We took no pictures at the Shoah Memorial. While it is elegantly designed, it was too heartwrenching of an experience to even think about photography. We were solemn from the start- the knowledge that the museum exists as a World War II reparation and that anti-semitism is still common enough in France to necessitate a fleet of armed guards and metal detectors set that tone.
Some portions of the memorial haunted me, then and now. The way the bronze cylinder echoes the chimneys of the death camps, how the room of “fichier juif” (the Vichy police files identifying Jews) had a special section for detained children, seeing the only photographs in existence of the crematoriums and graves, taken from the inside of the camps, and reading the stories of those few who survived- it all unsettled my soul. I’ve never been a more reverent place than the crypt, where a black marble Star of David contains the ashes of unknown martyred jews from the death camps and the Warsaw ghetto. Ner tamid, an eternal light, burns in memoriam.
And then the Wall of Names in the courtyard undid me. Being surrounded by the names of French citizens who perished at the hands of, or fighting against, intolerance was an overwhelming experience. Our last name was once Cohen, changed when David’s ancestors emigrated. Multiple sections of the wall memorialize those who shared our name.
I’ll be honest- the Shoah shattered me. My eyes were swollen shut from crying and I was just an emotional mess. As we left the memorial, we were relieved that the rest of the day’s agenda was happier. We were pretty quiet on the way to Montmartre, and decided to make a cafe our first stop.
After a few cocktails and some conversation across from the Moulin Rouge, I was feeling a little less like a basketcase. Never underestimate the power of a stiff drink to help you pull yourself together. Eager to explore, we hit the cobblestone.
I was excited to come across Cafe des Moulins, as Amelie was one of the movies we watched on the train from Barcelona to Paris.
We wandered Montmartre aimlessly, planning only to end at le Refuge des Fondus for our dinner reservation. We arrived ready for bottomless baby bottles of wine and all the cheese we could eat.
They served our glasses of dry rosè with a chunky sugar rim, which I love and now do all the time. Our predinner snacks were generous, with quality charcuterie, and a scrumptious spicy potato salad I’m currently tweaking here at home.
And the baby bottles were hysterical. It felt odd for the first minute, but then seemed totally normal. They helpfully facilitated my drinking- they had cut the nipples to increase flow, and refills were frequent. As throughout our trip, we found the house wine to be rather good. L’chaim!
I’m picky about my fondue, and this was seriously yummy liquid gold. Refuge is known to be more touristy than my typical foodie choices, so I was glad when the caliber of food was unaffected by the festivities. As the night progressed, my minimal photography skills further deteriorated… it all got a bit blurry.
We ate and drank unreasonable quantities, making friends and toasting with the other guests, since we were all together at the communal tables. The boisterousness was the perfect antidote to the earlier part of the day, and we really let it wash over us.
I was a total tourist and insisted on autographing the wall before carefully climbing out of my seat. Did I mention that the path to seats near the wall is over the table, holding the hand of the waiter? It was far wobblier on the way out than in- I was glad we were closing them down.
As we walked along the boulevard and back through Montmartre to take the metro home to the Marais, the Moulin Rouge (and every cheesy wannabe night or gentlemen’s club) were all aglow in a gloriously tacky neon spectacle. It felt almost like Parisian Vegas, and we found it all very amusing.