Wednesday in Paris

By Rosamond Hoyle

Warding off the jet lag, we started off our Wednesday morning at a little café Rose2next to our hostel, Café des Dames. As we finished up our coffee and croissants, we heard on the news that that evening, President Hollande would be speaking at a ceremony, adding four Resistance fighters’ remains into the Panthéon (a crypt for famous French citizens): Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Pierre Brossolette, Germaine Tillion and Jean Zay. (The women’s families did not want their bodies exhumed, so their coffins are symbolic and contain soil from their gravesites.) We were all super excited to be in Paris during such a historical event so we decided to Rose1change our plans for the day and go see the ceremony. As a group of girls, we were particularly interested because the Panthéon only has one other woman (Marie Curie) who was added because of her own merits and it was very special that two new women were being included.

After the café we headed off to the Arc de Triomphe, a giant arch covered in carvings and statues built by Napoleon I to celebrate his victories. Underneath the Arc lays the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating fallen soldiers with an undying flame. Although the square around the Arc de Triomphe was filled with eager tourists, it was still easy to appreciate the monument’s amazing beauty, as it towers over the surrounding giant roundabout packed with traffic. It loomed over everyone as we slowly made our way around it. A giant French flag blew in the wind in the middle of the monument.

We left the Arc and made our way down the Champs Elysée, a long boulevard lined with swanky shops leading down to the gardens next to the Louvre. Unlike many garden parks I’ve been to in the U.S., the gardens around the Louvre were filled with people enjoying the sunshine, walking their dogs, and reading books around the many fountains.

While the Arc de Triomphe was majestic and the gardens beautiful, the highlight of the day was listening to President Hollande speak in front of the Panthéon. The streets were already packed when we arrived. After attempting to maneuver ourselves through the crowd, a tough feat when you’re trying to keep a group of eight people together, we were forced to stop, packed shoulder to shoulder with thousands of Parisians, just a block from the front of the Panthéon but completely out of eyeshot of the ceremony. A hush fell over the audience as we heard President Hollande’s voice echoing down the street. Although I could not understand the majority of Rose3the speech, it was amazing to see the looks on the faces of those around me, taking in what no doubt was an incredible event for the people of France and especially for the women’s rights activists that tried so hard to get more women entombed at the Panthéon. Although the crowd was incredibly packed, the people were amazingly courteous and limited pushing and shoving. There was only the occasional shushing when someone would raise his or her voice too loud and the president could no longer be heard. It was an incredible experience to see an entire crowd so respectful of their president and the importance of the ceremony honoring events that happened long before their time.

Later that night we returned to the Panthéon to see a special lights show projected on the building honoring the four Resistance fighters. Pictures of the four men and women were projected over the building along with inspirational quotes and music. The show left me with a dark but beautiful feeling, really demonstrating the connection the people of France still have with WWII and the people who fought for their rights.