Place des Etats-Unis, Paris (United States Square, Paris). Two statues face each other on the borders of this square in the heart of Paris.
One of the statues is of George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette, cementing for posterity their friendship. Lafayette was Washington’s aide-de-camp throughout the Revolutionary war. Washington became a father-figure to him. Lafayette actually naming one of his sons after George Washington is a gesture of great affection. The statue itself is there to signify the relationship, the friendship, between the United States and France.
The other statue at the other end of the square is a statue of remembrance from World War II. It honors the Americans who gave their lives helping the French Resistance before and during the Second World War. Many Americans served by aiding the Resistance efforts in France and elsewhere.
One author who chronicles the exploits and sacrifices of this period is Alan Furst. His novels are definitely some of my favorites. They are fiction, yet he does meticulous research to convey the place, setting, and characters. They are truly evocative, taking you back to the late 30s and into the early 40s of pre-war Europe. The settings differ: action and storylines take place in Poland, Hungary, Holland, and the Balkans. The common denominator is all roads at some point go through Paris. The city itself could be even be a character in all his books. The favorite highlighted today, “Mission to Paris”, is set entirely in the city. The lead hero is an American, who happens to be an actor, and is recruited to help with Resistance efforts. He’s definitely more Humphrey Bogart than Jimmy Stewart or Clark Gable.
That said, back to the main idea: America’s relationship and friendship with France (another blog post about this intersection). Some might say there is a mutual fascination, at least for some. You literally find it often in Paris. Boulevards names after Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, statues of Jefferson, , Martin Luther King Park, replicas of the Statue of Liberty – the original of which France built for us.
There is our shared history too. Much can be mined from both World War II and the Revolutionary War. There were certainly shared interests which resulted in lasting friendships. On top of that was the literary culture of the 1920s with Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Paris and France have long prided themselves as being capitals of the written word. This epoch made it more of a haven for American writers. It was almost as if they had to come to Paris for a season to learn. Faulkner did, Shelby Foote did too. Countless others followed in their footsteps.
Less known was the mid-to-late 19th century, known as the Belle Epoque. David McCullough, chronicler of American history with his books “Truman”, “1776”, and “John Adams”, chose this period for another of his books, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris”. A theme of his for this book was “not all pioneers went west.” Many Americans ventured to Paris, learning and achieving in the arts, culture, medicine, and government.
Thus, there is this great history of French-American friendship. Both nations have made sacrifices for the other in the cause of freedom. Both nations have helped one another in the pursuit of knowledge. We would do well to remember this.
With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 passing, all of us are rightly remembering and reflecting on that time. On September 12th, 2001, the headline atop the Parisian newspaper Le Monde was “Nous sommes tous americaines (We are all Americans)”. More so, many French called the US embassy in the days afterwards to offer their beds to Americans stuck at the airport and hundreds of Parisians gathered at Notre Dame to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Relationships and friendships across lines of difference are a beautiful, powerful thing. I believe they should be sought after and cultivated. It’s one reason we’re here. So yes, God bless America. Mais aussi, Vive la France.
Stay tuned on Fridays as we post our favorites from Paris.
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