"Mitterrand and the Panthéon (5th)" Top 5 Page for this destination Panthéon Tip by Nemorino

Panthéon, Paris: 108 reviews and 253 photos

  1. Panthéon
by Nemorino
  • 1. Panthéon - Paris
      1. Panthéon
    by Nemorino
  • 2. Inside the Panthéon - Paris
      2. Inside the Panthéon
    by Nemorino
  • 3. Grave of Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) - Paris
      3. Grave of Jean Jaurès (1859-1914)
    by Nemorino
  • 4. Graves of Hugo, Dumas, Zola - Paris
      4. Graves of Hugo, Dumas, Zola
    by Nemorino
  • 5. View from the front porch of the Panthéon - Paris
      5. View from the front porch of the Panthéon
    by Nemorino

Every time I ride past the Panthéon in Paris I am reminded of a man I met in Berkeley, California when I was living there in 1967.

I was working at that time as News Director of a non-commercial radio station. I always walked to work in the mornings, and one day when I arrived some colleagues came running out to meet me and asked if I could speak French. ?A little,? I said, and they ushered me into studio A.

There at the big table was one of our regular weekly political commentators, Professor Marshall Windmiller, and sitting across from Marshall was a man I recognized immediately as François Mitterrand.

At this time Mitterrand was not yet the President of France because he had lost to Charles de Gaulle in a run-off election two years before.

Mitterrand could understand English quite well, but he was unwilling to speak it on the radio because he thought it would sound undignified if he made mistakes and had to search for words. So the plan was that Marshall would ask the questions in English, Mitterrand would answer in French and I would translate his answers into English. I agreed to this on the condition that Mitterrand would correct me if I got anything wrong, which in fact he did several times in a very polite and friendly manner.

After recording the interview we sat around and chatted for another half hour, and I was duly impressed by this cultivated and erudite French socialist.

The interview lasted 48 minutes. It was recorded in the morning and broadcast the same evening. I didn?t listen to the broadcast and in fact have never listened to the recording, though it evidently still exists in the Pacifica Archives. (Hard to find because they misspelled Mitterrand?s name.)

A few days after the broadcast I received a letter from someone at the French department of Stanford University, praising my translation and saying I had clearly exposed the shallowness of Mitterrand?s remarks ?- which was not at all my intention! Perhaps my off-the-cuff translation was even worse than I had thought.

Mitterrand ran for president again in 1974 and was defeated by a very narrow margin. But on his third try in 1981 he was finally elected and became the first socialist President of France under the Fifth Republic.

He was inaugurated as President on May 21, 1981. I wasn?t in Paris on that day, but I watched the inauguration on television. After all the usual ceremonies (reception at Elysée Palace, wreath-laying at the Arc de Triomphe, speeches at Paris City Hall, etc.), Mitterrand was driven up Boulevard Saint Michel in the Latin Quarter. At Rue Soufflot he got out of his car and walked the three blocks up to the Panthéon, followed by thousands of supporters. At the Panthéon an orchestra and chorus under the direction of Daniel Barenboim performed parts of Beethoven?s Ninth Symphony, including Schiller?s Ode to Joy (sung in French, I believe).

Finally Mitterrand walked into the Panthéon "alone" -- there were obviously dozens of cameramen and technicians stationed throughout the building, but Mitterrand was the only person visible. He strode solemnly through the building and then down into the crypt, stopping to bow at the grave of the Resistance leader Jean Moulin (1899-1943) and then laying red roses on the graves of Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) and Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893).

I must admit that despite my admiration for Mitterrand I found his televised walk through the Panthéon a bit contrived, but for the French it was evidently the right mixture of piety and patriotism.

Second photo: Inside the Panthéon.

Third photo: The grave of Jean Jaurès (1859-1914), a prominent French socialist leader, where Mitterrand deposited one of his red roses during his inauguration in 1981.

Fourth photo: The graves of the authors Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola. When Victor Hugo died in 1885 at age 83 an estimated two million people took part in his funeral procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon. The ironic thing about this is that Victor Hugo didn?t even like the Panthéon, at least not when he was younger. In his early blockbuster novel Notre-Dame de Paris he described the Panthéon as "Saint Peter?s of Rome badly copied".

Fifth photo: From the front porch of the Panthéon, after you ?exit through the gift shop?, you have this view of the Eiffel Tower, which is four kilometers away. The street leading down from the Panthéon is Rue Soufflot, named after the architect who designed the Panthéon in the 18th century.

More of my photos from the Panthéon:
? The third photo on my review The cephalophore on my Saint-Denis page shows Denis, the first bishop of Paris, reaching down to pick up his head after it was chopped off by a muscular executioner in the year 250 AD. Instead of just dying, Denis is said to have carried his head from Montmartre to the place where the Basilica of Saint-Denis now stands, a distance of two leagues, or as we would now say six kilometers. On his walk he preached, or his head preached, a sermon on the topic of redemption.
? The fifth photo on my Mirabeau Bridge review shows a statue of the Count of Mirabeau (1749-1791), after whom the bridge was named, giving an eloquent speech during the French Revolution. The statue was made by the sculptor Jean-Antonin Injalbert (1845-1933), who also made the various sculptures on the bridge itself. Mirabeau in this statue looks like a short, pugnacious and self-satisfied orator, which is perhaps why the statue is hidden away at the very back of the Panthéon. Mirabeau was the first person to be buried in the Panthéon, in 1791, but also the first person whose body was removed, in 1794, because of suspicion that he had been in cahoots with the king all along.

Next review from September 2011: Buildings around the Panthéon

Address: Place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris
Directions: On top of a small hill called Montagne Sainte-Geneviève.
Vélib' 5006, 5032
GPS 48°50'45.96" North; 2°20'45.82" East

Phone: 01 44 32 18 00
Website: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/tag/francois-mitterrand/

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Apr 17, 2016
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Comments (6)

  • Dabs's Profile Photo
    Apr 18, 2016 at 4:07 PM

    Interesting story! We'll be in Paris at the end of May for a few days :-)

  • Odiseya's Profile Photo
    Jan 22, 2016 at 12:05 PM

    Great story!

  • Durfun's Profile Photo
    Aug 26, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    Wow, Quite a link ;-) Good work :-)

  • TooTallFinn24's Profile Photo
    Aug 25, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    Fascinating story Don. Had no idea you were a radio news director at one time. Mitterand indeed was an interesting leader.

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Aug 25, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      Thanks, Steven. Yes, I was a radio news director for several years during the Vietnam War -- mainly because I had served in the Army in Vietnam so I was practically the only person in Berkeley who was well acquainted with that country.
      "Live from Studio A" - Berkeley by Nemorino

  • Regina1965's Profile Photo
    May 14, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    I enjoyed reading this, Don, quite interesting.

  • alancollins's Profile Photo
    Sep 13, 2012 at 2:22 AM

    Hi Don, I enjoy your story about François Mitterrand. Alan

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Sep 13, 2012 at 2:34 AM

      Hi Alan, thanks for your ratings on my Paris tips. I?m glad you liked the story about François Mitterrand.


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