he women are still walking! Our tour guide extraordinaire, Chris Friendly, a teacher and historian who lives in Paris, has created walking tours unlike the usual ones found in the usual guidebooks. He points out that a walking tour “covers 6,000 eccentric and often inappropriate years.” Tune in for landmarks associated with women of the resistance. What is there to resist? Enemies of France, enemies of women, enemies of, well, listen in.
Chris points out the statue of Joan of Arc and begins his tales.
JOAN OF ARC STATUTE Place des Pyramides on the Rue Rivoli
Joan of Arc (d. 1431) teen heroine, cross-dressing heretic
“Born a peasant, Jeanne d’Arc is revered today as a national heroine, saint, celebrity and feminist martyr (she was sentenced to death by burning in 1431 for repeatedly wearing male clothes which constituted heresy in the days before slacks). There are countless images and statues to her throughout France but this is the most famous as it is near here that she was wounded storming the walls of Paris (which held). Every May Day, Marine Le Pen and her far-right political party, the Front National, hold a rally at this statue, which is also a rallying point for France’s dwindling monarchist party. In August 2014, French actress Brigitte Bardot called Marine Le Pen, “the Joan of Arc of the 21st century”.
When the far right, namely Marine Le Pen, is compared to Joan of Arc, you know the world is in trouble. You knew that already? Marine’s father, who started Le Front National, sold Nazi memorabilia on line. I saw him interviewed and when asked the question why, he answered that somebody has to do it.
Here’s a clip to take Joan of Arc from the clutches of Marine Le Pen.
Catholic people have patron saints based on their names. My patron saint happens to be Joan of Arc, which, if I may say, I found a bit embarrassing, since the idea was to emulate your patron saint. All that soldiering? She is said to have heard voices. Once I said to my daughter, “You know that third voice in your head?” She look vaguely alarmed. No, she said, she didn’t. She only had two voices in her head. And, indeed, when I am just going to sleep I hear someone saying something like, “three orders short.“ And I’m, like, oh. It’s interesting that Joan of Arc has a first and last name, unusual for saints. Just saying.
Now, let us turn to another warrior Chris has identified, whose life took an unexpected turn on a famous Parisian bridge.
THE SOLFERINO BRIDGE
“This pedestrian passageway over the Seine connects the Tuileries to the Musee D’Orsay but is worth a moment to honor Madeleine Riffaud (b.1924) a local girl who, aged 19, shot a Nazi occupier on this bridge in a brave daylight attempt to jumpstart the city’s resistance. It didn’t work as planned. She was arrested and tortured by the Germans before being released in a prisoner swap while the other resistance fighters waited almost another month before firing their first shots as by then the liberating army was only days away. Still writing poetry today, Riffaud championed Ho Chi Minh’s cause in Vietnam after WWII and has been awarded France’s National Order of Merit in part for waiting for her victim to face her so she wouldn’t shoot him in the back.”
Bridges are the thing, and not only for patriotic acts!
PONT NEUF: Past the Louvre towards Notre Dame
Marie Duplessis: (d.1847) tragic courtesan and muse
“Actually the oldest bridge in Paris, this ‘new bridge’ built in 1607 was original in not having houses constructed on it and providing sidewalks with built-in areas for merchants and even the city’s most famous dentist ‘Fat Thomas’ who pulled teeth much to the delight of passers-bye.
“It was here that sixteen-year-old Marie Duplessis was seen gazing longingly at thick slices of fried potatoes being served from one of the curved bastions. Taken by her beauty, a young aristocrat bought her the potatoes, giving her a snack but also having the realization that her looks could serve her well. With-in a year she was one of the most sought after courtesans of Paris and went on to count many leading men of her day as lovers including Alexandre Dumas fils who wrote Camille (The Lady of the Camellias) based on Marie’s life and habit of wearing a white Camille flower in her hair to signal her availability. Sadly, her romantic rags to luxury life ended too early as she died of tuberculosis at only twenty-three though her funeral at the Madeline Church was a star-studded event. The church’s basement restaurant is a holdover from a 19th charitable kitchen for ‘seamstresses’ (often prostitutes) funded by the grand dames of the city.
“Pont Neuf crosses the Île de la Cité at its western tip, which raises the question, why is Friday the 13th considered unlucky? At the base of the stairs from the bridge down to the park below is a plaque for Jaques de Molay, a crusader knight who was burned here in 1314 for long convoluted reasons. As the flame roared, he roared out a curse to the pope and king who together had sent him to this grisly death. Sure enough both men died with-in the year and so, on this island in the middle of Paris, started the tradition of Friday the 13th being bad luck as that was the day he was arrested. However, a feminist version of the belief blames patriarchal culture for the negative association. Friday in Europe used to be known as Freyja’s day after the Norse fertility goddess and thirteen has long been associated with menstruation as some connect menstrual cycles to the thirteen cycles in a lunar year. (For example, the Paleolithic Laussel Venus has a horn with thirteen notches on it.) Perhaps, Friday the 13th is not ill-fated as much as ill-used. “
OH LA LA
We cannot avoid a visit to the center of luxury, la Place Vendôme.
PLACE VENDOME Up rue Castiglione from rue Rivoli
Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione: (d. 1899) model, mistress, Italian patriot
31 rue Cambon for Coco Chanel: (d. 1971) designer, arbiter of taste
“Renowned for luxurious elegance, the Place Vendôme remains one of Paris’ most exclusive addresses. Though the playboy brother of the Sultan of Brunei, Prince Jefri lived here in the 1990’s along with some of his harem, five wives and eighteen children, other residents have had a bit more class. That said, no one is quite sure why Yoko Ono scattered some of painter Keith Haring’s ashes here besides her saying he told her to do so in a dream, or who thought it was a good idea for artist Paul McCarthy to install a 3 story high green butt plug in the square this past fall. One imagines the guests at the Ritz were not amused though Coco Chanel would likely have had a good laugh.
“The Chanel store and the Ritz still embody the creative spirit of Coco Chanel herself who revolutionized women’s fashion by making it fashionable to wear black and even pants. Despite a love affair with a Nazi bigwig during the occupation of Paris in World War II, Chanel is remembered more for her independence, perfume and of course, the little black dress.
“Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione was a 19th century beauty and renowned model in the early days of French photography though she is also credited with a role in the unification of Italy. Married to an Italian count stationed in Paris, she spent many years as a lover to Napoleon III and is credited with convincing him not to interfere with the joining up of the Italian city-states in 1871. Photographs of her as the Queen of Hearts earned her the nickname ‘The Divine Countess,” though it was snapshots of her legs which earned her the most notoriety. She lived at #26 above what is now the Boucheron Jewelry store. “
On his walks, Chris has much to say about Collette, Sarah Bernhardt, and Simone de Beauvoir. Be sure to look him up when you’re next in Paris. Did I mention the old brothels?
Chris does infrequent tours via Airbnb called Offbeat Paris Then and Now
WHERE DID SAMUEL BECKETT LIVE?
After all this walking about, it occurs to me to wonder where Beckett lived. An article in the Irish Times by Liam Browne places Beckett on the Blvd St Jacques (14th arrondissement). Here’s what he says that Beckett saw: “Each morning from the window of his flat he could look down on the imposing bulk of the Santé Prison and upon the windows that allowed a sparse light to enter the individual cells. Beckett’s compassion for prisoners and the profound effect his work had upon some of them is well known, but we can only speculate as to the emotions that daily glimpse of confinement stirred in Beckett.”
If we think about the two vagabonds as prisoners, does that hold? Lucky, the man tied with a rope to Pozzo, certainly was a prisoner, but the vagabonds? To me the two are out there on the margins, hungry, lost, but in that space near their tree they are free to think. It is cathartic for us to think freely along with them. Nothing to be done, the first words of the play. Rien à faire: freedom’s first step?