Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Not many sports can trace their origin as decisively as basketball: Fans know the first game was played on December 21, 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. But few Americans are aware that the oldest surviving basketball court is in Paris, inside an unassuming building at 14, rue Trévise in the 9th arrondissement. The entrance, in a […]


This post is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to my friend Gilles Thomas, for his knowledge of Paris’ history — and for his generosity in sharing it. Paris’ history is full of unsung heroes whose names have largely been forgotten. One of these is Charles-Axel Guillaumot. Charles-Axel Guillaumot, “the man who saved Paris.” Esteban and […]


On this day 73 years ago, French and American troops liberated Paris from Nazi occupation. Louise Dillery remembers; she was there. Louise was born in Paris on December 14, 1925 to Radjzla (“Rose”) Silberstein and Israël Gradstein, Jewish Polish immigrants who met in Paris. My mother was from Warsaw, and my father was from Lodz […]


Before visiting a new city Esteban and I usually read up on its history. But thanks to an overambitious itinerary, we knew little about Rouen when we arrived in September of 2015. Rouen was among Europe’s most prosperous and influential cities during the Middle Ages. Our first night was a blur (I’ll tell you about […]


From its doorknobs to its house numbers, Paris is rich in architectural details. But it was the city’s iconic pavers that led me on my most recent historical adventure. In some streets the pavers are still arranged in beautiful fan-like patterns. The rue de l’Abreuvoir offers a nice view of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, […]


The Cour du Commerce Saint-André in Paris’ sixth arrondissement is little more than a cobbled alley. Open only to pedestrians, it connects the tony and traffic-choked Boulevard Saint-Germain with the bustling little rue de Buci. But when you step onto its uneven paving stones, you’re stepping onto a spot where centuries of history converge. (Full […]


One of my favorite things about Paris is that everything is somehow connected. Over the next week I’ll show you seven photos that at first glance may seem unrelated — and next Sunday I’ll reveal what they share in common. The Place du Trocadéro offers a great view of the Eiffel Tower, but it had […]


Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. — a day to remember and honor those we’ve lost to the senseless tragedy that is war. Here’s one story, about a distant relative, I first published in 2014. May Doug and his sacrifice never be forgotten. On September 27 1942, Douglas Albert Munro sacrificed his life in […]


My only personal connection to Prince Rogers Nelson is that I once saw him walking across the street. is presence belied his tiny stature, and I thought him one of the most elegant, regal, and — yes — beautiful men I’d ever seen. He made such an impression in that fleeting moment, in fact, that […]


Remember that day I walked 25.9 miles (41km)? Here’s one-third of the story. I first heard of the Petite Ceinture a couple of years ago through MessyNessy Chic, where one photo in particular captured my imagination. Could this really exist in the heart of Paris? Photo via MessyNessy Chic During my next trip I vowed […]


This post is dedicated to my friend Gilles Thomas, for his tireless devotion to preserving the work — and honoring the memory — of Charles-Axel Guillaumot. Suppose you’ve been hired to oversee a vast and vital railroad network. Now imagine that, on the very first day of your new job, one of the trains on […]


“Have you read How Paris Became Paris?” my new blog-friend Nomad Woman asked recently. I had indeed — and I loved Joan DeJean’s approach of (re)telling the city’s history through architectural and technological innovations. I especially appreciated DeJean’s characterization of Henry IV (1554 – 1610) as a visionary. I had never before regarded his urban […]


I’m always happy to offer Paris travel tips (check out a first-timer’s guide to Paris, a walking/photography tour, and my list of 10 small museums.) But I was truly intrigued when a blogfriend asked me recently about sightseeing in Roman Paris. Here are my top picks — and a quick history lesson to give them […]


April is National Poetry Month.* I was going to leave this fact unacknowledged, because — though it’s heresy to admit it — I don’t like most poetry. Poetry can be sumptuous and evocative. But too many writers use poetry as a literary Cuisinart, as an excuse to dice up thoughts and mix metaphors. Some poets […]


During my first visit to Freiburg, Germany, one of the things that most impressed me was the meticulously cobbled streets. So precisely cut are the stones that you can walk on them for hours without tiring — and the mosaics are as much of a feast for the eyes as the shop windows above them. […]


Today marks the centenary of my favorite Christmas story. It happened in 1914, only five months after the beginning of World War I. The British soldiers who huddled in the trenches must have been miserable that clear December evening, as a blanket of damp and darkness enveloped them. The winter of 1914 had been fierce […]


According to an eyewitness who survived the bombing, the residents of Freiburg never saw it coming. They had every reason to think they’d be spared: Their small city in the foothills of Germany’s Black Forest had no military installations, and it was not on the Allies’ target list. Plus, they knew that British Prime Minister […]


One of the highlights of my trip to Paris in December of 2013 was a visit to the Catacombs with my friend Des, author of the extraordinary Soundlandscapes blog. I was happy to share with him what I’d learned about the Catacombs’ history, and even happier to give credit to Gilles Thomas, who arguably knows […]


I don’t know whether it’s because of my father’s Scottish heritage or my mom’s literary roots, but storytelling runs in my family. Family stories can only be passed on if they’re preserved, though, so I’ve begun recording some of my parents’ memories from their youth. This is one of my favorites. On today’s date in […]


“The Palace of Versailles helped us understand the French Revolution,” I wrote in 2006, after Esteban and I took a day-trip out of Paris to see the (in)famous home of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette. “After a couple of hours we, too, felt like donning pitchforks.” Here’s the digital-album page I made shortly […]