Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Paris: The Ultimate Mother-Daughter Destination. Guest post by Jennifer Coburn, author of "We'll Always Have Paris"

Jennifer Coburn, author of "We'll Always Have Paris", with her daughter Katie

People speak about Paris with a dreamy longing, as though the city possesses a magic that cannot be found elsewhere. I’ve never heard anyone talk about Paris without sighing. The city is a Promised Land that holds appeal for most everyone: artists, lovers, even people who just like cheese. It is also one of the best places on Earth for a mother and daughter to connect.

When my daughter Katie was eight years old, I decide to take her on her first trip overseas. Of course, I chose to visit Paris. No one ever asked why. The answer was simple; it was Paris.

Years later, as I began writing a mother-daughter travel memoir We’ll Always Have Paris, about Katie and my adventures around Europe, mothers began asking for travel tips on visiting the City of Light with their daughters.

I told them that if they were planning a mother-daughter trip to Paris, they probably already knew the major sites to hit. Travel guides always list the Louvre, Monet’s Gardens, and Versailles. Everyone knows they should go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. They’ve all heard about the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Cœur, Pompidou, and Notre-Dame, so I like to share my tips for lesser-known things a mother and daughter can share in Paris.

1)   On your first evening in Paris, walk to Pont Neuf and catch the sunset cruise on the Seine River. Yes, it’s touristy, but what the heck, you’re tourists. This boat ride is a relaxing way to see some major landmarks. It also provides a peek at some hidden gems.

2)   While on your river cruise, you’ll see several small pockets along the bank – almost like mini amphitheatres -- where groups of 20-30 dancers practice their moves. Katie and I enjoyed watching couples dance the tango, then moved on to another group dancing to salsa music. It made for great (free!) evening entertainment.

3)   As you ride the river cruise, you will also see several tiny manmade “beaches” (Paris Plages) where lawn chairs and umbrellas are set out in July and August. Grab a book and few euro for drinks, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon watching the boats pass.

4)   While you are up in the 18th arrondissement to visit Sacre Coeur, leave the rest of the day to check out the many flea markets. If you’ve got a good eye, you can find some real treasures. (Check schedules for St.-Ouen and Puces de Clignancourt online so you go on the right days.)

5)   The Picasso Museum (re-opening in June 2014)  is hardly off the beaten bath, but worth mentioning as a must-see for its mind-blowing collection of vibrant paintings, sketches, and sculptures. While you’re in the area, spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the storybook-charming streets of the Marais. It is the Paris you always dreamed about. You’ll swear an accordion player in a red beret will be just around the corner

6)   On our first trip to Paris, Katie and I almost skipped the Museum of Modern Art right across the river from the Eiffel Tower. Outside, it looked pretty grim with graffiti on the walls and skateboarders on the front steps. Inside was one of the most dynamic exhibits of contemporary art we’d ever seen. On our most recent visit, the museum had cleaned up its act, but still may still be overlooked by passersby. It would be a shame to miss this one.

7)   If you can stand the stench, Musee Des Egouts, the sewer museum, is a fascinating tour of the underbelly of the city. Young children are usually thrilled by the gross factor, but adults are typically intrigued by it too.

8)   Stop by the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore on the Left Bank. This converted monastery is a bibliophile’s heaven, rich with books, history, and a full calendar of special events. If you’re up for a real adventure, you can spend the night at the bookstore with other “Tumbleweeds.” I greatly appreciated the bookstore allowing us to sleep in its Writer’s Studio, but it’s nothing I ever want to repeat. Katie, on the other hand, had the time of her life.

9)   Catch an old-fashion French puppet show in Jardin du Luxembourg. You don’t need to understand French – or be a child – to appreciate the silly drama on stage. While you’re there, plan to spend several hours in the park people watching or reading. Be warned, though: The French police are très serious about their rules, like not sitting on the grass.

10)  My friend who spent a year in Paris suggested we ride the 14 metro (purple line), which takes riders on a fast ride from one end of Paris to the other. Sadly, Katie and I didn’t have time to do this, but we’re looking forward to our next visit when we will stand in the very front and take this high-speed tour of the City.

The biggest mistake I made on our first trip was trying to do too much. When Katie and I had dinner at my cousin’s house, her French husband looked at my city map, which I had dutifully marked with color-coded stickers of Paris sites. I explained that the yellow stickers were where we’d visit on Monday, and pink stickers marked Tuesday’s destinations. He rolled his eyes at my American rigidity. “In order to know Paris, he said, inhaling his cigarette, “you must simply have a glass of wine, relax, and enjoy life.” It was the best travel advice I ever got.

Jennifer Coburn is the author of We’ll Always Have Paris and a USA Today best selling author of six novels and contributor to four literary anthologies. Over the past two decades, Coburn has received numerous awards from the Press Club and Society for Professional Journalists for articles that appeared in Mothering, Big Apple Baby, The Miami Herald, The San Diego Union-Tribune and dozens of national and regional publications. She has also written for, Creators News Syndicate and The Huffington Post. Coburn lives in San Diego with her husband, William, and their daughter, Katie. We'll Always Have Paris is her first memoir. You'll find Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Good Reads.

With special thanks to Jennifer for sharing her travel trips for Paris and generously offering to give a copy of "We'll Always Have Paris" to one lucky person. Please click here for more details about this exciting giveaway.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why We Need to Unlock Our Love from the Bridges of Paris (Guest post by Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff of No Love Locks™)

Before and after photos of the Pont des Arts. ©No Love Locks

You’re in Paris on the Pont des Arts with your sweetheart. Maybe it’s your anniversary. You hang a lock engraved with your initials on the bridge, and toss the key in the Seine. Then you walk away.

It’s a year later and that lock is corroded by rust, buried under thousands of other locks and covered in graffiti. The piece of the parapet where you hung your lock gives way, over-burdened by the tonnage it was never designed to hold, and lands squarely on a sightseeing boat passing below, full of tourists.

Collapsing parapets. ©No Love Locks

That’s the scenario Paris city officials are dreading. The parapets have been collapsing regularly, so they warn it’s just a matter of time. Six years after the first locks began appearing in Paris, the trend is well out of control, spreading to other historic sites in the city. The Pont des Arts and Pont de l’Archevêché are now inundated and disfigured by well meaning “love locks,” which seem to have invited graffiti and other acts of vandalism as well, further degrading what was once beautiful.

One lock is a poem; thousands, a conundrum. And the growing problem has city officials and locals ringing their hands.

Finding a solution is tricky business. Each lock holds a memory for someone, and on the face of it, it’s a romantic notion. People could argue that a movement against “love locks” is a movement against love itself. Paris officials have been slow to act, afraid of appearing unwelcoming to lovers. But it’s evident to anyone who will look that this once-lovely idea has become a feeding frenzy, a monster meme bringing Paris to her knees. These days it’s less about love and more about obsession. People are even risking their lives to hang these locks, climbing up lampposts and scaling the outer edges of the bridges. L’amour est une vraie folie, as they say. Madness, indeed. Has common sense and decency been flung into the Seine along with those keys? It has catastrophe written all over it.

 Romantic? Love locks and graffiti on the Pont des Arts.  ©No Love Locks

It’s come to a point where the city can no longer do nothing. The current state of the bridges is so dire that Parisians are not at liberty to enjoy their own public spaces anymore, and security issues have reached critical mass. Sadly, it may be that only an outright ban on “love locks” will give Paris officials the leverage they need to get this beast under control, and save people from hurting themselves.

We appreciate that many of you have special memories of hanging your “love lock” on a bridge in Paris. For others, putting a lock on the Pont des Arts may be on your bucket list. But think about how your lock will contribute to the destruction of Paris’s beautiful bridges, and ask yourself if you want to be a party to that. And those keys being tossed into the Seine? We’ve yet to discover the impact they are having on the environment. Parisians are paying for every photo op with the loss of their heritage, and with their taxes, which go toward the costly routine repairs. You must agree that’s unfair. Imagine a cherished site in your town disfigured and covered in graffiti by visitors who presumed to do so in the name of love. How would you feel?

Is this love? Spray-painted love locks on the Pont des Arts. ©No Love Locks

We’re not anti-love or anti-tourist. We, like you, once thought the idea of “love locks” was romantic. Then we watched our beautiful bridges turning into eyesores and falling apart—and we just couldn’t stand by and watch anymore.

Many people feel the same way. Since we started No Love Locks, we’ve received overwhelming support from all over the world. When the reality of “love locks” is made clear, often people have a change of heart and join our cause. In the first six days since the launch of our petition, we garnered more than 1000 signatures toward our goal, as people everywhere are starting to realize this self-indulgent trend du jour is costing us our future.

If you really love Paris, unlock your love and lift the weight of it from the shoulders of Parisians. Join us in helping Paris save her bridges and you’ll have our undying love. We just won’t proclaim it with a lock, if that’s okay with you.

Sign and share our petition today:
English petition / Pétition en français

To learn more visit: 

With special thanks to Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff for starting the "No Love Locks" initiative in Paris and for agreeing to write a guest post for "Out and About in Paris". Given the groundswell of support from Parisians and expats, I look forward to the day when the Pont des Arts returns to its pre-love locks former glory. - Mary Kay Bosshart (Out and About in Paris)

Before—©Lisa Taylor Huff

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday's Pictures and a Song: A Declaration of Love and Springtime in Paris

It's another gorgeous day in Paris! The warm weather and sunshine are making it difficult to pack for my trip to Boston, where it's currently -1 °C (30°F). Brrrr! Since I'm going to miss all the flowers and trees in bloom, please feel free to post your favorite "Springtime in Paris" photo on "Out and About in Paris's" timeline on Facebook. I'll share your picture with full credit to you and/or your Facebook page.

If you're in Paris, don't forget the the 5th Annual "Pink Bra Spring and Bra Toss" at the Esplanade du Trocadéro at 3:00 pm today.

Passez un bon dimanche!

Friday, March 14, 2014

A foodie's dream come true: Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage with Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai

Falafel Mahshi stuffed with a tangy chili and onion paste and hummus with tatbeela, a coriander,parsley, capsicum, lemon sauce.

After watching a sensational sunrise from Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and indulging in a 5-course afternoon tea at Burj Al Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world, let’s exchange the modern architectural wonders of this cosmopolitan metropolis for a food tasting extravaganza in Old Dubai.

Currently ranked as the number 1 "Thing to do in Dubai" on TripAdvisor and recommended in FooDiva's "A Dubai Foodie Bucket List" , Frying Pan Adventures' "Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage" is a 5:34:07 hour marathon featuring culinary delights from Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

Mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish in which lamb or chicken is slow-cooked in fermented and preserved goat's milk yogurt.

To prepare for our foodie marathon, Arva Ahmed, the delightful founder of Frying Pan Adventures, sent an email recommending that we limit ourselves to a light meal on the day of the tour, get plenty of rest and wear comfortable clothing covering our shoulders and legs. Once our multi-national group of eight was assembled at the first restaurant, Arva passed out headphones, which proved to be very helpful while we walked along busy roads, a bottle of water and, most importantly, revealed the secret of how to make it to the end of the tour with a little bit of room left in our bellies. "The trick," she said, "is to divide your stomach into sections. When we leave this restaurant, your stomach should be no more than 15% full. At each of the six places we visit, I'll tell you how much room should be left in your stomach. If you follow my instructions, you'll make it all the way to the end." It sounded simple and it would have been if I wasn't in the middle of the most scrumptious falafel I had ever tasted. Would I have the required restraint to cut myself off from all the amazing taste sensations?

Like many inexperienced marathon runners, I started out strong. Too strong. I unabashedly took seconds of the hummus and had just bitten into another falafel when our waiter brought a heaping plate of Mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish. Belatedly realizing that each subsequent dish would probably be even more delicious than the last, I chastised myself. Slow down. You have to pace yourself, or you're never going to make it to the Iranian restaurant.

Kunafa Na'ama, cheese pie with ground kataifi noodle pastry on top and Arva serving the Bedouin meal that was eaten in a tent.

Arva, who is as knowledgeable about food as she is passionate, told us about each dish in detail. At her favorite sweet shop, she explained the correct way to drink the spicy Arabic coffee and how to signal that we were finished. When we mistakenly thought that a silky white cream paired with pistachio filled ma'amouls was beaten egg whites, Arva told us that it was actually natef, made by boiling the roots of the soapwart tree and blending the residual water with sugar, rosewater and orange blossom water.

My only regret is that Stéphane and I didn't do Arva's tour the first night that we were in Dubai. Without a doubt, the Iranian Sangak (stone bread) with cheese and rayhaan leaves (tulsi), Kashk Bademjan (eggplant and preserved whey dip), Kabab Koobideh (twice minced lamb kabab) and rice with Zereshk and Murg (barberries and chicken) was some of the best food that we tasted in Dubai and we would have happily gone back for more the following night.

Both Stéphane and I highly recommend the Middle Eastern Foodie Pilgrimage and hope to do another one of Frying Pan Adventures' tours if we return to Dubai.

For more information, please click here to visit Frying Pan Adventures' website.

Iranian Sangak (stone bread) fresh out of the oven and hanging on the wall
Booza, Arabic ice cream made out of milk, mastic (the resin of an evergreen plant associated with pistachio) and sahlep (orchid tubers). The ice cream is pounded with the wooden mallet seen in the photo on the left to develop its characteristic chewy texture.
Masgouf, an Iraqi dish from near the Tigris River in Baghdad, is giant butterflied carp roasted on wooden stakes. It's served with tangy pickled mango.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Watching the sunrise from the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Watching the sunrise from Burj Khailfa, the world's tallest building.

There's always something magical, almost mystical, about watching the sunrise. But it becomes a sublime experience when you're standing on the outdoor observation deck of the tallest building in the world. With clouds swirling below and the entire city of Dubai at my feet, I felt like an omnipotent being as I observed the color of the horizon miraculously change from a deep, sumptuous purple to a breathtaking, luminous orange. It reminded me of a two day hike that I had once made to watch the sunrise from the top of an active volcano on the island of Java, only this time I simply rolled out of bed, took a taxi to The Dubai Mall and made my vertical ascent in an elevator that travels at 10 m (33 ft) per second. Of course, it helped that I drank a cup of coffee before Stéphane and I left the hotel so that I was wide awake for the spectacular show.

The outdoor observation deck of Burj Khalifa. (Click on photos to enlarge)

After gathering information about the best way to visit the top of Burj Khalifa, I reserved a table at At.mosphere, a lounge serving lights lunches, afternoon tea and drinks. Situated 2 floors below the observation deck, it's supposed to be the most romantic spot to watch the sun set over the Arabian Gulf. But if you've ever accompanied your spouse on a business trip, you can probably guess what happened next. No sooner had I received an email from At.mosphere confirming the registration than I received another one from Stéphane informing me that the date of his one free evening had been changed. Oh, the trials and tribulations of being on vacation while your partner is working. I was back to square one.

Watching the sunrise from Burj Khalifa.

The second best option, according to what I had read online, was to book advance tickets for the "At the Top" observation deck for an hour before sunset. That way it's possible to enjoy both the daytime and nighttime views of Dubai and the Arabian Gulf. Evidently, lots of other people must have read the same advice because all of the advance tickets for the time slots between 3:30 and 8:00 pm were already booked.

Watching the sunrise from Burj Khalifa.

Being too frugal to shell out AED 400 ($109) for immediate entry tickets and too impatient to wait in a long line to purchase tickets at the ticket office on the lower ground level of The Dubai Mall, I thought I had found the perfect solution when I saw that "At the Top" offers sunrise viewing from 5:30 am on Friday and Saturday. Oddly enough, when I told Stéphane of my brilliant plan, he was less than enthusiastic to exchange the one morning the he could sleep late for a fleeting view of the sunrise.

Reflections: watching the sunrise from Burj Khalifa

As you may have been able to guess from the photos, Stéphane finally agreed to join my expedition to the top of Burj Khalifa, an architectural and engineering marvel, at the crack of dawn. While I'm by no means an expert on Dubai, I'm going to declare that the best time of day to go to the observation deck is early in the morning. There weren't any of the crowds experienced by the other tourists with whom I spoke. We got in and out elevator without waiting in any lines, which is pretty remarkable considering there is only one elevator taking visitors to the 124th floor.

Telescopes with before and after views of Dubai. Please click to enlarge.

We had easy access to the special telescopes that showed "then" and "now" views of Dubai. And, best of all, we were standing side by side as we marveled at the sunrise. If overt displays of affection between men and women were more culturally acceptable in Dubai, I'm sure that we would have been holding hands.

Once you're back on the ground floor, be sure to look at the exhibition tracing the conception, design and construction of Burj Khalifa. After visiting Eiffel's wind tunnel, it was particularly interesting to see the modifications made to the world's tallest building after wind-tunnel testing studies. As the skyscraper grew taller, it became both more slender and more stable. And, believe me, stability is something you think about when you're standing on top of the world looking down!

Watching the sunrise from Burj Khalifa.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Afternoon tea at the world's only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai

The Burj Al Arab is designed to look like a sail. The part sticking out on the top left is the Sky View Bar and the round part on the top right is the helipad where Federer and Agassi played tennis. At 321 m (1,053 ft), it's the 4th tallest hotel in the world. 

As soon as you start planning a trip to Dubai, you'll notice that two names consistently appear in all of your internet searches for "top things to do". To help distinguish between Burj Al Arab, the world's only 7-star hotel, and Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, it helpful to know that "burj" means "tower". One of the towers is situated on a manmade island and was designed to resemble the billowing sail of a dhow, while the other is a breathtakingly high, Y-shaped structure.

If you're not staying at the Burj Al Arab, the only way to get past the security gate is to have a confirmed reservation at one of the hotel's nine restaurants or bars. After searching for the best way to get my foot in the door, I opted for afternoon tea at the Sky View Bar to watch the sun set over the Gulf.

Be sure to take your printed reservation with you because it's the equivalent of saying "Open Sesame" to the guard at the front gate. Like magic, the taxi driver crossed the bridge to the artificial island dotted with palm trees and deposited me at the front door, while forlorn tourists without a reservation craned their necks to get a sneak peak of the hotel through the high fence. Since I had deliberately arrived 45 minutes early to allow enough time to take photos, I wandered back across the causeway to marvel at the magnificent structure from a distance.

Returning to the entrance, I accepted the doorman's offer to take my photo next to one of Rolls Royces belonging to the hotel's fleet of chauffeur-driven vehicles and momentarily imagined that I was staying at the Burj Al Arab. It never hurts to dream, especially when you're on vacation!

More accustomed to the understated luxury of European hotels, I found the lobby and one of the world's tallest atrium (180 m/600 ft) to be a bit over the top. But that didn't stop me from gawking like a country bumpkin at the aquariums full of tropical fish, enormous gold pillars and dancing fountains. As I quickly came to realize, Dubai doesn't do discrete!

When I arrived at the elevator for the Sky View Bar before the scheduled time, I was thankful that the receptionist recommended that I go immediately to the top. Since they seat guests in order, with the tables next to the windows going to those who arrive first, I was happy that I followed her advice. If you're on your own, like I was, you may have to repeat your request for a window table once you're at the bar because I noticed that all of the other single women (and there were quite a few) were given magazines and seated discretely at the back. Since I have no problem being assertive when an amazing view of Dubai is at stake, I scored one of the prime tables.

I love that the tea tray mimics the billowing sail shape of the hotel.

After the waiter graciously presented me with a damp washcloth to wipe my hands, he explained the 5-course menu and said that the tea package included as much as I wanted of everything, except the Louis Roederer Brut. With such an incredible view, the berry tart, roast beef with mashed potatoes, finger sandwiches, homemade scones with clotted cream and an array of desserts took a secondary role, which is a good thing because the food was only slightly above average. I did, however, appreciate that we could sample as many different teas and coffees as we wanted and that we were presented with a small box of chocolates to take home.

Given the "wow" factor of spending a couple of hours in one of the world's most renowned hotels, afternoon tea at the Sky View Bar was a must-do experience while I was in Dubai. Priced at AED 465 ($127) per person, it was also a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. To avoid disappointment, advance reservations are highly recommended because you won't be able to get past the security gate without them.

Burj Al Arab Restaurant Reservation Department:

Related post: Wish you were here! Six days in Dubai.

Sky View Bar at the Burj Al Arab
View of Dubai and the Burj Khalifa from the Sky View Bar at the Burj Al Arab. Can you tell which one of the buildings is the tallest in the world?
Sunset over the Arabian Gulf and Palm Islands in Dubai.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Going Underground for the Smelliest Tour in Paris - The Paris Sewer Museum

Katrina Maxwell covering her nose while visiting the sewers of Paris. I'll refrain from telling you what we observed floating in the water. And, yes, that is toilet paper hanging from the chains at the back of the photo.

I'm behind on my blog posts. Way behind. Usually that's not a problem if a subject isn't time sensitive, like an exhibition or a show. But it's definitely not good when the topic becomes more malodorous with each passing day. With the arrival of warm weather, there's a certain sense of urgency to write about the Paris sewer system because it's advisable to explore the sewers of Paris during the cooler months. Otherwise, what's a delicate way to say this? ... the aromas are overpoweringly pungent!

Knowing that she wanted to visit the Musée des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum) when the air smelled as sweet as possible, Katrina Maxwell invited me to accompany her underground at the end of November. As we crossed the Pont de l'Alma, I asked Katrina, an American expat whom I had met while filming a French mini-series, to refresh my memory about her area of expertise. Was it chemistry? "No," she replied, "It's engineering. The title of my PhD thesis was "Surge Generation as an Aid to Water Conserving Building Drainage Design", which is why I've been wanting to see the sewers.

Does this remind you of Indiana Jones? It's a massive ball that flushes the waste out of the tunnels.

Since my reason for visiting the labyrinthine underground city stemmed from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera, Katrina and I were somewhat of a mismatched pair. While she studied the panels devoted to the construction of the vast sewerage system with 2,100 km of tunnels and the storm water overflow discharge points, I concentrated on the information about the "split streets" with a central gutter for waste developed by Philippe Auguste at the beginning of the thirteenth century and Victor Hugo's relationship with the Sewer Inspecter Emmanuel Bruneseau, who was bold enough to penetrate the maze of sewer tunnels and map them. It turns out that Hugo's descriptions of the sewers were based on fact. "...Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form."

Baron Haussmann, who is famous for dramatically changing the cityscape of Paris, deserves more recognition for what he accomplished underground. The next time you flush the toilet, take a moment to ask yourself where all of the waste goes. Now multiply your daily output by 2,125,246, the number of people who reside in Paris, and you'll quickly appreciate the city's efficient system for managing waste and water runoff. Even though it's the most stinky tour in Paris and you'll see all kinds of yucky stuff floating in the waste water, the Paris Sewer Museum is well worth a visit. Just be sure to go at the right time of the year and take a scarf with you to cover your nose.

If you ever have the misfortune to drop keys, jewelry or something else down a sewer grate (it happens!), the Paris Sewer System has a 7/7, 24-hour emergency hotline. The number is 44 75 22 75.

Musée des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum)
Pont de l'Alma, left bank,
Opposite 93 quai d'Orsay 75007 Paris

Metro Line 9 - station: Alma-Marceau (cross the bridge to get to the sewer's discrete entrance. The museum is underground so you won't see a large building.)

October 10 to April 30, Sat-Wed, 11 am - 4 pm.
May 1 to Sept 30, Sat-Wed, 11 am - 5 pm.
Closed on Thursdays and Fridays.

As an interesting side note to this post, Katrina Maxwell reinvented herself at the age of 50. She went from being a senior research fellow at one of the world's leading graduate business schools to an actress and singer. Click here to visit Katrina's FB page.

The museum in Belgrand Gallery. Paris Sewers.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday's Pictures and a Song: "I Love Paris"

Tuileries Garden

It was an exceptional weekend in Paris. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and it seemed as if everyone was outside soaking up the sunshine. It was probably a weekend very similar to this one that inspired Cole Porter to write I Love Paris.

Every time I look down on this timeless town, 
Whether blue or gray be her skies, 
Whether loud be her cheers or whether soft be her tears, 
More and more do I realize, 

That I love Paris in the spring time, 
I love Paris in the fall, 

Tuileries Garden
I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles 
I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles 

People lounging on the bank of the Seine
I love Paris every moment, 
Every moment of the year, 

The Grand Canal at Versailles
I love Paris, why oh, why do I love Paris? 
Because my love is near 


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Odette Saint - Growing up in occupied France and keeping the memory of Pvt. John A. Daum alive in Normandy

Charles Stumpner, Tom Stumpner, Odette Saint and Odette's granddaughter Elise

Ne touches pas les rideaux! (Don't touch the curtains!) Those are the words that 82 year old Odette Saint will never forget. It's what her father, who had been a prisoner in Germany during World War I, told her when the Germans invaded Carentan, the rural town where Odette's family lived in 1940. She was nine years old. When I met Odette in Normandy last weekend, she said that the memory still haunts her. She shivered as she spoke of seeing the German soldier pointing his pistol at their second floor apartment window, the sheer curtains the only thing hiding her from his steely gaze.

For the next four years, Odette and her family lived under German control. In her mind, she can still hear the ominous, rock-crushing sound made by the heavy leather boots worn by the invading troops as they marched down the narrow streets of her small town. The instructions that they shouted at Carentan's residents were incomprehensible. The French villagers didn't understand German and the soldiers didn't speak French. One of the first things that the Nazis did was seize the town's school.

Curfews, blackouts and rationing were an integral part of Odette's childhood. Thanks to the fertile land in Normandy, Odette said that her family never went hungry like those who lived in the cities. The villagers of Carentan formed a close-knit community. When the local doctor, who was one of the few people allowed to travel from farm to farm, made his rounds, he would receive eggs or meat in return for his services. He shared them with Odette's family because her father was the mechanic who kept his car, which ran on an alternative source of energy produced by a gazogène system, in working order. When a couple of unfamiliar children took up residence with the family who lived across the street from the police station, the villagers kept quiet, even though they suspected that the children were Jews being harbored from the Nazis.

At the beginning of June 1944, Carentan's inhabitants furtively discussed the news that they had heard on Radio Londres. The Allied forces were going to liberate France. After the US 101st Airborne Division successfully seized Carentan and the German army withdrew, Odette's father decided to take his family to Saint-Hilaire, a nearby village that wasn't as strategically important as Carentan because he feared that the Germans would return. On the way, they passed an American paratrooper lying dead next to the side of the road. Odette's father instructed his family not to look, but Odette couldn't pull her eyes away from the soldier's young face. She saw a Frenchman place a flower on the deadman's chest.

Charles Stumpner rubs sand from Omaha Beach on John A. Daum's headstone to make his uncle's name more visible.

Forever grateful to the American soldiers who gave their lives in exchange for her freedom, Odette continues this tradition today. As a member of Les Fleurs de la Mémoire, an association that puts flowers on the tombs of the soldiers interred in the American Cemeteries of Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint James, Odette has adopted two graves. One of them belongs to Pvt. John A. Daum, a young paratrooper who died far from his family in a foreign land. It was through John's nephews from Wisconsin, Tom and Charles Stumpner, that I met Odette.

Later that evening, while dining at the cozy wood-timbered John Steel Restaurant in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, Odette told us that she still knows all of the words to the "Star Spangled Banner". Her schoolteacher, who claimed that she couldn't sing when instructed to teach her students the anthem of Vichy France, taught the American national anthem to her students. Odette fondly recalls singing it for her liberators.

June 6, 2014 will mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.

Related posts:

The American Cemetery in Normandy and the story of Pvt. John A. Daum
Elizabeth A. Richardson, an American Red Cross volunteer buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy
Veterans Day - Honoring all who served by remembering one, Pvt. John A. Daum
Clive Cullen, the cab driver from Chicago who solved the hedgerow problem in Normandy
Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc and "bloody" Omaha Beach in Normandy

Charles Stumpner and Tom Stumpner next to their uncle's grave in American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.