Tuesday, March 31, 2009

France as we know it

My husband is watching a documentary on television and I'm paying intermittent attention to the old newsreel footage that is jerkily flashing across the screen. It's France in 1945, and like most narratives of French history, the backdrop of ninety percent of the story is Paris, and that Paris looks remarkably like the Paris I know.

The buildings haven't changed, unsurprisingly, since little in the heart of Paris is new since Haussmann. The cars are different, the people in the street are dressed formally and soberly, the women's hairstyles are 1940s waves with prim little hats. The buildings are grimy and the stone facades are almost black. It looks like a country that just came through a war, but it isn't unfamiliar. It's more like leafing through an old high school yearbook than receiving a postcard from an foreign land.

The last five minutes showed the French countryside, and that is a different story altogether. A group of ten people dressed in white buttoned shirts and brown suspendered pants harvest wheat by hand, aided by some contraption I cannot name which is pulled by two horses. The footage is in color, but it looks far older than the black-and-white films of GIs crowding into theatres and clubs in Paris.

If I were dropped blindfolded into Paris sixty years ago I could probably find my way around, and would certainly eventually stumble upon a familiar Métro station. If you dropped me in my beloved Gers, however, I'm not sure I'd have any idea where I'd landed.


Mom in France said...

I love looking at the photos of the village where my in-laws have their 2nd home (and where we spend most of our vacations) in the Hautes-Pyrenees. The buildings & countryside look exactly the same. But I wonder when tractors were finally introduced?

Mom in France said...

Sorry! here's the link:


Anonymous said...