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With Love From France

October 21, 2013
Tower from below.

Tower from below.

I hate to start off my France blog with such a cliche, but I can’t help it! Ernest Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Despite only spending a couple of days in Paris, I feel that this notion is true. A week in France was not nearly enough, from the beautiful and serene countryside in Normandy, to the small town of Bayeux and to the sprawling, vibrant Paris. (Don’t forget to click through the photos!)

Inspiration is everywhere and Normandy is gorgeous. We spent out first full day in France at Mont Saint Michel, originally built as an abbey back in the eighth century AD, and where nuns and monks continue to live even today. It is perched on an island and surrounded by winding cobbled stone streets and narrow alleyways.

Aside from visiting an ancient monastery, even with my pitiful prior knowledge of World War II, I was able to take so much away from some of the “D-Day” sites we visited as well. It is a hard war to connect to as a student from the states with little desire to learn about history. But in Normandy, vestiges of that terrible war are everywhere. Monuments, the shores, museums, memorials, graveyards, bunkers and war-scarred buildings are everywhere. Even today, it is not unusual for people in Normandy to find enormous unexploded bombs buried in the ground.

Never before have I had the opportunity to touch history as I did in the past week. I crawled through German bunkers on Omaha Beach, touched the remnants of old bridge structures used to supply the Allies, bombs, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, boats used to ferry the troops to the shores. My history has been piqued! Though we could not legally enter the graveyards in France due to the government shutdown (HUGE bummer), we got a good glimpse at the one at Omaha Beach. After seeing hundreds of rows of white crosses, making up some of the thousands of troops killed, I feel an obligation and responsibility to delve deeper into the history of the war and those events that changed the time we live in today.

At the Bayeux War Correspondents Festival, tucked away in a picturesque tiny town where everything shuts down at night aside from a couple of bars, great journalism was on display everywhere. Large photos were throughout the town, hanging on walls and atop buildings from photographers around the world. Though most of it was in French, the incredible work on display often needed little translation. James Nachetwey had two beautiful exhibitions, and an awards ceremony honored other journalists who risk their lives to tell extraordinary stories. One of the best parts of the festival though was the proximity to the journalists doing that work. At Bayeux, we found ourselves drinking a beer five feet from greats such as Nachtwey and Patrick Chauvel.

And lastly, Paris. All the hype really is true. The metro is much more aesthetically interesting than New York City, with different themes as you make your way from one part of the city to the other. Omar and I could have spent days in that metro, talking to people and taking their photographs. There is real life within those seemingly endless tunnels. And each time we came up or out from the metro, it was like we were in a new city. There is so much richness – the food, the wine, the people, the history, the culture. It’s incredible.

This includes streets filled with prostitutes – like the one we passed through often in the short time we were in Paris.

On "Hooker Street" in the Belleville District. Dozens of middle-aged  Asian women can be seen loitering in short mini-skirts and jackets, smoking cigarettes and looking bored.

On a street filled with prostitutes in the Belleville District. Dozens of middle-aged Asian women can be seen loitering in this area, clad in short mini-skirts and jackets, smoking cigarettes, looking bored and propositioning promising-looking males as they walk by.

One of the highlights for a book lover like myself was visiting Shakespeare and Company in the Latin Quarter in Paris. It was opened in 1951 and named in honor of Sylvia Beach’s historic Shakespeare and Company, which was frequented in the 1920s by writing giants such as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and sadly closed in 1940 during the Germany occupation (it never reopened). The smell of new and old books, the weathered bookshelves up to the ceilings, narrow aisles, tiny alcoves, worn chairs all gave the feeling of the past, where writers could come to find comfort and creativity.

In the foreword of a copy of A Moveable Feast that I’m reading, Patrick Hemingway, his only surviving son, wrote a beautiful passage that I think applies not just to Paris as a moveable feast, but of many places I have traveled and lived in.

“In later life the idea of a moveable feast became something very much like King Harry wanted St. Crispin’s Feast Day to be for “we happy few”: a memory of even a state of being that had become a part of you, a thing you could always have with you, no matter where you went or how you lived forever after, that you could never lose. An experience first fixed in time and space or a condition like happiness or love could be afterward moved or carried with you wherever you went in space and time.”

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2013 1:38 am

    I really enjoyed this Melissa…it really brings me back to the time I was there with your Aunt Margaret. I loved Paris and am so happy you enjoyed it!

  2. Alesia permalink
    October 22, 2013 1:48 am

    Love it!

    Alesia

  3. Paul Tabeek permalink
    October 26, 2013 12:50 pm

    Melissa, Great article…..wish I was there that really looks like it would be a great place to visit,and it would probably take weeks to get it all in.Hope all is well,very busy moving and fixing…….miss u….Love,Dad   Paul Tabeek

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