Natalie Mateo- Over Under Project 2019

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Paris’ body is made up of the metro. Each line darts back and forth, crosses over each other, and connects Parisians much like the blood vessels and neurons of the body. The sound of the train provides Paris’ heartbeat. With the loud rhythmic thuds of each train cart passing over the tracks, it seems that is the very sound that keeps Paris alive. But Paris is an old city, and her body is a recent invention. The Parisii named her and the Romans conquered her. The Bourbon kings abandoned her for Versailles and the Revolutionaries took her back. American founding fathers used her as a political playing field and American artists made her their muse. But where have all these people who have shaped Paris gone? Much like Paris’ structural body, the people of Paris’ history have gone underground. As a lover of history, I have always been interested with the stories and events of the dead. It is the dead who shaped the world and societies that modern day people live in. With the rich history that Paris has, I decided I wanted to explore this buried history and pay homage to the dead that have outline Paris’ history and made her what she is today.

Mairie de Montrouge

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With the Mairie de Montrouge metro stop being one of the newest in Paris’ metro system, with its official opening on March 23, 2013, I was worried about what history I would find. But, luckily for me, Paris has yet to disappoint me in its historical abundance.

A 20-minute walk from the Mairie de Montrouge stop brought me to the Parisian Cemetery of Bagneux. This cemetery was opened on November 15, 1886 and is one of the smallest cemeteries in Paris yet one of the most active with an average of 10 burials a day.  It is estimated that the Parisian Cemetery of Bagneux is home to 83,000 graves and was the original resting place of Oscar Wilde before he was moved to the famous Père Lachaise cemetery.

The cemetery is commonly referred to as the Jewish Cemetery of Paris due to several of its divisions having exclusively Jewish graves. As such, there are several memorials in the cemetery dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust as well as Jewish soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the good of France in WWII.

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One memorial that caught my eye in particular was a headstone dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust who were not given a proper burial and/or final resting place. Many of the victims of the Holocaust were dumped into mass graves to rot away or the bodies were set on fire by the Nazis to dispose of them. As a result of this, many of the millions of Holocaust victims could not be brought back home after their deaths and their bodies became forgotten. This memorial headstone reads “To the memory of the victims of the Shoah who were not buried neither here nor anywhere else.” When I first read it, I had no clue what “Shoah” meant. I knew it definitely was not the French word for the Holocaust so what could it be? In my research I have found that the Jewish community refers to the Holocaust as “Shoah”, the Hebrew word for catastrophe. As I read the word “catastrophe” my heart sank. That is exactly what the Holocaust was. A catastrophic event that lead to the extermination of 6 million Jews and 11 million people in total. The weight of this catastrophe became heavier on me when I found out that the Jewish population in Europe today still hasn’t matched the population of Jews before the Holocaust according to the Pew Research Center. Close to 80 years later and the Jewish population still has not bounced back from the great Shoah.  

Porte d’Orleans

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As the closest metro stop to our university, I became quite familiar with Porte d’Orleans and yet knew nothing about it. It was one of the first metro lines to open in Paris with its grand opening on October 30, 1909. The metro stop was given the name Porte d’Orleans after one of the gates in in the Thiers wall, the last defensive wall made around Paris in 1844. As Porte d’Orleans has been around for 110 years, I knew that it would be able to provide me with the history I craved.

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A 6-minute walk from the station led me to the Montrouge cemetery. Walking through the large stone arch and its rusted green metal doors, the cemetery is packed with headstones and gives the appearance of a small town. As I walked around a tall thin structure caught my attention. It appeared as if several thin smokestacks sprouted from the ground. I approached to read the headstone and found out it belonged to Etienne Beöthy. Born on September 2, 1897 in Heves, Hungary as Istvan Beöthy. Beöthy first studied to be an architect at the request of his father in Hungary but was later given a grant to study art in Europe. As a result, many of his works are very structural and are rooted in mathematics as he himself explains in his book “Golden Series” published in 1939. At the same time that he is creating art and sculptures, Beöthy is also the head of one of the several cells of resistance fighters. In between making art and sculpting, he uses his time fighting for France by designing resistance flyers to be distributed throughout Paris. Around the same time, 1940 to 1945, Beöthy joins the Hungarian Independence Movement and later becomes the movement’s vice president. His works are stills exhibited throughout the world and several of his pieces are held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Denfert- Rochereau

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The station of Denfert Rochereau was built in 1906 originally as part of line 6. The station was named after French colonel Pierre Philippe Denfert- Rochereau who fought victoriously during the Franco- Prussian War in the 1870s. Its entrance is crowned by the famous art nouveau metro signs that Paris is known for.

I came to this stop on a mission to fulfill my pilgrimage for this trip. But, as I emerged from the underground, right across the street was the site of the famous Paris catacombs. The catacombs were the result of public health concerns related to Parisian cemeteries in the late 18th century. The bones from the catacombs come from the Holy Innocents Cemetery where the Place Joachim du Bellay currently stands. Due to overcrowding and dead bodies’ natural decomposition process, it no longer became ideal for cemeteries to be located within Paris’ city walls. Parisian authorities felt that the best place to put the remains of the Holy Innocents cemetery was deep underground in the quarries of Montrouge. The bodies were then organized into patterns and religious shapes to mimic the catacombs in Rome.

As I looked upon the intricate patterns of bones on display, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the separated remains of those who have been long forgotten. Skulls separated from spinal vertebrae and femurs separated from pelvises. There is no way for these bodies to be reunited with themselves. But there is very little chance that these remains have any family to remember them and visit them. So, much like the famous quote, these remains have experienced their final death: being forgotten. In being ultimately and truly dead, these remains become less human and more fossil-like. They have become part of an ancient history but are still surrounded with mysticism and fascination.

Odéon

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The station of Odéon was opened on January 9, 1910 in order to connect Châtelet and Raspail under the Seine river. The station is named after the Odéon theatre which opened its doors in 1779. What excited me most about this stop was being just a 15- minute walk from visiting my favorite author, Alexandre Dumas.

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Alexandre Dumas is currently laid to rest in the Panthéon. The building of the Panthéon fuses Napoleon’s wish to portray himself as a Roman Emperor with elements and traces of Gothic influences. The Panthéon is currently used as a mausoleum for France’s most notable citizens. Among these are Napoleon himself, Marie Curie, Emile Zola, and Alexandre Dumas. Although I had already visited during class time, I wanted to go back to pay further respects to the author who changed my whole perspective of literature. I was first introduced to Dumas in my freshman year English class in high school. That year had been focused on Shakespeare and other classic artists that I frankly wasn’t interested, and their works didn’t move me in the least. This changed when we had to read the Count of Monte Cristo which, to this day, is still my favorite book.

Alexandre Dumas, while being a successful and notable author, went through several hardships in his life. Outside of personal relationships, it seemed the constant trait writing critics would point out was his race. Dumas was the grandson of a slave from Haiti and while his father serve valiantly under Napoleon I, it never seemed like it was enough. No matter what he would accomplish, the people of France still referred to him as “the negro” as if that had more weight than his talents as a writer. Several newspapers would draw caricatures of him with exaggerated African features and I was fortunate enough to see these and experience their severity in person in the Musée d’Orsay.

While I am not of African descent, the realities of racism have only become clearer to me within recent years. Coming from a majority Hispanic city like Miami, it never felt like I was the “other.” The only differences between me and the kids in school was what country in Latin America we were from. But, since the presidential races of 2016, the hatred towards Hispanics has only become louder and more toxic. With Trump’s infamous speech stating that Mexicans are rapists and murderers as well as the zero tolerance policies at the southern border, it feels as though white America is looking at us with daggers in their eyes. While they claim to hate us, they still go to restaurants to eat our food and they still vacation in our home countries. The same contradiction Dumas faced is what is still happening now. The only question that remains is do we turn a blind eye to it or do we rise up and fight back?

Raspail

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Raspail was opened on April 24, 1906 as part of line 2. As the Paris metro continued to develop in the years soon after, it also became a stop on lines 5, 6, and ultimately, line 4. The station of Raspail was named after Francois- Vincent Raspail, a French scientist and statesman who was one of the early proponents in the use of the microscope as well as the head of the French Human Rights Society. But I didn’t come to Raspail for science or politics. I stopped at Raspail to visit someone in particular: Alfred Dreyfus.

Alfred Dreyfus, the person I selected for my Declaration Project back in the Spring semester, was someone I deeply sympathized with. As a young man, his aspirations of serving under the French Army and rising up the ranks were cut short when he was targeted, due to his Jewish background, and falsely accused of treason. He was then stripped of his military titles and sentenced to solitary confinement of Devil’s Island and stayed there for about 5 years. His case split Paris in two with one group siding with the French government and army and the other siding with Dreyfus. It wasn’t until much later that Dreyfus was freed from prison and was reinstated in the military under the orders of the French President and Parliament. This is one of the most documented cases of antisemitism rearing its ugly head in France.

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I felt it necessary to visit him. After all, I had spent months researching his life to ensure I gave him justice in my project. But aside from that, Alfred Dreyfus had spent so long in solitary confinement that it only made sense for me to visit him and give him some company.

I headed to the Montparnasse Cemetery in order to do so. It is a large cemetery lined with trees and plants growing over several tombs. I wandered around trying to find Dreyfus and, along the way, found a large windmill looking structure. I would later find out that before the cemeteries opening in 1824, the land was full of farms and fields and as a result, some windmills stayed behind. I continued wandering until I finally found him. I instantly knew it was his grave in the distance when I saw stones on it. These stones are a Jewish tradition in which, rather than leaving flowers at a grave, you place a stone on the tomb to indicate you have visited. I walked up to his tomb stone in hand and not only did I find Alfred Dreyfus, but I found his whole family with the most recent member passing away in 1996. It felt like a strange homecoming to me. I never knew Alfred or his family and yet I felt such a strong connection to him. I spent some time at the grave just reflecting on everything I knew about Alfred and all the things I barely knew about the whole Dreyfus family. As I walked away, it felt like my whole trip had come full circle, and no matter what happened this month, good or bad, there couldn’t be anything to top how I felt visiting Alfred Dreyfus.

Saint- Michel

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The Saint- Michel metro stop is one of the most visited due to its proximity to both the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame. It was opened on January 9, 1910 as one of the original stops on line 4. The station gets its name after the square that rests above it with a large statue of Michael the Archangel. As one of the first stops used in class this month, this was another stop I had become familiar with, but I took particular interest in a nearby church.

The Church of Saint Severin is a gothic church in the Latin quarter known for one famous feature: the column behind the church’s altar. This column, rather than the grooves on the column being up right, has its grooves twisting around the column much like a vine growing up a tree. The grooves continue toward the ceiling and, once they reach the top of the column, shoot out like palm fronds. But I needed to find out more about this church. There needed to be something more than a twisting column given how old the church is. I walked around the Church and came upon an open garden in its center. It seemed as though I was alone until I heard someone say hello. I turned to see a priest taking a cigarette break. He began to ask me where I was from and what I was doing in Paris (I guess my huge purse and constant photo taking gave it away). As we continued talking, he told me that the garden we were sitting in used to be a cemetery. Before I could ask any further questions, the priest disposed of his finished cigarette and went back inside the church. Was he trying to scare me? I’m sure that fooling tourists is fun but something about his claim also seemed serious. I began to look it up on the way back to the university and sure enough it was true. During the 15th century, the garden of the Church of St. Severin was used as a cemetery for important people in Paris. In addition to this, in 1474, the first ever successful stone removal surgery was performed. King Louis XI had ordered a prisoner sentenced to death be the trial run of the surgery and, if the prisoner were to survive, he would be released. The surgery went so well that Louis XI himself began to encourage people to get the procedure done.

Les Halles

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Les Halles was originally opened on April 21, 1908. However, its present location was opened is 1977 as it was shifted east to accommodate the construction of the RER. The station gets its name after the markets that resided above it for many years. Today, this is still the case as there is a large mall that engulfs the station. But, despite the modern shopping center, Les Halles holds much more history that its patrons aren’t aware of.

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Across the street from Les Halles is Place Joachim du Bellay. The place’s namesake was one of the first people to promote French as an artistic language. In the 9th century, the location on which the place now stands used to be home to the Holy Innocents Cemetery as well as a church by the same name. Place Joachim du Bellay’s main feature is the Fontaine des Innocents, a tall structure that seems like a missing part of a building, which was originally located on the edge of the Holy Innocents Cemetery. The fountain was commissioned in 1549 as one of the royal markers of King Henry II’s entry path into Paris. Later, towards the end of the 18th century, having cemeteries in the center of Paris was deemed unsanitary and the entire cemetery was dug up and removed. The bodies that were laid to rest there were then moved to what is presently known as the catacombs of Paris where they have remained since.

Réaumur- Sébastopol

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The station of Réaumur- Sébastopol was first opened on October 19, 1904 under the name of Rue Saint- Denis. It was part of line 3 and connected Parisians to the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery and Villiers. Then, in 1907, the station was renamed to its current name and, in 1908, was made into a stop on line 4. The dual name of the station is after French entomologist Rene- Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur and the port of Sevastopol in Crimea in which an important battle took place during the Crimean War.

Initially this area made little to no impression on me. It seemed to be just like the rest of Paris’ streets full of shops and stores. But, as I walked around, I passed by a very large Monoprix that seemed to be closed in the middle of the afternoon. I found this to be strange as it is a popular grocery chain and it was the middle of the day. When I looked up the Monoprix’s location, I found several articles explaining that in 2015, there had been and archaeological discovery below the Monoprix.

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Due to France’s rich abundance of archaeological discoveries, the French government issued a law that would require the Ministry of Culture to survey any land to be constructed on and developed for any archaeological finds. In the case of the Monoprix, this is exactly what led to the find. Monoprix wished to expand that specific location by adding an additional floor underground. As workers began to dig, they found that several feet underground were the remains of over 200 bodies from the 12th century cemetery of Trinity Hospital. Since then, archaeologists have been able to discover more about medical practices from the Middle Ages as well as the common causes of death from the time such as small pox and famine. Many of the bodies were even wrapped in hospital sheets dating back from the 14th century.

Barbès- Rochehouart

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The Barbes- Rochechouart station was opened January 31st, 1903 as part of line 2 but later became part of line 4 in 1908. The station is named after Armand Barbes, a famous revolutionary who was sentenced to life for trying to overthrow the King, and Marguerite de Rochechouart, a scholarly nun from the 17th century who also served as Mother Superior at the Abbey of Montmartre.

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Above the station matched what Montmartre is known for: hilly and narrow streets full of people painting or performing music. I had come to this station to visit the Cimetiere du Calvaire. However, I was unaware that the cemetery was opened to the public twice a year: on All Saints Day and Heritage Day. This cemetery is one of the smallest and oldest in Paris. It was opened in 1688 as part of the Abbey of Montmartre and was all that remained of it after the Revolution. One of the most notable people who remains there is Louis Antoine Bougainville. While his body rests in the Panthéon, his heart is kept in an urn in his family’s burial plot.

Louis Antoine Bougainville was a famous French Navigator who sailed from France to South America, the South Pacific, and even Australia. What drew me to him was what he brought back to France: a thorny shrub with bright pink paper-like flowers. This plant is what is commonly known as the bougainvillea. Its bright pink flowers are a staple in Miami gardens and homes.

This was the first connection I felt to colonialism in my month in Paris. All of my life I have been surrounded by these flowers in the gardens of Tias and Tios and its colors have painted my memories of walking to my neighbor’s house for Tupperware’s full of sopa de carne. I had always taken its name for granted. To me, the plant was always Cuban for as long as I could remember. But, learning about Louis Antoine Bougainville, it seems like not even the world knows exactly where it first came from. The plant has taken over South America, Australia, China, the United States, and even the Alhambra is Spain. The bougainvillea’s home has been forgotten and its name is that of its “discoverer.” Much like the bougainvillea, colonialism’s thorny branches have wrapped around native history and strangled them until they have become nothing and all that remains is Bougainville.

Simplon

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The station on Simplon was opened on April 21, 1908. Its name is after Simplon street which is named after the Simplon pass in the Alps. As the second to last stop on line 4, the population of people on the train drastically changes. Not only is there a smaller concentration of people on the trains, most of the people appear to be of Middle Eastern and African origin. As I walked the streets above, the languages around me we neither English nor French. Instead, people were speaking their native tongues: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Creole, and many more that I couldn’t even recognize. Yet with all of the African and Middle Eastern residences and homes that filled Simplon, I still came upon a large gothic church.

The church that I wandered into was Our Lady of Clignancourt. It was first opened 1863 but has gone through various refurbishment projects since. The church’s interior seems to be a hodge podge of its history. Stained glass and high ceilings were of no surprise to me. Not even the blue ceiling of the dome above the alter seemed entirely strange. However, the lights in the church all came from bronze chandeliers with cherubs’ faces. Even stranger, the walls at the entrance of the church were lined with names separated into the years 1914 to 1918. I couldn’t find any information on these names anywhere. Not online nor in any of the church’s pamphlets. I decided to return to the church another day to ask as my first visit was greeted with only the sound of my footsteps echoing off the walls.

When I returned to the church, I found a small old woman cleaning the offering candle stands. I asked if she spoke English and she softly shook her head. After about 30 minutes of trying to communicate with broken French I finally got my answer. The names on the walls are of men from the parish who died during World War I. This piqued my interest as World War I hadn’t been discussed heavily in class like we had for World War II. I paced back and forth reading each of the names of the men who laid down their lives only for it to be in vain and a second world war to occur 20 years later. Does anyone remember these men? Does anyone visit the church to touch their names? Or are they doomed to end up like the bones in the catacombs and have their identities forgotten forever?

References

Etienne Beothy, http://www.registre-des-arts.com/peinture/etienne-beothy-1897/.“Accueil.” Aller à La Page D’accueil, http://www.pariscityvision.com/fr/paris/metro-station-saint-michel.“Alexandre Dumas, Sr (1802-1870) – Find A Grave…” Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6753/alexandre-dumas.“Archaeological and Heritage Solutions.” Eveha, http://www.eveha.com/.“Beothy, Etienne.” Galerie Le Minotaure, galerieleminotaure.net/artist/beothy-etienne/.Cachon, Sophie. “Des Squelettes Sous Le Monoprix.” Télérama.fr, http://www.telerama.fr/scenes/des-squelettes-sous-le-monoprix,130297.php.“Calvaire (18).” Paris Cemeteries, http://www.pariscemeteries.com/calvaire.“François-Vincent Raspail.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/François-Vincent_Raspail.“István Beöthy – István Beöthy.” Qwerty.wiki, fr.qwerty.wiki/wiki/István_Beöthy.“Les Halles (Paris Métro).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Halles_(Paris_Métro).Lipka, Michael, and Michael Lipka. “Europe’s Jewish Population.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 9 Feb. 2015, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/02/09/europes-jewish-population/.“Montparnasse Cemetery – Facts and Graves.” Travel France Online, 22 July 2019, http://www.travelfranceonline.com/montparnasse-cemetery-facts-and-graves/.“Nearly 200 Dead Bodies Buried Underneath This Unassuming Supermarket in Paris.” Untapped Cities, 26 Oct. 2018, untappedcities.com/2015/03/09/nearly-200-dead-bodies-underneath-this-unassuming-supermarket-in-paris/.“Panthéon.” Centre Des Monuments Nationaux, http://www.paris-pantheon.fr/en/.“Paris Shuttle Airport TRANSFERS.” Paris, http://www.shuttle-paris-airports.com/news/view/id/12569.html.Paulet, Samuel. “EN IMAGES. 200 Squelettes Retrouvés Dans Les Caves D’un Monoprix.” FocuSur.fr, 3 Mar. 2015, http://www.focusur.fr/actualites/2015/03/03/en-images-sous-le-monoprix-reaumur-sebastopol-un-cimetiere-du-12e-siecle/.“Petit Cimetiere Du Calvaire in Montmartre.” Travel France Online, 22 July 2019, http://www.travelfranceonline.com/petit-cimetiere-du-calvaire-montmartre/.“Placing a Stone.” Shiva, Jewish Mourning, http://www.shiva.com/learning-center/commemorate/stone/.Rédaction, La. “Joachim Du Bellay : Biographie Du Poète Angevin Heureux Comme Ulysse.” L’Internaute : Actualité, Loisirs, Culture Et Découvertes…, Linternaute.com, 6 Feb. 2019, http://www.linternaute.fr/biographie/litterature/1775062-joachim-du-bellay-biographie-courte-dates-citations/.Richard. “Accueil.” Accueil, http://www.paristoric.com/index.php/transports-et-voirie/places/1416-la-place-joachim-du-bellay.“Saint-Séverin (5).” Paris Cemeteries, http://www.pariscemeteries.com/saintseverin-5.“Site History.” Catacombes, catacombes.paris.fr/en/history/site-history.“The Cemetery Du Calvaire.” Montmartre, http://www.montmartre-guide.com/en/events/calvary-cemetery-2/.“The Church of Saint Severin in the Latin Quarter.” Sortiraparis.com, http://www.sortiraparis.com/arts-culture/walks/articles/172002-the-church-of-saint-severin-in-the-latin-quarter/lang/en.“The Rise and Fall of Alexandre Dumas, the Black Author Who Ruled European Literature in the 1800s.” Face2Face Africa, 5 Dec. 2018, face2faceafrica.com/article/the-rise-and-fall-of-alexandre-dumas-the-black-author-who-ruled-european-literature-in-the-1800s.Ugc. “The Smallest, Oldest Cemetery in Paris.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 29 Dec. 2017, http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/cimetiere-du-calvaire.Universalis‎, Encyclopædia. “Connexion.” Authentification, http://www.universalis-edu.com/encyclopedie/louis-antoine-bougainville/.

Natalie Mateo- France as Text 2019

Photo taken by Jessica Horsham

Natalie Mateo is a senior at Florida International University majoring in History and minoring in Political Science. She hopes that the history of France’s social, legal, and humanitarian movements, as well as the life experiences obtained in completing a study abroad program, will aid in her goal of attending law school and attaining her Juris Doctorate degree.

Below are her reflections throughout the France 2019 program.

Paris as Text

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Fearless by Natalie Mateo of FIU in Paris, France on July 2nd, 2019

Since the first notions of Paris, its people have been fearless in the face of danger and despair. From 300 BC with the Parisii, a Gaelic tribe that inhabited the area who fought fearlessly against Roman invasion around 50 BC, to the citizens who laid down their lives in the pursuit of liberté, fraternité, and égalité during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Paris has seen enough bloodshed, riots, and revolutions to instill in its people a sense of pride and zest for life that I have already come to fall in love with in my first week calling Paris my home. As such, I must be like the Parisians and push on even when fear has made my blood run cold.

My first try at this, aside from traveling abroad for a month, was conquering my own battle and climbing to the top of Le Tour Eiffel. As someone who has dealt with a fear of heights for most of my life, thinking about making the climb up was unimaginable to me as I sat in my Miami bubble a month ago. But, once I set my eyes on the colossus, with my heart pounding and my knees trembling, a voice in my head simply said “up.” So up I went. Every step and staircase made me shudder and as doubt began to whisper in my ear, I continued on, repeating “up.” While this is no storming of the Bastille or march on Versailles, it certainly gave me a huge rush once I came back to the ground knowing I had slayed my Goliath.

Versailles as Text

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Heaven Born of Hell by Natalie Mateo of FIU at Versailles on July 7th, 2019

On the outskirts of Paris, a paradise lays in wait. The hunting lodge of Louis XIII that was turned into the French cultural birthplace founded by Louis XIV. Its golden gates appear from the brush before welcoming visitors to view its grandeur and opulence. Every corner shows the sun king himself looking down upon his subjects as they walk through this fantasy with eyes wide open and mouths agape. The gardens are full of Greek gods and goddesses around every corner taking in every bit of sunlight bestowed onto them. The fountains tell stories of power and punishment to both amaze and frighten visitors of Louis XIV’s wondrous nature.  Operatic choirs fill the air with harmonious melodies that make you feel like you are floating through Versailles. But how could heaven on earth come to be?

Louis XIV’s ambitions of a beautiful yet powerful palace marked his reign and has left a strong stamp on history. In creating Versailles, Louis XIV thought of every detail of the palace to make it the strongest and most political portraiture of himself. From depictions of the royal family as Greek gods and goddesses to fountains depicting the downfall of his enemies disguised as mythology, every inch of Versailles is drenched in Louis XIV’s power. But all this power came with a human cost. The construction of Versailles severely drained the royal purse and its maintenance consumed roughly 20% of France’s tax revenue. The people of France were starving, and many believe that it was Louis XIV’s love for the flashy that set the French Revolution in motion. But, despite these casualties, Versailles still stands and is visited by roughly 5 million people a year who experience Louis XIV’s aspirations for France with awe and wonder. As difficult as it is to say,  the benefit of Versailles creation has far outweighed its cost.

Izieu as Text

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Never Again by Natalie Mateo of FIU at Maison d’Izieu on July 12, 2019

The Maison d’Izieu was intended to be a safe place. A place where Jewish families could send their children to survive the war. A place where Jewish families sent their children to survive antisemitism. Within these walls stayed roughly 60 children at its peak and had cared for over 100 by the time Klaus Barbie arrived on April 6, 1944. Sabine and Miron Zatlin, the couple who opened and operated the home, had done everything they could to give these children protection and foster a childhood during one of the darkest times in history. This all ended when Klaus Barbie gave the order to have all the children, aged between 5 and 17 years old, and their caretakers arrested and deported to concentration camps, leaving one sole survivor.

It is with great tragedies like this that the world seems to say, “never forget.” Plaques commemorating victims and those lost lined with the words “never forget.” But these words seem like an empty promise to me whenever I watch the news.

Never forget the Holocaust and yet there are concentration camps in China persecuting Muslims.

Never forget the poisonous nationalist governments that arose before WWII and yet there is an increase in nationalism worldwide.

Never forget the families torn apart by Hitler’s orders and yet there are families being separated at the U.S. border.

Never forget the children of Izieu and yet after a week of news coverage people have already forgotten the names and faces of children that have died under ICE custody:

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez, 16

Juan de Leon Gutierrez, 16

Felipe Alonzo- Gomez, 8

Jakelin Caal, 7

And more whose names have not been released but their ages range from 2 years old to 17 years old.

Rather than solemnly swearing to “never forget” actions must be taken to ensure these events remain in our history books with the words “never again.”

Lyon as Text

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Is this what France has become? By Natalie Mateo of FIU at Montluc Prison on July 10th, 2019

Is this what France has become?

A place where people cower in fear

A place where Jews get arrested and sent away never to be heard from again

People who haven’t even laid eyes on the Torah in their lifetimes but had a great great grandfather who was a rabbi snatched up in the middle of the night

A place where families are torn apart

A place where children are resistance fighters

A place where mothers and their children and held in cells

What have we become?

The Vichy government handed us over to the Germans as if we didn’t come from revolutionaries who killed a king

What they have taken for granted is the resilience and power of their people

The Resistance prints messages and papers several feet under ground

The Resistance sings La Marseilles in the streets

The Resistance graffities Vive La France on the side of buildings

The Resistance is hiding Jewish families in their farm houses

The Resistance is sending love letters to their spouses before laying down their lives for France

The Resistance is Jean Moulin, our unifier who slit his throat to protect the Senegalese soldiers in the French Army

The Vichy government may have forgotten what France is, but its people have not

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

These are principles tattooed onto the hearts of every Frenchman

These principles are what keep us going

These principles will guide us through this never-ending nightmare

These principles are what makes dying for France worth it

Normandy as Text

Photo taken by Alex Gutierrez CC by 4.0

A One Ended Conversation with an American Hero by Natalie Mateo of FIU at Normandy American Cemetery on July 23, 2019

Plot F. Row 1. Grave 30.

Service number O-464313.

4th Infantry Division, 8th Infantry Regiment.

Captain.

Chaplain.

Raymond J. Hansen.

Born July 15, 1912 in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin where you would later enlist in 1941. You had two sisters and three brothers who I’m sure kept you humble and on your toes as siblings always do. I have my two sisters to thank for my humility. You spoke three languages: English, Danish, and German. I’m sure this helped you and made you a valuable asset to the armed forces in the thick of World War II. The ugly and monstrous child of the “war to end all wars.” You graduated high school in Denmark, Wisconsin in 1930 with the same bright eyes of innocence and hunger for the world that high schoolers still maintain today. Did you ever think you would lay down your life for our nation then? As you held your diploma in your hand, did you ever think that a gun would soon take its place? Three years later you would get your first college degree from North Central College. You then answered your calling and completed seminary school in 1936 at the Evangelical Theological Seminary and became a pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Webster, Wisconsin. In 1938 you would become a reverend and begin leading the congregation of United Brethren Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Augusta, Wisconsin. And your last happy memory on record, April 14th, 1941, when you married your beautiful bride Léona Marks. But, a few months later, the bombing of Pearl Harbor happens and the day after, December 8th, 1941, you marched right over to the nearest enlistment office to serve your country. What did Léona say? Did she beg you to stay? Or did she send you off with tears in her eyes knowing this was the right thing to do? I couldn’t imagine having to see my husband off to war after only 8 months of marriage. That’s not enough time. How many lonely nights did she spend worrying about you and crying herself to sleep? Did you two make the best of your time together before you went to fight? I would like to think you two spent your time inseparable. Helping the congregation, staying home together, wrapped in each other’s arms, spending nights slow dancing by a fire, and flooding each other with words of love and kisses. I know that’s what I would have done. Then it was time for you to begin your training. Being a chaplain, they needed you to play priest, doctor, and confidante all in one. You bounced around between New Jersey and Florida and also had a short stint at Harvard University where you were taught the basic principles and practices of several religions so you could serve all the men serving under you. Then on January 26, 1944, you arrived in England and began to put your training to use. You kept the soldiers’ morale up by being a close friend, holding mass, and giving confession that the soldiers fondly referred to as “padre’s time.” Did you see the fear and pain in their eyes? What did you say to them? How did you reassure them? Or were you just as scared as they were? Fortunately for your men you had first aid training before the war and received further training after enlisting. This meant that in addition to soothing and healing the men of your regiment spiritually off the battle field, you also tended to their physical wounds on it. It must have been soothing for them to see such a familiar face and close friend helping them as they laid there with bullets zipping past them. Did you ever question God while you were trying to save these young boys? Did you ever ask, “why them”? Since God is supposed to be all powerful and mighty and the ultimate punisher of evil, did you ever lose faith in his abilities as you saw innocent people dying at the hands of the wicked without retribution? I know I would have. I’ve questioned my faith for less almost a century after you laid down your life for me to be able to live mine. Then the most important moment of the war yet: D-Day. For five days you managed to stay safe and fulfill your duties: bandaging and burying soldiers. How many last rites did you have to give to the young men whose lives had barely started? How many eyes did you need to close that had barely been opened to the world? How many sons did you witness lay down their lives for the sins of the world? How many friends did you have to bury? And again, I ask, did you ever question God? All of this death and decay must be for God’s plan, right? Then, on June 11th, 1944, shortly before your 32nd birthday, the Germans overwhelmed you and you were hit in the line of fire. Your records engraved with the words “KIA- Killed in Action.” You had served honorably and were a light for many in your regiment. You would later be given the Purple Heart, a medal for those who were killed in combat. I’m sorry for asking again Raymond but I can’t stop wondering if you ever questioned God. With everything you saw in your short time in combat, was it God who kept you strong? Or were you just naturally resilient and hopeful? Why didn’t he protect you from death? Did he abandon you just like I feel he has abandoned me? Did he comfort you as you died? Did he wrap you in his warm glow as you felt your body going cold? I’m still waiting for that feeling. After 12 years of Catholic school, two of which were filled with depression and thoughts of suicide, without a single helpful and warm hand in sight, am I even worthy of his love and protection? Because if he couldn’t even protect you from Nazis committing the most heinous crimes in history then what hope is there for me? I still don’t know. The bible tells me yes but the Church tells me no. The gospels told me Jesus loved outcasts and sinners and yet when I spent two years wanting to die and spending my nights staring at fistfuls of pills my Catholic school told me “go ahead, but if you fail, we’re kicking you out.” Did I still deserve God’s love then? Do I deserve God’s love now? I know you can’t answer me. I know you’ve been long gone. But being able to survive that darkness, and getting to know you through my research, I know 16-year-old me could have really used some “padre’s time.”

Letter read at the grave of Raymond J. Hansen at the Normandy American Cemetery:

Raymond,

I thank you for your great sacrifice and your unwavering faith. I thank you for conducting mass and holding confessions as the ground shook beneath you. I thank you for putting your life on the line to bandage wounded soldiers in the battlefield and for also risking your life so that my generation can live the lives that we have been given. Live that’s we take for granted each day. I thank you for sacrificing yourself in order for the United States to continue holding on to its freedom and the rights that we hold dear to our hearts. I thank you for the greatest sacrifice of your own life so that our class, a group of immigrants as well as first- and second-generation Americans, could stand here today. I will thank you and the other men and women buried here in the Normandy American Cemetery again and again every day of my life, for the rest of my life, for everything you have given us. I hope that the world never forgets to appreciate the amount of sacrifice and pain given here during the D-Day invasion and that we continue to fight for what is right.

With the utmost love and admiration,

Natalie Mateo

References:

“Capt Raymond J Hansen (1912-1944) – Find A Grave…” Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56645301/raymond-j-hansen.

“Chaplain – Captain RAYMOND J. HANSEN (Photo Added).” Fallen Heroes of Normandy | Detail, http://www.fallenheroesofnormandy.org/Servicemen/Detail/42547.

“Raymond J Hansen.” Honor States, http://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=124798.

“Raymond J. Hansen.” Raymond J. Hansen | American Battle Monuments Commission, http://www.abmc.gov/node/409372.

Suedois50. “HANSEN Raymond J – 8 IR 4 ID.” Mémoire & Data, http://www.database-memoire.eu/prive/fr/normandy-tous-soldats/27-colleville-h-fr/4436-hansen-raymond-j-8-ir-4-id.

Suedois50. “HANSEN Raymond J – 8 IR 4 ID.” Mémoire & Data, http://www.database-memoire.eu/prive/fr/normandy-tous-soldats/27-colleville-h-fr/4436-hansen-raymond-j-8-ir-4-id.

Père Lachaise as Text

Photo taken by Alex Gutierrez CC by 4.0

The Most Famous Magic Baguette: The Two Injustices Committed Against Victor Noir by Natalie Mateo of FIU at the Père Lachaise Cemetery on July 26, 2019

Born Yvan Salmon on July 27, 1848, Victor Noir’s fame met him in death. In 1868, at the age of 19 years old, Noir became a political journalist for La Marseillaise, an anti-Bonapartist newspaper.  During his time at the newspaper, the editor, Pascal Grousset, became involved in a written conflict with Pierre Bonaparte, the great nephew of Napoleon I and the first cousin of the French Emperor Napoleon III, in which Pierre Bonaparte felt that La Marseillaise was defaming his family. This written altercation then led to the two men challenging each other to a duel. Grousset would later send Victor Noir and Ulrich de Fonvielle, another journalist at La Marsellaise, as his seconds to Pierre Bonaparte’s home to arrange the details of the duel. At Bonaparte’s home, the discussions of the duel went horribly awry and resulted in Bonaparte shooting Noir in the chest resulting in his death on January 11, 1870. The people of Paris were livid that a member of the Bonaparte family murdered a young French journalist. Victor Noir’s death resulted in several riots throughout Paris and he was considered a martyr of the people. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral in Neuilly. Politicians of the time then used his death as a political ploy for their elections and reelections by stating they attended the funeral, and hence were on the side of the people. Pierre Bonaparte was then tried for murder but argued in court that Noir had struck him first by slapping him in the face which resulted in the shooting. Despite having Ulrich de Fonvielle, the other young man who went to arrange the duel, as a witness to testify against Bonaparte in court, Bonaparte was acquitted. This sentencing set off even more riots and demonstrations throughout Paris as the Second Republic crumbled around Napoleon III. I find that this court ruled “innocence” of Pierre Bonaparte is the first injustice committed against Victor Noir.

As someone who aspire to go to law school, I can’t help but to notice all of the injustices and pitfalls that occur in the legal system. Pierre Bonaparte getting away with the murder of a young journalist is an instance we have seen time and time again in society. A wealthy and connected person commits a crime and either gets away with it or serves minimal time in jail and walks away merely with a slap on the hand. A recent example of this is the case of rapist Brock Turner. On January 18, 2015, Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, sexually assaulted an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster. He was then stopped by two other Stanford students who then pinned him to the ground and called the police. As the investigation began, Brock Turner’s phone contained nude images taken of the unconscious woman as well as text messages sent to a group chat discussing the images. The case gained national attention not only for the crime committed, but for Brock Turner’s actual trial. Coming from an affluent family, as well as his background as a student athlete on Stanford’s swim team, the judge who presided over Turner’s case did not want to “ruin his future.” In addition to this, Turner’s father sent a letter to the judge requesting he be lenient with his son so his life wouldn’t be ruined over “20 minutes of action.” The maximum sentencing facing Brock Turner for sexual assault was 14 years. However, he was given only six months in county jail and three years of probation. More disgustingly, Turner was released from jail after only three months.

After the fall of the Second Republic, Victor Noir’s body was exhumed and placed in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. In 1891, sculptor Jules Dalou was commissioned to make a piece to be placed atop Noir’s final resting place. Dalou sculpted Noir as if he had just been shot dead, his eyes still partly opened and his top hat falling down from his hand. Dalou also included another detail, a noticeable bulge under Noir’s belt. The statue became the center of superstition attracting women in flocks from all over the world. It is said that if you rub his protruding bulge, it will prevent infertility and increase vitality. If you kiss his feet, you will meet your husband within a year. If you kiss him on his nose, lips, and/or chin, you will be reunited with a loved one. As simple as these superstitious acts may seem, some people, of course, go above and beyond in completing these acts. Some women have climbed onto the statue of Noir and sat on his bulge while other have done the same to his face. This then led to the erection of a fence around the grave of Victor Noir by the French government in 2004. However, the women of Paris were up in arms and after several demonstrations, the fence was removed and Noir’s statue was fully accessible again. I find this to be the second injustice committed against Victor Noir.

While the superstition is done in good fun, I can’t help but think about how the world would feel if the same was done to the grave of a woman. If I were to have lived and died the same as Victor Noir and a post mortem statue of me was placed on my tomb, would my body become the same center of superstition as his has? Would the world stand by and laugh as men kissed my cold metal lips or rubbed themselves against my body? Or would the world decide that doing that was off limits since I am a woman? As much as society loves to sexualize the female body, it is oddly something that is still off limits. The female body is portrayed as sensual and voluptuous in paintings and the media and yet women all over the world need to remain pure and untouched. This double standard exists throughout the world but is the most prominent and hypocritical in cases of sexual assault. A woman gets raped and, while she still faces hardships and backlash, people still flock to her side to defend her. A man gets raped and he is mocked and laughed at. “What do you mean you got raped?” “Men can’t get raped!” “Oh c’mon man she’s super hot you’re telling me you didn’t like it?” “You were hard so that meant you liked it.” Where is the justice for these men? Where is the justice for Victor Noir? As I researched his life and saw images of women laughing as they touched an unconscious/ dead Victor Noir, I couldn’t help but think “If this body was alive, these women would be no better than the men they are told to fear.” Victor’s killer walks away innocent and he is sentenced to an eternity of women fondling him for some supposed good luck and fertility. Is that all he has been reduced to? Unfortunately for him, it seems the world has forgotten his story and wishes to only remember him as a statue that he never even saw in life. To me, Victor Noir will continue to be a victim for all eternity.

References:

“12 Janvier 1870.” 12 Janvier 1870 – Funrailles Tumultueuses De Victor Noir – Herodote.net, http://www.herodote.net/12_janvier_1870-evenement-18700112.php.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Victor Noir.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 July 2019, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Victor-Noir.

Corentin. “Au Cimetière Du Père Lachaise, La Tombe De Victor Noir Est L’objet D’une Tradition Mystérieuse Un Peu Obscène.” Buzzly, buzzly.fr/tombe-pere-lachaise-victor-noir.html.

Gray, Emma, and Emma Gray. “This Letter From The Stanford Sex Offender’s Dad Epitomizes Rape Culture.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 6 June 2016, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/brock-turner-dad-letter-is-rape-culture-in-a-nutshell_n_57555bace4b0ed593f14cb30.

Kaushik. “Victor Noir’s Mysterious Erection.” Amusing Planet, http://www.amusingplanet.com/2017/07/victor-noirs-mysterious-erection.html.

“Les Rites Sexuels Sur Le Gisant De Victor Noir.” Brèves D’Histoire, breves-histoire.fr/vestiges/tombe-victor-noir-pere-lachaise/.

Sanchez, Ray. “Stanford Rape Case: Inside the Court Documents.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 June 2016, edition.cnn.com/2016/06/10/us/stanford-rape-case-court-documents/index.html.

Ugc. “Erotic Erosion: The Recumbent Effigy of Victor Noir.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 29 Jan. 2013, http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/erotic-erosion-recumbent-effigy-victor-noir.

“Une Tradition Nécro-Érotique Sur La Tombe De Victor Noir.” Paris ZigZag | Insolite & Secret, http://www.pariszigzag.fr/secret/histoire-insolite-paris/legende-tombe-victor-noir.

“Victor Noir.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Noir.