Sunday, July 15, 2012

Meeting My Paris Cousins

Today is Bastille Day in Paris and we just returned from the Eiffel Tower where I had imagined fabulous photos of fireworks with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Lesson #1: If you want to see the fireworks and the Eiffel Tower juxtaposed, get off the metro at a stop that is before the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless there were wonderful fireworks on the left and the Eiffel Tower rising into the sky on the right. And we celebrated with half of Paris. Lesson #2 Half of Paris will want to return home on the same metro train as you. But it is Bastille Day in Paris. If I do it again, I'll know better how to take full advantage of my surroundings. Some of the events included a military parade down the Champs Elysee in the morning with the tanks and officers fanning out to the areas of the city to greet the people. Fireman's balls occurred throughout the city, the Louvre was free and there was a free ballet at the Opera House.

Ah, but the highlight of my day was not Bastille Day, but meeting my French relatives. We were to meet them at a restaurant at Bastille and arrived early to make sure we knew the place. We then went for a walk along the Promenade Plantée, a former viaduct that has been converted into a park-like area up above the city. From it you have unique views of the city. My favorite is the Police Station which has a frieze of Michelangeo's Dying Slave which looks like a chorus line of guys. It just does not look like police station architecture. Below the park area are artisan shops, unfortunately all closed for Bastille Day.

We arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early and soon saw a woman waving at us. My cousin's daughter and I had exchanged photographs to help us connect. Soon her father and mother arrived, her father a very spry 92 joined us. My high school French did not avail me of complex conversation, but fortunately my cousin's daughter had far more fluency than I and we were able to communicate with periodic translation for her parents. A cousin on her mother's side joined us. I learned that the reason her father and his brother settled in Paris after the war was that her mother had a surviving sister who had lived there before the war. This family nucleus created a close French family. We spoke of her parents' early challenges in learning the language and finding a way to support themselves after the Holocaust. I also learned that her father's memoir grew out of the Shoah interviews. Then we spoke the universal language as she showed me pictures of her new grandchild. Pictures were taken, kisses on each cheek given and we offered our au revoirs to embark on the rest of our Bastille Day activities.

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