Travels to France, Italy Keep Retired Robinson Professor Dumont Busy

Posted: July 11, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nick Walker

Jean-Paul Dumont in Paris
Jean-Paul Dumont is reflected in a shop window in Paris.
Photo courtesy of Jean-Paul Dumont

After 20 years of teaching anthropology and cultural studies, Robinson Professor Jean-Paul Dumont recently retired. But he hasn’t yet settled down for the relaxing lifestyle that some retirees choose.

“So far, I have had little time to think about retirement. The life of retirees is, in my opinion, a busy life, albeit without obligation,” says Dumont.

Dumont is currently busy in France, his country of birth.

“I have a small apartment in Paris where I come as often as possible,” Dumont says. “Even though our dollars do not go very far these days, my wife and I enjoy the array of activities that are available in the city. With the public bicycle system here, almost everything in the city is within reach in less than an hour. We live in a very active neighborhood that used to be a neighborhood of artisans, the very artisans who sacked the Bastille in 1789. Urban gentrification is now chasing them all too rapidly.”

But going to France is only the start of Dumont’s travels abroad.

“We are exchanging our home in [Washington] D.C. for a house in Florence. The plan is to acquire fluency in Italian, to read some of D’Annunzio’s books in the original language, and otherwise to take advantage of the Uffizi [Gallery],” Dumont says.

“Since the house is huge, we also expect a number of our friends to come and visit at least for a while. We have no plan for any car, but public transportation in Italy is excellent, so we also intend to acquaint ourselves with other towns in Tuscany,” Dumont says.

Even though he has left academia, Dumont still reflects on his life as a professor.

“If I have to remember one class, it has to be a class in anthropological linguistics in which the students decided to celebrate the last day of class, and decided to celebrate, and mock at the same time, my ethnic background. So they brought me a baguette, a beret and a bottle of red wine with a bike rider printed on the label,” Dumont says.

“To me it was very touching and moving. Of course, this can only happen if one’s rapport with the students is excellent,” Dumont says. “So, in addition, I was pleased. So were they, obviously.”

Of course, teaching classes is only one part of a professor’s career.

“Very often I found that advising was more important and more rewarding than just teaching,” Dumont says.

Dumont keeps in touch with many of his former students, especially doctoral students whom he came to know well during their graduate studies.

“I have visited a number of grad students, and now colleagues, in their own country — in Morocco, in Japan; some of them have lived in our house for quite a while. As a matter of fact, we still house and feed some graduate students today either in D.C. or in Paris,” Dumont says.

Despite his trips around the world, Dumont has a surprising take on traveling.

“In a funny way, we do not like traveling and much prefer to settle down in one place for a while. I like going to a coffee shop or to a bookshop or to a market where I can pass for a regular,” says Dumont. “Very soon, people know which table I prefer, what I eat and drink, without having to reinvent the consumer’s wheel every time. That’s why I do not want to go anywhere anymore for less than a month. Paris is a bit different because it is already my own territory, so I can hop by and go visit friends and family.”

When he isn’t traveling around the world, Dumont enjoys reading books on Japan, a country he would like to visit again. He also enjoys reading 15th century French literature, an interest that Dumont says came almost as a surprise.

“It started with Joan of Arc and some of her companions,” Dumont says. “Who was she really? What was she doing? What? Why? How? That brought me to a look at the interface between English history and French history.

“So I started with Henry V, who was indeed a character, which led me to read a couple of books on Azincourt, where the French were trounced. In 1415, among the few French who were not massacred on the spot was Charles d’Orleans, whom I vaguely knew as a poet. It is difficult to read Charles d’Orleans without comparing him to other courtly aristocratic poets such as Rene of Anjou,” says Dumont, explaining his process of selecting books.

“But then, their poetry is sort of nice but not as powerful as Villon’s. But one cannot read Villon without thinking of Chartier. And then it sort of snowballs.”

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