Day 1: Taking the RER into Paris from Charles De Gaule, startled to pass through Drancy station. I was just reading about Drancy. It’s where the Jews went from Paris on their way to Auschwitz. Hadn’t even heard of the place before now. I hadn’t expected to see even this much of it.
Day 2: Looked down a side street near our hotel and spotted this Tunisian bakery, with its window full of fantasy sweets in improbable shapes and colors. When my sister Rachel and I visited Paris as teenagers in the summer of 1972, we ended up spending an evening with a bunch of kids we found hanging out in a park. At some point they took us walking through crowded, winding streets. Just about all I remember is the crush of the crowd, the unreality of being out so late at night, and a window full of fantasy sweets from North Africa. I’m pretty sure this is that place.
Day 3: I was reading about Drancy as part of my research for my new book. One of my characters is a French Jew who was middle aged in the 1930s, and I was trying to figure out how she might have survived the war. In the course of my reading I came across a story about the Grand Mosque of Paris saving Jewish children from the Nazis. I never even knew there was a Grand Mosque of Paris. Further research threw doubt on the story. I decided to check it out, so I visited the mosque. This is it. It’s a beautiful place. I still have no idea how much of the story is true.
Day 4: On my last full day in Paris, I decided to visit the neighborhood where my family lived from 1964-1966, when I was 6-9 years old and my dad was working at the International Edition of the New York Times. I went to the park where Rachel I used to roller skate. Much of it is as I remember, but a lot has changed, as well. One big change is two fenced off areas where parents can leave their children for supervised play. There’s one area for preschoolers and another for kids between about 5 and 10. These are the preschoolers. I was very impressed with, but not at all surprised by, how orderly they were organized for story hour. I spent a long time watching both groups, silently practicing how, if anyone asked, I would explain, in French, that I played in this same park 40-some years ago. No one asked.