SPECIAL: Inside the Ecole Militaire
NOTE: Today we’re looking back at this date one year ago–well, almost one year ago. Enjoy this…almost TBT (Throw Back Thursday) from May 21, 2014.
It’s not every day one gets to see behind the facade of the Ecole Militaire. Tours don’t go there. You can’t buy a ticket and enter like you can to a museum for an exhibition. The only time the public is allowed in is during Les Journées du Patrimoine, but I was invited to take a tour by the head of the English Department — the “Enseignement militaire supérieur” based in the Ecole Militaire.
Ms. Cleret, a British woman married to a Frenchman, designs the English courses for senior officers in two academies: the “Centre des hautes etudes militaires” and the “Ecole de guerre.” She is seeking opportunities for the officers to experience the English language and American and British culture and therefore came to us to explore ways of working together.
I’ve passed the Ecole Militaire dozens of times, of course. Once, many years ago, walking past it from the Métro Ecole Militaire toward intersection of La Motte-Piquet-Grenelle, the sun was going down, rendering the sky pink. The Eiffel Tower was silhouetted against the bright rosy color — a drop dead stunning sight. A gentleman was walking alongside on the same path, but never stopped once to even take a glimpse of the beautiful surroundings. I vowed then, never to become as jaded so as not to notice the beauty that surrounds us here in Paris.
I was always curious about the Ecole Militaire — it seemed so foreboding. We all know military horses reside there — in fact, Ms. Cleret tells me there are about 80. The military school, made up of a complex of buildings in an area of the 7th arrondissement, was founded in 1750 by Louis XV. With the help of Madame de Pompadour, his official chief mistress who recruited the funding from financier Joseph Paris Duverney, the academic college was born for cadet officers from poor families. Designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, construction began on what was the farm of Grenelle in 1752 and the school opened in 1760. A young Napoleon Bonaparte was accepted there in 1784 and graduated in one year rather than the usual two.
The École de Guerre is designed for military higher education focusing on “joint warfare, international relations, and planning.” It teaches junior officers recruited by a competitive exam from over 70 countries. The training they receive allows them to assume staff positions in their own home armies. Normally, attendance at the Ecole Militaire is necessary in achieving field officer positions.
Ms. Cleret and I walked around the grounds and through a few of the buildings. One of particular note, she said, is the Chief’s Office, thought to be the most beautiful in the city. This is where Napoleon himself sat at Premier Consul, surrounded by four magnificent paintings by artist Jean Baptiste Le Paon.
We were not able to enter, but one can imagine it under the central dome with a perfect view of the Champs de Mars and Eiffel Tower. The Champs de Mars, once reaching to the Seine, had been originally reserved for vegetable gardens, but were useful for the military maneuvers. As a result, the architect, Jacques-Ange Gabriel, oriented the facade toward this land, while the chapel was integrated into the central pavilion.
We visited the chapel while an organist was practicing. The door to enter has Naploleon’s signature door knob. It is here weddings are regularly held — what a beautiful (and appropriate) spot to ‘get hitched.’ On the grounds are courtyards, named after Westel, Garnier, Desjardins, Coquelin de l’Isle, Bernard and Morland — all soldiers and officers of the Grande Armée of the Napoleonic epic. Others are named after more famous soldiers, General Berthier and Napoleon-appointed council of state and senator, Roederer.
A visiting dignitary group in Indian-style garb stepped off a bus and out of black limousines to visit the Amphithéâtre Foch from which we had just come. It’s a formidable facility with 400 seats, each with its own desk and each wired to wear interpreters’ headsets. Before leaving the grounds, we passed through the massive dining room, another beautiful and elegant space worthy of the Napoleonic Epoch.
The tour was just an introduction to what Ms. Cleret had in mind — that was to find ways we could work together to provide English-language networking events for her students with native English-speakers, namely North Americans. We decided to explore three possibilities, two of which you will have the ability to participate:
1. Hold a French-English Conversation Group, sponsored by Parler Parlor in the dining room at the Ecole Militaire planned for sometime in November. It will be open to members of the Parler Parlor, readers of Parler Paris and of course, the students at the Ecole Militaire. Stay tuned for more information.
2. Welcome a guest speaker from the Ecole Militaire to address the group at Parler Paris Après Midi this coming December 9th. You won’t want to miss this one!
3. My speaking to a group of military students about the cultural divide in which we find ourselves in France and those that they will discover when traveling to North America. This may take place in January 2015.
It all sounds like an fascinating exchange and a way to really get the know the French…from inside its military machine! And we do hope you will join us. Stay tuned to Parler Paris for more information as we shape it up.
A la prochaine…
P.S. FREE FINANCIAL AND IMMIGRATION FORUM! Thursday, July 2, 2015. Join us with financial consultant Brian Dunhill, immigration attorney Erin Clor and his team for an in-depth look at Expat challenges! Details available on our Conferences & Events page. Be sure to register in advance at dunhillfinancial.be/events.html