Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Celine's face stared at me from the bookshop window across from the Cluny museum. I love this store, go every time I'm in Paris. A whole window was devoted to Celine; his books, critical essays on him, anthologies. Reminded me of my post a while ago on the controversy over Celine being named to the pantheon of great writers. POST. For a man who stirred controversy in his life and even stirs the pot even now he's still a bestseller in France. I picked up a literary magazine with Celine on the cover and devoted to his life and how the world looks at him now.
Amazing. Celine had been a true contradiction - an amazing writer, doctor who treated the poor and vocal anti-Semite. His wife lived in the house they'd inhabited like gypsies, recluses outside Paris in Meudon. She died this year and had only given one interview in her life after his death. But that goes to the point of how can people revere a man's writing and ignore his life - in Celine's case a rabid anti-semitist who escaped France with the Vichy government when the Allies arrived. And settled for a while in Sigamarin, a German castle refuge of Nazi's until exile in Denmark.
During his life Celine, treated prostitiutes, the outcasts in Montmarte and the unfashionable suburbs then slums. Wouldn't he have made the corollary between the way the Jews were regarded? An enigma, a contradiction and he never apologized. Just kept treating the poor. I've met few writers whose work I admire and revere. And one of those - his elegant sweeping prose knocked me then and now for a loop - disappointed me as a person. I always wish I'd never met him - let the rose tinged view of his work remain not colored by his real persona
On a hot dry Saturday, during the longest drought to hit Paris in 133 years, I spent an afternoon baking in the sun at the Memorial service at Mont Valerian for the Resistants who were imprisoned and shot here. Mont Valerian was a former fortress then prison taken over by the Germans during the war.
An odd place just outside Paris and bordering the Rolland Garros tennis courts - which was in full swing at the time. Waiting for the bus up the hill, too hot to walk, two men with tennis rackets started talking to me in English. Americans here for the tennis tournament. They couldn't understand why I would go to a hot prison to a ceremony about the war. Visit the American cemetary, they suggested, you get a great view of Paris from there. I didn't know either except that Toli, my 84 year old Polish Resistant friend had given me his invitation before leaving on a trip. Somehow I felt I needed to go.
Reaching the double walled prison I found security gates. Now the Ministry of Defense ran the place and no one was allowed in. The solider informed me to take a long walk around the walls and find the ceremony. Birds chirped, the dry grass blew and Paris spread below me...did I mention this was on a hill?
Chairs were being spread out in a hot dry open parking lot. I was two hours early. I found a water tap put my neck under it and found a bench. Next to me was Marie-Claire, who it turned out had been ten years old when her Jewish parents took her to a village in the countryside to hide with other children like her and cared for by a Protestant priest. I ended up spending the afternoon with Marie-Claire and her friend
both active in children of the deportée's associations. She explained the ceremony to me, introduced me to other children of deportée's and even got me into the area at the wall where the men were shot. This all took several hours in the heat. An honor guard of twelve year old boys and girls stood to attention, one of them fainted and crumpled. Before she hit the ground one of the old Resistants, an eighty year old man bedecked with medals, ran to catch her before she hit the ground. Then another boy wavered in the heat and was caught before he passed out.
But in all those long hot hours not one of the old people - we're talking a crowd of octogenarians - batted an eye. Tough.
But then they'd been through a lot, a little weather didn't seem to phase them. But as one of them said, we want to do this, it's important and every year we lose a few.
Cara - Tuesday
PS Shaken - the short story anthology benifiting Japan's Tsunami Victims offered on Kindle - a work spearheaded and edited by our Tim Hallinan - which I and 20 authors were honored to contribute to - has GREAT news! Amazon is now NOT taking any percentage of the profits as of yesterday - a first - ALL the proceeds are going to the Tsunami victims. Please support this project - every penny,euro, pound goes directly to the people.