Back to Sarah’s Key

The original US cover of Sarah's Key. (In which the Eiffel Tower strangely appears on the wrong side of Luxembourg Palace?)

The original US cover of Sarah’s Key. (In which the Eiffel Tower strangely appears on the wrong side of Luxembourg Palace. Anyone else notice that or is it just me?)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was one of the first books I wanted to map out during my year in Paris. I read this book with my Chicago-based book club and never forgot it. I was determined to find the sites from the book and take some photos for my blog. My original post, with photos of the commemorative plaques and statues near the Eiffel Tower can be found right here.

I’ve been meaning to update that post for awhile now. Back in 2012, I made some new discoveries and went back to take some more photographs. How it happened is kind of cool.

I noticed that one of my favorite Paris bloggers (Richard Nahem of Eye Prefer Paris) had posted photos of the courtyard of the fictional apartment from Sarah’s Key. But wait! His photos were of 26, rue Saintonge in the Marais, and mine were from 32, rue Saintonge. Whoops!

I tweeted out to Richard (I’m @parisartclub, he’s @eyepreferparis) wondering about the mix-up, when who should tweet us back? Tatiana de Rosnay herself (what a treat!), explaining the reason for our confusion. Apparently, in the book Sarah’s address is 26, rue de Saintonge and in the movie it’s 32.

So then of course I had to go see the address from the book for myself. I good friend and fellow reader from Chicago was visiting and was game for a literary trek. We headed into the Marais (she had a recent travel article in hand about the hopping Haut-Marais) and we found ourselves near rue de Saintonge. “This way to Sarah’s house!” I pointed. Obviously, book lovers like me have a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction.

I found the bright blue doors at #26, just like Eye Prefer Paris had earlier. My friend and I also got the chance to peek in the courtyard, and we had a little “book club moment.” We looked up at the open windows, picturing Sarah’s old neighbor the music teacher, playing the violin as he sat in his window. Seriously, I think I wiped away a tear or two.

Here is the passage from Sarah’s Key that we recalled:

     Outside, the girl saw a neighbor wearing pajamas leaning out his window. He was a nice man, a music teacher. He liked playing the violin, and she liked listening to him. He often played for her and her brother from across the courtyard. Old French songs like “Sur le pont d’Avignon” and `A la claire fontaine,” and also songs from her parents’ country, songs that always got her mother and father dancing gaily, her mother’s slippers sliding across the floorboards, her father twirling her round and round, round and round until they all felt dizzy.

“What are you doing? Where are you taking them?” he called out.

His voice ran across the courtyard, covering the baby’s yells. The man in the raincoat did not answer him.

“But you can’t do this,” said the neighbor. “They’re honest good people! You can’t do this!”

At the sound of his voice, shutters began to open, faces peered out from behind curtains.

But the girl noticed that nobody moved, nobody said anything. They simply watched.

 

 

The bright blue doorway to 26 rue de Saintonge

The bright blue doorway to 26 rue de Saintonge

 

The fictional courtyard from the book Sarah's Key at 36 rue de Saintonge, Paris

The fictional courtyard from the book Sarah’s Key at 26 rue de Saintonge, Paris. Can’t you just picture the nice man and his violin leaning out the window?

 

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The plaque on a nearby school. It says: "From 1942 to 1944, more than 11,000 children were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the Vichy government of France and assassinated in death camps because they were Jews. MOre than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement. A number of them went to the elementary schools in this quarter. Let's Never Forget Them.

The plaque on a nearby school on rue des Quatre-Fils in the 3rd.  It says: “From 1942 to 1944, more than 11,000 children were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the Vichy government of France and assassinated in death camps because they were born Jewish. More than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement. A number of them went to the Ecoles Elementaires Filles et Garcons des Quatre-Fils.  Never Forget Them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is all probably a good reminder as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris on August 25, 2014. Ne les oublions jamais.

 

Book Review and Related Paris Sites: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

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I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. I mean, just look at that cover. So hard to resist for a lover of all things Paris.

But I have to admit, the charms of the story resisted me for nearly 200 pages. While the structure of the book makes it feel as if it was enormously fun to write, it makes it quite a challenge for a reader to slip into. It is the story of a band of friends, acquaintances, enemies and lovers in Paris in the 30s and 40s. Their story doesn’t unfold, it demands that you piece it together for yourself, like a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of a Picasso painting.

You hear the discordant voices of a number of strange and lively characters, from a Hungarian photographer named Gabor (modeled after the true-life Brassai ), an American expat writer (à la Henry Miller), a French baroness married into the Rossignol car dynasty, a French language teacher named Suzanne who works for the Resistance, and then most bizarrely of all, the alleged great-niece of a character named Lou Villars, a lesbian race-car driver, German spy and agent of the French Gestapo (a stand-in for the real-life Violet Morris). Yes, there’s a lot on the plate.

Violet Morris, French race car driver and Nazi spy. Source: http://www.influx.co.uk/wordpress/blog/fast-ladies-women-in-motor-sport/#sthash.nxVIbUzb.dpbs

Violet Morris, the French race car driver and Nazi spy who inspired the character Lou Villars. Source: http://www.influx.co.uk/wordpress/blog/fast-ladies-women-in-motor-sport/#sthash.nxVIbUzb.dpbs

The characters are all drawn to a fictional Chameleon Club in Paris, a free-wheeling 1920s-40s era nightclub with singing acts by cross-dressing sailors and mermaids, men in drag, women in tuxedos, and an owner named Yvonne who parades around with a pet chameleon on her shoulder. When Gabor takes a photo of Lou Villars and her lover Arlette at the club, it is a clear shout-out to Brassai’s Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932 (Cleveland Museum of Art Collection).

"Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932" by Brassai, Cleveland Museum of Art

“Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932” by Brassai, Cleveland Museum of Art

A photo from Le Monocle, a lesbian bar in Montmartre in the 1920s-40s, via http://civillyunioned.tumblr.com/post/11186839284/le-monocle-was-a-well-know-lesbian-bar-located-in

A photo from Le Monocle, a lesbian bar in Montmartre in the 1920s-40s, via http://civillyunioned.tumblr.com

The fictional Chameleon Club is the perfect setting and a revealing title for a book about people who cross all sorts of lines in all sorts of ways. Especially when war comes.

That’s when the narrative shifts into a faster, more sinister gear. Lou Villars takes up professional race car driving on behalf of the Rossignols and becomes a public relations sensation. She dresses like a man and gets a double mastectomy to fit behind the wheel. But soon, enemies in France take away her license on the grounds that she is a threat to morality. Smelling opportunity, the Germans invite her to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and to dinner with Hitler. Lou is easily seduced into becoming a German spy, and agrees to travel through France seeking out intelligence such as the weakness in the Maginot Line. (Believe it or not, nearly all of this is a true story about the real Violet Morris.)

The stories about Lou Villars continue, and by now, you don’t care who’s narrating or why. You’re hooked into hearing about how the good people of the Chameleon Club endured and resisted the horrors of the Occupation, and how people like Villars could possibly rationalize the evils they perpetrated. We learn that Lou Villars (and in turn, the real Violet Morris) may have been involved in the Vel d’Hiv’ Round-up of 1942, and then became an agent of the French Gestapo, known for her violent interrogations of French resistance workers. Which would all be terrific fiction, but is actually based on the true story of Violet Morris.

Lou Villars becomes a notorious interrogator with the 93 rue Lauriston Gang, a group of French Gestapo gangsters who have been the subject of many books and films, including Louis Malle’s 1974 film, Lacombe Lucien and the 2004 television movie 93, rue Lauriston. The gang’s headquarters were located on a quiet little street in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Lou Villars conducted her interrogations in the cellar of their building.

I first spotted the plaques for 93 rue Lauriston on my frequent walks through my old neighborhood in the 16th. In fact, the address was just across the street from one of my favorite boulangeries. I took photos of the plaques and went back to learn more about the horrible history of this neighborhood.

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The plaque outside the former 93 rue Lauriston in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. "In homage to the resistants tortured in this house during the occupation 1940-1944 by the French agents, auxiliaries of the Gestapo, the group "Bonny-LaFont"

The plaque outside the former 93 rue Lauriston in the 16th arrondissement of Paris: In homage to the resistants tortured in this house during the occupation 1940-1944 by French agents, auxiliaries of the Gestapo, the group called “Bonny-LaFont”

 

93, rue Lauriston

93, rue Lauriston

97, rue Lauriston, just a few doors down from the old Gestapo interrogation house, where a lovely boutique hotel now stands is a plaque commemorating one of the heroes who died trying to liberate the Quatier Lauriston.

At 97, rue Lauriston,  where a lovely boutique hotel now stands, there is a plaque commemorating one of the heroes who died trying to liberate the Quatier Lauriston. The hotel is just a few doors down from the French Gestapo house.

 

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The plaque at 97 rue Lauriston: Here Died For France, August 25, 1944, Louis Moreau, FFI, Married, Father of his Family, Came from Bourg-la-Reine for the Liberation of the Quartier Lauriston. In His Memory: Those He Delivered.

Here's my favorite little rue Lauriston boulangerie, which just goes to show how history and present day life go hand-in-hand in Paris.

Here’s my favorite little rue Lauriston boulangerie, which is just across the street from 93 rue Lauriston. It just goes to show how history and present day life go hand-in-hand in Paris. Maybe that’s why I love it so much.

 

The book ends without clear resolution, offering different versions about what might have happened to all of the friends and enemies from the Chameleon Club. To me, that was the most satisfying ending of all. Because if there is one thing that historians have learned about the aftermath of the Paris Occupation, is that truth and virtue are very slippery things. Kind of like a chameleon.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose: Highly recommended.

 

 

Related posts on this blog about World War II Reads:

Sarah’s Key Paris Sites: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/pictures-at-an-exhibition-art-war-and-memory-in-paris/

In this blog post I share my own photographs of the plaques and memorials near the site of the old Paris Velodrome (Vel’ d’Hiv’), along with directions on where to find them.

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Some V-E Day Reading – Paris During the Occupation: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/some-v-e-day-reading-recommendations/

suitefrancaise journalofheleneberr2 andtheshowentnon americansinparis

 

Coco Chanel: Sleeping with the Enemy: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/coco-chanel-sleeping-with-the-enemy/

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Wine & War in France: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/wine-and-war-in-france/

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Crossing the Borders of Time: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/crossing-the-borders-of-time/

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Art, Books, Paris – The Hare with Amber Eyes: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/art-books-paris-the-hare-with-amber-eyes/

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Pictures at an Exhibition: Art, War and Memory in Paris: https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/pictures-at-an-exhibition-art-war-and-memory-in-paris/

 

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Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet in Versailles

Whether you’ve learned about Marie-Antoinette in history books, novels or movies, you don’t want to miss a trip out to Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet in Versailles. It deserves its own day on your itinerary. After numerous trips to the main palace of Versailles with friends and family, I finally scheduled an entire day to explore nothing but the grounds of Le Petit Trianon and the Hamlet. Hopefully you can manage to do the same sometime.

Before you head out, you ought to immerse yourself in Marie’s world through one of these most interesting books:

queen of fashion  marie antoinette fraserabundance marie antoinettezweig's marie anoinettemadame tussaud

You’ll find plenty of information about the grounds of Le Petit Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet once you get to Versailles (excellent resources available on the “Marie-Antoinette’s Estate” tab of the Chateau de Versailles website) but it’s fun to know a little scoop ahead of time.

Marie received Le Petit Trianon as a gift from her husband in 1774, when she was only 18 years old, had just been crowned Queen of France, and apparently had yet to consummate the marriage. It was a sweet gift, considering it had been built for her father-in-law’s mistress Madame du Pompadour, and then passed along at her death to his next mistress, Madame du Barry.

And what does an 18 year-old do with a palace all her own? She calls in the royal architects to polish it up a bit. She started with Le Petit Trianon, which was lovely and private, but apparently lacking.

Le Petit Trianon, Versailles

Le Petit Trianon, Versailles

Architect Richard Mique designed Trianon gardens that included paths, hills, streams, a neo-classical Tea Room and Temple of Love, along with a faux farming village called Le Petit Hameau.

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Interior of Le Belvédère

Interior of Le Belvédère, used as a tearoom and music salon by Marie Antoinette on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon

A view of the octagonal Belvédère from across the pond

A view of the octagonal Belvédère from across the pond on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon

Le Belvédère

Le Belvédère

Le Rocher is a man-made rock formation created for Marie Antoinette's rustic gardens of the Petit Trianon

Le Rocher is a man-made rock formation created for Marie Antoinette’s rustic gardens of the Petit Trianon

A charming little path through Le Rocher

A charming little path through Le Rocher

A rustic bridge alongside some grapevines near Le Rocher

A rustic bridge alongside some grapevines near Le Rocher

The Temple of Love in the gardens of Le Petit Trianon

The Temple of Love in the gardens of Le Petit Trianon

When I caught my first glimpse of the The Malborough Tower from the garden path I gasped.It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.

I caught my first glimpse of the the Malborough Tower as I turned a corner on the garden path. I actually gasped out loud. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.

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The Queen’s House and the Billiard House

The view of the Queen's Hamlet from across the pond.

The view of the Queen’s House and the Billiard House from across the pond.

The spiral staircase up to the billiard and card rooms is being renovated in 2014

Much of the Queen’s House, including this crumbling spiral staircase, is being renovated in 2014

The Mill House, a charming little house built on a creek in the Queen's Hamlet

The Mill House, a charming little house built on a creek in the Queen’s Hamlet

The Mill

The Mill, which was supposedly merely decorative

Le Colombier, the pigeon house, with working gardens

Le Colombier, or the pigeon house stood nearby

Le Colombier

Le Colombier

Le Boudoir in the background. Marie's extra private room.

Le Boudoir in the background. Marie’s extra private little house within the hamlet.

 

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The farm within the hamlet

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The French Pavillion

The French Pavillion

And yet, despite this entire beautiful day in the Queen’s Hamlet, I still managed to miss a few things, including the Queen’s Theater and Jussieu’s Orangerie. So I guess I’ve got to go back. Some things aren’t meant to be just once in a lifetime.

Suggested reading: My previous post about Marie-Anoinette’s portraitist, Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. https://americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/elisabeth-vigee-le-brun-a-novel/

 

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

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I don’t know how I do it, but it seems that every book I pick up these days has at least a touch of Paris in it. The latest is Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf 2014), which I highly recommend.

You might have heard of this book by now. Even Oprah’s touting it. It’s a steamy story of love and ambition in the competitive world of professional ballet. It is the story of Joan, an American ballet dancer who is starstruck (why not just say “astonished?”) by a famous star of the Russian Kirov Ballet. Picture Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1975.

While Joan is spending a year as a quadrille, a junior member of the Paris Opéra Ballet, she watches Arslan Rusakov rehearse from one of the dark crimson red loge boxes at the Palais Garnier. Joan manages to evade the Kirov Ballet security men and enters the star’s dressing room, where she makes an unforgettable impression on him. Their encounter kicks off a clandestine Cold War love affair, fueled by secret love letters delivered through helpful intermediaries. Joan agrees to help Rusakov defect to the United States during one of his ballet tours to Toronto. Together, they are front-page news. But only for a time. The love affair dies and Joan moves forward with a life as a wife, mother and owner of her own ballet school in Southern California.

The whole book is good, from New York to Paris to California, but I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the passages set in Paris. No wonder, then, when I read the Acknowledgments at the back of the book (yes, I always read those, don’t you?) where Maggie Shipstead says: “Much of this book was written while I was in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris.” You can tell.

Here is a passage from the book, which honest to God is one of the best paragraphs about visiting Paris I’ve ever read (and readers of this blog know I’ve read a lot):

For Joan, Paris has the feeling of waiting. All the elegance, the light and water and stone and refined bits of greenery, must be for something, something more than simple habitation and aggressive driving of Renaults and exuberant besmearing with dog shit. The city seems like an offering that has not been claimed. Its beauty is suspenseful. Joan has walked the boulevards and bridges and embankments, sat in the uncomfortable green metal chairs in the Tuileries, puttered down the Seine on a tourist barge, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, stared politely at countless paintings, been leered at and kissed at by so many men, stood in patches of harlequin light in a dozen chilly naves, bought a scarf she couldn’t afford, surreptitiously stroked the neatly stacked skulls in the catacombs, listened to jazz, gotten drunk on wine, ridden on the back of scooters, done everything she thinks she should in Paris, and still there has always been the feeling of something still to come, a purpose as yet unmet, an expectation.

 

In particular, I loved Shipstead’s scene in the Opéra Garnier, which captures the beautiful excess better than a camera ever could:

The houselights are down, but the glow from the stage picks out a profusion of gilded plasterwork: serene deities, trumpeting angels, lyres, garlands, flowers, oak leaves, masks, Corinthian columns, all deeply shadowed, piling up around the proscenium and among the boxes like the walls of a craggy old cave, climbing to Chagall’s painted round ceiling of naked angels and volumptuous ballerinas and goats and chickens and lovers and blue Eiffel Tower and red-splotched rendering of the Palais itself. From the center of thing hangs the great sleeping chandelier: an enormous gold and glass thistle hung upside down to dry, darkly gleaming.

 

Speaking of cameras, here are some of my own photographs of the Opéra Garnier, which aren’t the best quality, but you get the idea:

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So whether you read Astonish Me for the ballet, the love story or the lovely Paris passages, I think you’ll be delighted.

If you’re in Paris or plan to visit, don’t miss a visit to Palais Garnier, whether it’s for a ballet performance or a public tour. Click here to go to their website, which has more beautiful photographs, a lot of history and information about your visit.

Suggested reading:  Check out my previous post The Painted Girls: Degas and the Dancers featuring Cathy Marie Buchanan’s book The Painted Girls, historical fiction about young French ballet dancers set in Belle Epoque Paris.

 

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead: Highly Recommended.

 

 

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman’s new book, Lovayelet-waldman-love-and-treasure-2501e & Treasure, is a perfect treasure of an art novel. It  begins where The Monuments Men leaves off, daring to face the difficult questions about Nazi-plundered Jewish treasures. How do you ever figure out to whom the objects once belonged? Did the owner survive the war? If not, did any of their relatives survive? To whom should the treasure be returned?

Maybe you’d like to check out the book trailer here, which beautifully conveys the historical mood of the novel. The story is based on the Hungarian Gold Train, which American servicemen recovered in Salzburg, Austria at the end of WWII. The train was full of home goods, jewelry and personal artifacts plundered from Hungarian Jews, most of whom were executed in the Holocaust.

The story begins when an American serviceman helps himself to an unusual locket that he found on the Hungarian Gold Train. Before his death many years later, he hands the locket to his grandaughter and begs her to return it to its rightful owner. The grandaughter teams up with an art dealer of questionable morals who specializes in Nazi-era art, and together they set off to Hungary and Israel on a quest to solve the mystery.

In an unusual twist, the third part of the novel is humorously narrated by a Freud-era psychoanalyst who offers a report on a patient he believes to be suffering from “female hysteria.” It turns out that his report tells the true story of the locket’s owner, a young Jewish woman who is turns out was a turn-of-the-century feminist who had dreamed of going to medical school. It is a story we never could have imagined, a life we never would have known.

And isn’t that the greatest loss of all? Not the objects or the treasures the Nazis took away, but the story of the lives behind the treasures. How beautiful then, that by offering us this one imagined life, Ayelet honors the lives of the many others whose stories we will never know.

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman: Highly recommended.

For further reading: The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary by Ronald W. Zweig

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FIAC Paris 2012: Jaume Plensa at Place Vendome

Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa has had three sculptures on display in Place Vendome for FIAC 2012.

White metal sculpture at Place Vendome by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. Isn’t it amazing? Makes me think of the expression “a man of letters.”

Instanbul Blues by Jaume Plensa

Instanbul Blues at the Place Vendome

Yorkshire Soul II by Jaume Plensa.