This evening I am recalling going with a friend to France on a trip that we themed: “Corpses, Cathedrals, and Combat.”
During our roadtrip through Normandy, we visited Bayeux.
There we came upon a memorial park, at the entrance to which we found a monument that said:
“Bayeux, which has witnessed a freedom dearly won has included the Memorial to Reporters in its ‘Liberty Alley’ to encourage the younger generations to think about what freedom really means.”
Parallel to that is a monument that says “Memorial to Reporters” and then:
“This place is dedicated to reporters and to freedom of the press. It is unique in Europe, forming a walkway among the stones engraved with the names of journalists killed all over the world since 1944.”
I took these monuments in with earnestness and solemnity, and I made a point of stopping especially at the monument that included the names of the Charlie Hebdo satirical journalists killed by Islamists in 2015 since I remembered this so well.
As I reflect on my experience exploring these memorials, I am also reminded of Robert Musil’s short essay, “Monuments” in which he raises the creative objection that “monuments are so conspicuously inconspicuous.”
He points out how it is possible and common for people to pay attention to all kinds of things in their environments but that it is all too easy for them to ignore any monument or memorial that they pass daily because of its monochrome, frozen status.
“Anything that constitutes the walls of our life, the backdrop of our consciousness, so to speak, forfeits its capacity to play a role in that consciousness,” he says.
Reflecting on all of the above at once, I realize that I am much more apt to notice monuments and memorials as a traveller. Visiting contains within it the leisure requisite for attention and stopping to notice and be curious and reflective.
Musil contrasts how people are captured by advertising and yet generally bypass monuments without a glance.
And so what, actually, does it take for monuments to “encourage younger generations to think about what freedom really means”? And, can there be any measure of success?