Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Lafayette, We Were There

The Cimetière de Picpus has to be one of the most tranquil outdoor spaces in Paris. When strolling through the grounds, you have a sense of being transported in time to a small village far from any booming metropolis. Yet it is located a short walk from the Place de la Nation in the 12e arrondissement. The private cemetery encompasses a 19th-century Chapel, a large expanse of grass, fragrant boxwood, and a minuscule burial grounds (by Paris standards).

It is here that the Marquis de Lafayette is buried, in soil from Virginia that he brought to France after his final visit to the young United States in 1825. It is at Lafayette's grave that the American flag has flown uninterrupted in France, even during years of the Nazi occupation of Paris. It is here that General Pershing's assistant, Stanton, pronounced the famous "Lafayette, nous voilà!" on July 4, 1917, to proclaim the U.S. troops' arrival to support France in the throes of a terrible World War I. It is here that Lafayette's wife Adrienne was buried before him, in a spot chosen for its proximity to the mass grave where her immediate family had been "buried" with hundreds of other nobles beheaded in the French Revolution.

It is a cemetery to visit the next time you have the chance.

So it is fitting that each July 4 the American flag at Picpus Cemetery is renewed amid great solemn and moving ceremony. This morning at 11, dignitaries from the U.S. Embassy, the French Senate, the Mairie de Paris, the Society of the Cincinnati, the Sons of the American Revolution, and Friends of Lafayette and the general public -- both French and American -- gathered to pay tribute to this hero of two worlds.

A U.S. Military Color Guard stood at attention while the French Garde Nationale band played the "Star Spangled Banner." That alone was a touching moment of transatlantic honor and friendship. The Marseillaise followed, of course. In lieu of loud cheering, there was a wave of emotion that reverberated among the spectators. The crowd, already hushed, shared an official minute of silence. Brief speeches followed, with placing of flowers on Lafayette's grave site. The U.S. Ambassador, addressing the assembled group in French, was moved to tears as he spoke.

This is a momentous year in French-American relations, capped off by celebrations of the 250th Anniversary of Lafayette's birth. In France and in the U.S., he is a man to remember and revere. During all the political ups and downs of the nearly two and a half centuries of friendship between our two nations, we owe it to ourselves to remember that in the U.S. House of Representatives, there are two larger-than-life portraits flanking the speaker's podium: Washington and Lafayette.

Cimetière de Picpus: 35 rue de Picpus, 75012 Paris. Metro: Nation

Open to the public every day except Mondays and holidays from 2 pm to 6 pm. For information, contact the conservateur at There may be a modest entrance fee. Email:


Brian Kreulen said...

Thanks for the tip! I'm an American living right near Nation for 6 years and I never knew about this place....

ParisRhapsody said...

Polly, Our American/French tour group visited this cemetery last year. It is indeed a very moving place. You reminded me that I need to take my daughters there.

A few years ago, in Cannes, I walked off the beach with my husband and three daughters...we discovered a grand American parade. The parade celebrated the anniversary of the of Cannes by allied forces on August 24, 1944. Men wore American army uniforms, women were dressed as nurses, and young men and women in forties-style dresses and suits danced the jitterbug in the streets. American jeeps, ambulances, and side cars festooned with red, white and blue ribbons inched along the street. American flags were everywhere. The whole crowd sang, "God Bless America." I don't think I've ever felt so American, or so in love with France! Happy fourth of July, dear Polly. Paris isn't the same without you!

God Bless America,

XO Patricia

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