"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

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Rouen, France: An Ode to Joan of Arc

Here, in the Old Marketplace of Rouen, Le Vieux Marche;

Today living and thriving, full of flowers and fountains,

Children laughing, dogs barking, tables stacked with regional specialties (that’s pressed duck in blood sauce and sheep’s knuckles to you),

Just a few steps from the old pagan clock, a fat medieval masterpiece,

Clicking its way through hours, weeks, moons, to the tune of purse vendors, glass hawkers, gold sellers,

Under leaning, creeping houses of sherbet colors, on a narrow street of wide cobblestones,

By the crumbling cathedral bombed by the Germans (or was it the Allies?)

It impressed old Claude anyway,

More moving for me, the Plague Cemetery,

With carvings deep in dark wood for “eternity,”

Of skulls, bones, shovels, coffins, and such,

The dance of the macabre (black cats would agree)

Yes, this was the best of Rouen for me; the Death,


Here in Le Vieux Marche, in 1431,

A young girl was burned and not by the sun,

But by the Church she believed in, she fought for and bled for,

She kicked out the English and united a France,

But she spoke straight to God and wore men’s pants!

So this warrior woman, just 19 years old,

Was auto-da-fe where tomatoes were sold.

Joan of Arc, you have my heart;

Your voices were your truth,

Coming from deep inside of you,

Your actions were true, and your death was a lie,

You’re a hero to France, and for you,

Rouen sighs.


Rouen is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Normandy, sitting on the banks of the Seine river just a couple of hours north of Paris by rail or car. The half-timber buildings overhanging the narrow streets create a village feel straight from the Middle Ages, and you find yourself looking around for peasants pulling carts and yelling “Bring out yer dead!” The Plague Cemetery is a thrilling example of a medieval ossuary, and the Astronomical Clock on the main street in Rouen has not stopped moving since 1389. The Cathedral of Rouen was studied by Claude Monet who painted the church at different times of day in order to capture the effect of light on perspective, long before the building was bombed out in the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. Joan of Arc, along with many other innocent human beings, was burned alive at the stake (auto-da-fe) in the middle of the Old Marketplace.

You can still see the remains of the rock wall which sheltered the market stall from the flames.