Sunday, May 23, 2021

Recollection: My mother during WW2, part 1

My younger daughter asked me to return to writing blog posts about my early recollections of Paris and my family. My mother's birthday was in May, French Mother's Day is the last Sunday in May or May 30,2021, so I'll write a very old memory about my mother during the war years. In 2009 I wrote a post about my mother's childhood "Mother's Birthday" you can read it here. It was followed in 2010 with a post about her youth and work in Paris and on the French Riviera "Mother's Youth and the House of Worth" you can read it here. For many years I gave my mother a hydrangea plant for Mother's Day; this is why I show some here.
As time passes, our memories fade and the visual information on them becomes vague. But some memories seem etched in the mind for ever. There are different types of memory: short term memory, sensory memory, long term memory that includes explicit memory, semantic memory and episodic memory. Episodic memories are generally about specific moments in one's life, with sensations and emotions associated with the event. Subsets of these are autobiographical memories including "flashbulb" memories which are highy detailed vivid "snapshot" of an exceptional and often emotional circumstance. The story I'm going to relate belongs to this type of memory as I was just past 4 years old but I still remember it. I don't have many photos of that period, of course, but I have photos showing me at the time.
One thing I remember about that time is the sound of the sirens urging us to go down to underground shelters as bombers were in the area. Some afternoons we would also go to public garden squares where my mom would sew and I would play. Once in a great while we would take a bus around Paris - I liked to stand in the very back of the bus in the open air.
From the bus I could see the rare cars (as gasoline was unavailable to private people,) bicycles, bike-taxis or tandem taxis as well as horse carriages. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
Mother must have left me with a neighbor when she went food shopping as I don't remember going with her then. Queues were long.
The Germans occupied Paris from June 1940 through August 1944 and seized about 80 percent of the French food production. There were acute food shortage and malnutrition amongst children, the elderly and in large cities where people could not maintain a vegetable garden. (Only 3/4 pound of meat with bones a week per family, if you could find it.) French food rationing was more stringent than that of any other occupied country in Western Europe. Ration books were issued for everything: food, clothes, coal, etc. until 1949. I don't remember eating much as food access was not normalized until the early 1950s.
Farmers raised rabbits to sell to city folks as they reproduced quickly. Some city people even raised rabbits on their balconies or cellars. My mother had been a "première d’atelier" or head seamstress in high fashion houses in Paris. She presided over the "atelier" (workshop) overseeing up to 30 seamstress and apprentices. She was the right-hand of the designer and had to be able to translate the designs into the right fabric, cut, etc. She could work with furs as well. She had a friend, Sarah, who worked in a fur shop, not far from our apartment. We would stop there often and my mother would make rabbit vests or other small garments that she would barter with farmers for one egg a week for me. I remember the little shop well; it was about 1/2 mile down the street Rue de Rochechouard. Several years ago while in Paris I tried to find where the fur shop used to be, but it was no longer there. I think it was located in Rue Lamartine. Below are maps of Paris arrondissements or quarters. We lived at the top of the 9th, below the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, that is located at the top of Butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. Below, on the top right is shown in blue the 1/2 mile walking trip from our apartment to where my mother's friend worked, a 10 minute walk.
My mother's friend wore a yellow star on her coat. At the time, I did not know why. Later, of course, I read about it. In May 1942, on the advice of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler ordered all Jews in occupied Paris to wear this yellow ID badge on the left side of their coats. Two months later, on July 16-17 1942, the Nazis had the French Police make mass arrest of 13,000 foreign Jewish families in Paris and suburbs. This was called "La Rafle du Vel d'Hiv" an abbreviation of the Rafle du Vélodrome d'Hiver. The victims were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. (In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron apologized and admitted the responsibility of the French State in this raid.) (Photos courtesy French Wikipedia.)
I don't have photos of the various capes, hats, jackets, vests and manchons (hand warmer) my mother made with the rabbit fur, but years later she made a white rabbit cape for my eldest daughter, shown below. I also found examples of rabbit vests as she used to sew (she made one for my late husband to wear outdoors.)
My memories of that time are rather vague, but I was 4 years old at the time. However, the following event I remember well. We had walked to Sarah's shop and my mother was upset. I remember she was arguing with Sarah - I don't remember the words, but Sarah kept saying no and my mother yes. Then Sarah took her coat (with the yellow star) and my mother threw it away. Then I remember trying to keep up with them as they walked up the street toward our apartment. My legs were not very long as seen in the photo below, in a dress my mother had made for me.
We proceeded to walk up to our apartment, which was on the 6th floor (without an elevator.) Then I played while Sarah and my mother went up the 7th floor where my father had his jewelry workshop (he was an artisan jeweler, diamond dealer.) I am not sure how long Sarah stayed there - days? weeks? Later I remember going up when Sarah had left. There was a small bed on the side and heavy navy blue blankets on the window to keep the lights out. In old Paris buildings the seventh floor used to have single rooms for the maids, with one or two toilets in the hall. Mother would be careful to make sure no one was around when she took food up to Sarah. In the collage below you see the entrance to the Cité on top left, next to our building, below on the left with window ajar is where my father's workshop was, then the main courtyard. We kept this apartment until the mid 1970s.
Several days later, or a couple of weeks, I am not sure, there was a loud knock on our front door. My mother opened the door and was pushed forcefully out of the way by two or three scary looking tall men. I remember they were loud with mean voices. Then my father arrived and they pushed him against the wall. They were looking for gold they said (I was told later) because my father was a jeweler. My father, an Armenian, had his business name changed at the time - he had the 3 last letters taken off, ian, that showed his Armenian name; he was stateless then. The Nazis sent many "stateless" people to concentration camps, too - they wore blue ID badges. Anyway, I remember that I wanted those men to stay away from my mum and dad and kept telling the men "I know something... Where someone is hiding..." Later my mother told me she had been petrified that they would listen to me and find Sarah upstairs. But I was annoying them and one of them walked on my feet with his heavy boots and I howled and kept howling. The men shouted at my mum to keep me quiet then they took my father away. It turns out that they were the Gestapo. My father returned a couple days later and went to bed for a while to recoup.
For those who may not know, the Gestapo, abbreviation for Geheime Staatspolizei (German: "Secret State Police",) in partnership with the Sicherheitsdienst(SD "Security Service") were responsible for rounding up the Jews throughout Europe for deportation to the extermination camps. I don't remember what they looked like but I do remember the boots that were so loud on our hardwood floor, and so painful on my feet. I think that for several days afterwards my mother had to carry me down the six flights of stairs and then down to the cellar during air raids. This is my "snapshot" memory - I'll never forget these loathsome men. Then I don't know what happened to Sarah. I think my mother's cousin worked with or had a friend in the French Resistance who had told him about the roundup of Jews in our Paris quarter. He also was able to get Sarah out of Paris and to a safe location or overseas. Both my parents never talked about it. But my father had our front door secured after that. The outside view looked the same but the inside was in metal. It was an armored door with a bar (in case the Gestapo would come back.) I found a couple of pictures that give example of the outside and inside door - our door was a double door.
All this happened a long time ago. The Nazis are gone (well, maybe not everywhere, as seen in the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, by supporters of Donald Trump.) Germany has given reparation to the Jews and the Jews have moved to Israel. Although, there again, the citizens of Israel of nowadays are not the old citizens of after the war. I have been reading articles by the late Maurice Rajsfus (1928-2020.) He was a writer, journalist and militant. He wrote numerous essays on the Jewish genocide in France, the police and politics. His parents were Jews from Poland who had moved to Paris in the 1920s. His parents were rounded up in the Vel d'Hiv rafle of 1942 and sent to Auschwitz. His elder sister and he survived as they were born in France. 75% of French Jews survived to the end of the war (many were hidden like Sarah) in contrast with countries like Poland and the Netherlands where a lot more perished. It is said that the French Police collaborated with the enemy and denounced foreign Jews to save French Jews, but I don't absolve the French Police anyway - they were not innocent. (Below, Paris under German occupation - 1939-1944.)
Maurice Rajsfus wrote several books and I'll look for them when I go to Paris, in particular the book he wrote when he returned from a trip to Israel. I'd like to read what his feelings, as a Holocaust survivor, are about current Israel. I did read a remark he made, in French, and I'll translate: "...Israel is not my problem. It was a country like any other, to visit perhaps, if the opportunity arose. Once there, I modified this assessment ... I have always distanced myself from this state - since 1948... The world looks at Israel, judges its actions, admires or condemns them. As far as I am concerned, I refuse to bear part of the burden of this Jewish country which subjects the Palestinians to conditions of oppression that some of its citizens experienced in the past, elsewhere. I don't want anyone to think I am an accomplice - to any degree - of those who consider it normal to make the Palestinians pay for the crimes commited by the Nazis."
After my mother died in 2002 I found out that she had saved more Jewish people, when I was a baby. This will be for the part 2 of this post... more to come...
"Peace has no borders." - Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel (1922-1995)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Picasso in Nashville, the weather and Paducah, KY

Let's start with the weather. My return trip to Nashville from Atlanta was planned for March 25, 2021, but storms started accumulating that day followed by tornadoes. One touched down in a small town west of us. I stayed up till 2:00 am on the 26th under tornado watch. On the morning of the 26th a violent tornado devastated the city of Newnan, GA, south of Atlanta, destroying several historic homes. I still left my house in Atlanta for Nashville on the 26th of March as it was my birthday and I had bought a cake at the French bakery. Because of all this I did not realize that it had rained so heavily in Nashville that part of the town had been flooded, including the basement in my Nashville house. When I looked a couple of days later, I saw water one foot high on the basement ground (as the sump pump lever had malfunctioned.) The water had entered my new water heater. It had to be replaced with a tank-less water heater (cost $3,500 - so was not very happy about that!) Below photos of the Georgia tornadoes and Nashville flood.
On the 27th we did celebrate my birthday at my daughter's, ending with the French chocolate birthday cake. She gave me a pretty hyacinth planter that has a lovely fragrance.
The Frist Art Museum in Nashville celebrated its 20th anniversary with a unique exhibition from France called "Picasso - Figures" on loan from the Musée national Picasso-Paris. The Nashville Picasso exhibit is the one and only appearing in the U.S. in 2021. It will end here on May 9th. Advance timed tickets are required as well as social distancing in the museum. When I attended the show few people were there. The exhibition features 75 paintings, sculptures and works on paper that are exploring the artist's lifelong fascination with the body as a means of conveying his deep feelings. Famous and lesser-known works ranging from his early years to his late period are shown with accompanying explanation. There were informative panels on the wall and a short history of Picasso's life. If you click on the photos below it will enlarge and be easier to read his biography.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain, on 25 April 1881. As early as seven years old, he was trained by his father, a professor of art at a local university. At 13 years of age Picasso took lessons with his father who was then working at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. Picasso studied also in Madrid and took frequent trips to Paris where he moved in 1904. In 1940 Picasso applied for French citizenship but was refused. With General Franco in power in Spain, the French government could not decide whether Picasso was a communist or anarchist, so they ruled out his request. But after he died, France honored him and his work with a museum in a historic Paris building. There were photos of Picasso in the exhibit.
It felt strange in a way to see these famous paintings here in Nashville. I knew so many of them from having seen them in magazines, newspapers, postcards and so on, but here were the authentic paintings, the real thing. I guess it felt as someone who might have seen many renderings of the Eiffel Tower or the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, then see them "in the flesh" if you will. Awe inspiring. The exhibition started with a painting Pablo executed when he was not 14 years old "La Fillette aux Pieds Nus" (The Barefoot Girl.)
Picasso had numerous romantic relationships - he loved women and they fueled his art. Picasso was married twice, from 1918 to 1955 (although they lived separately from 1938 on) with Olga Khokhlova, a Ukraining ballet dancer of noble descent and the mother of his son, Paulo (Olga slowly drank herself to death after he left her for another woman, Marie-Therese Walker.) From 1961 to his death in 1973 he was married to Jacqueline Roque who he had met when he was 72 and she 26. Pablo had hundreds of affairs, and six significant mistresses, such as Marie-Therese Walker, who gave him a child, Maya (Marie-Therese hang herself later.) Then Francoise Gilot (between 1943 and 1953) with whom he had two children, Claude and Paloma. Francoise is the only woman who left him, and Picasso resented this tremendously. He disinherited their two children. Francoise subsequently married the American physician and researcher, Jonas Salk, who created the first vaccine against polio. Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, was the most featured woman across his artwork - he painted 400 portraits of her. (Jacqueline could not live without Picasso and in 1986 she committed suicide.) I took a side view of many of the paintings to avoid the glare from the lights above.
On June 3, 1964, Picasso painted Jacqueline Roque, his future second wife, and titled it "Jacqueline aux mains croisées" (Jacqueline with crossed hands.) She looks like a 20th century long-necked sphinx with the vacant gaze of a Mona Lisa. It is quite a famous work of art. I was surprised to see it in Nashville.
I took several views of it.
There was a short video showing Picasso painting a flower. Below is the sculpture "La femme à la poussette" (Woman with a baby carriage.) In 1950, while walking around in Vallauris (southeast France) Picasso would pick up random thrown away pieces and gather them for his work. For the bronze sculpture below Picasso combined pieces from a real baby buggy with the base of a frying pan and a handful of tart molds, then completed the sculpture with plaster such as the woman's head and arms.
Interspersed on the walls were some of Picasso's quotations.
There were also descriptions of Picasso's creative phases, labeled "periods." The "Blue Period" started in 1901 until 1904. The "Rose Period" lasted until 1906. Then from 1906 to 1909 Picasso was inspired by African art knwon as the "African Period" to be followed by his "Cubism Period" that was at first influenced by Cezanne. Picasso is known for breaking down basic forms then reconstructing them in an abstract way. Picasso took inspiration from everything in his life, his emotions, events, women, and work from his fellow artists. And in turn he has inspired millions of people.
From his academic years in Barcelona until his death, Picasso was inspired by paintings from Masters of the past. He redid them in his revolutionary style. He produced series from Delacroix, Velasquez, Manet, and more. Picasso was very stimulated by Edouard Manet's (French, 1832-1883)"Le déjeuner sur l'herbe" (Luncheon on the Grass.) Picasso recreated this painting his own way in 40 works of various disciplines such as paintings, printing, drawings and ceramics. Below is Manet's original 1863 oil painting (at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris) and Picasso's 1960 interpretation.
Below is one of the last paintings of Picasso one year from his death. The Musician was painted in 1972 in his house in Mougins, in the south of France.
Picasso is a pillar of modern art and one of the most influential artists of his generation. He is one of the most prolific in history with close to 50,000 known works. To be able to see some of his works in Nashville was a real treat. It was like a little piece of Paris. My mother lived for many years in the Marais district of Paris where the Musée national Picasso is now located. But in those years (the 1970s) the museum was just another dark historic building that was less than half a mile (750 meters) from her flat. The Hôtel Salé ( “salé” meaning “salty” in French) where is the Picasso museum now, was built in 1659 for Pierre Aubert de Fontenay, a collector of the salt tax. Along the years it saw many owners, including the Embassy of the Republic of Venice (before 1728) then more prestigious owners, a school, etc. Below an old photo of the building (pretty much as I used to see it) and now as a museum for over 5,000 works of Picasso and tens of thousands of archived pieces. (The museum is temporarily closed due to the Covid virus.)
After my father died my mother sold the big house and moved to the Marais district of Paris. Then, it was not touristy or even prestigious - it was just another old quartier of Paris, which is why she was able to purchase two flats there (to connect into one larger flat.) Although when she moved years later, the area was starting to be gentrified. Now of course Paris has changed a lot. The last time I visited the area wishing to go the the neighborhood restaurant we used to visit, it is now a Starbucks coffee shop, really. Of course I love my home town of Paris but at the same time when I go back I'm always afraid to be unable to find the places I knew. About two million people live in Paris now - 50 million tourists went there in 2019. Actually it is not easy to have your home town be Paris, who everyone else loves, too. I was thinking it might be nice to be from a small town, where things do not change much and local people are there, not herds of tourists. So I placed my finger on the U.S. map to see where I could be from,and what it would be like to be from there. My finger landed on Paducah, Kentucky.
Paducah? I had not heard of it, but it looks close to Nashville. Then it starts with the letters Pa - like Paris; Pa - Paducah. It is also a river town, since it is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. I found out that it is one of the world's UNESCO Creative Cities. This year is the 30th anniversary of the National Quilt Museum that was established in Paducah in 1991 (a must see for me.) There is also a famous African American museum located in the former 1908 Hotel Metropolitan where guests included Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Tina Turner and more. I read that restaurants are also abundant there, with Tasting Table naming Paducah among the best small town for food in the U.S. River boat cruises stop in the Paducah port. (Photos courtesy the Paducah Tourist Bureau.)
On the Paducah travel site I also read: "Historic Downtown Paducah, Kentucky, has been consistently recognized as one of America's best and most beautiful Main Streets by Architectural Digest, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and many others. Preserved 19th century architecture frames contemporary cultural experiences. A certified Kentucky Cultural District with twenty square blocks listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Downtown is incredibly walkable with creativity at every turn." Well, I might not be able to fly back to Paris because of the virus, but there is a good chance I can manage the two or three hour drive north from Nashville to Paducah, Kentucky, this summer. I'm pleased my finger fell on Paducah on the U.S. map - must be a nice home town, too.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Smith-Gilbert Gardens in the spring

Last Tuesday, March 16, 2021, I drove to the Georgia house. On Wednesday I drove to the accountant in Woodstock, GA., in Cherokee County, north of my house, and gave her all my receipts to prepare my income taxes. The next day I read the filing date had been moved to May 17 instead of April 15. At least I won't be late. Then I went back to clearing out the study that I had started last month. There were 4 large cartons on top of each other I had been reluctant (or afraid) to check. As I thought, they contained old magazines, bills, receipts, letters, children drawings and so forth. I started placing the magazines in recycling bags but then realized that some were quite old. The library told me they are not accepting donations at this time and Goodwill does not take magazines.
When I saw the two magazines above I thought to check on eBay to find a price - the 1989 Time magazine Trump issue is selling up to $55 and the Ronald Reagan November 17, 1980 up to $25. I guess I'll keep them. There was also an August 1981 issue of the French magazine Paris Match featuring Princess Diana on her honeymoon. In the magazine I had placed 3 postcards of her 29 July 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. I remember I had flown to Paris to visit my mother that summer and stopped first in London for several days - where I picked up the postcards.
In two days I was able to fill 10 large plastic bags as I did throw away a large number of magazines and assorted papers. It felt liberating to bring them to the high school recycling bin.
Yesterday morning, March 20, 2021, was a bit cool and windy but very sunny, a good day for the start of spring. After going through all these old cartons and dust of ages getting some fresh air sounded quite enticing. I remembered the Smith-Gilbert Gardens my late husband and I visited often in the past. In 2011 I had found out that these gardens were only 4.5 miles from our house. I wrote 6 blog posts on them. You may like to read the history of the gardens in my first post dated August 31, 2011, "A Secret Garden in Cobb County, GA, part 1." I showed more of the gardens in part 2 and part 3. Subsequent posts were written to show the gardens in summer "End of Summer at the Smith-Gilbert Gardens" in the fall "Return to Smith-Gilbert Gardens" and finally "Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Winter." I had not written a post for spring and needed to remedy that. I arrived at the gardens before 10 am on Saturday. Unfortunately I had left my good Nikon and Canon cameras in Nashville, but still had my pocket camera and cell phone.
Being the first day of spring I was not sure there would be many blooms to see. But daffodils were plentiful. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
I had forgotten how many sculptures were placed among the plants and paths. The "untitled" sphere by Grace Knowlton (American 1932-2020) looked happy surrounded by a brilliant carpet of daffodils.
There were only two other visitors - two young ladies in their spring outfits taking photographs of themselves.
It had been at least five years since I visited the gardens and noticed some changes. The wood benches had been replaced by metal benches. There was now a small children play area. The rock garden had grown and grey pebbles/stones had been placed on pathways - making it a bit difficult to walk.
The little stream running into the waterfall was there, lovely still, with many birds flying around.
When we had come to the gardens in winter I had seen some camellias blooming, but nothing like the blooms I saw yesterday. Along the path I'd see one bush covered with blooms, take pictures, then there was another one, with more blooms, then another one. Some of them blooming profusely, all of them exquisite. I could not stop taking pictures and wished I had my good cameras with me.
There were a couple of attractive early spring blooming magnolia trees - a tall pink one covered with large petals,
and a white magnolia tree with star-like flowers, a Loebner Magnolia "Spring Snow." I was able to reach a bloom to smell it. It had a lovely scent.
It was a bit early for azalea bushes but some were starting to flower.
I walked back to the central part of the gardens to sit under blooming trees.
Looking up, it was lovely to only see blooms and blue sky.
After a while I walked back to some other paths and found ... more camellias! One camellia bush was covered with coral-pink blooms - I mean covered. This camellia is named "Rev. John Drayton" - (in extreme top right corner below.) I checked on the reverend on the Net - and was pleased I did! It turns out that the Drayton family founded Magnolia Plantation by the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina in 1676. It was a rice plantation at first then it passed later to Rev. John Drayton who planted camellias japonica and created romantic gardens on the plantation. He also introduced azaleas to the United States and opened the gardens to the public in 1870. Magnolia Plantation is now operated as a house museum and gardens (and still in the same family.) They advertize 1,000 camellia cultivars (some historic) on display from mid-November to April. Goodness, I need to drive there someday. You can read about these gardens here - Magnolia Plantation gardens.
Another tree with delicate pink blossoms was called a Prunus Cyclamin Cherry.
Going back to my car I walked by a blooming bonsai tree, a large tree covered with red berries and a plant with leaves of such a vivid green that they almost looked artificial - it all looked of the new spring.
Winter has finally turned into spring. Now with more vaccines and more people vaccinated maybe life with turn back to normal as well. That reminded me of an old song (1965) the group The Byrds used to sing, called "Turn, turn, turn."
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