Lyon as Text
Vivre Libre ou Mourir
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU in Lyon, France on 07 July, 2022
Lyon is a city that sits comfortably at the convergence of two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône. Its geographically advantageous position amongst the rivers and mountains is what led to its founding as the capital of Gaul by the Romans, some 2,000 years ago. Unlike many cities established or governed by the Romans, Lyon (then Lugdunum) was a fully original city. That means the Romans did not conquer an existing settlement, but rather they erected an entire city by bending the natural landscape to their will. The Roman presence in the area is extremely integral to the identity and attitude of the city, as the classical ideals of the ancient world were thriving there long before catholic influence reached the area. This may be why such a rebellious spirit persists in the area, even today.
As the home of the first ever organized Laborer’s rebellion, Lyon is no stranger to being anti-authority. Silk workers who were being taken advantage of collectively organized and rose up in order to secure a more equitable arrangement in exchange for their skilled labor. Seeing a humble plaque in a still lived-in part of the city served as a reminder to me, that while history is important to study and understand, it is just as important to be constantly vigilant and ensure that the injustices and abuses of the past are recognized and acknowledged so that they do not repeat.
While a worker’s rebellion is impactful and important, another form of resistance materialized within the city limits of Lyon. During World War 2, after the French surrendered to Hitler, France was split into two parts – German occupied France to the North, and a puppet state known as “Vichy France.” Lyon, of course, was not going to stand for this, so naturally they became the main city for the French Resistance. The Resistance consisted of leftists and idealists who would not stand idly by as fascism ensnared all of Europe in its suffocating grip. We even visited a memorial dedicated to a Nazi-frequented cafe that the resistance fighters blew up without killing anyone, just so they could send a message to the Nazis. Resistance to authoritarianism is an integral part of a fair and free society, and the plethora of memorials to the French Resistance weighed heavily on my heart as I contemplated; what would I do? Would I be able to stand up as the French Resistance did? What lengths would I go to to ensure that fascism is stopped in its entirety? It’s so easy to sit here in this park as I write this text and tell myself that I would be a hero and stand up for those who cannot, but is it really that simple? When a hyper-industrialized army is staring down all who dissent, there isn’t much to be done except have faith in humanity’s ability to rise to the challenge, and hope that you yourself are able to do the same.
Izieu as Text
Forty-Four Mountain Flowers
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU in Izieu, France. 10 July, 2022.
Wild flowers of red and yellow
grow silently on the mountain top.
The icy peaks grasping the heavens
or in celebration
An idyllic scene lies ahead
A horrific truth lies within
On one side, hatred
On the other, love.
44 small mountain flowers
trapped in between
44 small mountain flowers
growing out of the concrete
44 mountain flowers
All with hopes and dreams
44 mountain flowers
plucked out like weeds.
This poem is dedicated to the 44 children who were arrested and taken from the Maison d’Izieu. The story of the house is a tragic one, but it is so important to ensure that we never stop telling it, lest we forget and allow it to happen again. Upon first glance, Maison d’Izieu seems like a quaint little house, tucked away high up in the mountains. The views on arrival are breathtaking, as you can see way out into the distance, over the mountains. If you were to simply drive past, you would be none the wiser as to what happened here. You would know nothing of the people who worked so hard to love these children, to give them everything and more as the world caved in around them. You would know nothing of the geography lessons that taught them about the world, or about the games they played when they were bored. And there is nothing more dangerous than not knowing. If you didn’t know about their lives, how could you possibly know about their deaths? How does one learn about Klaus Barbie, and how he had all these children arrested and killed?
It’s a tough subject of conversation, and it absolutely tore me up inside to see the children’s desks arranged in a classroom, waiting for students who would never sit down. Yet, it also filled me with hope. What happened to those children was an abomination from which all of humanity has a responsibility to learn about, but it is also a situation where we must learn from. We must learn to be like the teachers and staff of Maison d’Izieu, who sacrificed everything so that these kids could have some semblance of a normal childhood while, unbeknownst to the kids, their parents and countrymen were being dehumanized more each day. Izieu is a reminder to never lose your humanity, no matter how much you think you hate. Izieu is a teacher for us all, just as it housed teachers for those children. Some see the horrors of war when they visit Izieu, but I say Izieu is the one place where the war could never truly trample, because the love within those children, and the love felt for them was too great for even the hatred of the Nazis to overcome.
Paris as Text
You are God.
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU in Paris. 04 July, 2022.
“Everything happens for a reason.” A popular saying parroted by hundreds of millions of people across the world. I personally do not know where the saying originated from, but I do know that it helps many cut through the chaos and disorder, replacing it with stability and peace. What if, however, everything doesn’t happen for a reason? What if everything happens for no reason, and the driving force behind every triumph and tragedy originated from the heart and soul of another human being? The gothic churches of Paris stand as monuments to this worldview, even if they reach it in a roundabout way.
As a non-religious person, the first time I stepped foot into the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral, it was as though God himself stole the air from my lungs. I was speechless, and taken aback. I never realized that a piece of religious anything could evoke such pure, divine emotion in a human being, let alone myself. Suddenly, a realization passed through me. It wasn’t a divine presence I felt, not really. It was another human’s interpretation of a divine presence, or the closest thing that we could create to God on Earth. These churches, these slices of heavenly eden, were not zapped into existence with a bolt of lightning and an angelic choir. These monuments were erected through the blood sweat and tears of humans who felt so strongly about God and the Heavens, that it inspired them to build. Sure, some would argue that God placed that inspiration there for humanity to draw upon, but I can’t really agree with this view, as that would also mean that the cruelty and fear in the world was also placed there by God.
And what if he did? The Crusades were bloody conflicts based on the sole purpose of displaying the might of the Catholic Church and God himself. Kings would wave their hands and produce gothic monuments to scrape the heavens, but they would slaughter thousands for their God just as easily. In both cases, they think themselves to be fulfilling the word of God.
Versailles as Text
What’s a King to a God?
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Versailles. 03 July, 2022.
As all of France starved, King Louis built the grandest palace the world had ever known. Versailles is not just a place of government, or decadence. Versailles was a physical extension of King Louis XIV. He controlled every aspect of life from the formerly “humble” hunting grounds, to a degree that borders on insanity by today’s standards. In 1682, Louis decided that the center of not just the government, but of France itself would be relocated to the royal hunting lodge in Versailles, and the renovations began. Over time, Versailles expanded into the palace of opulence that we see today, and just to prove that he could control even nature itself, Louis built the crown jewel – his gardens. His gardens take a very calculated and geometric shape, with many plants and hedges arranged into sharp corners and straight lines. This gives the impression that Louis himself brought order and control to the chaotic randomness of nature. Still, while he could seemingly control even nature itself, he could not control the crops for food outside of Versailles.
Louis XIV was a great ruler, by the standards of kings and Gods, but he did inadvertently create the circumstances that would lead to the French Revolution. Maybe that makes him an even better ruler? Once Louis XIV was no longer king, the reverence for the French monarch slowly dwindled until Louis XVI. Louis XVI was not the God-amongst-men that Louis XIV was, so the isolated nature of Versailles was actually more harmful to the country’s political health.
I look forward to the future of my own country when visiting the grandeur of Versailles. Today, the United States experiences wealth inequality comparable to the levels of France just before the revolution, and a large base of conservative voters feel forgotten or left behind by the “coastal elite,” much like Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI abandoned the French people to party and gamble away the people’s money. It reminds me of the “pendulum” of political sentiment in France, swinging from radically progressive to violently regressive. The early semblances of such a phenomenon are already beginning to manifest in the US, as right-wing nationalists have emerged in droves in response to 8 years of a Democratic president in Barack Obama. The French revolution was a movement born out of a population that was cast aside and quite literally denied a seat at the table of politics, and we must always seek to learn from the past lest we repeat the mistakes of the Reign of Terror.
Normandy as Text
What are you willing to sacrifice?
By Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Omaha Beach on 26 July, 2022
Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? What steps have you taken to realize these goals, these dreams? Have you fought? Have you died?
Ollie W. Reed was born in 1896 to his parents, Orval and Mary Reed. He shared a home with 8 of his siblings, and his father was a humble farmer before getting a job with the post office. Ollie W. Reed was appointed to West Point, but he refused. Instead, he opted to study agriculture at the University of Kansas. It strikes me deeply to know that a man who wanted nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps, creating life and abundance for those who he loves, was instead subjected to the inhuman horrors of warfare.
In 1916, as the United States inched ever closer towards entering the war, Ollie, out of a sense of duty and obligation to his nation, enlisted with the National Guard. He was 24. Whether by providence or by luck, he survived the war and in 1919, Ollie W. Reed Jr was born. Due to his deployment in post-war Germany, Ollie W. Reed was not able to be present for the birth of his first son. He was, however, able to be there when his second son, Theodore, was born. Like his father before him, Ollie W. Reed Jr held a massive sense of respect for his dad. Ollie Sr. wanted to study agriculture like his dad, so naturally Ollie Jr. wanted to follow in his father’s military footsteps.
Unlike his father, Ollie Jr. attended and graduated from West Point, and he shortly after married his beloved, Laura. 2 years later, in 1944, Ollie Jr. and Laura would have a son, Ollie III. Ollie Jr’s regiment would be deployed in North Africa in April of 1944, just three months after the birth of his son. As Ollie Jr’s regiment made its way up the Italian peninsula, they were caught in a barrage of artillery fire. Ollie Jr, trying to usher his men to safety, was tragically struck by an artillery shell, killing him instantly. Ollie Jr died exactly one month after the D-Day landings at Normandy. He was 25 years old.
Ollie Sr died less than a month after his son, and just like with Ollie Jr’s birth, Ollie Sr could not be present for his son’s death. Ollie Sr was killed in a similar fashion to his son, felled by a volley of artillery fire at the Crossroads of Villebaudon. Despite the distance between them for Ollie Jr’s birth, and both of their deaths, they now rest peacefully, side by side at the Normandy American Cemetery, closer than ever before.
Many people think of death and sacrifice as a sad affair, especially when one dies in the inhumanity of warfare. Ollie Sr and Ollie Jr’s examples, however, fill me with hope. Both Ollies were humans, with deep dreams, desires, and passions. While it may seem grim that Ollie Jr died at 25, before either of his parents, it is also important to note that Ollie Jr loved the military. His first steps were taken aboard the transport ship, BUFFORD. He grew up surrounded by the military, and it was always his dream to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve his country. In addition to the military, he loved music, and would often play the piano or, once he got to West Point, the harmonica. He was the coach of a high school football team, and would often enjoy sports. The last picture he sent to his mother before his death was of him setting up a game of horseshoes for his company. He also especially loved his family, and decorating the christmas tree with them was one of his favorite ways to spend time with them. Ollie Sr himself was even a football coach, and he held many passions, hopes and dreams of his own.
The sacrifices they made for their country and countrymen was not out of glory, valor, or pride. Ollie W Reed and Ollie W Reed Jr fought and died out of love. Love for each other, love for their country, and love for all of us, to be here today speaking on their sacrifices, and what they mean to us. To me, their sacrifices were not about destroying the enemy, or an ambiguous entity that they hated. Their sacrifices were about the things they loved, and ensuring that those loves live on in the future.
“Love and Sacrifice, a Story from the Heart of America.” Legiontown, http://www.legiontown.org/ownwords/1703/love-and-sacrifice-story-heart-america.
Ollie W. Reed, http://www.dvrbs.com/ccwd-WW2/WW2-OllieWReed.htm.
Reed Ollie W., Jr.., https://www.uswarmemorials.org/html/people_details.php?PeopleID=1447.
Suedois50. “Reed Ollie Jr – 363 IR 91 ID.” REED Ollie Jr – 363 IR 91 ID, https://www.database-memoire.eu/prive/en-us/normandy-all-soldiers/64-colleville-r-us/561-reed-ollie-jr-363-ir-91-id-us.
Suedois50. “Reed Ollie W – 175 RI 29 Id.” REED Ollie W – 175 RI 29 ID, https://www.database-memoire.eu/prive/en-us/normandy-all-soldiers/64-colleville-r-us/559-reed-ollie-w-175-ri-29-id-us.
Pére Lachaise as Text
Remembering the dead.
By Jose Villavicencio of FIU. Pére Lachaise, 29th of July, 2022
Abelard was a medieval philosopher of great stature. Born into nobility, his pursuit of knowledge and the arts was so great, he relinquished all titles and claims to his inheritance and knighthood in order to focus on philosophy. Like the famous philosophers of the ancient era, Abelard sought to establish himself as a lecturer, recruiting his own students in order to further advance the field of human understanding and knowledge, all while pondering the delicate questions of existence on the mortal plane. He went on to do this in Melun first, and finally at Corbeil. During this period, he had a competitor who went by the name William of Champeaux, who also happened to be one of the main philosophers with whom Abelard studied in his youth. While it seems out of the ordinary that two philosophers would engage in any sort of competition, it was mainly a contest for students and reputation within Paris’s area of influence. Unfortunately, being a lecturer put great strain on Abelard’s health, and he returned to Brittany, where he was born. Since teaching had failed him, he became the scholar in residence for Notre Dame. It was at this point where Abelard became involved with Heloise.
Heloise was an exceptionally intelligent woman, thanks to her uncle providing her access to extremely refined tutors and educators of the time. Perhaps her intellect was one of the main reasons why Abelard, a man who renounced titles and land in the pursuit of knowledge, fancied her so. Regardless, Abelard had heard of Heloise, and requested that he be her teacher. Wanting nothing more than to nurture and support her education, Heloise’s uncle obliged, and they fell deeply in love shortly thereafter. After having a son named Astrolabe together, Abelard offered to marry Heloise in order to make up for his transgressions against Heloise’s uncle. Heloise was apprehensive of the marriage, despite loving Abelard with her whole heart. This was because she did not want their marriage to harm Abelard’s prospective career within the Catholic church. This is a common theme throughout their relationship, where Heloise often prioritizes the needs and desires of Abelard over her own, or that which society at the time deemed correct. For one reason or another, Heloise’s uncle betrayed his word and his niece by spreading the news of their marriage. In order to shield her from the fallout of this news getting out, Abelard arranged to have Heloise stay at a convent in Argenteuil, where she was raised. Heloise’s uncle took this as an intentional act of disrespect, and hired mercenaries who then snuck into Abelard’s room at night and castrated him.
Abelard’s situation, the castration and not being able to have a fruitful marriage with Heloise, tormented him. At what he describes as the lowest point in his life, Abelard seeks out religion and becomes a monk in the Abbey of Saint Denis. Living out the rest of his life through religion, he eventually rises to the rank of Abbot. Heloise, in her religious solitude, would achieve the rank of Abesse. Abelard and Heloise’s story is tragic, yet uplifting. They were not able to live out their days happily ever after, but back then, who was? All that can be hoped for in this life is to experience a love and a connection as deep and divine as these two did. The love letters they exchanged are, to this day, used as an example of a tragic love between two people that society deems unfit to be together. Heloise even blamed herself for their need to seclude themselves in religion, thinking she was the one who ruined Abelard’s career. Their pursuit of knowledge was a noble one, but their most human qualities were their love for each other, and their perseverance in making the situation work despite all the opposing forces working against them, both in their private life, and in the sphere of influence of the church.
Abelard and Heloise’s love inspires me greatly, and it also falls in line with their own behaviors early in life. Just as Abelard relinquished his titles and inheritance, he risked his career in philosophy in order to marry Heloise, and he paid for it willingly. To me, the greatest inspiration from their story comes from both their relentless desire to pursue what they love, and to protect it once they have it. Both Abelard and Heloise had certain views or did certain things in order to protect the reputation of the other. Sure, they also happened to be an extremely intellectually gifted power couple during the medieval era of philosophy, but their claim to fame is certainly their love for each other, and all the expressions of that love that have survived to this day. It is the quality they possess that I feel the most connected to, and the one I sympathize with the most.
I am not by any means a lover of authority, and I will always prioritize my desires and passions over the whims and wishes of an institutional power, so Abelard and Heloise are inspirational figures to me. Their flexibility is also something that I admire. Abelard was once forced to admit his servitude and belief in the Catholic church due to the fact that many of his philosophical writings had been deemed heretical. He, of course, did this begrudgingly, and yet later in his life he saw the value in the spirituality that religion brought. With that, he happily accepted religion into his life, and was able to use it as a guiding light that led him through some of his darkest times. Similarly, I am not a very religious person, however I enjoy immersing myself in the notion of religion, that we are all a part of something larger than ourselves. Whether it be a truly omnipotent God, or the infinite expanse of the universe, there is an underlying feeling of inspiration and isolation that propels the spirituality in religion, and that feeling is what leads to great men and women on this Earth. Just like Abelard and Heloise, I see the supreme value in harnessing the magnitude of these feelings – love and piety – and using them to inspire exceptional things.