the other Paris that is away from the core.

Charles Rearick talked about how Paris has only recently regained political autonomy being ruled by the national government from 1871 to 1977.  There was a fear that Paris was too radical, too draining of the nation’s resources to be able to govern itself.  Since 1977, there has been a resurgence of the sense of community in the various neighborhoods of Paris, each ruled by its own mayor.  He showed pictures of the many festivals and celebrations of culture seen in these neighborhoods and asked those who plan to visit Paris to seek out these areas to find a new Paris.

Lastly, he spoke about the creation of spaces of creativity where artisans in various fields work in areas open to the public where they could share their skills with the populace.  He explained that this was created to encourage tourists and the populace in general to see Paris as a vibrant city not just a collection of antiquities.

A short Q&A session followed by a book signing concluded the program which was enjoyed by those in attendance.

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