By chance while exploring (getting lost) in Paris earlier this week, I was stopped from crossing the road by a passing military cavalcade. The golden helmets and silver swords of the soldiers on horseback shone as the weak sun broke through the clouds. How lucky was I to have this dazzling cavalcade of magnificent horses and proud soldiers wearing uniforms created in the Napoleonic era, pass before me ! Then I remembered the reason for the parade; it was May 8th, a public holiday and time to remember those who had fought and died in the second world war. Formal ceremonies had taken place earlier at the Arc de triomphe attended by the outgoing and incoming presidents of the Republic. It was also the day after the French Elections when many people around thenworld breathed a sigh of relief that the leader of National Socialists…I mean the National Front had not won.
Paris is such a feminine city, around every curve and corner there is a major or minor validation of this in the heartland of cultured beauty. But arm in arm with beauty is history, some of which is painful and sad. Taking the Metro on my way home, I started thinking about these aspects of Parisian life when it was announced that the train would terminate at Charles de Gaulle Étoile due to a protest by the National Socialists…I mean the National Front who weren’t happy with the election result. As I walked the length of the Avenue de la Grande Armée, my eye was drawn to a posy of flowers on a cornerstone of a building:
” On the 19th of August , a guardian of the peace, Maurizot Francis, fell here for the liberation of Paris, 1944″
Its ordinary people like Maurizot, like us, and not necessarily those in shining armour, who constantly have to choose what we will stand up and fight for in life.
As I alighted from the train at my destination, I thought of the journey I had begun that morning and remembered a young man I had noticed He looked impeccable in a crisp white shirt and tailored jacket and was obviously going to a special occaison. It was only when the train doors opened and we prepared to board that I noticed how skillfully he used his calipers to jump on, his missing leg had not hindered him in the process.
“Oh its you…back so soon?”I arrived home to be greeted by the cats- who appeared not to have missed me at all- and thought of my next visit to Paris to the Musée Rodin.
Rodin’s most famous sculpture of the esteemed writer Honorė de Balzac caused quite a stir at the time of its creation. In this was it accords with the spirit of the author, onee of my favourites, whose famous parodies “La Comedie Humaine” contain a sad story on the fate of Colonel Chabet, a hero of Napoleonic battles who despite enormous struggle, ends up a pauper on the scrapheap of life.
A few words of a song from my rebellious university days came floating into my mind.
“War. What is it good for?
Sing it again…”