Friday, March 26, 2010

Joan of Arc: Clear Minded?

I think part of the reason that women in particular adore Joan of Arc is that she said what she meant and did what she said she was going to do; without being too snarky and stereotypical and retro, it's true that women don't always speak their mind as truthfully as we should or want to. (Okay, maybe I'm just speaking for myself, Miz Avoid Conflict At All Costs!). This week marks the anniversary (March 22, 1429) of Joan's first letter to the English, which she dictated in a voice so strong and clear that it is one of many indications that perhaps Joan's mind was more focussed than some have assumed--and enviable at that!

Hand over to the Maiden,who is sent here by God the King of Heaven, the keys to all the towns which you have taken and violated in France. She has come here in the name of God to support the Royal family. She is quite prepared to make peace, if you are willing to do right, so long as you give up France and make amends for occupying it. And you, archers, soldiers both noble and otherwise,who are around the town of Orléans, in God's name go back to your own lands. And if you will not do so, await word of the Maiden, who will go to see you soon to your very great misfortune. King of England, if you do not do so, I am a commander, and wherever I come across your troops in France, I shall make them go, whether willingly or unwillingly; and if they will not obey, I will have them wiped out. I am sent here by God the King of Heaven - an eye for an eye - to drive you entirely out of France.

No message could be clearer. And while I have thought, and argued, that part of Joan's confidence may have come from the illusion most teenagers have of invincibility and a particular brand of narcissism, I also think that she was just one of those rare humans who lived and died by one singleminded goal. (You could say she died because of her singlemindedness, which alas, is not so enviable...)

When I was 19, the age Joan was killed, I longed for a mission, a purpose, and a goal that "burned" in me as fiercely as Joan's did. I wholeheartedly wished I had one single strong pursuit. Instead, I changed majors several times, I reluctantly lost the virginity I'd held onto for vague lofty reasons, and I lived for the first time outside of my home state. These "decisions" were not necessarily made with any sense of certainty; rather, they were made in a kind of desperate desire to create a sense of self and definition.

Luckily, I was writing a lot and taking that somewhat seriously, and I was reading even more, and taking that very seriously. One of my favorite poems, published in a collection the year after I graduated college, was "What is Possible" by Adrienne Rich:

If the mind were clear
and if the mind were simple you could take this mind
this particular state and say
This is how I would live if I could choose:
this is what is possible…

The poem goes on to explain that the mind is so rarely this clear...if only it were! What could be possible if we could only clear our minds and do what we know we "must" do.

I wish every 19 year old woman had some of Joan's forthrightness and clarity, enough so that she might move forward with her goals without fear. I wish that for men and women, of course, but it's my women friends who from age 19-25 seemed often skiddish, indecisive, self-destructive, and anxious about decisions. We are all more confident and experienced now, but that feeling of "what if" still lingers...which is why reading Joan's kick-butt letter is a fine reminder of What Is Possible.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Alice in Armor...Joan in Wonderland?

It's hard not to think of Joan of Arc when you see a teenage girl in armor swinging a it's no surprise that the second the latest Alice in Wonderland appeared as a shining knight-girl ready to slay the Jabberwocky in Tim Burton's new flick, my husband leaned over to whisper "ALICE OF ARC!" as I nodded vigorously in the dark. I am a sucker for such images so I delighted in it for a moment. Then I just got annoyed.

That's because there's not much in common between the real Joan of Arc and the fictional Alice in Wonderful but that simple, iconic, visual image (and here's where I envied the kids sitting around me..I doubt any of them had read the original story and none of them knew who Joan of Arc was...they were all having a great time and I can't fault them for that. The little boy next to me was so giggly I wondered if he'd drank some suspicious liquid himself, and the girl behind us kept talking "to" Alice telling her what to do...she had way more chutzpah than the actress). There are many obvious name a few: Alice falls into her fate while Joan rides boldly towards it. Alice is constantly diminished (literally and figuratively) by the quirky characters she encounters and doesn't argue as fiercely with them (if at all) Joan surely would. I wished Alice would have put the armor on from the beginning and demanded it as Joan did, rather than feeling she was forced into it...although the sassy dresses she keeps changing into are part of the fun in Burton's eye-candy version.

As a child I found the story of Alice scary and confusing rather than amusingly surreal...nothing was appealing to me about being lost underground with strange creatures who seem to lie and scheme and tease. I guess we have to give Tim Burton credit for giving Alice some victory at the end. Yet while she does seem less lost as she emerges scratched and disheveled from the hole, and seemingly suddenly able to control her own fate, you don't feel she has won a huge battle. She's just, basically, changed her mind, spoken her mind, and possibly, as she admits, lost her mind. None of this is really as empowering as a girl who has a goal and follows it. Alice lives more or less as many of us do...falling into situations and then finding a way out of them. What makes Joan so unique and astoundingly inspiring is that she created her situation.

I kept thinking about what Sister Rita said during her panel on Joan's Canonization...that Joan chose to listen to her Voices. She could have ignored them or fought them but she believed in her voices and in herself as the savior of France. Call it insanity, call it egomania, call it religious fervor or nationalist fanaticism, Sister Rita insisted that Joan was in no way manipulated by the Voices, the Church, or anyone. She mentioned this in terms of Joan's trial, and the inquisitors trying to get Joan to say she was a tool of this institution or army...she wasn't. She listened and she acted and she believed. On her own.

Alice fell down, got up, and wandered...and ended up fighting a battle that she didn't really choose, although the White Queen says it's up to her. Alice knows it's not up to her but it's something she must do. This alone is not a bad message for young women--sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Maybe that's the closest thing resembling a message that Hollywood can pull off and maybe that's why the young women (teens) I spoke with enjoyed the film much more than women my age...we grew up watching Wonder Woman and Charlie's Angels (campy indeed but surely they impressed us with some superhero powers, unmistakeable sex symbols though they were), emulated Madonna, and willingly chose our battles. This generation of girls grew up watching Survivor and Britney Spears, thinking that was empowerment--self-conscious, sarcastic, indulgent "role models" who couldn't fight a Jabberwocky in their dreams, let alone real life. A girl fighting a beast in armor must seem quite brave, comparatively.

The White Queen does tell Alice it's "her choice" to fight the Jabberwocky, and while Alice cries and seems to struggle with it, we don't feel the sympathy we might if we didn't already know from the Oraculum Scroll presented in the beginning that this is what will happen--destiny has already been written.

What makes Joan so amazing is that she created her destiny--and the destiny of a country. We can't expect other teenage women to take on such a task, and truly, we don't really want any martyrs these days. They're not as fun to watch in 3-D glasses.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Find us at Ecole Bilingue's Fete Francaise!

The fine folks at Ecole Bilingue have offered the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc a booth at the Fete Francaise so that we can publicize our student Joan of Arc contest and get the word out about the St. Joan of Arc Parade and Joan of Arts Fete.

The event is best-known for its showcasing of the city's French restaurants and French music. Come out and eat, drink, and be merry with the peeps who invented joi de vivre!

March 20, 2010 10:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.
*** Free Admission ***

Fête will be held at Ecole Bilingue's new campus: 821 General Pershing Street (Next to St. Henry's church)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TV for Francophiles!

I went to an event last night announcing of the arrival of TVMonde5, an all-French cable channel, on Cox Cable. It was wonderful to be around local French leaders, citizens, fans and enthusiasts all sharing excitement about something new and positive that reflects our shared love of French heritage and culture (and in my case, French films in particular! When an image of Catherine Deneuve flashed across the screen, I knew I was get to see French films without going to NYC, the Harvard Film Archive, the occasional TMC showing, or renting from the meager options at video stores or the library, is just too cool).

The station will showcase French culture in Louisiana, as well as air French films, documentaries, sitcoms, cooking shows and more--with English subtitles (whew!).

Here's more info:

Of course, I'll be pitching them to feature our 2011 St. Joan of Arc Parade!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hey Medievalists! Come out and hear some live local music!


O GREENEST BRANCH - Music of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Sunday 7 March 4:00 Ursuline Chapel - 2701 State St. - Uptown New Orleans

Free and open to the public #504-895-1972 for further information.

Vox Feminae and the instrumentalists of Musica da Camera join together in this concert featuring the works of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and instrumental pieces inspired by her music.

Mystic, poet, composer, naturalist, healer, and theologian, Hildegard founded monasteries, corresponded with popes and princes, and produced writings on natural history, medicine, cosmology, poetry, and theology. Among both men and women of the Middle Ages she stands as an extraordinary figure. Responsible for the largest body of musical writing of any woman of the Medieval period, she is the first composer whose biography is known.

Hildegard intended her music for the Mass and the Divine Office at her monastery. Her texts are filled with metaphors, images of nature and light, and frequent references to the concept of viriditas: greenness, freshness, growth, greening, fruitfulness, vitality. For Hildegard, music was the symphony of angels praising God, the celestial music of the spheres, the weaving of body and soul. Her music transcends time and place, touching both listener and performer on many emotional and spiritual levels.

We look forward to sharing this extraordinary music with you.