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.
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 rock..wow! The more I looked at the rocks and listened to Sebastian, the more I felt the rocks begged their story to be told.
Today we visited “la grotte de rouffignac”, and as I sit here now with my laptop in front of me, I am wondering how I will attempt to translate my experience into words.
We entered the mouth of the cave, and with every step I took deeper into the cave, I could feel the air cooling around me and the moisture building in the air. As we waited to mount a small “train” that would carry us into the cave, the Piette family’s mood was light and nonchalant, we were laughing and joking, commenting on how the rocks around us looked like walnuts. However, as soon as we mounted the train and started to roll through the dark cave, the mood hushed immediately as we began to comprehend the vast history around us. I could not believe that the cave and the ride was real, it almost felt as if I was on a Disney world ride, and animated Pixar characters would jump out at me any minute.
The ride itself was astonishing, but then we stopped at the first cave drawing; and this was such an indescribable feeling. The beautiful paintings depicted three wooly rhinoceros, and although they were two dimensional, there was a quality of the depiction that made it seem as if it was moving. At first all I could think was: “people made those”… “people made those thousands of years ago”. Not only was I in utter awe of the fact that these were created, and survived to be showcased today, I had that sort of “bigger than self” feeling, similar to the feeling you experience when you stargaze. The drawings were extremely old, and I was aware that the person who created that painting was only a miniscule dot in all the expanse between that time and today; only a tiny mark in a long legacy of humans. And yet. At the same time the simple drawing spurs awe and reverence in the many people that witness it today. Perhaps history is not always great events or horrible catastrophes, but history is simply people, stories of those people who are not so different from us today.
The past six days have been a whirlwind of museums and information, places, and food, but the last 48 hours have been astonishingly burdensome. I have touched on World War II in history classes, and discussed the tragedies and casualties, but the recent experiences here in France have caused me to see and feel the weight of this devastating event on a deeper level; a level that could never have been accessed from a textbook or a classroom.
It began when we visited the Caen Peace Memorial Museum. Not only was it set up to physically walk you through the leading events, it continued to bring you through WWII, and narrate each event. One specific walkway in the museum was a thin, dark, downward slanting walkway with a large screen at the end. The screen displayed marching Nazi soldiers with the sound of commands and stomping combat boots. Even with the knowledge of the safe and stable museum around me, and the fact that the black and white video was simply a screen, I began to build a sense of the terror and magnitude of the event.
This feeling was only exacerbated when I watched the first half of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” that night. I had picked out the movie in the movie isle of Target the day before coming on the trip because I had never seen it and knew I would be visiting the D-day beaches. The first 20 minutes of the movie were tremendously gory; the realistic gruesome images of abrasions and massacre were difficult to digest. The next day when we visited the memorial cemetery and Omaha beach I could really visualize the event, and was almost surprised by the serenity of the blue waves and carefree weather surrounding me.
Standing there on the beaches with the wind swishing through my fingertips I faced the reality of the lives lost on that very plot of land. This feeling only swelled when I walked through the WWII cemetery. Winding my way through rows and rows of hundreds of identical white crosses, I felt like a trespasser on sacred grounds. Although it should seem obvious, reading the names of the soldiers engraved on the clean white stones made me painfully aware of how this war not only took many lives, but deeply effected the lives of those who lost loved ones. This series of experiences profoundly touched me, and although somewhat burdensome, I am truly grateful for my new understanding.
Thursday morning at 10:00am, our group of 15 arrived at Charles de Gaule airport tired and pale faced, our only source of energy being the adrenaline of complete enrapture in a new city.
The first day we stepped foot on European soil we explored the Latin quarter and simply tried to soak up the Parisian atmosphere. The city smells of motorcycle exhaust, fresh croissants, and it bubbles with french conversation. I was immediately reminded of how much I love the french atmosphere themes of food, cafes, and bustling street culture. Even the a-typical siren sounds of aiding vehicles added to the fresh experience. Compared to Boston where one must seek out the hidden jewels, I delighted in the fact that any seemingly ordinary cafe was surprisingly tasty. In the first cafe that we happened upon, I ordered a croque monsieur. It was delicious; I cannot wait for the food to come in the next couple of weeks!
I have been to Paris before with my family, however after 2 days, I feel this is already a novel experience. Something that has been the most surprising to me in the last couple of days has actually been the French language. I have been taking french for four years now, and find the language just as whimsical today as four years ago. Yet, even though I know my French has been improving, I have been quite surprised by how much French I have been able to understand. I have never been that kid who speaks five languages, or can understand multiple tongues; simply English. My dad speaks Korean and my mother speaks French and Portuguese, so I can understand multiple words in those languages, but language has always greatly intrigued me. If you speak more than one language, which language would you think in? If you becomes fluent in a language, do the words stop sounding simply like translations? Do they begin to hold real meaning in an entirely new language, or is it perpetually linked to your original language? Although I did not immediately begin to think in French, I felt that I could comprehend what people were saying around me. Even on menus, or in cathedrals, I found myself able to understand sentences, instead of just key words here and there. It has been a delightful surprise to be able to piece together certain sentences in such an extraordinary city!