Monthly Archives: April 2015

Hero of the American Revolution, Marquis de Lafayette

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LAFAYETTE and the HERMIONE

The Hermione, a replica of an 18th century Liberty frigate, set sail on April 16, 2015 from Port des Barques, France for a transatlantic crossing of 27 days and 3819 miles. It will arrive in Yorktown, Virginia to commemorate the historic voyage of the Marquis de Lafayette who sailed in 1780 to support George Washington and the American Revolution. Lafayette brought 5,150 men and 5 frigates as reinforcements and he had financed the whole enterprise himself. He was only 22 years old.

In Yorktown, Lafayette’s frigate took part in the blockade that led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army, helping to turn the tide of the American Revolution. Lafayette fought for the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and became an American general. He also became a symbol of the Franco-American Alliance and a part of the mythology of the United States. His motto was “Why Not.” Of the Hermione he said, “She sails like a bird.”

When he returned to France, Lafayette wanted to expand the rights and liberties of ordinary people but he was also a royalist and wanted to keep Louis XVI on the throne. Lafayette was a moderate who believed in an empowered nobility and a constitutional monarchy, but France was then moving towards radicalism. Lafayette was eventually relieved of his command of the French national militia and accused of treason. He was imprisoned for 5 years. In 1824, he made a triumphal return to the United States and was celebrated everywhere.
During World War I, when General Pershing’s aide, Charles Stanton arrived in Paris in 1917 he uttered the famous words: “Lafayette, nous voici.” (Here we are)

Lafayette died in 1834 at age 76 and President Jackson declared a national day of mourning.
There are at least 36 cities and numerous counties and other localities named for Lafayette in the United States but in France he is not as well remembered. There is a small “rue Lafayette” in Paris, but when people on that street were recently asked whether they knew who it was named for, most did not. One person guessed that it was perhaps for the founder of the Galeries Lafayette (a Parisian department store).

Lafayette is also the subject of a statue in New York’s Union Square Park by Frederic Bartholdi (the designer of the Statue of Liberty). He is buried in Paris at the Picpus Cemetery. The American Flag floats over his tomb.

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Castle and ramparts, medieval city. Carcassonne, France

Ever since the Bronze Age, people have banded together and erected barriers to protect themselves against invasion by dangerous “others.” This was especially true in Europe during the Middle Ages. Because of constant wars, dense population centers surrounded themselves with elaborate fortifications including walls, gates, observation towers and deep ditches. Some were built around castles. Others extended beyond citadels.

The Great Wall of China was erected for protection against the Mongols and other nomadic tribes. Hadrian’s Wall in northern England was meant to thwart barbarians and keep them from invading this outpost of the Roman Empire. These walls also served to collect customs fees.

Soon however, as cities expanded and flourished, the walls became an obstacle to commerce and contributed to isolation. They began to come down. Fortunately many have survived.

I have always been fascinated by the still existing walled towns and have tried to visit many of them in my travels.

Carcassonne, high on a hilltop in the center of France, is the largest former fortress in Europe. It is a medieval fortified town, restored in the 19th century. Its massive walls, dating from antiquity, encircle a gothic cathedral. There is also a castle complete with drawbridge. The view is superb everywhere you walk.

Saint Malo, a walled port city in Britany, was almost totally destroyed in 1944 by Americans. They believed a great number of Germans were hiding there (they weren’t). It too was completely rebuilt. You can walk on the cobbled streets of the ramparts and see the ocean on all sides. It is often grey and windy which adds to the overall somber effect. It is in Saint Malo that I have seen the highest and fastest tides in the world. Climbing to the top of the walls they seem to be propelled by giant forces.

Dubrovnik in Croatia was founded in the 7th century on a rocky island. Its thick creamy walls, turrets and towers are bathed in radiant sun. The vermillion rooftops, with views to the azure and glistening sea, give it the look of a jewel. You can walk and enjoy it for a long time.

Quebec City is the only walled city on the North American Continent. Its cobbled streets overlook the St. Lawrence seaway. A castle (Chateau Frontenac), cannons, churches and bell towers add to the fortress effect.

The Berlin Wall (1962-1989) was conceived as an anti- fascist bulwark meant to keep Western “fascists” from entering Eastern Germany and undermining its moral purity. Its real purpose, however, was to imprison the East Germans. It was to keep insiders inside.

It finally exploded from within in 1989, releasing all its prisoners. And the walls came tumbling down.