Vincennes, the path of light near where Mata Hari was executed, one hundred years ago.
My idea was to remember the death of Mata Hari by being where she was killed, at the same moment when she was killed, one century later, on October 15th, 2017. It turned out to be not so easy, but let me tell you the story.
First of all, I needed to know where exactly Mata Hari was executed. That was not obvious: all things about Mata Hari's story are always shrouded in a fog of legends and misinformation. And so it was for the execution, where no journalists were allowed, of which there are no pictures.
After some research work, I managed to determine where she was shot, at least with a certain degree of probability. It was in Paris (of course!), at the Bois de Vincennes, in front of the hill that was called "butte du tir" at the time and that today is called "Belvedere." So, a few days before the centennial, I went to Paris and I explored the park of Vincennes by bicycle, finding what seemed to be the likely place of the execution.
At this point, there remained for me to be there at 6:30 in the morning of Sunday, Oct 15th. Actually, Mata Hari was shot at 6:30 solar time, while France in 2017, on the same day, was on legal time (legal time was introduced in France only in 1923). That meant I had to be there when my watch marked 7:30 in the morning. Rather early, but not so much.
Now, there was a problem: Mata Hari was taken to her death by car but, today, that place is in the middle of a public park that cannot be reached by car or by other motor vehicles. So, my idea was to lodge somewhere near the edge of the park of Vincennes and just walk there. I found an airbnb room in Joinville-Le-Pont, south of the Park. Not a short walk, some 40 minutes on foot, but possible. This time, I was accompanied by my wife.
So, at 7 a.m., we were walking inside the Bois de Vincennes and we saw what the problem was: it was dark. Some vague streaks of light were appearing on the horizon, but the park was in near complete darkness. Where streets were lighted, the problem was another one: it was crowded with prostitutes inside their mobile homes or simply standing on the sidewalk. Not that it was dangerous; the places where there are prostitutes working are normally safe: nobody wants the customers harmed. But, still, it was a queer situation and, besides, it made the idea of venturing into the woods in complete darkness even less attractive than it would have been without prostitutes.
At around 7:15, we gave up: too dark to walk in the woods. We turned around and we walked back to Joinville to get a coffee and a croissant in one of the few coffee shops already opened that early on Sunday morning. We waited for the light of dawn to appear and then we walked back into the park at around 9 am. We crossed some of the ladies we had seen earlier on, walking back home after having finished their night shift, but the park had now a much friendlier atmosphere. People were walking, running, and bicycling around.
So, we arrived at the place of the execution at 9:30 am and we celebrated the occasion with some photos and a little movie clip, only me and my wife. We missed the chance of seeing the ghost of Mata Hari appearing to us as a bluish ghost hovering among the trees, but we did our best. If Mata Hari was looking at us from the Elysian Fields, I hope she appreciated our effort. And this is the end of the story.