Friday, January 18, 2013

A Sunday Promenade in Dijon - Part Deux

A courtyard well, overcome with ivy

On the first part of this walk I gave you an architectural tour.  Now it’s time for the little touches that brighten the day and make it feel like a neighborhood and not just another anonymous street.

It looks like on Wednesday and Thursday there’s some kind of garage sale or moving sale.  What I want to know is where do I go to learn to write in this beautiful French script I see everywhere.

We seem to have a blues club in the neighborhood, but since it was a Sunday morning it was dark and locked up tight.  I’ll have to check back later to see who’s playing.

I don’t understand the tradition of these stencils that show up everywhere.  I’ve taken dozens of pictures – some humorous, some making political statements, some just honoring an artist.  I have no idea what this whimsical fellow represents, but he makes me smile on a cold walk to the market.  I'm sure he'll be gone by the time I return to France, replaced by another.
On a dreary winter day the moss shines on the large gate to one of many private high schools in the city.  This massive entrance used to protect the nuns in the convent connected to the church, St. Michel, which dominates the neighborhood.  It’s a residential high school, with the students in another building across the street.
A small commercial stretch, rue Jeannin, at the end of my street.  It has all the basics: four bakeries, a pharmacy, a small grocery store, a kebab shop, a laundromat, and restaurants representing at least five ethnicities.
I’m not exactly sure what rules of parking are in operation here.  I think I’ll stick with finding a well-marked spot on the street.  Perhaps this is why many of the sidewalks are made from that fine gravel like on a running track.

This absolutely confirms that Brad and I were right to buy this place.  I guess I know where I’ll find my drum-playing husband on Saturday afternoons when I get back from the market.

This final shot is one reason that a place like France draws me.  Every little village has some kind of statue or tribute to their sons who died in war.  I had crossed to the other side of my street and stopped for a moment to do something like put on my hat.  My eyes went up to this plaque I had never noticed before.
The translation says:

Here was the seat of the network

René Grenier-Godard

The home of Lieutenant
 René Grenier-Godard 16 1/2 years

Deputy Chief of network

Exterminated foully March 25, 1945

After 33 months of captivity at  Dora

French people remember

He died for your freedom

and the nine members of his family

and those of his network

An internet search to learn about him took me to the website for the Ministry of Veterans and War Victims, which keeps a list of those who died in deportation to concentration camps.  According to his entry, René Grenier-Godard died in Germany just shy of his 20th birthday.  He didn’t live long enough to fight epic battles, but he must have lived the kind of life that made his friends and neighbors want to remember him.

It’s difficult to avoid the weight of history in France.  The past always seems to juxtapose the present, for example, with my space-age digital kitchen in my ancient apartment building.  But back at home in the U.S. it’s so easy to have no context for where you live.  I do know that playwright Tennessee Williams briefly lived a few houses up from me.  And in Forest Park at the end of my street I can still walk through buildings constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, to have visible signs of the history connected to the street on which you live?  Who came before?  How many sons and daughters died in defense of us?  Who grew up to do important things, even if not a household name?  Is there anything significant about the style of the houses worth noting?

I realize in the U.S. it’s a little harder to do that since many neighborhoods are less than a decade old.  However, we could work a little harder at treasuring our history a little more.  In a neighborhood near mine, the streets are marked by brick columns that say “Old Town Clayton.”  However, you’ll not find any of the beautiful clapboard farm houses and Arts and Craft bungalows that told the story of the growth of the area.  They’ve been replaced with condos and 3-car garages instead of wrap-around porches and front lawns.  I feel like taking a sledgehammer to those entry columns because the irony is killing me.

 However, the idea of dotting the community with a few more plaques might make us pause to think about where we live and not always be in such a hurry to plow it under in chase of the next new thing.

Do you have any particular place in your neighborhood that is plaque-worthy?  What stories are worth telling about a neighborhood where you lived?  Tell us in the comments box what you think is worth noting.  Any famous people that your area can claim?  Any events worth mentioning?


Helen Devries said...

I had the privilege of knowing M. Gerard Pichot, himself at DORA

He was a great gentleman....and I blogged about him here

Patricia said...

I'm so enjoying your promenades and seeing your new neighbourhood! Like you, I am always touched by the historical plaques that abound to honour the everyday heroes and cause us to pause and consider past events. Keep strolling and clicking, Julie!

Julie Farrar said...

Thank you, Helen, for expanding our memories about the Resistance.

And thanks for taking a stroll with me. These photos are quite as luminous as your south of France ones, but they tell a story of the place.

Nadine Feldman said...

What wonderful photos! It's so much fun to wander a neighborhood with a camera. I also appreciate the plaques of France...what a wonderful way to keep history alive!

Since moving to Port Townsend, I've been reading various books about the history of the area...funny how short the history is here vs. Europe! Right now I'm reading Heaven on the Half Shell, a history of oyster farming in the Pacific Northwest (quite fascinating, actually). I've also found some fun books that detail some of the crazy characters who founded this explains a lot about some of the crazy characters who live here now!

Anonymous said...

Julie. You’re right: the North American history can’t compete with Europe. I live in Vancouver. A bit over 100 years ago, it was a loggers’ settlement. Not much history here, and I miss it. Before Vancouver I lived in Moscow, Russia, a city with roots going more than 1000 years into the past. Moscow was founded by a duke. Here, in Vancouver, we have a monument to the founder of the city, Gassy Jack. He was the owner of the first tavern. He stands on a keg of beer. Are you laughing yet?
I have a tenuous connection to France too. My grandmother’s sister was a member of one of the French resistance groups. She died in captivity in Gestapo. There is a monument to her group in one of the French cities, although I don’t remember which one. My grandfather told me, when I was a girl, but I forgot, and he is long dead. That’s how my personal history disappeared: through my disinterest, when I was younger. Shame to me! Her name was Olga Bunchik. I was named after her.

Muriel said...

In London, history is simply everywhere. Some houses have blue plaques and there is one at every street. I sometimes close my eyes to imagine what my street would have looked like a hundred years ago, and when I open them back I can't help thinking that it wouldn't be that different!
America is certainly different. That said, it is also nice to start afresh!

Marsha said...

I am loving these photo tours! I want to go really bad!

Julie Farrar said...

We'll get you here, Marsha.

And Muriel, I feel the same way when walking through that city. As Samuel Johnson said, "A man who tires of London, tires of life."

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