Miami in Miami: Maria Cruz

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. Fresh from her study abroad trip she completed this past summer in France with Professor Bailly she is in the midst of completing her final year at FIU. Below are her reflections of the Miami in Miami class she is participating in this academic year through the Honors College.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Ground Zero,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Downtown Miami on September 25, 2019

With just over a century of its existence, Miami is one of the most unique urban areas I have encountered. Being established in 1896, Miami is one of the youngest major cities in the U.S., still in the midst of developing and forming its identity. The history of the city began with Julia Tuttle’s spirit of entrepreneurship, and since then has become a place for individuals from all backgrounds to start their new lives  — a ground zero, if you will. From the start, Miami has reflected the values and cultures of its everchanging population, making all those that seek its solace feel welcomed. It has become the home of countless marginalized communities, and I, a Cuban immigrant who regularly speaks Spanish outside of my house and can go to a local cafeteria to get a cafecito can attest to that fact. But the reputation of the city was elevated by the artists that found inspiration in this tropical paradise, Haitian and Puerto Rican refugees who sought to rebuild their lives, members of the LGBT community who found themselves accepted, and millions of others that have come to call Miami their home.

Despite this progress, the city is not immune to the tragedies the rest of American history is plagued with. From racism to misogyny, Miami is still dealing with its “problematic past”(as our professor refers to it) and its modern-day implications. Tuttle’s efforts are ignored for the economic achievements of Henry Flagler, the city’s involvement in the violent persecution of Native populations is disregarded,  and its involvement in the discriminatory racial policies of the South is largely omitted from its historical narrative. Therefore, it is imperative that the younger generations, who are still living with the consequences of these actions, do not ignore our past. Rather, as a local community, we must come together to confront these issues while we are in the midst of making history and have the time to make a change. 

Miami Metro as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Redefining Miami,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Miami on September 11, 2019

For many, art is viewed as the height of a society’s culture. Whether it has historical relevance or ties to the modern scene, a city’s association with art has been a defining factor in its cultural value — and consequently, an individual’s appreciation of these locations. Despite Miami being one of the United State’s most popular metropolitan areas, and my home for the past 17 years, it is a place I took for granted for many reasons. For one, it lacked the cultural appeal and charm that other cities, such as Los Angeles and New York City, are renowned for. For example, in terms of the arts, we are seemingly lacking in widespread access and appraisal. As someone who spent the summer throughout Europe studying the origins of some of the most important artistic developments in the world, the opportunities to view the masterpieces of Monet, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio on a regular basis is something I have increasingly mourned. In many parts of the world, art, in all its forms, is something that is greatly appreciated by the public and largely celebrated; however, the same can not be said for Miami. Or well, that is what I used to believe. Throughout our class excursion day, it became even more clear to me that I could not be more wrong.

With art pieces strung throughout metro station stops and university museums, the city of Miami is investing in enhancing its culture, and in turn, redefining its residents’ cultural values. In our modern-day, art is not limited to the banquet halls of châtalets and internationally known museums for the privileged to visit, but it has transformed to become a public act for all to enjoy. Whether it be the domino themed walkways or recreations of sculptures, art has increasingly become accessible in the city, opening many to the importance of it. For many years, I, and millions of others, merely associated Miami with the art deco style that dominated the look of its downtown area. However, I now know that the city’s ties to art have deeper historical connections, going back several centuries to the times of El Greco. Even more recently, artists such as Purvis Yung have contributed to the contemporary art scene in Miami, reforming people’s views on modern art and its association with the city. I was truly astonished at just how much we discovered by spending just one day using the metro. While I cannot help but lament over all the years and experiences I missed, I cannot be more excited to discover the other hidden gems of Miami and form the relationship with my home that I have missed out on these past 17 years.

la poesie est dans la rue (en couler pleine de vie)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Paris Over Under Project she had to complete for her Honors study abroad program in Summer of 2019.


At 22 kilometers long, ligne 7 of the Paris metro is one of the longest lines in the system. Additionally, it contains 38 stations along the entirety of its route, making it no wonder why it is one of the busiest networks in the metro. While it was inaugurated in 1910, its north-east to south-east set up demanded continuous additions as the city expanded, it was not until May of 1987 that the latest extension was opened at the north stop La Courneuve. As the line runs throughout the entirety of Paris, from its very center to the periphery, you get to see the full range of the city’s demographics and variety in geography as you go along the various stops. From the young and rich in the heart of the city and the suburbs, to the older and less fortunate in the rundown parts, all Parisians can find themselves visiting the different stations of ligne 7. Getting the opportunity to personally visits the various stops along its route I not only got to observe the current conditions of France’s modern culture, but also a chance to analyze how the influence from the country’s past are still visible today — beyond the name of the stations.

Porte de la Villette

Historical insight: This station derived its name from the former commune, Villette, that was a Gallo-Roman village and did not become a part of Paris until 1860. The original district was called Villette, and near the location of the station was its gate (Porte de la Villette), thus its name came to be. This stop is recognized by its proximity to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie whose current operations are based on an initiative started by former president Giscard d’Estaing. The Cité is open for public use, and although you have to pay a fee to get and visit the various exhibitions and interactive spaces, there are still plenty of other resources you can access for free, such as their public library and aquarium. Reminiscent of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum back in Miami, this is a space dedicated to promoting the importance of science and research and getting individuals to engage in the future of our technological world. However, unlike back home in Miami, this concept is not limited to certain locations. On our line, this is just one of the two science museums we explored. In addition, with the size and resources accommodated to these areas, it is evident the French government has invested far more in the sciences than we have back home.

Personal observations: Stepping out of the metro and walking up to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie there was only one idea that plagued my observations: just how similar this museum, and its surrounding areas, resembled the Centre George Pompidou. Despite the Cité des Sciences being a science museum, and the largest one in all of Europe at that, the aesthetic and layout of the building was almost identical to that of the Pompiduo’s. The one key difference we saw was that positioned at the front of the museum was a fenced-off area were sheep were free to herd — something I definitely was not expecting to find in such a metropolitan area. However, we later learned that the climate and rural terrain of Paris is actually ideal for the Nuage and Odyseée ewes and thus the Cité des Sciences, as part of their effort to conserve the city’s biodiversity and spread scientific awareness, maintains its parkland as a “secondary urban reservoir.” This was definitely one of the most interesting starts to our explorations of the stops, especially considering how much this small space clashed with the modern architecture of its surrounding buildings. This place is one where the future of Paris meets its present. Inside the actual museum, there is everything from a planetarium and aquarium, to a library and cinema. As I previously noted, this sharing of space is something I had noticed in other areas of the city and really shows just how dedicated the government is to funding public spaces and getting their citizens more invested in the state.


Historical insight: The Rue d’Aubervilliers station saw its name change following the Battle of Stalingrad in 1946 during WWII. This battle is seen as one of the most decisive events of the war, turning it in favor of the Allied forces, and leaving no room to wonder of its importance in France’s history. Originally, the name Stalingrad was just associated with the city in southern Russia that was the target of German invasion forces for 7 months, and now recognized as one of the greatest events of confrontation throughout the entire war. With this being one of the many names on the public transportation system associated with WWII, it is quite evident just how much France has prioritized its remembrance and honoring of this tragedy.

Personal observations: With its vendor-lined streets and open layout, this area reminded us of Wynwood back home. You could find locals and tourists alike mingling with each other, going to explore the booths of food and merchandise sellers, all while getting to observe the world of France’s contemporary art. Moreover, with its close proximity to the fake beaches placed along the Seine, there was sure something to do for everybody that passed by. This is one of the few instances that we have been able to interact with the modern art scene of France, showing us that this traditional appreciation of it by the Parisienne culture has not been abandoned. One of the most interesting things we ended up discovering was the art installation “La Foret Escargot.” Much to my surprise, this is one of the three instances throughout our time working on this project that we have seen a major public installation. This is a traveling piece in the shape of a giant snail that is made up of reused and recycled materials. The artists’ intention with this work is to educate individuals on the looming danger of climate change and how issues such as major pollution and global warming exasperate these conditions, leaving millions to wonder what will be of our future. Ironically enough, the current location of the snail is right in front of the infamous Paris-Plages, also known as the artificial beaches. This development shows the two-sided nature of Parisienne values, but also how from war to climate change, France has had taken direct initiatives when confronting some of the biggest threats to its nation’s security. 


Historical insight: Located in the 10th arrondissement, near the edge of the city, is the Château-Landon station. This is one of the few stops along this line that has historical ties to some of France’s most important eras. More recent in history, is the story behind the station’s name. It is based on the property owned by a member of the Landon family that was developed during the reign of Louis XIV. However, it has ties to even further back in time. This station is close in proximity to a street that previously was utilized by the Romans as a road to travel from old Paris, Lutetia, to up north.

Personal observations: From our stop and exploration of the area, it quickly became apparent to us that this neighborhood is different from the ones we previously visited. With its residential buildings and peaceful streets, the nearby streets reminded me more of my home in the suburbs than the chaotic mess of Paris that I have grown accustomed to. Free from the commotion of constant traffic and pedestrians, this was a nice reminder that there is more to the city than the frenzied nature of its urban center. Being a residential area, there was not much to explore — no historic churches to study or museums to walk around — however, this does not mean it was any less interesting to observe. It was a reminder of how Paris and its many arrondissements have been forced to adapt their spaces to the ever-growing population and their changing needs.

Chaussée d’Antin La Fayette

Historical insight: This is one of the original stations of the line, it was first opened in November of 1910 and is located in the northern area of the route. Its original name, simply Chaussée d’Antin, was in reference to a nearby street of the same name that was self-declared by the first Duke of Antin. Moreover, the stop has deeper ties to France’s history because it used to be the site of a marsh that saw dramatic and rapid development as it was part of the route frequently taken by Louis XV on his way in and out of Paris. The second part of its name, however, came much later in time and alludes to the nearby Rue La Fayette, as well as the flagship store of Galeries Lafayette located along this street. This stop is particularly interesting to observe because it is one of the many sites that proves just how consumed by shopping the French are, just like the Champs Élysées. 

Personal observations: Walking up to the storefront of the Galeries Lafayette my friends and I had no idea what was hidden behind its grand entrances. Even just trying to get inside was a mission on its own, like trying to get through a maze. Much to our amazement, the store spanned across various streets wherein each division specialized in a different department. However, walking inside was an entire experience in its own. Similar to the Macy’s flagship in Herald Square, this place was straight out of a dream. Walking in you are immediately overwhelmed with the presence of designer names and luxurious brands. Still, if fashion is not your interest there is still more to be in awe of. Whether tourist or local, one can find themselves amazed by the pure beauty of its architecture and featured artworks. Even for me, a well-seasoned shopper, it was impossible not to get overwhelmed. Originally, I did not think the people of Paris would be so invested in the malady of the consumer culture that plagues the United States. For one, most European societies, especially in Western countries, are pushing towards more minimalistic and eco-friendly means of living. Moreover, given France’s violent persecution of its aristocracy and elite, you would think they would not concern themselves with such frivolities as designer items. However, it is evident now more than ever, that no matter where you travel to in the world you will not be able to escape the grasp of capitalism.


Historical insight: One of the original stops for this metro route, the history of this station and its surrounding areas highlights some of the most important components of France’s culture. Named after the nearby Palais Garnier, this station offers easy access to this lavish opera house that has become one of Paris’ many globally recognized landmarks. The architect of the Opéra, Charles Garnier, oversaw the building of it after construction began in 1861and lasted up until 1875 when it was finally open to the public. Its original purpose was to host the shows of the Académie Royale de Musique of Paris, which went on to include both opera and ballet shows as their popularity arose within the elite of France. This development is definitely one Louis the XIV would have been proud to know about. As part of his cultural arts mission, he founded the music academy to enhance his subjects awareness and appreciation of the arts, hoping to have a global impact — of which we know he was successful in. The beauty and magnificence of this location, even Gaston Leroux saw it as a source of inspiration for the book The Phantom of the Opera, that then went on to gain international praise in the musical and film adaptations.

Personal observations: One of the first things noticeable from this stop is that its exterior sign is one of the few that does not copy the standard art nouveau style. In contrast, it has a marble entrance that matches with the opulent aesthetic of the Opera Garnier. Getting out of the metro we quickly made our way to the opera house in the hopes that we could enter and see its equally stunning interior in person. Unfortunately, there was a performance going on at the time of our visit so we were unable to do so, but that did not stop us from enjoying its decorative and bold exterior and looking deeper into the location’s history. One of the most memorable learning points from my trip is the difference in seeing images of these locations and being able to study them in person. Despite the fact that I have spent years being taught their importance, being able to physically experience them allowed me to better understand their cultural and historical importance. Personally, it also helped me bridge the gap between the past and the present. Paris, being a city so rich in history, is somewhere you can constantly do this. For example, even centuries after being built the Opera Garnier still stands and Louis XIV’s influence over society still remains.

Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre

Historical insight: Originally named Palais Royal, this station was renamed in 1989 and since then has seen further changes, especially in relation to its appearance. Located between the Louvre Palace and Louvre Museum, this stop is frequently overwhelmed by visitors (tourists and locals alike). Its exit is by one of the main entrances to the famed museum, leading you right out to the iconic pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei, that has become one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks. In fact, despite the recent addition of this pyramid, it is one of the many famous images synonymous with the museum itself. However, the station itself is famous for its very own artwork and not just its close proximity to it. In 2000 artist Jean-Michel Othoniel revealed Le kiosque des noctambules, his work that gave the entrance to the station a completely new look and set it apart from all the metro stops in Paris. Unlike the standard art nouveau designs of other entrances, the work by Othoniel included various aluminum spheres and colored pearls covering a bare iron structure. While this modern look contrasted with the traditional design of the Haussmanian buildings in the surrounding Place Colette, it added to the history and beauty of the area.

Personal observations: We originally came across this station as we were heading towards our class at the Musée du Louvre. As we passed by the piece done by Othoniel I was intrigued because of the juxtaposition between the work’s colors and shapes and the surrounding brick buildings. I was captivated by its appearance because it reminded me of something that belongs in Downtown Miami, and definitely not the center of Paris. Had it not been for our professor pointing it out to us I would have never guessed it was the entrance to a metro station. However, being so near to one of the internationally recognized museums I could not have envisioned their metro entrance design anywhere else in Paris. For decades the Louvre has been viewed as the epitome of art by millions across the world. They instantly recognize its name, can identify the most famous pieces displayed here, and spend weeks, months, years,  dreaming about going. After visiting, I can definitely say it was one of the most memorable days of this program for me. And if I ever get the chance, I would love to take on the challenge of spending whatever indefinite numbers of days it takes to walk through the entirety of it. This stop reminds me, as well as the millions of others that go by it every year, of just how easily accessible the height of French culture is thanks to the sacrifices of the Revolutionaries.


Historical insight: Out of all the metro stations in Paris, Châtalet is definitely the one to visit. Even for those that are not big fans of public transportation and prefer to either walk or drive, Châtalet is like no other stop. Words are not merely enough to describe the restless energy of this place, with everyone you pass by blurring into one large, moving figure as they frantically rush to their various destinations. Its first platform opened in 1900 just three weeks after the original metro route of Paris, ligne 1, was inaugurated and trains started running. However, its platform on ligne 7 would not open until 26 years later. Its name finds origins in the Place du Châtalet that used to be located along the Seine river before Napoleon had it destroyed. 

Personal observations: During our free times in Paris, Châtalet was where our journeys always began. In fact, a majority of our exploration of it was not during our times to work on the project, but rather when we were hanging out with our friends and looking for new things to discover. While we frequently visited this stop throughout our class times, getting to explore the surrounding area outside of academic purposes is a must for all those that come to visit Paris. It was beautiful to see how a place that once was delegated to the most marginalized groups in the city, where they faced the utmost oppression and disgraceful living conditions, has transformed into such a popular hub of activity.

Pont Marie Cité Internationale des Arts

Historical insight: This station was opened during one of the lines earlier expansions in 1926. Part of the southern route, it is located near the right bank of the Seine and derives its name from the nearby bridge. It is also recognized by its second name, which refers to the stop’s proximity to one of the Cité Internationale des Arts sites. Coming into fruition after World War II, this project offers public facilities to international artists of all crafts. This is the second location we visited throughout the completion of our project in which the arts have had a significant historical and cultural impact on the development of the area, once again proving where France’s sociocultural values lay. 

Personal observations: Walking along the river on a sunny afternoon this place proved to be the perfect place to be. As we made our trek to the Colonne de Juillet located at the center of the Place de Bastille we found ourselves distracted by all the individuals hanging out on the walkways bordering the river. This is one of the few stops along our line that had a more relaxed and social atmosphere. As opposed to the Île de la Cité, the areas along the Seine is more open and spacious, and allows individuals, especially its locals, build a sense of community urban city’s usually lack.

Place Monge

Historical insight: One of the later additions to ligne 7, the Place Monge station was inaugurated in February of 1930. Its name references French mathematician Gaspar Monge that was renowned for his work with descriptive geometry and role in re-establishing order following the French Revolution. Before it temporarily operated as a station for ligne 10; however, in April of 1931 it was officially integrated into ligne 7 when its connection to Pont de Sully was completed. 

Personal observations: The neighboring area of this stop was one of the places that best displayed the diversity of French culture and values. Acting as a meeting point between religion, love, and science, it is impossible for one to get bored exploring the surrounding locales. Our first surprise occurred when we came across the Grand Mosque of Paris. While we did not go into the place of worship, we walked towards the back and headed towards the cafe they run. Much to my amazement, a majority of the people we saw there appeared to be white and affluent French citizens — the complete opposite of the demographic we saw head instead to attend religious services. Then, less than a five minute walk away is the Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle that contains various buildings for different subject matters. Even more fascinating are the large open jardins located right next to the museums. In such a small area, you get to see some of the most defining values of French culture interact with one another, and it truly is a fascinating thing to witness.


Historical insight: Located along the edge of the Latin Quarter, station Censier-Daubenton is home to one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Paris. One of the most notable features in the area is the Rue Mouffetard that goes uphill and leads to a pantheon. This street is actually one of the most important historical landmarks of the city as it used to link Lutetia (old Paris) right to Lyon, another city of importance to the Roman invaders. While the street has undergone many transformations since these medieval times, it still is one that holds a lot of energy and spirit, and truly I was not surprised to discover it was one of the various sources of inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

Personal observations: Walking along the streets near the station there were two things that immediately caught our eyes: a small garden located in a roundabout in the middle of a pedestrian street and a church with a photo exhibition displayed along its fence. Moreover, for an area so near the Latin Quarter its peaceful and relaxed atmosphere was not what we were expecting (however, this may be due to the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon and the hectic atmosphere of the city has considerably toned down to accommodate for its residents’ weekend plans). Entering the church that originally caught our attention we discovered its name, Eglise Saint-Médard, and that it is dedicated to one of France’s patron saints. St. Medard was originally associated with the weather, but he was also later invoked to protect winemakers, brewers, and farmers — can it get any more French than that? Moreover, the church was originally built in the 15th century to honor relics of St. Medard, but since then has gone through various stages of renovation that has incorporated different styles of art. From Gothic, to Renaissance, and even classical, this church, like much of the rest of Paris, has seen many changes and had to adapt to these new conditions. Stepping out of the holy site we traversed back to take a deeper look at the photographs located along the church’s fence. After further research, we discovered that the exhibition put on by Claire Garate and Patrice Leconte was actually relevant to our project: it’s subject matter focused on them portraying what the “real” Paris was to them. From photographs of graffiti to children observing national spectacles, they, like us, embarked on the journey to establish a different, more authentic relationship with Paris and its people. Still, even after exploring this we were amazed by the infamous Rue Mouffetard. Walking uphill, it was evident that the street’s tradition of craftsmanship and butcher stores was still going strong, even after it was considered to be an uncleanly part of the district because of its constant rodent infestations. But Paris, like many other urban cities, has fallen trap to the cyclical nature of the least desired areas becoming the most desired as people look for new things to obsess over.


The opportunity to explore Paris through such an authentic manner is something I have never gotten to experience in any other city before. Despite the fact that I was raised and have lived a majority of my life in one of America’s most known urban areas, Miami, I have little experience with public transportation. However, in Miami this is the norm — you either have a car or go nowhere. As a result, there is a sense of detachment between me and my home. Especially since I live in the suburbs and the real heart of the city, where all the cultures and societies of Miami meet, is approximately an hour from me. I always felt like there was something missing that did not make me a “true Miamian,” something that I found in Paris throughout the completion of this project. First off, the line is far removed from the ones we commonly used when traveling with our classmates and professor; therefore, when we first started our project it was like we had to get accustomed to the metro all over again. In order for us to access the stops at ligne 7 we had to switch over from various lines and sit through long commutes (sometimes up to an hour!). However, this entire process allowed us to have a more accurate understanding of local citizen’s everyday lives. With just one swipe of our Navigo cards, we got to see the reality of the Parisienne streets, looking behind the idealized views of the city and seeking the authentic beauty of the city. Whether you take the metro just to go one stop over or take the entire line down, there is this sense of community that you feel with your fellow travelers that I have never experienced in Miami. Much to my surprise, having such easy access to the entire city is one of the things I will miss the most about Paris. When I first came I was skeptical of the public transportation, especially since the stations along our line are visibly some of the most rundown we visited; however, the beauty of Paris is that everyone ignores that. The metro, and in fact the entire public transportation system, is a symbol of unlimited freedom and equality, and something the Revolutionaries of the 19th century would have proudly celebrated the inauguration of.

Maria Cruz: France As Texts (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 final year at FIU. Below are her reflections of the Honors study abroad program she completed in France this past summer.

Paris as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“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.

Versailles as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“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.

Lyon as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“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 6 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. Still, 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.

Izieu as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“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; yet, 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?

Normandy as Text

Main photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0), second photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“No Mail, Low Morale,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Normandy on July 23, 2019

Soldiers are not the only victims of war. War ravages rural farms, families, urban cities, and friendships… It is an illness that takes hold of a country and attempts to kill everything in its path. Innocent or not, soldier or not, war is one of the worst things a person can encounter in their lives. For me, I have never been as conscious of this concept before being faced with the 9,388 graves of the American Cemetery. 

Unit: Women’s Army Corps. Rank: Private First Class. Status: DNB (Died Non-battle). Location: Plot D, Row 23, Grave 47. A life passed and gone, and this is all the remains of the victim — some standard titles and a burial location. Yet, the legacy of Mary H. Bankston and her courageous actions survives despite the minimal information known about her. This is what a true hero is.

What Ms. Bankston’s life was like before her deployment is up to my imagination. I know she was a daring person, for when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights activist Dr. Mary Mclead Bethune were successful in their efforts to grant African-American women the right to join the WAC, she enlisted herself. I know she was noble, that despite the historical past of slavery in the United States still tainting her livelihood she prioritized her country above her individual experiences. I know she was strong beyond recognition, because not only did she attend basic training sessions before being sent out to Europe, but she was willing to take on the mental and emotional burden of being the mediator of information between soldiers and their loved ones. 

But Mary, what was your childhood like? How was your family life growing up? And school, were you one of the ones that loved going or dreaded every second of it? What did you do when you hung out with friends? What were your favorite books, songs, celebrities? Did you have a partner waiting for you to get back home? Or were you the one that was awaiting a return once? I would have loved to had the chance to know the real you, and not just the statistic you are portrayed as. What was it that inspired you to sacrifice so much of yourself for the sake of your country?

Ms. Bankston was 1 of the 850 women that compromised the 6888 Central Post Directory Battalion, or as it is more commonly referred to as, the “Six Triple Eight.” Famed for being the first and only unit in WWII that was composed solely of black women — a momentous occasion in history, for sure. While her unit was created to aid in the delivering of mail to servicemembers following a 6-month backup l, the women of the Six Triple Eight were quick to cement their worth to the war effort. After their initial arrival in February, they worked diligently, implementing the motto “No mail, low morale.” Despite the constant physical threat they were under, being near active battlegrounds and constantly evading units of the axis powers, they were resolute in maintaining their work ethic, no matter the consequence. Tragically, it was only 5 months after their arrival to Europe that Mary, alongside two companions, died in a jeep accident. Still so full of life and dreams, their stories came to an abrupt end. 

Mary, your story is one of the many that I have heard this past month and it has irrecoverably altered my life. I cannot empathize with you, for I have never been so close to direct combat nor dealt with the level of racial issues that dictated your life. However, I know what it is like to throw yourself into new and completely unknown experiences for the sake of your community and family. Being aware that no matter what difficulties lie ahead, you are not solely acting for your personal growth, but are rather motivated by giving others the opportunities you were denied. Hoping that no matter how insignificant you may think you are, your actions have a larger impact. The evidence lies in the fact that of all 9,388 graves, Ms. Bankston, you are one of four that are dedicated to women.      

So, Mary H. Bankston, this is my official farewell to you, with the promise that your story will live on with me and all those willing to listen. Your memory is in all of the young black and brown girls that have been granted the opportunities and freedom you were once denied, and for that, we thank you for your service. It lives in my mother, aunt, grandmother, and I who are getting a second chance at freedom. It lives in the millions of people in my home country who are not as fortunate as we are but have generations of survivors to fight for their rights on a daily basis. And it is in a group of 18 students from Miami who, despite having completely different backgrounds from one another, were given the chance to come and hear your story and of the millions of other silent victims of WWII.

Père Lachaise as Text

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0), edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Le monde, chère Agnès, est une étrange chose,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Père Lachaise on July 26, 2019 

Born in 1622 as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin into two wealthy merchant families, Molière’s origins were far from the provocative character he was notorious for. The son of Jean Poquelin of and Marie Cressé had a carefree childhood, with his early life being free of societal pressures and economic burdens. The first time he encountered any form of hardship was at age 11 when his mother died and his father remarried. This event is the catalyst for Jean-Baptiste’s distancing from his family name and line of work. While it was not until several years later that this becomes official, his fragile relationship with his father left him seeking emotional fulfillment elsewhere. He found solace in the theatres his grandfather took him to, learning about the magic of plays and the written word at an early age. 

It was in Paris that he began his prestigious academic career. Attending schools such as the Jesuit Collège de Clermont, he was able to get the highest level of education and socialize with the most affluent of society; however, these schooling years were to be valuable to him for far different reasons. On these school stages, he refined his skills as both an actor and writer, honing in on his comedic abilities and forever elevating the standards of French plays. Yet, despite his early theatrical success, it was still a few years before he immersed himself in this world. In 1641, he inherited the title of “valet of the King’s chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery” from his father. Jean Poquelin originally purchased this title during the reign of Louis XIII, cementing the family’s relationship with the monarchy — something Jean-Baptiste used to his advantage and redefined during the height of his career. The following year, in 1642, he goes to school to become a lawyer but does not finish his studies. It is during this time that he abandons his pre-destined career path and all the social norms that dictated his life. 

At just 21 years old Jean-Baptiste Poquelin ceases to exist, with Molière taking his place. He makes his debut in society in 1643 with the founding of the Illustre Théâtre alongside fellow actress Madeleine Béjart. While this was the start of his career in theater, these were certainly not his most successful years. Around two years later the company goes bankrupt and the troupe dissolves, with Molière being imprisoned for the debts he owns. However, this is just the beginning of his turbulent second life. After this short escapade, he joined a new company and spent the following 12 years as a traveling actor throughout the south of France. It was during this time that Molière became renowned for his comedic skills and style after failing in establishing himself as a “tragic” actor and being inspired by the Italian theater. This was to prove fruitful as he earned the patronage of several members of the aristocracy, including Philippe I, Duke of Normandy, also known as “Monsieur,” or the younger brother of Louis XIV. Unsurprisingly, this era was embroiled with a lot of personal drama; however, Molière’ claim to fame was cemented.

Paris, being the heart of the French culture and society, was a city Molière could not spend the rest of his life running from; thus, his return was inevitable. Making his debut at the Petit-Bourbon theater, Molière was to embark on a new and completely unknown path in life. Now in favor with the court, he got to enjoy privileges that no other actor or playwright during his time got to, especially since a majority of them were still denounced by society. Similar to Louis XIV, he was largely popular amongst the elite and privileged and loathed by the church — having such an animated character and openly contending societal norms it is no wonder he was so largely talked about. His works, whether it be a play, poem, or comédies-ballets, were largely satirical in nature and questioned the values the French deemed as “admirable;” however, being so supported by the king, the monarchy is the one subject he never denounced in his writings. Still, despite all the success and appraisal he was receiving Molière’s personal life came under fire following his marriage to Armande Béjart in 1662, who was rumored to be the daughter of his past lover. Yet, just a decade later Molière fell incurably ill. Being afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis, he met his ultimate demise in his place of worship: the stage (ironically enough, his death is one of the most iconic moments of his life). In the middle of his performance in Le Malade Imaginaire, he collapsed on stage in a coughing fit and hemorrhaged; however, he insisted on continuing with the show and performed until its ending. Tragically, following the play’s conclusion, he collapsed and was rushed home where he remained alive for a few short hours until he died. In true Moliére fashion, the two priests called for to grant him his last rites refused to go because of the untimely hour.

Still, Moliére’s afterlife is just as chaotic as his living. As a result of the prejudice held against actors at the time, their bodies were not allowed to be buried on “sacred ground,” so his widow, Armande, had to go petition Louis XIV to find a loophole around this law. With the King’s permission, Moliére was granted a funeral at night and a plot in the part of the cemetery at St. Joseph that was reserved for unbaptized children. Moreover, over a century after his death, the newly established government of the French Revolution recovered his bones and relocated them to the Museum of French Monuments. It was not until 1817 that they were recovered before being placed in their “alleged” final resting place — Père Lachaise.

I first learned about Moliére in my 10th grade French class when my teacher played a movie dedicated to his most productive years as a playwright and actor. Before starting, she merely introduced him as the “French Shakespeare,” and decided that such a statement was a sufficient summary of his character. Being a child of AP English Language and Literature, such a claim was inconceivable to me. Shakespeare is heralded as a god-like figure whose writings are untouchable and unique to all of human history, how can anybody compare? You see, this is common throughout my academic career as curriculums emphasize several key figures throughout history who have formed our understanding of the world based on biased perspectives. However, disregarding so many individuals who have held a status of substantial influence in their country, whether it be while they were alive or following their death, is not just a disservice to them, but to us as well. 

Moliére’s works were the culmination of the most polarizing topics and entertaining deliveries. His ability reconcile these opposing ideas were what gained him such fame, and in turn why he made such a grand impact in France’s history and culture. Being the writer and main actor for most of his plays, amongst completing several other theater jobs, he was a real Renaissance man of the play world. Forever changing the cultural landscape of his country, his impact is still present in the daily lives of citizens speaking “the language of Moliére.” Living in the height of the technological revolution, we have the entire history of the world at our fingertips — how is it that we are still stuck on only Shakespeare? How is it that despite his influence on the historical past and present of one of the leading countries in the world I have only ever heard of Moliére once before? One of the main ideas emphasized in our professor’s lectures was to seek a deeper, more holistic understanding of everything we studied, whether it be painting, architectural design, sculpture, or written words, because it is all this history and knowledge that will allow you to comprehend the importance of these works and their relation to the present day. After all we have experienced, how is it that millions still fail to grasp this concept (and still wonder about the fate of our futures)? The world, truly, est une étrange chose.

Declaration Project: Pauline Lèon

Over Under Project: la poesie est dans la rue