Vive la Liberté

France and the US have always had a strong friendship – most of the time. The Marquis de Lafayette came to fight in the American Revolution when he couldn’t find a suitable job for his aristocratic rank in France. The story is that he became like a son to George Washington. Even fifty years after the American Revolution was over, when Lafayette made one final visit to the growing USA, people cheered him wherever he went. Wikipedia says that there is a city or town named after him in every state.

Benjamin Franklin, who lived much of his adult life in Paris, was adored by Parisian society. A statue of him sits in a small garden park near the Trocadero. He also was friends with the young Lafayette. There are books that say that Lafayette and Jefferson were very close–first during the American Revolution and after when Jefferson had moved to Paris as the first American Ambassador of the brand new republic.

The Americans were not nearly as helpful to the French during the French Revolution. The ones living here either went back to the US or stayed clear of what was going on. Lafayette, himself, never supported a complete break with the King and for awhile, played both sides of the fence. He eventually had to flee France, surrendered in Belgium, and was held in a miserable prison for a number of years.

Today, both Lafayette and his wife, are buried at Picpus Cemetery along with many outliers. Starting in the early 1800s, the land was used for mass graves of those guillotined during the Revolution and after. Lafayette’s wife lost her mother and other family members during the Revolution. She became a founding member of the Picpus Society which is why they are buried in Picpus Cemetery. “In permanent recognition of his role in aiding the American cause, an American flag has flown over Lafayette’s grave ever since the end of WWI. The flag is changed every year on July 4 in a highly orchestrated ceremony attended by French and American dignitaries, including representatives of the U.S. Embassy, the French Senate, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of the Mayor of the 12th Arrondissement, the Society of American Friends of Lafayette, the Sons of the American Revolution in France, and the Society of the Cincinnati in France.” –Francerevisited.com The friendship between France and the US has managed to survive many obstacles through the years.

One of the largest chapters of Democrats Abroad is in France, and Sunday evening, the Paris contingent celebrated on the banks of the Seine at a funky bar called Les Nautes. It was the first live get-together in 2021. Plus, for many people, it was the first “night out” since the curfew was lifted. The larger part of the bar is outside seating: perhaps ten picnic tables that the staff of the Paris Chapter decorated in red, white, and blue and a Pride Flag proudly flew over one of the tables.

Waiting patiently for food

I heard a few lovely Biden stories. Our newly elected National Chair of France DA is about to leave Paris and return to the US with his fiancée. When I asked him why he ran if he was leaving, he told me that while Trump was president, getting Visas was a hard and long process. He was told it would probably be a minimum of two years. So he ran for office–and won. Then Biden was elected President. One of Biden’s first moves was to reverse that Visa policy and fiancés went to the top of the list. So Jonathon and his french love are headed to Texas in August and the very capable Dani F, National Vice Chair, will become our new Chair in France. This is a story I might not have heard unless I had known someone trying to get a Visa to the States. I, once again, thanked whomever above that we have a new President and one that has been around Washington so long, knows every in and out, and can address this kind of thing. It doesn’t hurt to have good advisors also!!!

The capable Vice Chair, Dani Folett, who will be the Chair starting August 15

Most of us didn’t talk politics. We all expressed gratitude for Independence from Trump. Then we reminesced to the French amongst us about the tradional 4th of July food that gets served at these picnics: Hot dogs on buns–the hot dogs were there but not the buns; Potato salad–Someone kindly brought potato salad and it went quickly; Cole slaw–not present although it is now sold in french markets; Corn on the cob–Corn is only eaten by animals in France. If you live in a district that has many Americans, you might find one of two cobs wrapped up in cellophane but they usually end up on the day old pile to be sold for one or two euros; Fruit salad–someone remembered that in many parts of the US, the fruit salad was stirred up in mayonnaise. Tune up huge groans of disbelief.

Paris has been having record-breaking rain–in my opinion. Every day threatens at least a small shower and we haven’t had more than three or four really warm days in a row all Spring. On Sunday evening, my iPhone said 90% rain all day. It said that for 6 days prior. I was bound and determined to go party anyway and, it seems, so were a lot of others. The gods smiled on us ex-Pats. There was a small shower just before the event started then sun. Then a threat but it never materialised.

Need we say more???

One question I had for Dems Abroad and did not get a 100% confirmed answer is: Do I need to register this year to vote in California’s special election. As most of you know, unhappy Republicans are trying to remove Governor Newsom from office. So Californians are going to the polls this November 2. There are some other elections occasioned by vacancies after the Presidential election of 2020. Here in Europe, I have to re-register every year there is an election to make sure I get my absentee ballot. However, that might not be true for a special election. The assumption among those I asked is that California is good about absentee ballots and, if I voted in 2020 (I did), I will automatically receive my absentee ballot in September. It’s never smart for a Democrat to assume anything so you can be sure I will be calling the Registrar of Voters soon.

It stays light this time of year until 11pm. I didn’t want to go home while it was light so though people were leaving at 9:30pm, I asked my friends if we could slowly walk to the metro ( they live in the Marais but dropped me off at #1). I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the Seine and the light–something I don’t get where I live in the 16th. Here is my parting gift to you. This is the Paris I love.

On the Quai des Célestins. The light is like a Turner painting.

A bientôt,

Sara

La Grange

On Monday past, four members of my book club, The Mountainview Literary Circle, along with with four friends, went on a Field trip to La Grange in Rozay-en-Brie.  The Chateau at La Grange was the last home of Lafayette and his wife, Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles .  La Grange lies in the Provins region of France which is still part of Ile de France.  Lafayette lived there for 30 years after the peace of Amiens.  His wife, however, who had became very sick when she refused to leave him while he was imprisoned in Austria during the French Revolution and the Terror, lived there only eight years.

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A year ago November, I attended the American Library Book Award ceremony held to give a monetary prize to the best book of 2015.  The subject matter has to be about France or French-American relations.   The winner in 2015 was a book by Laura Auricchio entitled Le Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered.  It sounded so interesting that I recommended it to my book club.  At the end of the book, the author urged us all to visit La Grange explaining that it is probably the best museum of all things Lafayette as well as his wife, Madame Adrienne de Noailles La Fayette , a very interesting person in her own right.  So I made all the plans and got a date and then learned that the Chateau at La Grange is a private museum and one has to have special permission to visit.

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Marie Adrienne de Noailles La Fayette

The Chateau today belongs to the Foundation Josée-and-Rene-de-Chambrun which is responsible for the management of  the inheritance and property of the family La Fayette. Interestingly enough the Chambrun family was instrumental in keeping the American Library open during WWII.   As a result of Mme Chambrun’s son’s marriage to the daughter of the Vichy prime minister, Pierre Laval, the library was ensured a friend in high places, and a near-exclusive right to keep its doors open and its collections largely uncensored throughout the war. A French diplomat later said the library had been to occupied Paris “an open window on the free world.”(Wikipedia)

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Lafayette in Prison during the French Revolution

One of our book club members is a “son of the American Revolution”  At a press meeting at the American Library, he met another SAR and together they requested permission for a visit.  It was very iffy until the last minute.  The Chateau will be closed for the next eighteen months while it undergoes renovation and it wasn’t clear if the renovation had actually started.  Three weeks ago, we were given the date of Monday, Dec. 12th for our visit.

Rozay-en-Brie is approximately 1 hour southeast of Paris.  Easy to get to.  We had lunch at one of those funky looking restos where you hold your breath hoping there is good food and leave thinking “imagine that, really good food in this place.We must be in France!”  We met our guide promptly at 2pm.  I was slightly handicapped as I was the only one who doesn’t speak fluent French.  Visually the place is an homage to La Fayette and the American Revolution. A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs on the wall along with letters, gifts and reproductions of battles.

No one actually lives in the Chateau.  There was no heat.  I had a very definite feeling of what it would be like inhabiting one of these gorgeous old places before modern day comforts were invented.  We went from room to room enjoying the memorabilia.  There is a James Fenimore Cooper bedroom.  Cooper met General Lafayette when the latter visited the US in 1824, a reunion trip that took Lafayette to many states and many cities named after him.  Cooper later moved his family to Paris hoping for a better audience for his books and became good friends with Lafayette.

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It’s easy to imagine Lafayette’s love affair with all things American as there was a long canoe like vessel in the barns next to the Chateau.  I wasn’t clear who had sent it to him but it looks very similar to the boat depicted in the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware.  While living at the Chateau in La Grange, Lafayette participated in politics but gradually grew very disillusioned.

On 20 May 1834, Lafayette died on 6 rue d’Anjou-Saint-Honoré in Paris (now 8 rue d’Anjou in the 8th arrondissement of Paris) at the age of 76. He was buried next to his wife at the Picpus Cemetery under soil from Bunker Hill, which his son Georges Washington sprinkled upon him.

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Picpus Cimetière

To be able to visit this chateau was a treat and a privilege.  One most people won’t be able to have.  After we had visited all the rooms that were open, our guide invited us to tea.  She took us into a beautiful, oak-lined small dining room set out with a full English tea.  We were thanking her profusely and she said “no, it is I who should thank you.  It is a pleasure to show this place and these rooms to people who understand the context and the history”  Once again, I was reminded that our hero who had at least one city named after him in every state of the Union, who is synonymous with the American Revolution is not seen with the same eyes here in France.  He was an aristocrat at the time when aristocrats were suspect and the French were never quite sure what his motives for doing anything were.

http://www.balades-en-brie.com/brie/courpalay/chateau-de-la-grange-bleneau.html

A bientôt,

Sara