- My Father & I: The Marais & the Queerness of Community
"We'll always have Paris," says Rick Blaine to Ilsa Lund in one of the most famous lines in all of movie history. And any of us who has lived in Paris, who has that moveable feast in his or her memory comes to David Caron's excellent, touching memoir of his father and concomitant inscription of part of that singular city, the Marais, with his or her own personal memories. And this book, like a Proustian madeleine, awakens the individual memories that had been sleeping and brings them to the surface. Reading this volume prompted two such memories in me. The first was of my first trip to Paris in 1973, and during walks around the city I was struck not only by the memorial plaques to soldiers who had died and to people who had been deported, but also by the very real bullet holes still visible in numerous buildings. The second, more recent, was of walking down the rue des Rosiers only to realize that Goldenberg's had closed its doors for good. And that memory, in turn, released another, of my parents, who had eaten together in Goldenberg's many years ago. And while my father spoke excellent French, he did not know the word for horseradish. So he just turned to the waiter, and, using the Yiddish word, asked for "khrain, s'il vous plaît," and promptly got a smile and a "Oui, Monsieur," as well as the needed "raifort."
Food memories, historical memories, cultural artifacts: David Caron shows us the changing face of the Marais over the years. For immigrant Eastern European Jews, it was the "Pletzl" east of the rue Vieille du Temple. In roughly the last two decades of the twentieth century, it was "the" gay neighborhood of Paris, with rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie its main axis running west from the same north-south axis. More recently, especially along the rue des Francs Bourgeois, [End Page 114] the neighborhood has become a bit yuppified, as chic upscale stores have moved in where there had once been local businesses. Site of multiple community activities, at least in the first two cases, separate communities whose identities did not always fit with the notions of citizenship of the Republican model, these historic neighborhoods were also sites of mourning, both individual and collective: the deported Jews in the first case and the victims of AIDS in the second. And obviously, as Caron points out, these communities were also the targets of hate: anti-Semitism and homophobia.
Caron weaves a rich objective study of the history, characteristics, and nature of the Marais, with its sub-histories of Jews and gays with a double personal story. On the one hand, it is the poignant recounting of Caron's father's life, that of an immigrant Hungarian Jew who survived being a prisoner of war in Silesia ultimately to be freed and to settle in France. Caron's father's life is one story among many, the story of many survivors, many individual memories that form our collective, subjective memory told by families and friends about those who survived and those who did not survive the Holocaust. On the other hand, it is Caron's own story, the story of a gay son who is, by definition, as he puts it, the "bad" son who embraces "difference, otherness" (19), the son who has no intention of giving his father grandchildren.
Caron's excellent historical study of the Marais, called "The Old Neighborhood" (25–74) is an extremely insightful, well-researched humanist history of a community from the Middle Ages through the present day. The history is rich and vivid and the author brings to light many details that would otherwise have been forgotten. His rich prose and insight made me see every street, not only in its actual state, but, to use another reference to Proust, in "the fourth dimension that is time." By the time we reach the present day...