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.



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:


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


“Capt Raymond J Hansen (1912-1944) – Find A Grave…” Find A Grave,

“Chaplain – Captain RAYMOND J. HANSEN (Photo Added).” Fallen Heroes of Normandy | Detail,

“Raymond J Hansen.” Honor States,

“Raymond J. Hansen.” Raymond J. Hansen | American Battle Monuments Commission,

Suedois50. “HANSEN Raymond J – 8 IR 4 ID.” Mémoire & Data,

Suedois50. “HANSEN Raymond J – 8 IR 4 ID.” Mémoire & Data,

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.


“12 Janvier 1870.” 12 Janvier 1870 – Funrailles Tumultueuses De Victor Noir –,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Victor Noir.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 July 2019,

Corentin. “Au Cimetière Du Père Lachaise, La Tombe De Victor Noir Est L’objet D’une Tradition Mystérieuse Un Peu Obscène.” Buzzly,

Gray, Emma, and Emma Gray. “This Letter From The Stanford Sex Offender’s Dad Epitomizes Rape Culture.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 6 June 2016,

Kaushik. “Victor Noir’s Mysterious Erection.” Amusing Planet,

“Les Rites Sexuels Sur Le Gisant De Victor Noir.” Brèves D’Histoire,

Sanchez, Ray. “Stanford Rape Case: Inside the Court Documents.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 June 2016,

Ugc. “Erotic Erosion: The Recumbent Effigy of Victor Noir.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 29 Jan. 2013,

“Une Tradition Nécro-Érotique Sur La Tombe De Victor Noir.” Paris ZigZag | Insolite & Secret,

“Victor Noir.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Nov. 2018,

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