|Photo by Tim Street|
|We said goodbye to Paris and the Seine one last time.|
I woke up to the joyful sounds of French cartoons and a ringing phone.
It was 7:15 AM. After a week of teasing pockets of sleep and constant, continuous leg motions, I knew this morning would be rough. Even the golden colored shower with infinitely adjustable vertical placement wasn’t cutting it.
My hazy tiredness was surrounded with a sense of bittersweet anticipation. We were going home. I was looking forward to sleeping without interruption and spending less than ten dollars on a meal. Going home means leaving Paris, a city rich with history, money, and an enthusiasm for life that was as contagious as it was bedazzling. After a dozen tours and several hours of cramped travelling, my mind and heart were full of knowledge and appreciation for what the men of the past did so I could enjoy the present.
It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine the sacrifice of the Allied soldiers. After seeing Normandy beach, numerous craft of World War II, and cities where some of the fighting took place, I was left with a sense of awe at what transpired long ago through ash, explosions, and sweat. The cemeteries and memorials in France and England exist so we never forget. They were successful.
These thoughts dominated my mind as we packed our luggage for the last time and hopped on the bus in the early morning. For a group known for cheerleading charisma and an immense sense of camaraderie, the air in the bus was unusually still. Faces looked out windows at the rolling prairies and countryside of France that had greeted us several days before. Deep down I knew the scope of it all was finally registering. This was it. Our trip among thirty friends was hours away from becoming the past tense.
The initial flight was delayed by a little more than an hour. The huddled group created a lovely traffic jam in the terminal exit. We had mastered this “road block” skill while in Europe, but with thirty tourists and narrow streets, it’s not hard to get in the way. We eventually made our way onto the plane, another massive airbus complete with mini televisions and pre-packaged, reheated meals of various mystery items. My, oh my, how the perks of flying stack up.
Because of our delay, we were cutting it close with our flight to Indy. As the group was halfway through the Philadelphia airport, we realized that the plane might leave without us. This instigated a sluggishly awkward sprinting mob. We carried our luggage, our tickets, and our sweaty selves past stores and curious onlookers, wondering why we were moving at such a frantic pace. After spending the last week being the “tourist,” a few looks of disdain didn’t phase me.
We made it. Barely. The rest of the passengers seemed to be disgruntled at our disregard for time, but it truly wasn’t our fault. For those wondering who the heck these rowdy folks were, Colin and Sandy put those thoughts to rest by making puppets out of their air sickness bags. They displayed their lovely “bag couple” to one of the flight attendants, and she smiled, not sure what to make of these artistic creations. The intercom rang.
“Congratulations to row 12 for being most creative!”
Our entire group cheered, as the two were rewarded granola bars for their efforts. More disgruntled looks came from the front of the plane.
I soon realized the bag people came to personify exactly what the trip was about. Not only had we broadened our cultural horizons, but we had become a family. We had eaten, slept, and traveled together for the past 200 hours. Our bond could be seen and felt without saying a word, and by this point, we didn’t care about what others thought. We had become stronger individuals.
Life will commence as normal on Monday, or get closer to it. I speak for my peers when I say we will begin again wiser and humbled. This journey brought Ernie Pyle and World War II to life more than any descriptive writings from the events could ever have. Now it is time to soak it in, and try to give others a glimpse of our fantastic voyage.
|Photo by Tim Street|
|During some free time this morning, groups of students spent time exploring Paris on their own. The groups visited places including Sacre Couer, Notre Dame and the Louvre. The Louvre’s famous glass pyramid, designed by I.M. Pei (who also designed the IU Art Museum) is shown here.|
Our last day in Paris and what a lovely day it was.
Professor Johnson gave us the morning to visit sites in small groups, so I and another grad student, Nicole Roales, headed up to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. The area is the section of the city where artists like Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec once spent hours debating perspective and art itself. It’s a part of Paris I’ve always wanted to visit.
One major bit of advice to pass along first – don’t take the stairs. Nicole and I decided that after the elevator in the Eiffel Tower, we were done with elevators that seem to go sideways–which the funicular that takes you up to Sacre Coeur does. So, we walked up the stairs. It seemed doable until we were halfway up and I suddenly realized my legs do not like stairs that much. Not endless stairs anyway. But, once I was up there I told my legs to stop complaining.
The view from Sacre Coeur might actually have been more enjoyable for me than that from the Eiffel Tower. You’re closer to the city, but still far enough away to get a good idea of its size and beauty. The basilica itself is one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever seen. The white stone against the green grass and blue sky is almost ethereal. Inside, rainbows danced on the church walls as the sun shining through the stained glass windows moved across the morning sky.
Later on Nicole and I met up with the rest of the group back at the hotel and it was time for our walking tour of WWII Paris. Our guide was an American named Mike who studied psychology and seems to have an endless knowledge of the city. We saw a lot of the big sites in the city, including the Louvre, the Hotel de Ville and the Champs Elysee. My favorite part of the tour came at the beginning.
|Photo by Tim Street|
|Brannon Smith near Paris’ Police Headquarters, which was an important site for the French Resistance movement in WWII. |
We met Mike at a bridge joining the Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame lives, with Paris itself. Then he took us over to the memorial to French citizens deported by the Nazis during WWII. He told us it was "avant-garde" and similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"I like it because it’s abstract," he said. "You make of it what you will."
Like the Vietnam Memorial, a hush falls over you as soon as you walk into the thing. Unlike the Wall, though, this memorial is white. Clean, clean white. In one area there are what appear to be large black abstract knives or bayonets sticking out of the wall. In a few other spots empty rooms are closed off by iron bars. What got me were the rows and rows of white stones in one section of the memorial. You don’t get close to them, you simply look through more bars, but the effect is the same. You are overwhelmed by their beauty and by how many stones there are. Thousands of them, representing all the people the Nazis deported to work camps from Paris.
In fact, I’ve found all of Paris overwhelming in a way that I never found London to be. This city is beyond beautiful. But there is another side of it I can’t quite get my head around. Not necessarily a sadness, but there are centuries of history here. Awful things happened. Beheadings. The Nazi occupation. The tug-of-war of history and beauty makes my head spin. The what-ifs and what-might-have-beens seem to hang heavy over the Seine.