Saturday, 5 May 2007

Two views of the Orient

The crypt of the cathedral in Boulogne is not really worth visiting. It's damp, full of bad nineteenth century plaster saints, and chilly.

But I was intrigued by one of the monuments. Sir John B Hearsey, "the hero of Seetabuldee", with a fine feathered hat and sabre. What is he doing here?

He was a general who had campaigned in India in the early nineteenth century - days of huge expansion for the British. But it seems he retired to Boulogne in later life; it was a cheap place for British pensioners.

Under the magnificent ramparts is a pyramid shaped monument to another man who had spent time in the east - Mariette Pacha.  He was born in Boulogne, but before he was thirty he had headed out to Egypt - and he never returned (though he worked at the Louvre for a while before entering the Egyptian Khedive's employment).

Now you might think that Mariette, as an Egyptologist, is a less swashbuckling figure than the "hero of Sitabuldee". But you'd be wrong. These were the days when archaeologists competed to find the most valuable artefacts - when the way to open a sarcophagus was to put gunpowder under the lid and light it with your cigar, as Mariette is said to have done.

The strange thing is that both these  figures are commemorated in Boulogne - half fish processing centre, half seaside town. It's like finding a monument to Richard Burton or Mungo Park in Frinton on Sea.  I wonder what other intriguing stories the town might hide?

Mariette Pacha - French scholar and archaeologist, - the man who wrote the plot for Verdi's Aida -

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