Today, while walking home from work, I passed the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ beautiful city hall.
It was decorated with banners of the French flag and the Croix de Lorraine, symbol of the Resistance. In front of the Hôtel de Ville, was a stage, a big screen, and rows and rows of chairs. AV guys were fiddling with projectors and sound matters. All this was in preparation for the commemoration of the Liberation of Paris, whose 56th anniversary is tomorrow.
As I was walking by the fenced-off seating area, I noticed a small crowd of elderly people. The women had their hair neatly up in chignons and the like, as most older women do, here. Everyone’s clothes looked like they were from another time. The women wore print dresses that could have come right out of a 1940’s boutique.
These men and women fixed the distant stage, where images of different key players in the Liberation were being projected. Some of them held tightly to the metal barriers that had been put up. A few of them had their heads bowed as though in prayer.
It was an image that I think will stay in my mind forever. I wish I’d had a camera, so that I could have shared it with others.
I know that tomorrow’s ceremony, for all its well-deserved pomp, won’t really say half as much as those people, dressed as they might have been dressed that day fifty-six years ago, and seemingly just as full of gratitude and hope.
The sun shone down on us occasionally from the fleeting grey clouds, and I turned to admire my surroundings. This is why I walk home: beautiful Hausmannian buildings, the nearby towers of Notre-Dame, the Seine sparkling back the sunlight.
I thought of how my boyfriend’s grandfather and other ancestors had been a part of that day, soldiers in the 2e DB (Division Blindé) struggling to recover their city. I thought of my own two grandfathers in the War, one by then at home recovering from irreparable intestinal damage due to his time in a P.O.W. camp, the other still fighting for his life in Auschwitz. I thought of their blood in me, and how they’d survived and in this way continued to survive, as I walked in total freedom beside the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. I thought of myself, American, half-Jewish, twice the Nazi enemy, and how lucky I was to be in this free and beautiful city, in a new century. I thought of how lucky we all were to be there.