Zeppelins, cannons and a lady in company, by Plácid Garcia-Planas
The personal diary of a Catalan girl comes to light in which she poured out her feelings and thoughts about a little-known story: the German air bombings of Paris during the First World War
The notebooks, tied with a bow, spent a lifetime in the dining room closet.
One day, she tried to tell them how she saw Parisians suffer in the First World War. “The thing seemed so incredible to us that we laughed at the shamelessness of children who think they know much more than her grandparents,” says her grandson Josep Vila. I guess that after that day she no longer wanted to explain anything more.”
To explain what? To explain the life we miss out on when we are young by ignoring the people who have already lived it.
They didn't listen to her, but she had it all written down and Josep has now untied the bond: he has embroidered a selection from his grandmother's personal diary – The forgotten notebooks– which will be published by Ediciones Carena. The reflections of the Catalan Cecilia González Carreras (1891-1982) when, under the turbulent sky of that Paris, she served as lady-in-waiting to Isabel Ugarte Vernal, a Peruvian of Spanish lineage.
Cecilia arrived one night in 1915 to a Paris immersed in a “dreadful darkness.” The Germans bombed with zeppelins – later with megacannons and Gotha planes – and those whose lights were on were fined.
“The windows shook and it seemed that even the furniture wanted to leave its place,” he noted one day of intensity. “The cannon shots feel so strong that it seems that we are already at the end of the world,” wrote another. And laziness before the Apocalypse: “My pleasure would be to stay in bed and wait for my luck, good or bad.”
He made bets with Doña Isabel – who treated Cecilia like a daughter – on whether every noise they heard in the sky was from the zeppelins or not, and he was surprised to find all the neighbors in the shelter “very calmly playing cards.” ”.
He detected an unspeakable fascination with the war: with the anti-aircraft alarms he saw the Parisians, instead of running, stopping in the street to “better contemplate the French planes that were chasing the Germans.” One night with a full moon and bombs, she looked out onto the balcony because she “was very curious to see if she could see something in the air.”
The sirens warned of danger and, when it had passed, it was announced with the ringing of all the bells in Paris. “It looks like the day of the Resurrection.”
The police did not allow him to approach the bombed buildings. “Madam, don't ask me anything, it is forbidden to give any details,” a waiter told her. “According to the newspapers – he wrote – there are few bombs dropped in Paris and very few victims. And what people say is the other way around, a lot of destruction and a lot of deaths.”
At times, his entries have the air of Kafka's mythical entry in his personal diary on August 2, 1914: “Germany has declared war on Russia. In the afternoon, swimming class,” noted the novelist.
“We ate at the Printemps restaurant. Then we went to the cinema,” she noted after contemplating a large cannon taken from the Germans. “Doña Isabel wanted to go to the cinema to distract her a little from the great impression,” she wrote after a night of bombings.
Celluloid to escape from horror, or deepen it. One day she sees projected “the well-charred corpses” of the pilots of a downed German zeppelin, and another day she watches “stunned” a film of the carnival in Barcelona... “organizing parties without thinking that while they are enjoying there are so many millions who suffer.”
Movie theaters filled, on occasion, with soldiers “sick in their eyes from the asphyxiating gases.”
It is the wake of the belle époque mixed with the mutilated and compassion. Cecilia used to accompany Doña Isabel to distribute sums of money among the needy and wounded soldiers. “One only had his left arm,” he noted. When I gave him the five francs, the nurse told him: 'Say thank you to this young lady, she is so good,' and he didn't even have the strength to open his eyes or even look at the bill."
Another day he was walking through the Bois de Boulogne, “very crowded, there was a lot of luxury, it seems impossible that there is a war.”
When he traveled by train he gave up his seat to the exhausted American soldiers who were traveling standing, and he became indignant at the French, officers included, for not giving them up. If it weren't for those Yankees, "the Germans would already be in Paris."
Cecilia went to mass, she was a believer, and she believed that, instead of praying for the victims of the war – “a waste of time” – one had to “work to prepare a home for them.”
His diary has very Ravel cadences, very Pavana for a deceased princess. Describes the rue de Rivoli with the broken windows. His compassion towards the German prisoners insulted by the French. The afternoon a Russian soldier tried to pick her up. The night she wished it would snow non-stop so that “this tremendous fight” would collapse. Or a marathon, despite the siege, to go around Paris. “They ran like desperate people.”
And the day came – exactly 105 years ago today – when the armistice and euphoria broke out, and she ran to the Louvre department stores to buy flags of the allied countries. “People fought over the flags as if they were precious stones.”
With cannon fire in the background, one afternoon the air raid sirens rang and all the bells of Paris rang at the same time: they announced that Berlin was assuming the conditions of the peace treaty. “When I heard this siren, I felt a great tremor. Not because it caused me fear, like in dangerous times. It just shocked me a lot to think that there would be no more war!”
She couldn't even imagine it, just as we can't even imagine what will happen to us, but those bells were ringing a funeral: after two decades, Europe would be even more of a corpse. The world was coming out of madness going crazy. Cecilia went to some boutiques one day to see the fashion of the first summer in peace: “she seemed very bizarre to me.”
Life returned, and with it the usual human attraction towards perdition. “Paris is so big that there are people of all kinds of religions and each one continues with his ideas without worrying about what the others do,” he noted. And the most curious thing is that each one believes that his religion is the best and that the others are crazy or bad.
It's today's International section The vanguard summed up by a lady-in-waiting in the mirage of 1919.
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At Today90, I continue to be a driving force behind journalistic excellence. My tireless dedication to fair and accurate reporting is an invaluable asset to the editorial team. My biography is a living testament to the importance of journalism in our society and a reminder that a dedicated journalist can make a difference in the world.
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