Nicole Avetrani: France as Text 2019

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Photo by Gianmarco Agostinone (CC by 4.0)

Nicole Avetrani is currently a student of the Honors College at Florida International University. She is an International Relations major, minoring in Communications. She will be a senior as of Fall 2019, and was fortunate enough to join the Honors France study abroad program as taught by John W. Bailly as the next step in her Honors FIU journey. These are her As Texts.

 

PARIS AS TEXT

A Letter to Paris by Nicole Avetrani of FIU in Paris, France on 7 July 2019.

Dear Paris,

I met you 7 days ago. These days have been spent in Metro cars, cafés, museums, and castles. These days have been measured in miles walked, café crémes drinken, and 10 PM sunsets. All in daily attempts to explore and understand you. And yet, as of now, I can’t say that I do.

Prior to this trip, you have only ever been defined in stereotypes – wine and cheese, the Eiffel Tower in lights, people in love. It took very little time to come to the realization that you – a city previously unknown to me – are far too complex to be condensed into such simplified and superficial categories.

A semester’s worth of weekly classes could only scratch the surface of your complex and colorful past. Religion, revolution, and expression seem to be the catalysts of your evolution. You have been celebrated and manipulated by kings who share a singular namesake. You have been the battleground for wars fought by men with weapons and wars fought by people with ideas. Moreover, you are a place where men with weapons and men with ideas are equally catastrophic.

In light of these wars, religions, and ideas, your identity is in a constant state of evolution, and your streets are the evidence. The people, the store fronts, the brick-patterned buildings and the stands in the market places.

I find comfort in your complexity, because as I struggle to define my own identity I am beginning to learn that, like you, my identity can be multi-faceted; it is not exclusively what others are able to perceive on the surface, but the inward colors of the past that comprise the fabric of my identity.

I met you 7 days ago. And in my attempt to define the composition of your identity, I’ve been projecting my personal internal struggle to define the elements of my own. It’s only been a week, and I can say that I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to be able to learn these lessons about myself here in Paris. It’s been a week, and I can say with confidence that, while I still fail to define you, I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know you.

 

VERSAILLES AS TEXT

I Almost Had to Wait Once by Nicole Avetrani of FIU at Chateau Versailles on 7 July 2019.

A man with an idea. A simple sentence, but one with profound implications. Louis XIV was a man who made a decision to turn a hunting lodge into the heart of the French government, and justified using approximately 20% of the government’s budget in its maintenance, all the while in the firm belief that the legacy of Versailles outweighed his obligation to the people. In doing so, he set forth a chain of events that forever altered the landscape of not only French history, but the history of the world.

Visually, Versailles is inarguably stunning. The embodiment of Rococo extravagance and utter indulgence, the rooms seem to compete for your attention, and the gardens seem to never end. Impeccably detailed and meticulously designed, it becomes almost difficult to imagine such a place being the extension of a single man’s vision.
Although deserving of the awe it receives from the twisting, infinite lines of tourists lined at its gates in the morning, one would be mistaken to leave their assessment of Versailles at its physical facade. Versailles was not built to be beautiful for the sake of beauty. Versailles is so incredibly impressive because it uses art and faith as mere tools — and Louis XIV was keenly aware of how effective of a tool Versailles could be. The Sun King’s face is mirrored in every piece of artwork — reimagined as Apollo or Mars, carved into marble busts, engraved in gold adornments along the walls and ceilings. Even in the Hall of Mirrors, where you expect to catch your own reflection in the specially crafted French glass, you find Louis XIV, in the smallest of details. Consequently, he is inextricably connected to the palace for as long as history will allow it to stand. In doing so, he has cemented his place among the most successful kings to have ever ruled. He has negated every argument challenging the morality of the construction of Versailles by succeeding in doing exactly what he intended — using wealth and power to manipulate beauty, religion, and art, all to serve as a permanent monument to his legitimacy as a king and the position of France at the peak of European culture and power.

 

IZIEU AS TEXT

La Prière de Liliane Adressée à Dieu by Nicole Avetrani of FIU at Izieu on 12 July 2019.

The last week has brought many things into question. At the forefront of these is religion.

It is easy to understand those who question the existence of a God in a world where something like the Holocaust can happen. It is especially easy when you walk through the empty rooms of a building that was once a home to 44 children. 44 innocent, unassuming lives, first separated from their parents and families and then separated from the last place that stood a chance at being somewhere they could call their home. 44 flames, all between the ages of 5 and 17 on April 6th of 1943, when the Gestapo decided, against all reason, to extinguish their light from the world.

But then there is Liliane. Her letter, both a plea and a reaffirmation of her faith in God’s will. How could you deny the existence of a God she so assuredly placed her faith in? A child who, left with nothing at just 9 years old, still had faith. A child who, after April 6th 1943, ceased to exist except in photographs, drawings, and a prayer addressed to God.

These children were flames, lit by hardship, perseverance, and hope. At the end of their rope, feeling defeat in its rapid approach, the Gestapo made a desperate attempt to further plunge the world into their darkness by targeting places like Izieu, that stood as a shining beacon of hope and refuge to so many. The tragic irony is that, in spite of their senseless and unwarranted murder, the Gestapo ultimately failed.

April 6th: the date in which the Izieu children left and the day that the Gestapo thought their humanity had been erased from the face of the world, because they were sure to leave no trace of them behind. July 12th: the date in which 20 students (from another continent, another state, another school, another culture, another era) participated in the remembrance of the Izieu children by immortalizing them in their memories and in their words.

 

LYON AS TEXT

Passant Ua Dire Au Monde Qu’ils Sont Morts Pour La Liberte by Nicole Avetrani of FIU in Lyon, France on 10 July 2019.

The Resistance was far larger than the people who partook in it. This much is evident from a walk in the streets of Lyon.

Prior to 1942, Lyon was the heart of the Resistance. With the invasion of Germany in 1940, there was little time wasted in developing a network dedicated to the liberation of France from Nazi control and the Vichy government enabling their oppressive regime. Lyon became a bustling center of clandestine newspapers and winding traboules, unique passageways that are hidden within the city’s buildings, courtyards, and alleys.

With November of 1942 came the takeover of Lyon by the Gestapo. Klaus Barbie sought to not only invade the city, but transform it into their headquarters. In this city, Barbie personally enacted the intimate tortures and interrogations of thousands of individuals earning the moniker, “Butcher of Lyon.”

Evidence of these conflicting roles – both as the heart of the French Resistance and the headquarters of the Gestapo – can be found throughout the city. There are the traboules, each unique in their composition of color and combination of passageways and staircases, reflective of their individual histories and uses in regards to the Resistance. There is the monument located in the center of the town, a grim man crafted in stone and bearing a shield with the symbol of the Resistance, in a constant mission to serve as a reminder of the Resistance fighters who were executed in that very street. There is the Hotel des Celestines, owned by a man whose mother – a woman who served as a liason in the Resistance  – is survived by her poems and her son’s intimate words. There is the Montluc prison, a somber and uninviting collection of buildings that was home to the suppression of the Resistance and the persecution of the Jewish in Lyon.

Lyon is teeming with history and life, and at the center of it all are the people who, everyday, maintain the legacy of those who sacrificed in the name of a liberated France.

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