Monthly Archives: August 2014

aaah…the memories

A couple of days ago I was walking through the grocery store with my mom, when I saw canned “spotted dick”. Now don’t be alarmed it is not what you think it is. Spotted dick is a British pudding that soldiers ate during WW2. The only reason I know this is because I bought a wartime recipe book on a whim in Arromanche. Arromanche was one of the towns that was stormed during the Normandy invasion. This is where the Allie forces set up a artificial port. They dropped huge concrete blocks into the water to help break all the waves, around that they towed in bridge parts that were linked together to form a path onto shore. Through this port the Allie troops were able to funnel in supplies and troops into France.

I will probably never cook anything from this book because the recipes are gross, but it will be fun to look through it and laugh about it. Also looking through it will bring back all the memories from Normandy, which was my favorite stop (except for the caves).


It’s All about the People (II)

Hmm…  Yes, it was all about the people.

Sharan delved into art everywhere, asked fantastic questions, and didn’t seem to mind the dirt at all!  Here she is gazing through the train window on the way to the MAN.


Jacob absorbed so much new information during the trip.  He was curious and focused everywhere.  He was also very helpful at the gîtes!  This is on the roof of the MAN.


Haille was everyone’s friend.  Attentive and meticulous, she applied herself to all tasks at hand and allowed the group to shine.  Here she is on the roof of the MAN.


Thank you Mr. Porter for documenting the entire trip for posterity!  In this photo Mr. Porter enjoys our lunch at a wonderful bakery in Amboise.


Camille became friends with most adults on the trip!  Her fluent French allowed her to delve deeper and absorb French culture.  I can’t help but post two pictures, because of their revealing contrast of reflection and fun. One is on the terrace of the Musée de Préhistoire (listening to Dr. Wheeler), and the other, well…



Here Dr. Wheeler talks to Camille about prehistory and museography, on the terrace of the MNP.  Dr. Wheeler was our ambassador in all places related to prehistory and archaelogy.  His willingness to share his knowledge and engage with all kinds of administrators and experts on the trip was amazing.


Not to mention his cooking skills!  Ok, I can’t help but to post another portrait from a dinner at the house in Ariège…


Got a history question?  Ask Dr. Blunt!  He helped students understand details of historical paintings as well as remember major facts before visiting WWII sites.  And the students were never bored on the bus with Dr. Blunt around!


Sam did not hesitate to do her workouts with Camille at 6:30am in Ariège, and then chat about history and art at breakfast.   Here she is at dinner in Sarlat.SpSum2014_530

James did everything on the trip: focus on the visits, cultivate friendships, and entertain everyone with a wonderful sense of humor.  Thank you JT!  This is at dinner in Sarlat as well.


Thank you Ashley for your historical eye and eagerness!  Here she is at Peyre Blanque in front of the Pyrenees.


Indy had very interesting insights into the places we saw and people we met.  Her critical thinking was most helpful and made our conversations more fruitful (remember that WWII group discussion after dinner at the Ouistreham hotel?).   Here she is (second from the right) digging at Peyre Blanque.  She was good at avoiding cameras…


Chef and archaeologist Michaela got so much out of the trip and showed enthusiasm for all meals and hands-on activities we encountered.  Here she is professionally digging at Peyre Blanque.  She had the most impressive quadrant — look at that stone sticking out, part of the mysterious construction we helped uncover!


Yes, it was all about you people.


Public Service Announcement

So, as it says in the title, this is less of a blog post than a public service announcement regarding Gap Yah. First of all, there are multiple videos in the series: Gap Yah, Gap Yah 2: Afterparty, and Gap Yah 3: Intahnshup. It was made by an Oxford graduate named Matt Lacey, who said of the series, “It’s a satire on the great number of people who seem to be leaving these shores to vomit all over the developing world.” There is also a music video. You’re welcome.

It’s been real, guys. Actually, it’s been AHMAATHING. None of us were quite sure what to expect when we met at the airport, but we definitely bonded, Jell-O-fashion. On one of the last nights, at the gîtes, we were all talking about how far we had come from that day at the airport. Don’t be a stranger, everyone. And have this picture of Jell-O.


(This was exhaustively researched on Wikipedia).

A Handful of Memories

As I wrote in my earlier post, some specifics of our trip have evaded me. I no longer remember exactly what I ate at each meal (much to my foodie father’s chagrin) and I do not remember every single one of the MANY historical facts that were thrown our way. But here are a few of the many things I will never forget from this trip:

  • While Versailles was magnificent, I was particularly fond of the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Much subtler and smaller than Versailles (but definitely not less beautiful), Chenonceau was rich with history that really interested me. The beautiful estate and gardens have been home to many important figures in history (ex. Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers who are both shown on the CW show Reign). Also, the château was used as a hospital for soldiers during WWI. A common thread I noticed at these once-royal chateaus and castles is that while the buildings were once for the elite they are definitely now the people’s. This is actually the main reason why Versailles holds so many ballets, concerts, and firework shows on their grounds because unlike during the time of kings and queens, they want to be open for all of France to utilize.
  • Christian, the bus driver of our 53-seater bus, was a gem. Even when we were boarding the bus and seeing him for the first time that day, he would give us a hearty “buh-bye.” His driving skills were incredible though. He lead our bus through the narrowest of streets, the bumpiest of paths, and the highest of mountains. Parents: your children were 100% safe on the road when Christian was behind the wheel.
  • La Grotte du Mas d’Azil was naturally quite spectacular. But for some reason, the people who run it decided that the cave would be a prime place for a light show. Well, I’ve got news for you, Ariège’s department of tourism, it is not. The natural splendor and history of the cave does not need a (rather subpar) lightshow with medieval chamber music.
  • Similar to many others on the trip my perception of pre-historic people has changed. It’s easy to think of those people like the Geico Caveman ads portray them but they cultivated beauty in their lives. One of the brochures at a Cave asked the question if the paintings in caves should be considered art and my answer is YES! Paleolithic people were so thoughtful and resilient about their creations. Seeing the 2-foot crevices in which they would lay for hours painting really blew my mind. So few people nowadays would be so hard working. One interesting fact is that they would see movement in their paintings because of the flicker of their lamps! Kind of like a really early film!! (also, friendly travel trip to anyone embarking on a cave visit, bring a jacket… you can thank me later)
  • Last but definitely not least… Each year in France they celebrate the Fête de la Musique. Everyone across the nation gathers in the streets playing music and generally having a good time. We happened to be in Downtown Sarlat on this night and while eating dinner we heard rock music coming in through the window. It sounded relatively good so after dinner our group ventured out to find the music and found a band of teenagers playing… and not very well even though everyone around us seemed to think they were the next Beatles. Despite this, we ended up enjoying our night because of each other’s company. It was definitely my no. 1 favorite part of the trip.

Lastly, I am so glad to have embarked on this trip for the opportunity to see so many beautiful parts of France and to meet so many kind people. At first I was not looking forward to some of our long bus rides but I soon appreciated them for the views that they provided. I also cherished our free time at sites when I wander by myself, taking in the beauty of our surroundings in silence. Without this trip I never would have been able to see those sights or meet the kind (definitely-not-rude-like-the-stereotype-says) French people who mentored and taught us throughout the trip. I promised myself in the last few days of our trip that I would return to France to experience the beauty and kindness again. Thank you, Piette program, for exposing me to these two things.


I found this short video on my phone and thought I would share because not only does it shows the beauty of where we were in the Ariège but it also shows Christian’s driving skills. In the video we are driving down a mountain after visiting a cave (the same cave with the vampire-lady… the people on the trip will definielty remember her) and the roads were way too windy and narrow for our bus but Christian managed to get us down without a scratch.

Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Digging

Exactly five weeks since we stepped foot back unto American soil, I am once again revisiting our two-week adventure in France known as the Piette program. While some specifics of the trip have become a bit fuzzy I definitely have not forgotten the camaraderie that our little group managed to achieve by the end of the trip. Our closeness was especially evident during the last four days of our trip when we stayed in gîtes in the Ariège. We knew our stay in the gîtes would be special immediately upon arrival when we saw Frédéric Moncassin, the former professional cyclist who owned the gîtes, wielding a chainsaw to remove branches that prevented our (giant, flaming red) bus from entering his drive. He remained such a kind host throughout our four-day sojourn. In the girl’s gîte, five of us stayed in one huge room where the beds were lined up like in a sorority house. Although we loved the set-up, most of the fun happened in the boy’s gîte where we ate breakfast and dinner and sat around the couch laughing for hours.

This is what it looks like to buy four days worth of groceries for twelve people. Courtesy of Mr. Porter’s well-maintained SmugMug for the trip.
This is what it looks like to buy four days worth of groceries for twelve people. Courtesy of Mr. Porter’s well-maintained SmugMug for the trip.

The whole reason we were in the Ariège, right on the foot of the Pyrénées, was to be members of Sébastien Lacombe and Kathleen Sterling’s team at Peyre Blanque, an open-air archaeological site. Prior to our arrival, their team had already uncovered the top of a set of rocks in a unique structure. Our two full days at the site were spent gently pushing aside dirt to find small clues as to what lay beneath. While that might sound boring it felt so good to be working together as a team, moving towards a goal that could expose more about the pre-historic people we had learned about in museums. [Also working at the site was wonder-woman Meg Conkey. She was ah-mazingggg.]

Sébastien discussing what the rocks could be. If I remember correctly, one possibility for the structure was a burial site! Once again courtesy of Mr. Porter’s well-maintained SmugMug for the trip.
Sébastien discussing what the rocks could be. If I remember correctly, one possibility for the structure was a burial site! Once again courtesy of Mr. Porter’s well-maintained SmugMug for the trip.

A small disclaimer to anyone who ever plans on doing any archeological digging: You will be sore the next day. Lying, bending, and crouching for hour on end works a lot of muscles. I learned this on the last day of our trip when I woke up sore legs and arms. The pain was assuaged slightly though because on our second day at the site Ashley, Sam, and I started playing games and telling a story… about dinosaurs and dragons. While our (slightly crazy) story was not appreciated by those who preferred the quiet while digging, this was just an example of the friendships made on the trip.