My parents were right, again
By LAURA KELLY
I hate it when every adult from my childhood turns out to be right. Unfortunately, it seems to happen all too frequently as I grow older.
This week's lesson was brought to me by every teacher who tried to beat into my thick skull the importance of history: learning from our mistakes, since we seem all too doomed to repeat them. I, of course, refused to believe a word of it – I hated every history class I have ever taken. I would slump down in my chair, convinced that the Greeks and Romans had nothing to teach me about how to live. Of course, I was completely wrong.
The last week has been full of worry and fear for me, as it was for everyone else who calls America home. I envied all the French around me whose lives seemed to be going on with the same ease that they did before Sept. 11.
Instead of stressing out over papers and assignments, I wondered if the stock market was going to crash or if war was going to break out and I'd be sent home. I wandered around in a daze, refusing to watch CNN and feeling grateful for once that I couldn't understand what was written in the papers.
It seemed that the world I used to know was gone, and in its place was nothing but uncertainty. Well on my way to a good ulcer or a severe bout of depression, I finally dragged myself out of bed and into the Louvre, hoping to lose myself in the crowds and spend a few hours looking at something beautiful. And just like the plot of a good after-school special, my field trip ended up turning my whole week around.
Probably due to my oh-so-cheerful mood, I picked out the Massacre at Chios by Delacroix to start off the afternoon. In it sat a group of ragged victims, some dying, some still holding on, stunned at what has happened to their people.
If I squinted hard enough to blur out the clothing that dated them back several centuries, it seemed like I was looking at the faces of those watching smoke and fire engulf the World Trade Center's twin towers. The elderly woman in the center of the painting was the hardest to forget: with this blank, sickening stare, she lifts her eyes upward, searching for something that she can't find.
I moved on to another gigantic Delacroix, the Death of Sardanapalus. I couldn't take my eyes off the face of the king. His expression is unmoved by the slaughter around him, the murder of his harem and horses that his own hand had commanded.
Suddenly, I realized how evil people are nothing new, and how humans have been battling against them for as long as we can remember.
Finally, I found myself in front of David's giant painting of the Oath of the Horatii. Three brothers salute their elderly father, their arms outstretched in pledge to protect their family. I looked into the eyes of these young men who were willing to die to defend what they knew was right and suddenly I understood what drove the boys back home to consider enlisting. And as I looked at the wives of the Horace brothers weeping in the corner, I realized what it might feel like to be the ones left behind.
I usually hate tourists at the Louvre. Armed with 12 different cameras to document that they once saw the Mona Lisa (not that they look at the art, of course), they just glare at you until you move so they can grin for the lens. But that afternoon it felt comforting to have the crowds around me.
Standing in the middle of the huge hall, it became so clear to me. Maybe turning to history is the only way to make sense of what had happened and what is still to come.
You can look at a painting or you can read an ancient poem and you will start to understand how humans have loved, hated and fought with the same intensity since the beginning of time.
True, in modernity the weapons are more deadly and the stakes much higher. But in painting, the faces look the same. Even I have to begrudgingly admit, that's the comfort that history gives us.
Laura Kelly is a junior French and English major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. French Connection will appear Mondays in Scene. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Scene Stories for Monday, September 24, 2001