The River of History

About ten years ago, our daughter Katie was traveling through Europe when she snapped this picture:

ParisGarg

The scene is Paris, as viewed from atop the cathedral of Notre Dame.

That creature in the foreground is unidentified, but there is something about him that I don’t like. Even though he has managed somehow to position himself in a panoramic aspect on the pinnacle of a classic sacred building, I suspect he is up to no good. Nevertheless, in spite of his sinister presence in the photograph, I will just ignore the guy for now, because I want to tell you why I am thankful that my daughter captured this scene, and why I was amazed when I encountered it yesterday.

I was wandering around in the old Dell looking at photographs from years gone by.  Encountering this stark image launched my mind into a series of personal recollections.

Pat, Micah and I had sojourned through Paris during the summer of 2002. We visited the cathedral of Notre Dame, but we did not climb up to this high perch. We did, however, have a great time traipsing around in the grand old City on the Seine that you see here.  Alas, that trip, as vividly entertaining as it was, has begun to fade somewhat in mind. It was thirteen years ago.

But at about this time last year, 2014, I was writing the last few chapters of a third novel, Smoke. And it just so happened that a sizable chunk of the story took place in the area of Paris that you see pictured here.

Notice the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just below that steel-framed landmark people from all over the world were gathering, in the year 1937, for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques. In my story, a young American businessman, Philip Morrow, has a rendezvous with Lili Eschen, a German refugee. Lili is disturbed, however, by the looming facade of the nearby German pavilion. She tells Philip that she would prefer to leave the Exposition and go to a different place.

Long story short, the next day they are ambling on a bridge, looking out over the Seine River. In the photo above you see two bridges. Notice the further-away one, the Pont Saint-Michel. That’s not the one on which Philip and Lili are standing in my novel, but it looks very similar to the Pont Neuf, which is the next bridge downriver, around the bend. Imagine the scene. They are gazing at the river below, and Lili is worried because her family has fled Germany hurriedly, and now (in May 1937) they are in between a rock and a hard place, and faced with some hard decisions. Philip is speaking:

“. . .It’s a whole different world in the country I come from; we really don’t have a clue about what is going on over here in the old world. This Europe, this, well, France itself . . . Germany. It’s almost like a different planet. And Shirley Temple is just . . .” He was shaking his head and chortling at her naiveté. “You can’t take this Hollywood stuff too seriously. I mean, your brother is locked up back in Germany. That’s reality.”

She looked at him with a kind of fierce resolve, but a hint of the smile was still on her lips. “I can dream, can’t I? No law against that, no verboten on dreaming, hoping . . .”

“Sure.” He touched her hand tenderly.

A few minutes later, Philip and Lili complete their stroll across the Pont Neuf. They are on the île de la Cité, in the very heart of Paris; their next stop is an ancient chapel, the Saint-Chapelle. You can see its dark steeple in this photo. On the right, its ascending structure parallels the distant Eiffel Tower of the far background.

ParisSteepl

Gone from this pic is the ugly critter who had been lurking in the foreground of the earlier photo. I’m glad we got rid of him, although I have no clue where he got off too. But I fear he is still hanging around, and we may have to cast him out again before its all over with.

Smoke

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