Celebration of the Assumption of Mary

Tonight we saw police in the street outside our apartment as we were leaving the building. A short time later we were engulfed in a parade celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Clergy and several thousand Catholic followers from Notre Dame paraded down our street to celebrate the Assumption of Mary. We had heard the church bells and observed a large group with candles proceeding to the church last night, but didn’t know of the parade we now observed.

If you’ve studied the Bible you may have noted that it doesn’t contain much information about Mary and Joseph. As far as I know they are not a big part of the message of the Gospel. Yet at the same time, one need not look far to find Mary as an iconic figure in the Catholic Church. Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris) is a reference to Mary, not to mention the US university you see on TV every weekend in the fall. The figure of the Virgin Mary in sculpture and paintings may be as common as artwork for Christ. While I could try to decipher the terminology of the church, suffice it to say that the Catholic Church realized that Mary was an important part of their message of Christianity. Even before 500 AD there was tacit acceptance that the end of Mary’s life was a holy event and that the anniversary was to be celebrated and recognized.

It was not until 1950 that the Catholic Church officially incorporated the Assumption into its dogma, thus vouching for a practice that had long been condoned. This event was noted at the time by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung to be “the most important religious event since the Reformation”. Protestant movements have not similarly included Mary, to which Jung at the time commented,”Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women. But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of a ‘divine’ woman. . . . The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation.” He said that many years ago, but his observation seems rather modern to me.

You can see a few photos of the event below:

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Paris Gardens!

Our summer visitors have enjoyed exploring some of Paris’s many gardens. Two of their favorites were the Jardins des Plantes and the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Brenda in the same field after the flowers get going

Brenda in the field after the flowers get going

Jardins des Plantes-Paris’s main botanical garden was founded in 1626. It was planted as a medicinal herb garden in 1635 by Louis XIII’ s physician, Guy de la Brosse. There are over 4500 plants in these spectacular grounds and they are only a short walk along the Seine from our apartment!  About 3 hectares (7.5 acres) of the total 25 hectares are planted in stunning display gardens. There is also a magical rose garden, an alpine garden, Mexican and Australian hothouses, a labyrinth and a zoo.  The Jardin des Plantes maintains a botanical school and 4 museum galleries.

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Sailing ships in the Luxembourg pool

Jardin du Luxembourg is located a bit further away from our apartment but still within walking distance-my 87 year old mother had no trouble strolling there with me! We love the wide tree lined pathways, the ice cream vendors conveniently located at the entry gates, the combination of traditional French and English gardens, the fountains and sculptures. There is even a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty. When Henry the IV was assassinated in 1610, his wife, Marie de Medicis, had the Palais de Luxembourg and surrounding gardens built to be like those of her childhood home in Florence, Italy. She did not want to continue living at the Louvre with the memory of her slain husband. We explain a little more of the history in this previous entry about the gardens. The Palais de Luxembourg has been home to many other historical events and is now home to the French Senate.

A short history of Paris

Often our posts make reference to aspects of the history of Paris. If you are like me it may seem difficult to keep one era separate from another. If the French Revolution got rid of the King, then why some years later did Napoleon become the Emperor? What was the difference between Napoleon I and Napoleon III? Why do they call the current government the 5th Republic? What happened to all the other Republics? Why do they call it Paris?

Information for this post comes from the short histories and information in various travel guides, including Rick Steves Paris 2013 and the Lonely Planet Guide, as well as information we’ve received on various Paris Walks, and what I’ve studied from the ubiquitous Wikipedia. None of what appears below is the product of my own individual research.

Early History

Arènes de Lutèce was a Roman amphitheater dating from 1st century AD. It could seat about 17,000.

Arènes de Lutèce was a Roman amphitheater dating from 1st century AD. It could seat about 17,000.

Celtic speaking Gauls (indigenous tribes to the region of France) started settling in this area around 700 BC, and in the 3rd century BC a tribe called the Parisi settled in the region that is now Paris. After a long period of fighting, the Romans captured the area in 52 BC and started a community called Lutecia, which stands for mid-water dwelling. By the 3rd century about 10,000 people lived there. The first Christian Church appeared on Isle de Cité during this period. Our tour guide at the Cathedral at Notre Dame told us that the since Roman Times the church had been at one end of the island and the administrative headquarters at the other (headquarters today is home of the Palais de Justice and the Chief of Police). The Martyrdom of Saint Denis, the Bishop of Paris, occurred in about 250. The story goes that Saint Denis picked up his severed head and marched north to the area where the Cathedral Saint Denis is now located. Then he rested.

Middle Ages

Charlemagne united central Europe, but left the defense of Paris to local nobles

Charlemagne united central Europe, but left the defense of Paris to local nobles

In the 6th century the area was overrun by the Merovingian Franks, who converted to Christianity and in the mid 6th century and established the Abbey of St-Germain des Prés. The dynasty’s most productive ruler, Dagobert, established an abbey at St-Denis. This abbey soon became the richest, most important monastery in France and became the final resting place of its kings. The Merovingian Empire stretched over a wide swath of western Europe, and eventually became the Carolingian Empire. Charlemagne reinvigorated the military might of the dynasty and conquered new lands. He moved away from France and established his capital in the mid to late 700s in lands near what is today Aachen, Germany. Paris was left relatively undefended and subject to raids by the Vikings and others until the Counts of Paris established firm control over local affairs.

Portion in the Marias of the old Louis Philippe wall around Paris

Portion in the Marias of the old Louis Philippe wall around Paris

They elected Hugh Capet (I like the name) as king at Senlis in 987. He made Paris the royal seat and resided in the renovated palace of the Roman governor on the Île de la Cité (the site of the present Palais de Justice). Capetian rule would last for the next 800 years, and Paris established itself as a shipping port and the home of trade guilds. The left bank established itself as the centre of European learning and erudition, particularly in the so-called Latin Quarter. About 30 colleges were started, including the Sorbonne. Construction of the Cathedral at Notre Dame was begun in 1163 and completed in 1345. A wall is constructed around the old city of Paris by King Phillip Augustus between 1190 and 1215.

Hotel de Sens was an important residence from the Middle Ages

Hotel de Sens was an important residence from the Middle Ages

In the mid 14th century, the Hundred Years War (between the Capetians and the Anglo Normans) and the Plague both took a toll on the population of Paris. The Black Plague took 80,000 lives in 1348-49. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) is too complicated to discuss. Basically the English and French Kings are waging war about who was the King of France. Within the envelope of the war, there was unrest within Paris. A wealthy merchant named Étienne Marcel led a peasant revolt against the dauphine (the future Charles V, not yet old enough to rule) and seized Paris in an effort to limit the power of the throne. He began building a city wall. A couple years later Charles supporters succeed in retaking control of the city. They kept working on that wall. In 1420 the Dukes of Burgundy, allied with the English King, take control of the city for 16 years. Around this time a 17 year old named Joan d’Arc convinces a French pretender to the throne, Charles VII, that she had received a divine mission to drive the English from France. Joan rallied the troops to defeat the English and allow Charles VII to be crowned, but she was captured and killed in a failed attempt to retake Paris. Charles VII returns to Paris finally in 1436. The city has been badly damaged, but a renaissance starts to take place. New churches are built, and two prominent residences, Hôtel de Cluny (now Musée National du Moyen Age) and Hôtel de Sens (now Bibliothèque Forney), are constructed.

Renaissance France
Ideas of the Italian Renaissance came to France in the early 16th century during the reign of François I. François also brings Italian artists to Paris, among them Leonardo da Vinci. François acquires the Mona Lisa, which has since remained French. He tore down the medieval palace and built a new Louvre Palace with a renaissance design. He financed the construction of Hôtel de Ville (City Hall).

The Protestant Reformation was also sweeping across Europe, and there were wars of religion from 1562 and 1598. This was a complex dispute between the English backed Protestant Huguenots, French Catholic League (a political group whose goal was to eradicate Protestantism), and the French King. Ultimately King Henry III is assassinated, and King Henry IV converts to Catholicism. The Huguenots were eventually converted or driven from France.

Henry IV built bridge Pont Neuf, now the city's oldest.

Henry IV built bridge Pont Neuf, now the city’s oldest.

Henry IV was the first Bourbon king. He did much to restore the city of Paris. Place de Vosges was constructed, the city’s oldest square, and also place Dauphine at the western end of the Île de la Cité. He built the bridge at Pont Neuf (means “new bridge”, but is the oldest in Paris). The Grande Gallerie was added to the Louvre. Unfortunately Henry IV was assassinated by a religious fanatic.

Palais du Luxembourg was home to Louis XII's mother, Marie de Medici.

Palais du Luxembourg was home to Louis XII’s mother, Marie de Medici.

His son, Louis XIII, was too young to rule, so Louis’s mother, Marie de Medici, was appointed as regent. Marie built the magnificent Palais du Luxembourg and its gardens, today the home of the French Senate. Louis XIII eventually takes the throne at age 16, but much of his time as king he is overshadowed by his chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, who strengthened the monarchy to enable the absolute control of the successor king, Louis XIV. Richelieu also built Palais Royal across from the Louvre after Louis XIV moved the royal palace to Versailles.

Louis XIV turned fashion into a projection of his political power, both at home and abroad.

Louis XIV turned fashion into a projection of his political power, both at home and abroad.

Louis XIV also came to the throne early, at age 5. His mother, Anne of Austria, was appointed regent, and Cardinal Mazarin, a protégé of Richelieu, was named chief minister. Upon the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis took over for both. He was a truly clever politician who knew how to project power and held the throne for a long time, from 1661 to 1715. He started several unpopular wars, incurred huge debts for the treasury, and continued the merciless persecution of the Protestants, but also kept the aristocracy in check. Members of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie had begun to challenge the high taxes and burdens of the monarchy. Louis XiV moved the royal palace to Versailles and established style and haut couture and fashion as the envy of not only everyone in his court, but in the courts of all his enemies as well. He also created strict rules of etiquette for anyone visiting, controlling access and communications with the nobility and wealth that needed the King’s favor. He funded and constructed L’Hôtel national des Invalides as a home, hospital, and chapel for the aged, but later to become a military museum and burial site for famous soldiers, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte. At the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the population of Paris was about 600,000.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one whose ideas on the revolution had such impact that he is buried at the Pantheon.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one whose ideas on the revolution had such impact that he is buried at the Pantheon.

After the popular Louis XIV, Louis XV was a failure, losing a fortune as well as the French colonies in the new world at the conclusion of the 7 Years War. He was succeeded in 1774 by his grandson Louis XVI, who helped the Americans win independence but also helped further bankrupt the state. His Austrian born wife, Marie-Antoinette, was unpopular with many of the King’s subjects. In the meantime there had been a French literary and cultural response to the excesses of the monarchy. Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot contributed to the enlightenment thinking that was taking hold in France.

The Revolution
The French people, armed with Renaissance ideas and disgust over the excesses of the King and the failure of others in the nobility to act. France was in a terrible economic crisis from the cost of 7 Years War and participation in the American War of Independence. The Nobility had revolted against the King and refused to pay the taxes to alleviate the crushing debt. In the Spring of 1789, a group of commoners formed calling itself the National Assembly, and proposed a constitution for the country. They took the Tennis Court Oath vowing to stand together in opposing the King. On July 14, a mob raided the armoury at the Hôtel des Invalides for rifles and stormed the fortress and prison at the Bastille, a symbolic challenge to the regime. In August the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of Rights of Man. The King was forced through a march on Versailles (started over the scarcity of bread) in October to return to Paris. The King and his supporters sparred with the Assembly and its supporters over the next several years until the Republic was proclaimed in 1792 and the King was executed (along with the Queen) at Place de la Concorde the following year. The revolution has for the first time empowered the peasantry and removed the special status of the King and Nobility, shaking the underpinnings of other European governments.

The French Revolution worried the governments of nearby countries, particularly the Queen’s brother, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, as well as King William Frederick of Prussia. Over the next 10 years there would be a series of external wars and conflicts. Ultimately with the rise of a then unknown artillery officer named Napoleon Bonaparte, among others, the French gained victories over many other European powers, as well as conquest of the left bank of the Rhine, the Netherlands, portions of Switzerland and Italy.

Meanwhile, in France the revolutionary government was trying to find its way. A moderate republican group called the Girondians declared France constitutional monarchy and proposed various organizing documents. Ultimately, however, they lost out to a more radical group, the Jacobians, headed by Maximilien Robespierre and several others. They abolished the monarchy and established the First Republic. The group set up a Committee of Public Safety with dictatorial powers to provide for the national defense and internal security. They turned radical, revoking religious freedoms, desecrating the churches, and starting a reign of terror that resulted in the beheading of 2500 so called traitors in Paris and as many as 14,500 throughout France. By the end of 1793 this movement consumed itself, and Robespierre and other leaders were themselves sent to the guillotine.


Napolean Bonaparte's Throne when he was emperor

Napolean Bonaparte’s Throne when he was emperor

In 1799 Napoleon returned to Paris to find a French government in disarray, so he overthrew the existing government and assumed control himself. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor, and the First Republic had been transformed into the First Empire. The Louvre’s “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of the Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804” presents the political picture.

Napoleon returned to the battlefield to shore up his ratings, and he captured nearly all of Europe, but made a fatal mistake by invading Russia. A famous chart taught by Edward Tufte shows in dramatic fashion how the French forces dwindled from 600,000 to 90,000. The allies opposing France regrouped and eventually entered Paris, forcing Napoleon to flee in exile to Italy. The Senate deposed him as Emperor. At the Congress of Vienna, the allies declared victory and restored the Bourbon Kings to power, naming Louis XVI’s brother as Louis XVIII (another brother heir died in prison). Incredibly, Napoleon escaped exile in 1815, formed a huge army in the south, returned and took control of Paris and reclaimed the French throne, only to lose the Battle of Waterloo 3 weeks later.

The Arc de Triomphe commemorates Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.

The Arc de Triomphe commemorates Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz.

During Napoleon’s reign, he accomplished a lot – reorganization of the judicial system; the establishment of a new legal code, which forms the basis of the French legal system; and the establishment of a new educational system. He preserved the changes of the French Revolution and is looked upon as France’s greatest hero. Only a few of his architectural plans were completed, among them the Arc de Triomphe, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, La Madeleine, Pont des Arts, Rue de Rivoli and some buildings within the Louvre complex as well as the Canal St-Martin.

Post Napoleonic Monarchy and the Second Empire
Louis XVIII reigned from 1814-1824. He was replaced by Charles X (1824-1830). All the time both reigns struggled between trying to bring back the old monarchy and implementing the changes wrought by the Revolution. In July 1830, Charles was overthrown in a skirmish that captured Hôtel de Ville. A constitutional monarch was installed under Louis Philippe, but again things did not go well and he was overthrown in 1848, when the 2nd Republic was established.

Napoleon III's portrait hangs in his luxurious apartment in the Louvre.

Napoleon III’s portrait hangs in his luxurious apartment in the Louvre.

A presidential election was held in 1848, and Napoleon I’s nephew, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, was elected. In 1851 after the legislature deadlocked, he staged a coup d’etat, after which he was proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III (Napoleon’s son was Napoleon II, but he never ruled). He moved into the Palais des Tuileries and commenced the Second Empire, a rule of some 20 years that would forever change Paris.

Paris was now over 1 million people, and France had become an economic power. Paris was transformed by town planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann into a city with wide boulevards and huge squares. The first department stores were built, including the Bon Marché in 1852, as were the passages couverts, Paris’s covered shopping arcades.

Napoleon III failed in his foreign policy, first losing the Crimean War (1854–56), then losing and being captured himself in a war with Prussia. It was this event that provoked Parisians back into the streets calling for a Third Republic.

The Third Republic
Meanwhile the Prussians lay siege to Paris, and the populace is starving. The Third Republic begins as a government to organize the defense of the city. In January 1871 the government negotiated a truce, and one of the Prussian demands was that elections be held immediately. Monarchists, who had campaigned on a peace platform, overwhelmingly defeat the republicans who had organized the city’s defense. The monarchist controlled Assembly ratified the Treaty of Frankfurt, but when the common Parisians discovered the terms, there was public outcry. The settlement included huge war reparations, loss of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces, and 30,000 Prussian occupation troops. So once again there was a revolt.

After the withdrawal of Prussian Troops in March, 1871, an insurrectionary government known as the Paris Commune seized control of the city. Their communist supporters (Communards) tried to burn the center of the city. Hôtel de Ville, the Palais des Tuileries and the Cours des Comptes (site of the present-day Musée d’Orsay) were all burned. In May, the Versailles government launched a counteroffensive in which many thousands were killed, and the elected government regained control.

The windmill atop Montmartre symbolizes the innovations in art - impressionism, cubism, that sprang from there.

The windmill atop Montmartre symbolizes the innovations in art – impressionism, cubism, that sprang from there.

The Third Republic was also a golden era for France. The city was again transformed by Art Nouveau Architecture, Impressionism, accomplishments in engineering such as installation of the first Metro line. A world exhibition in 1889 showcased the Eiffel Tower and Grand Palais, and another in 1900 showcased the Petit Palais. Nightclubs and cafe’s started to thrive in the City, and Montmartre became famous for its collection of artists and writers.

One event, the Dreyfus Affair, had a lasting effect upon the country. This began in 1894 when a Jewish army captain named Alfred Dreyfus was accused of betraying military secrets to Germany – he was then court-martialled and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Liberal politicians and activists, including the writer Émile Zola, came to his defense. It became a major confrontation between the right wing and Catholic politicians against those on the left. Ultimately Dreyfus was vindicated in 1900, and the Army and Catholic Church were discredited for their roles in the affair. The political result was more stringent civilian control over the military and the separation of the Catholic Church from the French state.

Raymond Poincaré, the French President from 1913 – 1920, advocated steps against Germany for France to regain its provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, but World War I started when Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on France and Russia following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914. There was intense fighting along the German border early in the war, but the French were losing and fell into retreat. German troops had reached the Marne River, just 15 km from Paris, by September of 1914, and the army had recommended the evacuation of Paris. In a military turnaround, General Joseph Joffre, reinvigorated the French troops, who counterattacked and drove back the German offensive. The victory notably included the use of 600 Paris taxis to ferry troops to the front, which also lifted the morale of the troops. The Battle of the Marne resulted in 500,000 casualties. The aftermath was a stalemate that lasted until the end of the war in 1917. The armistice following World War I resulted in France regaining their territories of Alsace and Lorraine. The war had killed 20% of French men between ages 20 and 45, and another million were crippled. At the Battle of Verdun, the French let by General Petain, lost 400,000 men, as did the Germans.

World War II
We’ve covered many aspects of World War II in our story of the French family. As we relate there, the war began in 1939 with German and French forces massing near the border, but no fighting. Then in just a short time in May and June 1940, France fell. Almost half the population of 5 million left Paris. France was divided into a Nazi occupied zone including Paris in the North and to transform the 3rd Republic into the French State, an authoritarian government headed by Philippe Pétain, former French General and hero of the Battle of Verdun in World War I. The French State was located at the spa town of Vichy in central France. The Vichy government collaborated with the Germans, who by 1942 assumed control of the whole country. Among other atrocities, they collaborated in rounding up 78,000 Jews for extermination at Auschwitz. Post World War II, Petain was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison by Charles de Gaulle.

Charles de Gaulle, the Undersecretary of War, had fled Paris for England. He set up a government in exile and appealed to the French to resist the Germans. He established Forced Free Francais, a force dedicated to fighting the Germans. The French Resistance, actually less than 5% of the population, assisted the Allies through acts of sabotage and gathering of intelligence. After the Normandy landings in June 1944 and other landings in southern France in August, Paris was liberated on August 25th. Free French units were sent ahead of Allied troops to allow them the honor of liberating the city. It was fortunate that Hitler’s orders to burn Paris were never carried out.

Forth Republic
De Gaulle returned to Paris and set up a provisional government, but in January 1946 he resigned hoping that the French people would elect him as president. Such was not the case. A new constitution was approved by referendum, and the Forth Republic involved forming coalitions of multiple parties with diverse interests, on average forming a new government every 6 months or so. French colonies in Viet Nam and Algeria experience rebellions, which created political opportunities that aided in the frequent changes of the ruling coalition. By 1958, certain right wing factions were believed to be plotting to overthrow the government rather than allow the loss of the Algerian colony. Charles de Gaulle was brought back to power to prevent a possible civil war or military coup. He supervised drafting a new constitution that gave more power to the President at the expense of power to the National Assembly. Thus the 5th Republic was born, and Charles de Gaulle was elected as President. As part of forming the new republic, French colonies other than Algeria were granted their independence.

Fifth Republic
Charles de Gaulle promoted a politics called Gaullism, that France should continue to see itself as a major power and should not rely on other countries. He made the decision to allow the independence of Algeria, encouraged the development of French atomic weapons, withdrew from NATO, and twice vetoed admission of Great Britain into the European Union. He was opposed within France by both the right and by communists and socialists. He resigned in 1969 after losing a referendum where he proposed more decentralization of the government.

The Fifth Republic strengthened the executive by giving France a President elected every 5 years, as well as a Prime Minister. The Constitutional Council provides additional checks and balances by, upon request, approving that legislation does not violate the rights of citizens established by the constitution. French political parties represent a wide variety of both left and right wing politics. The government is currently Socialist, a strong minority presence continues to advocate other points of view. The past 50 years of French history has of course continued to dramatically transform Paris and the country of France.

World War II in France

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Picking up from our last episode about the French family in World War II, it’s 1940 and the bombers have attacked. The Germans have sent their tanks and troops through the Ardennes forest bypassing the Maginot Line. The French government, not having another plan to defend France, appointed Marshall Petain to take charge of the war. Our family remained at the farm owned by the Ledouxs, where they had stopped after running out of fuel. They listened to the radio for further word. Within a few days, Marshall Petain announced that he had asked the Germans for an armistice and a stop to the war. He declared that France had not enough men, arms, allies to continue. According to terms, Germany would occupy the northern half of the country, and Marshall Petain would install a new government in the southern city of Vichy.

A short time later, Charles Degaulle, who had escaped France to England, came on the radio calling on the country to resist the Germans, that England was their ally and that France still has a chance. Alas, his broadcast was missed by most of France, and the surrender took place. France capitulated to Germany in just 6 days. Terms of the armistice arranged for the Germans to occupy and govern the northern part of France. Marshall Petain would form a government at the town of Vichy to govern the liberated portion in the south.

In 1941, Marceline and her family returned to Paris with an uncertain future. Her father was a prisoner of war in Germany. It was a cold and icy winter, and the family was hungry because the Germans took everything from them. Marceline’s mother had to stand in line at the local shops and stores to get food for her family. Most days after school Marceline would go to take her place in line. The Germans issued ration tickets to each family to pay for food and other essentials.

Marceline recalled the German soldiers goose stepping as they marched by. One soldier told her that she reminded him of his daughter and gave her a bon bon, which her mother later threw on the ground rather than let her eat.

After some time they received letters from Papa. He was being held prisoner at a camp in Germany, and he was hungry. The family sent him a package with all they could find to help him. Marceline sent him a sweater and a scarf, as well as her hope that the family gift would warm his heart.

Mom found extra work as a dressmaker. She would go to people’s houses and would be paid sometimes with other than money, sometimes with some sausage and one time returning home with lentils hidden inside the lining of her coat.

For Marceline’s 8th birthday, her mother made her a dress from the material in the curtains. Marceline made herself a cake using some potatoes and cocoa. It didn’t taste very good. Four days after her birthday the family learned that the German’s had attacked Russia by surprise.

Each night there was a curfew at 7 pm in the village. No lights were permitted. Marceline’s family would cover the windows with dark paper, but one time they forgot a pane, and a German patrol almost discovered them. It was very scary.

1942 was a terrible year. France had been cut in two. The French government in Vichy was collaborating with the Germans, who occupied the north. Also the French organized an underground resistance movement.

One day Marceline remembered coming to school and seeing the four Jewish students, including her friend Rébecca, arrive wearing yellow stars on their coats. The Germans had ordered all Jews to wear yellow stars as an identification badge. In June 1942, the German police took away Rébecca’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Weissman, to work in Germany. Rébecca escaped capture by fleeing to Marceline’s house. Marceline realized that her parents had no way to stop the things that were happening to the Jews.

Rébecca stayed with Marceline’s family after her parents were sent to Germany. Her aunt asked Marceline’s mom if they could keep Rébecca for an extended period and gave her some money to help with the cost.

In the summer the family went to Marceline’s grandmother’s house. She lived in Indre near Châteauroux. That was past the line of demarcation that is the border between the occupied zone and the liberated zone. They took Rébecca with them. As they took the train south, they knew that they couldn’t show the identification papers for Rébecca stating that she was a Jew.

When the Germans entered their compartment, they hid Rébecca under the bench seat. Mom had removed the yellow star from her coat. When the Germans asked for their papers, Marceline was so scared that she couldn’t manage to breathe. She thought they might spot Rébecca when her younger brother Michael dropped his toy car on the floor. After looking at their papers the German inspector finally left, and Rébecca got back up – completely pale. When they arrived at Châteauroux, Marceline’s grandmother was just happy that they were there and that it was vacation.

In 1943, the family was still at grandma’s house in Indre. Chateauroux as well as the rest of France was now occupied by the Germans. Rébecca had been given the name Rosaline so people would not know she was a Jew. The school had accepted her as a student without papers. All of her class work was destroyed once it was completed, so there was no record of her. Although there were informants in every village, no one denounced the courageous actions of the school teacher. “Not existing” was very traumatic for Rébecca, who felt she could not participate in life with the other students.

It was a very cold winter. There was no heat. Marceline remembered her hands swelling and itching as a result of the cold. 1943 arrived with a ray of hope about the war. They heard that the Germans had lost the battle of Stalingrad.

Marceline’s brother Jacques was to depart for Obligatory Work Service in Germany, but he wanted to join the Resistance. Mom told him that he was a fool because she knew that the militia, the French police, and the Germans would pursue members of the Resistance and would torture and deport to Germany anyone who was apprehended.

Jacques asked the parish priest where to find the Resistance. The priest told him to look in the woods at midnight. Jacques disappeared from home.

Mom was worried about him. One night Marceline heard her speak with Jacques in the kitchen. He had joined the Resistance. He had helped a pilot whose plane had been shot down by the Germans. He related how they had listened to the secret English radio broadcasts and used message codes to provide the information for the resistance.

At the end of 1943 Papa was still in prison. All the Santa’s were in prison so it was a sad Christmas.

Marceline did not hear again from her brother until June of 1944. He had been involved with sabotaging German trains. The Germans had taken hostages as a result and then shot them, but Marceline’s brother was not caught.

The allies had started bombing the German forces, bridges, and vehicles. Marceline recalled rushing to the bomb shelter at school and how the fear of bombing had turned into an excuse for not doing one’s homework. She remembered June 6, 1944, when the allies and resistance arrived in France. She didn’t sleep. People laughed and cried as the hope of freedom had returned.

One day Rébecca left them. Her aunt came to search for her. Rebecca had never heard from her parents. It was so sad. Marceline’s family returned to Paris in August, just in time to see General de Gaulle and the army of the French Liberated Forces come down the Champs-Élysées. Paris was liberated. It was a party!

Some days later Marceline also saw the Americans, Canadians, and English arrive and pass down the street on foot and in jeeps. One of them gave Marceline some chewing gum. They threw bags of Nestle’s chocolate and cigarettes. They looked tired. Everyone was celebrating, and all the world danced in the streets.

The war continued, and in the Spring of 1945 Hitler committed suicide shortly before the Russians arrived in Berlin. Germany surrendered on 8 May and was occupied by the Allies.

They discovered the concentration camps. They heard that the Jews had been worked to exhaustion in the camps. Those who couldn’t work were exterminated in the gas chambers. They separated the children from their parents. The bodies were burned in the ovens at the crematorium. More than 6 million Jews were killed in the camps.

Other camps harbored resistance fighters from all the countries, among whom were also Germans who had resisted Hitler.

Marceline’s father was liberated. She did not recognize him when he arrived home. He was very thin and had white hair.

The war was not finished. Japan was still fighting. On August 6th the Americans dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. They caused 130,000 deaths. On September 2nd Japan finally surrendered.

The war had caused 50 million deaths, including 20 million Russians, 5 million Germans, and 600,000 French. But the victorious Russians and Americans could not agree on a plan at war’s end. Europe was divided, and Germany was cut in two.

All the same, there was peace, and Marceline received a letter from Rébecca. Her parents died in Auschwitz, but her uncle survived. She would be returning to Paris. Marceline was 12 years old and suddenly felt so grown up.

Our French lesson this week is about World War II


Arc de Triomphe

In our French lesson this week we are reading a short but true story. The purpose is for us to learn French, but the story is about recounting in a child’s eyes the outbreak of World War II in France. How it started when they returned from a family vacation. How she noticed that her parents were worried for some unstated reason. How it was for the father when he learned the news. How is was for the child when she wondered about how the family would exist when her father was mobilized to go to the front. How her father reassured her that he would be back by Christmas. How confusing it was when the Germans and the French armies lined up at the border but no one fought. How the school teacher reassured her class that all was well because France had the Maginot Line (a fortress of guns along the border) and a network of underground tunnels. How important it was for her to have her best friend in the apartment downstairs. How the father did not return as promised at Christmas. How the Germans suddenly and unexpectedly attacked through the Ardennes forest, driving their tanks through the mountains and bypassing the Maginot Line. How the family was told to flee Paris. The mother didn’t even have a driver’s license, but she loaded the family into the car and fled anyway. How the roads were clogged with people doing the same thing. How horrifying it was when the bombers attacked and a person nearby them was killed. How they ran out of gas and had to abandon their car. How they were invited by a family to sleep in their nearby barn. How it was to wake up after a night sleeping in the hay. How the country turned to Marshall Pétain, 84 year old hero of World War I, to take charge and keep everything safe.

Hooked yet? This happened to people here, and the German attackers were perhaps our relatives, and only a few hundred miles away. The disturbing story described here still happens in many parts of our world today. More to follow.

A Visit to the Louvre

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Lately it’s been rainy and cold here, so we had this great idea – let’s go to the Louvre. We signed up for a guided tour offered by Paris Walks and saw a lot in two and a half hours, plus we hung around for another couple hours after the tour to expand our horizons. Just the work to write this article confirms that we missed a lot and will need to go back. The Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums with over 35,000 objects of art – we’ll show maybe 35 in our slide show below – and is the world’s most visited museum. The Louvre web site in English is a great resource for the many details we don’t cover here. Also you can get a great overview with Wikipedia – The Louvre.

So first the history of the Musée du Louvre – in a paragraph. The Louvre started out as a fortress built by King Philippe Augustus in 1190. The name comes from a villa called Luvra left to an abbey in the area in the 7th century. The fortress was the entry to the walled city of Paris. You can see what the old fortress looked like in our slide show-note that in the basement of the Louvre there are still visible portions of the old fortress. Since the 14th century there have been many modifications and enlargements of the original structure, which above ground are long gone. In the mid 1500s the Louvre was razed and reconstructed in the French Renaissance style. Francis I also acquired some of the most famous pieces, including the Mona Lisa, during this period. After Louis XIV moved to the Palace at Versailles in 1682, the Louvre primarily was used to hold pieces from the Royal collection and as a residence for artists. During the reigns of Louis the XV and XVI, the kingdom continued to collect many pieces of art, and the idea that the Louvre become the royal museum became more popular. Although Louis XVI approved of the conversion, it never came about before the French Revolution in 1789. In 1792 the King was imprisoned and the Royal Collection became public. The palace was converted to a museum to hold the public art and opened in 1793. Even after the Revolution the museum was modified and enlarged extensively, first by Napoleon I as part of the French empire, then as the 2nd Republic, then by Napoleon III as part of the 2nd French Empire, and then as the 3rd Republic, which lasted from 1870 until World War II, when most of the collection was moved from the Louvre to safer locations until after the war. In the 1980’s French President François Mitterrand, as part of a series of sweeping public works projects, proposed a large renovation and relocation of the French Finance Ministry so that the entire building could be used by the museum. Architect I.M. Pei was awarded the project, which resulted in the pyramidal entry that is so famous today.

Our tour could hardly begin to see all of the 35,000 works of art. Paris Walks guide Mary Ellen Manny took us efficiently through the museum to see a surprising number of the most famous works of art, some of which you can see in our slide show linked below. We met at the Statue of Louis XIV outside, then proceeded into the Pyramid entry and quickly into the museum to see 2 large covered courtyards, Cour Puget and Cour Marly, which house originals of many outdoor sculptures that were previously displayed at the Tuileries Garden and at Versailles. We then went through several rooms of royal crypts and funerary art, then to several rooms housing famous furniture, such as Napoleon I’s throne when he became emperor, as well as 2 crowns that are all that is left of the crown jewels. Napoleon III used the Louvre as an apartment, and the furnishings have been marvelously preserved. Entry to the apartment was from a spectacular circular drive way that his young son used as a track for riding his pony, and the living room and dining room – see the slide show – are to die for.

The tour went through some spaces with artwork and royal pieces in cases. One notable piece was a madonna and child carved from a single elephant tusk. Mary Ellen liked a tapestry showing the king and queen in romantic love. In our slideshow is also an ivory alter piece with finely detailed ivory carvings. Then we plunged into the basement to view the foundation of the old fortress, then over to the Egyptian section to view the largest sphinx outside of Egypt. It weighs 26 tons and couldn’t be lifted by any crane in those days, so they made a hole in the wall and pushed it into the building – don’t count on it moving soon.

We headed to the classical Greek sculpture area, where we saw many many sculptures, including the pictured Athena. We stopped at the statue of Venus de Milo, which was distinct because the sculptor had introduced the appearance of movement into the art. We ended up at the very famous and extrordinary Winged Victory of Samothrace, which was recovered in many pieces from the Aegean Sea and assembled in 1863. After traversing the striking Gallery of Apollo, part of the restorations started by Louis XIV, we focused on Italian and French art, starting with some older paintings by Fra Angelico and then into a grand hall with paintings and sculptures of many masters, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio. Mona Lisa is ensconced in a large room with many other famous paintings. We first spent time with The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese. It’s larger than our apartment (60 square meters) and is the largest painting in the Louvre. Then we saw Mona Lisa, which was surrounded by such a crowd you can’t really get near it. We spent some time discussing the Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericåult, based on a true story of a ship wreck and the abandoned crew who floated adrift for a nightmarish 12 days before being recovered. Art had with that work entered a new era of realism. In our slide show you can see a few other famous paintings besides those I’ve mentioned here.

We finished with a stroll through several rooms of sculpture, including Michelangelo’s unfinished work called Slaves, as well as the incredible Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova – carved from a single piece of marble. See the slide show for additional details.

Overall, our trip to the world’s greatest museum was quite remarkable.

The Canal du Midi!

 Approaching lock on Canal du Midi trip

Approaching one of the sixty some locks on our Canal du Midi trip

Last week we had the pleasure of joining friends from Poulsbo, Karl and Kelly Hadley, Jim and Sharon Moore and the former Rotary exchange student Flora Midiou and her boyfriend Julien Plubel on a wonderful barge trip on the Canal du Midi in Southern France. Now I better understand the song from Camelot, “It’s May, the lusty month of May!”

Pastel violet masses of wisteria climbed the walls of many of the “ecluse” or lock buildings lining the canal. Bright orange poppies, yellow and periwinkle grinning iris faces, balloon clusters of creamy Queen Anne’s Lace bloomed along the grassy banks. Giant chestnut trees bursting with white chocolate frosted strawberry ice cream cone flowers dominated the walkways of the ancient villages. Pink with lemon tinged roses and cherry red peonies filled garden beds. Carefully ordered vegetable gardens sprouted onioins, cabbages, spinach, radishes.

Since 1996 the Canal du Midi has been classified in the list of World Heritage sites. The canal connects the Garonne river (at the Atlantic side ) to the Mediterranean Sea. Originally built between 1666 to 1681 to facilitate the wheat business, it is the oldest European Canal still in operation.

We began our tour in the village of Argens-Minervois after taking an approximately 4 hour train ride from Paris to Narbonne, spending the night there and the next morning taking another but very short train ride to the village of Lézignan-Corbières then taxiing to Argens. Our trip on the boat lasted a week. Captains Karl and Hugh navigated the waters and the rest of us learned to handle the ropes in the locks, drink much wine, sample the excellent local cheeses, ride bicycles along the canal. In the evenings we walked into the villages, ate delicious local dishes-a favorite of the group was a crepery, La Blé Noir in Carcassone, the walled city. Hugh and I were fortunate to be guided by Jim and Sharon Moore on a night walk through this 5th century village and through the magnificent castle atop. The Castle which reminds me of The magical Disneyland Palace was restored in the mid 1800 ‘s. It is filled with shops and restaurants, even hotels.

We left our boat behind in the town of Negra and took a taxi to Toulouse. In Toulouse our French guides Flora and Julien led us through the city.

We loved spending time with our friends and enjoying the Canal and the countryside of southern France. We did happily discover that after a week on the barge, our 450 sq. ft. Paris apartment seems very much larger!!! We like the shower too!

Here’s a link to a slideshow showing selected scenes from the trip:


May Day – Labor Day in France

May Day - Labor Day in France

Flower stand selling lilly of the valley and other May Day flowers

This morning we are on our way to our usual mid week visit to the gym when – they are closed! Why would that be? They’re selling some kind of flowers on every street corner – what are they and why? After I went for a compensatory run along the Seine, I came home to investigate. I knew it was Labor Day in France, but didn’t think that would have much impact on commercial enterprises. Turns out that it does, and that May Day – Labor Day in France are closely linked together. La Fête du Muguet, La Fête du Travail.

I found an article that explains the tradition. Lillies of the valley were first presented to King Charles IX in 1561 and, liking this gift, he started presenting lilies of the valley to the ladies of his court on May 1st. By about 1900, it was common for men to present lilies of the valley on May 1st as a sign of their affection, and in modern times flowers are more commonly presented to family and friends. The government permits the sale of these flowers (and dog rose flowers) by individuals and organizations on May 1st without need to pay tax or conform to retail sales rules. People will respond to economic incentives, so you see flowers being sold in many places along the street.

In 1919, the government legalized the 8 hour work day and made May 1st the official Labor Day holiday for France. It also turns out to be Labor Day for most of the rest of the World, except in the US. From the linked article:

Trade unions and other organizations organize parades and demonstrations to campaign for workers rights on May 1. People may also use these events to campaign for human rights in general, to demonstrate against racism or highlight current social issues.

This year’s Labor Day activities follow close on the heels of a report that Eurozone unemployment has risen to a record 12.1% overall, and the French government recently reported record numbers of unemployed. Unemployment in Spain and Greece is at levels above 27%, more than in the US during the Great Depression. Labor Day should have some interesting commentary.

So we think that Labor Day is different in France than in the US, where mostly it seems we get ready to shop the Labor Day sales and many businesses do not close. Then I read today’s Seattle Times – the police are hoping they will be better prepared for potential protests during this year’s 13th annual May Day march for worker and immigrant rights in Seattle. Ten thousand are expected to participate. Living in France is helping us to better know our local community at home.

April in Paris-Jardin du Luxembourg

Finally the trees have green leaves, tulips and flowering shrubs are blooming, and it is much more fun to visit the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens) only about half a mile from our apartment. These are the gardens featured in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables! The 60 acre park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It includes traditional French and English style gardens, an orangery, fruit (hundreds of varieties of apple and pear trees) gardens and hot houses, the latter of which are only open to the public during European Heritage Days, this year, 2013, the 14th and 15th of September. The hot houses contain tropical orchids. The park also features beautiful fountains and about 100 statues. We will visit often as the place is a magical, green haven away from the bustle of the city. Currently the fence surrounding the gardens displays photographs of the Tour de France bicycle race. It is fascinating to see race photos dating back to the 1920’s. Until July 21st the Musée du Luxembourg (museum which is on the park grounds) has an exhibit of Chagall’s art that is on my list of things to see.

The Palais du Luxembourg shown in several of the photos has a long history. It was built in 1615 by Marie du Médicis, mother of King Louis XIII and member of the Médicis family of Florence, Italy. The Palace was a museum forerunner of the Louvre, one time home to Napoleon Bonaparte, Cardinal de Richelieu, and to Hermann Göring during World War II. It was used as a prison during the French Revolution and since has been home to the French Senate (which is not to say that the French Senate is being held in prison).

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Holocaust in Paris

Wall of Names

Wall of Names

Holocaust in Paris

Monday started the Jewish celebration of Passover, the religious holidays that commemorate the portion of Exodus where God spares (passes over) the Israelite first born sons and kills the first born sons of Egypt as what you might call a last straw to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from from slavery in Egypt. This event followed a long period of having tried through Moses lesser measures to obtain their release (the last of 10 plagues). It is the beginning of the long, 40 year exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land. During Passover the Jewish followers consume unleavened bread and a Passover meal, as well as observing other religious traditions commemorating the release and hasty flight of the Israelites from Egypt.

With Passover as the backdrop, look now at our neighborhood. Just across the Seine is the Marais, a traditional Jewish neighborhood in Old Paris. Even when the nobility had occupied the Marais in the 1600’s, Jewish merchants had settled in the area as clothing makers and participants in the City’s financial and banking business. After most nobility had left the area, numerous Eastern European Jews immigrated to Paris and the Marais in the 1800’s.

You may never have heard about the devastation of the Holocaust in Paris. In 1940 there were about 175,000 Jewish residents of Paris. Many fled when the Germans invaded in May of 1940, and by September there were about 150,000 remaining, including about 64,000 foreigners. In 1942 the Germans with the assistance of French police began a systematic deportation of foreign and stateless Jews. In June 1942, Jews in Paris were ordered to wear yellow Star of David badges for easy identification. In July French police concentrated 13,000 Jews in a sports area in south central Paris, and by year’s end nearly 30,000 had been deported. Many more went into hiding, so that by mid 1943 only about 60,000 Jews remained in the city. In early 1944, the Germans began to deport Jewish citizens of France as well. By the time Paris was liberated, at least 50,000 Parisian Jews, most of them foreign-born, had been deported and murdered. You can find more information from the US Holocaust Museum.

Only a few blocks from our house is the Mémorial de la Shoah (Memorial to the Holocaust). It has numerous exibits, including a Wall of Names (shown above), honoring the 76,000 French Jews (according to the description in Fodors) deported from France to Nazi concentration camps, of whom only 2,500 survived. We saw a local grade school in the Marais that listed the names of the children deported from that school (never to return) during the holocaust. These chilling events happened only a few years before I was born, and the hatreds and struggles played out in these stories of the past continue unsettled in our world today.