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Stunningly Sunny and Sadly Sobering

I slept through Oscar Night — just like a typical ‘little Parisienne’ would, although I do remember the years living in “La La Land” (Los Angeles) when Oscar Night was a big event — as big as the Super Bowl is for others. This morning the list of winners were movies that I hadn’t seen, although this past week had been an unusual two-movie week — about 1.5 more than the norm.

The movie on this coming week’s list to see and not to be missed (opening Wednesday here in Paris), although in French (and you know how I normally feel about French films!), is “Le Rafle.” It’s the story of the 4 a.m. round-up of the Jews in Paris on the 16th and 17th of July, 1942, when they were transported to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, known as the “Vel’ d’Hiv,” an indoor cycle track on the rue Nélaton, close to the Eiffel Tower. More than 13,000 Jews were held there before being moved to concentration camps.

In this month’s “A Paris,” the magazine published by the City Hall, there is a photo taken in 1941 on rue Caffarelli behind the Mairie of the 3rd Arrondissement, where hundreds of Jews had been rounded up and boarded onto buses to be taken to camps. I recognized Chez Omar in the background, once a brasserie with the word “Bière” written in large letters on the awning. In the book “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, an American journalist discovers the apartment in which she is staying (on my street at number 26), was once occupied by a Jewish family who were rounded up that same fateful day.

It all strikes home a little too much, having learned a while ago that a Jewish family once lived in my own apartment — a dentist who saw patients in the living room. And here I sit, with an imagination of memories that would be possible if I had lived during that time. The outline of the dentist’s chair is a faint whisper behind my back as I write.

While a friend was visiting last week, I took the day off to show him Napoleon’s Tomb and the War Museum at the Hôtel des Invalides. Although he was born long after World War II, his Austrian father fought on the Russian Front and the family suffered at the hands of the Germans, but clearly in a different way. It had been many years since I’d been on the grounds and had heard

the museum had been completely refurbished, so thought it might interest him.

We wandered through the first and second world war exhibits, stopping to read or admire the artifacts. There are many uniforms and weapons on display and while he was looking at the photos and reading the old newspapers, I was studying the tailoring on the uniforms, particularly the Italian ones which seemed to have more style than most (:-)). One thing of particular curiousness, however, is that throughout the display on World War II, there is very little about the Holocaust except for the liberation of the camps, hidden in a small display room off a main room. On the museum’s Web site, the “Salle de Lattre” is highlighted as the «années lumières» (years of illumination) — 1944-1945 and they are quite proud of their “espace spécifique consacré à la libération des camps” (space specifically devoted to the liberation of the camps).

But where was the full and real story — the story about the Vel d’Hiv and the others? When we left, I asked my friend for his impression of the museum and he replied, “Well, that was sobering.” Yes, not a proper outing for a gorgeous sunny day in the City of Light.

Just a few steps away is the Rodin Museum on rue de Varenne and again, I had heard it had been refurbished since the last time to have visited it. The entrance is all new, directly on the street, so that once you buy your ticket and enter the grounds, August Rodin’s “The Thinker” sits high backdropped by the Eiffel Tower. The scene was stunningly photogenic with a bright blue sky of which we hadn’t seen the likes in months.

I’ve never liked Rodin’s sculptures, but entered with an open mind to see if an age-old opinion had changed. Sadly, no, in fact now that first impression remains even more concrete. The rooms of the old mansion are in bad need of repair and the celebrated French artists’ bronzes and marble works are filled with a pain and torture that is personally repulsive. More sobering the afternoon than planned.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking…all you lovers of Rodin. I am sure you have your own reasons for appreciating the work, but save your argument for someone else — I will move on to other, more enlightening expression. Thank you.

Today’s another stunningly bright sunny day in Paris. The sun is pouring into “Le Saint Tropez,” the studio apartment with a terrace still under renovation, but scheduled for occupancy mid April. I dream of days when I can be writing on the terrace (when not occupied by renters!), but alas, I am relegated to the corner café where unsobering life is awash around me.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. A special thanks to Patricia Laplante Collins for hosting my talk last night at Paris Soirées, “HOW TO SUCCEED AS AN ‘ALIEN’ IN A FRENCH WORLD!” A large and enthusiastic turn-out debated the topic and then stayed till midnight to have a chance to meet and network. If you are not already on her mailing list to learn about upcoming soirées Sundays and Wednesdays), email her at [email protected]

P.P.S. See you tomorrow afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. at Parler Paris Après Midi — where you will get to meet other readers of Parler Paris and share your experiences. Visit for more information.


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