On Friday (June 6th, also the Anniversary of D-Day) the Mémorial of Caen opened an exhibition on September 11. (also described here and here)
I haven't written much on my blog about my Master's work here but this year I have to write another thesis and I've chosen to write about poetry written in response to September 11: focusing on the ideas of memory, remembering and bearing witness.
This exhibition is perfect timing for me, I'm wrapping up my research and am going to be writing this summer so that I can turn it in this fall.
I've always loved the work that the Memorial has done, people come here expecting to see a museum about World War II and the D-Day invasion, but it is not a museum about war but about peace. They do amazing presentations of events, people and places on a world wide scale and this one went above and beyond my expectations.
Instead of dwelling on the event itself, like the museum this exhibition is divided into three parts: before Sept 11, Sept 11 and afterwards. Politics aside it was extremely touching to see these people's experiences, especially the "remembrance fence" and all of the "missing people" posters. I felt myself moved to tears on more than one occasion.
I overheard a lady speaking about the day, with a strong Queens accent. As I moved closer to hear better she described her experiences during that long day, how she couldn't reach her husband because of the cell phones jamming, how she struggled to collect her kids from the neighborhood school etc. I decided to talk to her and I explained who I was and what I was working on. I asked her what she thinks the world should do to try and remember. She was very friendly and it was the first time I've talked to someone who was there, and her trauma is still very present.
She asked if I was there too. No, I was in France. I had just arrived a week earlier for my study abroad year and was coping with trying to understand what was going on on French TV. She asked how the French reacted and I assured her that it was an amazing thing; people came up to me on the street and on the tram telling me how sorry they were. It's always easy to remember the negative hard to forget Freedom Fries and the war which all happened later, and hard to remember the positive.
I like the quote from Le Monde the next day: Nous sommes tous américains.
The humanity I saw today was so moving and that is what should be remembered.
Here is a video by the Wall Street Journal, a bit too dramatic for my taste but it shows a good part of the exhibit.