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Paris: A City of Lights Amid Some Dark Moments
For many travelers, Paris is all about art, fine food and romance.
Certainly, there's plenty of that to go around. By all means, spend a day at the massive, breathtaking Louvre. (If the quality of the art doesn't take your breath away, it will surely be pressed out of you by the crowds swarming the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo!)
If you've been to Paris before and are looking for some new artistic discoveries, I would recommend the incredible Claude Monet collection at the Musée Marmottan (www.marmottan. com). Housed in a custom built exhibition hall, Monet's long, curving canvases envelop you in a floating, rippling world filled with water lilies, irises and other flowers from the painter's garden in Giverny.
But amid all the revelry -- the cabarets and the champagne, the dazzling Eiffel Tower illuminated at night like a beacon of hope --Jewish travelers may wish to take a peek behind the glittery surface of Paris life and ponder at least a little some of the tragedies that took place here in the 20th century.
In 2005, Paris opened the Mémorial de la Shoah (www.memo rialdelashoah.org), a combination museum, documentation center and place of remembrance. The largest Holocaust research center in Europe, the memorial contains a crypt with ashes from the concentration camps mixed with soil from Israel and placed in the middle of a monumental Magen David.
Other parts of the memorial include police files on deported French Jews; a permanent exhibition tracing the rise of European anti-Semitism and its culmination in the Holocaust; a photo wall with images of thousands of deported French Jewish children; and a "Room of Names," where staff help visitors search for information on family members lost in the Holocaust.
Upon request, the memorial staff says that the names of these family members can be included in books of remembrance and preserved for posterity in the memorial's crypt.
Beyond the memorial, Paris contains two other sites that Jewish travelers in particular might wish to visit. The permanent collection of the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme (www. mahj.org/en/index.php) contains a rich assortment of Judaica and works of art created by Jews.
A recent temporary exhibition explored the ways in which the Nazis seized artwork from French Jews, and the detective work that has taken place in the following decades to return some of this art to the rightful owners.
Finally, on the tip of the Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine River, you will find the Mémorial de la Déportation, a space dedicated to the 160,000 French citizens -- including more than 75,000 Jews -- deported to concentration camps by the Vichy collaborationist regime.
You must descend a stairway into the memorial to find various powerful quotes (in French), along with earth and ashes from the camps. But for me the most powerful element of the memorial is its barred window that looks out onto the Seine River: The design permits visitors to imagine what it must have been like for the deportees -- able to see light and freedom close at hand, but unable to reach them.
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After watching Disney's Ratatouille this past year, I was particularly excited to rediscover the pleasures of French food (though I did hope that there were no rodents doing the actual cooking in the kitchen).
Highlights of the trip included dinners at La Régalade and a multi-course extravaganza at L'Angle du Faubourg.
If you have a small stomach or a light wallet, an excellent alternative is to load up on carbs at the city's many great bakeries, some of which, like Gérard Mulot, also offer tasty sandwiches alongside tempting displays of croissants and fancy little cakes.
We also had a great light lunch at the little tea room above the Jean-Paul Hévin chocolate shop near the Louvre.
When it comes to hotels, you can't beat the location and historical authenticity of Relais Christine (www.relais-christine.com), a 16th-century mansion located just a few twists and turns from the banks of the Seine River. In a city that can sometimes seem chock-full of tourists, you can still get a sense of peace and light strolling the banks of the Seine in the early morning hours.