The first statue that got into my blood and rendered me anemic was Joan of Arc. I was 17 at the time and visiting France with an International Studies Program. My mother had convinced me that I was named after Joan of Arc. She said Joan’s real name was Jeanne, as that was the traditional French spelling. When I was a child and loved all things French like Madeline and Jean Marie books, French words like ohh la la and anything Parisian, my mother told me that when Joan was 14 years old, she led a revolution. Although I wondered about the “voices that spoke to her” and the “burned at the stake” business, I succumbed to the lure of Joan of Arc. She was a goddess and I was honored to have such a formidable namesake. Even though I read everything I could get my hands on, I wanted more. I wanted something that rang true.
I went to Europe as my right of passage high school trip. Orleans, a fantastic small French city, was our host for four of the ten weeks. Joan of Arc and Orleans have a reciprocal relationship. The residents adore her and she showers them with riches, mostly in the form of tourism. The first time I laid eyes on the monument, situated in a large square in the middle of the city, I was gob smacked. Joan of Arc was a child! How could I have missed that critical piece of information? There was no way a teenager could became a legendary soldier, responsible for the 14th century freedom march. Was there?
Sad to say, I left France with a nagging suspicion that there was much more to Joan of Arc’s story. But life got in the way, and I pushed her aside and dug into creating my own saga. Now that I’m retired and life has replaced my “have to do” list with a “want to do” list, I find Joan of Arc rising up in my in-box.
There are a few ways I can go with this project: write a non-fiction chapter book for middle schoolers; create a picture book for younger kids or compose an essay for a literary magazine. But the question about how Joan, at age 14, sparked a revolution, still haunts me. But as I think about high school kids of today, perhaps we already have young people tooting a revolutionary horn. There is Greta Thunberg making noise about environmentalism and the Parkland survivors sounding the gun control alarm.
Statues immortalize women who have made a difference. Without monuments, Joan of Arc would be flat and one-dimensional. Instead, she is a person of interest, one who has survived for centuries, chiseled in stone or etched in bronze, waiting for the future to uncover her.
Check back in a few months. See if I’ve made any progress with the excavation process.