116. Anne Sebba; Parisian Women and Nazis, Film Stars in Rome, ‘Communists’ in Sing Sing Prison - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode 116
March 17 , 2021

116. Anne Sebba; Parisian Women and Nazis, Film Stars in Rome, ‘Communists’ in Sing Sing Prison

The author of one of Lisa’s favourite books, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s, Anne Sebba explores the lives of women ‘writers and fighters’. As a journalist and author she’s worked in film-star-filled 70s Rome, moved to New York with a baby, camped in the Mexico desert with Wallis Simpson’s free-diving step-son, had her camera film thrown into the Ganges while tracing Mother Theresa and, for her most recent book on Ethel Rosenburg, to Belarus and Sing Sing Prison.


On this episode we cover:

Lisa obsessed with her book about Parisian women during Nazi Occupation

Getting a job at the BBC World Service Arabic department

Being the first female correspondent at Reuters

(and later, when she got pregnant, the first woman they sacked!)

Not believing she was paying for something so exciting

Being told France. Germany and Russia were too dangerous for a women

Being sent to Rome age 21 and having a blast

Sitting next to the Trevi foundation for lunch every day

Rome in the 1970s being full of film stars

Nude swimming parties with Roman Polanski

Being a ‘repressed English girl’

Flying in the Aga Khan’s helicopter in Sardinia

Covering the kidnap of Jean Paul Getty

Rome being ‘rife with banditry and mafia’

The heart of Europe being fought in that area

But Rome not being taken seriously by London at that time

The difference between the ex-pat lifestyle and what really goes on

Left wing students being imprisoned

The Vatican and deep Catholicism controlling attitudes 

The British having a terrible reputation in Italy at the time

The extraordinary life in Rome at that time

Blagging her way into a restaurant to interview Elizabeth Taylor

Moving to New York in the edgy late 70s

With a small baby!

Writing about Enid Bagnell (author of National Velvet)

After getting sacked from Reuters

New York giving her a passion for writing about American women

Travelling the west coast and New Orleans

Her new book about Ethel Rosenberg who was convicted of spying

Visiting Sing Sing prison where Rosenberg spent two years in solitary confinement

Ethel Rosenberg’s eventually execution

Travelling to Minsk in Belarus for research

Belarus locals being very fearful

Finding her way Los Alamos and remote New Mexico

Treading in the footsteps of the developers of atomic bomb

J Robert Oppenheimer

The direct line from distrust of Communism to Trumpian politics

1936 being the one year the world could have stopped Hitler  

Writing about women ‘fighters and writers’

How the Wallis Simpson crisis distracted us from Hitler

Her book about Jennie Churchill, Winston’s American mother

Jumping on a plain to meet a free-diver in Mexico

(who’s Wallis Simpson’s stepson)

Desert camping under the stars with Aaron Solomon

In the place where John Steinbeck wrote Pearls

Les Parisiennes – what women did in occupied Paris

Questioning whether you’d sleep with a Nazi or become a member of the Resistance

The German officers being deliberately chosen as charming and cultured

Joining the Resistance being very hard for women as they had to give everything up

The one dimensional view that all French women collaborated

200,000 Franco-German babies during the war

The 39 British women who were parachuted into Paris under the Nazis

The life expectancy of a wireless operator in Paris being about 6 weeks

The British and American role in the liberation of Paris

Ravensbruck, the camp outside Berlin where the Frenchwomen were sent

Odette Fabius and Genevieve De Gaulle who ended up the camp

Walking the streets of Paris and imagining the Nazis stomping the cobblestones and taking over the cafes

The preservation of Paris being a condition of the occupation

The velodrome where most of the Jews were rounded up, 14,000 Parisian Jews taken there

Loving interviewing old people looking back

Lisa’s grandmother given birth during WW2 air raids

Lisa’s argument with an ex boyfriend about Anne Frank in Amsterdam

Anne’s soldier son listening to Mary Poppins on the streets of Basra 

Writing a children’s book about Mother Theresa

Making The Saint Making Process for Channel 4 in the Himalayas

Being interrogated by India Police for two hours!

How Calcutta and Bengal helped her understand India more 

The police throwing her camera film into the Ganges