From Paris, With Love

I remember as a small child watching Rick Steves travel the world on TV with my Grandma. It was the closest at the time that I would ever get to travel the world. I particularly remember Paris being a city I always wanted to visit. It has such a romantic quality associated with it. I dreamt of walking down the Seine and sitting in front of the Eiffel tower. From the writings of Montesquieu and the stories of Hemingway to the paintings of Van Gogh and Monet, Paris is portrayed as the intellectual and artistic capital of the world.  Hemingway himself once said that “there is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.”

Hemingway is right. From the moment our bus crept into the city of Paris I can’t help but feel as though I fell in love. London felt like home, Normandy felt like a vacation, but Paris felt different. Strolling the grand streets of Paris in the rain just feels right. The lifestyle seems much slower certainly than it was in London, where Londoners raced in and out of the Underground. Dinner is really an experience to socialized and experience dinner, rather than spending your time on the phone or on the road. The Parisians, seem to me anyway, just to enjoy life. It really is unfortunate Parisians and the French in general are typified as being rude, because that wasn’t my experience for the most part. Plus, in a city that seems bursting at the seams with tourists who don’t speak the native language, patience really can be a virtue.

Of course, it’s quite possible I allow my own romantic notions of the city to cloud my judgment. My first night in Paris I sat and just gazed at the Eiffel Tower, which is far more impressive in person than any photograph or movie. I could have sat there forever disregarding the constant bombardment of people attempting to sell me alcohol. Walking along the Seine is truly amazing. It is far more beautiful than the Themes in London and much more peaceful. In fact, Paris has quite a few more people than London, but it just seems less claustrophobic than London.

Paris just feels much older as well. Walking underneath the city in the catacombs was an interesting experience, but it also really made me appreciate the age of the city. It really is a wonder that it has survived many wars and violent revolutions. In particular, it came out of World War II relatively unscathed at least physically; psychologically it is a different story. Even today, the French struggle to reconcile their collaboration with the Nazis and their part in World War II. The French still play up the myth of the resistance as being integral into the war effort, while glossing over the Petain government. This was especially true in the museum to the resistance. Additionally, Charles de Gaulle seems to be remembered as having had a large part in liberating France, as though it was the Free French fighting alongside the Americans and the British that liberated them. They are proud people, but their memory of the war is certainly a perspective that I do not share.

However, it doesn’t cloud how I feel about Paris or the French people. It is a beautiful country with beautiful cities steeped in a proud and rich culture. Hemingway also 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.”

I agree, even though my stay in Paris was brief; I do believe it will stay with me forever.

Sweeping It Under the Rug

I love Paris. Maybe that’s just the shameless Francophile in me, but there’s something about the city that moves me. The architecture makes me feel like I’m walking through a scene from the Second Empire. The people wear slim, dark clothes that ooze all kinds of cool. And, of course, there are crêpes with Nutella available at every street corner. For me, this is about as good as it gets.

Toward the end of our time in Paris, I was chatting with my mom about the various things I enjoy about the city. Despite all my gushing, I let slip that it didn’t seem like there were a whole lot of noticeable remnants of WWII around the city. I knew it had avoided the worst of the War’s violence, so it made sense that there weren’t visible scars of destruction. But I got the sense that Parisians had no desire to talk up their experiences, even after the resistance and Liberation. At this point, my mom asked a very understandable question: “Why is Paris even on the trip?”

The answer was complicated, and didn’t come to me immediately. In fact, I’m still formulating an answer in my head, so this is more a stream of consciousness than a definitive decision. In any case, I should probably explain what I mean when I say that Paris’s War history is a bit hard to see. When we were in London, it seemed like there was some sort of monument, memorial, or museum to the War on every street. Frankly, it was kind of astounding how frequently we came across War-related stuff (see “Londoners Remember”).

Paris is not at all like that. Even in the places that are supposed to commemorate the War, one has to dig a bit to find any sort of meaning or emotion. The WWII exhibit at Les Invalides, for example, has a spectacular collection of uniforms and weapons from the War, and documents its history quite well. What it excludes (purposefully or not) is any comment on the intricacies of collaboration and resistance in Paris during the War, except to say that they existed.

Invalides wasn’t the only site to leave out pertinent details. The Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation, heart wrenching and starkly beautiful as it was, never once mentioned that it was Paris’sJews who were ripped from their homes and sent to their deaths. Obviously, Jews weren’t the only group persecuted during the War. But one of the overwhelming legacies of the Vichy regime is the way it seemed all too happy to rid France of its Jewish population, without much of a push from Germany.

This all seemed off to me. Aren’t the French supposed to be outspoken in their beliefs and opinions? Aren’t they supposed to be the collective bastion of liberté? And if so, how could a whole city’s worth of museums and monuments completely lack a critical reading of Paris during the War?

Sure, things like the failure to mention the deportation of Jews might just be holdovers from the ideal of the Revolution: French people are French first, everything else second. Through this lens, it makes some sense that the memorial would commemorate French deportees, not Jewish ones (even though basically all French deportees were Jewish).

But I think Paris’s trepidation about the war goes deeper. I think the city’s ashamed of itself. Yes, some of its residents resisted the occupation valiantly and successfully. Not all Parisians were collaborators or Jew-haters. But in the end, Paris still capitulated without much of a fight. Its leaders resigned themselves and their countrymen to a life of cooperation with one of history’s most vile regimes. And the city sent a vibrant segment of its population to its death, all in the name of making the best of its situation.

What this means is that the inklings of War history that do exist in Paris are buried, and aren’t very profound. There doesn’t seem to be the same pride or nostalgia for the War in Paris as there is in London. I get the impression that Parisians would rather move on with their lives than focus on what can only be called a blemish on the city’s fascinating history.

I’m glad Paris was part of this trip, because I think the War nostalgia it lacks speaks louder than the memories it does choose to display. For me, this particular visit to Paris was dedicated to preserving the memory of the city during the War. If a Paris is willing to sweep years of collaboration and complicity under the rug, then I/we have to make sure that we don’t forget. Otherwise, we’re just modern collaborators, standing idly and letting intolerance and hate run wild.

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La Tour Eiffel

After locating our Paris hotel and getting checked in, our first order of business was to go to that large, iron structure that we saw on our way in. La Tour Eiffel, erected in 1889, has stood since then as a symbol representing Paris, France, love, happiness and so much more. It was originally constructed as the entrance arch to the Exposition Universelle of 1889. This event was held the year of the 100th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, which is considered to have been the start to the French Revolution. On the morning of 14 July 1789, the medieval fortress and prison where the royal authority operated out of was seized by the partisans of the Third Estate in France. La Prise de la Bastille was an uprising against monarchy, a symbol that the French citizens had enough of King Louis XVI’s oppression. Finally, success for the partisans was had, and the people created a structure of government and militia.

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

The Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair, lasted from 6 May to 31 October of 1889 and was of great significance, honoring the 100th anniversary of such an important event in French history. The expo was held on the Champ de Mars in Paris.  It was decided that a grand entrance way was necessary. Two senior engineers who worked for the Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel were drafted for the project. Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier drafted the first design in May 1884 and showed it to Gustave Eiffel, the head of the company they worked at. Eiffel added a man named Stephen Sauvestre to the project, who added embellishments and a glass pavilion to the first level. Eiffel presented this idea to a civil engineering group and said that the tower would symbolize “not only the art of the modern engineer but also the century of industry and science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement to the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France’s gratitude.”


The meaning behind the Eiffel Tower makes it that much more significant in Paris. This monument, which people around Paris wanted to tear down after the expo, is a vital part of French history. It still stands as a “hats off” to the partisans who sacrificed all in the name of French freedom. The Storming of the Bastille and French Revolution cannot be forgotten and will not be because of the large iron structure that still stands high in the sky in Paris. Not only does this beautiful landmark pay homage to those who fought for the ideals of the French Revolution, it also holds significance in relation to World War II. There is a plaque on the top of the tower that describes how on 25 August 1944, the tricolor flag was flown from the Eiffel Tower which symbolized the end of the occupation. The tower has so much history that having torn it down after the 1889 expo would have been a crime. The Eiffel Tower holds a magical sentiment that well-known around the world; the tower is a symbol representing hope, romance and beauty in Paris.


The City of Love

The city of Paris is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the entire world, and this begs the question of what makes Paris, Paris. It is the City of Lights, and a major artistic and cultural center in Europe. There are baguettes, croissants, macaroons, éclairs, and so much more. Over two million people from varying backgrounds call Paris home, and millions more visit each year.

Now you know the statistics, but that is not really the point. What is Paris? What makes it so beautiful? Is it the Arc de Triomphe or the Catacombs? The Eiffel Tower or the Louvre? The Musee d’Orsee or Notre Dame Cathedral? As I visited each of these places and more I began to ponder the question of what Paris is, and why.

This is a difficult question to fully understand, let alone answer. I thought about this the entire time I was in Paris, and I am sure I will continue to think about it when I return in a few weeks. My conclusion is short, sweet, and simple. Paris is whatever you make it. Paris is completely different for each person on our trip, to the two million people living there, or the tourists that visit every day. For this reason, I can only tell you my version of what Paris means to me. I will attempt to give just a little bit of insight, and that I can convey what I have experienced.

For you to appreciate this anecdote I feel that you need to know a little bit about me. I have never been a Francophile; in fact, I would consider myself quite the opposite. My elder sister, Allana (love you!), studied French in high school and was planning to spend two years of her life there. I always disliked French and took Spanish, often teasing my sister or discrediting the French. While I became more aware of the truth behind French stereotypes, I definitely became more enthused about being in Normandy and Paris. Still, I held reservations for Paris. I was excited for the beaches of Normandy because of their significance in American and World War II history but I honestly thought Paris would be my least favorite place on this trip.

Despite this, Paris floored me. In less than a day I became fascinated with the city. To me Paris was rich history, fantastic food, wonderful art, and stunning architecture. I make Paris to be a destination, a place of exploration and adventure. As I strolled through the streets of Paris, all I felt was love. I also happen to be a hopeless romantic, and while I did not fall madly in love while in Paris, I do find it to be the City of Love. Everywhere I went I felt that people were there pursuing their passions, realizing dreams, and experiencing something they have always wished to obtain. I thought about how few people have the opportunity to go to Paris, and how for some it is a lifelong goal. I saw wedding pictures, and couples enjoying the view of the sparkling Eiffel Tower. I felt love in the paintings and sculptures, the carefully tailored gardens of Versailles, and the magnificent River Seine. I can hardly put into words what I felt in Paris. There was an intangible feeling of rightness, and utter happiness as I roamed the city.

Fortunately, this will not be the last time I visit Paris. Vincent and I will be returning in a few weeks as we extend our ventures abroad. I am quite sure that even that will not be the end of my Parisian escapades. Paris, I will miss you sorely, but this is not goodbye. Au revoir!

5 for 1 Euro

​When I stepped off the bus into the bustling streets of Paris I was expecting something completely different from what I found. I was told was that Paris was going to be the biggest culture shock of all the cities we were visiting. I have to admit there were some things that struck me as odd, but nothing too off putting.

One thing that I noticed was the amount of dog poop. If you didn’t watch out you could step in it anywhere, even in the metro. In London the tube was very clean and orderly; however, I got the opposite impression of the Paris metro. Once you got the hang of it, the metro was easy to use, despite the learning curve. Where the big difference lies is how dirty the Paris metro stations can be. They are often full of homeless people sleeping where people should be sitting, and many stations smelled of feces. What I did like was some of the performers who actually rode the metro and played music from the godfather and other classic movies as you ride by the streets of Paris, giving everything a distinctly European feel. That the metro actually rides in some places above ground was a welcome change from the tube because it allowed you to still see the city and get to your destination in a timely fashion.

​Another cultural norm I noticed was the people-watching that takes place from covered outdoor seating at many of the cafés lining the road. I actually enjoyed taking part in this tradition because it felt very European to me. There is something about eating a crepe and drinking a coffee while people-watching that makes you realize you are in Paris. This also comes in handy on rainy days, which are quite common this time of year in Paris, seeing as it can give you a slight reprieve from the sometimes torrential downpour.

The main thing that I believe most people are warned about in Paris are the gypsies and their skill at pickpocketing. There are signs for it everywhere, and I even read an article while riding the metro in the Paris Newspaper about increased security because 500,000 Chinese Nationals had reported being pick-pocketed last year. Besides seeing one young American get her phone stolen I didn’t much notice the gypsies, perhaps because of the presence of armed patrols by the French military in tourist areas.

​The problem is that Paris today is a modern city. The gypsies no longer look like what most people would hear about or think up in the states. The typical gypsy is billed as wearing the flowing clothing and head scarfs and large jewelry. I always imagined them as they are portrayed in the second Sherlock Holmes movie. In reality the gypsies today are mostly African immigrants trying to sell miniature Eiffel Towers literally everywhere, I arrived at Versailles only to be asked if I wanted 5 cheap trinkets for 1 euro, and women and children asking you to sign petitions as a distraction. As long as you just keep saying no and walking they don’t pose much of a threat.

​Despite the amazing tourist sites and the interesting French culture I thought that we spent too much time in Paris and actually questioned why we were there at all. The Shoah museum and the memorial to those deported during the Jewish roundup were absolutely brilliant and heart wrenching. Besides that, however, there was really nothing relevant to WWII. The military museum is similar to any other WWII military museum, and the French resistance museum was disappointing.

There is predominant sense of denial in the French culture surrounding their collaboration in WWII. There is no denying that many in the government and even some in the resistance collaborated to save their own lives. However, the French Resistance museum glossed over this fact and actively promotes the De Gaulle myth that every Frenchman and woman was an active part if the resistance. This frustrated me, because they down played the role of the Americans and the rest of the allies in saving their country. To me it just seems to be an act of vanity and a refusal to admit that the French got their hands plenty filthy during the German occupation.

​Overall French culture in Paris did not really surprise me, seeing as we had a soft introduction to French culture in Bayeux. It seemed as if Paris had all the typical trappings of a tourist city such as souvenir shops and citizens who are tired of dealing with the day-in-day out mental and physical struggle of putting up with hordes of tourists. I’d say I quite enjoyed Paris far more than I ever could have dreamed I would have. That being said, I was glad to put Paris in the rear view and set my sights on Germany and the true goal of both the allied war effort and our small band of modern day invaders, Berlin.

From Tourist to Traveler

Before our departure, I had been most anxious about our stay in Paris. I was convinced that a distinct language gap existed between Americans and French, which would reveal the repressed tourist in me. I was convinced that my inability to speak French would cause locals to berate or ignore me. I was convinced that Paris would swallow me and that I would be unable to communicate. Despite my initial presumptions, I arrived in Paris with an open mind. I sought to explore the city as thoroughly as I could in my short time there.

While the most frequented tourist spots had plenty of English speaking officials and people to assist the group, the restaurants and attractions off the beaten path proved a little more difficult. Venturing on foot from our hotel, we stumbled upon a small, cheap Chinese restaurant on the corner and decided to give our wallets a break for the night. The waiter only spoke bits of English with a heavy accent and we only knew limited French, which made for an interesting evening of pointing at the menu to order, switching meals once they arrived, and comical hand gestures to convey our desire to split the check. It seemed that this one meal would confirm all of my original fears.

The meal was initially difficult and frustrating, but eventually became enjoyable and lighthearted. I realized that the language gap, while being an inhibitor, also gave us unique experiences. Each meal became its own adventure as well as an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in local culture and to practice our own French skills. Time and time again in Paris, our lunches and dinners allowed us to not only discover new dishes (which mostly involved bread and cheese), but also to integrate into a culture we had spent so much time studying the past semester.

Fully adjusting to the different culture takes more time than the few short days we have here. Language plays an integral role in assimilating, and I have noticed that as I learn French and basic norms of the city, I separate myself from other tourists. In Starbucks by Notre Dame, a place flooded with Americans and other foreigners speaking English, I placed my order in broken French. The cashier smiled and complimented my effort. I was ecstatic with this small but satisfying accomplishment (even more so when my order came out correctly).

For me, Paris served as a catalyst, allowing me to evolve from a simple tourist to an experienced traveler. While the city was undeniably filled with tourists, I tried to detach myself from acting as the stereotypical American student abroad. By actively learning and employing the language, I felt more connected with Paris and the city’s culture than I had with any of our previous stops. In London, the official language was English. In Bayeux, English was spoken widely enough that it desensitized me to culture shock in a new country. Yet in Paris, I found myself forced to adapt to the language gap in order to thrive.

Moving now to Berlin, I hope to continue to grow my connection with each city and with Europe as a whole. I am excited to experience a large city that is far less inundated with tourists and see if that changes my perspective at all.

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Hitler and Hotdogs


Being in Berlin for only a few days, I have seen German culture represented by an overshadowing and juxtaposing figure and item: Hitler and hotdogs.

Our WWII tour of Germany began in the German Historical Museum, which was filled with the rich history of the three Reichs and the periods in between. Naturally, our group spent the most time in the section on the Third Reich, how it formed and how it ended. Yet in this section, there is little on the actual battles, logistics, and military movements of World War II. Rather, the rise and fall of the Third Reich, most especially Hitler, focuses on social and cultural aspects. Rooms were filled with propaganda posters discriminating against the Jews, Gypsies, and disabled, representations of and footage from concentration camps, and descriptions of life under Nazi regime. I was surprised to find that this is what Germany has chosen to focus on to represent the war. There was no hiding what happened from 1933 to 1945, nor was there a shameful taste to the exhibit; rather, it simply is part of their history.

As we made our way to the old Nazi and SS headquarters and the Topography of Terror Museum, it became clear that one cannot talk about German culture without talking about the Third Reich and World War II.  The remnants of the war and the Nazi ideology underlie the architecture and organization of the city of Berlin. Throughout the city there are plaques describing buildings that were taken over by the Nazis and describe what they were turned into during the war and who took them over after. With every turn of a street corner, the rich, dark history of Germany can be found.

Hitler’s leftovers in Berlin are then coupled with endless stands of street meat, kebobs, currywurst, and hotdogs. If the Nazi regime fills history museums and buildings, German cuisine and meats fill the streets and restaurants surrounding the former. Our first day here we grabbed lunch at an open market near Wittenbergplatz. At the turn of the first corner, I laughed when I saw people eating hotdogs with their fingers and without a bun. This was exactly what I thought Germany to be like. And the nonexistent ratio of meat to bun was not an isolated incident. Walking the streets of Berlin, one can often find people eating bratwurst about 8 inches longer than the roll it’s in.

It has been amazing to see how a nation deals with such a dark and twisted past as they move forward in creating a peaceful, unified Europe. So far, our tour has been studying how other nations were affected by the war and how they remember it. Now in Germany, we focus on how the Germans responded to a change in culture and attitude during Hitler’s reign. Most specifically, it has been interesting to see how they acknowledge Hitler and the Third Reich today. I was surprised to find that Mein Kampf is illegal to print in Germany and that during a student’s education he or she must visit a concentration camp or a Nazi site. This shows that Germans accept their shadow of a past as part of their historical story.

German Occupation

Spring and early summer in Paris are idyllic times. The Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens ware filled with blooms.  Today, cafes are packed with tourists, and shoppers browse freely in the markets.  Strolling on the Champs Elysees or gliding down the Seine on a warm spring afternoon is our perfect way to relax. A day trip to Versailles or an outing to the Louvre is our perfect way to learn.
Dodging businessmen on the avenues or crowding into the Metro with noisy students in today’s world, it is difficult to imagine the fear of Parisians as they awoke to a very different environment on June 14, 1940. The sunny avenues echoed with German voices as loudspeakers proclaimed that a curfew would be in place beginning at 8:00 pm that evening.  German troops had entered and occupied Paris.
German soldiers supervising French soldiers which surrendered
In spite of the pleas of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the French government asked for peace with the Germans.  Churchill predicted that the United States would enter the war and come to aid the French.  However, when French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Franklin Roosevelt for any help possible, Roosevelt promisedonly monetary assistance. The American government was not willing to make a formal public commitment.
Churchill and Roosevelt
The streets must have been very quiet, and the cafes filled only with whispers while the loudspeakers thundered the new order of the day. Two million Parisians hadalready left the city before the German tanks rolled in.  The Gestapo worked quickly as they arrested and interrogated those who gave any sign of resistance.  They hung an enormous swastika beneath the Arc de Triomphe.  Those Parisians who were left behind must have looked on the City of Lights with despair.
France surrenders in Treaty of Versailles train car
Paris had entered a nightmare of forced labor, repression, and Jewish deportation.  The German forced labor policy transferred thousands of French workers to work camps for the war effort.  At night, the patrols forced the citizens to turn off lights and close windows.  No one could go out.  The day was filled with regulations and propaganda.  Rather than the national anthem, French children sang to Marshal Philippe Petain of the new Vichy government.  The Gestapo established more than forty concentration camps in France.  As in many occupied regions, Jews had to follow restrictive rules such as wearing the yellow star and riding in the last car on the Metro.  French authorities, in collaboration with the Nazis, arrested approximately 75,000 Jews who were transported to Auschwitz and other death camps for execution.  To carry out reprisals against other civilians, the Nazis created an execution chamber in the cellar of the Ministry of Aviation building.  Many French citizens did more than necessary to appease the German occupation forces.
Hitler in Paris
However, many Frenchmen simply cooperated and tried to get along under Nazi rules.  Others resisted in small ways:  listening to the BBC or helping the Resistance with money.  Others quietly slipped out of the city to less visible parts of the country to avoid prison or deportation to Germany.  Those actively involved in the Resistance damaged railroad tracks, blew up bridges, and cut German communications.
Petain shaking hands with Adolf HtlerCharles De Gaulle on BBC Radio address to the French People
For the ordinary Parisian, deprivation was a fact of life.  As military pressure on German forces increased, getting food, fuel, or even firewood became more difficult.  The German troops took the lion’s share while the French lived on potatoes and bread. Cooking oil was unavailable, and three of every four animals slaughtered went to German forces. The famous French cuisine could not exist with the meager rations available, yet the restaurants opened for the few wealthy elite and German officers, many of whom lived with French families.

Today, the City of Light is brilliant, the streets crowded.  Rowdy students and tourists have only dawn as a curfew.  The vestiges of German occupation have been cleansed away, relegated to the walls of museums, or to the plaques of memorials to those who suffered those dark times.
Me and Rami on Eiffel TowerView from Eiffel Tower

A Dark Past

One of the most fascinating things I came upon in Paris was the Vel d’Hiv memorial. It’s strange that that was my favorite part of Paris. The Eiffel Tower was beautiful, the Louvre fascinating, and the Arc de Triomphe was everything I hoped it would be. But somehow, doing everything I’ve seen people do in movies and acting out all of my adolescent fantasies of exploring Paris wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be in the end. It was all great, but nothing beats visiting specific sites that are rooted in the topics we are studying.

On our last night, some of my colleagues and I were walking back from our last visit to the Eiffel Tower and we stumbled across a sign that pointed us in the direction of the Vel d’Hiv memorial. We had no idea that there was even a memorial dedicated to Vel d’Hiv, so I instantly grabbed the person closest to me and ran in the direction the sign led me. It was a small memorial, depicting the poor men, women, and children that were rounded up on July 16th and 17th of 1942 and sent to the Velodrome d’Hiver: a stadium where over 13,000 victims were held before they were deported to other work camps throughout Paris such as Drancy.

The Vel d’Hiv roundup was just one of the many roundups that occurred throughout France during the German occupation. It’s an example of French compliance and collaboration with the Nazi regime’s racist laws and attitudes. Being on this trip has put me in a specific mindset, and it’s hard to separate my purpose of study from the various sights I’ve seen. We studied in London because it was heavily bombed during the war, we studied in Normandy because of the D-Day invasion, and we will be traveling to Berlin in a couple of days in order to examine the German side of the war and witness the sights where so many crimes against humanity were committed.

But why study in Paris? After all, Paris was technically preserved during and after the war, it was in the occupied zone, and the Germans spared it. Paris is a place you visit in order to find love, shop, and eat exquisite food and drink champagne on the Eiffel Tower. Yet in the tiny little corners of Paris, we found sites such as the Vel d’Hiv memorial and the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation, stashed away as dark reminders of a terrible past.

Our work here is important because our job as young historians is to discern which parts of the past are being silenced. While many of the French museums and memorials we visited in Paris include information about Vichy collaboration, there is always far much more information and emphasis on the various resistance movements than the actual collaboration of Vichy. So why is this past not a major part of the discourse in France? Why was the Vel d’Hiv memorial placed in a hidden spot within the city? These are the questions my colleagues and I ask ourselves as we continue our journey throughout Europe studying the Second World War. We’re coming to the understanding that this war story is a lot more colorful than we once thought. Germany isn’t the only country that has a dark past rooted in the war.

The Vel d'Hiv Memorial

The Vel d’Hiv Memorial

Under the Eiffel

Tonight is my last night in Paris, and I have seen an impressive amount of the city in the last four days. We visited everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Catacombs and hit every cafe in between. You’re bound to stumble upon an iconic piece of history no matter what metro stop you get off at, and the Paris pass makes it easy to explore each one. The city is full of people and bursting with a culture that is completely different from the one I left in Columbus, Ohio.

The city itself is gorgeous, and I especially loved the little bakeries filled with macarons and giant cookies that sit nearly at every corner. The food has been the same as we experienced in Bayeux, and I have to say that I’m looking forward to a little more protein and starches in our meals in Germany. The metro station comes to mind first when thinking about smell, and I have to conclude that Parisians love their dogs but don’t always love cleaning up after them. On the topic of Parisians, I have to say that they were the most disappointing part of my trip to Paris. I loved the city itself and the history that is visible everywhere, but the people tended to be unwelcoming at best and actively rude at worst. The cultural fracture was very evident in our day-to-day operations. We did our best to conform to French norms by speaking their language and respecting their way of life, but we definitely missed a few key cues.

My favorite site in Paris is definitely the Eiffel Tower. We sat on the lawn in front of it and relaxed on our first and last night in the city. The sparkles that take place on the hour at night make the experience seem surreal. It seemed as though there were people from all over the world who came to sit and drink champagne and enjoy a cigar by the national monument. The cultural divide seemed far less pronounced there, and everyone was in such a good mood. I especially enjoyed viewing the tower from the Seine and sticking my feet in the water.

Overall I enjoyed my time in Paris, and I loved the beauty of a city so rich with history. The people were different from the Midwesterners I have grown up around, but the charm and serenity of a walk down the Champs Élysées at sunset overshadowed any feelings of unease. Paris is a unique city that has seen sieges, occupations, and full-scale revolutions, but it has come out beautifully all things considered.

Strong Impressions

On Wednesday, after four years, I was able to return to the Musée d’Orsay. Many of the interior aesthetics have changed in the past four years because of renovations and reorganizations but the art, as always, remains the same. For a long time, Impressionism has been my favorite period of art, and my appreciation of the period, the artists, and the specific pieces has grown as time has passed and as I have learned more about the period.

Many of the people on the program can probably attest that I was (perhaps) irrationally excited to return to the museum. When people tried to figure out what they wanted to visit in Paris, I routinely suggested the museum. However, as I went into the museum, I was afraid that the reality of the place would not be able to live up to 16-year old Emily’s memories. But when I walked in the doors, I loved it as much as I did four years ago. It might be unusual or even weird, but museums are some of my favorite places; there is something about their seeming permanence and design that I find peaceful and comforting (that is, as long as they are not being invaded by groups of noisy school children, a circumstance that we have had to experience frequently throughout this trip).

As I walked through the museum, I found myself, to my deep dismay, becoming emotional and dare I say, even romantic. The people who know me well will most likely agree that to avoid feeling anything beyond ambivalent appreciation I will default to a sarcastic response. Nevertheless, I began to have so many thoughts about the art that I began typing them into my phone, thus resulting in Vince, Henry, or Anthony having to call my name to make sure that I kept up with them.

As I walked and admired their collections, I began contemplating why I enjoy Impressionism so much. To me, in terms of broad forms of art, realism dictates what I see and how I should interpret it. Modern art, on the other hand, relies on a subjective experience and personal interpretation of colors and images. Impressionist paintings depend on the artist’s ability to capture his or her fleeting impressions of light or shadows on canvas. These paintings encapsulate moments only experienced by the artists; the paintings’ durability, however, arises from the lasting impressions that the paintings grant each viewer. Each person looks at the same image, for example a woman in a field by Monet, a mountain by Cézanne, or a group of dancers by Degas. But their interpretation of and experience with the painting can widely differ.

The Musée d’Orsay and its neighboring museum, the Musée de l’Orangerie, host fantastic collections of Impressionist art in galleries designed so that people can best appreciate and understand the art. When I walked into the room to see a collection of Monet’s famous water lilies, I stared as the light changed and different shadows seemed to appear, making me feel as though I was in the gardens themselves rather than in the heart of Paris. Each shadow seemed to create a different painting; one moment it was colorful and joyful, and the next it was somber and melancholy. And yet, that interpretation and those moments were my own. Neither the painting nor fellow viewers told me what to think or how to feel. Just as the moments Monet painted the water lilies were his, so the moments I viewed the paintings were mine.

Later, as I continued to walk around Paris, my thoughts continually returned to those paintings. In my opinion, they best capture life. People do not experience a standardized life experience. Instead, each of us experiences life differently and values different moments above others. My experience of Paris was itself comprised of impressions. As I think back on those few days in Paris, I am left with glimpses of important moments and feelings: the time I leaned outside my window to view the glowing lights from the café on the corner; walking along the Seine at sunset; or smelling the rain as we walked along the river’s banks.

By painting impressions of light, shadows, and faces, the Impressionist artists were able to communicate feelings that are instantly relatable, and thus appreciated. By visiting the two museums, I was able to compare, view, and appreciate a wide variety of Impressionist works in a wonderfully organized and maintained environment, thus maximizing my enjoyment of and admiration for the Impressionist works of art.


Google has begun a project to digitalize key works of art in high-definition so that the public to view them online for free. Individuals are able to create their own “galleries” with art that they love. I created a ‘gallery’ with some of the most fascinating works I saw in Paris; the link should hopefully take you there.

The Old and New

When walking down the streets of Paris I was struck by a scene that consisted of modern and ancient architecture. Paris is special because of the culture that it creates through its history and its ability to build onto the history. For example, the construction of the Arc de Triomphe started in 1806 and it is located in the center of what is now a busy intersection with a never-ending rush of cars.

The museums are a mixture of old and new. The Musee De l’Armee explained the recent history of World War II, but also contained Napoleon’s Tomb. The Musee De La Resistance was located were Marshal Leclerc had his command post for the resistance movement. The symbolic location of resistance houses modern multiple screen resistance footage and also authentic letters, posters, and other resistance memorabilia. The museums mixture of old and new symbolizes a more continual history instead of the common method of separating history into different eras.

The main tourist attractions provide a rich history that stays alive because of the culture. The Musee d’Orsay was once a railway station built around 1900, but today it houses a large collection of impressionist artwork that includes paintings, sculptures, and photography. The Louve Palace was built in the 12th century and in 1793 it opened as a museum. It contains artwork from all over the world and from different time periods. The deep history of the Louve also has a modern twist. The iconic La Pyramide Inversee outside of the Louve, seen in movies such as The Da Vinci Code, was only completed in 1993 and attendance has sky rocketed since then.

The people of France are simply an extension of the city. Every time I got on the metro I saw a variety of newspapers. The Parisians are informed about what is happening in the news today and, from my interpretation of the museums, history is a continuous story for them. The Parisians also take great pride in their language and have created an organization to regulate the words used in the language, yet the people are willing to learn other languages. While in Paris I had very few problems communicating with the French people because of the vast amount of people that could speak English. This mixture of old and new customs mirrors the old and new attractions of the museums.IMG_1426

The Land of Gluten and Dairy

IMG_4460  Baguettes, croissants, crêpes, fromage, and Nutella: France, the land of gluten and dairy.  After five days in Paris, I am almost certain I consumed more carbs and sugars than I have ever in my life. Needless to say, I am happy to finally travel to the land of meat and potatoes now.

On our first night in Paris, as the eleventh hour neared, our group made our way to the Eiffel Tower. We sat on the lawn and took in the beauty of this massive copper-colored landmark. We were thankful for such a beautiful night, especially because that we had experienced nothing but rain and wind in the city of London. That first night was what I had always imagined Paris to be like (minus the people who harassed you to buy beer, wine, champagne, and key chains). Not long after sitting down amongst the hundreds of people on the lawn (most of whom were American), the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle with lights against the Parisian night sky and we watched in awe. But, over the few days following, I became to see the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower and the grandeur of the city a superficial veil for a dirty and smelly city that lay behind it.


What shocked me the most was not the language barrier or the different dress styles, but rather, the attitude and way of life of most Parisians. Whether it was shopping, entering a restaurant, or buying food, most Parisians were uninviting. This made me feel even more like a tourist than I thought. And what only added to this was that Parisians close down shops and restaurants from five to about seven; it is only after seven that they eat dinner. At first, it did not bother me too much. I was just excited about the smell and taste of real bread and baguettes, ice creams and crêpes, and every kind of cheese imaginable. Yet, by the end of my time here in Paris, I found it hard to understand how Parisians eat dinner so late! Lastly, as we made our way around the city, I quickly found the Metro (the underground railway system) to be shockingly dirty and slow. I quickly saw the juxtaposition of the beautiful city above ground with the grimy underground beneath it.



What had been only been a backdrop to movies and media became an actual reality to me while in Paris. Despite the attitude and the filth, I did enjoyed getting to see the Mona Lisa, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame; I was excited about putting my lock on the Pont de l’Archevêché.  Our group explored the city, rain and shine, ate every crêpe and baguette we saw, and shopped on the Champs-Élysées. We ate macrons at Ladurée’s and entirely too big crêpes filled with what seemed like an entire jar of Nutella the last night under the Eiffel Tower. Our next and last leg of our WWII tour is Berlin, Germany.

How Paris Deals With Vichy and Collaboration


What can be said about it? It’s pretty, it’s opulent (to the point of being a little too much), it’s a wonderful city to be in (provided you have plenty of money and know where the heck you’re going). In short, it’s a very lovely city to be in.

But its relationship to World War II is a rather difficult one. France was both a collaborator in Nazi atrocities as well as a resistor to them. The capital city, which was mainly untouched by the war, has a mixed history and is rather ashamed of its darker aspects. It seems to me that Paris has tried to make things easier, perhaps for the French people, to emphasize the parts of the war that look favorably upon Paris and France as a whole. For example, at the Musee de l’Armee, the WWII section is also the WWI section, but it begins in 1879, highlighting France’s relationship to Germany since the Franco-Prussian War. Also, while there is great detail on the specific events of the wars and plenty of glorification of the military, there is not a lot of information on the collaborationists, though there is plenty on the Resistance.

And similarly at the Memorial for Deported Martyrs, the memorial, which is designed like a sunken temple to the departed, seems more like an elaborate memorial for soldiers than innocent victims of Nazi brutality. There’s a reason why it’s called the Memorial for Deported Martyrs: it makes the victims seem like soldiers who gave their lives for France.

So France has a very complicated past when it comes to the war. Not surprising, when you consider Charles de Gaulle bred the belief that all the French took part in the Resistance. However, I think France would do some good by admitting to its darker side of its past and then dealing with it by preventing such situations from arising again (and believe me, genocides have occurred since WWII, so don’t discount another Holocaust or Bosnia occurring in Europe again). No one in the US is proud of our past of slavery and racism (though some try to cover it up in shame or hatred), but we remember it and we deal with it in order to prevent it from reoccurring (usually).

On another note, I’m having a blast in Paris. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve been amazed and wowed. If I have another chance I’ll write on some of what I’ve seen. Keep reading for updates. I’m looking forward to seeing how Berlin deals with its horrific past.