25.08.2010 - 27.08.2010 0 °C
So, I have been a very very bad blogger. As you may have guessed, my journey in France has been over for a week now, and I have written nothing about it! My excuse is that after the three days of illness, I was bound and determined not to waste ANY MORE TIME. I kept myself extremely busy (as you will see) in order to make the most out of what little time I had left.
Let's rewind to Wednesday, August 25th, an key day in recent French history as it is the day commemorating the anniversary of the Liberation of Paris from German occupation during World War II. There were several events around Paris to celebrate the 65th anniversary of this historic date, and I decided to attend the one at the Hotel de Ville since it was the closest to my appartment. Since I was near Chatelet, I planned to go a little earlier and have lunch at this little Trappistes bar that I had seen the week before. I had a serious hankering for Mussels and boy did this place deliver. The bar was called Au Trappiste (4 Rue Saint Denis, 75001) and even at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, this place was BUZZING- young professionals, couples, older folks, families, and, of course, the single traveler. It became quickly evident that everyone here came to have a fun afternoon (and how can you not when the soundtrack to your lunch swings from Muse to Rhianna to Lady Antebellum). The waiters were laughing and joking (mine made fun of me for ordering a second beer at 3:00 in the afternoon...something about drinking alone and he would not let any strange men come near my table) and I still couldn't get over how packed this place was. I was lucky enough to score a table inside (it looked like rain) but near the windows so it was like I was outside. I ordered a Leffe Blonde (a lighter beer from Belgium) and a plate of Moules a la Creme with frites. Well, see for yourself...
So very tastey! This definitely satisfied my craving for mussels and, as you can see, the portions were ample. I swear that pile of mussels kept growing.
After lunch, I headed to the Hotel de Ville to secure a spot in the front. I was anticipating a huge crowd, but was a little disappointed that the majority of people around me were tourists; maybe this day isn't as big a deal for Parisians as it is for people like me who study history and look for interesting/new things to do and see in Paris.
The band played the Marseillaise to kick off the ceremony and I completely forgot the fact that the French do not sing their national anthem. I guess I'm disallusioned by the overt display of patriotism by the French who escaped to Morocco in the film Casablanca; you know the scene at Rick's where those nasty German SS officers are singing their German songs of hatred; Viktor Lazlo goes up to the band and commands them to play La Marseillaise and every stands and sings at the top of their lungs with ears in their eyes. It gets to me every time. This is not how French people react to their national anthem and to this American girl, it's just weird. I'll never understand it. Morgane was the first to alert me to this phenomenon a few years ago during Fete de la Musique (the Music Festival) in Dijon. A band started to play the Marseillaise, and I went all Ingrid Bergman and sang my little heart out. Morgane just stared at me like I'd just pulled down my pants and did a little dance. "You know, we don't sing the Marseillaise. No one does," she said. "Um...Why?" "It's just not done." Ok- it's just not done... I still sing it anyway.
Several men and women were honored for their service to the Resistance, both in France and abroad, during the war. Fred Moore (picture below) really touched me; he spoke about not hearing the call by Charles de Gaulle to resist the collaboration with the Nazis, but he heard Marechal Petain's words that basically resigned France to defeat and angered him and his brother. There and then, they decided to fight for a Free France and to never give up. He named several of his friends who fought with him that didn't make it to see the Free France they all dreamed of.
This young lady below won the Concours de la Liberation and read her winning speech to the crowd of Big-Wig politicians. I can't imagine being in high school and doing that...
The ceremony was very moving and appropriate; I appreciated all of the personal reflection on history by those survivors we have left (which are, sadly. few and far between). This is why I love doing what I do and studying what I study. It feels so very relevant and important to try and save, preserve, and understand this time in history. Needless to say, attending this ceremony was meaningful to me...that's why I am extremely angry by the behaviors of a few people around me. Imagine if you will the rudest, most distasteful thing you could do at a ceremony honoring those who pledged their lives to freeing France from the clutches of Nazi German (save, of course, saluting Hitler). Next to me against the fench seperating the "commoners" from the "dignitaries" were three German tourists. Now, I don't understand German at all, so I have no idea what they were saying. I am, however, more than qualified to comment on their behavior. What NOT to do while a war survivor is talking: Laugh and scream at the top of your lungs, shout things in German at each other, climb on the fence to block the view of those behind you, and pull sausages out of your backpack and eat. Yep, that's what these three did. Oh, and they were girls (not that that should matter- girls can be just as big of A-holes as guys, but you know what I mean). These soldiers were talking about the fallen bretheren and they were giggling and commenting IN GERMAN like they were at a comedy show or something. I was grossed out. But, the sausage did look kind of good...
As evening approached, I gathered up some goodies to prepare for a picnic on the Champs de Mars by the Eiffel Tower I figured I had better soak up my favorite scenery since my time here is waning... Thanks to Joey's wonderful anniversary gift, I had the beverage part taken care of.
Not that Diana isn't good company, but I would rather have been sharing it with him... I must say, it was awfully good (as were the Godiva chocolates). During our meal, we were interrupted regularly by the Arab entrepreneurs selling "Fresh Beer, wine, cigarettes..." (as opposed to stale beer, wine, and cigarettes...) or those selling those metal Eiffel Towers for "One Euro, Uno Euro, Ein Euro". Their knowledge of the number one in several languages is impressive. I remember the days when you could sit at the park here, eat, drink, and just relax. Now, you are approached every two minutes (and I am NOT joking) by these guys. I appreciate that you are trying to make a living, but I wish that when you entered the park that you could "opt-in" or "opt-out" of these offers...like the Do Not Call list. At one point in time, we were surrounded by three guys, all selling crap. Next time, I swear I'm going to make a sign, get me a stick, and put it up at their eye level that just says, Non, merci.
The interruptions that I do like having when I'm siting there are the lost tourists who came all the way down there wth their wine but didn't bring a bottle opener. I must look like a nice and knowledgeable person, because no fewer than five people came up to me to ask for the "Cork pull out" (as one Asian guy described it in English. I taught him the word tire bouchon i French. I also taught him how to actually tire the bouchon because he basically just tried to beat the side of the wine bottle with it and hope it popped out.). Besides bottle openers, I've also got a lot of requests for directions this trip in Paris. I must look like I know what I'm doing and where I'm going, because even French people have stopped me and asked for streets, monuments, and information. I'm very proud of myself that I always knew the answer as well
The business men and women that I do like to see at the Eiffel Tower are the performers. These guys put on a very entertaining beat-boy/comedy routine that I was more than happy to pull out a euro and put it in their hat.
On Thursday, I spent the majority of my day at the Memorial de la Shoah in the Marais, a place I've never been before, but one that I've been so excited to see. It is tucked back on a side street and you would never know it was there unless you were looking for it (17 Rue Geoffroy l'Asnier in the 4th Arrondissement). Even if you are not an expert in the Holocaust, this museum is well worth a visit, especially since it is FREE. Unbelievable. Thursday night is also the museum's late night and it is open until 8pm instead of 6pm. When you enter the museum, you do have to go through a bit of security, which got me thinking about what sort of hate must still exist that you have to buzz the door, be let in, go through a metal detector and X-ray maching, and then be buzzed through a second door in order to even enter this museum. It also speaks to the preciousness of what is contained within, but there is less security at the Louvre. It made me wonder if they've had issues in the past with people trying to harm the memorial. When you do actually get in, you walk through the Wall of Rememberance, with names of French Jews who were deported and killed. I made sure to find the name Berek Kofman, the father of Sarah Kofman, who was a rabbi in Paris and was deported and killed in Auschwitz. I wrote my Master's thesis on the works of Sarah Kofman, who was a French philosopher and the author of a very important autobiography about her experience during the war as a Jewish child who had to be hidden. Tragically, Ms. Kofman commited suicide shortly after it's pubilcation. I feel a kinship with her, and wanted to pay homage to her father.
You are not supposed to take photos inside of the museum, but I did sneak a couple for you, my readers.
The incredible amount of artifacts that this museum has collected is so impressive and it is all curated perfectly. I could've spent all day there; well, I kind of did... I thought that I would list some of the things that struck me as I was walking through and taking notes (yes, I took notes; I was the loser with the notepad stopping every two feet to jot down my thoughts...):
- A 1934, first edition of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kamp
- A prisoner's bracelet from the concentration camp Mauthausen (1938)
- An armband worn in the Warsaw Ghetto (1940-1943)
- Moulds for making the Etoiles Jaunes (Yellow Stars) worn by the Jews in France during the occupation; the company Charles Wauters et Fils made the moulds and the fabric was from Barbet, Massin et Papelin
- Clothing worn by detainees, including a Beret and a Jacket; samples of cloth made from female prisoners' hair
- Cans that contained Zyclon B gas which was used in the gas chambers
- Many videos of testimony from survivors including married couple Madeleine et Israel-Jacques Goldsztein who, along with their daughter, were deported to serperate camps; they survived and found each other again in France at the Hotel Lutetia during the "repatriation" of Concentration Camp survivors. Madeleine was not interested in giving her testimony and a friend of Israel's encouraged her to do so because, "Si tu ne parles pas, tu ne merites pas de renter." ("If you don't speak, you did not deserve to return.") This is something that I think about often in what I study- the need, the desire, to speak and testify to what happened in the camps and how this is often manifested in the literature of the 20th century.
This plaque was on the side of the school next to the Memorial, reminding everyone that Jewish children were deported from this very school during the Roundups. It was a very powerful visit for me and I think it is important that I do things like this as often as possible. I spend so much time in the "literature" of what happened, trying to critically analyze and evaluate; I think this is one moment in history and literature that you can't and shouldn't take emotion, feeling, and gravity out of it. To do so, would disrespect those that experienced it.
I will continue to catch you all up with the last few days of my trip. For now, here's a closing shot of some of the amazing pasteries I've been enjoying in Paris (and missing since I've been back in Chicago )