Showcasing the City of Light

HOLLIS – Nov. 13 was a dark day for Paris, but the City of Light once had far darker days, as Henry M. Smith’s recent talk showed.

Smith, a professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, gave a slide presentation at the Hollis Social Library last week in which he showed photos from his many trips to France.

And while the pictures showed the city in all its glory, some of them pointed to the evil of the Vichy regime when the French government collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

Smith, who taught French for many years and lived in Paris off and on, led a moment of silence, of "solidarity with our French friends," before his slide presentation to the full meeting room.

Near the Luxembourg Gardens, which draws visitor by the hundreds, is the Pantheon, dedicated to "Great Men from a Grateful Nation," and where French President Francois Hollande last spring inducted four new honorees, all World War II resistance fighters. They included Pierre Brossolette, a journalist who committed suicide to avoid giving information to the Vichy government.

Smith showed slides of the Arc de Triomph, the Champs-Elysees and the atrium of the Musee D’Orsay, a converted train station that contains an entire room of Van Gogh paintings.

The Eiffel Tower is also here, of course. Criticized as a "grotesque piece of metal" when it was built for the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, it is now regarded as a majestic icon, Smith said.

Less well-known Parisian buildings were also featured, including the Holocaust museum, the Memorial de la Shoah, which opened in 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops. And there is a memorial to the 200,000 people who were deported from Vichy to the Nazi concentration camps.

Smith also recommended the Museum of the Arab World and its Orient Express exhibit and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, with its tombs of Edith Piaf, Chopin, Jim Morrison and other luminaries.

Many of the people in Smith’s audience had been to Paris, and one woman commented that Piaf’s tomb did not have as many flowers as Chopin’s.

"You’d think the man died yesterday," she said.

The evening ended with Smith leading the singing of three French songs, including "La Vie en Rose," Piaf’s signature song. Her 100th birthday would have been Dec. 19.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.