Thursday, April 14, 2011

Aimé Césaire at the Pantheon

On April 6, 2011, France commemorated the life and work of Aimé Césaire at the Pantheon. French President Nicolas Sarkozy presided over a grand ceremony that was broadcast live on France 2 and France ô, as well as on giant screens installed outside the building.

Ceremony viewed outside the Pantheon
© Patrick Kolavik, AFP

Roughly 1000 persons were invited to participate in the ceremony, including Césaire's family, junior and senior high school students from Martinique and France, and students from the Paris' prestigious educational institutions Louis le Grand (high school) and l'Ecole Normale Supérieure (college). Césaire attended both of these schools in his youth.

To celebrate the event, entry to the Pantheon was free from April 7-10. I took advantage of this opportunity to photograph the visual and literary tributes to Césaire that were mounted inside.

The famous pendulum of Foucault was dismantled for the occasion so that a huge fresco comprised of four images representing different periods of Césaire's life could be projected from the ceiling of the nave onto a disc-shaped screen below. An eight-minute film by Euzhan Palcy that reviews the life of the revered poet and statesman was not functioning during my visit.

Image of Césaire fresco and its location in the Pantheon

View of Césaire fresco and projection screen in background
© Discover Paris!

Four quotations from Césaire's works were displayed in front of the stone pillars that border the nave. The works quoted were Cahier d'un retour du pays natal (1939), Tropiques (1943), Moi, Laminaire (1982) and La Poésie (1993).

Quotation from La Poésie (1993)
© Discover Paris!

A plaque that honors the memory of Césaire and his work has been placed in the crypt. It lies between Caves XXV and XXVI. Alexandre Dumas, père and Félix Eboué are laid to rest close by, in Caves XXIV and XXVI, respectively. Dumas and Eboué are the only two men of African descent whose remains are found in the Pantheon. Césaire's remains are interred in Martinique, his native land.

Aimé Césaire plaque
© Discover Paris!

While in this corner of the Pantheon's crypt, visitors should not fail to look for the plaques that honor Toussaint l'Ouverture and Louis Delgres as well. These are located along the side walls of the short passage that leads to the tombs of Félix Eboué and Victor Schoelcher in Cave XXVI.

In the souvenir shop that is located at the exit, there were two tables stacked with books written by or about Césaire. A number of visitors took their time examining the tomes and leafing through them.

Looking at books
© Discover Paris!

The montage for the ceremony in Césaire's honor was quite striking, and the plaque will serve as a permanent reminder of this great man.

Homage to Aimé Césaire
© Discover Paris!


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