As I wrote in my earlier post, some specifics of our trip have evaded me. I no longer remember exactly what I ate at each meal (much to my foodie father’s chagrin) and I do not remember every single one of the MANY historical facts that were thrown our way. But here are a few of the many things I will never forget from this trip:
While Versailles was magnificent, I was particularly fond of the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Much subtler and smaller than Versailles (but definitely not less beautiful), Chenonceau was rich with history that really interested me. The beautiful estate and gardens have been home to many important figures in history (ex. Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers who are both shown on the CW show Reign). Also, the château was used as a hospital for soldiers during WWI. A common thread I noticed at these once-royal chateaus and castles is that while the buildings were once for the elite they are definitely now the people’s. This is actually the main reason why Versailles holds so many ballets, concerts, and firework shows on their grounds because unlike during the time of kings and queens, they want to be open for all of France to utilize.
Christian, the bus driver of our 53-seater bus, was a gem. Even when we were boarding the bus and seeing him for the first time that day, he would give us a hearty “buh-bye.” His driving skills were incredible though. He lead our bus through the narrowest of streets, the bumpiest of paths, and the highest of mountains. Parents: your children were 100% safe on the road when Christian was behind the wheel.
La Grotte du Mas d’Azil was naturally quite spectacular. But for some reason, the people who run it decided that the cave would be a prime place for a light show. Well, I’ve got news for you, Ariège’s department of tourism, it is not. The natural splendor and history of the cave does not need a (rather subpar) lightshow with medieval chamber music.
Similar to many others on the trip my perception of pre-historic people has changed. It’s easy to think of those people like the Geico Caveman ads portray them but they cultivated beauty in their lives. One of the brochures at a Cave asked the question if the paintings in caves should be considered art and my answer is YES! Paleolithic people were so thoughtful and resilient about their creations. Seeing the 2-foot crevices in which they would lay for hours painting really blew my mind. So few people nowadays would be so hard working. One interesting fact is that they would see movement in their paintings because of the flicker of their lamps! Kind of like a really early film!! (also, friendly travel trip to anyone embarking on a cave visit, bring a jacket… you can thank me later)
Last but definitely not least… Each year in France they celebrate the Fête de la Musique. Everyone across the nation gathers in the streets playing music and generally having a good time. We happened to be in Downtown Sarlat on this night and while eating dinner we heard rock music coming in through the window. It sounded relatively good so after dinner our group ventured out to find the music and found a band of teenagers playing… and not very well even though everyone around us seemed to think they were the next Beatles. Despite this, we ended up enjoying our night because of each other’s company. It was definitely my no. 1 favorite part of the trip.
Lastly, I am so glad to have embarked on this trip for the opportunity to see so many beautiful parts of France and to meet so many kind people. At first I was not looking forward to some of our long bus rides but I soon appreciated them for the views that they provided. I also cherished our free time at sites when I wander by myself, taking in the beauty of our surroundings in silence. Without this trip I never would have been able to see those sights or meet the kind (definitely-not-rude-like-the-stereotype-says) French people who mentored and taught us throughout the trip. I promised myself in the last few days of our trip that I would return to France to experience the beauty and kindness again. Thank you, Piette program, for exposing me to these two things.
I found this short video on my phone and thought I would share because not only does it shows the beauty of where we were in the Ariège but it also shows Christian’s driving skills. In the video we are driving down a mountain after visiting a cave (the same cave with the vampire-lady… the people on the trip will definielty remember her) and the roads were way too windy and narrow for our bus but Christian managed to get us down without a scratch.
Exactly five weeks since we stepped foot back unto American soil, I am once again revisiting our two-week adventure in France known as the Piette program. While some specifics of the trip have become a bit fuzzy I definitely have not forgotten the camaraderie that our little group managed to achieve by the end of the trip. Our closeness was especially evident during the last four days of our trip when we stayed in gîtes in the Ariège. We knew our stay in the gîtes would be special immediately upon arrival when we saw Frédéric Moncassin, the former professional cyclist who owned the gîtes, wielding a chainsaw to remove branches that prevented our (giant, flaming red) bus from entering his drive. He remained such a kind host throughout our four-day sojourn. In the girl’s gîte, five of us stayed in one huge room where the beds were lined up like in a sorority house. Although we loved the set-up, most of the fun happened in the boy’s gîte where we ate breakfast and dinner and sat around the couch laughing for hours.
The whole reason we were in the Ariège, right on the foot of the Pyrénées, was to be members of Sébastien Lacombe and Kathleen Sterling’s team at Peyre Blanque, an open-air archaeological site. Prior to our arrival, their team had already uncovered the top of a set of rocks in a unique structure. Our two full days at the site were spent gently pushing aside dirt to find small clues as to what lay beneath. While that might sound boring it felt so good to be working together as a team, moving towards a goal that could expose more about the pre-historic people we had learned about in museums. [Also working at the site was wonder-woman Meg Conkey. She was ah-mazingggg.]
A small disclaimer to anyone who ever plans on doing any archeological digging: You will be sore the next day. Lying, bending, and crouching for hour on end works a lot of muscles. I learned this on the last day of our trip when I woke up sore legs and arms. The pain was assuaged slightly though because on our second day at the site Ashley, Sam, and I started playing games and telling a story… about dinosaurs and dragons. While our (slightly crazy) story was not appreciated by those who preferred the quiet while digging, this was just an example of the friendships made on the trip.
I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and so I am sharing the above photo because it reminds me of the beach where Shell Cottage (that’s Bill and Fleur Weasley’s house for all you Muggles) was located. In reality, I took this picture from the top of the Château d’Amboise in the Loire Valley. It’s amazing to me how looking down upon the city of Amboise from the height of a castle had the ability to transport me to a world of magic.
The picture below shows another photo I took from the same lofty château. This photo shows the rooftops of the many buildings below and it transports me back in time to the 16th century. I have had little experience with the type of architecture and communities such as those in the Loire Valley and so I love this picture. The small villages that house these huge chateaus are so cozy. Cars are sparse and streets are winding.
The Piette trip promised to take us back in time so we could experience a bit of what life was like for those in centuries past. Not only has the Piette trip done this but it has also transported me to the places of my imagination.
While most other PA students’ lower year includes plenty of chemical equations and properties, mine was filled with artists ranging from Cimabue and Artemisia Gentileschi to Velazquez and Goya and Marcel Duchamp and Mark Rothko. Taking Art-400: Histories of Art with Mr. Fox for all three terms this year has acquainted me with these artists amongst many others. During class, Mr. Fox would often say things like, “This piece is well worth a trip to (insert cool but obscure travel destination here),” or “When you are in Madrid make sure to see these pieces at the Prado.” A large number of the pieces we studied or other pieces by artists we studied reside in France so this trip has been an art history dream. While art history class exposed me to a myriad of beautiful images, a projector and slide show can only do so much. Here are some “art moments” I had that proved to me that the real thing offers more than just looking at a photo:
Standing in a room full of Duccio and Giotto at the Louvre felt like being Alice in Wonderland: the canvases that these artists painted on are so large, they are placed in a room of magnificent architecture and ceiling work, and the gold paint that they (especially Giotto) painted with still manages to sparkle after about 700 years. I kept circling the gallery looking upward and admiring.
While walking through Versailles our tour guide, Josh, told us about how Louis XIV cultivated both French and Italian artists to show that the French were just as talented as the post-Renaissance Italians. Louis XIV ordered for Bernini to make a bust of him but he claimed to be not impressed by Bernini’s work, thus furthering his nationalistic agenda. After viewing this bust on display in Versailles, I have to disagree largely with Louis. I became a huge Bernini fan after studying Apollo and Daphne during winter term with Mr. Fox and I was able to identify the bust as Bernini’s even before Josh told us. Mr. Fox taught us that Bernini tried to capture moments in time and he really does so in the bust: Louis’ hair appears to be blowing in the wind and his cheek is turned to the side in a mighty position.
After walking through rooms and rooms of impressionist paintings at the Musée d’Orsay, I pushed through a crowd of people to look at Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. A picture online does nothing to show the stunning deep green tones. I also had no idea how large the painting was and so I walked across the painting several times. I truly felt like the eyes of the nude women were moving as well, watching me watching her. Talk about that in terms of “the gaze” and spectatorship and consumption of nudes in art!
Despite it’s lack of bold colors or a high level of mimesis, the Bayeux Tapestry, in its near 1000-year-old glory, does not fail to impress. Viewing this piece in person allowed me to see the whole cloth at once rather than in fragments and a headset narration system completely immersed me in the story of William and Harold.
Seated in our bright red and half-empty coach bus (actually more than half-empty because its max occupancy is 50!), we traveled to the Mémorial de Caen on Wednesday.The museum covers the time span from the end of WWI through WWII and the Shoah (the wall text in the museum used this term instead of Holocaust) and then through the Cold War. Rather than brushing over these topics lightly or in a dry manner, the museum utilized engaging medias such as music and videos and primary source photos, text, and artifacts.
The earliest memory I have of learning about WWII and the Shoah was in fifth grade when my class read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. I have studied the events or read literature about them in almost every school year since then but I have never seen any color photos. And so when I was walking through the museum and saw a whole wall covered with a photograph showing a faint blue sky and a woman in a burgundy coat, I stopped. In the photo, this short and elderly woman walked down a sidewalk in the same direction as a taller and younger woman. They moved in such close proximity to each other that they could be mistaken for walking and talking together but a small yellow star on burgundy coat-woman’s chest informed me that these women were actually miles apart. For on her chest was the Star of David, a symbol of her religion but also of her perceived inferiority to those in power at the time. I stopped and stared at this image for a few minutes. The black and white photos and paintings and sketches that permeate my education make the past seem even more distant than it is. Therefore, it escapes my memory that in the near past and on the same Earth where I go to a school full of resources and opportunity and live with my loving family, atrocities fueled by hate and ignorance have occurred. It is even easier to forget that these events are occurring today, at the moment that I write this and at the same moment that you read this because they often happen silently or in distant places. Viewing photos and reading letters and diary entries like those in the museum offers a (re-)awareness about these injustices.
And while these tangible objects set off a chain of knowing about the past so does visiting actual historical sites… The Mémorial de Caen was partly built on top of a bunker where a German Nazi plotted during WWII and visitors could walk through the bunker to examine artifacts from D-Day. The dark, tubular, and subterranean hallway sent shivers up my spine. I walked through with my arms crossed, swiftly moving towards the exit. On the last wall of the long hallway were projected images of Anne Frank and excerpts from her infamous diary. Her placement at the end of the hallway was quite poignant as the plotting that occurred in the dark hallway contributed to the end of her life. At the same time, moving towards her felt hopeful. Full of light and optimism, Anne Frank was one of the many lives lost during the Shoah. Walking towards her felt like moving from darkness towards hope and resolution, two things that should there should be more of in this world.
The first three days of our trip have been a whirlwind. Immediately after landing in France, we whizzed over to Notre Dame and visited their archaeological crypt. I learned about the founding of Paris and it set an educational and informative tone for this expedition. The next day we went to the Musee d’Archéologie Nationale where we returned the famous Piette pebble. In that museum we viewed artifact after artifact, the oldest of which were about 400,000 years ago.
Today we took a bus tour of monuments in Paris and went to Versailles. With this being my second trip to Paris I was not as astounded by all the monuments except for the Eiffel Tower, which managed to still amaze me. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic image of Paris and I saw it used to represent France in various medias throughout my childhood so standing on it and driving around it in person is so surreal. After our van tour we left the heart of the city and headed to Versailles. I LOVE Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette and so I had a very-Hollywood moment while strolling through the VAST, VAST, VAST gardens of Versailles.
Also, our Parisian hotel is located in the 9th Arrondisement and is on the same block as Amorino, a charming gelato shop. Michaela and I decided to take a trip over on our second evening here and I ordered a focaccine. I thought I was ordering a cream puff but it turned out to be two pieces of brioche bread with strawberry and vanilla gelato stuffed inside. The bread was lightly toasted and drizzled with powdered sugar and chocolate. Needless to say, it was a near-religious experience and I went back tonight for another.
Before I had even stepped onto the PA campus for new student orientation and classes this fall, I had already encountered Piette. During the summer before this year, I would scour the Andover website in anticipation of my new school. In my Internet surfing, I glimpsed the “off-campus programs” page. I have a rather large case of wanderlust and so the link piqued my interest. I clicked the page, wanting to see if Andover would satiate my love of travel. A quick scroll down the page not only assured me that Andover could do so but also that there was an upcoming trip to France. At the time, the trip was a faint possibility but I am now sitting in the International Terminal of Logan Airport awaiting our (delayed) flight to Paris.
I was initially attracted to the Piette program for many reasons: I’ve been taking French for the past five years and wanted to practice my skills; I took the full-year art history course at Andover and the interdisciplinary aspect of Piette included this subject; I took AP European history at my old school and the trip would provide real-world exposure to what I studied in the classroom. My Piette project is going to incorporate my interest in art as I will be reimagining an exhibit at either the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay with a gendered perspective. I also hope that I can explore how museums as an institution are affected by gender through interviews with staff at some of the other museums we are visiting. Maybe the interviews can test my French skills!!
I’m most excited to visit the art museums in Paris and the 16th, 14th, and 12th centuries villages and castles. And while the last portion of our trip, where we spend four days looking for fossils at a real archaeological site, does not completely excite me (I’m not a big dirt person), I am looking forward to the new experience.