The Genius of Saint Domingue

By Christopher Zoukis Fort de Joux. It’s also known as Chateau de Joux.  What it is – is a castle that was transfigured into a fort.  A kind of reinvention in today’s jargon, albeit a slow one. Its first incarnation was one of wood, in the 11th century.  It was a large building whose existence was […]

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Napoleon: A Life

A new biography of Napoleon is now available.  And it’s quite good!  Although it must be admitted that the author, Andrew Roberts, ‘likes’ Napoleon, unlike other biographers who write from the perspective that Napoleon was a blight upon Europe, an arrogant, ambitious and evil man.  Andrew Roberts presents Napoleon as a tactical military genius, who […]

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Death In Paradise

By Christopher Zoukis   Image courtesy

Death in paradise. 

In a nondescript cemetery, small yet serene, there’s a grave.  It was dug by a black woman named Defilee.  Plunging her shovel into the moist earth, she would scoop the dirt out.  But some always got by the blade of the shovel, so then she knelt, scraping and pushing the marbled dirt with her bare hands.  She began to sweat, some of it trickling into her eyes, stinging them.  She’d stop to wipe it away, using her wrist because of the dirt on her hands.  Still, dirt got in her eyes.  A vicious cycle:  dig, scrape, sweat, sting, wipe, dirt in eyes – repeat. 

When the hole was deep enough and wide enough and it had to be longer and wider than most to accommodate its intended inhabitant, she rolled the mutilated body into it.  Then covered it with the rich, black soil piled in a mound beside the hole.

No one says so, but I suspect she performed certain arcane religious rites before burying the body.  Vodou rites; perhaps she nailed a poppet and an old black leather shoe to a nearby tree, the little person (poppet) to act as a herald to the otherworld, the shoe to denote liberty and freedom since usually slaves went barefoot.  

Defilee then erected a simple marker and left.  Not a cross or a headstone, more likely she placed a group of white and gray stones in an oracular formation.

This is the real grave of Jean Jacques Dessalines. 

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Pere Lachaise

By Christopher Zoukis  Pere Lachaise

It covers 118 acres of prime land, which would be worth several fortunes to modern developers.  Just thinking about it must cause developers to drool.  I mean what a waste of prime real estate! 

Pere Lachaise it’s called.  Victor Hugo once said, “To be buried in Pere Lachaise is like having mahogany furniture.”

The oldest cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise opened for business in 1804.  And did so by royal command of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was responding to a national emergency:  a lack of new burial sites.  So many dead and so little room to bury them.

Indeed, the ‘no vacancy’ problem came to Napoleon’s attention when, the relics of corpses at Cimetiere des Innocents (a cemetery in Paris), as if rising up at the Rapture, shifted, literally breaking through the wall of an apartment complex in which resided the living.  Spewing corpses into the basement of the building, along with a mist of mephitic effluvium, which practically asphixiated the residents, the incident set off government legislation closing all Parisian cemeteries and churchyards to further burials.

Nicholas Frochot, the city planner, by some mysterious means, purchased 118 acres of land from Baron Desfontaines, land that had once upon a time belonged to Louis XIV’s confessor, Pere Lachaise. 

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