It’s hard to call two weeks in Paris “work” – but it was. For Blood Work, I needed to have a look at a stash of 400-year-old documents in the Archives of the French Academy of Sciences. The picture to the left will give you a sense of why I left the library with more than a little dust on me.
My archival sleuth work was critical to my research for the book. It was in the French Academy of Sciences that Claude Perrault performed blood transfusion experiments. To his frustration and relief, these transfusions were failures – unlike the public ones that his nemesis Denis did not long after on the banks of the Seine.
The original Academy of Sciences was on the rue Vivienne, which eventually became the prime site of the Bibliothéque Nationale de France until it moved to its current, enormous location on the Quai de Tolbiac.
For my first book, Pregnant Fictions, I spent several summers at the rue Vivienne location and drank coffee in the courtyard there – never knowing for one minute I was in the very courtyard where Claude Perrault performed many of his dissections and medical experiments.
The Archives of the Academy are now housed at the Institut de France, which is the impressive domed building directly across from the Louvre. If you’ve ever stood on the pedestrian bridge, the Pont des Arts et Métiers, you have no doubt marveled at the Institut.
There, I worked with the earliest manuscript records of the Academy of Sciences. It was unbelievable to hold the very fragile documents that have been so critical to my research for Blood Work. Once the librarians saw how serious I was, I got a chance to go back into the storage area and look through cartons of Perrault’s corrected page proofs for his magisterial Histoire Naturelle des Animaux.
At one point, I gasped when I saw Perrault’s scribbles and personal notes. There was something so real about it all. The librarian heard me, smiled gently, and then put her finger to her mouth as if to say “yes, I know, it’s our marvelous secret isn’t it?”