War and Peace and Invalides

I've been reading War and Peace the entire time I've been in Paris (it's 1,500 pages afterall) and I couldn't have chosen a better book to read while here. Aside from the fact that I love long 19th-century novels, the use of French scattered throughout (which in my edition isn't translated) is more easily understood now that I'm learning more French. Reading of battles (e.g. Austerlitz) and knowing that they're also the names of Paris train stations or Metro stops hints at their outcome before Tolstoy reveals it (since my Napoleanic history isn't quite what it should be, I don't know who won which battles). So it's been really neat to read while I'm here. But the highlight of reading War and Peace in Paris was our visit to Invalides.

The Hôtel des Invalides was built in the 1670's by Louis XIV for wounded and homeless veterans. It now contains many things military, including Napoleon's tomb, the tombs of other French military leaders, and several museums. The Musée de l'Armée (Museum of the Army) is the largest, spanning several floors and covering the military history from pretty much the beginning of time through World War II. We spent an entire afternoon there and didn't see more than half of it. Highlights for me:

Everything from Napolean, which included outfits worn by French soldiers during the Russian campaign, cannon balls, sabres and daggers, leather folders and satchels in which secretaries and adjutants carried communications, and even a stuffed horse ridden by Napolean at some point along the way. All the outfits helped flesh out my imaginations of the battle scenes in War and Peace significantly. It was really neat to actually see the real stuff from that time period. There was even Napolean's "camp" — the tent he occupied while on campaigns, complete with bed, writing desk, stool, rugs, trunks, etc.

Another highlight was the section of the museum devoted to World War II. It was a powerful blend of objects, video, pictures, and story-telling detailing the events of the time. Objects even included an American Jeep, all kinds of uniforms and weapons from the various Allied and Axis troops, and most distressingly, a collection of leather shoes from victims of the gas chambers at an extermination camp. Throughout, one could hear tapes of DeGaulle's speeches encouraging the French to continue to fight and resist the German occupation. The entire experience was so sad and uplifting at the same time.