Saturday, 2 June 2007
After Royalty (I)
Outside the Basilica of St.Denis there’s a building site followed by a shopping mall, and in the hinterland betwixt young guys skateboard for most of the day. For centuries, from the 10th century until the French Revolution, this was where French Kings of France and their families were buried.
Thus it was a significant place for the “revolution”. In 1789 the royal tombs were opened by workers, the bodies removed and disposed of in two nearby pits. The deposed King at the time of the revolution, Louis XVI, and his wife Marie Antoniette weren’t buried there at all.
Jean is nineteen, his parents are from Senegal. They came to France in the 1980s. He wanted to be a footballer, was good, very good, had “matches” with a professional team, though he doesn’t say which. He comes here most days to the mall, his mother lives in one of the nearby blocks on the way to the university. His friends come here as well, there’s stuff to discuss.
After the revolution, and then Napoleon’s rule and his first exile to Elba, the French Royalty returned to power, for a while. Searches were made for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette: what was found was a few remains, a bones (pre DNA) that were possibly the king's, and some gray material, part of a lady's garter. All were added to the crypt at St Denis, and the bones of the old Kings brought back.
Jean wants to get on a course for IT, computers – he’s good at games. But its expensive, and he doesn’t have a job. There are ways to make money, but – you know – it’s difficult.
Viollet-Le-Duc the architect who was famous for his restoration work at Notre Dame also worked on the Basilica. These days it is still a tourist attraction, but for the specialist, not the generalist.
If he could Jean would like to live in America, not the centre of Paris. They don’t have the same problems with immigrants, he says. Walk two hundred metres from the Basilica and in the rows of housing blocks there are thousands like Jean, he says. They just want their chance.