They were torches to our matchsticks. They ate our city’s oxygen and everything else on the menu. In the early days of the occupation, we caught rare glimpses of them at the opera, the better cafes, at the racetrack calculating odds. The stitching of their uniforms made shoulders broad and tapered waists; the sharp black bills of their peaked caps reflected lustre. I speak for the entire city. We know now the world squints back at the startling color of their confident eyes and calls it all arrogance, worse, and we don’t deny it, but they spoke our language carefully, apologetically if not well. You’ll say we were charmed. As more arrived in caravans or after long marches through the provinces, we saw them getting out of cabs to help children down from streetcars. Elsewhere our terrorists smudged the skies with dynamite, derailing trains and unbridging rivers, to the broadcasts of resisters in exile, but those of us who claimed these roofs and stones had a different sort of politics, and bunkered down in what was essential to us all. At brothels they were favored for their generosity and scrupulous demeanor. For the ladies they insisted on and for themselves submitted to intimate examinations. Ask a madame still alive and she’ll remember. We knew them already as neighbors and tourists. We understood, too, that these few thousand we hosted were the fittest. But what did it matter to us? We had our enemy here. Absence from home sharpened their enthusiasm for our bread and coffee and magnificent women, our singers and celebrated sights. Revisionists blame us for bringing out our best while battles raged and we don’t dispute anything that happened. We only want to say it isn’t easy to live and we too defeated them in our manner.

Copyright ©January 30, 2007 David Hodges