Maria Cruz: France as Text 2019

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

Maria Cruz is a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marketing. She is looking forward to graduating in the Spring of 2020 and furthering her education at a graduate school. Currently, she is in the midst of completing her Honors study abroad program in France – below are her reflections of the trip.

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Paris as Text
“A Foreigner’s Haven” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Paris on July 2019

Paris is a mystery I have been attempting to solve since my adolescent years. I spent countless hours watching couples falling in love in front of the Eiffel Tower, reading about artists emerging themselves in the stimulating art scene, and just overall compelled by all the stories of those who were once lost and came to find themselves in one of the most enriching cities in the world. Hoping that I, too, could one day visit this wondrous world of art and culture and emerge from this glorious trip as a new person. However, no amount of fictitious images I conjured in my head could prepare me for the reality of Paris. 

Being completely honest, while this was not my first visit to Paris, it is my first time truly getting to experience all the wonders and magic held in these cobbled streets and stone buildings. Many wrongly think that Paris is just the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Notre Dame — a mistake that my young and naïve self once made. However, the “real” Paris is afternoons spent having a picnic along the banks of the Seine River, crowding around a map of public transportation routes to figure out how to get to our next destination, walking in the middle of the night to the crêpe place in front of the student dorms and make small talk with the chefs as you sip their homemade tea. These experiences, from just the first week of this trip, are a small portion of what has elevated this program and my enjoyment of it. In contrast to my hometown of Miami, Paris is a place where the past and the present intertwine, making it easy for you to get lost and find yourself again in the remnants of centuries-old locations.

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Versailles as Text
“Opulence in the Face of Destitute” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Versailles on July 7, 2019

In 1742, Louis XIV embarked on the one-man journey to bring France to the full glory of a leading power. In doing so, he made the once hunting lodge the height of French culture and the downfalls of the state. For many, Versailles has become the epitome of opulence. For others, it is a symbol of a violent and tyrannical line of rule.

Have you ever felt so regal and holy? Stood at the very place where centuries ago a god of his own making watched over the daily proceedings of his dominion? Strolled through the gardens whose designs were compiled from his very own dreams? Walked through a hall dripping in gold and seen your glittering reflection mirrored in its grand details? The ability to see such grandeur in person was nothing short of a religious experience for me. To my amazement, physically being in the presence of these visions of luxury was far more compelling than any recreations made for shows and films. However, upon further reflection, I could not help but be disappointed in my initial reaction.

The questions posed over the sociopolitical implications of the making of this site has challenged my very morals and values. As someone who has rigorously studied global affairs of the past and present, I am quick to denounce all rulers who retain such power and authority over their government and people as Louis XIV did. Moreover, his actions are perceived as the catalyst for the extremely violent and radical French Revolution. Thus, one would think I would be in complete opposition to Versailles and everything it stands for; yet, after my visit, I can not hold these sentiments. It is evident to me, and the millions of others that have made the journey to this location, that despite the transformation France has undergone since his rule, Louis XIV was successful in his original endeavor.

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Lyon as Text
“France’s Past, Our Present,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Lyon on July 2019

With its golden houses and hillside views, Lyon represents the splendor of “deep France,” or as our professor referred to it, “what Paris once was.” From my first walk through the city, it became quite evident to me that the leisure lifestyle of its residents made for a very different environment than what I had been accustomed to in Paris. However, none of my original observations could have prepared me for our week of discovery in the city, wherein we got to explore some of its most important historical sites and analyze their relevance to France’s plight for freedom in World War II. The historical value of Lyon allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the city’s beauty, and made for one of the most impactful trips of my life.

Our journey to the past began the moment we settled in our hotel room. The story of Laurent Vernay, the owner of Hôtel de Célestins, and his family was the start of our lecture on the persecution of the Jewish and Freedom Fighters by the Vichy government (in collaboration with the Nazi’s). The anecdotes Laurent shared with us of his family were some of the harrowing accounts of the crimes perpetrated by the fascist governments of Europe. This sentiment is not merely based on the brutality of the treatment his family faced, but more so on the fact that he was the first person I ever met who has a direct connection to the Holocaust. No longer is my knowledge of the horrific events that unfolded during this era from history books and lectures, but after those mornings sitting in the plaza in front of the Célestins-Théaâtre de Lyon as we attentively listened to Laurent talk, I now hold the memories of his mother and her family. However, this was not the last time we were personally confronted with the reality of the Nazi’s ravaging of Lyon. 

It was only 2 days after we arrived that we visited the prison Montluc and its former prisoner, Claude Bloch. Objectively, hearing Bloch’s testimonial was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. As all 20 of us huddled in that hot and stuffy room for two hours our view of humanity was radically transformed. Coming out of that afternoon we spent with him, I knew we had an obligation to ourselves, Bloch, and the 7 million other innocent victims of the Holocaust to never let such a tragedy occur again. As history has taught us, actions committed by groups and individuals must be explicitly documented so that future generations remember and learn from the mistakes of the past. However, the current sociopolitical conditions of the West, from America to Germany, seem to heed no attention to this advice. When the Nazi’s met their demise, the international community promised they would never allow for this level of rampant devastation to happen; however, they have greatly failed in their efforts. From Rwanda, Syria, Venezuela, and even the borders of America, millions have suffered due to the failures of governments to protect their citizens. No matter how physically detached a person may be from the locations of these events, it is the living legacy of people like Claude that reminds us to reach into the most humane parts of ourselves and find ways to be sympathetic and understanding of other’s pain.

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz

Izieu as Text
“The Greatest Tragedy of All: Lost Innocence,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Izieu on July 12, 2019

50 engraved names and an empty house are all that remains of the victims of one of the greatest unknown tragedies of World War II. The morning of April 6, 1944, was supposed to be like any other for the children and caretakers of the Maison D’Izieu. Since the building’s inauguration in 1943 by Miron and Sabrine Zlatin, it served as an orphanage for children of the Jewish families that faced prosecution by the Nazi government. Families and parents alike believed that here, hidden away in the French countryside and far from the direct sight of the Vichy government, their children would be safe. However, under the rule of Klaus Barbie no one, no matter their age, race, or gender, was safe. Thus, the inconspicuous site my class and I visited on an early morning came to be known as the location where the Vichy government of France committed one of its worse crimes against humanity.

It was with heavy hearts and teary eyes that we heard of what became of the 44 children that were apprehended and deported that April morning. They were innocent kids, full of life and love, with hopes for good futures and praying for the wellbeing of the families they were cruelly separated from — what “threat” did they pose to the government? Why were their brutal and vicious deaths at Auschwitz rationalized? Why was the memory of them concealed for decades until Barbie’s trial in 1987? These are just some of the questions that ran through my brain as we walked through the abandoned building that previously was a safe haven for kids that were victims of the war. However, now all that remains are the vestige of their second lives (letters, drawings, photographs) and an exhibition in their honor. Throughout all my history classes I have been told of the tragedies of WWII; however, no lesson can ever be as impactful as getting to visit the actual sites of these events and standing in the place of those who were subjugated to the most inhumane conditions. They were only children, like Claude Bloch when he was 15 and was also deported to Auschwitz, why were they not spared?

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