“Let’s go somewhere historic…” I always add when my family begins planning our annual vacation. The historic places we visited always left me with a sense of the depth of the history just within our nations’ borders.
When walking through the site of a Civil War battle, or a small log cabin built in the twentieth century, I always found it somewhat incomprehensible that there was life in that very spot 200 years before I was born. How old those historic places seemed to me.
My entire definition of the term “historic” was completely changed though as I stood on the Pont Julien Bridge, built in 3 B.C., near Bonnieux, France. As a group of French cyclists casually rode across the ancient bridge, my mind was blown at the difference in age between the bridge beneath my feet and the comparatively young country I had left behind. That very bridge had existed for centuries before the United States even became a nation!
As my sense of the past was still recovering from its recent shock, I traveled to the Camp des Milles with a group of ten Maryville College students and Dr. Nancy Locklin-Sofer. “Les Milles” began as a tile factory and eventually became a site of internment for over 10,000 people between the years of 1939-1942.
Visitors like myself and the rest of my J-Term class began our journey in a room explaining the history of the camp. We learned about the political group of Frenchmen called the Vichy Regime collaborated with Nazi Germany to govern the southern half of France leading to the eventual Nazi takeover of France during WWII.
After reading the history of the site, we moved through the building just as the internees would have experienced it. Bleak, damp and cold from the lack of lighting or heat, the building gave me a sense of the horrors these internees experienced.
I, like many of my classmates, left the site with a new appreciation for life and the importance of remembering all points in history.
Through our journeys around the south of France, both my mind and my palate were greatly expanded. Traveling through France, I was not expecting the amount of Italian influence on the local cuisine!
Though I ate more pasta dishes than I can count, I was also able to soak up the traditional French café atmosphere. I quickly discovered that my love for all things coffee blended perfectly with the culture of Southern France.
With small cafés practically on every corner of our home base in Aix-en-Provence, it was easy to find an outdoor table at which to sit, sip my coffee and blend in with the slow-paced French way of dining.
Nowhere was I more aware of the truly slow-paced French way of life than when I was eating or walking the streets. The first days of our stay in Aix, I walked through town with a purpose. I allotted just enough time to walk from the hotel room to our classroom across town, but with none to spare.
As I sped through town, I was intrigued by the amount of pedestrians slowly meandering through the streets. As the days went by, I began to enjoy taking my time as I passed the rows of small shops.
Thanks to the passion for French culture and history expressed by Dr. Locklin-Sofer to the group of 10 students studying in France, I came home to the snowy landscape of my hometown more aware of the vastness of culture and a stronger passion for the “historic.”