Spring 2009: France
INT 296H: French Art and Literature Travel course
The INT 296H TRAVEL COURSE: French Art and Literature took sixteen Pace University students (five from the Pleasantville campus and eleven from New York City) to France during Spring Break. The trip introduced students to the culture discussed in class but not yet truly experienced. The class had already spent weeks learning about art, literature, and architecture from the Middle Ages to recent times. Dr. Benton even came to the class and gave a wonderful lecture on Romanesque and Gothic architecture. By the time travel plans had been finalized, we had all seen pictures and talked endlessly about Paris, and our anticipation could hardly be contained even as we boarded the plane!
After landing, we immediately took a bus tour bus of Paris; exhaustion set in as the guide explained the origins of Paris. We saw all the main sights from the bus: the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs d’Elysees. Magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral was incredible and so different from home! Our exhaustion faded as soon as we exited the bus in the Latin Quarter. We went to our hotel to get ready for dinner at a real French restaurant. Although the meal was entirely different from American food, it was good and we found the experience interesting. Everyone jumped into bed right after dinner, exhausted and jet-lagged, but ready to re-start in the morning.
The next day we visited the Musèe du Louvre, and learned to appreciate the newer architecture, the glass pyramids in the courtyard, and to understand the contrast they create to the older portions of the Louvre. We also saw the original medieval foundation of the Louvre. We saw, of course, all the beautiful art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Madonna of the Rocks, as well as celebrated antiquities such as the Venus de Milo. The Louvre has every kind of art imaginable and is too big to see everything in a single visit; upon leaving you may feel like you have left something behind that you are going to need later, but you cannot think of what it is.
After the Louvre, we went to Fragonard, the most famous perfumery in the world that manufactures scents for many important designers! We toured their tiny Paris shop and purchased many wonderful fragrances. That night we had dinner in an enchanting little restaurant with musicians who encouraged us to dance with them. And then we went on a boat ride along the Seine River; we saw Paris live up to its reputation as the “City of Lights.”
The next day we visited Notre-Dame and talked about Gothic architecture, evident from the pointed arches, the flying buttresses, and the ribbed vault. Inside the gentle hum of tour guides can be heard. Whether you are religious or not, Notre-Dame is an undoubtedly spiritual place and its greatness is just extraordinary. Each stained glass window is more beautiful than the next, with colors so bright and patterns so intricate that you are kept in awe. We then crossed the street to the Saint-Chapelle, where the kings usually sat for mass. The entire interior of the Sainte-Chapelle (the upper and lower chapel) is painted vividly; although this is modern re-paint, religious architecture of the Middle Ages was originally very colorful with blues and reds dominant. In the upper chapel, the stained glass windows occupy three-quarters of the wall surface.
The next day we went to the Centre Pompidou and the Museé d’Orsay, both such interesting museums. We also took the elevator up the Eiffel Tower. And we even got to see a performance at the Moulin Rouge!
Thursday morning we left Paris for Versailles. The transportation workers were on strike that day, and unfortunately we could not enter the Château of Versailles, although w were able to tour its beautiful gardens. We interrupted our expedition through the Loire Valley for a wine tasting on our way to the Tours, and also got to buy expensive wines at low prices!
The next day we were able to tour some châteaux, specifically Chenonceau and Chambord. Chenonceau was the home of King Henri II and his queen, Catherine de Medici, built atop a river, with a giant garden labyrinth in which some students got lost. Chambord, the residence of King Francois Ier, is called the “Palace of Drafts,” because its hallways are like wind tunnels and forgetting to close a door could freeze the whole palace!
On the final day of our trip, we took the bus ride back to Paris and then to the airport. At that point we were very ready to go home. We had learned that even in all of France’s grandeur, their strikes were proof of their troubled times. We had been snubbed by some French people and also had some friendly experiences. We had tried the food and liked most of it. But most of all, we had seen France’s beauty, up close and personal, and we will never forget the feeling of standing in places were history was made.