Living in a medieval town like Semur I’m surrounded by history. The other night after an evening of Beethoven and Brahms we walked through the ancient wooden door of a 16th century tower once part of a massive fortification for the town. Inside what was probably an ancient torture chamber, we had a few after show refreshments. I kept expecting to see armored knights and monks in brown robes serving canapés.
That period is so long ago it seems more like a fairy tale and I can’t always relate to it. But recently I have become quite interested in one piece of history, the second world war. Before moving here I read Suite Francaise, Sarah’s Key, Charlotte Gray and did a bit of research. I’m just beginning to understand just the complicated role France played in that whole mess.
Right now I’m in the middle of a book called The Invisible Bridge about the hopes and dreams a young Hungarian man in Paris in the early 1940’s. He’s Jewish so we all know where this story is headed. For some reason here I often think about the war. What was it like for people here in the thick of it? I always wonder which buildings were bombed and which farmhouses hid Jews from the Reich.
Last night I got one piece of the puzzle from the lovely and gracious Francis (who I absolutely adore), a true gentleman here in Semur who has a garden to die for and makes a tarte tatin you’d sell your kids for. Anyway we got to chatting and I asked him about his memory of the war.
He grew up in the north of France and recalls when German soldiers occupied his family home. He remembers being permitted to live only in their own attic but under strict rules. He told me about his great aunt whose husband was in the resistance and about the night ze Germans came to arrest him. As he had just died of natural causes she invited the soldiers in and told them to help themselves. He says she was really something.
It’s so hard for me to grasp all this. You know it happened but the reality of it is hazy. Living in Europe somehow sharpens the picture for me and makes me very grateful to have been born after that time. It also makes me grateful to live in a place so steeped in history, tradition and dark chocolate ganache filled cupcakes.