Now that you have mulled over the title of this post, I’ll assure you that I will be sparing you any boring pseudo-philosophy about opening and closing doors in life. If this post is going to touch on any deep meaning related to doors, I’d rather evoke memories of Alice in Wonderland and her experience with them. Indeed, Alice was confronted with quite a few doors, and for her, they seemed to have a real impact on her “life.” Luckily, for Alice, her adventures all worked out in the end.
Putting that aside, this letter is simply to tell you about some of the historic and beautifully made doors that I have discovered adorning the buildings of Grenoble. Since 2005, the ville has been following a restoration and valuation project of the buildings in the historic center. This is a big project because their inventory runs through many centuries. I tagged along on a guided tour called Grenoble Doors that was given to the Sweet Home Grenoble group, which is an expat/French group in the Grenoble area, and I discovered a treasure trove of historic doors and spaces. The tour started at Notre Dame Cathedral, which was constructed in the 10th century—old doors aplenty here. We didn’t follow a route in chronological order, but the highlights spanned the 14th century through the French Revolution in the 18th century.
A little history lesson is in order—it is said that the French Revolution actually began in Grenoble with la Journée des Tuiles, the Day of Tiles, on June 7, 1788. On this day, the people of Grenoble confronted and assaulted the troops of Louis XVI and threw roof tiles at the soldiers in the courtyard of the Parliament building. The king had sent the troops to put down a mass rebellion organized against a royal decree abolishing the local parliament. This was thought to be the start of the French Revolution that, of course, moved on to a little town called Paris. If only these doors could talk.
Fascinating doors seem to appear at every turn in the old center ville, but there are a few that are usually featured in books about Grenoble for either their historical significance or their artistic interest. I will only comment on a few starting with the Sator Square door with its much photographed Latin palindrome containing the words: SATOR, AREPO, TENET, OPERA, ROTAS written in a square so that they may be read top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right, and right to left. La Maison de Vaucason is found behind the ancient doors constructed in the 1630s that opens to a serene courtyard.
The Glénat Publishing House is located in the Le Monastère Sainte-Cécile, and not only has a beautiful door, but also a statue of the comic book character, Titeuf, every third-grade teacher’s nightmare.
◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊ One of my favorite doors has two lions’ heads guarding the door handles at 16, rue Jean-Jacques Rosseau. Watch out, they bite!
Even our Grenoble apartment door is a wooden work of art, but the door that we are now looking forward to opening is 4,300 miles away in North Carolina.
Alice: I simply must get through!
Doorknob: Sorry, you’re much too big. Simply impassible.
Alice: You mean impossible?
Doorknob: No, impassible. Nothing is impossible.
-Alice in Wonderland
De Porte en Porte à Grenoble