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Paris: Celebrating 70 Years of Freedom

 The Ball Zazou - Paris, FranceThe Ball Zazou - Paris FranceOnly white military units permitted to parade the Champs-ElyséesMusée Carnavalet's vegetable garden - Paris, FranceMusée Carnavalet’s vegetable gardenJohn Pearce's Treasure of Saint-LazareDavid Downie's Paris Timeline App

Seventy years ago today, Paris celebrated its liberation from German occupation and of course, it’s going to celebrate it again ( Tonight at the Hôtel de Ville, it’s a ‘no holds barred’ affair with special guests such as the Mayor of Paris and the President of France!

President François Hollande will watch the troops go by at 9 p.m., then give a speech at 9:10 p.m., followed by a speech by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. At 9:30 p.m. the lightshow starts, projected directly onto the Hôtel de Ville building by 32 HD video projectors. Fortunately, if you can’t be there, the show will be shown later on in the evening on national TV channel France 3 and I’m certain the media will be broadcasting it far and wide.

After the show, at 10 p.m., the “bal populaire” starts, featuring Mitch Tornade, Christophe Avril’s ‘Swingtabille’ and lots of dancers. They call it a ‘Bal Zazou,’ and retro star la Bâronne D’Paname will be hosting, so the city warns you to expect some nostalgia and some ‘kitsch’ moments! So, put on your dancing shoes and be prepared to swing the night away!

In preparation for the event, yesterday I fought the dense crowd at the Musée Carnavalet to see the exhibit of photos and films from the occupation and the liberation. The range of photos and their photographers is impressive, with images by such illustrious greats as Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, René Zuber, Roger Schall, Henri Cartier-Bresson Jean Séeberger and others.

Supporting the photos and films, there’s lots to read in explanation of the events, in French, English and German — how apropos! If you take your time through the myriad of images, you can learn a lot about what it must have been like at the time and how thrilling it must have been for the Parisians to take back the city they loved and be free of oppression. One posting described the two American divisions who paraded on the Champs-Elysées as all-white because African Americans were not accepted in fighting units at the time. Fifty-eight-thousand-six-hundred Americans died in battle in France and more than 30,000 of them are buried here.

To see photos of a Paris we don’t recognize, with signs in German, German soldiers in control, a sparse population, clearly suffering under Nazi rule — it’s still almost impossible to fully realize what that life in Paris was like comparing it to the Paris of today.

The same exhibition was shown at the museum in November of 1944, curated by François Boucher, the museum curator and a member of a Resistance network who “intended the exhibition as a riposte to the endless propaganda of the previous four years.” Now, 70 years later, the exhibition has been enhanced by some photos he had not chosen at the time and more recent acquisitions. Don’t miss it — it’s on until February 2015 so you have plenty of time.

Meanwhile, the museum is currently under some renovation, which means a bit of a circuitous route in and out, but what was most interesting was the vegetable garden planted among the formal French garden with its pruned boxwood hedges in fleur-de-lys patterns. Tomatoes, cabbages, squash, haricots vert, black radishes, sweet potatoes, onions, chard, beets and others all nestled among the boxwoods…it was a regular “potager” in the middle of Paris. Will they be making soup?

John Pearce’s blog about Paris and books, tells much more about it all if you want to learn more. He’s also the author of “Treasure of Saint-Lazare” — available on our Recommended Reading pages. John did a video interview with me Saturday afternoon for a future blog post — so stay tuned for when you’ll have a chance to see it.

Being the more than “part-time” Parisian John is, he ‘turned me on to’ David Downie’s Paris Timeline App that really brings Paris alive! Every good part- or full-time Parisian should have it! I got mine, so get yours.

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds, The Adrian Leeds Group Inc - In NormandyAdrian Leeds

The Adrian Leeds Group

(in Normandy)

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