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!
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:
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.
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when we got to both the Normandy American Cemetery on Tuesday, nor Omaha Beach. As a recent participant in History 300 (a course centered around about the last 350 years in America), with a high interest in World War II, attending these sites have been excellent supplements to my education. In addition, there is tremendous emotional baggage associated with the beaches and memorials in Normandy; it seems impossible to think of these sites, or even the region as a whole, without thinking of June 6, 1944.
Each of the sites were overwhelming in their own ways. In the cemetery, the effects of the Battle of Normandy are laid out in front of you; endless rows of marble gravestones stretch out as far as the eye can see. Thus, it was easy to visualize the impact of the conflict. Nonetheless, this did not detract from the power of the site; in fact, the vastness of the cemetery left me breathless. I was constantly reminding myself that each gravestone is representative of a real person, despite the impersonality of the symmetrical tombstones.
Somewhat contrastingly, I was most struck by the normalcy of Omaha Beach. With the exception of a few large, commemorative monuments, it looks like a completely normal beach. While we were there, a group of [presumably local] teenagers even started swimming in the ocean; extremely disrespectful, though it serves my point. Here, I felt overwhelmed by the contrast between how the beach appears now, and what it must have been like during the battle… When I closed my eyes, I tried to envision the type of carnage on Omaha depicted in the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but found the task nearly impossible. There, it was much more difficult to appreciate the significance of the beach. Only later did it truly hit me that where we stood, was the site of the bloodiest battle in Normandy.
Overall, I found myself in deep reflection throughout the majority of our time in Caen/Normandy, and felt extremely moved by the places we visited on Tuesday. I am extremely grateful to those who gave their lives for the cause of the Allies on the beaches, and I hope that our tradition of visiting these sites helps to properly honor their legacies.