Tag Archives: Notable French people

Voltaire the Freethinker, Episode 84

Voltaire the freethinker seeking freedom in France

Voltaire the Freethinker

When Voltaire the Freethinker died on May 30th 1778 in Paris at age 83, he was at the height of his popularity with most people, yet the Catholic Church denied him a proper burial. By 1778 he had produced work of every genre: plays, poems, essays, satire, novels, history, and even scientific observations. He was prolific, more than 20,000 letters as well as 2,000 books and pamphlets are credited to him.

Voltaire the Freethinker was popular with the people, so 3 years after his death, after the French Revolution too, his body is moved to the Pantheon where his epitaph reads: “Il combattit les athées et les fanatiques. Il inspira la tolérance, il réclama les droits de l’homme contre la servitude de la féodalité. Poète, historien, philosophe, il agrandit l’esprit humain, et lui apprit à être libre.”

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.
  • French Tip of the Week: Je suis une pipelette = I am a chatterbox.
  • To Prepare For Your Trip: Candide, FREE on Kindle
  • Places Mentioned on the Show: Cirey-sur-Blaise

Episode Highlights

  • Voltaire the freethinker was Born François-Marie Arouet in Paris on November 21, 1694
  • Voltaire was educated at a High School that still exists today: Louis-le-Grand
  • He joins the “Société du Temple” which espouses freethinking and libertine ideals
  • His mother was progressive but his father was very conservative
  • Imprisonments at the Bastille
  • Voltaire, a prolific author
  • Exile to England, major works
  • Calling for social reform
  • Working against a corrupt Judicial system
  • Censorship in France
  • Voltaire didn’t get rich from books
  • Cirey-sur-Blaise
  • Voltaire’s popularity
  • Summary of the Jean Calas scandal in Toulouse
  • The Lisbon earthquake and how it affected Voltaire

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The Curie Museum in Paris, Episode 79

The Curie Museum in Paris, Episode 79

Marie Curie and atom RA

A few years back I wanted to visit the Curie Museum in Paris and it was closed for renovations. It reopened in 2012, but I didn’t have a chance to see it until 2015, but this one was worth the proverbial wait. It’ s a small museum: even if you carefully look at every display, it will only take an hour or two.

There won’t be throngs of people clotting around the Mona Lisa, you’ll be able to look at everything without being rushed. And, in keeping with the Curie spirit,  admission is free, but you must go Wed-Sat from 1 PM until 5 PM.  Squeeze it in, it’s worth it!

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Episode Highlights

  • Marie’s youth
  • How she met Pierre
  • Two elements and one baby in the same year
  • The medical uses of radium
  • An odd courtship
  • The radioactivity puzzle
  • 1903, a hard year for the Curie family
  • Radioactivity gets into everything!
  • Pierre voluntarily exposes himself to radium
  • “Nul n’est prophète en son pays” (you can’t be a prophet in your own village)
  • In science we must be interested in things, not in persons
  • Pierre dies on rue Dauphine
  • Marie gets offered his chair at the Sorbonne
  • End of life

To Prepare for Your Trip: Madame Curie: A Biography

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Curie Museum in ParisIn this episode I give you the background information you’ll want to know before you go so you can appreciate what she was all about. Nobody can do justice to a great family in the span of a short podcast, but I shall try.


Curie Museum in ParisDiscrimination Against Women as Seen in Marie Curie’s Life

  • She could not enroll in the university in Poland, she had to expatriate herself in order to study
  • Everyone assumed she was her husband’s assistant
  • Her husband Pierre is the one that made sure she got recognition
  • She didn’t have a chance to teach at the Sorbonne until her husband died
  • The nomination for her first Nobel Prize did not initially include Marie’s name!
  • In a science team that included both men and women, everyone used to assume the men did all the work
  • Marie Curie could not present her findings at the French Academy of Sciences because, being a woman, she couldn’t be a member of the Academy of Sciences
  • The Curie Museum in Paris is lovely, but it’s tiny. There are old-dead generals with more recognition than she gets in Paris, and that is outrageous!
  • No use of the first person in formal papers which makes it difficult to decide who did what

Curie Museum in Paris

  • Marie Curie was not only hard-working, she was brilliant as well
  • Albert Einstein said “Marie Curie is, of all beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted”

And finally, this is the standard response people received when they requested an autograph picture:

Curie Museum in Paris
Madame Curie does not wish to sign autographs or sign pictures; she asks for your indulgence.

Official website for the Curie Museum in Paris

The Pantheon in Paris, Episode 71

Pantheon-1474The Pantheon in Paris is a complicated building that started out as a Catholic Church dedicated to Sainte Geneviève, the Patron Saint of Paris, then under the French Revolution became a secular monument meant to honor French Revolutionaries, then grew to include famous authors, notable persons and patriots. It is the burial-place of French notables such as Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Louis Braille, Jean Jaurès, Marie Curie, and seventy-two more.

In this episode I give you some background on the Pantheon so you can decide if you’d like to visit it next time you’re in Paris. I also address some of the controversial topics having to do with the Pantheon. Why are there so few women in the Pantheon? Why were some people taken out of the Pantheon? What does it feel like visiting the Pantheon? Four new greats were introduced into the Pantheon in June 2015. Who are they?

I answer a listener question at the end of the show on how to get from CDG airport into Paris using public transportation. Instructions on how to get to the center of Paris from CDG Terminal 1, from CDG Terminal 2 Would love more questions, click here to ask your question!

RER B signAlso, for the first time today, the French Tip of the Week on how to ask for direction to the metro or RER in Paris.

Bonjour Monsieur, je cherche le métro. Pouvez-vous m’aider ?

Places mentioned on today’s show: Pantheon, Lycée Henri IV, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Jardins du Luxembourg, rue Souflot.

To prepare for your visit: Top 10 Paris

Triple dome of the Pantheon in Paris
Scale Model of the Triple Dome of the Pantheon in Paris
Pantheon in Paris Crypt
Pantheon in Paris Crypt
Pantheon in Paris Marie Curie
Pantheon in Paris Marie and Pierre Curie
Voltaire at the Pantheon in Paris
Voltaire at the Pantheon, a man whose wit I greatly appreciate.
Bust of Louis Braille at the Pantheon in Paris
Louis Braille who opened the doors of knowledge to blind people, and one of my personal heroes.


Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Episode 68

Père-Lachaise Paris

Père-Lachaise Cemetery

The Père-Lachaise Cemetery is said to be the most visited cemetery anywhere in the world: it is gorgeous, inspiring, full of history and creepy all at once. It is the only place in the world where you can pay respects to Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morisson, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Jean-François Champolion, Maria Calas, Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Honoré de Balzac, Jean de Lafontaine, Colette, and many more that are just as famous and inspiring.

One problem with Père-Lachaise is that there are more or less 70,000 graves there, and there are no signs taking you to the place where famous people are buried. Why aren’t there any signs? Because, as seen by the French cemetery administrators, signs would be crass. And yes, they have a point. This is a public cemetery, not a tourist attraction. Although, some days in high season it probably feels more like a tourist attraction than a cemetery! But I can’t complain about that because on my last visit (late April 2015) it wasn’t “mobbed” at all. I saw one tour guide with a group at a distance, and visitors sprinkled here and there, but for the most part we were alone with our thoughts.

The best advice I can give you is to print and take with you this Père-Lachaise Map.  It’s in English and it shows you where the famous graves are. You can get a similar map at Père-Lachaise, BUT it’s only available at one office at the bottom of the hill, and that office  closes over lunch while the cemetery is open. No need for you to wander around aimlessly for 2 hours, print the map at home!

And, if you’d like to visit the grave of someone who is not listed on this map, use the Virtual Tour, where you can type any name and see where that grave is on the map as well.

Père-Lachaise is the kind of place that makes people think. It’s a great way to introduce children to some of the great musicians, authors, and intellectuals, French or not. I was inspired to find out more about some of the people whose grave I saw because I wondered why they inspire so much devotion to this day. I also questioned  what I’d like done with my body when my time comes. Whatever the case may be for you, this is a place that makes you consider the human condition while at the same time paying respects to the greats who chose it as their final resting place.

It’s also a great place for photography, which in my book is a great plus! Some of the photos I took at Père Lachaise are below the fold.

To Prepare for Your Visit: Meet Me at Père-Lachaise
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Napoleon in Paris, Episode 58

Ariane Villette

Napoleon in Paris

Today we discuss Napoleon in Paris. Specifically how Napoleon changed Paris physically and how he left his mark on all French institutions.  Under Napoleon France transformed itself from the “Ancien Régime” to a “modern” society. We don’t discuss the Napoleonic conquests, but rather his long-lasting influence on France.

Ariane Villette has been a tour guide for 5 years, she’s originally from the Champagne region, but she went to Paris to study art history at the Louvre and Nanterre and has been working there ever since.
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