Tag Archives: Reflections

Inside the Piette Program: A Video Documentary

It took a while to finally get this together, but here at last is a short documentary about the Piette Program that I put together using all that video footage I shot back in June. Unfortunately, a computer crash did cause me to lose some footage, including interviews with both Cammie and James. I apologize guys. You both shared some wonderful thoughts with me. I’m sorry they are now lost to history.

There is also lots of great, additional footage I shot that I didn’t get to use, including the footage of the last group meeting we had during our final night in the gite at the foot of the Pyrenees.  I would have loved to include it all, but at about 43 minutes, the video is probably already longer than most people will be able to sit through. Nevertheless, if you manage to make it through to the end, the video hopefully will provide a clear explanation of the origins and purpose of the Piette Program, as well as a fun look at the experiences of the inaugural group of students and faculty who were fortunate enough to share this adventure together.


A journey back in time

MagazineArticleSo one of my jobs upon returning from the trip was to write an article about the experience for Andover, the alumni magazine. That magazine just came out, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share the article here. Writing an article of any kind is always a challenging undertaking because you can never say everything you want to. There simply isn’t enough space. That was certainly the case with this article. There are so many memories and experiences I would have liked to include, but it just wasn’t impossible. But hopefully the article does a reasonable job of providing a taste of what the trip was like and some of the things we learned along the way. Enjoy.

Reliving the adventure

While the students have been busy (hopefully) working on their Piette projects this summer since returning from France, I’ve been hard at work writing an article about the trip for the next issue of the Andover magazine. I also took some time to create this fun (hopefully) video that attempts to capture the spirit and adventure of the trip. At 8 minutes, this extended version of the video may be too long for the casual viewer, but it should bring back some nice memories for members of our little group. A shorter version of the video can be found on the PA Vimeo website.

Piette 2014 Slideshow (Extended Version) from Phillips Academy on Vimeo.

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.


A Handful of Memories

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.

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.


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.

It’s been how many weeks since the trip?!

Now that it has been over a month since I left my Piette group at the airport, I have finally built up the stamina to write this blog post. When I first got back from the trip I told my mom that I do not remember any of the trip. But of course she begins interrogating me “what did you do the first day?, the second? What happened next?”. I think I managed to get to day four before I got confused as to where we were when.

But now over a month later I now can remember the chronology of the trip and all of the individual stories for each destination. For the past week I have been visiting family in California, they each wanted to know about the trip and I was able to give them a concise review of Piette. Hallelujah! I was able to tell them about the infamous Piette pebble, the beaches in Normandy, the castles and the caves. I told them about some of the jokes we have and how the whole group became really close.

For me personally I have been able to think about and remember the trip and all its glory. I will never forget the bus rides on our massive red coach bus with Christian, the gap yah video after which we all chundahed everywhere or how the faculty and students gelled into one group. Even writing this post now, I am remembering more stories and highlights of the trip. The trip was fabulous.

It has been fun, but I have to work on my food project. See you in the fall…

The Petite Program

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, in the earliest part of the summer, the Parker twins, Gwen and Steph, were preparing to go on their first trip out of the country – a school-sponsored trip to France called the Petite Program. They had applied to the program in December and had been preparing since March and couldn’t wait to leave. School ended and they flew home to Virginia where they and their mom bought and packed everything they needed.

Finally the day came when they were leaving. They and their mother woke up at 0DARK:30 for a flight from Richmond to Boston. They arrived in Boston with enough time to wander around the city and mentally prepare for their upcoming adventure. Eventually, however, the time came to see the girls off so the twins and their mother returned to the airport.

They arrived at the airport early so that they could have one last dinner together before the girls left. They eat and they laughed, but soon they finished and had to wait in front of the Air France counter for the rest of their group. About 20 minutes after they had sat down and were quietly reading and playing on their phones, two boys checked into their flight. They came and sat down next to the Parkers and one phoned his parents to tell them their flight had been delayed until 11pm. Mrs. Parker, being who she is decided to get up and find out if that was the same flight the girls were on. Unfortunately, it was and so, the Gwen decided to call Dr. Trottier, the main chaperone and the chaperone in charge of culture, to inform her of the major delay in the schedule.

Rather than calling herself, Gwen decided to give the phone to Steph because she was able to break the news more softly. Steph told Dr. Trottier, who was in a van with many of the other people on the trip, while other people began arriving. By then only three people had arrived: Logan (who had 3 brothers), Susan (the best-dressed day-student on the trip), and Virginia (the only Freshman on the trip). After that the rest of the group arrived, and the fun really started.


*A note: this story is partially fictional (the names mostly, to protect people’s privacy). Also, the story will be in several parts, this is part one. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.



So it has been four weeks since our trip ended. The trip exceeded what I expected in almost every way. I didn’t really know what the trip would be like before we left. I wasn’t that interested in history/archaeology/foreign language before, but I saw the trip as a great interdisciplinary opportunity to try out these fields in a way that I learn best: experiencing it hands-on. I’m very glad I did this because I now know more about French history than I would have learned otherwise. I think it is harder to think about European history where we live across the Atlantic in a nation whose beginning was all about gaining freedom from European rule. Napoleon never walked on American soil. Being in France and seeing the places where historical figures lived, like Versailles, and died, like Place de la Concorde, made the history much more relatable. In the words of Professor Lancombe who lead the archaeology site, “Context!”

And being on a real archaeology dig? That was amazing. Where would I ever get that experience except on the Piette trip? I’ll admit it, the dig was uncomfortable and slow, but it wasn’t boring. It was great to see how the site operated and to actually work in the units.
I had never had French cuisine before, so eating in France was great. I was excited to try out a different type of food. In Paris, the dishes weren’t anything too unusual, although I hadn’t had those particular recipes before. They included meals such as veal, perch in white sauce, and turkey in wine sauce. When we got down to Sarlat though, the food changed drastically to goose and duck products, such as fois gras, duck confit, goose gizzard salad, and pâté. I was happy that I tried a few of these dishes, but I didn’t really care for them.
One thing I wish we did more of was speaking French. Mostly, we just ordered food in French. In Paris on a few occasions, when I ordered in French, the cashier would reply in English. I would keep talking French and they would keep talking English. It was somewhat humorous, but I imagine them all thinking “hey kid, it’s gonna be better for both of us if we just speak in English.” All of our tour guides spoke English to us, which was necessary because not all of the students on the trip take French. When we went to the cave at Mas D’Azil, the guide spoke in French. I was surprised how much I understood of what the guide said, and was very happy about it.

In my mind, the trip was very successful and I had a great time. Special thank you to the teachers and the friends I made on the trip!

Piette travels

This trip was an entirely new type of experience for me. As I said in my first post, I have never left the country before besides driving trips to Canada. I enjoyed being far from home immersed in a different culture. France is a European nation, and many things about it aren’t so different from life here in the US. There are some pretty obvious distinctions, especially in Paris, such as lots of crêperies, motorcycles, small European cars, and baguette sandwiches. Other things took a little longer to realize. I’m sure I would have found out a lot more if I spent more time in France, but this trip was the perfect length to get a good gist of it. People keep asking me if the people in Paris are as rude as they’re often claimed to be. I didn’t find them rude, but servers and cashiers definitely were more focused on their jobs and less on chit-chat.

La Defense from the roof of the MAN
La Défense from the roof of the MAN. The central arrondissements are out of view behind it.

The French do a good job of protecting historic places. This is shown in the large number of buildings that date back hundreds of years. Even the standard apartment buildings in the center of Paris all adhere to similar historical styles and have the same height. In Paris you don’t have tall buildings all over the place, which surprised me. When we went on the roof of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, we could see far across the city. The only place with sky scrapers was the business district, La Défense, nearly seven miles outside of the heart of Paris.


Getting around Paris was mostly the same as traveling in any city. The Metro was essentially the same as the Boston subway. There were taxis (although apparently most of them were on strike) and buses, but all of our traveling was on the Metro, RER, or tour bus.

When we first arrived at the airport in Paris, we went through customs, which composed of a uniformed man in a booth stamping our passports. No questions. Arriving back in Boston, we had to fill out a lengthy slip (for restricted substances and declaration of goods), use an automated passport machine, and answer an officer’s questions. They were a little more relaxed about the ordeal in France.

I really knew nothing about French History (except what I learned in Dr. Blunt’s class!) or anything about prehistoric man. This trip was a great way to learn about these two subjects because we got the opportunity to experience them, for instance we visited historic sites and dug on an archaeological site.