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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Last Time I Saw Paris

(The Statue of Liberty being assembled
in Paris before transport to America)

Today is Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. It marks the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 with the storming of the notorious prison-fortress in Paris.

In 1865, a group of Frenchmen hired the sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) to create a monument to honor the close relationship between France and America on the occasion of the upcoming centennial of the Declaration of Independence. “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World,” to call it by its official name, is an enduring symbol of that friendship.

France provided critical moral and financial support to the Americans in their revolution against King George. The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) served in the Continental army directly under General George Washington as one of his most trusted aides. Washington came to view him like a son.

The French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote what is still one of the best portraits of the United States in its pursuit of democracy and equality. In
Democracy in America, published in 1835, Tocqueville recorded astute observations about America and Americans as he traveled across town and country.

The poem below is a song composed in the days immediately after the fall of Paris on June 14, 1940, when German tanks rumbled past the Arc de Triomphe. Tin Pan Alley responded with these poignant words.

(In the intervening years, in peace time, the song has been transformed into a romantic memory of a visit to the City of Light, when love was young. That's how Dean Martin, 1917-1995, sang it.)


The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.
The last time I saw Paris, her trees were dressed for spring,
And lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.
I dodged the same old taxicabs that I had dodged for years.
The chorus of their squeaky horns was music to my ears.

The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.
I'll think of happy hours, and people who shared them,
Old women, selling flowers, in markets at dawn,
Children who applauded Punch and Judy in the park,
And those who danced at night and kept our Paris bright.

~ Oscar Hammerstein, II (1895-1960), American lyricist, and Jerome Kern (1885-1945), American composer

(A personal note: I was born in Paris. July 14 has always been a special date on my calendar. My day began with the beautiful chansons of Edith Piaf and her compatriots, and will end with some delicious French wine and cheese shared with my American husband. C’est si bon.)

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