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Reflections on Paris

Paris at Sunset - (Boyer-Switala)
 It has been just over a week since I was last in Paris, but it feels like a lifetime ago. For the first time, I opted to lead our students (instead of using a courier through the educational travel company). I loved the fact that my husband and I could control what we did, but I also sacrificed my "alone time" with the city I love. Any free time I had was spent scouting out the next destination to make sure I didn't get lost. Not that getting lost in Paris is a bad thing...it's how I've made some really amazing discoveries. However, wandering aimlessly through the rues de Paris with 30 people in tow would have lost its charm very quickly!

But please don't get me wrong, and certainly do not feel sorry for me! It was still an amazing trip. Any time I get to share Paris with my students and friends is always rewarding. For me, my best day in Paris was my last day there. I had planned a special book club, and twelve students chose to join me. I planned a day-long adventure, and while I'm not sure they appreciated what I was doing, I think some day they will look back on their experience, and get it. 

I wanted to show the group not only the touristy side of Paris, but also the historic and quiet side - the side I most love.  I took my dozen on a quest to discover Paris and her transformation between 1920 -  1945. We began our adventure by going into Montparnasse to the Closerie de las Lilas (thank you to Marc M. for telling me about this historic gem). In the 1920s and 30s, this café attracted the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Stein, and  Toklas. It is even said that Trotsky could be spotted here while exiled in Paris (if you're a real Russian history buff, prior to 1917, Lenin also spent some time at this charming café during his own exile). We were there too early to go in, but that worked out just fine as the only thing we could have afforded on the menu was water! Très cher !
La Closerie des Lilas - Paris, France (photo credit: J. Boyer-Switala)
Next, we made our way around the corner to the general area in which Hemingway once lived. His apartment was listed as 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs, but all the documents I read were correct when they said this was not marked. Not even a plaque on the wall for poor old Hemmie. From here, we walked past the Jardin du Luxembourg to the Fifth Arrondissement, better known as the Latin Quarter.
Hemingway's Place - rue Notre Dame des Champs (J. Boyer-Switala)
This walk was my favorite part...although I'm not sure my group of 17-year-old young women eager for the "fun" side of Paris would agree. It was around 9:00 in the morning, before Paris was fully awake. The only businesses open were little markets and boulangeries selling coffee and pastries. The streets were not yet crowded with people or vehicles. It gave me the feeling I used to get when my children were infants and I would tiptoe into their rooms after a good night's sleep and find them in quiet, happy contentment, and upon seeing me would smile and reach out to me and just let me peacefully embrace them. I'm sure that sounds like total poetic frommage, but those moments, just like that walk through early morning Paris, make my heart sing.

We made our way to 12 rue de l'Odéon - the former location of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop owned by the amazing Sylvia Beach. Of course, as the plaque below states, this is the place where she published James Joyce's Ulysess. (for more information on Beach, read my blog Sylvia Beach: An American In Paris).
Formerly Shakespeare & Company - Paris, France (J. Boyer-Switala)

"In 1922. In this house, Miss Sylvia Beach published 'Ulysses' by James Joyce" (J. Boyer-Switala)

It was time for the book club so we made our way down Blvd St-Michel. The next part was a surprise I had been working on since last December, and was so excited to share with the girls. I had arranged our book club to be held at the current Shakespeare & Company. The girls seemed genuinely pleased and once inside, in awe of where we were. And a huge merci to Hilary Drummond of Shakespeare & Company for helping me arrange this once in a lifetime experience!
Shakespeare & Company - Paris, France (J. Boyer-Switala)
We had a fruitful discussion about the book, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I was pleased to hear strong, feminist voices - no worries about these young women taking any nonsense from less than respectful men! The book earned a unanimous "thumbs up" and served as a great segue into our afternoon theme of the Holocaust in Paris.
Paris Book Club: Front (left to right): Morgan Hoffman, Laura Sprunt, Aliza Miller, Maddie Betsker, Molly Shaw, Sarah Graber  Back: Sam Moyer, Rebekkah Whitten, Annie Briskey, Kelsey Geist, Olivia Mock, Bethany Slear
After lunch, we went out of our way to go see one of the places central to the story of Sarah's Key - the Vel d'Hiv. The Velodrome d'Hiver no longer stands, but in its place is a memorial to those 13,152 Jews rounded up on 16-17 July 1942. 
Vel d'Hiv Memorial - Paris, France

I was certain there was supposed to be a statue atop the block in the back, and I was correct. Unfortunately for us, it was out being refurbished. This was a quick stop, but for me, well worth it to pay my respects to those who lived (and died) through those awful days.
Vel d'Hiv Memorial - Paris, France
Since the memorial is conveniently located across the street from the Bir-Hakeim Métro, we jumped right back on and went to the Jewish Quarter in the Marais District. As we walked down the rue des Rosiers, we saw many plaques dedicated to Jews and members of the Résistance who were victims of the Holocaust. 
Home of Résistance Member Yvette Feuillet (J. Boyer-Switala)
L'École Maternelle




Perhaps the saddest memorials to me were the ones at the schools dedicated to the thousands of children who were deported and died in the Shoah. 

(Photo Credit: J. Boyer-Switala)
Our next stop was La Mémorial de la Shoah. After our security check, we went inside to meet our English speaking guide, Ben.
Waiting to go in the Shoah Memorial - Paris, France (J. Boyer-Switala)
It was very emotional for many of us, but a very valuable experience. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to share it with such amazing young women. 
La Mémorial de la Shoah - Paris, France (J. Boyer-Switala)
Thinking back on my time in Paris - especially about my last day with the Book Club - I miss it even more than usual. I have seen so many sites in Paris - some more than once! But every single thing I did on Book Club day was new. It reminded me how rich and diverse Paris is, and how much of it I have yet to discover.

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To read more about my adventures in Paris, Florence, and Rome, go to European Travels 2011

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