Archives for June 2013

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.

Staying Fit in Paris

Hugh in front of Health City

Hugh in front of Health City on Boulevard Saint Germain

When we left the US, I belonged to the Poulsbo Athletic Club and Brenda used our Nordic Track and took pilates classes from Jo Carter. We were relatively fit and were interested in staying fit in Paris. At first we had a fitness center at our hotel, but once we moved into our apartment we needed a place to work out.

We ended up joining a chain of health clubs called Health City. We needed to have a local bank account before we could join. That’s a winter photo of me – the weather is getting warmer believe it or not. Every other day we head off to the club, about 5 blocks from our apartment. As you might expect, Health City costs more – a little more than twice as much as Poulsbo Athletic Club. It has more machines and types of machines, as well as free weights and more treadmills and eliptical machines. It doesn’t have an exercise pool, a physical therapy center, or racquetball courts. It does have free exercise classes, sauna and steam room. On good days I can run outside – Paris is great for that – of course so is Poulsbo. The staff is professional – everyone there is really into fitness. Our orientation one day was by a member of the French national water polo team. Many people use personal trainers. It seems like most people working out are training for something, not just trying to stave off old age like us. The place is often very busy.

We haven’t met too many new friends at the club. One trainer who was from Iran speaks pretty good English and always talks to us when we see her. Her core fitness class was a killer, by the way. Along with walking more and eating a better diet here (it helps to have more time to focus on these things), the health club has made a difference. I can’t say exactly how much weight I’ve lost, but I have to buy a waist size 3 inches smaller now, so it must be making some difference.

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Fête de la Musique

Last night was Fête de la Musique, a free public musical event outdoors all over the city. What a party (fête means party) – there were literally tens of thousands of people roaming about until well into the morning. There were bands and performances on many street corners, including a great jazz group at the bar at the other end of our building. All we had to do was open the window. Launched in 1982 by the French Ministry for culture, the Fête de la Musique is now held in more than hundred countries in Europe and over the world. It takes place every 21st June, the day of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere.

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Here’s a web site that explains a little about this event.

Unlike perhaps anything we do in the US, the government is deeply involved in organizing this now international social event.

Here are 2 short movies showing typical street performances we saw.

Picnic at the Eiffel Tower

Wendy Armstrong and her daughter Jess visited us recently, and they had the idea that we should have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We all had a great time. Here’s a short video of the lights when they flash on the hour.

Barbara Kingsolver at Shakespeare and Company

DSCF3115 Guess who I got to meet? One of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote The Poisonwood Bible among many other wonderful fiction novels, recently held a booksigning at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I bought her latest book, Flight Behaviour, which she signed for me. I love that I can walk a few blocks along the Seine, in full view of Notre Dame Cathedral to the most marvelous book store to meet one of my heroines!

David Lebovitz Book Signing

DSCF3114 One of my favorite food authors and local Paris bloggers is David Lebovitz, whom I’ve been following ever since I read his book, “The Sweet Life in Paris” prior to leaving the US.  I recently  got to meet him in person at a book signing about half a mile from our apartment. The event was at a local cooking school, La Cuisine Paris. Not only did I get to meet David and have him sign another of his books, “The Perfect Scoop“, for me, but the Glaces Glazed ice cream truck was also there! Glaces Glazed serves unique gourmet blends of top quality ingredients in limited edition flavors. I sampled Black Sugar Sex Magic, a combination of chocolate, wasabi and ginger which had the most chocolatey flavor I have ever experienced. Hugh had their Mohito de Tokyo with rum, lemon, and mint – yum I think he said.

Paris Fashion Walk!

Paris Fashion Walk - Christian Louboutin

Paris Fashion Walk – Christian Louboutin

Recently we had visitors whom I thought would be interested in seeing the beautiful covered arcades of the famous fashion designers, so I booked us into the Paris Walks Fashion tour. They loved the walk as did I-even Hugh had a good time taking photos. We met our guide at the Palais Royale Metro station, a one of a kind metro! The entrance, which was designed by Jean-Michel Othoniel, is called “The Kiosque des noctambules” (kiosk of the night walkers) and has two cupolas covered in venetian glass beads that are threaded to the structure. Our lovely English speaking Paris Walks guide promised us that we would be doing lots of “léche vitale” or window licking as we walked past the display windows of Louboutin, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney, Didier Ludot, Mark Jacobs-to name of few of the more well known designers. She also gave us a wonderful lesson in the history of fashion as we walked along. Louis the 14th was the King of Fashion. He also had great legs, so he showed them off in breeches and stockings that he made famous! Fashion was a symbol of French power and was important to French commerce. Fashion dolls became very popular since they were made to advertise the latest trends and were sent to London and Russia so the nobility there could see what was “in” in Paris. I was fascinated by the fashion transformations from Louis XIV’s haute couture to broad shoulder pads to bell flower or hobble skirts to pant suits for women, the caged skirts and the wasp waists (think Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind) to Mark Jacobs slip dress and Pierre Cardin blue jeans. A highlight was when we walked past the restaurant, Le Grand Colbert, made famous by the 2003 movie “Something’s Gotta Give” starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. It would be fun to come back and dine there, though there are many other better restaurants in Paris. I thought that the Jean Paul Gaultier boutique was the most dramatic. It used to be a marionette theatre and has many levels of wide, high windows filled with his high fashion avant-garde designs. I will need to revisit Gaultier and Stella McCartney and the Acne (Swedish designs) to get a better look at their stunning clothes-maybe even try on one or two things . . . Hugh is turning blue.

Here is a slideshow with some photos we took along the way.

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.

Commissioner Brown added to Paris Air Show attendees

Statue of Saint Denis, near the Montmontre

Statue of Saint Denis, near the Montmontre

The Paris Air show is held north of Paris, beyond the community of Saint Denis. Saint Denis, also known as Dionysius, was the Bishop of Paris in the 3rd Century. Saint Denis is a famous Christian Martyr in these parts.

He was martyred in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after 250 CE. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked ten kilometres (six miles), preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology.

It’s interesting that a group from our small community is coming to the famous Paris Air Show in search of business connections. I wish them well, but just in case, for some reason, that doesn’t pan out, they can still find something of worth in their trip by traveling just a few miles south to Saint Denis. The Saint Denis Basilica is very famous. Started in the 12th century, it was the first church of Gothic design. It is the burial place of the Kings of France.

Commissioner Brown added to Paris Air Show attendees – Bremerton Patriot.

A sunset at the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

When Brenda’s friend Randi Strong Petersen visited earlier this spring, she suggested that one evening we spend watching the sunset and light show at the Eiffel Tower. This turned out to be a most remarkable experience. No doubt you know of the Eiffel Tower, but in case you may not know the history, here is a short sketch from Wikipedia:

Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, it has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest structure in Paris[10] and the most-visited paid monument in the world; 7.1 million people ascended it in 2011. The third level observatory’s upper platform is at 915.7 ft (279.1 m) the highest accessible to the public in the European Union. The tower received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010.

The tower stands 1,063 feet (324 m) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to assume the title of the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years, until theChrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930. Because of the addition, in 1957, of the antenna atop the Eiffel Tower, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building. Not including broadcast antennas, it is the second-tallest structure in France, after the Millau Viaduct.

Randi suggested that we arrive prior to sunset and watch as the lights come on. The lights come on at dusk and remain on until 1 am (2 am in summer). Many souvenirs of the tower show flashing lights all over the structure, but these appear only at the hour and for 5 minutes thereafter.

You can see our photo album from sunset until dark here.