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in modest telling, short histories on placards in paris

Paris is beautiful because it has history. Where ever we turn we see it. We may not know the details, we may not know the story, but we can see it, immediately and without question.

One will look at the La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and will say, ‘There is a story there, and I know history when I see it, and it has been made here, many times.’

The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Panthéon, Napoleon’s tomb all manifest history. We cannot look away. We whip out our cameras and take pictures.

With little notice, I think, and often ignored are other references to the stories that have made Paris historically vibrant.

I am reading Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance by Robert Gildea. It tells the stories of the many ordinary men and women who resisted the Nazis and the Vichy government during World War Two. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Who were they? Where did they come from? What prompted them to risk their lives? As I read, I ask myself, “Would I have stepped forward and risked my life? What measure of courage do I have?”

Around Paris are small placards permanently attached to walls and columns. In a few words they tell the names of those who died resisting the occupation of France during the war.

On August 25, 1944 Paris was liberated. During the days preceding, the Germans were still counterattacking and killing Resistance fighters as they encountered them in the city.

If you walk around the Odéon and Saint Sulpice quarter, but not exclusively there, you will see where young men and women died. Evidence of such resistance is commemorated all over Paris.

The doctor Jules de Seze, who fought during the World War 1 and earned the Chevalier de la Légion d’ Honneur Croix de Guerre, was killed by German gun fire on August 20, 1944. He was 70 years old.

Marcel Raoul, a combattant also during the WW 1, died while fighting for the liberation of Paris on August 21, 1944.  He was a part of the FFI, or Forces françaises de l’intérieur.

Victor Rastello, 44 years old, died on a corner where an Italian restaurant now exists.

On August 25, 1944, the day of liberation, Jacques Guierre, 20 years old, died. He was also a FFI. He died on the corner outside the Odéon Theatre just north of the Jardin du Luxembourg. But wait, there’s more!

naked–vulnerable, that is–art at the centre pompidou

I wandered over to the Centre Pompidou the other day, hoping to see an exhibition. I arrived early, well before the doors were scheduled to open.

August is not the best month to visit Paris. The French go on vacation; many good restaurants close; shops shutter until September. Tourists from all over the world descend on Paris and form long lines outside of museums. They do not mind waiting.

I arrived at a good hour at the Centre Pompidou. Two long lines had already formed: one line was for those who had planned ahead and purchased their tickets in advance; the second line, much longer than the other, consisted of those who wanted to buy tickets at the door.

I do not like spending my time in Paris waiting in lines.

Outside the Centre Pompidou and exposed to the elements are always something interesting to look at and sometimes something to hear. (For example, on this visit two young men were playing bagpipes.)

On this day we were blessed with a real-time body painting exhibition. A model-canvas and the painter found some time to work on their art, but were often interrupted by men who wanted to discuss their ideas on the nature and appreciation of beauty. But wait, there’s more!

from a distance some perspective of the palais-royal in paris

The Palais-Royal and its garden in central Paris is a wonderful place to visit. The garden, classified as a “Remarkable Garden” by the French Ministry of Culture, is lovely, quiet, but not a major attraction for most tourists, who crowd instead the entrances to the Louvre nearby.

The garden is symmetrically designed with long, narrow arcades lining the west and east sides and with matching rows of trees forming parallel lines to the passages.

The trees, including rows of lime trees and red horse chesnuts, provide a welcome respite on hot days. Often a nice breeze can be felt wafting through them. But wait, there’s more!

bad boy baudelaire buried in montparnasse

Baudelaire came to my attention the other day. Nine months after visiting his tomb in the Montparnasse Cemetery, I started reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. That day I thought of Charles Baudelaire.

I mention Les Misérables because Baudelaire panned Hugo’s novel (in private) when it was published in 1862.

Nine months ago in August 2016 I was living in Paris near the Montparnasse Cemetery. In fact I could step out of the apartment building, turn the corner, and stop and see the walls that separated me from the tombs. I could then, if I wished, become a tatophile.

Cemeteries in Paris are tourist destinations for me. Père Lachaise is the big one. Cimetière du Montparnasse is not far behind in size and fame.

Detail from a portrait of Charles Baudelaire by Gustave Courbet.

Since the cemetery is large with streets separating some sections of it, one must sometimes walk through it, use it as a short cut. The French do it. So do I.

It is lovely inside. Peaceful. Certainly quiet. The walls mask the traffic noise. People are respectful and don’t shout as they would when in a more public place.

When I stay in Paris, I will often return to my favorite places. Paris is rich that way; it offers to the resident and the outsider and certainly to the flâneur many spots that continue to interest. Louvre.  Musée d’Orsay. Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame. The cemeteries.

I visit to pay my respects to my favorite writers and painters, such as Baudelaire, who has served as the model for this flâneur. At the top of this post and to the right is a drawing of him. But wait, there’s more!