Monthly Archives: June 2015

Making Tools

Blog Post #4
Despite having been involved with the Peobody Museum since the beginning of my Upper year, I’m not sure what I was expecting for the archeology portion of this trip. Thus, our time with Professor Sebastian Lacombe on Wednesday was a pleasant surprise. Our morning was divided into a lesson on prehistoric tools, time spent surveying a plowed field for artifacts, and a follow-up meeting observing and discussing what we collected.
During the lesson on prehistoric tools, all of us became instantly enthralled with the hands-on aspect of the archaeology. To demonstrate methods of making tools, Sebastian showed us flint, which is a type of rock suitable for various uses. In his demonstration, a harder and blunter rock was used to chisel away at hunks of flint called “cores”. One by one, we passed around the materials, and tried it out. Most of us were able to break off sizable pieces of flint! With our new tools, some of us carved fallen sticks into spears; I, personally, worked on an whittling an arrow. As someone who teaches archery, I found this process insanely interesting, because it really hit the demonstration home for me.
In all, I really enjoyed the archeological portion of our trip!


Piette reflection

Reflection on my project:

I have been collecting pictures of pottery for almost two weeks now, and have gone through many stages of ideas for the focus of my project. At first I thought perhaps I would center my project around different time periods of ceramic, and later I thought that maybe specific regions would be more relevant. And now, I think that maybe I should focus on the usage of pottery. After exploring multiple museums and finding some ceramic in the field today, I have started to realize that ceramic wears many hats; sometimes it is simply something practical, and other times it is 100% decorative. This is something that I find fascinating, and would love to explore more deeply. Does the usage of ceramic depend on time period or the culture of a certain region? Does it depend on access to certain materials? Does it depend on other art? Perhaps this focus is just as broad and confusing as my other ideas, but I think it is fascinating and could tie everything together.

Reflection on the Piette trip:

It feels too soon to be reflecting on this trip because it is hard to believe that it is almost over. However, looking back, I am not only reflecting on specific moments that stand out to me, but group and personal growth. I remember arriving at Logan airport, and how our whole group felt awkward and non-cohesive. I remember wondering how our group of twelve would bond, and what it would be like to spend over two weeks together. As a group, we have come so far. Not only have we created a family tree with designated family member positions (including the adults), we have had countless conversations and countless laughs. I am so grateful to have become closer to certain people who I did not know so well before, and being able to travel around France with this group has been a truly unique opportunity. In terms of personal growth, I love that my sense of history has expanded. From amazing visits to the inside of caves to “talking rocks” history has not only deepened, it has become more tangible; something that perhaps is not so far away and not so irrelevant, but something that is extremely important to our lives today.

The rocks talk

Today, we got a small taste of what it may be like to be an archeologist in Fabas, Ariège. A short bus ride landed us in a quaint rural area with green mountainous scenery. As we walked along a small woodsy path, Sebastian, our knowledgeable archeologist, pointed out different types of rock; limestone and sandstone. He then showed us how we could recreate some of the prehistoric tools that we have been learning about and seeing in museums. After many failed attempts and the realization that these tools are very difficult to create, our group pushed forward and eventually ended up in an open field of crops. Each of us took a lane in between the delicate greens, with the instruction to find things that may be prehistoric artifacts, and collect them. I quickly scanned my lane and wondered how I was supposed to find artifacts among plants, dirt, and rocks. I bent down under the persistent sun and began to search, still somewhat unsure of exactly what I was searching for.

In less than six minutes I had filled an entire small collection bag with artifacts. It amazed me how quickly your eye can become accustom to seeking out what is different, what stands out. Among the light brown dusty soil, I would spot hints of purple-pink flint or bright white rock sticking out; and while some were broken by modern day plows or simply nature, others had clear signs of intentional markings, they had clear signs of prehistoric man. I even found some ceramic pieces. How cool! While I don’t know if archeology is my desired profession, it was a very unique opportunity.

As exciting as it was to collect artifacts from a seemingly random field of crops, what intrigued me most was what we learned afterwards. On an open table back at the gîte, we spread out our rocks and started to wash and sort them. To me they all sort of looked like rocks. Yes, I could see that some of them had specific chunks taken out of them that clearly made them artifacts, but I could not exactly tell what was so special about any individual rock. Sebastian had us pick up certain rocks; he asked us questions such as “what do you see” or “why is this unique” and then explained specific pieces to us. As he talked about the pieces in front of me, I was baffled by how much interpretation and history the rocks held. A rock with different long strips taken out of it and bigger chunks meant that the rock was utilized as a core, designed specifically to create long pieces of flint. A rounded part of a rock that slimmed down meant that above it was the point of contact. A prehistoric man had struck the rock in that specific spot on the! The more I looked at the rocks and listened to Sebastian, the more I felt the rocks begged their story to be told.

Animal Lover: Part 1

I love cows. They truly have it all: adorable faces, chill personalities, delicious dairy products, and glorious red meat. What other animal provides such a perfect combination of friend and food capabilities? To those who know me, my love of cows is very clear. My dorm room is decorated with pictures and postcards of cows from around the world, and so far on the trip I’ve already purchased a number of cards to add to this collection. If you asked my friends what my life motto is, I’m positive “butter makes it better” would be at the top of the list (alongside “fat equals flavor” and “if you haven’t had one or two weird diseases in your life, you’re not doing it right”). I drink my coffee with pure whipping cream instead of half-and-half, and I’ve been known to make some ungodly sounds over a good steak. I LOVE cows.

Travelling across the various regions of France, you’ll see each one touting its own “regional specialties”. The region of Normandy is known, among many things, as cow country, so as you can imagine, I was thrilled about the prospect of a visit. I began to get even more excited as we started to roll through the cow-dotted landscapes around Giverny and Caen.

There are many ways Normandy celebrates its bovine renown. Ordering a dish with “Normande” in the name off of a local menu will almost certainly guarantee you some delicious cream or cheese. Many restaurants and shops in the region specifically advertise their dairy products as locally made in Normandy (and not just in the region- a lot of the butter you find in French supermarkets also touts “fabrique en Normandie”). The two most memorable cow inspired dishes I had while there were a seared entrecôte, a cut of steak equivalent to a sirloin, and a “Galette Normande”, a buckwheat crepe featuring apples, cream, onions and emmental cheese. It’s safe to say that cow country did not disappoint.

Archeology Surprised Me

Of all the things that surprised me on this trip, in addition to how much better French supermarkets are compared to American ones, I never thought I would love the archeological aspect of this trip the way I did. In all honesty, my main motivations for coming on this trip were for the French language, culture and history, and archeology and prehistory were really secondary considerations that were just parts of the package Piette deal. So maybe it was just due to my minimal expectations, but I was absolutely amazed by the prehistory we experienced on this trip. Walking through caves like Niaux and Mas d’Azil, or in the case of the Rouffingac cave taking the cave train, felt surreal. 
I became so interested in the archeology aspect of Piette that I actually ended up centering my trip project around it. At the different prehistory museums we visited, I paid special attention to the displays of prehistoric women figurines in order to study how the image of the “ideal” woman differs between prehistory and today. We saw female figurines in the National Prehistory Museum in Les-Eyzies, in the National Archeology Museum in Saint Germain-en-Laye, and recreations in all of the cave gift shops that we visited. I observed that nearly all of the figurines looked like they were pregnant with exaggerated hips, stomachs, and breasts. My project still has a long way to go, but I noticed that this commonality puts an emphasis on fertility in a way unlike modern images of women do. I’m looking forward to further developing my project back in the US, now that I’ve gathered evidence from across France. 

My Project

In all honesty, I went into this trip relatively unaware of French current events, so I was surprised by many of the cultural and political happenings of Paris; particularly, the extent of impact that the Charlie Hebdo shooting left on the city. This is most prominently displayed in the active military presence at every crowded (or otherwise popular) spot in the city. Men and women dressed in full gear and holding large, combat-style weapons, could be found at almost every destination we visited. Although I am not usually interested in military-related things, seeing these soldiers left me with a lot of questions, and a change in heart towards my project on this trip. Rather than creating a fictional piece surrounding the timeline we followed, as I had originally intended, I am now focusing on methods of defense.

I plan on completing my project in a timeline-like fashion, examining weaponry and methods of defense across the time periods we’ve studied. This will most likely be a vehicle for further exploration of my findings in Paris, as well as a way to explore other areas with which I am less familiar; in particular, I hope to extend this research to aspects of World War II in France, like the Battle of Normandy. I am not particularly knowledgeable on any of these subjects, so my research will have to be thorough, but I feel that it will nicely supplement what we have learned and experienced on this trip, and I am excited to present my findings!

Below are pictures of military personnel outside of l’Hôtel Des Invalides, a former military housing establishment, which we visited on our tour of Paris:

Saturday: 6/20

For me, last Saturday was one of the more particularly memorable days of the trip. Across France, we have visited some truly incredible places, but my favorite by far has been Sarlat. The town is adorable, my roommates were awesome, and the general atmosphere there is very pleasant— if I had the chance, I don’t think I would leave! While all 72 hours of our time there was great, I think our first full day really exemplified the nature of this town.

Our day on Saturday started off late, because we were given “free time” to explore the town until mid-afternoon; naturally, this started with a sleep-in, which has been rare on this trip. In Sarlat, there are outdoor marketplaces throughout the entirety of the downtown area each Wednesday and Saturday morning, so we got to spend the morning immersed in the local culture. Up and down the streets, vendors set up large tents, selling everything from jewelry and clothing, to fresh fruits and meats; duck is a local specialty, so many stands were selling fois gras and other pâtes. Armed with allotted lunch money and my french conversational skills, I wandered the streets observing all that Sarlat had to offer, and I was not disappointed. In the end, I purchased a carton of strawberries and some pork gyoza (delicious, albeit non-French), as well as nougat for my mother.

That afternoon, after about an short break to recover from the marketplace, our Piette family ventured to the ruins of a faux-castle, called “le Chateau de Commarque”. The structure is quite broken down, but was once a fortified community of towers, inhabited by a multitude of individual families. The structure is layered in three parts: at its base, there are caves with prehistoric paintings (which we weren’t allowed to see). The middle layer are troglodyte dwellings, and the upper portion is the collection of towers. While we all enjoyed the free wifi at the establishment, the experience was at Commarque was also extremely educational, and laid the foundation for our following castle excursions.

Story Telling

While walking around the U shaped room, squinting my eyes, trying to view each detail on the Bayeux tapestry, I was struck with a question about story telling. I wondered, how many different ways were there to affectively tell a story? I always associated story telling with printed words on paper or the soothing sounds of someone’s voice, but while trying to comprehend the nearly one thousand year old linen tapestry, I realized story telling could come in all forms. The Bayeux tapestry depicts the Norman invasion of England with more beauty and clarity than any combination of words could create, so why was it that this form of story telling has become almost unknown to the modern world? While today we focus mostly on phonetic story telling, in the past pictographic writing was quite common across many cultures. This year in history I learned about the Maya people’s pictographic script, so it was interesting to see the other ways in which pictographic writing had been used. While the Bayeux tapestry was created in a time where phonetic writing was known, it is still interesting to see the ways in which pictographic depictions were present.

Today in the caves of Grotte de Rouffignac, the 14,000 years old drawings on the walls tell another pictographic story. While these striking illustrations of mammoths, ibex, mastodons, and horses seem just simple artwork, to me, they tell the story of the lives of these prehistoric people. Pictographically, they display what these people saw and encountered in their sector of world history, as well as showing which animals were the most important to them. Animals like the mammoth, portrayed several times throughout the cave, were sources of food, clothes, tools, etc. for these people.

While these were ways of story telling I had given little thought to beforehand, thinking back on our experiences in Normandy provided me with another view on story telling. The battle on the beaches on D-Day tell the story of heroism, teamwork, and determination. Being present at the cemetery and on the beaches really allowed me to understand and really get a feel for the story that this great day in history told.

French Paintings

June 15, 2015

Before coming to France, I decided that I wanted to do some research on French art, specifically paintings, and maybe compare pieces from different time periods in history. I chose to look at paintings because while I used to paint, I had never taken the time to learn more about its history.

Research for my project began in the Louvre, on our last day in Paris. I had been to the Louvre before, but I remember not having a clear idea of what I wanted to see, and simply wandered around the vast museum with my family. This time, however, I had taken a map of the Louvre from the information desk and was excited to find the rooms containing French paintings.

For the first hour or so I spent in the Louvre, I found it nearly impossible to cross from the left wing to the right, where most of the French painting galleries were located. Though I couldn’t find my way in the museum, I found this to be a great time to practice bits of French by asking for directions. After stumbling upon several of the Louvre’s main attractions such as the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, I finally found a room containing French paintings from the 19th century. These paintings all exhibited stunning realism with a dark palette, and I discovered most depicted war scenes. I then took an elevator up to the second floor where I sadly was notified that the room containing the 18th century French paintings were undergoing renovation. Luckily, I was able to view the 17th century paintings instead. Several of these shared secular themes, with quite a few paintings illustrating Christ in various settings. I was very pleased with my time spent in the Louvre, as I felt that I had witnessed a large majority of the French paintings that they exhibited.

After a lunch at the Louvre, we went to a yet another museum, the Musée d’Orsay. While not as large as the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay has many interesting qualities of its own, originally having been a train station, and now housing the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The paintings in the museum were mostly completed in the late 19th to the early 20th century, in other words, not too long after the first gallery I had visited in the Louvre. However, the paintings in the Musée d’Orsay were remarkably different. Instead of the dark colors, and realistic portraits/war scenes found in the Louvre, the impressionists decorated their canvases with bright colors depicting beautiful landscapes, with visible brush strokes.

In this one day, I was able to find a remarkable amount of information on my project. I hope to find more later on during the trip in other regions of France!