Category Archives: Claire Gallou

Piette 2015 Day 7

The Piette Program can be seen as a series of moments.  And each of us in the family (you will now see Piette students refer to their team of 12 as “The Fam”!  They even designed a family tree) is touched by different moments, in a life-changing way.  That is one of the major goals of this trip.  Some of us were struck by 2000-year-old beautiful armors at the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale last Friday.  Some of us stopped in our tracks at the Louvre.  Some of us were enthralled stepping into Monet’s gardens.  Many of us were moved to the core by the WWII American cemetery and Caen Memorial.  The point is that being here, being in the place, makes a difference that no book, no 3D video can match.


And then there is the culture that surrounds all these moments.  Each meal is an experience.  Each adventure on the metro creates memories.  Each stroll around Paris added a piece to our puzzle, our experience of the City of Light.  Ask the Fam, too.  They will want to tell you about the shower gel in the Ibis hotels (“Bubbles Inside”), the unforgettable 7am run on a Normandy beach, seeing French school children walk around the museum with them, the variety of food in the grocery store, the presentation of the ice-cream, our gigantic black bus, etc., etc., etc….




IMG_2856Expect to see them come back…  different!



Piette 2015 : Follow Us on Social Media

The Piette trip is a whirlwind, in some sense.  We see and experience such a variety of places, works of art, moments in history, cultural differences, and food items, that we barely remember our first day in Paris by now.

Because we have had difficulties uploading pictures to this blog, we decided to go for social networks, so you can now find snapshots and short comments updated very regularly on facebook, twitter, and instagram:


Twitter: @Piette_Program

Instagram: pietteprogram

Follow us along and spread the word!

IMG_2769Le Sacré Coeur, Montmartre, Paris, June 13 2015

Here we are! Piette 2015

Welcome to the Piette Program 2015 edition! On this blog, student and faculty participants will report their experiences, discoveries, and questions. They will update you on their research projects and they will post documents. Feel free to comment and interact with us as we pursue our 17-day journey back in time, as part of the Learning in the World initiative at Phillips Academy Andover.

To see who is on the trip this year, click on the “Contributors” tab at the top of the page.

Our itinerary will take us from Paris to Normandy, to the Loire Valley, to Sarlat and Les Eyzies, to Mas d’Azil, from 1939 to -30,000…

The program has now entered its most exciting phase: the TRIP! We arrived in Paris three days ago and already so much has happened.

One of the major goals of our expedition is to understand the depth of human history and find our place in it. So we started with a walk at the heart of Paris, right after getting off the plane, to get a sense of the depth of the history of this city that everyone seems to know. We visited the “crypt” at the Notre Dame Cathedral, a small underground place where remnants of former versions of Paris were found. We came close to parts of walls built by the Romans 2,000 years ago, and other parts of walls that belonged to the fortress that was Paris in Medieval times. After that, we visited the Cathedral itself.

Next, we walked around the two islands in the center of Paris where the city was born, l’Île de la cité and l’Île St Louis. As we explored the historical aspects of the place, we experienced its present treasures such as Berthillon ice-cream and the bouquinistes stands.

On day 2 we spent the day at the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.  Catherine Schwab, curator of the Paleolithic collections, hosted us and showed us the galleries as well the amazing Piette room and museum reserves.  Pictures to come!

On day 3 we toured Paris in our chic black private van with our guide Josh.  Then we visited Versailles.  All of this with fantastic weather!

Today is museum day, and our last day in Paris.  We are at the Louvre right now and this afternoon we will see Monet’s water lilies at l’Orangerie or the Musée d’Orsay (split groups).

Tomorrow, on our way to Normandy, we will stop at Monet’s house in Giverny.  Stay tuned!

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.


It’s all about the people

The Piette trip was extra-ordinary.  Literally.  Not so much because of the Louvre or the Chenonceau castle themselves, though they too had a significant impact on our participants, of course.  Yet for me, and I believe for all of us, whether we noticed it or not, what made this adventure so special was the people who welcomed, cared for, guided, and taught us.  I was blown away by how eager each scientist, archaeologist, guide, host, historian, and administrator was to spend time with us and share with us passions, knowledge, lessons, and values, without prompting.  I did not expect this much enthusiasm, from this many extraordinary people.

Each of these people provided a mine of information, but also craft, eagerness, and kindness.  Each of them was an example of what happens not at the higher level of any art, when an expert enjoys success and can afford to be demanding, but what happens at the highest level: when an expert becomes interested in what is outside of his or her field of expertise, and when he or she becomes completely and genuinely humble.

Take our first host, Catherine Schwab, curator of the Paleolithic collections at the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale in St-Germain-en-Laye.  She knows everything about the prehistoric era.  She has published many articles, is invited everywhere to curate exhibits and attend conferences.  She holds a key position in a national museum, where millions of artifacts are stored, preserved, loaned, studied, and exhibited.  My interactions with her before the trip were, as I expected, formal and efficient.

Yet when we showed up at the museum on June 13, she took her formal hat off and spent the entire day with us, doing all of the guiding and commentary herself, conducting our private Piette room visit herself (all in very good English), taking us to the reserves herself, and staying with us the entire time as we observed the work performed in the conservation workshop.   She could have skipped the chapel, but she made a point of taking us there between two other locations.  By the end of the day (she did overtime for us, as did the workshop staff, without ever letting it show) she was all smiles and decided to take us onto the roof of the castle that hosts the museum, something that was clearly not part of the original plan.  She let us frolic up there until we had taken dozens of pictures and had gazed leisurely in the distance to see Paris, the gardens, the hills, the rooftops.  It almost seemed as though she had a hard time saying goodbye!  Luckily for us, we realized that we would see her again a week later at the exhibit opening we would attend in Les Eyzies, 400 miles south.

SpSum2014_230Catherine Schwab with us on the roof of the MAN.

When she saw us there, Catherine was clearly pleased.  We could sense her stress as she had been frantically setting up the exhibit there all day and was about to let the first visitors in, a large group of experts in the field (and us!).  She again spent time with us in the exhibit, and smiled for group pictures.  I noticed how eager some of our students were to see her again.  She had become a role model, mentor, figure, or simply very interesting person to them and they felt something special with her.  The impression she made on them will stay for ever, and will, I’m sure, be with them somehow as they set off to decide what it is they want to do for a living.

Instead of a demanding, busy, unreachable figure, Catherine was genuinely interested in us, eager to share with us, and incredibly humble.  That is what I call the highest level of an art, science, or profession.  Thank you, Catherine.

Now, I don’t have enough space here to explain how each of the incredible people we met on the trip matched Catherine’s greatness.  But I will indulge in thanking them, roughly in chronological order.  I will probably forget some, not because they are forgettable, but because there were so MANY.  I must admit I did not realize that as I was planning Piette.

Philippe, the master artist of the MAN workshop (with the most unusual professional path), showed us how to make a cast of an artifact, went on to show us his metallic creations (made of steel wires, hidden in a cabinet) to hold artifacts the perfect way for an exhibit, and was looking for more things to show.  We learned how to take off layers of dirt and corrosion from glass, and how to cautiously sandblast pieces to bring their original splendor back to life.   He explained to us how his job is to look at all kinds of fields, practices, and professions to find the right tools for artifact conservation.  Dentist drill?  Check.  Philippe even stayed with us to go onto the roof — something even he did not get to do often!

Josh, guide extraordinaire (but that I knew beforehand, as the students will tell you!), clicked with us immediately and offered us the best tour of Paris and Versailles I could have imagined.   Born in Massachusetts, he lives in Paris now.  He shared his life story with us and had many, many anecdotes to tell as well as questions for the students.  He explained history as a story, and brought it to life.  He was genuinely interested in us.  He knew his craft so, so well and the day was a breeze.  He had gotten us a small VIP van instead of a tourist bus, so we could go to Montmartre and take the smallest streets.  Ok, there is more, but…   Thank you, Josh.  I’m going to work hard on getting you as a Tour Director to be with us throughout the trip one of these years.


Josh at the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre

Christian, the kindest human being one can imagine, and hence the best bus driver ever, had quite the life story to share, too, and agreed to take us on roads he could have refused to take his 53-seater on.  He was at the highest level of his art too, as students will tell you when they remember his parking and u-turn skills!  And he was extremely humble about it.

Christian at Commarque SpSum2014_506

Marie-Cécile Ruault-Marmande, of the Musée de Préhistoire in Les Eyzies prepared a unique visit for us.  Not only did she invite us to the opening of their temporary exhibit, but she put us in touch with the best of their guides for a private museum tour and a visit of one of the most impressive caves in the area, Font de Gaume.  Our guides themselves, at Font de Gaume and at the museums, were unusually kind, interested in us, and passionate about their art.

Our guide at Commarque was also named Philippe, if I remember well.  We spent only an afternoon with him, but I will never forget how personal the visit was with him.  He gave us a sense of the depth of the history of the place in an unobtrusive, casual way that made us experience it for ourselves, somehow.  He knew all the details about the property, too.   By the end of the visit I felt as though I had known him for years.

I had the same feeling about the owner of the gîtes where we stayed in Ariège, Frédéric Moncassin, former professional cyclist who is still very active on the scene.  While we were admiring his professional victory jerseys, articles published about him and other realia framed on the walls of the houses, he was offering to do our laundry!  He came to us every time he saw us and was the kindest, most flexible person imaginable.  He let our Tour Director work in his living-room for wifi access and offered his driveway to our gigantic bus.  We will be in touch and I can’t wait to go back next year.

Count Robert Bégouën, most famous prehistorian, who discovered some of the most important caves in the field, opened his mansion to us so that we could see his family’s private site museum.  I felt as though I were in a Harry Potter book.  He was so casual and open about our visit!  He and his family always refused to open the caves on their property to the public or to make any profit from them.  All they want to do is share the wonder.

Sébastien Lacombe and Kathleen Sterling may deserve the “Most Extraordinary” award, although comparison is almost impossible at this point. I don’t know where to begin.  They welcomed 9 untrained teenagers to dig at their fragile and unique open-air archaeological site of Peyre Blanque.  They had visited Andover in the spring to present their work and meet the Piette crew.   They joined us for dinner at the gîte.  They spent hours explaining to us why prehistory and archeology are so important for humanity, how digging should be done (CONTEXT!!), and why it should be limited (new techniques will surely emerge that will allow for better study of what is buried, so let’s dig out only 10% and leave the rest of our distant past untouched — how humble is that?).  Believe it or not, they want to do MORE with us next year.

SpSum2014_561Sébastien Lacombe shows a horse-shaped sculpted stone he found at the site.

Margaret Conkey, whose name students noticed on the wall of the Mas d’Azil museum, astounded me with her incredibly personable and passionate teaching.  Professor Emerita at Berkeley, having revolutionized the field several times with her new theories, former chair of the Society of American Archaeology, she spent hours with us at the digging site sifting through dirt and sharing anecdotes, asking about each student’s life and story.  She spent a long time with a group of our girls at dinner and quickly became a mentor figure for several of them.  To top it off, she spread the word about how happy she had been to work with us!  A few days ago, she agreed to become a member of the Peabody Museum’s Advisory Committee (PAC), and we are elated!  Thank you, Meg.


Meg and Sharan screen dirt together.

I could go on.  Remember, Piette crew: it was all about the people.  And we will stay in touch with them!


Yesterday, as you may have noticed, we assigned a special blog post to our Piette team: how different has it been for you so far to be in the places where history happened, as opposed to reading about them in books or videos?

The seed of this assignment planted itself in my mind when I was looking for something meaningful to bring back from Normandy for my classroom, or for my French courses.  I looked around in the museums’ gift shops to find DVDs, memorabilia, books, workbooks, comic strips, or replicas.  I became frustrated because none of these things could convey exactly the…  the…  what was it?

It was something that could not be transmitted in any other way than by experiencing the place.  It was a deep, very deep and complex feeling that only the soft sound of the wind and waves over the solemn and simple graves at the D-day cemetery could produce.  It was the awe when looking at the remnants of the artificial harbor at Arromanches, right there, still standing.  Combined with documentaries shown in the museums, these experiences allowed me to literally com-prehend the confusion, the panic, the horror, but also the determination, the courage, and the love that accompanied these boys on the D-day beaches 70 years ago.  From instant drowning on the beach to walking through Paris two months later, anything was possible.

I thought to myself “Good, I’m getting something from this…  wait — that was the major purpose of this program to being with!  To make history tangible.  To make us more aware global citizens.  To give us a deeper sense of history, time, and their lessons.  Well, it’s happening!”

Little did I know what the Memorial in Caen would do to me the next day.

The main part of the Caen Memorial is dedicated to World War II as a whole.  Its structure makes it unique.  It leads the visitor on a chronological path that spirals downwards as time passes, from the roaring 1920s at the top, to the dark years of occupation and total war down at the bottom.  Down low, right after the war declaration in 1939, there is a passage through a large, dark, and almost empty sphere, with only one huge image facing the visitor: Adolf Hitler climbing long stairs towards power.

After that, the soundscape and memorabilia tell the story.  Everyone in our group spent a long time in that tunnel of history.  It was an important moment, as close as I could get to understanding all of this.  It culminated when I read on the wall a letter written to his wife by a German soldier who had to execute numerous women, children, and babies.  At first it was difficult, he wrote.  But then, you got used to it.  And in fact, that death was better than the death these babies would have had with gas or torture, he continued.

Had I read this letter in a book at home, I would have been shocked, but in a very abstract way.  Yesterday, when I read it, tears suddenly rolled on my cheeks, just like that.  My chest burned.  I felt it in my bones.  There, there was the confusion.  There was the horror.  There was the unfathomable.  But not in isolation.  Because I had been at the American cemetery the day before, because I had heard the wind there, because I had seen the harbor at Arromanches, because I had seen the films in the auditorium, because I had walked on Omaha Beach, this letter was able to act as a catalyst, and I touched the unfathomable.  No matter how much I write about it, you will not feel it.  You have to go there and be open.

What’s the point, you say?

Understanding the lessons.  Being warned.  Gaining compassion.  Gaining perspective.  Acting as engaged citizens.  Leading as peacemakers.  As I noticed in the museum because of its great presentation, the substrate of World War II, what made it possible, was a combination of factors that is frighteningly similar to characteristics of our current world: a financial crisis, followed by an economic crisis, accompanied by the rise of political extremes, followed by the casual invasion of territories without much reaction from the international community, for peace’s sake…  rings a bell?

As a nice closure, I realized that the name of the place is not, as I kept saying, the Caen War Memorial, but the Caen Memorial for Peace.  Indeed.


Program director expectations

When I was preparing this trip, people invariably warned me. “You know, with students, you have to be careful.” Students will pack too much. They will be late. They won’t listen. They will get lost. They will not follow. They will complain. They will be loud. In short, expect them to be a pain. That’s normal. They are just teenagers.

I knew that my expectations could be slightly higher than these warnings suggested, because Andover teenagers are not “normal.” They are eager to learn, comparatively mature, very very smart, and good people.

Yet I did not expect what I witnessed when we got to Paris. Not only had the students packed reasonably, not only were they following directions and remaining tolerant in challenging situations, but they were always early at meeting times, always at the right meeting points, always staying in groups, always listening carefully, always respectful. They spent a lot of time carefully studying the sites we visited. They asked for more. They had interesting questions for all of our guides, who looked understandably surprised at the relevance of the comments.   As a natural consequence, our guides invariably stayed with us a little longer than necessary, talked to the kids, told them more. Showed them more. I am fairly certain that their eagerness and demeanor was the reason why the MAN’s curator Mrs. Schwab spontaneously offered us to climb onto the roof of the castle at the end of our day with her. She and her staff stayed overtime that evening.

No student has gotten lost (I can’t say as much of the adults!). Everyone is taking care of him or herself remarkably well. We assign a blog post for the next 24h, and the next morning, half of the students have a post. Tonight, all of them ordered dinner in French. Their knowledge of world history has increased significantly, and we are about to dive even more deeply in time now. Onto the South!


What a first day!!  After a two-hour flight delay, we had a nice flight and a very busy first day in Paris.  We have already collected tons of stories and taken tons of pictures.  The wifi at the hotel doesn’t work — I am sending this from the sidewalk in front of another hotel on the same street…  so no pictures for now, but soon!

M & M

I would like to dedicate this surreal evening, waiting for our flight to Paris at gate E06, to the two people who will be in my thoughts throughout this journey: Malinda and Marshall.

Malinda Blustain was the Director of the Peabody Museum of Archeology at Andover when this program was born.  She had the idea of asking the French Department to help her translate a long letter she had received from the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris.  I will never forget this casual lunch we shared at the dining hall in late 2009, thinking about how to deal with this very long letter.  She suggested involving students.  I replied enthusiastically that I happened to be teaching advanced courses that could accommodate such a project easily.  A year and a half later, she and I were flying to Paris to return two precious Piette pebbles to the French museum and imagine how to bring students there.  A year after that, the idea of the Piette Program was born.

Marshall Cloyd has been an extraordinary steward of the Peabody Museum for a long time.  He picked up immediately on the idea of a collaboration between the Peabody and the MAN in France.  He enthusiastically supported and advocated a student trip to France.  It was thanks to his generous funding that Malinda and I were able to go to Paris in 2011.  It was thanks to his enthusiasm and support that I continued working on this project.  So, in many ways, it is thanks to him that we are at gate E06 tonight.

Thank you, Malinda.  Thank you, Marshall.