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.

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