The Count of Monte Cristo: 22%

Frioul archipelago
Frioul archipelago, Marseille, France. Near the Château d’If, where Edmond Dantes was imprisoned. Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash.

I began reading The Count of Monte Cristo via my Serial Reader app on April 1. It’s split into 208 issues, compared to Moby-Dick‘s 79, so I will be at this for the duration of spring and well into summer. But thus far, I find it a much easier read than Melville’s classic. The narrative is straightforward and the language is simpler.

This might be a good time to address my motivation for reading these two particular classics. Or for choosing these two as the “first in line” as I attempt to rekindle my reading habit. My motivation feels, to me, pretty layered, and I don’t want to bore you with all that unpacking. So I guess the simplest way to state it is: there are themes in both these stories that seem to tap into a very rich vein in our collective unconscious, to borrow from Jung. And I’m seeking a deeper understanding of those themes and how those storytellers managed to mine them so successfully.

Or maybe even simpler: I want to improve my ability to write interesting stories with some meaning, and I realize that while some of the best teachers are long gone, their lessons live on through their work.

Some particular observations about The Count of Monte Cristo, so far:

  • Napoleon: It’s been interesting to read a story written when Napoleon’s imprint on the world was still quite fresh. Napoleon’s former reign, and his attempt to reclaim the throne, are pivotal parts to the early part of the story. Since I live in the one U.S. state with a legal system still largely based on the Napoleonic Code, learning some of this history seems like a wise thing to pursue.
  • The south of France: Marseille, France has been the focal point of the story. Dumas’s depictions of the areas around the coasts of France and Italy are very evocative, and have sparked a new longing to see that part of the world, Marseille in particular. I’ve flown into Nice multiple times, and have spent considerable time in Cannes (in a former work life), but I have never made it to Marseille.
  • V for Vendetta: Going back to my motivations for reading The Count of Monte Cristo, V for Vendetta is one of them. It’s one of my favorite movies, and Monte Cristo is a recurring reference in it. It felt like high time to see what those references are all about.
  • Speaking of serials: Wikipedia tells me The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published in 18 parts, over a period of about 18 months.

I’m on track to beat that time by far. I’ve upgraded the Serial Reader app so that I can receive multiple issues in a day, if I choose. My goal is to finish Monte Cristo in under five months, instead of the nearly seven months it would take me at a “one-a-day” pace. At any rate, this is not the last you’ll be hearing from me, regarding Edmond Dantes!

Notre Dame

There seems to be a sense of universal shock over last week’s fire that threatened the 856-year-old building in the heart of Paris. And there are those who would argue Notre Dame is not in the heart of Paris, rather, it is the heart of Paris.

One fact I heard in all the news coverage would seem to support this belief. There’s a marker in the cobblestones right outside the cathedral, engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France. It’s the point from which all distances from Paris to other cities in France are calculated.

And then there were the social media posts, from friends and acquaintances sharing their past encounters with Notre Dame. Which of course got me thinking — what are my particular memories of it?

It’s a bit of a shame I didn’t remember this right away, but, the last time I was in Paris, Notre Dame was the one non-negotiable item on my list. On prior visits, I had seen the church from afar, from bridges and river cruises on the Seine. But I was fairly certain I had never entered. Being Catholic, and of French heritage, it seemed like something I should do.

My friend Tamara, as the faithful comrade and good host that she is, honored my wishes. We ventured over to the Île-de-la-Cité on May 9, 2017. The pictures of Notre Dame in this post are from that visit.

But here’s the thing, and the reason I likely forgot that Notre Dame was on my “bucket list” during that trip two years ago. Tamara also suggested we visit Sainte-Chapelle while we were in the vicinity, and I was kind of blown away. It’s the memory of Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass that sticks with me.

And just one year prior, in May of 2016, Tamara and I climbed the towers of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva. Another memory that sticks with me. Going back nearly twenty years, on a solo trip to the Île Saint-Honorat (roughly 950 kilometers from Notre Dame), I encountered some ruins that have never left my mind’s eye. When I imagine a true escape, I return to the remains of an 11th century fort, commanding a spectacularly singular view of the Mediterranean Sea.

By no means do I intend to diminish the tragedy of the fire at Notre Dame with these other memories. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is this: there’s so much beauty and wonder in the world and its history. It just seems a pity that it takes the threat of losing a thing so precious to open our eyes to it.