Isabel Brime: France as text 2022

Paris as Text

“Paris, the City of Love” by Isabel Brime in Paris, France 14 July 2022 

Paris – Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

According to popular legend, Paris is the city of love. I imagined this statement to be related to the type of love that comes from romantic relationships or friendships, where you can stroll along the Seine River with your partner and share a crepe. However, my perception of Paris as the city of love is now not about kisses and holding hands, but of a different love instead. I saw a love for oneself, for others, for innovation, for God, and for nature. I can see love for oneself through Louis XIV. I see love for others through the revolutionaries willing to risk their own lives for others to be free. I saw love for innovation in the Eiffel tower. We saw love for God throughout the many different churches we visited. We saw love for nature through art nouveau works. Love is not just a feeling; it is a choice. It is a sacrifice, a commitment, a connection, and so much more. Paris has proved its name as the city of love. 

Louis XIV & The Carnavalet Museum – Taken &Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

Many people confuse self-love with narcissism, but I would say that you need a certain amount of self-love in your life. Louis XIV may be an extreme example, but it previews an extreme version of this love. Louis XIV said himself, “L’Etat, c’est moi.” There are statues of him all over Paris, not just in the palace of Versailles. Although he was not a perfect king, he did show a lot of confidence in himself. He wanted his face everywhere and even commissioned paintings of Roman and Greek gods, but with his face on them. He showed a selfish love, an inner sense of love and fidelity to himself. Although he might have exaggerated this love, he was the first to come to mind when thinking of this type of love.  

To contrast, the French revolutionaries showed the selfless love. They put their life on the line for the benefit of others. People were willing to die and not see the fruits of this revolution just so that the rest could live free. The Musee Carnavalet is a museum with the largest French Revolution collection. As we walked around and heard from our guide, I increasingly learned about different people who were influential in this time. So many of them had no fear to speak out “radical ideas,” some of them were even killed for expressing them. Georges Danton, for example, wanted to incite the people by famously saying, “Audacity, more audacity, always more audacity!” He was a leader and a warrior, risking his death, for the freedom of others. He ended up giving his life when he was guillotined in 1794.  

Innovation – Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

Another love very present in Paris is the love for innovation. We see this in the enlightenment, in the French revolution, and all throughout the pendulum. The Eiffel tower is namely the most famous landmark in Paris today, but in 1889 when it was unveiled, it caused quite a controversy. Some thought that it was an eyesore. Others thought it was an offensive structure because it was taller than a Church. The Eiffel Tower was not just a random structure placed in the city to stick out like an eye sore for no reason. It was an homage to the 100 years of the French Revolution, built as a monument to science. It is the symbol of love for innovation, featuring the name of male scientists. Just like all love, it is not a perfect one. Even though they pay homage to science, they leave out women. One step forward is better than staying stagnant. This love for innovation is highlighted by making a permanent innovative monument. The Eiffel Tower itself is innovative because it is made from raw iron metal, rather than stone like most buildings. It shows the love for the innovation of people and stands as a symbol that anyone can be innovative without fear. 

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur- Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

Although their intentions were not so pure, the churches were built as a place where individuals could love and worship God. It is a place of devotion, where you can express your religion and spirituality. One of the places I saw this love for God the most was in Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre. My mother and father got engaged at this basilica almost 22 years ago, so coming in I may have been biased, but I really did see the love that people have for their faith in my own eyes. The statue of St. Peter for example, had flowers at his feet. They had an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had about 20 offertory candles lit. The statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus also has many flower bouquets at her feet. Also, there is always a person inside the church praying 24/7. These gifts and sacrifices that people are offering show the devotion and love they have to their faith. People go out of their way to leave flowers and buy candles to light in thanksgiving or prayer. People can worship and show their love for God here, because it was a made to be a space where people can share their love and have a tangible place that they might be able to feel it back.  

Art Nouveau – Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

The last love I have seen around Paris is the love for nature. Paris is a city, so there is a lot of architecture, but nature in Paris is seen everywhere and it is very well taken care of. They have many parks open to the public and many choose to spend their afternoons here. The love for nature is shown by taking care of it and by having so many people visit these different green areas. The love for nature is even seen in the art nouveau movement. They love nature so much that they try to imitate it in art and in architecture. Most of the metro entrances are art nouveau, taking their inspiration from nature and insects. In the Carnavalet, they had a giant peacock art nouveau statue that is another attempt to create art based on nature.  

Love is not black and white. It does not have a cookie cutter single definition. Love is fluid. It is free to take and feel and choose and act. Love can be seen in many ways throughout Paris and the beauty of this love is that it can be seen in various places showing diverse types of it. If you are a religious person, you will find beauty in the churches and how they show love for their faith and God. If you find comfort in nature, you will find love in the greenery and flowers being kept by the bees. If you are more logical, you can find beauty in innovation and science. You can see the love for freedom and people through the sacrifices of the revolutionaries.  All you must do is search and connect to the type of love you relate to. If you seek love, you will be able to find it all over Paris, the city of love.  

References 

“Danton’s Statue – Parcours Révolution, Paris.” Parcours Révolution, https://parcoursrevolution.paris.fr/en/points-of-interest/87-danton-s-statue

Versailles as Text

For Just One Day” by Isabel Brime of FIU in Paris, France, 3, July, 2022.

The Palace of Versailles – Image Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

Walking into the grandeur palace, my mind couldn’t help but daze off and daydream that the gold-plated gate with a sun in the front will let me in to live like a king for just one day.

For just one day, I can roam all the halls
where the magnificent art covers all the walls
Where people will dance for the king in their best dresses
And I can pretend to let go of my stresses
There’s a large hall of mirrors where I can admire
Hoping in a palace like this I’ll retire

Wandering around, I struck the reality
That all this beauty is not what it seems to be
This palace is gold plated, not made of solid gold
There’s something hidden, like under a blindfold
It shows that these fancy mirrors may come with smoke
Because it all forms an illusion from this palace baroque

However, from this day on, I know the truth.
To uncover the tragedy, I’ll be like a sleuth
I am not just roaming gardens and fountains of beauty
I’m uncovering the lies from the king who’s a bit snooty
I am not just admiring the unnatural nature
I’m unveiling the lies from this selfish legislature

For just one day, I’ll leave aesthetics behind
I will not allow myself to be blind
To the efforts of the third estate
That were taxed and held up all the weight.

I can admire the beauty of the palace
But you cannot separate it from the malice.
These people worked hard and payed a lot
For a palace that sparkled, while they were left to rot

Gardens of Versailles – Image Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

The palace of Versailles is 2,550 acres ornate, baroque 2,300 room palace with gardens full of cut greenery and magnificent fountains. It was originally a royal hunting lodge, until Louis XIV decided to move the court from Paris to Versailles and make it into his main palace. Moving to Versailles would give him a place where he had more control of everything, because in Paris he was more at risk of being attacked by an uprising mob. In 1682 he decides to make the official move and tells the whole court that if they wanted to keep their titles, they had to move with him.

When building the castle, he made sure to make the path uphill, so that it can be seen from far and so that when people came to visit, they would have to go up to see him. He used ornate baroque architecture to show how incredible France was. When famous artist Bernini was hired to design the palace, he condescendingly agreed, which Louis XIV did not like, so instead he created the rococo architectural movement to show an even more ornate style to show that France has culture. Louis XIV wanted to be seen as the ultimate king, so he chose his room to be at the center of the palace where the sun hits, so it’s like he was the sun shining on everyone’s faces. He also wanted to portray himself as powerful, but also as the ultimate Catholic king, so he used Greek and roman mythology in art and sculptures to portray this without being blasphemous. He did not want to be blasphemous and call himself a god, but he expected to be worshiped like one, so the Greek and roman gods in the art in the palace have his face on them. The palace held prestigious events, parties, and celebrations. It was a massive palace that attempted to show how incredible France was. However, the incredible palace was controversial, because Louis XIV’s priority was his palace and gardens, while the third estate was left suffering.   

The people were taxed heavily and Louis XIV waged war, while they stayed hungry. He was a king trying to prove France’s legitimacy, but he didn’t focus on the French that weren’t in his court. This eventually led to the French Revolution when Louis XVI was king. The people had had enough. They were tired of the royal court being able to sit in luxury and enjoy lavish celebrations, so some women and men of Paris stormed the palace. To this day, the Palace of Versailles remains controversial. Louis XIV’s goal of making France look powerful and creating a culture was successful. His palace receives nearly 10 million visitors annually. But do the ends justify the means? What about the people who worked and saw no profits because they had to pay the king? What about the people who didn’t get to sit in the court or dance in a ball? What about those who paid for the palace, but didn’t get to even see it? Was it worth it? Is it worth putting it aside? Or can the beauty still be admired, yet also apprehended?

References 

“History.” Palace of Versailles, 11 July 2018, https://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history#louis-xiii-and-versailles1607-1638. 

“History.” Palace of Versailles, 11 July 2018, https://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history#the-reign-of-louisxiv1638-1715. 

“The Palace.” Palace of Versailles, 11 Oct. 2021, https://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/estate/palace#:~:text=Today%20the%20Palace%20contains%202%2C300%20rooms%20spread%20over%2063%2C154%20m.

Lyon as Text

“Into the Traboule” by Isabel Brime of FIU in Lyon, France 8 July 2022

Lyon’s Traboule architecture – Image Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

Lyon is a city of beauty, but much like the traboules, it has a secret passageway that leads to a deeper history. At first glance, the yellow stone architecture of Lyon may catch your eye and remind you of Italy, but if you open the secret door within the city, you will find a whole other world full of history. The most impressive thing about Lyon was not that it was the Roman Capital of Gaul or that its downtown is an UNESCO world site or even that its gelato is amazing. Rather, one of the most interesting things about Lyon is its role in World War II.

Located in Lyon is the Montluc prison, a prison used by the Gestapo to incarcerate resistance fighters and Jews during World War II. The Montluc prison holds 127 cells, so you would think they would only hold 127 prisoners, but they held about 350 prisoners at a time, even grouping up to ten people in the same small cell. There was no sense of guilt until proven innocence at the time. Out of about 10,000 prisoners only about 300 would even get a trial. Times were tough and uncertain. You did not know who to trust or who to run from. People were not arrested for committing a crime, they were arrested for not fitting the “Aryan” standard or for not thinking the same way. People were arrested for being Jewish or even having Jewish decent, even if they were not a practicing Jew. Many who did not agree would join the Resistance, like Denise Vernay-Jacob, the mother of Laurent Vernay, the owner of the hotel we stayed at, Hôtel des Célestins. Denise was arrested for joining the Resistance at 19 years old, where she would go on missions like recovering parachute equipment (Mémorial National de la Prison de Montluc). She was also Jewish but was able to hide her identity by being arrested on a different name, Denise Jacquier. Others, like Claude Bloch were not just held in Montluc, but also sent to the concentration camps.

The cells of Montluc and Claude Bloch looking at famous WWII movie posters – Image Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.0

Claude Bloch was forced to grow up quickly. While his friends were starting high school, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he was separated from his family. It was hard for me to hear Monsieur Bloch’s testimony while I had the privilege to be sitting down in a study abroad trip to France. Why was I lucky enough to experience the simple pleasures in life and enjoy a trip to Europe, while there are people like Claude Bloch who were tortured and robbed of a childhood? They tried to strip off their identities, but they failed. Claude Bloch is a living example of this. To this day, he wears his number stamp proudly to show that the Nazi’s efforts to dehumanize him did not work. They tried to turn him into a number, but he did not let them.

In front of me was a humble man telling us about the darkest time in his life. My problems felt so insignificant compared to his. How is it possible that we, as a human race, allowed that to happen? How could we allow the dehumanization of these innocent people? Monsieur Bloch’s story will not stop with me. I will carry over his story and share it with others to make sure that we never let it come to this again.

Lyon is an important city, because although it was a center of Nazi occupied forces, it is also the starting point of progression because the court of justice in Lyon held the first crimes against humanity case. It was the capital of French Resistance, and they were able to hold Klaus Barbie’s case in the city. Jail to a man that caused so much death and suffering is not the conclusion, but it is the beginning. The beginning points to make sure these crimes against humanity don’t happen again.

References

Bloche, Claude. 8 July, 2022, Centre D’histoire De La Resistance Et De La Deportation Lyon, France

Denise Vernay Jacob Agent de liaison des mouvements Unis de la Resistance a Lyon et en Haute-Savoie, nd, Mémorial National de la Prison de Montluc, Lyon, France. July 8, 20122.

Izieu as Text

“44” by Isabel Brime of FIU in Izieu, France 10 July 2022 

Maison d’Izieu – Image Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.o

44 children were arrested and killed for nothing. 

44 young children were robbed of the rest of their future.  

44 young, innocent children were taken away from their families and had to face atrocities.  

These 44 will not be forgotten. Their story will not go untold.  

Walking into a mountain of nature and beauty, you can see a couple of well-kept houses looking out into beautiful scenery. From the outside, it looks like a lovely home that radiates warmth. However, the second I walked inside, I felt my heart drop to my stomach. This was not just a random house that belonged to random people. It was a haven for Jewish children that were trying to escape persecution in World War II. This farmhouse acted as a summer camp refuge for Jewish parents to send their children. The refuge was supposed to be safe. Instead, 44 children and 7 teachers were arrested by order of Klaus Barbie.  

As I walked through the door and started to see portraits of the teachers, I felt a sense of hope. The hope that there were people kind enough to take stranger’s children and try to conserve their childhood. As we moved on to the table preserving children’s artwork and letters, I could not help but choke up. These kids knew of the horrors around them, and they showed it in their artwork. There were lots of violent cartoon images that revolved around the theme of death and murder. However, their letters showed peace. They sounded like normal children who were just thankful to be receiving socks or wishing their mom a Happy Mother’s Day. It made me uncomfortable to realize that this was their reality. They had to be away from their homes and loved ones just to be safe. Although I could not believe it at first, the children’s time at the house (before April 6, 1944) was full of happy memories where they could have fun and feel safe. The kids felt like they were in a summer camp and the teachers made sure to help the kids preserve the happy thoughts and memories. In an odd way, now knowing that the children enjoyed their time at Izieu before their arrest does not give me comfort. I find it hard to just outweigh the suffering and the good.  

The Children from the Maison d’Izieu – Image Taken & Edited by Isabel Brime CC by 4.o

Although the first floor of the house was hard to swallow, it was walking into the second floor that made my heart stop. I saw school desks perfectly preserved, waiting to be sat on. A clean chalkboard, waiting to be taught in. Today, they lay there in silence, where others can come and observe, but not touch. It belonged to the 44. It belonged to the children who were there to be protected and safe. I can hear the silence in the room as I feel the pain in all our hearts trying to process how something like this could happen. As I walk into the next room, it becomes real. They are not just numbers or statistics, they are kids. The story is now about 6-year-old Emilie Zuckerberg; 11-year-old Herman Tetelbaum; 13-year-old Max Tetelbaum; 5-year-old Claudine Halaunbrenner; and the rest of the children who were arrested that day.  

As I look at the portraits around me, I find it hard to imagine a 5-year-old little girl who misses her parents and is now being arrested by strange men who stormed into her haven. The kids were taken for questioning. Some of these kids were too young to understand, yet they were still arrested as if they were the most wanted criminals. Many of the children were immediately taken to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. These children were not a threat. They were not an obstacle. They were innocent. They should have been left alone. The story of their arrest is unfathomable. This should never have happened. It cannot happen again. These 44 children and 7 adults should have been able to live out their lives. It is not fair.  

Again, I feel this sense of guilt. Why is it that I was able to live past their ages? Why were they not allowed to graduate school? Why were they not allowed to hug their moms on Mother’s Day? It is not fair. I am grateful to be here, but I am conflicted. I wish I could have done something. I wish my voice were loud enough. I wish I could have protected the children from the terrors they faced. I am just one person, but I am sure not going to let that stop me. These children were arrested and murdered for no reason. Just because Klaus Barbie got life in prison, does not mean it is over. The war may have ended, but this war is about to begin. We will never let anything like this happen to anyone ever again.  

Normandy as Text

The Young Man from Berkshire” by Isabel Brime of FIU at Normandy, France 26 July 2022

Nelson M. Walker’s grave at the Normandy American Cemetery Taken by John W. Bailly CC by 4.0

A sporty young man from Berkshire County was ready to give up his life for others, enlisting in the army fresh out of high school. This young man had a successful career in the military fighting from World War I to World War II, eventually gaining the rank of Brigadier General. This young man was Nelson Macy, born on September 27, 1891, in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. He was an athlete at Pittsfield High School c/o 1911, part of the baseball team and track team. Very soon after when World War I was starting, he decided to join the army. He enlisted and was sent to Plattsburgh, New York for Officer’s Training Camp. In 1917, he was named Second Lieutenant of Infantry. He fought in the Argonne Forest in France and received a Purple Heart medal, awarded to those who were serving when they were wounded or killed, for being gassed and hospitalized. After the end of the war, Nelson decided to stay in the army, which led to him being promoted to Captain just a couple of years later. Soon after, there was a new war on the horizon, so many Americans started to enlist in the army and build up the military force. He was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and in 1942, just a year later, he was promoted to full Colonel. Soon after, less than a year later, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

As Brigadier General, he led soldiers with the winter training program and was involved in modernizing the technical and tactical training, which won him a Legion of Merit award in 1944. On February 15, he was then appointed Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division. When Nelson and the rest of the division landed at Normandy on July 4, 1944, they immediately went into combat operations in Hedgerow country against the germans. It got tougher as different infantry regiments suffered from different casualties. This happened to Company E (the 121st Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry division), so it was causing a hold up down the line. Brigadier General Nelson Walker approached the regimental headquarters and asked to go investigate to see if he could get the unit to move forward. His investigation led to finding out that Company E had been stuck for two days in the south of the main road between La Haye Du Puis and Carentan because of German fire. Brigadier General Nelson took a platoon with him through the hedgerows and arms fire, until they reached German automatic fire. Nelson was the first to get shot and six other wounded soldiers. Lieutenant Fry went to get help and brought back a stretcher to take BG General Walker to get medical attention. The bullet went through his right thigh and his hip socket. The bullet penetrated his pelvis, and eventually died about two hours after he was shot.

Image (left) by James E Pollard and the newspaper (right) CC by 4.0

On July 10, 1944, Nelson, Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division at the battle for the hedgerows, died at age 52, just after the D-Day landings. The 121st and 28th Regiment decided not to advance, which led them to be relieved of their duty because they failed to move further through the hedgerow faster. Because deaths of general officers require an official Army investigation, they got 2nd Lieutenant Perrin Walker, his son, to perform the investigation. For his sacrifice, Brigadier General Walker was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, which is the second highest US award that can be granted for valor. His selfless actions exemplified his bravery and devotion to the army and his willingness to give his life for others. 

Freshly out of high school, Nelson Walker enlisted in the army and was stationed in various posts all across the country.  His career in the military was long-lived, fighting in both World War I and World War II. Nelson Walker gave his life to the military, participating in Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne Offensives. He was awarded a Purple Heart Medal and a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts in the military. They even named a naval ship after him to honor his life. Today, Brigadier General Nelson Macy Walker is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Plot B, Row 23 Grave 47 (MID: 56651144).

I have always respected the admiration and glorification of the military, but I never understood it on a personal level, because I couldn’t relate to it. I don’t have family members who served or know people who are currently serving, so it was hard for me to make a connection with them. However, it does not take a genius to feel and understand the sacrifices that the troops make. Nelson had a whole life ahead of him to choose from and he chose to be selfless by enlisting in the army. He fought from War I to World War II and was recognized for his valor with different awards. It’s admirable to see someone so young make a decision so easily that could result in their death. Nelson was willing to fight for his country and what they believe in, embodying the sacrifice and efforts of the military for our lives. 

Nelson Walker was just a kid. He was a young man finding himself and he selflessly gave it up to protect and serve our country. His bravery may have been awarded already, but it’s certainly more than that. He didn’t just sacrifice his life for one war, rather he gave his life so that others after him could live a free, full life. This selflessness is admiring and makes me reflect on my own decisions. How many times have I made such a selfless action? I like to think that I would want to help others and fight for my rights, but what would I do in the actual moment? I couldn’t imagine going through brutal training to prepare for World War I, just right out of high school and then having to fight right away. I couldn’t imagine just getting out of that war only to go straight into another war. In World War II, he led his troops in the field, eventually getting shot first. He went down to help another unit, showing how he always thought of others before himself. I’m thankful for the sacrifice he made because, without it, we would not be able to be where we are today.

After Visiting the Normandy American Cemetery, my perspective changed. I was no longer researching a person for a project. I was connecting with the different people around us that helped fight and win the war. Thanks to them, we celebrate freedom today. 

Thank you, Brigadier General

Your courage is admired. 

You saved the lives of several, 

Leaving all of us inspired.

Worthy of the Purple Heart 

For leading the 8th infantry division,

ending the war, and doing your part.

For helping complete the vision, 

Putting your life on the line. 

For dying as a true hero, 

Because bravery you redefine.

References 

“Brig Gen Nelson Macy Walker (1891-1944) – Find a…” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56651144/nelson-macy-walker. 

“General Nelson M. Walker.” Naval History and Heritage Command, https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/g/general-nelson-m-walker.html. 

“Nelson Walker – Recipient.” The Hall of Valor Project, https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/33161.

“1st Battalion 22nd Infantry.” 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry the USNS General Nelson M. Walker, http://1-22infantry.org/history3/walker.htm. 

Père Lachaise as Text

Here lies a baroness, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a vampire?” ” by Isabel Brime of FIU in Paris, France 29 July 2022 

Young Elizaveta Alexandrovna, Baroness Stroganova (1776-1818), later Countess Demidova by Jean-Louis Voille CC by 4.0

As you walk into the French cemetery, you can see a massive grave peeking out across the cemetery with an ornately decorated mausoleum. Here you can find a Russian baroness laid to rest in Pere Lachaise. Her tomb is surrounded by mysticism and mystery and it matches the story that comes along with it. Pere Lachaise is the largest and most famous cemetery in Paris, where many who lived or died in the city are laid to rest. Elizaveta Alexandrovna Stroganova, although Russian, lies here since her death on April 8, 1818. Elizaveta was born a baroness to one of the richest aristocrat families of the 17th century. Her family had worked their way up from being Pomor peasants to being successful landowners and merchants to the point where Peter the Great gave the family the title of Baroness of the Russian Empire. By the time Elizaveta was born, the baroness was the heir to a wealthy industrial salt and fur trade. She was born in St.Petersburg on February 5, 1779. 

When Elizaveta was 16 years old, she married a Count from one of the richest families of the last Russian tsar, Nikolai Nikitich Demidov. Nikolai became a diplomat, so he and Elizabeta moved to Paris for his diplomatic service. She was a beautiful cheerful person, so she socially fit in very well. She really enjoyed living in Paris, but had to move outside of France, then to Italy, and back to Moscow because of her husband’s job and tensions between Russia and France. Nikolai and Elizabeta had four children together, but only two survived to adulthood, Pavel and Anatoly, but their marriage was unhappy due to differences in personalities so they separated in 1812 after Anatoly’s birth. Her son Anatoly became Prince of San-Donato when he married Napoleon’s niece, Mathilda. Both, Nikolay and Elizabeta, were Napoleon supporters, even spending several years in Italy to follow him. Eventually, Nikolay fought against Napoleon while serving the Russian Tsar, even though he greatly admired Napoleon. 

Paintings made by Robert Lefevre CC by 4.0

After separating from Nikolai, Elizabeta decided to return to Paris. Although not much is known about her life in Paris, it is known that she enjoyed living here and was very socially connected to the city of Paris and its people. Some have said she was even a salon holder.  6 years after her move back to Paris, Elizabeta died at age 39. The baroness had always loved the city of Paris and had made it her last wish to be buried there. Because she died while living in Paris, she was granted the opportunity to be buried at Pere Lachaise so she would be able to stay in Paris for all eternity. There is not much known about Elizabeta’s life, but her death has brought much attention. 

Elizabeta was originally buried in division 39 but changed to division 19, where she lies to this day in a marble mausoleum, one of the largest tombs in the cemetery, towering the cemetery at 32 feet tall. Her tomb is like a temple on a small hill that looks down over the living and the dead around it. The tomb was made with a strong, stable foundation and decorated with large columns and symbols that represent the Stroganodd and Demidoff families. Surprisingly, what makes her death so interesting to many is not her ornate tomb, but rather the secrets that lie within it. Rumor has it that before the Stoganova baroness died, she left a testament with a Parisian notary with a large fortune that anyone could claim – if they completed the challenge.

Any brave man who was willing to spend 365 days and 366 nights in the tomb with her was eligible to win a million dollars, about 2 million rubies. However, the challenge came with a list of difficult rules. Her coffin was not normal, just like her challenge was abnormal. Inside the tomb, all the walls and ceiling are covered in mirrors and she is said to lie right in the middle in a crystal coffin, so that from any angle, she could be seen. Spending 365 days forced to see her body at all times of the day may seem like enough of a challenge, but the baroness added more rules to make the challenge even harder. Those who dared to try the challenge were forbidden to communicate with anyone while participating. They were also not allowed to work or have any source of entertainment, the only exception was bringing a book to read. Someone was allowed to bring food once per day and bring a bucket that they could use as a bathroom. The only time they were allowed to leave was for an hour walk at night once the gates had been closed. Even with these restrictions, people from all over the world were interested in trying the challenge. Letters flooded the cemetery with interested individuals who wanted to try the challenge. Many tried, but nobody made it longer than a couple of weeks before begging to be let out or come out screaming. Some say that at the end of her days, she was starting to go mad, so she created the crazy challenge for her inheritance. To this day, the curator and cemetery officials refuse to comment and have now sealed the tomb so that nobody tries again.

Although I am not a baroness nor do I plan on leaving my inheritance for anyone willing to spend a year in my tomb as my body withers, I find myself relating to Elizabeta in a way. She thrived in social settings, so much so that she even moved back to Paris after her separation from her husband, Nikolai. She was a rich baroness who had it all, but she was still independent. I have a loving support system of family and friends, but I, too, am very independent. I enjoy being in social settings, where I can meet people and learn about different cultures, like Elizabeta did when moving to Paris from Rome. The Russian Baroness was independent and willing to do what she had to do to be happy. She moved to a different country, which is admiring to see women doing things for themselves. In the 1800s, women were expected to take care of the homes, so seeing a powerful woman like Elizabeta who left her home to pursue her personal desires, despite these norms, exemplifies how women today can do the same. She married into money, but also came from a rich family, so she could depend on herself financially. She did not have to live her life for a man or for a society that expected certain roles.  Although I do find myself interested in the supernatural, I don’t know how much I really believe in the rumors of the challenge. However, I like to imagine that they are. I like to imagine that this majestic baroness decided to leave a final little game as a her last act of “defiance” to society.

References

Castleton, David, and Chris Woodyard. “Baroness Demidoff – the Glass-Coffined ‘Vampire Princess’ of Père Lachaise Cemetery.” David Castleton, 8 June 2021, https://www.davidcastleton.net/baroness-demidoff-pere-lachaise-cemetery-paris-glass-coffin-vampire-russian-princess-will/. Accessed 23 July 2022.

“L’étrange légende du mausolée de la comtesse Demidoff.” Brèves d’Histoire, https://breves-histoire.fr/vestiges/mausolee-demidoff-strogonoff/. Accessed 22 July 2022.

Steves, Rick. “The Most Mystical Tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery – France Travel Info France Travel Info.” France Travel Info, https://www.france-travel-info.com/most-mystical-tomb-in-pere-lachaise/. Accessed 10 July 2022.

Beau, Oddie, director. The Mausoleum of Baroness Demidoff – a Portal of Nightmares. YouTube, ObsoleteOddity, 25 Apr. 2020, https://youtu.be/GMbv7n3CyXw. Accessed 4 July 2022. 

Author: Isabel Brime

Isabel Brime is a junior majoring in Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communications (PRAAC) at the Florida International University's Honors College. She hopes to pursue a career in travel or entertainment marketing. Coming from a Mexican background and culture, she was raised in a Spanish-speaking household along her two sisters. She loves to travel and add new adventures to her long list of hobbies: running, wakeboarding, paddle boarding, singing, writing, producing & editing videos, sewing and spending time with her family and friends.

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