Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Solemn Piece of History . . .

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I make no claims to being a historian, unlike my maternal grandfather, Ralph Volney Harlow, who was Chairman of the History department at Syracuse University for quite some years and the author of several volumes of American History, such as The United States : From Wilderness to World Power. As I'm not a historian by profession, I shall remain brief here, and let the photographs speak for themselves. The history can be found in any number of good books.
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But before we get to the photos, let me ask you a question. Do you know where General Lafayette is buried ? Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette, who provided considerable aid to the cause of the American Revolution ?
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Some of you erudite readers may know, but I can honestly admit that I did not know where this august person was buried until two weeks ago, when on an excursion into Paris to meet Virginia of Paris Through My Lens, her friend Mary suggested I try to visit La Fayette's burial place. As I had no idea where it was, she explained to me that he is buried in the Picpus Cemetery, a tiny graveyard very close to la Place de la Nation on the east side of Paris. The entrance is a barely marked door in a wall on the rue Picpus.
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The reason, I learned by reading the plaques on the cemetery wall, that La Fayette is buried there, is that his wife, Madame de Noailles, wanted to be buried there alongside her grandmother, her mother, and her sister, who were all guillotined in 1794 at la Place de la Nation. Not far from La Fayette's grave is a mass grave for approximately 1300 other people who also lost their heads in June and July 1794 during la Terreur.
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For some reason this sad soot-stained and damaged cupid or cherub spoke to me from his place on a wall there. "The horror, the horror", he whispered.
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Near the entrance to the site there is a chapel, on the interior walls of which are carved the names of the 1300 guillotine victims who are buried there.
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In the gardens between the chapel and the graveyard proper, this doorway to nowhere stands, a ghost from the past. I walked through it to see if it might transport me to another time and place, but it did not . . .
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La Fayette's tomb, he died in May, 1834, long after the Terror was over . . .
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A father and son who died for their country . . .
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The crest on a mausoleum belonging to the Montmorency family . . .
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A faceless queen gazing back into the depths of the past . . .
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A princess who died young . . .
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And finally, an ancient king, gazing out across the universe, into an imponderable future. . .
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45 comments:

Laurie said...

A great series of images, Owen. I particularly liked the Door to Nowhere. I wonder if there is any connection to the old saying, 'passing through to the other side'? The big question is: Did you step through the doorway?
Laurie

lgsquirrel said...

Thanks for the excellent post and history lesson which is so perfectly timed with 4th of July round the corner. I do enjoy these small cemeteries.

Steve said...

I'm amazed at how emotive the face of the cherub is... such strong emotion from such a weathered piece of sculpture.

.:: Karine ::. said...

mon owen adoré, tu es un vrai conteur d'histoire et un magnifique photographe !

je suis venue te dire que je m'en vais ... pour quelques temps seulement :-)
je reviendrai avec des souvenirs, du bonheur plein la tête et des photos of course :-)

en attendant je te bise sur tes deux joues

pRiyA said...

This is a great set of images Owen. I especially like the haunting face of the cherub and the austerity of the clean lines in the chapel picture.
The story that you tell us though is horrifying.

mythopolis said...

Your posts are always such a fascinating mix of art, history, life, death, reflections....thanks....

Nevine said...

An amazing post, Owen... as always. I feel I am repeating myself. But I'm sure you want to know when your post is irresistible. The photos have their own touch of solemnity... not to mention the content, of course. And a magnificent way to begin the post... with the photo of that angel... who was sitting on my shoulder through the journey. What can I say? I love cemeteries...

Nevine

Life with Kaishon said...

Your pictures are beautiful Owen. Just lovely! I am so glad Techno babe mentioned you today so I could come to visit. I have a thing for pictures : )

the fly in the web said...

I was interested in the memorial of the ADC to Charles X...who was also a Grandee of Spain..
Beautiful photographs.
Have you come across the replica of the frigate 'Hermione' which bore Lafayette to America?
It was being built down at Rochefort and I don't think it is finished yet, but if you're down that way sometime, you might like to take a look.

TechnoBabe said...

Hi Owen, I really love the photo of what is left of a doorway. It must be ancient. Of course La Fayette's tomb is true history. The father and son tomb touched me deeply.

...louciao... said...

Beautiful tones, textures, erosion and framing on the photos of the statuary, to say nothing of the symbolism of same. Rich on their own, no need to play with them in Photoshop...but I would be sooooooo tempted to do so, so please do not tempt me, I beg of you, else I should surely lose my head; my recent blanc de mémoire is quite enough to have to deal with.

So when is that carnivorous zebra going to appear in the magic lantern viewfinder?

Amy said...

This a wonderful post. The images speak just as much as your words. The textures and tones are gorgeous. The faceless queen and the king especially seem to speak volumes. I'm glad you wandered along this path.

Owen said...

Hi Laurie,
I did indeed step through the doorway, with some trepidation, not knowing if I'd be able to return... but finally nothing happened...

Maybe next time, I probably just wasn't concentrating hard enough...
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Amy,
You slipped in here just as I was starting to answer at the top... perfect timing. Thank you so much, I particularly like the king and the queen photos here, those figures spoke volumes and volumes to me.

And it just came to me this instant, there is a piece of music which could accompany the queen here, I think, very nicely... if you have a second, do give this a try, let me know what you think...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt0sXRBLfJM

Suzanne Vega...

Owen said...

Hey King of the Squirrels,
I didn't really plan it to tie into the 4th of July, but that is good timing I guess... but also it comes right in the midst of the anniversary of all those people going to their graves in June and July 200 some years ago, in Paris... very hard to imagine. So much blood has flowed throughout human history.

Is that inevitable ???

I wonder if we can escape that ?

Owen said...

Hi Steve, I stood mesmerized in communion with the cherub there for some long minutes... hard to comprehend that a bit of chiseled stone can, even while now decaying, evoke such emotions... that is the sign of fine art I think...

Owen said...

Karine !
There you are... :-)

And there you go... :-(

But you'll be back... :-)

J'espère que tu passes d'excellentes vacances, si c'est le cas, un bon voyage en tout cas, et que tu reviens vite avec plein, plein, plein de bonnes choses à nous montrer et nous raconter.

De grands bisoux de nous tous à vous tous...

Et un tout petit calin pour Carat !

Owen said...

All, I'll be back just as soon as I can, but for now, I'm off to roam with the sandman in the realm of dreams for a few hours...

Thanks for all your visits here... Mr Toad is croaking with pleasure...
:-)

Alberto Oliver said...

Wow, creepy, what a feeling when visiting a cemetery,, like that all concepts of time and centuries had suddenly felt down to pieces, like we all were living in the same space, the same instant. I really loved the face of that stone staring king, like watching all of his glory vanishing as sand swept by the wind. Yes, cemeteries, the only places where it really rules equality among humans, or what remains of them.

A brilliant post Owen, and BTW, the pic in my blog was achieved using a technique known as HDR. =)
Regards

Eleonora said...

Another amazing set, Owen. Love the grainy stone texture, I can almost feel its coarsness under my fingertips.

Ciao
Eleonora
Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino.com
<a href="http://romatuttigg.blogspot.com”>Roma Every Day</a>

Roxana said...

your posts are far more interesting than history books (which i rarely read).
indeed, "the horror, the horror" - it's what i feel when i open a history book and it seems that humankind hasn't learned anything over the years... the first picture is perfect to illustrate this thought, indeed - ominous!

the name of Noailles is quite famous in Romania, thanks to a poet and writer, Anna de Noailles, who is in fact Romanian, did you know?

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_de_Noailles

MadAboutParis said...

Oh Owen, I'm so pleased to see your post with "your" take on Picpus Cemetery and I hope that it will inspire more visitors. As I wrote to you, Sunday will be particularly interesting IF they have this ceremony every year:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2wlALvJNdQ
Your grandfather would be very impressed with your blog.
Cemetery Lovers Unite!
Bon weekend...

Owen said...

Prya, I guess alot of human history is fairly horrifying... but we are part of it, cannot escape it, it's in our genes, in our collective memory. Can we do better in the future ?

I hope so, but I'm not at all sure...

Namaste

Owen said...

Hey Mythopolis... trying to mix things up a little here... but in any case, a pleasure to have visitors such as yourself, with a wealth of wisdom to share...

Take care, and happy 4th...

Owen said...

Dear Nevine,
I suppose there is much that is repetition in life, rituals and rites, renewal... when we are in a couple, how do we maintain the freshness and originality despite the repetitive nature of daily life... and when we meet friends at a pub or something, same people same place, yet we find new things to chat and chatter on about; I guess what I'm thinking is, not to worry, you can repeat yourself here as much as you like, I don't think it will ever get old or stale or I tired of your visits. And if you love cemeteries, I've many many more cemetery visits to relate in the future, though that subject is far from being the only theme that interests me; just one of many, but I do find them almost always incredible sources of inspiration.

Take care Nevine...

Owen said...

Hi Life,
Many thanks for stopping in here and leaving a trace of your passage, am always very happy to see new visitors, and realize that this obscure little blog is still spreading its ripples through the blogosphere, although to where, I couldn't say... and if you enjoyed these photos, then I'm doubly pleased...

Owen said...

Dear Fly,
The mausoleum of La Rouchefoucauld family was covered with fascinating inscriptions. I would highly recommend a visit to Picpus if you're in Paris with a spare hour or two one day. I'm not familiar with the "Hermione" project, will have to look into that. How brave people were back then, sailing off across vast oceans in fragile wooden ships...

Owen said...

Hi Techno,
I think that doorway with no wall around it was fairly old, but how old ? Couldn't say. And I can only thank you again profoundly for your tremendously kind words over at your place around the TV photo...

Owen said...

Dear Lynne,
In how many ways shall I try then not to tempt you then ??? Just don't look again at the faceless queen and nameless king, and certainly don't think of the hypnotic images you could create by setting them asail, floating in a sea of foggy mists, tendrils of soft colors weaving a tapestry around their noble presence, no, don't think of it, it shall be absolutely forbidden... well, maybe you could just dream of it for a moment, but then shut the door again of that particular cupboard... until the next time you open it for a few seconds of stolen dreamtime... no, don't give in to those impulses of yours to modify the world of images around you to transform into even more profound works of art... go make a cup of tea or something, anything, just don't imagine what could be done with the king and the queen...

Ahhh, this could go on for a while...
:-)

And the zebra, yes, the zebra biting the boy ... am going to have to prepare those images for publication here, maybe this weekend... though I'm working Saturday, so maybe Sunday... I see you haven't forgotten about him...

Yes, that is a good thing to think about, instead of the king and the queen there...
;-)

Owen said...

Hi Amy,
It was a long series of coincidences which led me to visit this place, and I'm very glad it worked out that way, it was a total surprise to find this hidden gem in Paris, after all these years around here and never having heard of it... so much to discover still out there !

Owen said...

Alberto,
"Sand swept by the wind"... we too shall pass that way one day... and you are right, time seems to stop in such places, and we sense the interconnectedness of it all, our ancestors, our descendants, the here and now. Thank you my friend...

Owen said...

Hi Eleonora, or may I still call you Lola ? In any case, I like them both. And about the stone, the textures were lovely, and I was very tempted to touch them; but it was clear the sandstone was very fragile, I didn't want to contribute to further erosion. So I settled, like you here, for just imagining the coarse feel of these stones... these solemn stones...

Owen said...

Dearest Roxana,
Without opening a history book here, you slyly slipped in a history lesson, so of course I went off to see who this Anna de Noailles of Romanian birth might be, and ended up reading the article about her, and then another one about the Noailles family in France, Ducs and Duchesses... So I suppose the Mathieu de Noailles who Anna married would be a descendant of the ancestors of Lafayette's wife, though I gather it is a large and fairly convoluted family tree... bears further looking into, by serious historians. Will have to track down some of Anna's writings, to see why she was such a luminous presence in Paris. Apparently many famous intelligentsia haunted her salon...

So, the question is : Can the human race evolve away from violence and politically oriented mayhem ? I wonder...

Be well, oh walker in the clouds...

Owen said...

Hi Mary !
Ah, so you even have a Blogger profile, so you are not too far away from having a blog ? Would love to see some pictures of the cemetery you work with...

In any case, thanks for this lovely note... I wish my grandparents could have seen the blog, and I wish they could have had blogs of their own to leave for us, full of reflections about their lives. But for me, all four are gone now. I never knew my maternal grandfather, he died before I was born. Maybe someday I'll be able to read some of his books, and perhaps know him a little better that way...

Many thanks for the video link, I just watched it this evening, and glad to see it, because I think it's a private ceremony, not open to the public.

And glad you liked my "take" on it. I guess if you sent in a few dozen other photographers there, each would have their own vision, each would be touched by different details... photography is a very personal art finally.

All best wishes to you for a great 4th of July weekend... which we might not be celebrating were it not for the help Lafayette brought at a critical time...

Amy said...

I will never turn down Suzanne Vega. It goes along with the images wonderfully.

mythopolis said...

So, the question is : Can the human race evolve away from violence and politically oriented mayhem ? I wonder...

A heavy subject to lay on the table. Damn! I was wanting to just dote on the past, and watch tv.. " Hell, no!", is what comes to mind. I would venture our species may have three to five hundred years. If, we don't get our shit together by then, we are history. And history, in the big sense of the likes of us, doesn't give a shit that we came and went.

James said...

Hi Owen. I've been planning on going to Lafayette's tomb next time I'm in Paris but for some reason I thought it was in the left bank. Thanks for the heads up!

Owen said...

Amy, ah, excellent... (smiling)


Mythop,
Sorry to have put a fly in the soup as it were... and I agree with you, although it may be less than 300 to 500... and agree even more with the last sentence... you sound just like my brother-in-law, who is a paleontologist... and reasons in geologic time...

Virginia said...

Dear Owen,
My next visit I hope you will take me to this special place. Maybe Mary or even Peter will be able to join us. Your photographs are the perfect compliment to your narratives as always. Again, it was so good to finally meet you in Paris, the city j'adore!
xx
v

Deborah said...

Owen, I share your fascination with old cemeteries. The father/son headstone was sad - one can only imagine the year of mourning before the father died too.

I like following you around on your travels. You never have to get on a plane or even change countries, but have a knack for finding what's right under your nose.

Owen said...

James,
Do give a shout if you're ever planning on getting back over here... Lafayette's tomb is well worth a visit, and it would be great to meet you... the man of many reflections...

Owen said...

Hi Virginia,
With pleasure, with pleasure, I'm so happy that Mary told me about the place. Guess they did the annual flag changing ceremony this morning, for which Mary found a video on YouTube... a real respect for history demonstrated there...

Owen said...

Hi Deborah,
Although I love to get on planes to go discover the world, I'm also conscious of that old story about having a diamond mine in one's own backyard... if one can only see it... many thanks !

Clytie said...

Wow. All of the unanswered questions ... all of the unknowable past events ... we can only wonder ... and try to prevent ourselves from repeating past mistakes. Which, of course, is not possible. If we don't know the history of those mistakes.

I have to say the cherub, grimy face, flaking stone and all ... brought a soberness to my day. Not a bad thing, mind you. Just made me sit and think for a while ...

alwaysinthebackrow said...

I have always found old cemeteries to be fascinating and depressing in equal parts. The images you included are fascinating, especially those of the cherubs and the now faceless king and princess. Time and death equalize all of us.