Saturday, July 11, 2009

Spanish: Santiago de Compostela • French: Saint Jacques de Compostelle

Occasionally, you'll find street names explained right on spot next to the street sign, as found in Hanover. No need for a guide book or iPhone! Sometimes, however, nothing can replace a personal description that expresses familarity with a given place and provides the historical background. One such example is the rue Saint-Jacques in Paris, France. Reading Thad Carhart's lovely book about a piano shop in Paris [1], you are getting more than just a history tour of piano making:
One day [...] I walked home from a friend's apartment in the Latin Quarter by a roundabout way, purposely taking the narrow street that leads past my favorite church in Paris, Val de Grâce. It lies on the rue Saint-Jacques, a small but noisy thoroughfare that has led south since the time when Paris was the Roman city of Lutetia. Its current name derives from its use as a route in the Middle Ages for pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain; or, in the usage the French prefer, Saint Jacques de Compostelle. Val de Grâce is a large late Renaissance church that is unusual for Paris; its exuberant carvings and animated façade are more typical of Rome, and the most beautiful dome in the city graces its undulating mass of light yellow stone.
[1] Thad Carhart: The Piano Shop on the Left Bank • Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2001; p. 170.

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