Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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AUGUST 24, 2010 7:39PM

A Picture I Wish I'd Taken

Rate: 9 Flag

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.



Author tags:

war, history, world war ii, france

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Layer upon layer of description. What a great post!
Every time I used to walk down Rue des Rosiers when I lived in Paris, I felt the very same things. We are but single thread of an enormous ball of twine that needs to be unravelled and remembered. More often than not.
christ, a post on history, hm? dontcha know we Americans
dont give a damn or have the time to care?
lucky to get three comments...

sorry...angry....that as the last of these relics die off
as my dad, a fairly small player in the liberation,
did...we honor WAR instead of people. WAR is now always noble.
but war's celebration
(especiallyw/ the fate of the world hanging on it)
should be full of people as u saw, lost in another time,ut l
but real timemachine glimpses of how we got to be free...
through their combined efforts to liberate the
city of LIGHT...

ah paris send us another bergson...dispense with deleuze
and foucault and derrida and give us another Rosseau
of Moliere or at least a g-damn
simon de beauvier
for the feminazis or a
napoleon ?

and bring back the guiilotine for people who
didnt pay attention in history class
You were the camera, for us. What a picture.
I was lucky enough to be in Paris on Bastille Day two years ago, but I wish I'd had the time to take a trip out to Normandy. This was a lovely description, and I felt a sudden urge to return there.
You are a person of some depth. Wonderful contribution here.
I think we'd all love to see more posts from Paris! Thanks for this one Alysa.
Look at you strolling around Paris. I'm soooo jealous! But at least I know you're making the most of it. And you've written about your day so beautifully...a bonus.

I watch a show on Sunday Mornings where they have this segment called "Our man in Paris". I was just thinking that you're our girl in Paris :)

Please keep telling us all about it.
Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone.

Brad - I'm glad you appreciated the description. I wanted to do my best to capture that moment in words, since I didn't have my camera.

Cartouche - I totally understand; the rue des Rosiers has that effect on me, too. How amazing to see that despite the Occupation and Deportation, this community has survived. How amazing that those of us who might also have been persecuted at the time for our beliefs, lifestlye, abilities, and/or opinions, can stroll these peaceful streets today. I love your line about the ball of twine. Well put.

Hi Mr. Sunshine - Yeah, I went there. Sometimes I, too, can be a rebel in my own small way. As for your plea of who to bring us back, I agree there are certain kinds of minds we need - but where's Voltaire on your list?

Ann - thank you for your lovely comment. If I could make people see and feel what I did in that moment, then I've succeeded with this piece.

Cranky - Glad I made you want to come back here. Normandy is really amazing and moving. You should definitely go, if you can.

Brassawe - Thanks so much for your kind words.

Abby - I'm glad you liked my post. I'll definitely be writing more.

BB - Yes, I'm thankful for every day that I'm here. I think that's how I never have a doubt that despite sacrifices (being close to family, friends, and omnipresent air-conditioning), this is where I want to be. I'm flattered that you think of me as "our girl in Paris". I hope that I'll be able to live up to that name.
Very touching. I can't help wondering about that group of older people you saw--were they survivors of the war, dressed in period clothes to commemorate the occasion? Or, as a tiny part of me suspects, ghosts come back to make sure we're not making the same mistakes as before? The truth is probably a lot less interesting, but your piece makes one think.
Hi Felicia, I'm glad you liked it. I wonder about them, too. A lot of elderly people tend to dress this way in Paris, but there was something so spiritual and arresting. I not only regret not having a camera, but also not stopping to ask if they would tell me their stories. Then again, I think it would have spoiled what was happening.
nice. yeah, we remember on memorial day. my uncle was on the beaches of normandy. permanently damaged. died at age 95 or so. RIP
Hi Vzn, I appreciate your uncle's sacrifice.
Lovely, enchanting word pictures.
Thank you so much, aim. I just wanted to capture that moment as best I could.
Macco - I'm glad you liked it. It was a very moving moment. Thanks for reading.
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