Aero: Jason Palmer – France 2015 – History and Culture
Aero: Jason Palmer – France 2015 – History and Culture
We think that there is a lot of history here in the United States. Yes, undoubtedly, may significant things have happened here. Yet, in comparison to the history of France and England, we are young. No matter where you went, history was all around you. We were able to see a castle in Vitre, walked on stones streets that were from the medieval times. We even had the opportunity to see churches that were over 1,000 years old. More and more we traveled around France learning new and important history. It was pretty unique that the houses from the medieval times were still standing. The neighborhood was like a time capsule, fully intact. We learned why the houses were larger at the top than the bottom. The streets had to remain the same size, and the only option was to build up. With impending wars, many of the residents wanted to be safe within houses behind the city walls. We also learned why the cobble stone streets were angled to the middle as this was the sewer system and the noble class only walked to the outside. Pretty good reason there were so many diseases and plagues.
The churches that we were able to visit were immense, extremely tall and ornate. Religion was of the utmost importance. Bigger was better to the French. Every square inch of these churches were decorated. They also contained some of the most beautiful stained glass that I have ever seen. History to the French is something that is very important in their culture. They make as much of an attempt as possible to keep what is old, looking old. Many of the churches are under renovation so as to keep their integrity, and to have them look like they were originally intended to. It was fascinating to walk in these churches as envision the thousands of pairs of shoes, and feet that have walked exactly where I walked. The events that occurred around the globe, and yet people still entered these churches to pray.
Many of the historic buildings were intact and in close proximity to new construction. It was kind of ironic to see. They definitely like to keep what is old around. We as Americans, are always on the lookout for the next best thing, bigger is better, newer is better.
The part of the trip that touched me the most, was seeing the portions of France that were directly involved in WWII. Maybe it is my pride in being an American, or simply the historical significance of what happened there. These were: The beaches at Normandy, especially Omaha beach, Pointe du Hoc, and Arromanches. The historical significance of what happened there in 1944 is still remembered and will always be. There are pieces of the harbor that was built at Arromanches still in the water. The hallowed ground of Omaha Beach was peaceful. We had the opportunity to visit the American cemetery in Normandy. It is American soil. You could tell too, as it had a very American feel. Everything was beautifully maintained, grand old flag played over the loudspeakers as the Stars and Stripes waved in the breeze. It had the feel of the celebration of liberation as well as a sincere remembrance to our fallen soldiers. Rows upon rows of perfectly aligned crosses and Stars of David marked each fallen soldier. They were not only beautiful, but also emotional. There were many, over 9,000. The sweet salty smell of the ocean, birds chirping, sun shining and all the while, bright beautiful sun shining in the sky. The sand was fine, the beach looked endless. The tide was out that day which enabled us to walk quite far out. It was beautiful and serene. Transport yourself back seventy-one years and think of the valor that these men displayed. Departing from the back of the landing craft into the teeth of German defenses. I can only imagine. Pointe du Hoc, quite different in preservation as compared to the American cemetery. Pointe du Hoc is in the same condition as it was when our Army Rangers scaled the cliffs in the attempt to take out German artillery. The point is littered with the craters from the original bombs that exploded. Some were small, others extremely large and deep. There were the remnants of German Bunkers still visible. Some were intact, others showed obvious signs of being struck by bombs. I had the fortune of being able to walk into a few of the bunkers, many had subterranean rooms to explore.
It is all in the manner in which history is maintained in France. Yes, there are museums like the Louvre and Musee de Orsay that contain incredible works of art and statues. We even had the opportunity to see the original Mona Lisa. The painting is quite small actually. We had front row center in order to get our pictures in. Professor Kruger was a trooper and got us to the Louvre that day first. She waited patiently in line as we were not prepared to stand outside for an extended period of time and retreated to the café to warm up. We saw countless pieces of history, including the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. It is hard to try and summarize the priceless art that we saw that day. Pictures only can do so much. Seeing these works firsthand is an invaluable resource.
History is very much a part of the culture of France. The French are proud of who they are and what accomplishments they have achieved. They showcase this each and every day by keeping the buildings and structures that are still present and showcasing them. I felt like I was picked up and dropped into a history book. The ability to plant my feet where thousands have before me, through the ages, is almost impossible to be put into words.