Architecture: Notre Dame Cathedral

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern


Notre Dame Cathedral

The Notre Dame Cathedral is an enormous and intricately decorated building, with hundreds of hidden details. From the front doors to the gargoyles lining the ledges, each piece has a story of its own. This ancient structure has been a sacred place of worship in the center of Paris for over 800 years. At times it has stood in glory, and it has also suffered through periods of neglect. But the cathedral has always been repaired, and its place in popular thought restored.



Île de la Cité

The area now occupied by the Notre Dame Cathedral, Île de la Cité, has been a religious site for centuries. It was first home to a temple dedicated to the Roman god of the skies, Jupiter. Then the area housed a 4th-century Christian church, then in the 6th-century it became a basilica, then a 9th-century Cathedral, which became an 11th-century Romanesque cathedral. But by 1160, that cathedral still wasn’t a large enough place of worship or the ever-growing population of Paris. So King Louis VII approved and funded the construction of a new cathedral, and construction began in 1163. Although the building has been modified and remodeled several times throughout its long history, original construction is considered to have been completed in 1345. This new church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and named Notre Dame (‘Our Lady’ in French). 


The Doors

Many parts of the cathedral are intricately decorated, and nearly every detail is associated with a story. One of the most famous stories regards the stunning ironwork adorning one of the front doors. A young blacksmith named Biscornet was commissioned to craft them. When he revealed the doors to the public, they were so beautiful, rumors spread they were far too intricate to have been made with human hands. People said that Biscornet, under such pressure to make the doors, had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for beautiful ironwork. When Biscornet died shortly after the doors were completed, people said it must have been the devil receiving his payment. Rumors gained ground when the people couldn’t open the doors until a priest blessed them with holy water. 



Gargoyles are another interesting detail of Notre Dame, as with many gothic pieces of architecture. They are grotesque animal statues made of limestone that adorn the Cathedral’s roof and ledges. The word ‘gargoyle’ comes from the French word gargouille, meaning throat or gullet. This is because gargoyles have spouts in their mouths, and spit rainwater away from the buildings they’re mounted on. They serve the practical purpose of providing a drainage system and also have a more symbolic purpose. They were intended to represent the sins & tragedy outside of the church walls in contrast with the sanctuary offered within. People at the time also believed gargoyles protected the church from evil. 


Heroes of Notre Dame

There have been many low points in the cathedral’s 800-year history. Times when the public didn’t need it anymore and it fell apart. One of these times was the Renaissance, when the cathedral simply fell out of style. By 1789, Notre Dame was no longer maintained by the Parisian Archbishop and fell into a state of disrepair. Many priceless artifacts were sold or stolen. Then in 1792, the famous spire collapsed. 

Napoleon Crowns Himself Emperor in the Notre Dame

But in 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte I crowned himself emperor in the cathedral, and a surge of popularity followed. Then time passed again, and Notre Dame began to fall apart once more. In 1830, the revolution took its toll when rioters further degraded the building. Authorities considered demolishing it. 

But a year later, Victor Hugo published Notre Dame de Paris (more commonly called The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English). This again popularized the building, and breathed new life into the ancient cathedral. In 1842, a restoration project was launched. 


2019 Fire and the Future of Notre Dame

As many of us remember, 2 years ago a fire broke out on the roof of the cathedral. It raged for nine hours before firefighters could put it out. Much of the roof was destroyed, and the spire collapsed. At one point, many wondered if the cathedral was beyond repair. But the people of Paris worked to save the building’s invaluable artifacts from the fire, and since then, restoration projects have been announced. Restoration efforts will focus on recreating the original architecture (including the spire) with authentic materials. Although the pandemic has stalled restoration efforts, French president Emmanuel Macron has promised that the cathedral will reopen in 2024. This 800-year-old building will be saved again, and continue to stand tall in the center of Paris.

New Hampshire PoutineFest: A Celebration of All Things Poutine

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

What is Poutine?


Poutine, a traditional Québécois dish, deliciously combines French fries and cheese curds, smothered in brown gravy. Invented in rural Québec in the 1950s, poutine has become a staple of not only Québec cuisine but also Canadian and Northern U.S. cuisines as well. Originally, poutine did not include the gravy; in 1964, however, gravy was introduced and has never left. 


Who Made it First?


Claims to who invented poutine are fairly diverse and widely disputed among local Québec restaurants. The most known story is that a customer at the restaurant “Le Lutin Qui Rit” requested that the chef add cheese curds to his French fry dish in 1957. Despite this claim, the actual trademark for poutine is registered to Jean-Paul Roy, who owned the restaurant “Le Roy Jucep.” Roy was the first to serve the French fry dish with gravy. Another proposal is that people in Québec just developed the dish on their own, purchasing cheese curds and dumping them onto their fries. Wherever it originated, poutine is certainly a delicious Québécois staple. 


Variations on Poutine


Many restaurants have experimented with poutine toppings in recent decades. Some poutine-serving diners have variations of poutine that include meat toppings, such as chicken, brisket, or sausage. The most recent trend in poutine is fusion variations, which take traditional foods from other cultures and meld them with the traditional poutine. Some examples include Haitian, Greek, and even Japanese fusion. This trend has arisen because of the large number of immigrants coming to Québec City and Montreal, which allows the cultures to come in contact with and influence each other. 


Around holidays, some diners may offer seasonal variations on poutine as well. Perhaps the most well-known holiday variation is Thanksgiving poutine, which is often served in November. This variation is topped with traditional toppings like turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. These offers are typically promotional and will not stick around for a long period. 


For a healthier option, some alternatives have arisen from traditional poutine. For example, one can substitute French fries for sweet potatoes. This would provide a healthier option to the carb-heavy base of the staple. Another option is using mozzarella cheese instead of cheese curds. Mozzarella is often considered a healthier, more low-fat cheese and thus is often used as a substitute for fattier cheese. 


What is PoutineFest?


PoutineFest is a state-wide celebration of this devious Québécois staple. Organized by the FAC of New Hampshire, PoutineFest has been celebrating poutine in New Hampshire for 6 years. Every year, people gather together to tour local poutine-serving diners and have a day of family-fun. This year, tickets have already sold out for the Halloween-themed event, which will take place on October 23rd. After missing out in 2020, FAC is ecstatic to return with the 2021 Poutine Fest!!

The Greatest Con in History!

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

Built in 1889 for the Paris World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower was meant to be torn down in 1909. But it became a popular cultural symbol, and its height made it a valuable radio tower in WWI.  For these reasons, it stood tall for years after 1909. Though by 1925, a period of economic hardship after WWI, the tower needed costly maintenance.  Some wondered if it was finally time to take down the tower.


Introducing Victor Lustig

When career con artist Victor Lustig read about this in the newspaper, he was inspired!  He came up with what would arguably become the biggest con in history.

Lustig told so many lies and had so many aliases across the world, it’s hard to tell truth from fiction about his early life. Most sources agree he was born and raised in Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic) and fluently spoke five languages. He was very clever.  He had the opportunity for higher education, but found a life of crime to be more satisfying. Lustig spent years conning rich passengers aboard Atlantic cruise ships.  He also ran several jobs across Europe and America before the Eiffel Tower Con that would make him infamous.

He began by calling up the top five representatives in the Parisian metal industry. He claimed to be a government worker auctioning off the Eiffel Tower for scrap. Of course, the tower wasn’t actually being sold for scrap, so he told them that this was a controversial decision, and not to tell anyone about it for now.

They all met at the famous Hôtel de Crillon, where Lustig took them to lunch, and went to see the tower he would ‘sell’ them. Coincidentally, there were maintenance crews there, and Lustig told the businessmen that they were preparing the tower for demolition.


One born every minute!

The representatives thought it had been a business meeting, but Lustig had been looking for his mark. And after that very first meeting, he found a perfectly gullible candidate: André Poisson, an ambitious man desperate to make his mark in the Paris industry.

Lustig approached him, and Poisson admitted he was a little skeptical about the purchase. So Lustig took young Poisson into his confidence and told him he was merely an underpaid employee of the government.  Lustig told Poisson that, for a little extra cash, he’d guarantee Poisson would win the auction.

This won Poisson over. No one would imagine a con man would ask for a bribe, but a dirty government worker might. He paid Lustig’s price for the tower in addition to the bribe.

As soon as Lustig had the money, he boarded a train to Vienna.  He hid there and waited for his scam to be found out.

But as the days turned into weeks, he still hadn’t heard news of a scam involving the Eiffel Tower.  He then realized he would never be discovered.

It turned out that when Poisson realized he was conned; he was so embarrassed he kept it to himself, and no one knew about Lustig’s clever scam.

And about a month later, Lustig pulled the scam again. He spoke to five more businessmen and gave the same pitch.

But this time his mark did some homework and discovered the tower wasn’t actually for sale.

Lustig didn’t get away with the money. However, he didn’t get caught then, and French officials never caught up with him.


The law catches up

American law, however, caught up with him eventually. He had run many scams in the States before, even conning Al Capone, and had been arrested over 50 times. But there was never quite enough evidence to hold him.

Yet, over time, he had circulated so many counterfeit bills that the US economy was beginning to feel the effects.  This made officials hunt for him even harder.

As with most con artists, it was greed that got him in the end. It wasn’t greed for money that got him into trouble, though. His girlfriend found out that she was being cheated on and left an anonymous tip with the authorities. That was enough to get Lustig locked up in Alcatraz.