Haven Blackmon: France as Text 2019

Welcome to the manifestation of my journey studying abroad in France! My name is Haven Blackmon, and I am originally from Orlando, Florida, and moved to Miami to earn my B.A. in psychology, minoring in biology at FIU. I am interested in studying molecular biology and genetics, focusing on the genetic factors of neurological cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. However, having an interdisciplinary education which explores the relationship between different subjects is my utmost priority.

Paris as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

The United States and France share many commonalities; however, there are stark differences between the two. The American Revolution and French Revolution occurred closely together, and aimed to achieve the same principles of democracy and universal human rights. In these centuries following the revolutions, the implementation of these principles into the fabric of society have manifested in different ways and at different speeds. One principle emerging in the last century throughout the developed world, environmental protection and conservation, has been approached quite differently in the U.S. and in France. In the U.S., commodities such as fast food and single-use plastics have been readily embraced. Interestingly, the long-standing tradition of fresh, market-bought food has largely prevented the proliferation of these products. In the markets of Paris, paper bags are standard, plastic utensils are provided sparingly or at cost, and straws are rarely used. With the Western world focused on faster food, faster deliveries, and faster results, old habits seen in the heart of Paris have largely protected it from the modern problem of plastic pollution, seen overwhelmingly in the U.S. In addition, sodas are almost exclusively sold in cans, and water is more sparingly used in toilets and water fountains. Outside of Paris, wind turbines are generating renewable energy in large fields. While modernization has provided for increased productivity and wealth, the carelessness with which society has approached it is quickly creating new and urgent problems to solve. In cases like the markets of Paris, adherence to old habits and traditions has lessened the burden of plastic pollution in this corner of the world.

Versailles as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

The Palace of Versailles, the largest palace on earth, has solidified Louis XIV one of the most significant spots in European history. While being a king of France ensures your name being documented in some history books, greater achievements are necessary to secure such a prevalent place in world history. Of course, this achievement did not come without the suffering and death of many, but a king must not be so concerned as to relinquish such a coveted place in the minds of people for generations, centuries, and millennia to come. To be remembered for a few decades after your death is much easier than to guarantee that you will be remembered 2,000 years after your death. What better way is there to be remembered for a thousand years than to create the most extravagant palace in history and repeatedly plaster your face onto the god of the sun? Will maintaining peace and feeding your people for a few decades be enough? Surely writing a book or a symphony will not guarantee your long-standing spot in history like creating an extravagant palace that stands for centuries or founding a new nation (like the founding fathers of the United States). Acts such as maintaining peace or writing books are undoubtedly too much of a gamble, and the large risk is simply not worth the uncertain reward.

Lyon as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

After visiting Montluc prison, hearing Claude Bloch tell his story of surviving the Holocaust, and seeing World War II artifacts in the Resistance and Deportation History Centre, I realized that my education in the United States had never really taught me what it felt like to live in a time and place where your leaders and your government saw you as nothing more than a pest to be exterminated. I learned that approximately six million Jews were murdered over a time span of six years, and that many of these people were gassed and their bodies burned- but I never learned what it felt like to be imprisoned in a cell of only a few square meters with seven other people for weeks at a time. I never truly understood the details of how every step of the deportation and internment process was intentionally designed to rob all humanity from humans who were the victims of this genocide. It is one thing to be taught and another to truly understand. It is one thing to teach the number of people targeted and murdered, and another to demonstrate to students the reality of being packed into a prison cell. As the memory of the Holocaust fades away with time, I feel it becomes even more necessary to educate youth in a more tangible way than history books. While American students may not be able to visit concentration camps, Holocaust history can still be taught in more tangible ways, including Holocaust museums and classroom demonstrations of food portions in concentration camps and weight loss of those who survived. Ultimately, future generations will prevent this from happening again not by regurgitating textbook facts, but by seeing and understanding that this terrorization of people resulted in the few adult survivors that were rescued weighing nothing more than that of an eleven year old child, and that people are only capable of this magnitude of terror with the complacency and inaction of many.

Izieu as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

During World War II, while Jews were being forcefully deported to concentration camps to be murdered, many families made the difficult decision to send their children away to Maison D’Izieu to be cared for and protected from the Nazi regime. When, on April 6, 1944, 44 children were found in the home by the Gestapo and deported to concentration camps, the only reason was for their Jewish heritage. Before the raid, children in this home received education and ample time to express their emotions through art. Those with living parents or other relatives that could be contacted sent letters of longing, affection, and gratitude. This was a temporary home meant to shelter children for no longer than two months while other arrangements were made for their care and protection. While visiting this refuge and learning the history of this home, I was reminded of the U.S.  immigration crisis and children being sheltered in detention facilities. It is certainly not my intention to compare the Holocaust to immigration practices in the U.S.; however, I noticed several similarities and differences between the two. First, none of these children have committed a crime- the only reason for their separation was the circumstances in their lives. Also, most of these children were and are unable to contact their parents, and may not know what has happened to them. The major difference between the two is that the children at Izieu were intentionally sent by parents or other surviving relatives with confidence that they would remain safe from roundups and deportation, meanwhile children in the U.S. have been and are being taken away from their parents unwillingly. In addition, Maison d’Izieu, which was partially aided by the local government, supplied all children with their basic needs- education, food, and hygiene. The U.S., by contrast, has neglected to give basic hygiene products and beds in some cases to children in detention facilities. This begs us to ask one question: If political refugee children in France during WWII had all of their basic needs met in a transition home, what is the justification for the U.S. neglecting to give migrant refugee children soap and toothpaste?

Normandy as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

Dear Sgt. John Ray,

I know you cannot read this, but I visited your grave today. I learned all I could about your short but heroic life, and I stood in the very place you were when you saved the lives of your comrades, and death got its first grip on you.

I know that you were born August 15, 1922, and that growing up, you shared a home with three siblings and your parents in Gretna, Louisiana. I know that you played football in high school, and joined the Army on January 9, 1941, before the United States was involved in the war in Europe. 

I know it was devastating for you to leave your family in service of your country and miss your mother’s passing. I’m sure you would have given almost anything to comfort your family in a time of grief. I also know you would have liked to spend more time with your new sister. What an emotional time it must have been to bury your mother, meet your sister, and meet your future wife all in the same weekend.

I know you wished you could have more time to take Paula on a first date, but your letters to her and her mother showed them what a great man you were. Without these letters, much of your memory might be gone today. I want you to know how much Paula cherished those letters. She loved them so much, she kept all 333 letters for over 54 years before she published them. For the many hours it took writing those letters, I know you would have rather spent them with her.

I know you wished you had stayed in school longer, but the world might be much different today if you had. By the time you landed in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, you were a well-seasoned paratrooper. However, I doubt that all the experience in the world could eliminate the fear you must have felt landing in this German-occupied town. At the age of 21, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, your landing was almost immediately met with gunfire. Even after a bullet ripped through your abdomen, you acted swiftly and mustered the strength to shoot the German soldier aiming at your comrades above on the roof of the church. Both men on the roof survived the Normandy invasion because of you. A split moment passed, and you became a hero. I am left to wonder what your last days were like, with infection from battle wounds spreading throughout your body. 

When you passed on June 13, 1944, you had made a greater contribution to this world than most ever will. Paula was devastated when she received that impending telegram. Your death, although heroic, was not easy to process. At 21, you lost all possibility of building a career and starting a family. Your young wife became a widow. I cannot help but to theoretically apply the events of your life to mine. Although I plan on entering the military once I finish my education, I most likely will never face an end like yours. However, it is not a probability, but it is a possibility that any one of us could be thrust into a situation in which we choose to become a hero and sacrifice our life for another. I cannot say which I would choose; I’ve never imagined that my greatest contribution to the world would be giving up my life. I have every expectation of creating something or discovering something to leave behind, and the possibility of contributing my life to a cause is unsettling. Regardless of my fate, yours has shown me how meaningful your contribution was, although you left little behind. You, Sgt. Ray, are the reason freedom lives on in this world. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. There is no way I could possibly repay you for what you’ve given me, but I’ll die trying.

Père Lachaise as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

Rene Lalique was born April 6, 1860 in Ay, France, but moved to Paris with his family at the age of two. Growing up, he was known to be a great drawer. His father passed away in 1876 when Rene was 16, and following his death he started an apprenticeship under Louis Aucoc, a renowned jewelry maker at the time. This is where Rene found his craft, learning how to create jewelry with a range of different materials. It was at this time that Rene also began studying at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. He subsequently traveled to England to study for two years. Upon his return, he began designing jewelry independently. Despite the jewelry style at the time, which was elaborate with precious gems, Rene quickly became popular with his use of unconventional materials, such as enamel and ivory. His jewelry brought a creativity and originality to the industry that became highly coveted, and at the World Exposition of Paris in 1900, his jewelry brought him world fame. But following this event, Rene started experimenting with glassmaking. For several years, he practiced and perfected his craft in glassmaking, and in 1907 met perfumer Francois Coty. Because of Lalique, the perfume industry was changed forever. He began making elaborate glass bottles for perfumes, which had previously been held in plain flasks. Still today, you may observe that almost all perfumes are sold in glass with attractive designs. During his glassmaking career, Lalique also created many other glass products, including vases, ashtrays, car mascots, and brooches, among other things. Many of these original pieces are now sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, if in good condition. While these original masterpieces are very valuable today, Rene’s success also enabled him to mass-produce glass items when he opened glassmaking factories. During World War I, his factories benefited the war effort by producing many plain glass bottles for storage, typically of medicine and other necessities. Over the course of his glassmaking career, Lalique reportedly created over 1,500 glass designs. He passed away on May 1, 1945 at the age of 85. In his last years, rheumatism unfortunately hindered his ability to work due to chronic pain in his hands. What drew me to study the life of Rene Lalique is my fascination with glass design. I have always particularly enjoyed seeing the creation process and finished products of glass art. What connected me to him personally was the fact that he created not one, but two careers for himself. His creativity and interests provided great variability in his work. I absolutely strive to create a career for myself in which I have variability in my work, and can only hope to be successful in such varied areas as Rene did. While my passion does not lie in art and jewelry-making, I am a science enthusiast who is also very actively involved in social justice issues. While glassmaking band jewelry are much more easily incorporated into each other, I aspire to teach others that science is indeed intimately tied to social justice. Statistics inform us of inequalities present in our society, and all of our revolutionary scientific theories would not come about without diversity and inclusion in the scientific community. Our diversity of background and experiences informs our views, and a multitude of these backgrounds is necessary for the advancement of knowledge.

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