It’s the last weekend of Paris Plages, one of the many efforts of the city government to make life a little easier for its citizens (and attract even more tourists) by bringing the beach (the plage) to the city. Jan and I went to the Seine-side plage the other day and heard hardly any English, a sure sign that it was being used mainly by the locals.
This is the tenth August that the city has closed the Pompidou Expressway along the Right Bank, trucked in tons of sand, beach chairs, prefab restaurants and toilets, and invited everyone to spread out under hundreds of beach umbrellas. The Parisians love the sun (watch how many of them choose the sunniest seats in sidewalk cafés), so they flock to Paris Plages.
The Seine is not for swimming. Aside from the barge traffic, it’s not really clean, although it’s much better than it was a few years ago. But the foot-deep sand of the plage makes you think you’re at the seaside, if only for a while.
The plages expanded this year to the banks of the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement, up in the northeast corner of the city. On Saturday it was full of families, many of them waiting in line to rent pedal boats. The concrete ping-pong tables were getting a workout, and the sandboxes were full of children and their parents.
Some interesting links about the Plages and related subjects:
And here’s a brief photo gallery (all photos by John Pearce):
Children play in the sand while their mother watches
What’s a beach without a restaurant? This one is full all the time, and has a great view of the Seine. The bridge in the distance is the Pont Neuf which, despite its name, is the oldest in the city. The famous statue of Henri IV appears above the head of the diner in the center.
An active game of foosball under Pont Neuf
The Louvre Museum has its own exhibit of reproductions. All the pictures are bathers.
Meanwhile, at Bassin de la Villette:
Parents and children wait in line to rent the pedal boats at the “Port de Paris Pages”
There’s no more lively place on a Saturday afternoon than Boulevard Saint-Germain around the old church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement. It used to be one of the creative centers of the city but now is noted for the fashion industry and tourism. The two famous cafés, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, are just across the street.
La Planche A Dixie on Boulevard Saint-Germain
Down the Boulevard toward the Odéon métro station is a favorite area for café-sitting and people-watching, two Parisian pastimes we love.
Of course, those attract entertainers of every stripe. On Saturday we found a Parisian Dixieland band, “La Planche A Dixie,” playing enthusiastically and well in front of a shoe store next to a crowded café. It attracted quite a crowd, including two couples who couldn’t resist the impulse to dance. Charming.
Christian Giovanardi, the washboard (planche) player, organized his band in 1995. Since then, with a changing cast of members, it has cut several CDs (on sale at the impromptu concert) and performed on cruise ships.
The band has a good web site in English and French.
Other spots around Paris that frequently have music are the métro station at Châtelet (a Russian band is our favorite) and under the arcade at Place des Vosges, near the Marais.
THE STAIRWELLS and elevators of Paris apartment buildings are notoriously cramped, so the city’s movers have developed their own conveyor system to get furniture out through a window. This one, just off the busy Rue Froidevaux in the Montparnasse district, is just across the street from Montparnasse Cemetery, final resting place for many artists and publishers, as well as policemen and firefighters killed in the line of duty and not a few foreigners.
A mover’s conveyor near Montparnasse Cemetery
Montparnasse is one of the most interesting cemeteries in Paris (which has many).
The rear wall of Montparnasse Cemetery along Rue Froidevaux. In the foreground is a station for the popular Vélib rental bicycles. Photos by John Pearce
In the 60s, Jim Goldsborough was the star Paris reporter for the Paris Herald-Tribune (later to be the International Herald Tribune and the International New York Times). He recently published The Paris Herald, a roman à clef mined from his exciting days at the Herald. It was a yeasty time in France — the war was barely 20 years in the past, DeGaulle was (once again) in power, and the fate of the Paris Herald hung very much in the balance after the failure of its mother ship, the New York Herald Tribune.
I reviewed the novel for Part-Time Parisian last week and recommend it highly, especially if you’re a journalism or Paris junkie (I’m both). The book is here on Amazon. It’s available in Kindle and hardback editions.
————- John Pearce: Jim, we were almost contemporaries at the Herald-Tribune, although we never met, probably because I was working from Frankfurt. I remember Buddy Weiss very well indeed, along with some of the other characters in The Paris Herald. How much of you is in The Paris Herald? In other words, how autobiographical is it? Tell us about your time there.
Jim Goldsborough: I’d have a hard time making the case that the experiences of Rupert Archer, the lead character of my story, didn’t parallel some of mine. They did. But there’s a good deal of invention in my story, which is why it’s a novel rather than a straight history of the Herald Tribune. As for some other characters in the book, sure I could have used the customary disclaimer, “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” But that line is typically used to keep people from suing, and newspaper people tend to be suees rather than suers. Many of the characters in my story are real people and I use their real names – Jock Whitney, Kay Graham, Punch Sulzberger, Ben Bradlee, to take four – and their actions in the book try to be true to events. Some of the fictitious characters may be identifiable, and some not. Some are pure invention, though their actions serve real events. It is a work of historical fiction, and I have used a typical technique, interlacing fictitious characters with real ones, to tell the story.
JP: I was an admirer and devoted follower of your stories, and I very much enjoyed your novel — I will review it a few days after this interview appears. Tell me what you most enjoyed about working at the newspaper, and what effect it’s had on the balance of your career, both in journalism and in your non-fiction writing?
JG: I think that any of us who worked on the Herald Tribune in the late 1960s would say that those were the best years of our lives. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect we surely understand our good fortune to have worked for that newspaper in those exciting times. Covering Charles de Gaulle at the height of the Cold War, would be the highlight of any reporter’s career. The Herald Tribune in those days was an old-fashioned newspaper where you got off work just before midnight and downed too many demis at the Berri Bar waiting for the first edition and worrying about how you’d translated de Gaulle’s latest thunderbolt. We were underpaid and overworked but exhilarated to know we were the first truly international newspaper and that all Europe was out there waiting for what we wrote. For me, a young reporter who’d arrived in Europe knowing next to nothing, the time in Paris was transformational. I went on from there to become Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Newsweek bureau chief, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in New York, author of a half dozen articles in Foreign Affairs and three books. Hemingway had it right: Paris is a moveable feast. You leave it but it never leaves you. I knew I would never be content until I told the story of those years in Paris.
JP: You used a lot of real identities in the book, which I know must have made it more interesting to all of us who worked there at one time or another. How have your old friends reacted to the sudden fame?
JG: To a degree “The Paris Herald” is a roman à clef, though some of the principal characters – Whitney, Sulzberger, Graham etc. – don’t need a clef because I use their real names. As for many of the invented characters, some who may bear some resemblance to real people, the only complaint I’ve heard so far came from someone who was left out. I understand. If an author is molding his characters on real people he’s going to choose the most interesting models. Readers should not jump to conclusions. I’ve used not only imagination and invention but also amalgamation. Henri de Saint Gaudens, for example, a key French figure in the story, is a composite of two men who worked for President de Gaulle at the time. Saint Gaudens is in effect an original. So is Theo le Tac. So is Tonton Pinard.
JP: When you and I knew it the Paris Herald was truly a Paris newspaper, right down to the ratty offices on Rue de Berri. It was more like something out of The Front Page than the sixties and seventies. I don’t see as much Paris in the International New York Times. What’s your view about how it has changed over the decades? What has it done to the special feeling a lot of Americans have for Paris?
JG: James Gordon Bennett Jr., the man who sent Henry Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone, started the Paris Herald in 1887. At the time it was strictly a Paris newspaper – like the New York Herald and New York Tribune were strictly New York newspapers. Newspapers kept to their hometown. Later, as transportation improved, the Paris Herald began to be distributed around France and soon around Europe. This was especially true after the two world wars when the Herald Tribune’s American readership was spread around the continent. When the Americans went home in the 1930s and 1950s, the newspaper had to refocus, starting to target English-speaking Europeans. By my time, the owners knew the Herald Tribune had to become more European oriented. The changes that began in the 1970s – to move out of Paris, to cover less of Paris and more of other countries, were inevitable. Those moves also changed what had been a real Paris newspaper into what my friend Don Cook of the Los Angeles Times called a Neuilly “computer center.” One change that was not necessary was to change the name of the newspaper. That was an a-historical act of arrogance and contumely that is inexcusable.
JP: Some of the most interesting scenes in your book illustrate very clearly that the French government doesn’t hesitate to involve itself in the day-to-day work of journalism. Did you see the effects of such meddling in the day-to-day editing and publishing decisions of your own work?
JG: As a rule, the French government did not mess with the Paris Herald or International Herald Tribune. Before my time, there were a few cases of censorship related to coverage of the Algerian War, but French newspapers went through that as well. In my time, there were frequent cases of official complaint, but that is no different from what I’ve experienced on U.S. newspapers when government officials think you’ve been unfair or even wrong. As far as censorship, I know of none. As I make clear in my novel, the French government understood and understands the advantages to France of having the Herald Tribune (oops, New York Times) published in Paris, even though Paris may not be covered as much as it was. In my time, the government knew it was touch and go whether we would remain in Paris, especially in 1968 with the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and May revolt. The government was careful to do nothing that would strengthen the case of those in the newspaper’s ownership, especially Jock Whitney, who wanted to move the newspaper to Germany or Switzerland.
JP: What’s next? Do you have any other Paris-related projects in the oven? This is a Paris blog, and I’m a part-time Parisian, so I’d certainly like to write about another Goldsborough Paris book.
JG: My next novel is not about Paris, sorry to say. It is about Cuba. But after that, who knows? My daughter lives and works in Paris so I come over as often as I can. I stay in touch with French friends and events. A writer never knows what will pique his fancy. I wrote the first draft of The Paris Herald years ago in New York and put it in my trunk as I moved on to other newspaper jobs and to write other books. It might have remained there if the New York Times hadn’t decided two years ago to air brush the hallowed Herald and Herald Tribune names from history – just as Stalin air-brushed Trotsky and Mao air-brushed Liu shaoqi away. Changing the newspaper’s name was an offense that needed an answer so I pulled out the manuscript, worked on it for about a year, sent it off to an agent and then to a publisher. Maybe the next time I come to Paris I’ll see something that inspires me to do a new book on Paris. That’s David McCullough’s thesis in his book The Greater Journey, isn’t it? How Paris has inspired Americans though the ages. I see no reason why it should stop.
For me, The Paris Herald (*****) was like a thrilling ride in a time machine. It covers in detail the desperate time in the late 60s when the New York Herald Tribune failed, threatening its Paris satellite with extinction or (even worse in the eyes of the ink-stained wretches who worked there), a takeover by The New York Times. That eventually happened, but not until much later, after Katharine Graham’s decision to take a minority position for The Washington Post blocked the Times from gaining effective control.
This novel is catnip for the Paris or journalism junkie. James O. Goldsborough chose to relate a mostly true story as a novel, which of course gave him greater freedom of choice in his characters and the precision with which he deploys them. For what it’s worth, my memory matches up pretty well with his story.
Goldsborough, a talented journalist who was the paper’s most visible and interesting reporter during the time he recounts, explains well the tense period when the newspaper’s continued existence hung in the balance. But in addition to the business story, his sharp vignettes of the editors and managers, their wives and their mistresses (generally their secretaries; this was the time of Mad Men, after all) illuminate the old stories we’ve all read about being an American in Paris after the war.
I wrote for the International Herald Tribune in the early 70s, just after the period he describes, but as a special correspondent in matters economic in the German-speaking world, so my view is filtered by the limited personal contact I had with the editors in Paris. I remember with special fondness the editor, Buddy Weiss (here transformed into Sonny Stein) and his friendly but splendidly ugly dog Baron, who had his own place at the table when we went to lunch at the hotel across the street. Baron, alas, didn’t make it into the book.
As Goldsborough portrays it, the staff of the IHT was sixties American journalism boiled down. Barely twenty years after the end of the war, the American presence in all of Europe was still immense and the IHT was a must-read for the entire American business and diplomatic establishment, as well as many French business and government leaders, most of whom were comfortable in English. In France, De Gaulle reigned until 1969, after the famous demonstrations and strikes of May 1968, when he lost an insignificant referendum and resigned — but not until he’d pared back French cooperation with the American military very substantially.
Every American who went to Paris bought the Herald at one of the green newspaper kiosks of the time and took it away to read, whether in a park or a café. It’s hard to say whether it commanded the same respect it did between the wars — as Goldsborough writes in his Author’s Note, “Any American traveling in Paris in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century came across the Paris Herald at one time or another. It was available in the same kiosks on the Champs Elysées and quais along the Seine as the latest article in l’Aurore by Zola…. The Paris Herald … belonged to Paris as much as did Zola or Proust.”
Big changes came to the newspaper after the epoch Goldsborough recounts. In 1970 it was still printed on heavy old rotary presses in the basement of its seedy building on the Rue de Berri, a few steps off the Champs-Elysées. Goldsborough intelligently dissects the many difficulties it had with its communist printers’ union. Partly as a way to escape the union, it considered relocating to Zurich or somewhere else more orderly (I know from personal experience that it considered moving much of its printing to Frankfurt, where I lived), but ultimately decided to relocate to the ritzy suburb of Neuilly and switch to more modern printing technology. The union was pensioned off and the paper moved into a new age.
Now, of course, it’s truly international, printed in many locations from London to Hong Kong.
My author interview with James Goldsborough will appear July 31.
The Paris Herald: a Novel, by James Oliver Goldsborough. Prospecta Press, 2014. 304 pp. (This review is of the Kindle edition.)
Blog post from 2009 by Andrew Cusack: The Decline and Fall of the International Herald Tribune.
Breathless (À bout de souffle), the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard film starring Jean Seberg as a street vendor of the New York Herald Tribune involved with a petty criminal who shoots a policeman, with the predictable unfortunate results. Jean Dorothy Seberg of Marshalltown, Iowa, died young and is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.
The film was remade in 1983, starring Richard Gere in a story moved to Los Angeles. . The French title was À Bout de Souffle Made in USA.
I CAN’T IMMEDIATELY THINK of a better premise for a novel than the one Peter Steiner found: “I invented two young men and put them in dire circumstances.” He made them members of the French Resistance.
“Dire” hardly covers it. Think about it: One of the brothers, Onesime Josquin, is a rifleman standing fruitless duty on the Maginot Line as the Germans sweep around it, destroying the French army in the process. He leaves his post and walks home to the small Loire village of Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, to his mother Anne Marie and his brother Jean. Soon Germans are building a logistics depot in the caves where wine has been stored for generations. The village is occupied.
Onesime and Jean start as small-time résistants. As they go about their daily routine — Onesime as farmhand for the local noble, Jean in a bicycle shop — they develop layer upon layer of useful information about their new occupiers. Onesime begins by drawing detailed maps. Jean collects order-of-battle information, although he goes on to other, darker pursuits. Neither has much of an idea what he will do with it until the mysterious Simon comes into their life. Their mother, unknown to them, is doing the same. And so, as we learn only at the end, are others.
Their initial floundering and confusion resolves itself into clear, hard action, but not before there is much loss of life and a great deal of doubt about the morality of what they and their fellow townspeople are doing. But one of the best features of The Resistance is that there is not a lot of agonizing over the morality of resisting openly, resisting surreptitiously, collaborating, or — the point of the book — some mix of all.
For example: The local beauty lost her husband to the Germans in World War I but falls in love with the first commander at Saint-Léon — who meets a bad end at the hands of his own side. She’s clearly a collaborator, isn’t she? The next German officer thinks so, up until the last instant of his life, when she turns into the paramour from hell.
The Resistance is the most recent in Steiner’s delightful Louis Morgon series, stories about an American intelligence operative who, after disgrace and divorce, finds his own redemption through a long walk from Paris more or less along the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela. There he reaches the final decision that his future lies in Saint-Léon, a place he’s spent only one night. The old house he buys hasn’t been lived in since before the war, and under its crumbling floor he finds the package that provides the key to this story. Two keys, actually.
I highly recommend that you also read A French Country Murder for Morgon’s back story. You’ll understand his life and disgrace much better. (It was also published as Le Crime. Both are available on Amazon.)
The Resistance is billed as a thriller, and it has many of the thriller’s traits. Read it for the exciting tale of resistance, bravery, love and death — that’s why I started it. Steiner presented it at the American Library in Paris two years ago and I first read it after I heard and met him. I went back to it recently, and it was on second reading that I fully understood it was more than just a thriller. It’s a philosophical treatise, and it will make you think. How would any of us react under the circumstances Onesime and Jean (and their mother, and the local gendarme, and the mayor, plus many others) found themselves facing?
Jean-Paul Sartre summed it up pithily in his Paris under the Occupation: “The maquisards, our pride, refused to work for the enemy; but it was necessary for the peasants, if they wanted to feed them, to continue to grow beets, half of which went to Germany.”
Peter Steiner lives part of the year in rural France, and his knowledge of the countryside is evident. His next Louis Morgon thriller is scheduled for publication in Spring 2015.
He took to novels later in life, as you’ll see from the interview, after a long career as a cartoonist at The New Yorker and other places. His New Yorker cartoon captioned, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” is the magazine’s most-reproduced cartoon. He holds a Ph.D. in German literature.
His Amazon page, bio, and all his books are here. His personal web site, a very pretty one, is PLSteiner.com.
The Resistance: A Thriller (A Louis Morgon Thriller) [Kindle Edition] 319 pp. Minotaur Books (August 21, 2012) $7.59. Also available in hardcover. It can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and this review has been posted on both sites.
I’m the author of Treasure of Saint-Lazare, a novel of Paris, which reached #25 on the Kindle historical mystery best-seller list. A sequel, whose working title is Last Stop: Paris, will be published late this year.
Part-Time Parisian welcomes PETER STEINER to its series of author interviews and reviews. He’s a super-creative man — for one, he’s the force behind the New Yorker cartoon absolutely everybody has heard of, the one captioned, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” (See his bio on his Amazon author page.) Today we’re discussing his novel The Resistance, a tale of moral ambiguity and betrayal in occupied Germany.
He’s had a varied and fascinating career, beginning with his Ph.D. In German literature, through his life as a prolific cartoonist to, in a sort of retirement, a new career as a novelist and painter. For details, including a look at his paintings, see his web site PLSteiner.com.
I met Peter two years ago at a reading he did for the American Library in Paris, and liked the book immensely. I re-read it in anticipation of this interview and the new review that will follow in about a week, and appreciated it even more. It’s a pretty deep book about occupied France and the ambiguities of life under military occupation, and I encourage you to read it carefully. Peter’s next novel featuring his protagonist Louis Morgon, an unjustly cashiered CIA agent who settles into a village in the Loire Valley, is scheduled for release next Spring.
The interview was conducted June 18 by email.
John Pearce: I have read The Resistance twice, once shortly after we met at your reading two years ago in Paris and again in the last few weeks. First I read it as a thriller, or maybe a mystery, but on my most recent reading it struck me as a morality tale. Your characters were forced into the German yoke, but each of them found his or her own way to full resistance or full collaboration, or in some cases to the appearance of one but practice of the other.
When you began, what did you want the novel to be? And did it come out as you intended?
Peter Steiner: First of all I wanted The Resistance to tell a good story–riveting and compelling. But then I also wanted it to be an examination of human ethics and morality in a difficult world. It began as a question I asked myself: how would I have behaved when collaboration was the law and resistance mortally dangerous? It is difficult even in the best of times to be a decent human being. And when times are tough,it is all but impossible. During the occupation of France everyone had to do terrible things. Even doing nothing was, in some sense, severely immoral. And the choices people faced day after day must have seemed, at least to the conscientious, all but impossible. I wanted good and evil to be mixed up with one another, even indistinguishable sometimes, as they are in real life.
JP: None of us knows how we would react under the pressure of a brutal occupation, and The Resistance is a good reminder that obvious heroics are very likely to be fatal — just look at the roadside memorials in rural France, or at the plaques on building walls all over Paris, in memory of those who died resisting the Germans. Your imagining of the diverse reaction of the citizens of Saint-Léon is one of the best explorations of the ambiguity of self-interest I’ve seen. How did you go about assembling your cast of characters? From your reading, from marinating in the local culture during your life in rural France, or from somewhere else entirely?
PS: I invented two young men (Onesime and Jean) and stuck them in dire circumstances. And the characters and situations gradually developed around them. I did lots of reading as I was writing, mostly to get the settings and history right. And I had some familiarity with life in rural France. But mainly I let the story unspool on its own.
JP: The Dême looks like a charming stream, a green necklace of small towns named something-sur-Dême. Is life there much different from the way it was in 1940?
PS: In some ways it’s completely different. For one thing, it’s more cosmopolitan in that many people come there from Paris now either on weekends or settle there. It is still the province, but not as insular as it once was. But physically amazingly little has changed, which is what draws the Parisians. There are still small farms worked by locals, the towns and villages look essentially the same, and the society with its social strata and differences is as rigid as before. And people enjoy life as only the French seem able to do.
JP: How did your French friends respond to The Resistance? Have they preferred any of your novels over the others?
PS: Our French friends mostly don’t read English so they don’t know my books, although many have signed copies.
JP: Is there another Louis Morgon story in the wings? If so, please tell us a little about it.
PS: A new Louis Morgon novel should appear next spring. In this book he locks horns with a Wall Street swindler. Like The Resistance this book is on a larger canvas and takes on bigger issues, although nothing as urgent as resistance and collaboration. Here it’s capitalism and avarice. On second thought, maybe it is as urgent.
JP: You’ve had a fascinating career so far — Ph.D. In German literature, professor, writer, painter, highly acclaimed cartoonist for The New Yorker and others (who could ever forget “On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog.”) If you had the chance to start over, would you follow another path?
PS: I didn’t know I had a path when I was following it, but the one constant has always been I’ve worked at what interested me as long as it interested me. I would do it exactly the same again, assuming I got as lucky again as I have been. How many people get to make that sort of life for themselves? Not many.
JP: When you’re writing, what is your work day like? Do you dedicated a period to writing, another to painting, and so forth, or do you let your inspiration take you where it will? Do you create better in France or Connecticut?
PS: When I’m working on a book, I’m usually not painting. And visa versa. I write when the spirit moves me, which, once the story starts rolling is often. But if it’s a gorgeous day, or something else calls to me, I do that. And with both writing and painting, I try to end each session on an up moment, a moment where I don’t want to quit. That makes me eager to get back to it the next day. This is not a job for me; it’s my retirement. So I do it when and exactly how I want to. Again, how lucky can one man be?
JP: How does your preparation for writing a novel differ from preparing to create a painting or a cartoon? Do you outline your novels in advance?
PS: My novels get a little preparation in my head–lots of mulling over places and themes, imagining and unfocused daydreaming. But that’s it. Then, when the bundle of all those thoughts is too baggy to hold onto without losing something, I start writing. I have one idea that starts things off and the rest comes as I write.
Then I do lots of editing, adding stuff at the beginning, etc. My painting is similar, an idea in my head that gets painted in rough form onto the canvas and then gets worked, messed around, changed. The big difference is that a painting is always present in its entirety and a novel isn’t. You are somewhere in it without any immediate sense of what you have already done or what comes next.
Peter Steiner’s web site: plsteiner.com, with internal links to his other books, his paintings and his cartoons.
I’VE WRITTEN several posts about D-Day and the Atlantic Wall, but want to call your attention to this piece from the New York Review of Books. It’s the best explanation of the Pointe du Hoc debacle (an heroic debacle, but a debacle nevertheless) that I’ve seen, and its discussion of the Atlantic Wall and its remains is really worth reading.
German watchtower on Guernsey, off the coast of France
One thing to remember is that Hitler entrusted the construction of the Atlantic Wall to Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox of North Africa fame. The entire coastline of France was a blocked military zone (or sperrgebiet in German), as were the borders with Switzerland and Italy. (Italy, as a German ally, had a little more flexibility.) Serious construction on the Atlantic Wall didn’t begin until early 1944, when Rommel was put in charge. He didn’t swallow the official doctrine that the Allied invasion was come at Calais, but he didn’t much care — he thought the entire coastline should be fortified, because a successful Allied invasion would mean Germany would lose the war. (He died in October 1944, forced to commit suicide as one of the alleged plotters against Hitler. Had he not taken the poison, his family and his staff would have been executed.) Rommel started a crash program that resulted in the chain of beguiling ruins that line the Norman coast to this day. One of those is at Pointe du Hoc, where a team of Rangers scaled the cliffs against brutal opposition with the goal of spiking the big guns they thought were trained on Omaha Beach. When they reached the top they found that the guns had been moved inland and neutralized them with thermite grenades, but then found themselves cut off and dependent on captured weapons. Read the story for the tragic outcome — it gives new meaning to “friendly fire.” This exceptional piece was written by Malise Ruthven, whose wife, the photographer Ianthe Ruthven, has a show of Atlantic Wall pictures at the Royal Geographic Society through June 20. See the entire story on the NYR Blog.
THE NORMANDY INVASION on D-Day brought Americans to the streets in massive numbers. Some went to rallies, some to church, some just went out to be around their fellow citizens.
The web site of the Smithsonian Institution has as remarkable series of pictures made that day. Take a look – it will be time well spent.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia leads a rally in New York
From the article:
New information was difficult for American media outlets to obtain; CBS World News’ radio program from the day makes multiple references to German media broadcasts, which were the main source of updated information. In Philadelphia, the mayor sounded the Liberty Bell for the first time in over a century. In New York City, the New York Stock exchange observed two minutes of silence and in Madison Square, WNYC held a D-Day rally, featuring speeches and songs presided over by the city’s mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Like Roosevelt, La Guardia led the city in a prayer, telling those gathered—and those listening at home on their radios: “We, the people of the City of New York, in meeting assembled, send forth our prayers to the Almighty God for the safety and spiritual welfare of every one of you and humbly petition Him to bring total victory to your arms in the great and valiant struggle for the liberation of the world from tyranny.”
Friday is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of France whose success made clear World War II was entering its final phases. The war in Europe had been under way almost five years and would slog on another eleven months, until the German government surrendered in May 1945.
Normandy was at the time the largest industrial operation in history, and may still hold the honor. For an American, the Normandy beaches are one of the most impressive sites in the world, bar none. We have taken friends and family there several times, but have never been able to explain adequately in advance the impact of the long line of beaches, the German pillboxes lined up one after the other along the length of the Western Wall, and the fact that Americans will be welcomed as honored friends even though the ancestors of many of the people now living along the beaches died during the fighting.
They haven’t lost the sure knowledge that something important happened on that day, and if it had failed the world would be a very different place now. And it could have failed. It was a close thing – so close that General Eisenhower wrote a personal mea culpa taking responsibility, a letter that was later buried in his library for 35 years. They weren’t withdrawn, and the liberation of France continued apace, from June 6 in Normandy to August in Paris (where the local citizens took their own fate in hand a week before the French Second Armored Division marched up Avenue d’Orleans). It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that if D-Day had failed the first atomic bomb would probably have targeted Berlin rather than Hiroshima.
Avenue d’Orleans was later renamed Avenue du Général Leclerc after the famous Deuxième Division Blindée. The Omaha Beach cemetery itself is one site that should not be missed. It sits on a broad expanse of green lawn at the top of Omaha Beach. It’s the final resting place of almost 10,000 American soldiers. On our last visit we were met by a group of old soldiers — French soldiers long past retirement age — anxious to explain the cemetery and its meaning. You could spend weeks driving slowly up and down the beaches from Le Havre to Cherbourg. There’s the cemetery, and there’s Point du Hoc, the famous spit of land at the top of a cliff that was to be the artillery emplacement that would drive away the invaders.
It was taken at high cost by Army Rangers who climbed the cliff, only to find that the artillery pieces had been moved. They found and spiked them, but it was one of many lessons in the value of good intelligence. There are dozens of other museums near the places where American, British and Canadian troops landed, fought and died. The web is full of good information about the D-Day landings. A list of links appears below the pictures.
The Omaha Beach Cemetery
Easy Red | Fox Green sectors. The cemetery is below the red arrowhead.