La Fête Jeanne-d’Arc in Rouen, France

The festival of Joan of Arc in Rouen. Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in France:

I’m reading the local paper at breakfast and notice that the annual fête Jeanne-d’Arc, commemorating Joan of Arc, is in Rouen today. I check the clock. I have enough time to take the bus down and catch some of the festivities.

Once in town, I head to the Vieux Marché, where little Joan was burned as a witch, just in time to see two girls astride horses in faux-medieval armor. The horse nearest me breaks the picturesque scene by splattering the cobblestones with what looks like diarrhea, close enough that I hope I haven’t been hit. I follow the parade anyway, down under the Gros Horlodge, past strings of shoppers, past the Cathedral that Monet painted so repeatedly, down to a bridge over the Seine. Here, I’ve read, flowers will be thrown, echoing the ashes that were cast into the river so many centuries previously — on May 30, 1431.

I position myself with my camera and take some shots of children peering over the side of the bridge, waiting for the signal.

They throw their flowers all at once, and their roses float away, into the deep, wide, muddy waters of the Seine. They are more visible than ashes.

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