The Alps (FIU Honors France 2018)

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Students of Honors France 2018 in the French Alps © John William Bailly (CC by 4.0)

On July 12th, 2018, FIU Honors students of France: Art, War, and Human Rights were led on a hike through the Plateau des Glières and through the French Alps. Following their hike, students shared their voices and opinions through photographs and personal reflections.

Long Live Savoie
by Alana Harris of @fiuinstagram

Learning about the French resistance and World War 2 while in France, it is difficult to put yourself in the shoes of those who won or lost their battle during that time. I was able to better put myself in the shoes, or skies, of the French resistance whilst in the alps– I attribute this to the connection through nature. Hiking up the alps, I had plenty of time to connect, and reflect on the conditions these men willingly endured for their safety and to bring safety to others. I can only imagine what these men went through in the freezing winters. Although landscapes change, their place in time will be there forever. By being in the alps, we were able to get a sliver of a glimpse into their lives, if you’re imaginative. A big contributor of this look back in time was being surrounded by nature and wildlife. People in this area continue to live off the land, giving to and taking from the Earth only what they need and nothing more. The entire experience was solidified by stargazing that night. Seeing a shooting star was surreal- I imagined being one of them, wishing upon that star that the war will end.

Glières Plateau
by Michelle A. Gonzalez of @fiuinstagram

            Hidden in the Alps of France is the National Monument to the Resistance Plateau Glières by French artist Émile Gilioli (1973).

            A symbol of hope, the monument is a geometrically abstracted representation of the Alps mountains and the sun that always rises above. A strong metaphor for the French Resistance.

            Now a place where intrepid hikers greet each other with Bonjour, these grounds were the perfect classroom abroad when discussing art, war and human rights.

            That is, the Glières Plateau was an ideal place for the Resistance throughout World War II, its topography aided to the strategic parachuting of weapons for the local resistance movement less than a century ago.

             French men and women, even Spaniards, sacrificed their lives for a cause greater than their own: freedom for their country and people. Leaving behind families, I often pondered the act of “insurgency,” concluding it to be an unanswerable question only if given the circumstance.

            Though I don’t know if I would ever sacrifice my life for freedom, their efforts were not in vain as I hiked and took in the deafening silence these holy grounds had to teach me: “remembrance and vigilance.”

This message is a strong motif that prevails throughout the entirety of France when passersby come across a monument or surreal mountains like the Alps, in which time has not lessened the tally of deaths but reverberated: Rappelez vous et soyez vigilant.

Nichole Constanzo by JWB
Nichole Constanzo of Honors France 2018 in the French Alps © John William Bailly (CC by 4.0)

How to Meditate
by Jacqueline Martinez @noisettie of @fiuinstagram

Look at the fields of grass in front of you. The green hue, not too bright nor too dull, draw your eyes up to hundreds of trees. They’re darker towards the back, as if they’re one great shadow cast by the hills in front of you. Find the one thing that sticks out the most from its surroundings: a tiny house with not so discernible details. Despite being in the center of your view, it isn’t demanding your attention. It wants to be alone, and just at as peace as you wanted to be when you climbed up the alps.

Now let your eyes draw up towards a sharp blue sky. Notice how the clouds look a bit like watercolor paint strokes. And take in the silence around you. All that exists in this moment of time is you, the hills, and a lonely little house.

Occasionally, your mind will wander. You might think about your last week in Paris. How the crowds were fast paced, the volume was booming, and the directions to the nearest restaurant were confusing. You’ll hope that the maid accepted the tip you left behind in your dorm room, and think of how you’d love to have slept in the Jardin de Luxembourg. But then, your mind will return to where you are now. Looking at the Alps in the South of France, reminding you that La France Profonde is every bit as valuable and real as Paris.

Escape
by Alexia Planos @alexiaplanos of @fiuinstagram

After almost two weeks of living in two of the largest cities in France, Paris and Lyon, I started to feel a little overwhelmed, physically and mentally. When I escaped to the Alps, I was nervous I wouldn’t make the hike, due to the fact that I had never hiked before, but I did make it. Sitting on the top of a mountain and taking in its natural beauty felt refreshing. Despite the fact that I was breathless for the majority of the hike, I felt a connection to nature. The city can be a little intense with the noise, the cars, the heat, the tourists, however, when I stared out into the summer mountains, I took a deep breath and inhaled the fresh sent of the green grass and yellow flowers.

Even in Lyon where I wasn’t physically overwhelmed, I was mentally when I met two holocaust survivors. Listening to their stories, reading letters in WW2 museums, and visiting a safe house that evidently wasn’t safe in the end, all took a mental toll on me. So again, when I laid on the tall yellow flowers, I looked up at the sky and felt peaceful. Not only did I connect to the earth through the hike, but with the food I ate during my stay. I enjoyed delicious French cuisine that was all natural and part of the land I was staying in. Sometimes, escaping from the exciting energy a city brings, can bring you peace of mind.

Vivre Libre ou Mourir
by Aaron Pupo of @fiuinstagram

It is a phrase full of such unabashed and proud, whole-hearted, passionate resistance. It is terse. It is short. It is clear. It contains worlds of meaning. There will be no compromise, no equivocation, no terms, no surrender. “Give me liberty, or give me death,” from the American Revolution, carries the same general meaning, but I prefer the French.

Live free or die. Four words. It is not discourse; it is a line in the sand. And it was not a romantic or metaphorical one; when the time came, the resistance fighters in the Alps did die. And it was true; the French would live free because of that sacrifice.

Jacqueline and I came across a cat while we were staying at Constance. We named the cat Jocelyn, and only found out the day before we left that the cat’s name was in fact Ernest, a wonderful name for a cat given that Ernest Hemingway loved cats and had several. I cannot know for sure if the cat was named for Ernest Hemingway, but I want to believe it, so I will. I spent a good deal of time with Ernest. He has a very relaxed life philosophy, one involving much belly rubbing. It is safe to say he lives very free.

It occurred to me, during one of my deeply philosophical sessions with Ernest the cat, and while stargazing that one night, that these simple pleasures are such a large part of what the resistance fighters fought to preserve. Good food, beautiful weather, gorgeous stars, comfortable beds, fluffy cats; life is not always easy and living free is not always living well and comfortably, but the simple pleasures, the small things, the day to day, and the privilege to enjoy them. What would life be without stars and cats and good wine? And how many victims, how many children were denied these pleasures because of that rampant fascism? Sometimes it is very difficult for me to understand how someone could die for a cause, even if that cause is freedom. But sometimes I look at the stars, or I meet a cat like Ernest, or I remember holding hands with someone I loved, and I begin to understand.

FIU Honors France 2018 Student Gallery from Plateau des Glières & French Alps

BACK TO ALPS AS TEXT

AUTHOR
Isabella Marie Garcia

EDITORS AND LAST UPDATE
Stephanie Sepúlveda  & John William Bailly 15 December 2018
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