Tag Archives: Marais

It’s a small world – Omaha Beach to Florida to Paris

19 Aug

From http://www.dday-overlord.com/img/dday/ob/omaha_beach_barge_approche.jpgMy landlady told me this beautiful story and I had to share it.

Around 20 years ago while on holiday, my landlady and her husband befriended a couple from Florida. The two couples stayed in touch and have even been on vacation together several times.

A few years ago, the couple from Florida contacted my landlady to let her know they were taking a cruise that would stop at several points along the Northern coast of France. My landlady and her husband traveled to Normandy to meet their friends off of the ship.

The first day they met up they went to visit Omaha Beach, the sight of one of the deadliest D-Day battles. The father of the man from Florida had been a survivor of this battle and his son wanted to see the site where it had all happened.

While visiting the beach the two couples were told by another tourist that a veteran, a man who had participated in the landings, was down the path and was sharing his experiences and answering questions.  The other tourist explained that they had better hurry as the veteran looked like he might be getting ready to go.

They found the veteran and the man from Florida was able to confirm quite a lot of the details his father told him about the battle.  So many details were similar that the veteran asked about the man’s father’s name and his division. The veteran and the man’s father had been in the same boat and knew each other quite well. The veteran was able to tell him details of his father’s life in the army and specifically what his father did during the battle.

The veteran had answered some of the assembled tourists’ questions in French.  My landlady enquired where he had learned to speak French so well.  He had grown up in France, he said. Before the war, he left Paris to go to university in New York.  While he was gone, the Germans occupied Paris and he was unable to return home to Europe.  While in the US he received news that his Jewish family had been rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.  On hearing this news he asked if he could join the US Army and they agreed to let him serve.

My landlady asked, in which part of Paris did he grow up?  In the Marais. This is the area where my landlady and her husband  have lived all of their lives.  Further questions revealed, the veteran had known my landlady’s father.

French and American friends by chance meet a Omaha Beach veteran on Omaha Beach who knew both of their fathers and could bring history to life. Incredible.

[Photo credit: http://www.dday-overlord.com/img/dday/ob/omaha_beach_barge_approche.jpg]

7 things I wish I’d known before Bastille Day

15 Jul

Nice hat Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger1. The French like to practice

Last Wednesday morning around 10 am I heard the low droning sound of what I’d grown up to recognise as a tornado siren. It starts loud, progressively gets louder, and then gets quieter again a bit like someone slowly revving their engine.  In Ohio, this siren meant get your bottom to your basement or get in a safe place because a tornado might touch down. However, Paris is not tornado country.

What was this about? It took a matter of a millisecond and the help of my overactive imagination for me to jump from a conversation I had with someone about Paris during WWII to, oh god, these air raid warnings! Where do I go? What do I do? I ran to the window to see if I could detect any activity or clues. As you would expect, it was quiet and everyone was going about their business.  I sort of remembered hearing the same sound about a month ago on a Wednesday, ah a monthly drill…

However, when I heard the unmistakable roar of fighter planes flying very low and almost directly above my building only a few hours later I started to get scared again. There were five in v-formation, then three more, then a bomber and two more jets. I kept thinking it was over and then another roar would bring me to my window. There were too many for this to be an exercise! Was this connected to the sirens I heard in the morning?  What was I supposed to do? What about my husband? My neighbours were also taking a look. But everyone was calm, even taking pictures.

Anxious, I put a call out on twitter, the most obvious thing to do in an emergency:

Sirens this am, 6-10 low military jet flybys over central #Paris just now – Is this all prep for Bastille Day or do I find a shelter?

One reply came from @EvelyneLetawe

@JenFluke Don’t look for shelter in Notre-Dame 🙂 http://t.co/43lYECe

Planes over Notre Dame photo by @EvelyneLetawe @http://twitpic.com/5m1qtzIt linked to a picture of plane flying over the famous towers of Notre Dame with the caption ‘Neat terrorist attack on Paris Notre-Dame or rehearsal for July 14?’

2.       You get a wake up call

Sorry to go back again to my Ohio roots, but on the 4th of July, American Independence Day, a network of volunteers who did not like friends would drive around my town at some ungodly hour shouting through a bull horn, “It’s the 4th of July! It’s time to get up for the Parade!” I always thought this was a quant custom from a small town in America.  However, yesterday at 8am in central Paris I also got a wake-up call.  About 100 military-men in smart red uniforms on horseback blew trumpets at the end of my block. I hate to say it, but this was a slight upgrade from the bullhorn.

3.       When they say military parade, they mean military parade

Tanks down rue Royal Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerA friend who has lived in Paris for 20 years gave us the top tip for watching the parade.  After the parade passes the French President and other dignitaries on the Place de la Concord, it takes a left up rue Royal and past the Madeleine where it finishes. This area is much less crowded than the zoo that is the Champs Elysee. We arrived about 30 minutes before the parade started, got two spaces on the lower steps of the church and had a great view. We even got to see the flybys I’d watched them practice.

This parade is a military parade and is a lesson in different marching styles and variation in military uniforms.  If this is your thing, you will be in heaven.  While this was interesting to me for a while, I like a bit of music with my parade. Some of the groups that pass did sing, but most just march.  The only band brought up the rear of the parade.  Don’t expect to see floats either.  Military hardware is the closest thing. We saw everything from tanks to digger trucks all covered with men and women with guns.

4.       Wear comfortable shoes and carbo load

Quite a lot of walking is required to take in all the Bastille Day sights and activities.  Public transport is running but very crowed so often you will have to walk.  There are also many distractions.

Galleries Lafayette, Paris Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerShopping and looking at the view – I was surprised that most bigger stores were open on the national holiday. The legendary summer sales are on in Paris. Our parade viewing spot was close to Galleries Lafayette, one of Paris’s largest and oldest department stories, and we had to have a look.  Galleries Lafayette is a beautiful store that features a 7-story stained-glass rotunda over the main sales floor. It also has decent food options on the top floor and has one of the great views of Paris from its roof.

Museums– Many of the main museums are free on Bastille Day including Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and many others.

Fair at the Tuileries Gardens – A huge Ferris wheel and other fairground rides are set up in the Jardins des Tuileries. This is also close to the parade route. (Apparently, Madonna and her kids were spotted there yesterday.)

5.       Recharge you camera battery between the parade and the fireworks

No explanation needed, other than this is why I have no good pictures.

6.       The Eiffel Tower is not everything

I must have read 20 times that the fireworks are shot off from the Trocadero, the complex on the other side of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. However, in my mind the Eiffel Tower was the centre of the fireworks display.  While the Eiffel Tower does play a large part in the finale and is lovely to look at as you stand with everyone waiting for the show to start, the bulk of the fireworks go off on the other bank and many don’t reach the height of the top of the tower.  Keep this in mind when you are choosing a spot to view the fireworks. Just because you can see the Tower does not mean you will have a great view of the show.

We watched on the Pont de l‘Alma and did have a great view of the spectacular show. However, next time, short of finding friends with a flat with a good view, I would probably brave the crowds in the Champs de Mars or the Trocadero.  This is what you would have seen of the finale of the Paris Bastille Day fireworks from the Champs de Mars last night.

Alternatively, it looked like you could get reasonably priced food (read picnic style food and self-service) and a table with an amazing view at the Palais de Tokyo. A few tables were still available when we passed by at about 9pm. Sadly, as newbies, we pressed on. It would be worth checking this option out for next year.

7.       Save a little for after

Tired from a wonderful and full day we staggered from the metro stop at Saint Paul to head home.  As we neared the rue Sevigne we could hear the music pumping out of the Fireman’s Ball at the Marais fire station.  Fireman’s Balls are held as fundraisers in fire stations all around France.  They all have a different personality, but the one in the Marais has a reputation for being one of the liveliest and most popular.  It looked like great fun and we wanted to join the party, however we saw the queue that stretched down the block and we felt our aching legs. Next year!

Really helpful sites:



[photo credit of planes flying over Notre Dame  by @EvelyneLetawe @http://twitpic.com/5m1qtz]

Fete de la Musique

26 Jun

Fete de la Musique, Place des Vosges Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerTo the screeching sound of Sri Lankan music, a Scottish assassin’s wife murdered a fat lady in a fur coat over a broken bottle of perfume. Then, a young man went into a bar, picked a fight with a bully and, against the odds, kicked the bully’s butt.  And this was just the start of my first experience of the Fete de La Musique

The Fete de la Musique is an originally Parisian festival that has now spread all over the world.  It happens every Midsummer’s Night and involves music being played, both organised and impromptu, everywhere on the streets of Paris all night long.  This year Midsummer’s Night landed on Tuesday, the same night as my writing group. The usual reading of participant’s work (i.e. assassins and fights in bars) was supported by a soundtrack put on by the Sri Lankan residents of that neighbourhood of Paris.

Around 9.30, the group stopped the writing-related chat and wandered down the Canal St Martin, to Republique, then down blvd Beaumarchais and into the Marais. We heard DJs playing everything from disco to techno, we saw men playing cardboard boxes and plastic containers, and listened to old guys playing rock and roll.  Some were outside cafes, some just at the side of the road. All were loud and all had crowds spilling into the streets, enjoying the show.

One point in the evening resembled the start of a joke – an American, a Welshman, a Brazilian and a Bulgarian all entered a bar… some writing group members and I after hydration in plastic cups to take on our further wanderings.  In the Bar we saw the Bastille, 3 blocks away, live on MTV.  We took the plastic cups in search of the music.

Under the covered arches around the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris, we stopped for a while to watch a Madness-esque band sing songs in front of about 60 pogo-ing fans.  The ages ranged from 7 to 75 with everyone loving it. Deeper into the Marais, we passed more DJs, we sang to Lady Gaga and Brittany Spears and we passed a trombone, trumpet and tuba group bringing the house down.

My night ended around 1.30am, but the music went on all night.  What a great way to celebrate the longest day of the year!

Brass Section, Marais Fete de la Musique Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

Feminism and the museum guard

26 Apr

Courtyard Musee Carnavelet Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerUncomfortable official uniforms and cheerless expressions do nothing to suggest to me that museum guards love their jobs. I can’t claim to know what their full job description looks like, but from what I see, standing in a room for hours making sure people don’t make off with or stick their mucky fingers on museum pieces must be mind numbing.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised then, when, the other day, a museum guard wanted to chat, but I was. When he first spoke to me, my instinct was to take a step away for the picture I was looking at, put my hands in the air, and look at him with an, ‘I’m not doing anything wrong’ expression.

He smiled and asked again, ‘Where do you come from?’ in heavily accented English. No one else was around and he wanted to talk.

He’d been to Scotland, didn’t see the Loch Ness monster and was a fan of Sean Connery. He didn’t much care for Scotch, preferring Cognac, but did like Braveheart. This established I moved to start looking at the exhibits again.

‘This time was a very violent time,’ he said gesturing around him.  We were on the top floor of the Musee Carnavalet, in the section devoted to the French Revolution.  ‘I hear teachers everyday tell their students that this was a marvelous time for France. But the truth is, this was a very violent time.’

Indeed, we were standing in front of a picture depicting an angry mob pulling an aristocrat from his home. The aristocrat’s wife and children, huddled together with pained faces, were to the right of the action. In the centre, two men held the aristocrat’s arms. A third member of the mob was raising an ax.  The aristocrat’s face was painted grey anticipating death.  It was pretty terrifying.

The museum guard gestured to a painting on the opposite wall, ‘This was important.’

The painting portrayed the contents of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.  This document formed the basis of the first French constitution and was heavily influenced by the US Declaration of Independence.

‘Did you know that a Declaration of the Rights of Woman was written the same time this was written?’ the museum guard asked.

‘I’d like to see that,’ I said. ‘Do you have a copy here at the museum?’

‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘And you know what, I’ve never seen a copy of it.’

One woman not forgotten at the Musee Carnavalet is Madame de Sevigne (1626-96).  The magnificent, Renaissance -style Hotel, or mansion, which houses a large part of the Musee, was her home for the last 20 years of her life. I am currently reading a selection of her letters, which she is famous for, and could not help but try to imagine her, writing, in many of the rooms. 

The forward to the translation of her letters starts in the following way:

‘With the possible exception of Voltaire, Mme de Sevigne is the greatest letter-writer in French literature.’

However, translator Leonard Tancock (1982) then tries not to apologise for the content of her letters being domestic in nature and full of gossip. He then describes her as “… a writer of supremely articulate ‘averageness’….”  Surely, if we are still reading her letters 340 years after they were written, the woman was anything but average.

Sadly, the section of the museum devoted to Madame de Sevigne and the 17th century was closed the day I visited.  I will have to come back to this wonderful museum to see how she is commemorated and look elsewhere to see, hopefully someday, the Declaration of the Rights of Woman.

The first lady of Pletzl

21 Apr

Sacha Finkelsztajn bakery, rue des RosiersWhat my landlady lacks in height, she makes up for in energy. When I met her for a promised tour of the neighbourhood, her kitten-heeled sling backs brought her up to a mighty 5’1’’.  They also powered a three-hour purposeful march through the history of the Marais and Pletzl areas of Paris, stories of her childhood, book advice, where I was to buy the best baked goods and even the best gay cruising spots.

After a nearly 60 years in the area she knows the labyrinth like streets of the Marais well and she had a story for every corner, every shop.  She darted down alleys, into courtyards, I was lucky to keep up.  I was also lucky to come out alive. She says she doesn’t use her white stick because she claims it makes her a target and invites unwanted help. I felt like a target as she literally led us blind into the middle of crowds and into the middle of traffic, but always on course.

‘They say that I am the lady who sees everything,’ she said of the would-be shoplifters at store she owns with her husband. ‘I stand and move my eyes around the store.  But, they could steal a suitcase from in front of me and I would not know.’

She said she hates what she has become.  She was a surgeon before her sight started to deteriorate and I am sure her life has changed in innumerable ways that a sighted person cannot understand.  However, as with the would-be thieves, how one approaches the world has a lot to do with how people respond, and we were on a mission.

The village of Saint Paul (off rue St Paul) was her first top tip. A series of courtyards filled with cute antiques shops, artist’s workshops and cafes. The weekend seems to be the best time to catch the action at St Paul. We could only window shop as nothing was open at 11.30 on a Friday morning. By way of explanation my guide said this was because they were run by ‘BoBos’ who didn’t feel the need to get up and do a day’s work like the rest of us.  She assured me that this was an affectionate term and she was a fan of this area, but according to my landlady this group seemed to be at the root of many of the changes to the neighbourhood that she chronicled during our walk.

Bourgeois Bohemians are just the latest of many groups that have seen this neighbourhood change over hundreds of years. The aristocrats who first developed the area with beautiful mansions moved out in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and working people gradually moved into their palaces. A Jewish community has been in the area for hundreds of years and there are still kosher stores, bakeries and Jewish bookstores.

She showed me where many Jewish stores used to be, now trendy clothing stores. You can see some of this history as original signs  have been conserved when the spaces have been converted.  Of the stores that remain, the L’As du Felafel (34 rue des Rosiers) restaurant and the Sacha Finkelsztajn (27 rue des Rosiers) bakery were favourites.

She remembered the neighbourhood of her childhood, where it felt like a real community and people looked after each other.  She said that her family did not have a lot of money, but talked of living in a house that had a grand sweeping staircase and French doors between rooms with high ceilings. With the new wave of people coming into the area, house prices went up and people who had lived here all of their lives could no longer afford to do so.

Even with all of the changes, she would not live anywhere else. The renaissance courtyard of the Hotel de Sully (62 rue Saint-Antoine) and the Musee Carnavalet (23 rue de Sévigne), a free museum dedicated to the history of Paris, are some of her favourite places in the world.

‘Everything is here,’ she said.  However, she recommends coming on weekday mornings before all of the BoBos wake up and you can’t move for people.