May 28, 2012

Memorial Day: Belleau Wood

The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau Wood has a longstanding Memorial Day tradition. Thousands gather at this historic spot each year to pay tribute to the French and American military who have served in the name of freedom and to honor those who have been wounded or lost in battle (in the great wars ... and the not so great).

When looking at the rolling green hills, with a soundtrack of hundreds of serenading birds, it's hard to imagine the ferocious fighting that took place in June of 1918 (WWI) as the Germans advanced on this region about 90 km northeast of Paris near the Marne River.

The battle of Belleau Wood is famous for the bravery of the fighting forces and for the ultimate result, the retreat of the Germans. As evidenced in the American and German cemeteries, this turning point in the war came at a high price.

The woods were attacked six times by the U.S. infantry and Marines (later called devil dogs) before the Germans retreated, with heavy casualties on both sides. As one Marine is famous for saying, "Retreat, hell, we just got here." The Marines persisted and held the allied line.

The American cemetery has 2,289 graves. A nearby German cemetery has 8,630 graves. When the cemetery Belleau Wood battle monument was dedicated, these words were said:

"Now and then, a veteran ... will come here to live again the brave days of that distant June. Here will be raised the altar of patriotism; here will be renewed the vows of sacrifice and consecration to country."

The Memorial Day ceremonies are full of pomp and circumstance and silent contemplation. From the initial flyover to the laying of wreaths to the performances of the Marine Silent Drill Team and Marine Drum and Bugle Corps (this year doing a wacky rendition of "Rocky Top" with drums and xylophone and a very moving Battle Hymn of the Republic) to the moment of silence for the fallen, it is an important reminder of the devastation of war and the value of freedom.

There are ceremonies all over France for Memorial Day and for D-Day tributes. On June 6, a ceremony at Colleville-sur-Mer takes place at 10:30 am to honor the WWII veterans of the Normandy Beach invasions, as well as others who have served.

Photographs and post by Meredith Mullins as a tribute to all who serve.

May 23, 2012

Writing Children's Books

The Art and Craft of Children's Literature 
at the Paris Writers' Workshop, June 24–29, 2012

One of the most exciting genres of creative writing today is the world of children's literature. It's also one of the few arenas where the printed book is still truly appreciated. Kids love to read and to be read to. They like to turn pages. And books that hold the attention of the younger set are a hot commodity.

Do you have a children's book inside you? Many people do, especially if they remember what it's like to be a child. But how do you become successful in this field? Especially when it seems that everyone wants to write for children, including celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Julie Andrews. The upcoming Paris Writers' Workshop has invited one of the experts of Children's Literature to tell us more.

Kate McMullan
Kate McMullan has had a passion for writing for children and young adults for many years. She has written more than 100 children's books, including SCHOOL: Adventures at Harvey N. Trouble Elementary, Myth-o-Mania, The Greek Myths as told by Hades, The Dragon Slayers' Academy series, and The Pearl & Wagner books for new readers. She and her illustrator husband, Jim McMullan, have collaborated on many best-selling picture books, among them I STINK!, named one of the Ten Best Picture Books of the Year by The New York Times, I'M DIRTY, I'M BAD, and, most recently, I'M FAST.

She offers a few creative tips to get you started on your path.

Get in touch with the child you were. Is there a particular age you strongly remember? Maybe this is the age you'll want to write for. How did you feel? What did you want? What frightened you? Maurice Sendak said that the WILD THINGS were inspired by his fear of his aunts and uncles pinching his cheeks and saying things like, "Look at this boy! Couldn't you just eat him up?"

Spend some time reading books similar to the book you'd like to write.  Figure out how they work. Why do you care about the main character? What does that character want? What forces are working against the character achieving his or her goal?

Would you like a friend to recommend a book by saying, "There's a great lesson here for you!" No! So why do we think kids' books need to be teaching tools? Forget about the lessons and concentrate on writing a great page-turner of a story.

To get more in-depth information and to turn your ideas into a publishable children's book, join us from June 24–29 for a hands-on workshop to really dig into the art and craft of writing for children. You'll work with Kate every morning in a small group, and you'll meet our other writers-in-residence (Samantha Chang, Mimi Schwartz, Kathleen Spivack, and Christopher Tilghman), expert panelists, and literary agents during the week of discussions, lectures, readings, and receptions.

For more information, especially about our special limited-time reduced registration fee for SCBWI members and the PWW scholarship for half tuition awarded to one of the registered attendees, go to Paris Writers' Workshop or call the WICE office at 01 45 66 75 50. And, if you're ready to register for this workshop, go to the WICE website.

We hope to see you in June!

Post by Meredith Mullins and Kate McMullan. Book jackets courtesy of the publishers. We also thank our generous PWW sponsor, OIC Books.

May 17, 2012

La Nuit des Musées 2012

Paris offers periodic gifts to its residents (and visitors!): Fête de la Musique, Paris Plage, Nuit Blanche ... and more. These events are an invitation for crowds to take to the streets and enjoy Paris culture and spirit of community. This Saturday (May 19) is one of those occasions: La Nuit des Musées, sponsored by the French Ministry of Culture. More than 1300 museums will be open in France and more that 3700 in Europe for this special night paying tribute to our cultural treasures. Many venues are specially lit for the evening and have lectures, performances, concerts, or films as a part of the festivities.

Most museums in Paris will be open Saturday from 6 pm until midnight (and are free, except for the Louvre ... who do they think they are!). As with many of these one-night celebrations, it's a good plan to head toward the lesser known venues if you want to avoid the masses. Visit the Musée Bourdelle, Victor Hugo's house, the Petit Palais, Musée de la Vie Romantique, the Musée des Arts et Métiers (beautifully lit at night), Institut du monde arabe, or Musée Zadkine.

See the current hot exhibits—Debussy at the Musée national de l'Orangerie, photographer Joel-Peter Witkin at the Bibliothèque Nationale (Richelieu), photographer Atget at the Musée Carnavalet, Degas at the Musée d'Orsay, Helmut Newton at the Grand Palais, Tim Burton at the Cinémathèque française,  Bob Dylan at the Musée de la Musique, Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs at Les Arts décoratif, or R Crumb (and a jazz concert) at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

There are two places open exceptionally for this event so its a good time to take advantage of this opportunity: Institut cultural roumain and UNESCO. And don't forget the areas outside Paris (such as Sceaux, Fontainbleau, or Versailles) which take on a whole new kind of magic at night.  

Check the program and times for each museum at

Photos and post by Meredith Mullins

May 6, 2012

The French Republican Guard

We've all seen them, high above the crowd—the beautiful strong horses and the regal riders in shining helmets topped with flowing plumes, and golden braids looping across their chest. On Quatorze Juillet (Bastille Day), people even line up to watch them come home to the stables on Boulevard Henri IV. They are the cavalry of the Garde Républicaine, one of four regiments ... and proud members of the French gendarmerie.

The Republican Guard (founded in 1802) is responsible for guarding important public buildings, providing honor services for visiting dignitaries, supporting law enforcement, and (perhaps a lesser known fact) transporting organs for transplants.

We were treated to an "inside look" last month, à grace de WICE Director Véronique Kurtz, who went above and beyond normal channels and persisted in the required paperwork so that WICE members could have an up close and personal look at the history, culture, and Caserne des Célestins of the Garde in the 4th arrondissement.

Our charming guide from the Garde (with help from our eloquent translator Monika de Vigneral) offered morsel after morsel of interesting lore as we toured the museum, stables, arena, and even the blacksmith shop.

For example:

The horses of the cavalry are mostly bred in Normandy and are color coded depending on their regiment.

The helmet plumes are color coded also, with the commander wearing the white plume, the officers wearing tri-colors, and all others wearing red.

Their pants are color coded (lots of color coding going on here!), with the white pants brought out for heads of states and the blue pants worn for lower ranking dignitaries.

Each cavalry member works with his/her horse for one hour a day to keep them in top shape.

The decorative helmets weigh 2.2 kilos, have 19 pieces, and are made by the Garde in its own manufacturing center.

The drummers' horses are trained to be guided by the riders' feet, since the drummers' hands are busy drumming.

The Garde makes their own horseshoes (and have to make lots of them!). The shoes get battered by cobblestones and have to be replaced every 40 days or so.

About 10% of the Garde are women.

Back in the early 1800s, when the Garde served the function of tax collectors at the "borders" of Paris, they were required to smoke pipes. If their pipes were cold, it indicated that they had been asleep, tipping off their commanders that they had been slacking. (Now, smoking is forbidden.)

Everywhere we looked, we could see the care these men and women give their horses and the camaraderie they feel with their human and equine buddies. It was an incredible peek into their daily lives. Merci mille fois.

Join upcoming WICE tours—a visit to the Ministry of Finance in Bercy on May 10 and a walking tour of the 6th arrondissement with Lee Hubert on May 15. Plus a special photography salon on the evening of May 10 (as a tribute to Gertrude Stein), complete with wine and review and discussion of the group's photographs.   

Photographs and Post by Meredith Mullins