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From Paris to Jerusalem in Less than 24 Hours

Life resides within a Paris tornado. Within 24 hours, I attended a poetry reading by author Kathleen Spivak at Shakespeare & Co.; met up with a visiting friend from Montreal for a drink; had a gourmet dinner and “nuit blanche” with a visiting “amoureux;” met with the contractors to review the list of things to complete in the newly renovated apartment; attended the official reception at the Hôtel de Ville of Israeli President, Shimon Peres; hosted “Parler Paris Après Midi;” met with property search clients to hear about the two fabulous apartments they found from which to choose and attended the annual “copropriété” (homeowners association) meeting. In between, I wrote a few dozen emails, downloaded the photos from the trusty digital, washed three loads of new red bath towels and then collapsed. It would be easy to write a book on any one of those tasks, but, let’s get to what’s really important: Shimon Peres at the Paris City Hall!

For days the Israeli flag was hung proudly on the facade of the Hôtel de Ville. The City Hall issued a memorandum to all its employees alerting them to what doors during what times could be used to enter and leave on March 11th, obviously for security reasons, in preparation for an official reception held at the Hôtel de Ville that day for visiting President Shimon Peres.

He arrived in Paris Monday for a five-day state visit that included meetings with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister François Fillon. He is the first foreign head of state to knock on Sarkozy’s French door since he took office nine months ago.

Having lived in Israel twice — once as a volunteer on a “kibbutz” (collective farm) and seven years later having taken a long “séjour” in
Tel Aviv to study Hebrew, the opportunity to see him in person and hear him speak was placed at the top of the “to-do” list and wedged into an already “chargé” day. It was by special invitation only and all of Paris’ most important dignitaries were there.

The “pre-show” was almost as interesting as the presentation made by both President Peres and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. It started almost an hour late, so as the City Council members, city, state and international dignitaries slowly filled the “Salle des Fêtes” (Grand Ballroom), life took form. The French women were dressed in their latest designer fashions. A few were (untastefully) powdering their noses and refreshing their colligened lips. (I was shocked!)

French fashion designer icon, Sonia Rykiel, sauntered in with a companion, both in fuzzy black lamb wool jackets, she with her flaming red hair of the a similar texture. She was unhappy with their second-row seats and asked to be placed on the golden first-row chairs. They quickly accommodated her wish.

Some of the men refused to sit down, “schmoozing” with everyone they knew, working the room, and doing what is taboo in America — kissing each other on both cheeks. Lots were on their cell phones talking or using them to take photos. Men in “kipot” (skullcaps) were everywhere. City Council members sat in the first section, but the seats on the podium were reserved for the city mayors and Peres’ entourage. Three ‘thrones’ were centered — one for Delanoë, one for Peres and the third for a blonde-haired woman whose identity I’ve yet to uncover.

Music began to signal their arrival. Shimon Peres entered by the side of the Mayor of Paris with the mayors of Paris and the Israeli officials behind them. As they walked toward the podium they shook hands and greeted those in the front row on both sides — Sonia Rykiel among them — she must have been quite please with herself for getting moved to the front.

They took their places and without further ado, “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, was played by the orchestra. I found myself mouthing the words, surprised to be able to remember them so easily. Then “La Marseillaise,” The French counterpart followed suit. Silence filled the room. M. Delanoë spoke first, delivering “un discours” meant to bring the two nations closer together. His ability to speak meaningfully always amazes me. In his speech, four pages long, he celebrated the role of the Jewish community in France — their vitality, intellectual identity and spiritualism. He made note of the monstrous events which took place on European soil during World War II. He reminded us of Theodor Herzl, who reported on the Dreyfus trial in Paris which had a profound impact on Herzl’s life and threw Paris into political turmoil for ten years. And he announced the upcoming events both in Paris and in Israel to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the birth of Israel. Delanoë quoted Elie Wielsel, who said, “Les Juifs peuvent vivre en-dehors d’Israël, mais ils ne pourraient pas vivre sans Israël” (“The Jews can live outside of Israel, but they could not live without Israel”).

Upon completing his oration, the two men hugged warmly, then Peres took the podium to address the audience…in Hebrew with an interpreter who repeated his words in French in a very poetic way. I could understand a bit of the Hebrew, but of course, the French interpretation clarified it. He ended in French with a few words of warm sentiment and sincere appreciation. Everyone seemed as moved as I by both their profound words.

At the end, there was a huge round of applause and a standing ovation, then the entire podium of dignitaries descended into the aisle, moving their way slowly to the reception in the Grand Hall of the Hôtel de Ville. I had a brief moment to shake hands with Pierre Aidenbaum, the Mayor of the 3rd arrondissement, who is seen regularly on the streets of the district among his constituents, before leaving these very special guests to their champagne and hors d’oeuvres to make way for for the rest of a very “chargé” day.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. To hear the Mayor’s speech for yourself, click here.

P.P.S. To read about yesterday’s Parler Paris Après Midi, click here: /parlerparis/apresmidi.html



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