Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bogotá a la Francesa

Bogotá's City Hall, designed by a French architect in French Rennaisance style. 
Simon Bolivar.

There's an exhibition going on now in north Bogotá of Memorabilia from French general and dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. In the exhibition you'll actually be able to see the saber used in Napoleon's coronation as emperor, the royal jewels, the emperor's hat and, even, the emperor's brother's bed!

In other word's, it's a display of hero worship rivaling that of Colombia's own 'El Libertador' Simon Bolivar.

Napoleon Bonaparte.
The two men crossed paths at least once: Bolívar was in Paris to witness Napoleon's coronation as emperor - which horrified Bolívar as a betrayal of the French Revolution. (Yet, ironically, near his death Bolívar wanted to be appointed Colombia's president for life.)

Napoleon influenced Colombian history - from a distance. It was thanks to his invasion of Spain - tho not his intention - that Colombia and the rest of South America achieved independence as early as they did. With Spain weakened by French occupation, criollo loyalty to the crown withered and some Latin American leaders saw their chance to throw off Spanish rule.

Last weeks in Bogotá! A Napoleon talks on the phone in La Candelaria. 
Le Corbusier the Great.
And the idealism of the French Revolution and the North American colonies' rebellion against Britain inspired the Spanish colonies' rebellion. Colombia, like most of Latin America, was also influenced by the Napoleonic Code - altho nowadays Colombia and other Latin nations are shifting to a more English/American-style legal code.
French bread in Cafe de la
Peña in La Candelaria. 

While Colombia has received fewer European immigrants than have other Latin American nations, several French citizens have made their marks here.

French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt
while a captive of the FARC guerrillas. 
Perhaps the most colorful Frenchman to visit Colombia was the convicted murderer and escapee from the Devil's Island penal colony Henri Charrière, known as Papillon, who wrote that he happily cohabited with Wayuu women on the Guajira peninsula. Another was the famed Swiss-French urban planner Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, who was hired in mid-century to build an master plan for Bogotá. But Le Corbusier's 1950 plan, which left the city's rivers exposed, was never implemented. Another French architect, Gaston Lelarge, designed Bogotá's City Hall, known as the Palacio de Liévano, built in 1907. But undoubtedly the French citizen who left the deepest mark on Colombia in recent years was Green Party presidential candidate and Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 by FARC guerrillas and freed by the military with others in 2008.

Pascal Tournamille, from Toulouse,
proprietor of the La Tartine
restaurant in La Candelaria. 
Today, there seems to me to be a disproportionate number of French travelers and students living in Bogotá, at least in La Candelaria, and at least compared with Brits, Germans and other nationalities. Thanks to them, the neighborhood has a number of French bakeries and restaurants, including La Cicuta restaurant on 9th St. and Carrera 2, el Cafe de la Pena on Carrera 3 just south of 10th St. and the La Tartine restaurant on Calle 12 just above Carrera 4.

A French immigrant's tomb in
Bogotá's Central Cemetery.
But historically Colombia apparently received fewer immigrants from France than Britain and Germany - at least judging by the fact that those other two nations have their own ethnic cemeteries here, but the French do not. (Or, perhaps that's only due to most French being Catholic, and so willing to be buried in the Central Cemetery. Still, I haven't seen many French last names there.)

Colombian leaders must regret that France did not have the U.S.'s success in digging a canal across Panama, which the French attempted to do in the 1880s, when the isthmus still belonged to Colombia. If the French had succeeded, then the U.S. likely would not have torn Panama off of the rest of Colombia, as U.S. Pres. Teddy Roosevelt later did.

'Treasures of Napoleon' runs until early May in the Claustro La Enseñanza, Calle 72 No. 7-51. Entry ranges from 15,000 pesos for students to 25,000 pesos for regular people on weekends and holidays. Open Sundays 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Mon, Tues, Wed 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Thurs, Fri. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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