VICTOR HUGO, WORLD TRAVELLER?
Well, his name crops up everywhere in France - there isn't a town without a rue, avenue or lycee Victor Hugo, sometimes all three. Hugo was born in Besancon, in south-east France, in 1802. Although his literary reputation was confirmed by Paris-centred novels such as Notre-Dame de Paris (often referred to as The Hunchback of Notre- Dame) and Les Miserables, he travelled widely round France and Germany, and spent years of exile in Guernsey, Brussels and Luxembourg.
To mark the bicentennial of his birth, exhibitions, concerts and special film screenings have been organised throughout France, reflecting the huge appeal of this "legend of the century", whose funeral in 1885 saw two million people lining the Champs-Elysees. On Tuesday (20 February), the French Senate will hold a special memorial event.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
"The city of cities", as Hugo described the French capital. He was passionate about Paris. He sang its praises (and graphically detailed its seamier side) in several chapters of Les Miserables - "It is in Paris that the beating of Europe's heart is felt". After the publication of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1831, he led a successful campaign to restore the cathedral, whose medieval splendours had fallen into disrepair as a result of the 1789 Revolution. The Ile de la Cite and the soaring Gothic cathedral, with its secluded belfry and flying buttresses, are as central to the novel as the ill-starred Esmeralda and tragic Quasimodo (the gargoyles didn't appear until the 1840s).
From 1 March-31 May, an exhibition in one of Notre-Dame's chapels will outline Hugo's "rediscovery" of the monument, the legend he created and the novel's impact on public attitudes to restoration. That's the plan, at any rate; the cathedral authorities say that the exhibition has yet to receive final authorisation; call 00 33 1 53 10 07 03 to find out.
Either way, the cathedral is a must-see. Notre-Dame opens 10am- 5.30pm (to 7.30pm in April and May); entry is free, but admission to the towers is EUR5.49 (pounds 3.35).
DO TRACES OF `LES MISERABLES' REMAIN IN PARIS?
Baron Haussman's urban reforms demolished many of the poor neighbourhoods described in the novel, hotbeds for anti-government riots. Rue de Chanverie, where Gavroche dies on the barricades with a defiant song on his lips, no longer exists. The 13th- arrondissement slums where Cosette spends some very miserable years have thankfully disappeared, but the Gobelins tapestry workshops in the area survive and can be visited at 42 Avenue des Gobelins (Metro Gobelins, 00 33 1 44 08 52 00), admission EUR8/pounds 4.80). Real Les Mis enthusiasts can visit the sewers, where Valjean carries Marius to safety, 11am-4pm every day but Thursday and Friday - access from the Pont d'Alma (00 33 1 53 68 27 81, admission EUR3.80/ pounds 2.30).
WHERE ELSE IN PARIS SHOULD HUGO FANS VISIT?
After the success of Notre-Dame de Paris, the Hugo family moved into an ornate townhouse at 6 Place des Vosges, the most desirable square in Paris and the heart of the Marais. They stayed until 1851.
Les Miserables was begun here, and several plays and poems completed. It now houses a museum: an oriental living-room originally designed by Hugo for his mistress's house has been reconstructed, and Hugo's own artwork and photos are displayed alongside books, portraits and memorabilia. Heavy wooden and marble furniture and deep-crimson curtains reflect the comfortable status he had achieved.
The Maison de Victor Hugo is at 6 Place des Vosges (Metro Bastille). It opens 10am-6pm daily except Monday. Admission is free, with a EUR5.50 (pounds 3.35) charge for special exhibitions. More information: 01 42 72 10 16; www.paris-france.org/musees/ Maison_de_Victor_Hugo.
The first of three exhibitions lined up for 2002 is "Voir Les Etoiles", on Hugo and the theatre, organised with the Comedie Francaise, which runs 11 April-28 July. …