Revolutions? Wars? Dictatorship and Napoleon Bonaparte

ⓒGoya - El Tres de Mayo - Museo El Prado

The world has been going through crazy troubled times lately. Some dictators are defeated by their people quite quickly as we saw it happen in Tunisia and Egypt.

Other dictators fight hard and choose to kill their own people to remain in power. We do not know what will happen in the followings weeks maybe months from now.

I have been feeling quite distressed by all those revolutions and wars. The year of the Hare was supposed to be a good year, filled with peace, wasn’t it? That’s what our Chinese friends told us not too long ago, a few days before Mubarak resigned actually.

Now a little bit of weird thinking about what’s going on.

Can you imagine the day when crowds will stand in line in order to get close to the grave/tomb of Ben Ali (Tunisia) or Mubarak (Egypt) in the monument erected twenty years from now in their own country?

I think I’ll skip the list I had established while walking to Les Invalides...

You see, right now I am staying in Paris. Whenever I step outside, there it is, gilded and flamboyant: Les Invalides.

To make the story short, Les Invalides was built by one of our kings in the 1690s. It was to become a nursing home for old soldiers as well as a hospital for wounded soldiers. This is what Les Invalides still is nowadays, part of it anyway.

It is mainly known now as a monument which houses several museums, all of them about war.

It also is the burial site for several very famous military French ‘heroes’, including our long gone Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte whose ashes are kept in a rather impressive stone tomb.

Believe it or not, I had never been inside Les Invalides. I’m not too keen on wars, you see. Not too keen on Napoleon either.

Not any more ever since I grew up. When I was a teenager, there was this romantic cult about him. I still have to figure out why.

Then this morning, it hit me very hard and I’m still very upset.

While I was standing in line to buy a ticket, I noticed an inscription on the wall: «I wish my ashes to lie on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people I have loved so much.»

Who said that? Napoleon I.

Who was standing in line and buying tickets to get to see his tomb? Tens of people from all over the world. I heard a few French voices mingling with Spanish, Italian, British, etc. voices.

I thought that people forget very easily. I felt very sad for all the people who right now are fighting for freedom and human rights all over the world.

Does time heal wounds and make people forgetful of the truth? Do we need heroes this bad? And preferably heroes with power?

I love Madrid and whenever I’m there I go to El Prado (a very famous art museum). Once there I go straight to the Goya area. I know I will feel awful but I have to go there.

‘El Tres de Mayo’ is very impressive. The dying men are Spanish. The shooting squad is French. It happened in 1808 in Spain after some Spaniards rebelled against French military occupation. They attacked French soldiers with... knifes and forks and were very quickly defeated. The survivors were shot. All of them.

France was then ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, the very Napoleon whose ashes are now in Les Invalides.

Napoleon was one of the ruthless dictators France ever had.

Of course, there were many really freakish dictators after Napoleon. History is filled with their names.

Napoleon was a military man (quite brilliant). He managed to get hold of the power while quite young.

France was emerging from a very bloody revolution. It was quite easy for him to grab the power and very legally at first.

I’m not planning on writing a history course. The Wikipedia pages are quite satisfying. Help yourselves.

But I have to mention that while he was a young general, he suppressed a royalist rebellion (against the Revolution and its bloody leaders, butchering some fifteen hundred people in the streets of Paris in October 1795, in one day (13 Vendémiaire An IV).

Then he went to war again: Italy and Egypt.

He was becoming so famous and so hungry for power that he chose to abandon Egypt and came back to Paris just in time to overthrow the constitutional government. This happened in 1799. On the 18th Brumaire according to the so called Republican calendar (November 3.)

From then one, he was on his way to become the most powerful person in France, first as the ‘First Consul’ (securing his election to this position).

He resumed wars against France’s neighboring countries. He re-established slavery in France’s colonies. Slavery had been abolished during the Revolution.

Being ‘First Consul’ and Commander-in-Chief of a very powerful army wasn’t enough for him.

On December 2, in 1804, he recreated a hereditary ‘monarchy’ in France. He crowned himself  ‘Emperor Napoleon I’ in Paris, at Notre-Dame.

From then on, France became a warring and conquering nation. Napoleon would get rid of the kings of the defeated countries and replace them with members of his family or with high-ranking and trusted officers.

Rebellions were subdued in bloody repression. And the occupied countries were plundered.

To make the story short, Napoleon’s downfall started when he was defeated in Russia.

He started loosing battles against a very strong coalition (7 countries) and then one day, he was thorougly defeated and forced to abdicate unconditionally (without being able to do so in favor of his son which had been his plan). This happened in 1814.

He escaped the island where he had been exiled to and he came back to power for a short time (100 days). He lost everything at the Battle of Waterloo, on June 18, 1815.

He was then sent away for good to a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean, the Island of Saint Helena where he died, supposedly poisoned, in 1821.

His ashes were brought back to Paris in 1840 to Les Invalides, less than 20 years after his death.

Napoleon I’s story belongs to French history and is much more complicated.

I am not saying that he was totally, completely bad. He did great things for France which contributed to some kind of golden legend which survived throughout the centuries.

But he was a dictator, in those times - a tyrant even if he started with ending disorder in post-revolutionary France.

It has been proven that while he was ruling France and most of Europe, he can well be credited with the deaths of at least 1.000.000 men, women and children, a lot of them civilians. Plus around 500.000 soldiers in the French army.

A lot of people when you realize it happened in the early XIXth century when Europe was not extremely populated.

Does this mean that dictators have feelings? Feelings or delusions?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


A warm 'THANK YOU' to my readers from all over the world

ShadowArtist by Norman Rockwell - Courtesy SAAM

When I started blogging, I felt very scared. Blogging was very strange, oh so strange!

I have been keeping a ‘secret’ diary for quite a long time, off and on... which is what a diary is for. Some days are quite eventful and some are really boring.

Then I got caught in the new craze called the web! And the web created blogging.

Blogging is quite different from keeping a diary because you are no longer dealing with those nice notebooks that you keep hiding because, well because what you write in them is extremely personal and especially not history.

Blogging is to open one's life, one's ideas and feelings to the world, to unknown readers. Opening up and sharing.

I live a very quiet life. Some would laugh about me living a very quiet life... but for me, it is quiet enough besides a few unsavoury ‘encounters’ with cancer.

My only son is quite grown-up now and he’s living a very exciting life far away from us.

And yes, there is a ‘us’.

Those of you who are reading regularly my posts know that I love to call my better half ‘Popeye’! It’s not really fitting except when Spring and Summer come and we put our boat back to sea...

Popeye is a workaholic seasoned world traveller. (Among other things.)

Even though I like to be ‘Olive Oyl’, my name should be ‘Penelope’.

Yes, ‘Penelope’ as in the Odyssey. Except for two points: I do not have 108 suitors waiting on my doorstep while Popeye/Ulysses is away and I do not weave a burial shroud for whoever it may be and especially not for myself.

Oh, and yes, there is a third point: I’m no longer young. And I never was extremely beautiful. And I’m sure I could still find hundreds of other points.

So I became a storyteller. ‘The Storyteller’ like so many other people.

I’ve always loved to tell stories. I’m known as being very imaginative. Maybe too much, my men would add.

But I love to make up stories... which I do best as a photographer. (Incidentally my professional website should be on line pretty soon. I’ll keep you informed. Then you’ll understand fully what I mean.)

So back to storytelling. Back to ‘The Storyteller’ and ‘Mammodouy’s Stories’.

When I was growing up in a very small village in Southern France, there was no television. (Yes, I am this old or/and I spent a lot of time in a very backward area. Your choice.) At night, families and friends would gather and... tell stories.

My Bon-Papa Mathieu was an extraordinary storyteller. I still remember most of his stories.

Teen years. My friends and my cousins loved to take long walks at night around the village. Sometimes we sat in the graveyard. We were always telling stories just for fun . Some were true. Some were pure fiction.

I remember that we played a game. One of us would start with a sentence which someone else would end. Another sentence would follow and so on. Some stories were great. Some were quickly abandoned and then we’d end up making up the world that would be ours someday. (I know this kind of storytelling happens in ‘Little Women’. Let me imagine we invented the game.)

All of us being more literary persons, we never talked about science. And so we never realized that our world would be changing very quickly, much faster that it ever did for our parents and grandparents.

When our Swee’ Pea was a child, we just about ruined his social life. You see, we had those weird ideas about books and stories and no tv. From time to time now, he’s been complaining about being the only kid at school not to know what was going on the after school tv programs for kids.

Well, since we can’t go back in time (and since we’d probably still be very intent on ruining his social life), let’s say that we told him lots of stories (I mostly did but Popeye was very good at telling stories in the middle of the night too, especially crocodile stories.)

Some were from books and some were made up.

I loved so much to tell stories that when our son started to go to elementary school, I even invaded his world! With stories again.

His school was extremely opened to parents with good will. A lot of kids were coming from broken homes. Some were refugees (boat people mainly at the time, with life stories so horrifying that some children had literally quit talking).

I volunteered to... guess what? I volunteered to spend one afternoon a week at school to tell stories to those kids because after a lot of brainstorming, it became obvious that storytelling would bring some of these kids back to a much better life. Great stories can heal and protect.

The headmistress and the teachers questioned me a lot about my project. I passed and this was one of my most impressive and humbling experiences. In the beginning, it was hard to tell stories to children so quiet and withdrawn, some with a limited knowledge of French. Then most of them started to look at me. By the end of the year, all of them were there, really there.

I remember that I did not dare to use my own stories. I’ll be forever thankful to Kipling and his story about ‘The Cat who walked by himself’. This one was brilliant. The kids loved it so much...

There I am, rambling and rambling. Yes, I know, I am telling you the story about the stories I used to tell the kids who never were told stories and whose life was not to be talked about. (No story there.)

Back to you, my dear readers... because yes, you are my dear readers. I know some of you, of course.

But since Blogger added stats, and I discovered them... I’m flabbergasted. Really. Some of you live in very faraway places. The wonders of the web! And you read my blogs. Again and again.

Even though I know that in some countries, it is very hard to have access to Blogger. Obviously most of you found a way because you keep coming back.

Whenever I 'check' my stats, I get very excited about the unknown reader from... who’s reading my blog at the very minute I’m getting ready to post a story.

I don’t know most of you and I never will, probably. You very rarely leave a comment even though I’d be delighted to hear from you. When I talk about «hearing from you», it does not mean «getting praises». It means 'feed back', 'sharing'...

The mere fact that you keep on reading my stories is one of the most wonderful events in my life!

To me, you are like candles lit on my path, my storytelling path.

I know, I should have come up with something less corny but I feel so sentimental tonight.

*Good Luck, and Good Night* and *Thank You* - *Merci Beaucoup*


He was black. He was handsome and sleek. He was our cat.

We are heartbroken. Our gallant cat, Byerly, lost his last battle on Friday night.

We knew he wasn't feeling well but the end came much faster than we expected.

Two DVTs and we decided enough was enough. We loved him too much to see him suffer so much.

He died peacefully while we were petting him and talking to him. The young vet who put him to sleep had no idea who she was meeting for the first and last time. We wish she had but she was very kind and nice anyway.

I don't want to sound too emotional but I hope there is some kind of heaven for cats and dogs where Byerly will enjoy fooling around forever with Branwen, his mother dog and Sara, his birdbrained white 'sister' cat. And even more, I hope he'll get to be a sheepcat forever because this really was his life.

Of course, we are having him cremated and we'll scatter his ashes in his favourite field at Les Tertres.

He was brilliant and lovable. We loved him so much. We'll just have to try to forget his last few miserable months. Then one day, we'll only remember the handsome and sleek black cat whom we belonged to.

*Good Luck and Good Night*