Jun. 14, 2004


by Ron Padgett

MONDAY, 14 JUNE, 2004
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Poem: "Glow," by Ron Padgett, from You Never Know. © Coffee House Press. Reprinted with permission.


When I wake up earlier than you and you
are turned to face me, face
on the pillow and hair spread around,
I take a chance and stare at you,
amazed in love and afraid
that you might open your eyes and have
the daylights scared out of you.
But maybe with the daylights gone
you'd see how much my chest and head
implode for you, their voices trapped
inside like unborn children fearing
they will never see the light of day.
The opening in the wall now dimly glows
its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes
and go downstairs to put the coffee on.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Polish novelist Jerzy Kosinski, born in Lodz, Poland (1933). He's best known as the author of The Painted Bird (1968), about a six-year-old boy who becomes separated from his parents and wanders through the area along the Polish-Soviet border during World War II.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist John Edgar Wideman, born in Washington, D.C. (1941). He's the author of the novels Sent for you Yesterday (1984) and Philadelphia Fire (1990), as well as the memoir Brothers and Keepers (1986). A collection of Wideman's short stories called God's Gym is scheduled to be published next year.

It's the birthday of travel writer and novelist Jonathan Raban, born in Norfolk, England (1942). In 1979, he flew into St. Paul, Minnesota, bought a tiny boat, and set off down the Mississippi to New Orleans. He wrote about the experience in Old Glory: An American Voyage (1981). He wrote about everything he saw and everyone he met; he said, "The plot would be written by the current of the river . . . where the river meandered so would the book."

It's the birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Litchfield, Connecticut (1811). She's famous for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), a novel about slavery in the United States. The novel was so popular that it was transformed into songs, plays, toys, games, handkerchiefs and wallpapers. Some people accused Stowe of making the slave situation seem worse than it actually was, so she wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1953), which documents the real-life sources she used when writing the book.

Stowe said, "Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be."

It was on this day in 1940 that the German army began its occupation of Paris. The French had conceded Paris to the Germans a few days earlier, so there was no violence when the Nazis entered the city. German soldiers marched through the Arc de Triomphe, while Parisians watched from the sidewalks of the Champs-Elysées. The Nazis did a lot of things that most people did when they visited Paris. They climbed the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower and bought souvenirs and postcards. They strolled through parks and gardens, and they brought cameras so they could photograph each other in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Panthéon.

A few weeks after they invaded the city, Hitler himself made a visit. He visited the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon's tomb. In 1941, Hitler said, "I'm getting ready to flatten Leningrad and Moscow without losing any peace of mind, but it would have pained me greatly if I'd had to destroy Paris."

The Germans liked Paris so much that the Nazis' slogan became "Everyone should get to see Paris once." Many Parisians tried to be as accommodating as possible to the Germans. Most of the theaters, cinemas, music halls, restaurants and cafés stayed open for Nazi soldiers and officers. One bookstore made a guidebook especially for Nazis, with more than a hundred pages of information in German on the city's attactions. The Germans eventually became a part of normal life in Paris, and some French women even got married to German soldiers. When people who had fled the city heard that the situation wasn't as bad as they thought it would be, many of them returned to their homes in Paris.

A few weeks after the occupation of Paris, the French government conceded the northern third of the country to Germany, and kept control of the southern two-thirds of the country. The leader of the French government was Maréchal Pétain. For the most part, he cooperated with Nazi policy, which included the deportation of over 120,000 Jews to concentration camps between 1942 and 1944.

Soldiers broke down the doors of apartments in the Jewish neighborhood of the Marais district in Paris, and took whole families away to an indoor cycling stadium, where they awaited deportation. French resistance fighters set up headquarters below the streets of Paris, in the sewers and catacombs. Charles de Gaulle established the Free French Forces and started a new French government from London. He broadcast inspirational messages to the French on BBC radio.

On June 6, 1944, British, American and Canadian troops launched their D-Day invasion on the Normandy coast. Two and a half months later, the Allied soldiers liberated Paris. When Charles de Gaulle returned to Paris, thousands of Parisians lined the streets to celebrate.

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