Living History in the Marais: An Encounter

Paris Marais district  never know who you'll meet...

Paris miracles. They do happen.

I was walking along rue Rambuteau in the Marais, showing some tourists the many pastry shops, trying to convince them that they needed more sugar. They had hit their limit. Oh well.

One of them stopped in front of an Asian restaurant – one of those traiteurs with lots of choices – and asked what they served. He realized pretty quickly, so we were about to move on when an older Frenchman stopped us. He was impeccably dressed, with piercing eyes to match his baby blue scarf.

“Are you American?” he asked?

I thought we were about to be berated for looking at the Asian food.

“Why yes we are,” the tourists said hesitantly, but with no remorse. I thought they were in for it.

“I am 84 years old. My father and mother were in the Resistance,” he began. “I was very young, in Normandy,” he began to lose his words. “Vous parlez fran├žais?” he asked me sweetly. I nodded, and translated the rest of his discourse.

“Out in the fields in Normandy, there were tombs,” he said, “where the American soldiers were buried, those who were gunned down by the Germans after the D-Day landings (D-Day he said in English). My father told me, ‘Go out and there and say a prayer at those tombs,’” at this point I think he started to tear up a bit. “My father said, ‘Those American boys died so that you could be free,’ and so I did go say a prayer. I still remember that,” he said, trembling.

Bike in Paris's Marais district
Scene in the Marais...

He shook our hands, earnestly, and even kissed the woman’s hand. A ghostly look overcame my tourists, like some sort of emotional drain. They were touched. I was about to let a tear roll down my cheek. We were all speechless.

“Thank you,” he said, “and have a wonderful time in Paris.”

We walked away, slightly stunned. We Americans often joke about how the French would be speaking German if it weren’t for the US, but this man was sincere, and truly grateful. I promised my tourists that I didn’t hire him to be there…

Sure, I share plenty of stories on my tour about kings and queens, but this man brought the history alive – literally – and I’ll never look at that Asian take-out place the same way again.