Category Archives: Indiana

One Day More

So I started my blog for my project like two months ago, and some poor confused people have followed me without realizing that it was a school project. It’s kind of crazy that we’re all more than halfway through fall term, especially since it almost feels like June and Paris happened only last week. I apologize profusely if the title of this post makes the song get stuck in your head, but I was listening to Les Mis in my dorm last night, and it should be stuck in my head for at least this long weekend. Now you all get to share my pain.

Anyway, the other day, I was at a Gelb Gallery presentation. The exhibit was a collection of artwork from high school seniors in Botswana, but the presenter began with an image of a cave painting. He then asked everyone why we thought the person had made the picture. Everyone gave the expected answers that I would have given before the trip, and I realized that it’s actually quite easy to forget how important these answers really are. We expect the paintings to be spiritual because we assume that ancient people must have worshipped something. We assume that they painted them to be seen by others because we can’t imagine creating anything without getting credit for making something beautiful. We assume in many ways that these people must have been just like us, even though no one in those caves would have been able to see the whole animal at one time, let alone the whole cave.

Eventually, I raised my hand and said just that, but the presenter wasn’t completely happy with that because I think the whole point he was trying to make was that even ancient people tried to communicate through art. So, I tried, but it was a funny experience and it made me want all of you to be there so we could all raise our eyebrows.

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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.

Jello

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/07/15/jello-made-from-humans-is-not-as-weird-as-it-sounds/#.U90YQFauelI

(This was exhaustively researched on Wikipedia).

Hey I finished my blog post!

We’ve all been home for a few weeks now and in some ways, it really does seem like our trip was a lifetime ago. In others, however, it feels like it was just yesterday. I’m really struggling with ordering ice cream in English. It sounds like a completely absurd situation, but I ate a year’s worth of gelato in France.

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Here’s some of us outside one of the caves! (Photo credit to Mr. Porter; this is also on our Smug Mug). There are a lot of things I’ve taken away from this trip, but the most important element to me are the people. Firstly, we’ll all see each other in the fall, so that human element I can literally take away with me. Secondly, like Mr. Porter, learning more about “prehistoric” people was one of the most touching things I did during the trip. Even the most accurate picture can’t capture what you see in the caves, since I think the most striking part is the way the artists used the natural formation of the rocks as part of their works. One of our tour guides told us that they must have seen the animals in the rocks first and then used the paint to bring out what was already there. Given paint and a cave, there’s no way I could produce the same effect.

People today, people yesterday, and my kitten all seem to believe that the world was “made” to suit them (this argument below is partially taken from “Brilliant Blunders” by Mario Livio). Of course, we know that our universe supports life because if it didn’t, no one would be alive to know the difference. So yes, our planet is the right distance from the sun so that we don’t burn up or freeze and our water can stay in liquid form, and if we didn’t have carbon on our planet, we couldn’t be alive. That being said, it’s easy to assume that either the world has always existed the way it is today or that the present day is the culmination or the peak of all things that came before, yet some of the same forces that allow us to live also preserved proof that things have come before us and things will continue to come after us. In the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, there are two skeletons of children from a “prehistoric” period who were found in caves. They could have died violent deaths, which we were told was a rare occurrence. The pervasive violence that is found today simply did not exist on the same scale thousands of years ago, according to our tour guide. While our universe and planet can support us, they have also supported other organisms and other groups of people. Humans today are special in many ways, of course, and naturally we have made many advances, but things like violence that didn’t exist in previous time periods also plague us. We’ve evolved since then: we’ve changed, but since one of the main points of natural selection is that there is no overall ‘goal’ or ‘plan’ for a species, there is no way to say that we are ‘better’ than our ancestors who ventured into the caves those thousands of years ago. This trip reminded me that it’s a question we need to keep asking.

Clocks

Below you will find a picture of a clock in the Musée d’Orsay looking out over the Seine. Now, why is this picture different than the many large and looming clock faces in Impressionist art museums? First, because I also have pictures of me in front of it as a three-year-old art enthusiast, and also from two years ago. One could say that this clock and I have history. But I, like Augustus Waters of “The Fault in Our Stars” fame, “choose my behaviors based on their metaphorical resonances.” So here we go:

The clock is in constant motion, yet it never really changes. Come back twenty-four hours later, and you’ll see its hands in the exact same positions. Meanwhile, through the clock face, and indeed within the museum, everything changes. The people come and go, and the water in the Seine keeps flowing, etc. While we choose with clocks to show time as a circular idea, it does not in fact restart, as evidenced by the different pictures that I unfortunately did not bring in electronic format.

The idea of things withstanding the linear timeline is central to this trip. For millennia, the cave paintings we have seen were embracing the walls of the slowly changing cave. Sure, the paintings have been obscured by calcium and graffiti, but I would argue that the shape and emotion behind the paintings have been conserved. Even in the ruins we saw today, certain walls and major parts of buildings remained standing. Perhaps even more striking was the cave beneath the ruins, which was inhabited by both ancient humans and medieval people.

imageAnyway, that why I like this clock. As long as it’s not rusting, it could care less about what you had for lunch or whether you live or die for many reasons (not least of which because clocks are not sentient). I admit that this seems morbid, but there are things bigger than everyone, like clocks and time, and I somehow find that comforting.

 

 

 

Pictures and a hint of rebellion

There are always things that can’t be captured by pictures. Taste, for example, is a strangely dependent sense that relies upon smell. Since the latter and therefore the former cannot be held by images, I’ll do my best below to relay the information.

Dear people back home, feel absolutely no desire to smell the Parisian metro. It has its charms, but neither smell nor taste (?) can be counted among them. Versailles, on the other hand, smells exactly like it looks like it should. Monet’s garden smells like chickens. Normandy is mixed with salt from the sea and gelato.

One thing they don’t talk about in the guidebooks is how Americanized Paris is. True, I’m basically doing my project about this, so I’m biased, but not only are there Starbucks shops and McDonalds everywhere, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a street where either no one spoke English or where a “I heart NY” souvenir was being sold. This is helpful in some ways, but when we were outside Versailles getting lunch, everyone in the shop was American and the woman working there was only taking orders in English. I must say, it seems like cheating to leave a country only to enter a one that has adopted parts of your own.

Outside Paris and Normandy, however, practically no one knows anything more than survival skills in English, which was refreshing and occasionally humorous (waiters seem to always mishear Dr. Blunt saying “poire” or “poivre”).

Anyway, while the theme of this post is supposed to be how different France is in real life than in pictures, I’m feeling rebellious so I’ve attached a picture below.

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Stripes, Normandy, and such

I’m not usually this enthusiastic about stars, stripes, and brass instruments, which is not to say that I’m not patriotic, but simply that I’m cynical. But since my cynicism is the driving force behind this blog post, bear with me.

“Live free or die.”

This nicely condensed quote conveys a major American ideal, one that in my opinion is sometimes considered a given in our society when it is actually a striking idea. In any case, American society embraces freedom in every respect, fighting for Constitutional rights given to its citizens even when the majority of them (us) will not need to exercise each right.

This, then, may have been the reason behind my legitimate confusion as to why the French government “capitulated” to the Germans in World War II. For better or quite often for worse, the American government rarely capitulates unless it is to ensure the freedom of its people, most recently in the case of Sgt. Bowe Berghdahl. So while I wholeheartedly agreed with the decision to send American soldiers to fight against Germany, I rather unfairly refused to understand why the French surrendered.

It wasn’t until we reached the towns in Normandy that I understood that no French person could have been truly ambivalent towards their occupation. With Allied forces bombing their homes and their ways of life overturned by German troops, change barreled its way through their lives. The French people must have been terrified both before the invasion as well as after 1940.

As we drove through the Norman towns, both the French flag and the flag of the country that liberated it flew from many houses, as well as in the town square. Watching French soldiers visit the World War II museums, I had a much greater respect for what gratitude on this scale looks like.

In the American cemetery for those who lost their lives in the war, there is a quote from René Coty, a former president of France, which reads, “Nous n’oublions pas, nous n’oublierons jamais, la dette d’infinie gratitude que nous avons contractée envers ceux qui ont tout donne pour notre liberation.” Roughly translated, this says, “we do not forget, we will never forget, the infinite debt of gratitude that we owe to those who have given everything for our liberation.”

The French have done the most important things they could have done, which is to respect the troops that gave them back their liberty and to uphold the restored democracy with everything in their power.

T-minus one (ish)

Writing about one of my reasons for applying and ensuing excitement also requires an admission of guilt: I am a news junkie. I don’t leave my dorm or house (whichever is season-appropriate) until I’ve checked each news app on my phone, followed by the latest edition of the Phillipian. This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and I have watched with piqued interest as various dignitaries have flooded the cemeteries of Normandy to honor the much-respected troops (although I’m reminded that the word “troop” is a placeholder and somewhat of a euphemism for “human being; person”) who lost their lives in France. This leads me to my second admission: I am also an enthusiastic fan of any Matt Damon or Tom Hanks movie, so I will openly state that the only thing that drove me to keep watching the heart-wrenching D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan was the idea of Matt Damon on the other side. Even the opening scene from the ever-dramatic Steven Spielberg was somewhat horrifying—I’ve never seen so many graves before. I’m looking forward to seeing Normandy, but the excitement is also mixed with trepidation.

I’ve been to Paris twice before, and we just went to Courchevel over spring break. Still, these are relatively isolated areas of France and I’ve never traveled outside the United States without my family. I’m a regular traveler, but I’m usually surrounded by at least my mother and my sister. I was nervous about speaking French before spring break, but I managed to buy a pair of shoes and talk to a saleslady while I was in Courchevel. It may not seem like much, but since a major reason why I applied for the Piette Program was to work on my French, it made me a lot more confident that I could succeed.

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Archaeology seemed like a new and exciting thing to try, and not something that I would stumble upon outside Andover. However, while archaeology was a reason for me applying to the Piette Program, it’s also an area of concern. The rocks that Professor Lacombe showed us were tiny, and I’m desperately hoping that I’m not the one that trips and displaces the artifacts that look, for all their importance, like small pebbles.

Right now, my idea for my project is a series of fictionalized journal entries about the trip based around useful French phrases or phrases that fit with the theme of the entry. While this is a creative writing project, I’m also waiting to see what happens on the trip to inspire the individual journal entries—so watch out!