My Weekend In Paris
I’m writing this as I wrap up a week of vacation. This is one of two weeks off that I’d put in for way back in the fall of last year. Wife Bonnie and I had made some plans for this week, then in the spring we put them aside and they were soon forgotten. Then my work schedule came out a month ago and — lo and behold — there were two glorious weeks off. And here we were with no plans for them!
I wound up turning in one of the weeks to save for later. And I’m very glad for the week that I was off because Sacramento has been baking in an unusual record-breaking heatwave.
With no plans, I decided to take care of some business — getting a pile of work that’s been hanging over me towards a new book I’m working on. This took me into the middle of the week. Then — I couldn’t write anymore!!!
You can only write your own words so much. At some point you need to put the work aside — and read someone else’s work.
So to escape the Sacramento heatwave — I went to Paris for the rest of my vacation!!!!
The Bookworm Book Store is one of my favorite haunts. As more and more new and used book stores close their doors and become the dust of fading memories, this place at 8544 Madison Ave. in Fair Oaks, California, is a treasure. I love to go and wander and find vintage books and paperbacks that take me back to the bookstalls in the drug stores from when I was growing up in the 1960s. This is where I booked my trip to Paris. Specifically, Paris in August, 1944 — the two weeks of the uprising from the streets and the liberation during World War Two.
Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, first published in the U.S. in 1965. It became an instant internationa bestseller, selling over 10 million copies. The following year it became a huge World War Two movie, produced in France with an all-star cast in the vein of The Longest Day. (What I didn’t realize when I picked the book up for $2 was that it was a 1965 first edition. At least, for the U.S. translation.)
When the film came out in 1966 and benefits greatly from one of the best musical scores by Maurice Jarre, who worked with David Lean on Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago and several more. The film was not greeted with good reviews. Francis Ford Coppola is one of the credited screenwriters and he has always spoken dismissively of his work on the film. I remembered watching it and thinking it had a lot of hokey, corny scenes that had to have been made up for the movie.
However, much to my astonishment, all of the most incredible, most outlandish and most movie corny scenes in the film actually happened. In fact, these scenes in the movie are, in many instances, not only taken almost word-for-word from the book, but are filmed in the actual locations where they happened.
Instantly, I became riveted by the stories on the pages and found the book of Is Paris Burning? almost impossible to put down.
It is filled with detail and locations, famous buildings that were used as various German headquaters, streets and intersections where events happened, even actual addresses in the city of Paris. I’ve never been to Paris, but I wanted to know the logistical positions of where all of these places took place. So for this, to keep up — page by page and paragraph by paragraph — I was enormously aided by Google Maps.
I started keeping my MacBook at my side while reading Is Paris Burning? which made it even more satisfying and enriching by being able to type in a street, town or address, and go right to it on Google Maps and have a satellite view of the real place. In the vast majority of instances, the same buildings are still there. I was able to keep a constant play-by-play of the events of the French resistance in German-occupied Paris, the advancing French and American divisions, the streets of their advance and block-by-block movements. It made such a difference! I now feel like I have an appreciation for the layout of this most treasured city.
When on page 302 it described a 71 year-old widow listening to the howls of jubilation echoing through the streets from her two-room apartment at 102 rue de Richelieu I could Google the address and see the very window she was looking out from.
I have to say that after having read this non-fiction account I don’t think I will ever again be able to fully experience a book again without Google Maps to give me a geographic and visual reference. If I’d tried reading this book any other way it would have been a complete blur as to where the events were taking place and what the places looked like.
There was one section early on that described a German train that had left Paris with 2,100 political prisoners bound for a concentration camp in Germany. A hundred and twenty miles outside of Paris a group of resistance fighters had blown up a section of railroad track on the other side of a long tunnel. Then the resistance group waited in the woods atop a hilltop overlooking the stalled train to try their next move. The train, trying to avoid the daytime Allied air superiority of the wandering U.S. and British fighter planes, backed the train into the tunnel, burrowed through a French hillside, and waited for a second train to arrive on the other side of the demolished track.
By using Google Maps, I was able to find the rail line, the hill that the line tunneled through, and the very hillside where, on a sweltering August day in 1944, the resistance fighters were laying in wait. Being able to see all of these locations by satellite photos was extraordinary and added a more contemporary immediacy to the story I was reading.
All I needed was a glass of vin ordinaire (inexpensive red wine) to accompany me.
A great, great trip. And I didn’t have to deal with airports, baggage and customs once!
Even the tank race in this scene, which I thought was just made up for the movie, is completely true! Spoiler — this is the end of the movie, but you can experience some of Maurice Jarre’s fabulous score. I have it on my iPod and often listen to it when on my bicycle.