I write from Paris where I have fled for the month of August with my daughters. We traded apartments; ours in New York for this one here in the 11th Arrondissement. It has been a very happy exchange, notwithstanding our discovery that the Paris apartment, in fact, sits one block from The Bataclan Theatre, where 90 concertgoers were massacred and hundreds wounded by Isis terrorists less than two years ago. In Europe’s ghastly litany of Isis-riven horrors, the past is always prologue to the next atrocity. There are many terrible monuments to this sad fact. We feel as safe here as anywhere else.
Our days are filled with joyful Parisian wanderings, stops at Parisian farmer’s markets, and meals cooked up from our purchases, Parisian style. Nights, we watch movies set only in Paris. Hotel living has nothing on us.
It is my daughters’ first time in Paris and my first time lingering here like this. Our 7th Floor apartment has two small, flower pot-filled, terraces with vista-like views over the roofs of the city. The weather has been blissfully pleasant, even cool, and the French windows are always open, the curtains billowing.
I knew coming in about the closure of Paris in August but the city has been more than available to us. We have ventured to Monmartre, where we climbed up to the artist Suzanne Valadon’s marvelously preserved studio atop what is now the Musée de Montmartre, opposite Renoir’s studio in the same complex, where he painted Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette in 1876. We even stopped by Moulin de la Galette itself, practically down the hill, which is now a chic restaurant. The proximity of painting to reality made everyone a little giddy.
We hit the Eiffel Tower, of course, and were satisfyingly stupefied. We have tried to visit every spot that we could recognize from the movie, An American in Paris (even though most of the film was actually shot on the MGM backlot). Our tally so far: Place de la Concorde fountains, Alexandre III bridge, Ritz Hotel, Place de la Opera, Moulin Rouge, Sacre Couer staircase (the one Kelly and Leslie Caron run up and down on for their final clinch at movie’s end); and, most enchantingly, Quai de Montebello, where my younger daughter, Sara, and I actually danced (a little) in homage to Leslie Caron’s falling in love pas de deux there with Kelly beside the Seine, as he sang to her “Our Love is Here to Stay.” Gene Kelly has been Sara’s passion since she was old enough to speak his name. He is one of the reasons we came to Paris.
My older daughter Lea became obsessed with finding the perfect book among the book stalls along the Seine near Notre Dame (right above the Quai de Montebello, conveniently). In the end she found three -- a group of young adult novels, in French, from the 1940s, with colorful, entrancing covers. We have no idea what they are about, nor does Lea remotely care.
Our time has been so heavenly that Lea was inspired one evening to suggest that we move here. “The French are so much nicer, the food is so much better and healthier. And there’s no Trump,” she announced.
Of course there is Trump, no matter where you go. The news from Charlottesville and the shameful aftermath at Trump Tower registered just as loudly here as at home. Trump’s Nazi sympathies have even darker resonances in France.
“Lea,” I felt compelled to point out, “as nice as Paris is, as much as we like the French and their city and their food, France’s track record with Nazis is no better than Trump’s.” Actually, I thought to say: ‘France’s track record is even worse than Trump’s,’ but I stopped myself because I realized that I don’t think it is. After all, the French rejected their neo-Nazi, Le Pen, at the polls.
World War II remains France’s object lesson. The French may not have considered themselves Nazis but many fully acceded to Nazism. In this sense of acceding, America’s current President seems just as complicit. That is a truly terrifying thing to say out loud. But there you are.
And here we are. Winston Churchill loved the French and France. After becoming Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, he flew back and forth to Paris and then to other government redoubts around France, at great peril, to try and rally France’s leaders to resist, as the Nazis closed in. France’s leaders would not be rallied, however, and Churchill finally cut them loose, though he never abandoned France. He simply had no tolerance for anything less than total resistance when it came to Nazism.
That’s why I get to spend a few weeks lounging in Paris with my family in the summer of 2017. Because Winston Churchill grasped the essence of Nazism and was unyielding in 1940.
We’re going home soon. We have to. We are needed in America, for the resistance. Also, the French want their apartment back.