The fifth month of my Cité Internationale des Arts residency, a cold, dark rainy day in Paris. The leaves are still hanging on by their stems, as they slowly turn brownish but there’s promise of their clearing out in time to see the Seine and Notre Dame before new growth appears in the spring. The days slip by in a dash of sunlight or clouds, but they are foreshortened by the northern latitude of the city. Gone the 10:30 pm sunset…hello darkness by five. And yet those stalwart Parisians remain sitting in their big coats and thick scarves eating and drinking at outdoor tables on the street… no commentary on the overhead heaters pumping out warmth into the cold night air.
I have been accepted to remain here until the end of June, 2018, and the prospect of all that time in this city of beauty is a dream. Since my arrival I have painted several large paintings for a graphic novel – the first depicts hiding out from the gendarmes and Germans early in 1940 in Paris, and others are scenes of the mother in the novel getting hooked by, then mating with, then losing her lover, in the late 1930s and after. The novel describes the legacy of the War on the next generation. I also plug along on a novel in just text about similar subject matter but fictionalized to the max.
If one wants to write or make visual art about the Second World War in Europe, being in the Marais is an immersion experience. Not only is the Cité next door to the Mémorial de la Shoah, but on almost every street there are plaques listing who lived there and what happened to that person during the War. Each lycée, high school, has a plaque commemorating the children from that school who died ‘simply’ for being Jewish and with the complicity of the Vichy government. It took quite a few years for France to speak to the complicated arrangement here during the War, but these plaques were then created to acknowledge some responsibility for what happened. The War appears integrated into the streets of this arrondissement, but also is evident all around Paris.
Since my last entry I have returned to the city of Pau in the south of France where my mother spent the war. I went back to the archives and to the internment camp of Gurs to expand my knowledge of the confusion in my family about what happened to my mother during the War. I have been investigating the possible relationship between my mom and her employer, who seemed to have saved her from being sent to a camp, it would appear. Was he a Juste, a Righteous, like many French who felt compelled to help the victims of the War, or was he personally involved? Not easy questions to answer, but in my digging both there and in Paris I have managed to discover various details that will eventually add up to a story. In the meantime I came across a document in Paris with photos of my father when he was 23 years old being expelled from France for some activity… research does seem to offer results if one does not get dissuaded by bureaucracy and offices closed for mysterious reasons at unexpected times and many metro rides that result in very little information.
The Venice Biennale was amazing and Fontainebleau, Dordogne, Iceland, Beaune, Normandy, Brittany have all spiced the time in Europe. A visit to the internment camp of Drancy was sobering and offered archival evidence of an uncle’s time in Pithiviers and Beaune la Rolande before deportation. Thanksgiving came and went with a small dinner at a restaurant that caters to American tourists for the holiday, and it’s down to the final month before I take a break in the US for family and supplies. Then back to Paris for the months that build toward daylight again and late night sunset on the Seine.