University of Montpellier

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Copyright Albertvillanovadelmoral

Though most people think of the Sorbonne when they think of French universities, there are many other wonderful schools too. The University of Montpellier is one of France’s oldest and most venerable, formally founded in 1289 and truly dating back to at least 1137. Not only is it one of France’s oldest schools, but one of the oldest universities in the world.

Before Pope Nicholas IV issued a Papal bull bestowing university status in 1289, there were a series of venerable liberal arts schools in Montpellier. Italian jurist and glossator (legal student) Placentinus came to Montpellier from the University of Bologna’s law school in 1160 and taught there during two different periods. He died in Montpellier in 1192.

Professors from Montpellier’s law school were very instrumental in the drafting of the Napoléonic Code of 1804. These civil laws are still in use in modern-day France, though with some changes over the years.

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Faculty of Medicine, Copyright Albertvillanovadelmoral

Montpellier’s school of medicine was in existence at least as early as 1137, staffed by doctors trained in Spanish medical schools. It’s the world’s oldest medical school still in operation.

In the 14th century, the medical school famously argued the cause of Bubonic Plague was a miasma penetrating the body’s pores. Montpellier-educated doctors urged people not to bathe, for fear it would open pores and invite in the miasma. This miasma was supposedly created by air exposed to decaying bodies, humid weather, and fumes resulting from poor sanitation.

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Faculty of Law, Copyright Vpe

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University garden, Copyright Vpe

Le Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier was founded in 1593 on the orders of King Henri IV, and under the leadership of Pierre Richer de Belleval, an anatomy and botany professor considered the father of scientific botany. France’s oldest botanical garden, it was inspired by Orto Botanico de Padova (Padua), and in turn inspired le Jardin des Plantes de Paris in 1626.

Today, the garden is home to 2,680 plant species, 500 of which are native to the Mediterranean region. About 1,000 of these species are in a greenhouse. There are also palm trees, orange trees, aquatic plants, ferns, orchids, succulents, and medicinal plants.

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Copyright Vpe

The school of theology dates back to at least 1350, as evidenced in two letters of King Jean II. Pope Martin V bestowed canonical institution upon the school in a Papal bull of 17 December 1421, and it was thus closely united with the law school.

The Catholic theology school was thrown into haywire by the 16th century triumph of Calvinism in the region, though the Catholic school was reinstated in 1622. However, the Jesuit vs. Dominican rivalry put even more strain on the school, and it eventually disappeared upon the French Revolution.

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Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Copyright Vpe

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Marine biology station, Copyright Fagairolles 34

Like all other French universities, Montpellier too was closed upon the French Revolution in 1793. In 1810, the schools of letters and science were reopened, and the law school reopened in 1880.

In 1969, the university was officially reorganised, as a result of the famous student riots all over France in May 1968. It henceforth was split into three schools. University of Montpellier I had medicine, law, and economy; II had science and technology; and III had liberal arts, social sciences, and humanities.

On 1 January 2015, I and II merged to become a newly-recreated University of Montpellier. III became a separate institution, Paul Valéry University.

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Papal bull of 1289, establishing the university, Copyright Vpe

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Faculty of Pharmacy’s drugstore, Copyright Vpe

My character Imre always dreamt of studying literature by the Sorbonne, but after Csilla and their other friends move to a strawberry farm in Béziers, run by the Jewish Scouts and Guides of France, Imre can’t take the separation and rushes down to that farm. He gets his own living quarters on the farm, and commutes about 30 minutes to the university.

In Montpellier, Imre runs across some of Csilla’s Abonyiak friends whom they’d falsely believed died. I thought all these people had died too, but once they were no longer just names and death dates, I didn’t have to heart to kill so many of them. I arranged for their survival through transports to various factories, being left behind upon evacuation, and death march escapes.

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Faculty of Medicine court of honour (formerly the cloister of Montpellier Cathedral’s monastery), Copyright Vpe

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Bell tower of cathedral, seen from Faculty of Medicine, Copyright Vpe

Twentieth Arrondissement and Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze

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St. Gabriel Church and Hélène-Boucher Lycée, Copyright Sigoise

The 20th Arrondissement of Paris (a.k.a. Arrondissement de Ménilmontant) is on the Right Bank. It’s bordered on the north by the 19th Arrondissement, on the west by the 11th Arrondissement, and on the south by the 12th Arrondissement. Probably its most famous attraction and landmark is Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Historically, the higher the number of the arrondissement, the more working-class and poor folks (many of them immigrants). This isn’t the wealthy, stereotypically “cultured” population which flocked to the arrondissements with very low numbers. As a proud proletarian, it’s right up my alley!

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Town Hall, 1908

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Town Hall, 2009, Copyright besopha, Source FlickrMairie

Its population peak and most concentrated density was 1936, with 208,115 residents, 34,779 per square kilometer. It was annexed to Paris in 1859, and formed from the towns of Belleville and Ménilmontant, the municipality of Saint-Mande, and the commune of Charonne. As of 2012, the population was 198,678.

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Besides Père Lachaise, other landmarks include Belleville Cemetery, St. Germain Church of Charonne, Charonne Cemetery, Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix de Ménilmontant, Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, Tenon Hospital, Hospital de la Croix Saint-Simon, and many schools and parks. The 20th Arrondissement also has the next-largest Chinatown in Paris.

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, Copyright Zantastik

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, sometime between 1863–70

My characters are resettled in a cheap apartment in the 20th Arrondissement upon their return from Nantes in December 1945. Wolfram, who’s since left Le Meurice, has the apartment across the hall, and made the arrangements for them to live there for possibly less than the time of a normal lease.

He’s also bought them mattresses and secondhand furniture, put all their tableware and cookware in the cupboards, and moved in all their extra luggage and Caterina’s recovered small furniture. Wolfram insists he doesn’t need to be repaid, and tells them to consider it a belated Chanukah present.

Their apartments are on Rue des Pyrénées, which forms the eastern border of Père Lachaise.

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Église Saint-Germain-de-Charonne, 1900

Everyone but Wolfram goes for a walk through Père Lachaise on Csilla’s 18th birthday, 21 December, before starting their planned walk to Al Syete, a Sephardic synagogue in the 11th Arrondissement. The walk ends in terror and horrific flashbacks for everyone but Imre and Júlia, as they have an up-close and personal encounter with the crematorium.

The moment they realise what the building and smell are, they start going into hysterics, which attracts a lot of negative attention. Marie is so badly affected, she passes out, and Imre has to run back to the apartment to get Csilla’s recovered sled. The boys are shaking too badly to carry her, and Imre only has one good arm, since he broke his left hand last month.

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The monument Marie passes out by, in memory of the victims of a fire at an 1897 showing of Lumière Brothers’ films, Copyright Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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Crematorium (chimneys not visible), Copyright Christopher Lancaster, Source Flickr

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the Great Synagogue of Florence, was built thanks to David Levi, late president of the Florentine Jewish community, bequeathing his entire estate for the building of a new synagogue. Architects Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini, and Prof. Vicente Micheli combined Italian traditions with Moorish style.

Giacomo del Medici designed the great arch, and artist Giovanni Panti provided the beautiful frescoes and mosaics for the interior. Every square inch is covered in coloured designs with Moorish patterns. The copper roof was oxidised green to stand out in the Florentine skyline.

The cornerstone, sent from Jerusalem, was laid 30 June 1874. Inauguration was 24 October 1882.

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Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

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During WWII, the occupying Germans used the synagogue as a storehouse. There are still bayonet blows visible on the doors of the ark.

In August 1944, the Italian people once again showed their righteousness by rescuing the synagogue from planned German destruction. The retreating Nazis and their foul fascist collaborators filled the building with explosives, but brave resistance fighters were able to defuse almost all of the explosives. Very little damage was done, and it was restored after the war.

During the terrible 1966 flood of the Arno, the synagogue was damaged, but once again restored.

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Copyright sailko

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Copyright sailko

My characters stay by a vacation apartment overlooking the synagogue when they’re in Florence in November–December 1945. The green dome dominates the Florentine skyline, and it’s just a short walk away.

On the eighth day of Chanukah, before Saturday morning services have started, Imre gives Csilla a three-pearl ring in the synagogue. He reassures her it’s not an engagement ring, but just a promise ring. He wants them to have a serious, committed relationship before they’re in a position to discuss marriage, and also wants to mark his territory so other men know she’s off-limits.

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Copyright sailko

Szent János Hospital, La Samaritaine, and Sant’Ambrogio Market

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View of hospital from Kis–Sváb Hill, Copyright Globetrotter19

Szent János Hospital was founded in 1800, on the corner of Margit Körút (Boulevard) and Hattyú Utca (Swan Street). In 1820, there was new construction (including a statue of St. John of Nepomuk), and in 1873, the number of beds grew from 100 to 234. An 1887 resolution ordered the building of a new hospital, with 300 beds.

The new hospital, with 420 beds, opened 3 August 1898, to great ceremony. That year, the hospital began adding new departments to treat all the sick people of both Buda and Pest. It also served as a teaching hospital. Among the new departments were an X-ray lab (1910), a modern maternity ward (1935), venereal urology (1934), orthopaedic surgery (1918), and eye disorders (1898).

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Entrance to Hospital in the Rock, 1944

Though the hospital was partly damaged during WWII, it wasn’t destroyed or bombed, and the doctors and nurses worked overtime to tend to all the wounded. They hid deserters, dissidents, and Jews, and Prof. Boldizsár Horváth saved a group being held hostage by the Óbuda brick factory. Sadly, the chief physician was taken away, another doctor was shot dead on hospital grounds, and not everyone from the brick factory was able to be saved.

During the Siege and Battle of Budapest, doctors and nurses also used the Hospital in the Rock (Sziklakórház), a hospital carved into the caverns under Buda Castle in the 1930s. By night, the dead were smuggled out and buried in bomb craters. There were times when, due to a total lack of food and supplies, hospital staff had to take them off dead bodies and sterilise them. Horses were also killed for food. It was only meant for 60–70 patients, but it treated up to 600.

Both hospitals again saw heavy use during the 1956 uprising. In late 1956, a spin-off, Royal Children’s Hospital, was created.

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Copyright Solymári

During their stay in Pasarét in October–November 1945, my characters Caterina and Marie find temporary employment by Szent János Hospital. All hands are needed on deck, even though Caterina isn’t currently in possession of her medical license or anything else to prove she’s really a doctor. Marie is only 14, but she’s accepted too, since she served as Caterina’s assistant in three camps. They’re put to work with pediatric patients, much to sweet little Marie’s delight.

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Copyright Pergl Pergl from On the move, Source Flickr

La Samaritaine is a massive Parisian department store founded in 1869 by husband and wife Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ. Ironically, Mme. Jaÿ was the first clothing vendor at rival department store Le Bon Marché. It’s in the First Arrondissement, not too far from Le Meurice and the Tuileries Garden.

The couple decided to transform their boutique into a department store by buying up surrounding buildings, and from 1883–1933, the closest blocks were completely renovated and reworked. From 1903–07, Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain gave the building an Art Nouveau style. Final architect Henri Sauvage converted the style to Art Deco.

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Copyright Ana Paula Hirama, Source Paris – France, Mar2015

The 11-story complex takes its name from a hydraulic pump by the nearby Pont Neuf (the oldest surviving bridge over the Seine), which operated from 1609–1813. There was a bas-relief of the Samaritan Woman drawing water for Jesus on the front of the pump, and Cognacq’s original stand was on that very site.

My characters visit La Samaritaine in December 1945, on their first full day in Paris. They take lunch at the rooftop café, which has a lovely bird’s-eye view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower. While there, Imre buys Csilla a tiger fur coat (which she wears out of the store), and replacements for some of the clothes and shoes she lost when she was deported.

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Copyright Groume, Source FlickrSamaritaine

Sant’Ambrogio Market opened in 1873, in Piazza Ghiberti, open every day but Sunday, 7 AM to 2 PM. On Wednesdays and Fridays, they’re open until 7:00. Though the most famous Florentine market is the Central Market, Sant’Ambrogio has a more relaxed atmosphere.

Pretty much everything you could want is sold here—bread, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, crafts, cheese, fish, spices, clothes, housewares, pastries, et al. Part of the market is inside, and part outside. Famous restaurant Trattoria da Rocco is also inside the market building.

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Copyright sailko

My characters Caterina, Marie, Eszter, and Júlia go to Sant’Ambrogio in November 1945, since it’s a very short walk from their vacation apartment (financed with the large sum of money Imre and Júlia got from their mother before leaving Budapest). By the market, they pick up almost everything they need to make a grand Italian culinary Chanukah feast.

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Copyright sailko

Rue de la Rosière-d’Artois and Rue Crébillon

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Place de l’Édit de Nantes, Copyright Jibi44

Rue de la Rosière-d’Artois, a street in Nantes, was originally called Rue de la Corderie, then Rue de l’Épine. In 1822, it took its current name from the ship Rosière d’Artois, and a group of rosières who convened in 1777 to celebrate the visit of the Comte d’Artois (the future King Charles X), who came to watch the launching of the abovementioned ship.

rosière is an untranslatable word which refers to a girl rewarded for her virtuous reputation. According to legend, this tradition originated with Médrine, the sister of Saint Médard, in the late 5th century. Rosières were given rose wreaths.

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Landmarks include Place de l’Édit de Nantes (the square where an April 1598 edict of tolerance for Protestants was signed) and the 19th century Rosière mansion (now used as a hotel). The mansion is near the Museum of Natural History, the Museum Dobrée (a former palace converted into an archaeological museum), the former home of architect Georges Lafont, and Place Graslin. A Christian Brothers school and the Nantes Synagogue also used to be here.

My character Marie Zénobie Sternglass lived on Rosière–d’Artois until 1942, when she and her family were deported to Drancy. Upon her return to Nantes in December 1945, she’s very shocked and hurt to be received so coldly and indifferently by numerous former friends. One woman has the nerve to ask if she survived at her age by working as a prostitute or human guinea pig. She and her husband act as though Marie’s the rude one for not answering and displaying such shocked body language.

Marie reaches her breaking point when she discovers an even more hostile woman living in her old house and refusing to let her inside. When the woman says she threw the photographs and other mementos in the garbage, Marie loses control and uses strong language for the first time ever. Her friends have to physically restrain her from attacking the stranger.

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Copyright Kamel15

Rue Crébillon, created in 1770 and formerly known as Rue de Goyon and Rue de Varennes, is a luxury shopping street in Nantes. In 1828, it was named for playwright Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674–1762). In 1852, it was one of the first Nantais streets to get gas lanterns. (Nantais is an adjective denoting a resident of Nantes. Nantaise is the feminine form.)

The untranslatable verb crébillonner (to drag while shopping) was coined after the street. To date, this is the only street which has spawned a French verb. The expression frisé(e) comme la rue Crébillon means “curly as Rue Crébillon.” Ironically, it refers to the street’s straightness.

Besides all the shops, the street is also home to the 4-star l’Hôtel de France, a former 18th century mansion. The hotel is about 20 meters from Théâtre Graslin.

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Copyright Pj44300

Marie gets an even bigger shock by her family’s former photography shop on Rue Crébillon, while she’s looking for any undeveloped negatives. After the war, many photographers did big business with survivors who’d pay anything for pictures of lost friends and family.

At the fictional Palomer Photography, Marie runs into Gaspard Diamondstein, her father’s old business partner and her family’s former neighbour. At first she’s unbelievably happy to finally be called by her French nickname, Marise, again, instead of Marika, Mariella, Mitzi, or Maruška, but her joy turns to shock when Gaspard tells her what happened to her father. Marie believed it could only be good news, and didn’t want to go across the street to Gaspard’s flat to hear it in private.

Marie does find one old family photo, though, and Gaspard invites her and all her friends into his flat for lunch. Marie is in such a daze, she doesn’t respond to the barking Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen or the fluffy Persian cat rubbing against her legs and purring. She also picks at the lunch Gaspard makes, and barely responds to his two surviving children, Gwenaël and Océane, when they come in. 

Pasarét and Ponte Vecchio

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Typical Pasarét villa, Copyright Petru suciu

Pasarét is a Bauhaus neighbourhood in District II of Budapest, on the Buda side. Its borders are Pasaréti Út, Hűvösvölgyi Út (which turns into Szilágyi Erzsébet Fasor), Herman Ottó Út, Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Utca, Battal Út, Csalán Út, Páfrányliget Utca, and part of Szerb Antal Út.

Prior to Hungarian independence, Pasarét was identified as Ried (Meadow) on old Army maps. It was later called Sauwiesen (Pig Meadow) and Schmalzbergel (Fat Hill). Serbian Budapestis called it Paša (Meadow). In 1847, philologist Gábor Döbrentei joined the Serbian name with the Hungarian word rét (meadow) to form the modern name: Meadow Meadow.

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St. Anthony of Padua Church (built 1933), Copyright Globetrotter19

In the early 20th century, it became a desirable location, and attracted many artists, musicians, intellectuals, writers, Bohemians, and scientists. Among its famous residents were Béla Bartók, writer Antal Szerb, politician Imre Nagy, composer Ernő Dohnányi, and writer István Örkény.

One of the most famous landmarks is the St. Anthony of Padua Church, built in Bauhaus style like many of the other Pasarét structures built during the 1930s. Even the bus station was built in Bauhaus style. Pasarét also has several parks, and Ludovika Engineer Academy.

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Bus terminal next to church, Copyright Globetrotter19

My characters move to Pasarét after Eszter receives a letter from her much-older sister Mirjam in early October 1945. Mirjam and her three roommates make room for them, and find an abandoned apartment across the hall for the boys. Since the landlord was killed in a bombing raid during the war, no one’s keeping dibs on what goes on in this building.

During their brief time in Pasarét, Eszter, Jákob, Imre, Csilla, and Artur work at the fictional Hotel Juhász Gyula, in various positions. The hotel is also built in Bauhaus style. It’s a blue, four-story, cubic building, not some sprawling grand hotel or huge edifice rising high into the sky.

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Copyright Tamas Szabó

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest surviving Florentine bridge. Its current incarnation was built in 1345. The first version was built by the Romans, and first mentioned in 996. In 1117, it was destroyed by a flood, and the second bridge was destroyed by another flood in 1333. Only two central piers were saved. Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River at its narrowest point.

Like Budapest, Florence too saw all her bridges destroyed when the Germans surrendered and fled the city. However, unlike Budapest, Florence was left with this one bridge. Supposedly, this was because of an order from Hitler. Regardless, access to the bridge was blocked, since the Germans blew up the buildings on either end.

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Damaged but not destroyed

The bridge has always hosted merchants, kiosks, and shops. According to legend, the concept of bankruptcy originated here, as a money-charger who couldn’t pay his or her debts had the table where the goods were sold (banco) broken (rotto) by soldiers. Hence, the newly-coined term bancorotto (broken table), or banca rotta (broken bank). Without a table, the merchant could no longer sell anything.

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Taken by famous photographer Carlo Brogi

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View from above, Copyright sailko

Above the bridge is the Vasari Corridor, built by Giorgio Vasari on orders from Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565. This corridor connected Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) with Palazzo Pitti (chief residence of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s rulers). In 1593, the Medicis forbade butchers from selling on the bridge, so it wouldn’t be seen as a low-class place. Butchers had had a monopoly on the shops since 1442. In their place went gold merchants.

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View from below, Copyright sailko

My characters Imre and Csilla reunite on Ponte Vecchio after a brief separation, 22 November 1945, Imre’s 19th birthday. Imre stayed behind in Budapest on some mystery business, which he reveals is exactly what she suspected, going to her hometown Abony to dig up the valuables in her coal cellar and to confront the gendarme who’s now living there, the gendarme who tortured her last June.

Imre also reveals a broken hand, acquired when he accidentally punched a brick wall in his white-hot rage, not realising the gendarme had already fallen unconscious to the floor. He still wasn’t satisfied, and kicked the gendarme over and over again, finishing him off with a shovel to the head, and possibly killing him. Imre says he only did it because he loves her so much, the first time he’s told her he loves her.

Sunset fills the sky after this romantic declaration.

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Copyright Martin Falbisoner