Spotted in Paris

Although I’ve mentioned this before, I must reiterate the fact that being in France during the last week or so has been extra meaningful because of the timing.

When I planned this trip, I wasn’t really aware of the way my dates lined up to position my travels exactly 70 years after D-Day, the Liberation of Paris, and my grandfather’s landing in Normandy. Not only have I have come across many unexpected connections to the 70th anniversary, but also, since the general populace is aware of the historical significance of this time, people have been all the more responsive when I have approached them out of the blue.

Below are some photos of things I spotted in Paris over the past 5 days.  They all connect in some way or another with WWII or my grandfather or adventures fact-finding. I can definitely relate to the following quote from my grandfather’s chapter on Paris. “In the early days of September I chased around the city like a tourist who has but a few days to see Paris.” (J. Rorimer 55). I was that tourist!

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The Crypt Under St. Sulpice

The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies buildings…would require a visit. There were rumors that the former had suffered seriously and that there had been a fire in the library of the latter which had caused untold damage. These buildings were not under the protection of the Administration of Fine Arts, but were supervised by their own individual staffs. On the way out to the Luxembourg Palace, which houses the Senate, I asked my French driver where all the bronze statues were which had dotted the city’s streets. “Melted down by the Boche,” he replied. At the entrance to the Senate grounds Carpeaux’s memorable bronze figures, Four Quarters of the World supporting a globe, were not in their fountain basin. It was beginning to appear that none of these historic bronze monuments for which Paris was renowned had escaped German melting pots.

Senate Building, 2014

Senate Building, 2014

Luxembourg Gardens, 2014

Medici Fountain, Luxembourg Gardens, 2014

Later I obtained a list of the monuments which were taken by the Germans to make instruments of war. It was a relief to find that the Carpeaux figures were not on the list. These along with some of the other better sculptures had been hidden by the French in stone quarries and in the strongly vaulted subterranean passageways of churches such as St. Sulpice (J. Rorimer, 57-58).

Having read my grandfather’s description, naturally, I was curious about the “subterranean passageways.” It was time to investigate St. Sulpice. My friend navigated, and we found our way to a bench on the plaza just outside the church. Prior to entering, she asked me what I hoped to accomplish during this visit. Feeling buoyed up from our morning meeting with Madame L. (see my post entitled “You took my sister, I’m taking your apartment”), I stated my mission with confidence, “I want to go inside and see what the church looks like and if possible have a look underground.” We climbed up the steps and entered the church of St. Sulpice.

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St. Sulpice, 2014

It turns out St. Sulpice is famous for three murals painted by Delacroix, but I was so focused on my mission that I forgot to take note of the art. Instead, we searched for someone to talk to. My friend, whose French is better than mine, spotted a valuable clue on a bulletin board – an announcement for tours of the crypt. The dates did not align. It was Monday and the next tour was not until Sunday. But tours of the crypt did exist!

In the vestry, we found an old lady seated behind a small, wooden desk. She invited us to sit down and I explained that I was retracing my grandfather’s path during World War II. She listened intently, touching her hand to her heart. When I finished, she made copies of my picture post-card, my grandfather’s book, and “The Monuments Men” book business card. Then, she turned to the priest and showed him the passage in the book that mentioned St. Sulpice. After examining the page, he agreed to let us see the crypt. My friend and I exchanged gleeful glances. The lady motioned for us to gather our things, as she negotiated with a caretaker standing nearby. It sounded as if she said, “Oh, just show them around a little bit.” The caretaker looked as if he would prefer not to be bothered, but he jangled his keys and led us downstairs to the basement anyway. I couldn’t believe we were getting a special tour, but there was no time to celebrate. I got out my camera and followed the man.

The underground vaults were expansive. Here and there, I saw a few sculptures and remnants of colonnades, but mostly the crypt was empty. The man unlocked two gates and led us further underground, into the dark. We followed closely behind. I was just about to use the flashlight app on my iPhone, when he flipped on a light switch. All I could say was “très intéressant.” Casually, he lit a match and began smoking a cigarette. Then he pointed to a water faucet. He turned it on, and after a short delay, we heard the sound of water falling hitting the ground many feet below. The caverns were deep!

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The Crypt

I imagined the spaces filled with the grand public statues from the Senate building. At what point did the Parisians decide to move art into the crypt? How did they transport it? How full were the caverns? There were so many questions I wished I could ask, but instead I had to use my imagination. I snapped a few photos and we returned upstairs to the vestry. We thanked the reluctant caretaker, the priest and the old lady profusely, then bade them farewell practicing the few French words we definitely knew, “Merci Madame! Au revoir Monsieur!”

Once again, I was amazed by the way this mission had connected me with people in such unexpected and meaningful ways. Their willingness to listen and subsequent outpouring of kindness was incredible. Our mutual understanding crossed through time, space and language barriers.

N.B. No. 1: Nowadays, Carpeaux’s Four Quarters of the World can be found in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. I didn’t get a chance to see them this time, so I’ll have to return another time.

Carpeaux's Four Quarters of the World, Musée D'Orsay

Carpeaux’s Four Quarters of the World, Musée D’Orsay

N.B. No. 2: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just held an exhibition dedicated to Carpeaux a few months ago. I made a point of going because I had just read this passage in “Survival,” and I wanted to know who Carpeaux was!

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2014/carpeaux

 

 

Rose Valland, Spy at the Jeu de Paume

The one person who above all others enabled us to track down the official Nazi art looters and to engage intelligently in that aspect of the whole picture was Mademoiselle Rose Valland, a rugged, painstaking and deliberate scholar. This girl was an assistant at the Jeu de Paume when the Germans arrived and converted the building into the central clearing house for the finest of the confiscated works of art. She told me that judging from what she personally had observed, the Germans had taken one-third of the privately owned art from France. Throughout the war, and in the absence of the director, she stayed at her post in the museum. Time and time again the Germans tried to discourage her presence. She was led to the door with a frequency that bordered on the comic; but each time she disregarded their orders and returned to the museum. Her blind devotion to French art made no allowance for any thoughts of personal danger (J. Rorimer, 109).

…At night she would sneak out the negatives which the Germans had developed during the day. She had prints made and then returned the negatives to the files the following morning. With imprisonment in a concentration camp, or death, the penalty if she were caught, she had been fortunate. Even the watchman’s logbook, which had the names of all the visitors to the Jeu de Paume for more than a four-year period, had come into her possession (J. Rorimer 111).

Rose Valland knew “where…the works of art that were removed to Germany [had] been secreted” and she shared her information with my grandfather and the SHAEF Mission to France (J. Rorimer 114).

“You must go to Germany, James,” she said. “I’ll join you as soon as I can, but you must go right away”…”[T]he Nazis have collected and catalogued their booty…In the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau” (J. Rorimer 112, 114).

Before I go to Germany tomorrow, allow me to recount my experiences retracing the footsteps of Rose Valland in Paris.

For me, the obvious first step was to inspect the outside of the Jeu de Paume.  The building is located on the Place de la Concorde, at the edge of the Tuileries Gardens. There, I found the following plaque, dedicated to Rose Valland. (I welcome my readers to translate this plaque by responding to this post in a comment)!

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I figured that if there was a plaque dedicated to Rose Valland, surely the museum folks inside would know something about her story. So, I entered the museum, approached the ticket booth, and began my prepared dialogue in French.

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I did my Monuments Girl spiel, showing the picture post-card with my grandfather’s image, then my grandfather’s book, next a copy of “The Monuments Men,” and finally my blog business card. The cashier informed me that the building is now a private gallery devoted to contemporary photography, and she directed me to the museum book shop.  The librarian at the book shop showed me Rose Valland’s memoir and another book of her complete notes, both in French. Then, almost as an afterthought, he pointed out a children’s picture book in French entitled, “Rose Valland, l’espionne du musée du Jeu de Paume.”  At the bottom, I read, “L’HISTOIRE EN IMAGES.” I was elated! It was the perfect reading level for me with my beginning French skills! I paged through the book looking for a cartoon character of my grandfather.  He wasn’t there, but I did find an equally exciting part, a two-page spread of the German soldiers captured in the courtyard of the Louvre! I knew that scene already from reading my grandfather’s account! (See my previous post on “The Liberation of Paris). I didn’t hesitate to make my purchase.

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Source: Rose Valland, l'espionne du musée du Jeu de Paume

Source: Rose Valland, l’espionne du musée du Jeu de Paume, p. 72-73

To round out the heroic story of Rose Valland, fast forward to 1955, the year my grandfather was appointed as the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Below is the congratulatory letter he received from Valland.  (If you can’t read French, there is an English translation provided below). My favorite part is Valland’s reference to “justice,” since so many of my grandfather’s wartime letters mention his struggle with the military hierarchy and trying to get things done being ranked as a 2nd Lieutenant.

James J. Rorimer Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives

James J. Rorimer Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives

Translation of Rose Valland's letter

Ten-ton Trucks in the Tuileries

Here is an anecdote in my grandfather’s words from his chapter entitled, “Paris Monuments Officer.”  Over the last few days, I got to know the Tuileries and the Esplanade des Invalides through walking, biking and picnicing.

Every day thousands of men and women walk across the serene paths of the Tuileries Gardens – perhaps to catch a bus, to take the metro, to ride the trams to the banlieu, or to walk to their homes. Since the days of the last French kings these gardens have belonged to the public, and generations have relaxed here. They retain the same general aspect as Le Nôtre’s plans for Louis XIV (1664). The terraces, trees, fountains and sculpture offer serenity in the presence of beauty. No one who has strolled through these gardens which connect the Palace of the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, or looked up the Champs-Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower, can fail to feel the significance of this cherished park. Its gardens mean more in historic association and daily convenience to Parisians than do Hyde Park to Londoners and Central Park to New Yorkers. I protested vigorously when it was recommended that the Tuileries be made a bivouac area for the service troops for whom it was becoming increasingly difficult to find accomodations… I was determined that the Tuileries should not be subjected to slit-trench latrines and the other defacing necessities of an encampment… I made myself vociferous and decidedly unpopular in their defence.

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Tuileries Gardens, 2014

An unsatisfactory compromise was reached without my knowledge: the Tuileries would be used as the official Allied motor park for all the jeeps and ten-ton trucks plying their way from the ports through Paris to the front. In a short time half a dozen historic statues were damaged by the heavy trucks, the terra cotta pipes sagged under the unaccustomed weight of these vehicles, and the old trees were injured. I suggested that the large open area of the Esplanade des Invalides be used instead of the Tuileries as the motor park. After many meetings with both American and French officials, at which we argued the case until I almost had to give in, it was fortunately agreed to use the Esplanade rather than the Tuileries as the motor park (J. Rorimer, 63).

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Esplanade des Invalides, 2014

 

“You took my sister, I’m taking your apartment!”

If I had to describe Paris in one word, it would be “grand.” If I had to describe Paris in five words it would be “a cafe on every corner.”

It’s taken me a few days to get oriented because there is a lot of ground to cover here. Also, I had friends in town, so we wound up having some long, leisurely lunches in cafes. Now that I know my way around and I’ve had a few days to rest, I can begin to recount my discoveries. I’ll start with today, since it was by far the crème de la crème in terms of fact-finding.

When my grandfather was assigned to his new role as the Monuments Man for the Seine Section, he began staying in his sister and brother-in-law’s apartment in Paris. (In other words, my great aunt and great uncle’s apartment). Aunt Louise and Uncle Dush had lived there before the war, but they had to vacate in a hurry, leaving most of their belongings behind. Today’s mission was to find their apartment.

My relatives had given me information about the address, so I knew it was located on the 7th floor of a building on the rue de l’Université. In the very least, I wanted to locate where my grandfather had stayed. I also hoped that I might be able to meet the current tenant and perhaps have a look inside. Since my French language skills are still in the very beginning stages, I used Google Translate, as well as the all-important phrases from my French tutor to put together a note the night before. Then, I wrote the message onto the back of a post card bearing the image of my grandfather standing on the steps of Neuschwanstein (top of this blog page).

Around 11am, my friend and I located the building. Next, we took photos and counted the floors. There were 7 in all. We could see the top apartment from the sidewalk level. After that, we inspected the entrance. The outside door was closed and it required a key code to get in. I could see the individual apartment buzzers inside through the window. There was a medical lab on the first floor with two open windows. We discussed the idea of calling out “Excusez-moi!” and handing the postcard through the window, but decided that would be a last-ditch effort. Instead, we crossed to the other side of the street and waited, surveying the scene.

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After just a minute or so, we spotted a lady exiting the building. I ran across the street and showed her the post card explaining, “Mon grand-père a vécu dans cet apartement.” Without any hesitation, she smiled and held the door open for us. We were in! We looked at each other and squealed with excitement. “Now what?” We began to study the apartment buzzers. They all had names, but only two of them had numbers. How could we figure out which apartment was on the 7th floor? Just then, a repairman entered the building. We held the door open for him and again I pulled out my post card. After about 3 sentences, he asked me if I spoke English. (I felt like Matt Damon’s character in “The Monuments Men” film – embarrassed, but extremely relieved). He opened the second door for us and invited us into a very small, cage-like elevator. There was just enough room for the three of us and his toolbox. He was going to the 4th floor, so he wished us luck as we continued on to the 7th. When we reached the door, we could hear voices inside. I composed myself, got my post card ready, and rang the doorbell. A woman answered the door, so I began to read her my post card.

Mon grand-père a vécu dans cet appartement pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale. (Il est le deuxième à gauche sur cette photo). Je suis venu en France pour retracer les par de mon grand-père. Si possible, je voudrais vous rencontrer et voir l’appartement.

She went away and quickly came back holding the arm of an older lady, Madame L. I handed the post card to Madame L. and she began to read. She asked where we were from, then invited us to come in. We sat in her parlor and she began to speak in English. I got out my grandfather’s book and told the story of how he had stayed in the apartment 70 years ago.

Madame L. gave us the grand tour. There were three bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, study, parlor, living room, and multiple bedrooms. Artwork decorated the walls as well as many black and white photos from past generations. The caretaker led us to the balcony where the view looked out over the Eiffel Tower. I imagined my grandfather enjoying the view.

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We learned that Madame L. was 97 years old. She had lived in the apartment for 10 years, and she did not know the former tenants. She was very proud of her family, especially her husband who had lived to age 99, but had died two years ago. When I told her that I was retracing my grandfather’s footsteps through Europe, she thumped her cane on the floor and her face lit up. “You’re going to the places where your grandfather was,” she said in English. With a sparkle in her eye, she asked me how I liked my life in New York, and I said it was very good. Again, she thumped the floor and grinned. “How long are you in Paris?” she asked. “Just today and tomorrow,” I said. “That’s too little!” she exclaimed, and I knew she was right. After a photo together, we parted warmly with kisses on the cheek. I wondered what the walls knew.

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It’s incredible to think about the ways that lives intersect. Thanks to my grandfather’s letters and books, I connected with Madame L. We had come as strangers, but we left as friends.

I love how my grandfather jokes with my great uncle about winding up at the apartment in the letter below. “You took my sister, I’m taking your apartmet.”

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p.s. For the premier of The Monuments Men film in February, I wore a dress that belonged to my Great Aunt Louise, my grandfather’s sister (see the photo of me on the ABOUT page)!

The Liberation of Paris

…After checking-in, we were sent to the Hôtel du Louvre to spend what was left of the night. It was absurd, but here in the midst of destruction was this comfortable hotel with hot and cold running water, and big, high-ceilinged rooms, each with French doors, drapes, and a balcony. Just for a moment it was like pre-war Paris. (J. Rorimer, 47)

Hôtel du Louvre

Hôtel du Louvre

Although I'm not staying at the Hôtel du Louvre, my room does have high ceilings, drapes and a balcony!

Although I’m not staying at the Hôtel du Louvre, my room does have high ceilings, drapes and a balcony!

After breakfast…I crossed the Rue de Rivoli for a walk through the Tuileries to the Louvre. Each hour brought more Parisians to the streets. By and large, the rejoicing over our arrival was so real and unconditional that almost everyone, except those actively engaged in immediate combat problems, momentarily ignored the need for facing realities. Champagne flowed from bottles which had been artfully concealed form the Germans. We were witnessing a turning point in the fortunes of a great nation after four years of enslavement. For the French, August 26th is as memorable as the day that Joan of Arc rode into Orléans, or the day the French stormed the Bastille… In the offices of the Louvres nothing much seemed changed from the last time I had been there five years before, until I looked out of the window and saw hundreds of captured German soldiers coralled in the courtyard, and American anti-aircraft equipment being set up on the grounds.

I crossed Rue de Rivoli several times this afternoon!

I made sure to cross the Rue de Rivoli today!

As the monuments specialist officer for Paris it was my responsibility to advise the Commanding General of Seine Section and his Assistant Chief of Staff, G-5, in all matters pertaining to the art and culture of this metropolis and the surrounding Ile de France. I had to promote our relations with the French, to see that they helped themselves, to get them to help carry out our program, and to report my findings and actions taken by our command through technical channels to SHAEF… Early the next morning I stepped out onto the balcony and breathed the almost palpable atmosphere of Paris. Below me stood the Louvre and the Palais Royal (J. Rorimer, 48-49).

Louvre

Louvre, 2014

Palais Royal

Palais Royal

Using my grandfather’s descriptions as a guide, I walked around the center of Paris today. My friend has joined me here, and we realized after we took this picture that we had been standing in the courtyard of the Louvre on the same ground as the German soldiers!

Courtyard at the Louvre

Courtyard at the Louvre

One month later, on September 25th, my grandfather wrote home about the liberation of Paris.

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“You’ve got the Paris post!”

Most of us desperately hoped that our outfits, or we as individuals, would be moved to Paris, whose liberation was expected momentarily. Higher headquarters began to take an even greater interest in the accomplishments of the Civil Affairs section. My colleagues and I left the field for a couple of days to prepare our respective reports on MFA & A, refugees, public safety, and feeding of the inhabitants. There was beginning to be much talk of new assignments. Captain Ralph Hammett, with whom I had traveled about Normandy, was going over preliminary notes I had made and documents I had gathered. At this point, his chief, Brigadier General Cuthbert Stearns, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-5 for ETOUSA and Communications Zone, bellowed my name from down the hall.

I hopped up to answer, wondering what I was going to get chewed-out about.

“Hammet has told me of your qualifications,” he said, without further ceremony, “your Paris connections and background. You’ve got the Paris post. Get there as soon as you can. Our troops will be there sooner than you think.”

I was on my way to Paris, the greatest art center on earth. (J. Rorimer, 45)

By September 7th, my grandfather was so consumed by his work in Paris that he forgot his own birthday.

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Now that I’ve made it to Paris too, I’m off to retrace some more footsteps! I’ll be here for 5 days, but that hardly seems like enough time.  Already, I can tell that I will have to come back!