INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
(Role of Andrew Hussey's book
Paris, The Secret History
in selecting sites to visit)
Just before coming to Paris on my October 2011 business trip to that city, I was finishing Andrew Hussey’s Paris, a Secret History, published by Bloomsbury in 2006.
What did that book do for me? It sent me many mixed messages. The primary one was that I had not realized how utterly inhumane life in Paris was after the Roman occupation, from feudal to early modern times, for the peasantry and working classes.
Things were rough for these classes right until modern times. It was the 1970s when the remaining poor areas near downtown were emptied and renovated. The poor were forced out of Paris, away from their work places, and moved into the rather ugly high rises built for them in some of the nearer suburbs, according to Hussey.
Hussey describes the shocking reality, during and after the Middle Ages, of the nobility riding past, and the higher classes of Parisians walking past, the bodies of those who had starved or frozen or died of illness during the night, and were about to be picked up and dumped off at local cemeteries by the crews employed to do that wonderful, necessary, daily job. It was just the way it was.
Life has dramatically improved in the Paris I have known over the last three decades. I have stepped over no starved or frozen bodies. In fact I am under the no-doubt mistaken impression that there are pretty decent social services working to aid the poor these days.
Hussey surprised me by being critical of several places that are always high on my list of places to visit, such as the Sacre-Coeur cathedral and the Forum des Halles. While at Les Halles I took advantage and made my first trip into the church of Saint Eustache nearby.
Hussey also made interesting one place I had avoided over my 30 years of coming to Paris regularly: the Catacombs.
So, on this trip I made it a point to go and sense these same places again, and see if my new understanding changed my experience of them. I also went to see several places new to me, as mentioned.
Hussey also added to my interest in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. So I revisited it also.
Finally, totally divorced from the Hussey book, I was made an offer I could not refuse: a Saturday outing to see the Chateau de Maintenon, and to learn Madame de Maintenon's amazing life-story, a fairy-tale that starts with being born in a prison and ends with her being the Sun King's second and last, but secret, wife.
Almost as a PS, I also revisited the Bois de Boulogne just because Hussey mentioned it, and visited for the first time the Bois de Meudon, just because it is adjacent to a co-worker's home, the one that took me to see the Chateau de Maintenon.
There were parts of Hussey's book I found very interesting because of my having been born during the Second World War in Europe, and having listened to my parents' and others' experiences during that war and having seen bombed out cities in Germany after the war.
Hussey describes the Paris uprising against the Germans toward the end of that war, which was of interest to me personally but did not lead me to visit any particular place.
Paris liberated itself at the end of World War II. That is the story that Hussey tells on his pages 377-379. Hussey cites Eisenhower’s plan to move his forces eastward, bypassing Paris, and his later saying that the self- liberation of Paris was not of any military value in the larger scheme of things.
It took de Gaulle to convince Eisenhower to make for Paris after all, as De Gaulle was moving north from Algeria with his French army. By the time the French entered the city from the south, and the Americans and other Allies from the west, the fighting was fierce only in the heart of town, between the resistance and the German army, and was soon over with the arrival of regular French army units under de Gaulle.
Hussey counters Eisenhower's pooh-pooing the importance of Paris freeing itself with this (page 379):
“But the fact that Parisians themselves could be seen by the world to have recaptured their city was of massive psychological and symbolic importance.”
Some of the human costs of that uprising against the Germans is captured and retold very compellingly in a novel I read while in Paris on this trip: the last time I saw Paris, by Lynne Sheene (Berkley Press, 2001).
USE THESE LINKS TO GO DIRECTLY TO THESE PLACES
Each place starts with a description of motive for this visit.
You are here now:
Introduction and Background (Role of Andrew Hussey's book Paris, The Secret History)
Several Places Newly Visited (NV):
NV 1. The Chateau de Maintenon
NV 2. The Catacombs
NV 3. The Bois de Meudon
NV 4. The Saint Eustache Church
NV 5. The Jewish Deportation Memorial
New Views of Previously Visited (PV) Places,
PV 1. Les Halles
PV 2. Bois de Boulogne
PV 3. Sacre Coeur Cathedral
PV 4. Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Return to Book Reviews page
Return to 2011 Yearbook Page
Return to Northern Europe/France Home Page
Link to ThoughtsandPlaces.Org Home Page