4 Rue Rabelais

I have this thing. I can never think of François Rabelais without recalling Robert Preston:

 Professor, her kind of woman doesn’t belong on any committee.
Of course, I shouldn’t tell you this but she advocates dirty books.
Harold: Dirty books!
Alma: Chaucer
Ethel: Rabelais
Eulalie: Balzac!

Two of these are French, and they  name streets after Balzac and Rabelais. So it happened that the apartment we rented for a week in Tours is on Rue Rabelais. And could not have picked a more bare patch of pavement. It’s about a car width, with a dream of sidewalks. It runs two blocks, and it’s done.

Of course, we knew all this before coming, thanks to the miracle of Google Maps, by which means we navigated about a mile from the train station. We rented through VRBO, Vacation Rentals by Owner.

A big part of getting into a vacation rental like this is connecting with the owner to move in. There’s no front desk with a helpful clerk to take your credit card and hand you the room keys. This can be a problem when starting from opposite sides of the planet.

In this case the process went smoothly. An email from the owner supplied us with the access code, and all we had to do was walk up to the entrance and punch in the code. Here’s Barbara doing the deed.

The exterior is on the grim side, apparently under construction, but once in there’s a recently remodeled living space. That cubby hole in the background has a work space for your computer in case you, like me, spend a lot of time banging on the keyboard.

This couch folds into another bed, but you might not want to do that unless you are serious about having an extra bed. If you open it up you will have to find another place to put the coffee table, which also serves for dining. That extra bed sucks up a big part of the living space.

There is a kitchen with the latest appliances. The microwave oven was most useful, but its control panel was opaque, in the sense that it gave little clue by way of operating procedure. A little experimentation enabled us to heat water for making tea.

There is a spacious and comfortable bed.

Extra shelf space is at a premium. If you have a bunch of stuff you like to spread out you have to make use of the top of the refrigerator, which also serves to hold facilities for coffee.

Disposing of trash seems to be a systemic problem with these French rentals. The locals know where to take the trash, but this was never explained up front to us. We had a succession of three rentals on our trip and had the same problem with each. An email exchange with the owner cleared up the matter at this apartment. At the bottom of the stairs is  a door that leads to a car garage, and past the car parked there were some trash bins.

Of course, checking out was also a cinch. Just walk out and close the door behind you. In our case there was a general failure of service lighting, and we were wondering how we were going to negotiate the looping stairwell with our luggage in the early morning hours to catch our train. I shot off an email to the owner, and when we prepared to leave in the morning there was a table lamp turned on and sitting on the floor at the top of the stairs.

We got to meet the owner, Phillippe, when he stopped by to show us the trash bins. I’m guessing he is a business man with a number of these rentals. It’s a small building, of which Phillippe may be the owner.

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Tours Saturday

Who knew this was such a lively place? Off the train from Chenonceau we figured to find some croissants for Sunday’s breakfast. Barbara knew there was a boulangerie on the Rue de Nationale, and we turned up that way, where the rail tracks ran the length of the street. The place was jumping

Yeah, crowds were coming out, the place was filling up. There was a festive air. Trains had to poke their way through. Either this is an every Saturday thing, or else everybody else was in on something we didn’t know about.

And, yes! There was Hare Krishna.

For a moment I thought we might be back in Florence.

And fire jugglers, too!

Who would not want to be in Tours on Saturday night?

We determined to finish up some dinner at the apartment and walk back to take in the action. Never happened. Dinner finished, we remembered we were getting old, and an evening lounging around after trekking about all day was what we really wanted. Who knows if we will ever be back for this?

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Places We Will Never Go Again – Chenonceau Château

There are many places well worth a visit but you know you will never go back again. This is the fabulous Chenonceau Château in the French Loire Valley.

It’s best to go here by train from Tours. Get your tickets at the Tours train station. We paid 10.60€ each for a round trip, and you had better purchase the round trip in Tours, because the whistle stop station in Chenonceau does not have a ticket office, nor any office of any kind.

Once you get off the train you’re home free. Walk across the track at the grade crossing, and you are at the château parking lot. From there it’s a short walk to the ticket office and a stroll down a tree-lined entry to the site.

Yes, the place is impressive.

There’s more inside.

There are two ticket prices. The ticket with audio guide is a few euros more. Both plans include a brochure. The cheap ticket costs about as much as your round trip train ride.

For that you get to stroll the magnificent grounds and peek into the private lives of the Catherine de Medici and the French kings who lived here.

Yeah, when the haughty C. de Medici was lounging here I bet it never entered her mind what one day I would come along and shoot up the place with my Canon SLR.

I am sure the entire facility is not covered in the tour, but what you do get to see gives you to wonder what it must have been like to live here hundreds of years ago.

Get real, people. 21st century commoners have an easier life than those people had. Picture this as your kitchen, and you will not envy the person who fixed dinner here.

The place has an interesting modern history. It was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War, and it was bombed by the Germans in June 1940, during the time the Germans were conquering France. Americans bombed it again, the day after the D-Day landings, hitting the chapel and (I suppose) blowing out the stained glass windows.

Early in the occupation, the Chenonceau Château straddled the demarcation between occupied France and Vichy France, the dividing line here being the Cher River. This hall spanned the boundary and was a conduit for French fleeing occupied France.

Outside, strolling the richly manicured grounds is worth the trip.

Be prepared to be impressed.


We took a break after touring the interior. There is a nice restaurant just outside, where Barbara Jean had some kind of chicken with vegetable medley and potatoes au gratin. I had the fish and chips.

When you head back to Tours, remember the return train platform is on the other side of the tracks from where you came in, and it’s past the street at the grade crossing. There’s a machine at the return platform where you can cancel your ticket before getting on the train. It’s a slow ride, with six stops in about 25 minutes. Way comfortable.

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Trouble in River City

It was a nice day in Tours, in the heart of the Loire Valley. For late September it was warm, also sunny. A nice day to walk about the town. We were down to the bridge over the river, took some photos, looked at the monuments to people killed in the wars. We headed back and along the Rue Nationale, where the tram rails run along the middle of the street. And I noticed a sign on a chain link fence near a church or some such building. I translated it to mean, “No singing in public.” Barbara remarked that was a silly idea. Why do they need to caution people against singing in public. Then we heard what I thought was singing. We went to investigate.

Several blocks up Nationale was clogged by a horde of people, and there was definitely singing or chanting or something going on. Barbara advised me to not get involved. We did anyhow.

As we approached we realized thousands of marchers were carrying banners and chanting, chanting in some foreign language. It sounded like French. As we got closer it became apparent they were carrying banners labeled CGT. I did not know at the time, but CGT stands for Confédération Générale du Travail, an institution in France dating back to 1895. They are a significant political party, of socialist bent, at one time allied with French Communists. They seemed to be pissed off at something.

Somebody else was pissed off. A man in a white shirt, standing on the sidelines started shouting at the marchers. He seemed very agitated and could only express himself in French

Presently one of the marchers took offense and engaged. There ensued an exchange of heated conversation, with much shouting and hand motion.

Finally the white shirt man broke it off, telling the marcher to go somewhere, which place I did not catch. Barbara made a video, which I will post later.

Meanwhile the police kept a close eye. There was definitely some trouble in River City.

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103 Rue de Vaugirard

VRBO is Vacation Rentals by Owner, and we decided this time to France we would opt for some living space. An apartment has lots more to offer over a hotel room, especially if you’re going to be in one place for more than a few days. Our plan was to stay two weeks in Paris and two more weeks out in the country. After looking into another plan, we went with VRBO for our three stays.

Barbara looked at some apartments in the north part of Paris, but she took my recommendation and booked a place in the 7th Arrondissement, in the Left Bank. I had visited the region years before when over on business, finding it more walkable and quite pleasant. Again I was not disappointed.

The Rue de Vaugirard has to be one of the least remarkable streets in Paris.

It’s a single lane along 103, where we stayed, but further on it widens and at number 5 becomes one of the most fabulous addresses in the city, the Luxembourg Palace.

Barbara and are old and retired, but there are a number of things about which we are clueless. In this case we had to navigate through the details of moving in to an apartment rental. There is no front desk with a friendly receptionist to take your credit card and give you the keys to your room. You have to arrange to meet the owner, rather the owner’s rental agent, at an agreed time at the apartment. This is best worked out before you leave home, because you are going to need phone service and/or Internet. We arranged with T-Mobile to have service in France with the idea that a phone email ping would get us right in case we missed the meeting.

Fortunately that was not necessary. We got to the agreed place (across the street from the apartment), after killing off some time at a corner restaurant. The owner’s rental agent, Aleksandra, arrived on time while we waited under our umbrellas. She gave us the key to the apartment and also the access code to the building. She walked us through how everything works in the apartment, explaining when it came time to depart we should leave the key on the kitchen counter along with the copy of the very helpful folder of instructions. She spoke excellent English, but not with a French accent. She said she is from Cyprus.

Here is Barbara punching in the code to get into the building.

This door is one solid mother. I think you would need a tank to bust through.

The building is built around a central courtyard.

Saying our apartment is on the first floor does not mean we walk right in. In France the first floor is always one flight up. The stairs are a challenge, especially if you are carting baggage.

We found to apartment to be spacious enough, with multiple windows opening into the courtyard and one out onto the Rue de Vaugirard. Where it counts, appliances are in tip-top shape and of recent vintage. Included are a combination convection and microwave oven, an induction cook top, a dishwasher, a clothes washer, and a heated drying rack that is located in the bathroom.

The furnishings are in fine shape, though eclectic—no particular design scheme. The bed is ample, plush, and very soft. There is all manner of storage space, some of it stocked with fresh linens. The bath towels are huge and thick, but only a single dish towel was provided. We washed it and reused it. The place comes with a flat screen Internet TV, and our Internet connection (WiFi) was blazing fast. Here are some photos:

The kitchen is first class, although we noticed the ample supply of dinner ware did not include any coffee cups. We purchased two for our use at the local Habitat store.

Dining is at the kitchen counter, accommodated by a set of very modern bar stools.

Items we noted include:

  • A store room contained a large supply of fresh bath towels; also a goodly supply of bath gel, meaning we did not have to immediately purchase any from the local store.
  • No trash cans were apparent, but a basket in the storage room held a number of trash bags, so the basket became our trash can, and we used the bags to carry out our trash.
  • It took the first seven days or so of banging emails back and forth with Paul, the owner, to figure out that trash bins were behind a door opening into the court yard by the entrance.
  • We stayed the two weeks without turning on the heat. Ample electric heaters are present for those staying during cold Paris winters. There is no central air conditioning.
  • The induction cook top got some getting use to. I am a retired engineer, and I fully understand the principle, but I had never operated one before. Adequate cooking utensils are in the cupboard, and you just place one on a heating surface and press the ON spot on the glass top. The top does not get hot. Electric currents induced into the cook pan heat the pan, and this was marvelously fast.
  • Barbara asked me what that rumbling sound was, and I told her the subway line we took on an almost daily basis runs beneath the street.
  • We never used the dishwasher, because with two of us dining there were never enough dishes to warrant picking up dishwasher detergent from the store. We used the liquid detergent we found in the kitchen and washed up in the sink after every meal.
  • Same with laundry. I washed out shirts and socks in the sink and dried them on the rack in the bathroom. It takes a couple of hours, but the stuff comes out adequately dry. For jeans we determined we needed to run them (and some shirts) through the clothes washer to get an adequate rinse and spin dry. That worked fine, but be advised: a standard French washing machine is designed to wash for multiple hours, more than the one to two hours of an American appliance.

Staying in an apartment instead of at a hotel means you don’t get any maid service. It also means you need to get your own breakfast. We purchased orange juice, croissants, and yogurt at the local CarreFour on Rue de Vaugirard, and we had a typical French breakfast every morning.

This apartment is well-maintained, but it may not have been remodeled (except for the appliances) in several decades. The multiple closet doors have fittings like I have not seen since my childhood in small-town Texas. The floor is apparently the original wood planking, but freshly varnished. Deep-pile shag rugs are placed in appropriate places for comfort. The kitchen floor appears to be recent ceramic tile. The building entrance requires a code sequence for access, and the apartment door has a very odd key that would require special skills to duplicate or to pick. The door lock includes a top to bottom bolt. There is a great sense of security.

As mentioned, this was our first encounter with VRBO, and we noted this:

  • There is the rental fee, which covers the number of days of you stay.
  • There is a cleaning fee, which remains constant no matter how many days you stay.
  • There is a security deposit. Our instructions were that this was to be paid in cash ($200) at the time we moved in. This turned out to be a misunderstanding. The leasing agent took our credit card number with the authorization to draw on it in case of damage to the premises.
  • This apartment also charged a service fee, which was never explained. It was either a fee to pay the leasing agent to come by and let us into the apartment, or else it was to cover Paul’s expense to VRBO for book the property.
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Paris Nights

Whenever I go somewhere I make an attempt to capture a night time setting. Street scenes are interesting, especially with time exposures. Car lights make streaks, and pedestrians become blurs as they walk through the frame. Here are a few shots near where we stayed two weeks.

The setting is the Boulevard de Montparnasse, where the Rue de Vaugirard and Avenue du Maine converge. There’s lots of stuff going on here, with cars from four directions coming together and attempting to get through with the original paint, while diners enjoy an evening meal at any number of sidewalk eateries along Montparnasse. In no particular order, here are four scenes.

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Paris Sera Toujours Paris

I first came here 20 years ago this month. It was a revelation. Barbara Jean and I walked the boulevards, dined at the sidewalk cafés, ogled the museums, saw the famous sites, took the famous photos. Good memories.

Then the following year I went to work for a French company, and they sent me here from time to time. I got to see Paris more often. Barbara Jean and I came back together a couple of more times. And we’re back again. Don’t know if it will the the last time. Likely not. I’m reminded of a song:

Par précaution on a beau mettre
Des croisillons à nos fenêtres
Passer au bleu nos devantures
Et jusqu’aux pneus de nos voitures
Désentoiler tous nos musées
Chambouler les Champs Elysées
Emmailloter de terre battue
Toutes les beautés de nos statues
Voiler le soir les réverbères
Plonger dans le noir la ville lumière
Paris sera toujours Paris !
La plus belle ville do monde
Malgré l’obscurité profonde
Son éclat ne peut être assombri
Paris sera toujours Paris !
Plus on réduit son éclairage
Plus on voit briller son courage
Plus on voit briller son esprit
Paris sera toujours Paris !

The song, sung by Maurice Chevalier, features in the World War Two documentary series The World at War. The video, produced by Thames Television, covers the most destructive human conflagration in our history, from the rise of Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese imperialism, through the years of the war, 1939 to 1945, concluding with the war’s after effects on human society. It details the cataclysmic defeat of France by the German Army in June 1940, and it features the invasion of occupied France by Allied forces in 1944, including a section of the liberation of Paris in August of that year.

German forces occupied western France while a collaborationist  government, headquartered in Vichy, accommodated the Nazis. When Allied forces landed in northern Africa in 1942 and began to threaten Vichy-aligned regions there, Germany extended its oppressive rule to cover all of mainland France. The city of Paris chaffed under a harsh German dictatorship. A curfew kept Parisians indoors from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Civilians caught out after curfew were arrested and often added to a pool of hostages to be executed whenever a German was killed by the French. The first to be executed had committed the offense of punching a German in a street fight. Subsequently Adolf Hitler ordered 1000 French executed for every German killed. Although in consequence only 981 in the region were executed, still the Germans tracked down five student protest leaders and executed them.

Nominally, occupying Germans engaged France and Paris in legal commerce, but in reality the occupation was a systematic looting of the country by the Germans. Goods purchased were paid for with occupation money, whose value was vastly inflated. Train loads of art and other valuable property left Paris for Germany. The Germans conscripted French workers, sending them to work in Germany, essentially slaves. Jews were disenfranchised, stripped of their property and their liberty. Half of Paris’ Jewish population was deported to German camps. 34,000 died.

The German military put up road signs in Paris pointing to critical destinations. In June 1944 signs pointing to Normandy were added. Liberation was coming.

Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre describe the liberation of Paris in their book published 21 years after the fact, Is Paris Burning? I viewed the movie based on the book, which came out in 1966 and subsequently read the book about 40 years ago. Last month I acquired a Kindle edition and am currently using it as a street guide to the action.

I have a few screen shots from the Thames Television video, and I am adding some street scenes of my own as I go along. With very little comment, I’m going to post excerpts from the book. It may be best to begin with a reprint of the OKW order for the defense and ultimate destruction of Paris, for that is what the Wehrmacht was charged with carrying out, under direct order of German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler, who, seeing his once-globe-straddling empire collapsing around him, determined to destroy what he was destined to lose. Here is an abbreviated version of the order:

The defense of the Paris bridgehead is of capital importance from both a military and political standpoint. The loss of the city would lead to the loss of the entire coastal plain north of the Seine and would deprive us of our rocket-launching sites for the long-distance war against England.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 25-28). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

In the city itself, the most energetic tactics, such as the razing of entire city blocks, the public execution of ringleaders, the forced evacuation of any quarter of the city which appears menacing, must be used to smash the first signs of an uprising; this is the only way to prevent such movements from spreading.

The destruction of the city’s Seine bridges will be prepared.

Paris must not fall into the hands of the enemy, or, if it does, he must find there nothing but a field of ruins.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 30-35). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Hitler considered nothing less than the complete obliteration of all French history in Paris and envisioned beyond that the destruction of the entire city. To this task Hitler turned to a general officer he was sure he could trust. That person was Dietrich von Choltitz, General der Infanterie in the Wehrmacht. Choltitz had a reputation for toughness and aggression. He jumped with his men into the Netherlands in the first major aerial assault in modern warfare, and he gained fame for Germany’s victory in the siege of Sevastopol. Hitler was sure that if any of his officers could carry out the defense and ultimate destruction of Paris, it was Choltitz. Almost surely Hitler was never more wrong.

While possessing extraordinary bravery and tenacity in combat, Choltitz was, in fact, a martinet, comfortable with having well-defined orders to carry out and not having to make his own decisions. Additionally, Choltitz’s heart was not as hard as Hitler imagined. When crunch time came, Choltitz realized he did not want to go down in history as the man who destroyed Paris.

Hitler met personally with Choltitz in assigning him the Paris command, and this meeting was crucial in turning the general around in his fealty to the Third Reich:

Then his voice began to rise. Choltitz recognized now an echo of the man he had seen a year ago. Hitler spoke of the victories he was preparing. Normandy, he told Choltitz, was only a temporary setback. Soon, with “new weapons,” he would reverse the tide.

Brutally, without warning, Hitler switched to another topic. His hands tightened on the edge of the desk under him. He leaned forward until Choltitz blinked at the closeness of his face. He was shrieking.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 486-490). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Possibly no other incident contributed to the salvation of Paris than this meeting. Choltitz came away with a new awareness:

For this little Prussian officer, the few minutes he had just lived had been one of the most jarring experiences of his life. He had crossed half a continent to find a leader in this bunker, to reawaken his faith in German arms. Instead of a leader, Dietrich von Choltitz had found a sick man; instead of faith, doubt. Much, in the days ahead, would depend on the disillusionments of this August morn.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 509-512). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Though decisive battles were being waged in Normandy at the time, French occupation in the four years had become a dream assignment for German troops, especially in Paris, where the living was easy. Unbeknown to the bulk of the occupiers, beneath the complacent surface of the French population there boiled a hatred drawn from the humiliation of the defeat of 1940 and from the pointless harshness of the occupation. An underground of resistance began to form about November 1940, and by August 1944 it was legion, organized, and effective. Beginning in 1942 the Allies began to supply the Resistance, often through clandestine airdrops under noses of the occupying forces:

In a few hours, night would fall over that peaceful scene spread out under the sergeant’s binoculars. Scanning the horizon, peering into the shadows around him, he would then begin another night’s vigil, his fifty-eighth since the invasion. In the first light of dawn, he would pick up his field telephone and report to Luftwaffe regional headquarters in Soissons. Since the last full moon, twelve days earlier, the sergeant’s reports had invariably been the same: “Nothing to report for my sector.”

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 49-53). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

On this particular night, barely two miles away, an emissary to the Resistance was parachuting in, carrying additionally a critical coded command.

As he drifted silently home to French soil, young medical student Alain Perpezat could feel at his waist the tug of a money belt containing five million francs. But it was not to deliver that impressive sum that he had plummeted into this dark August night.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 63-65). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Hitler had personally instructed all prominent installations in the city be set with explosive charges and demolished. All 45 bridges across the Seine were to be blown, all public utilities were to be systematically wrecked, and all factories were to be demolished. If a few hundred thousand French were killed, so much the better:

On the rue Saint-Amand, near the Paris municipal slaughterhouses, Sergeants Bernhardt Blache and Max Schneider, of the 112th Signal Regiment, started to plant the ton of dynamite and the 200 explosive caps with which they would blow up the central telephone installations of Paris. For four years its trunk lines and 132 teletypewriters had been the military communications center of occupied France, receiving and distributing messages for the entire western front from Norway to Spain. Blache’s superior, First Lieutenant von Berlipsch, planned to trigger the explosion from a “Sprengkommando” (“plunger”) in a parked car tucked around the corner. At the same time, his colleague Lieutenant Daub would be blowing up the city’s second telephone center under Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1401-1407). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Choltitz did not want to see Paris destroyed. Also, he did not want a protracted battle for Paris, such as previously witnessed at Stalingrad. There is little doubt Choltitz worked against the Nazi regime’s interest, essentially collaborating with Allied forces, whose forces were drawing nearer by the day. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in charge of all Allied operations in Europe, including free French forces under Charles de Gaulle. And here was conflict which, followed logically, could lead to the destruction of Paris.

De Gaulle wanted a hard drive onto Paris, before German reinforcements could be brought up, and before ruinous sabotage could be completed. Eisenhower saw German forces in France on the run,  nearly obliterated at the battle of the Falaise Pocket. Ideally, Allied troops would continue to push hard—not allowing the Germans to regroup to form a defensive line—and to roll right into Germany. Unfortunately for Eisenhower, the only active ports at the time were at the Normandy beachhead and at Cherbourg. And the front lines were becoming farther from these supply points by the day. Supply lines were getting longer, and the supply of fuel to the front was becoming desperately short. Eisenhower determined to bypass Paris and keep on rolling.

De Gaulle (and Eisenhower) had a major problem with the French Resistance, particularly in  Paris:

What happened there in the next few weeks would decide, de Gaulle was convinced, who would control postwar France. De Gaulle was resolutely determined that that control should be his.

Two factions, de Gaulle believed, conspired to deny it to him: his political enemies, the French Communist party, and his military allies, the Americans.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 233-236). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

The Communist were far and away the strongest contingent of the Resistance, and they campaigned with religious zeal. No cost was too great to bear for the defeat of the Nazis:

They had that plan. Soon a lone Communist organizer with a pistol and thirty brave men would launch a strike in the railroad marshaling yards of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. It would be the first of a series of strikes that would cripple the city and bring it to the brink of the insurrection the Communists-and many patriotic Frenchmen-wanted.

It was a plan full of incalculable risks for Paris, its inhabitants, even France itself. Its price might be the destruction of Paris. But those who wanted that insurrection were prepared to pay a heavy price.

Soon this stolid Breton Communist called Rol would thump his fist on a table and vow, “Paris is worth 200,000 dead.”

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 683-689). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

The idea of the Communists was that they would lead the revolt, they would prevail, they would be the heroes of Paris, they would be in charge when Allied forces arrived, they would be in power from that point on and rule all of France. This de Gaulle and his loyalists in Paris sought to forestall, even at jeopardy to success.

Word came on the 19th that Allied troops were in Chartres, about 60 miles away. The reaction was heard-rending

Caillette hung up and, weeping with emotion, stumbled back into the Salle des Fetes. “Les gars,” he rasped in a voice raw and hoarse from strain, “the Americans are in Chartres!” The exhausted and beaten men looked at each other, then back at Caillette. He was standing at attention, tears rolling down his face, singing the “Marseillaise.”

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 1915). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

The Communists forced the issue with city-wide strikes on the troops of occupation. The first inkling the Germans had that the end of the occupation was at hand was a coordinated, city-wide unveiling:

Everywhere, the first defiant gesture was the same. From windows and rooftops the forbidden flag of France-dusty from months in hiding, or improvised from bed sheets and silk dresses-came back to the skyline of its capital.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1799-1800). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

An initial target was the Mairie of the First Arrondissement of Paris, essentially a government mayoral office:

As Chadeville began to read the ceremony, the door to the Salle des Mariages burst open. Waving his pistol in his hand, Marcel the prompter sprang into the room. Behind him, proud and resolute, strode Colonel Massebiau followed by the four other members of the commando. They announced to the dumbfounded Vichy mayor that he was stripped of his office and under arrest.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1814-1817). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

All over Paris, the oppressor quickly became the oppressed:

Like the rest of the 5,000 troops quartered in the commune, the two German soldiers sipping a cognac in the café on the rue de Chézy, around the corner from the town hall of Neuilly, felt perfectly at home. At the sound of the door opening behind them, the two Germans exchanged a concupiscent smile. It would be Janine, the pretty blond nursemaid they had come to see. They turned, and saw instead Louis Berty, the Nanterre pork butcher, pointing a gun at a German soldier for the first time in his life.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1826-1829). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Word got to the Germans, and they responded, not realizing their days of rule were over:

An officer stepped out of the cab, jammed his fists onto his hips, and stared up at the building. “Surrender and come out!” he shouted. From his perch above in the white-and-gold Salle des Fetes, under a painting of Henri IV falling into the Lake of Neuilly, Caillette stared back at this image of the conquerors of 1940. With the passionate pride of this, his first open act of resistance, and a pardonable overstatement of his strength, he answered, “Surrender yourself! This is the Army of Liberation.” The German flicked open his brown leather holster, drew out his pistol, and fired wildly toward the window from which Caillette had shouted. At that gesture, a vengeful fire swept down on the Germans from every window of the Mairie. The arrogant officer, Caillette saw, collapsed slowly onto the sidewalk “like a child’s balloon with the air leaking out.” Finally the firing stopped. The town hall square was silent. Not a sound, not a single dying cry, came from the Germans. Only one, not quite dead, twitched. The rest lay still. Appalled and awestruck, the men “from Zadig” contemplated what they had just done.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1840-1848). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

One of the first assaults was against the Prefecture of Police, barely 200 yards from the fabled towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. Nominally controlled by French police, it was an edifice of Vichy power.

Von Arnim gestured to the driver, and the car started over the Pont-au-Change toward Notre-Dame and the Prefecture of Police. Beyond the twin gray towers of the Conciergerie dominating this Ile de la Cité on which von Arnim had so often strolled, the young count could see the spire of Sainte-Chapelle stretching like a graceful sword into the morning sky. On his left, at the head of the quai aux Fleurs, he caught a glimpse of a few bouquets of flowers splashing their color against the pavement. At the top of the horloge tower abutting on the Conciergerie, the gold needles of its enormous open clock marked eleven. The first burst of fire shook the empty street “like the clash of a cymbal.” Half a dozen of the rounds fired from the Prefecture of Police struck the Mercedes. Behind him, von Arnim saw one of the two sergeants drop his machine gun and buckle forward. He was dead. Terrified, the young count shrieked at the driver, “Faster, faster!” With two of its tires shot out, the car screeched protestingly forward on its rims. Then the helmet of the second sergeant clanged onto the floor of the car and its owner slumped backward. Von Arnim turned and saw blood squirting from a gaping hole in his forehead. How, he wondered, could this have happened in Paris?

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1853-1862). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Seventy-three years later tourists bask in the plaza where Germans and Resistance fighters battled and died.

The Prefecture of Police in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, where Resistance fighters took a stand

Nearby, across a narrow stream of the Seine from the Prefecture of Police, French fighters unleashed a fury four years in the making:

In the tangle of twisting alleys between the Seine and Saint-Germain-des-Pres, on streets with names as quaint as the rue du Chat-qui-Peche and rue Git-le-Coeur, * (Literally, the streets of “the fishing cat” and “where the heart lies.”) hidden FFI squads trapped four truckloads of German soldiers. Some of them, their uniforms blazing from the splatterings of Molotov cocktails, ran screaming through those scenic little side streets, human torches in a thousand-year-old haven of human amusement.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 2425-2429). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Rue du Chat qui Peche

Rue Xavier Privas just to the west

The battle between the civilian Resistance and professional Wehrmacht troops took on all the ferocity of a full-scale engagement:

On the boulevard du Palais, the firing in which Count von Arnim had been caught a few moments earlier had resumed. Pisani hung up and ran to the window. In the middle of the pavement, a German truck, hit by an incendiary bullet, blazed like a torch. “It was like a shooting gallery,” Pisani recalled later. One by one, the Germans fleeing the burning truck were flipped over like little tin targets.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1868-1871). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Amazingly, Resistance fighters had available motion picture cameras, and they filmed the carnage with gruesome clarity. The truck carrying German soldiers and likely hit by a fire bomb constructed using a champagne bottle filled with sulfuric acid and wrapped in cloth saturated with potassium chlorate solution, is set ablaze. Troops are seen tumbling to the pavement, on fire, while Resistance fighters shoot them from above.

Sergeant Bernhardt Blache was in charge of a detail planting explosives to blow up the central telephone exchanges. When his detail came under attack from the Prefecture of Police he saw soldiers killed by sniper fire and burned alive from fire bombs. Enraged, he grabbed two “potato mashers” (German hand grenades) and charged a group of civilians at the end of a bridge, scattering them. Then he forced a driver to take him to the Hotel Meurice.

Still waving those grenades, the half-mad Blache ran into the lobby of the Meurice and up the flight of stairs ahead of him. He threw open the first door he found, and burst into the room behind it. “My God, my God!” he cried. “What are you waiting for, to send the tanks? They’re cooking my men like sausages!”

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1893-1895). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Paris streets, which during the occupation saw a handful of cars visible at a time, now was streaming with vehicles, carrying Resistance fighters and marked with “FFI.”

All manner of transportation was commandeered. It is a fair guess how many of those in this photo were still alive when Paris was liberated.

The Resistance had a solitary French tank, left over from the previous war, but with no shells for its gun.

The Resistance fought with determination, but they were clearly outmatched. Resistance fighters shot Germans down in the street and took their weapons to arm themselves.

But the professional German army had tanks, anti-tank weapons, and plenty of all. By the end of opening day, 19 August, most of the Resistance strong points had been reduced, their occupants killed or captured and executed.

Another Resistance stronghold was the fabulous Palais du Luxembourg along the Rue de Vaugirard.

The tale of Resistance hijacker Paul Pardou takes a grim turn at the Palais du Luxembourg:

From a window of a room in the Palais du Luxembourg another Frenchman watched three other FFI prisoners march off to their deaths, carrying on their shoulders the picks and shovels with which they would dig their own graves. It was Paul Pardou, the self-effacing truck driver in a blue beret who had systematically hijacked the food hoards of Vichy’s Milice for the Resistance. Pardou’s mission on this Saturday, the one he had vowed would be his last, had ended in disaster. He had been caught in a German roadblock. Pardou had had one instinctive gesture. He had swallowed the fake Milice identity papers he had used to pillage Vichy’s food supplies. At no price, he had decided, would he take the chance of being handed over to the Milice.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 2051). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Pardou’s story is one of survival. Held in captivity for days during the uprising, he worked in the kitchen, and each day the German mess sergeant in charge hissed at him, “Today you make kitchen clean, tomorrow you shot.” When the end came the Germans decided not to shoot a bunch of prisoners right before becoming prisoners, themselves.

During the last hour left them, the SS fired off their ammunition. As they did, the rest of the garrison assembled in the palace’s debris-spattered courtyard. Their prisoners drifted up with them. Looking with delight at the mass before him, Paul Pardou, the little hijacker, saw the red-necked form of his mess-sergeant captor, Franz. Franz caught his eye and beckoned to him, reaching into his pocket. Summing up his last reserves of the French language, the man who had so often mumbled to him ‘Today you make kitchen clean, tomorrow you shot” handed an envelope to Pardou. “It’s for my wife,” he hissed.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 5439). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Several sought to intervene. Of particular interest was Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling. Choltitz called on Nordling, seeking somebody to negotiate with the Resistance, and also to probe the approaching Allies. Nordling saved the day for the Resistance by proposing a truce (accepted), under which wounded fighters could be collected for treatment.

The Resistance used the truce to regroup and to plan new attacks. The firing subsided but never ceased during the night 19-20 August.

Choltitz, all this time, was receiving furious communiques from his superiors, driven by Hitler. When was the destruction of Paris going to be completed?  (The destruction had not even begun.) When was Choltitz going to wreak massive retaliation on the insubordinate French?

Part of Choltitz’s quandary  was that destruction of the Paris infrastructure would leave his own troops without electricity, communications, even drinking water. Also, the bridges Choltitz was supposed to destroy were needed by his own troops and by German units retreating in front of the Allied advance. Choltitz hinted to Nordling he could be of additional  help:

Then, with a few strokes of his pen, Choltitz scratched out for Nordling the only written warrant he was willing to give him. “The Commanding General of Gross Paris,” he wrote, “authorizes the Consul General of Sweden R. Nordling to leave Paris and its line of defense.” He passed the piece of paper across his desk to the chubby Swede. Nordling, sweating lightly in his nervous excitement, asked Choltitz for some further guarantee that would get him through the German lines.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 3198-3202). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Nordling found plenty of volunteers willing to join him in a trek through the battle front. A major problem was he was unable to make the trip:

This man who had been chosen to carry the desperate warning of Dietrich von Choltitz to the Allies 60 miles away could barely drag himself the few feet across his office to a spare bed. He had just had a heart attack.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 3260-3262). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Fortunately, Choltitz’s note referenced “R. Nordling,” not spelling out Nordling’s first name. Nordling was able to substitute his own brother, Rolf Nordling.

Nobody should underestimate the drama of traversing the real estate that separates two warring armies:

The German took a piece of paper from his pocket and studied it in front of the car. Then, beckoning Saint-Phalle to follow him, the German, his eyes cautiously fixed on the asphalt, led the Citroën on a zigzag course. For thirty-five minutes, perspiring fiercely, the five men in the car twisted through the minefield in a terrifying slalom. At a final intersection the German straightened up and tucked the paper back into his pocket. Then he pointed his hand west and proudly announced, “The Americans. Five hundred meters.”

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 3292-3295). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

While R. Nordling and a handful of others approached the frontier, Choltitz had other problems, some of which solved themselves. Reinforcements that were promised to Choltitz by Field Marshal Walter Model, never arrived. Model was unable to get the units to Paris and sent the bad news to Choltitz in a final note. A 60 cm mortar, intended to pulverize Paris, was shipped from its storage in Berlin, but it never arrived, due to Allied attacks on the rail lines. These, plus a litany of other foibles, contrived to save Paris from destruction.

Allied forces entered Paris from the west and from the south. A tank from the French contingent arrived at the Arc de Triomphe and engaged a German tank at the other end of the Champs Elysees.

On 25 August 25, the day of liberation, fierce fighting occurred among these iconic columns along the Rue du Rivoli, across from the Louve, and the location of German headquarters in Paris.

And in the dining room of the Hotel Meurice, someone had seen them too. Corporal Mayer walked discreetly up to von Choltitz and, leaning over respectfully, whispered to his commander, “Sie kommen, Herr General.”

Outside, along the arcades of the rue de Rivoli, a German tank pivoted into the line of advance of Branefs tanks. As it did, his lead Sherman Douaumont swung its 7S-mm gun toward it. The Douaumont blew it apart with one shot.

At the Douaumont’s shot, the whole street exploded into fire. Inside the dining room of the Meurice, the windowpanes were blown out by the shock waves of the shells exploding in the streets below. Choltitz stoically finished his meal. Then, calm and emotionless, he rose to address a few words to his officers waiting for him to leave so they could bolt out of this now menaced chamber.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “our last combat has begun. May God protect you all.” He added, “I hope the survivors may fall into the hands of regular troops and not those of the population.” When he finished, he walked slowly out of the room.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 4932). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

There was also fierce fighting in these small streets behind the Meurice.

Dietrich von Choltitz took over command of Paris and installed himself at the Hotel Meurice on the Rue du Rivoli in the early days of August. It was here he surrendered barely two weeks later. The title of the book is supposedly due to an outburst from a frustrated Adolf Hitler. Daily he wanted a report on the complete destruction of Paris, and daily he received excuses. There was a final confrontation:

Caught up in the hysteria of his mounting rage, Hitler began to scream. What had happened? Had these orders been carried out? Hitler wheeled on the chief of his general staff with a savage glare.

“Jodl!” he rasped. “Brennt Paris?”-“Is Paris Burning?” A silence fell over the bunker.

Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 4864). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.

Coming here 73 years after the events I can see that the famous landmarks are still standing. Twenty-first century Paris is a far cry from Paris of 1944, but much is unchanged. The song reminds us that “Paris will always be Paris.”

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