Rudy Altergott — When Dr. Rhoades asked me to enroll in her French historical memory class last year, I was completely taken aback. I had taken only one previous class with her, regarding modern memory and 19th century Europe, and had struggled through it. But, at the same time, I felt a tremendous sense of respect and admiration for her after taking that course. I subsequently decided to take Dr. Rhoades up on her offer. And from the moment I set foot on French soil, I knew I was taking my first step into a brave new world.
The classroom preparation for this trip was adequate. However, it could not fully prepare me for what I have seen since arriving in this historic land. Whether finally learning how to ride a bicycle at Versailles or lighting a prayer candle and communing with God in Notre Dame, this has all been a great adventure. Today is a perfect example of that fact.
After breakfast and the walk to the Bastille metro station near our hotel, Dr. Rhoades cut us loose. I wasn’t certain where I wanted to go at first. Eventually, however, I made my way to the Château de Vincennes (not “vin-sins” but “van-san”) with my friends.
We walked the grounds of the compound, which currently includes offices of the Ministry of Defence (we even encountered some of the personnel) and the original keep that housed kings before it became a notorious prison. It was almost by accident that I happened upon a seemingly obscure room in the lower level of the fortress.
The room itself was once the prison cell of an infamous occupant: the Marquis de Sade. The Marquis was well known for the pornographic passages of his writings and for his deliberate sexual cruelty and debauchery, which made him a controversial figure for his time; in fact, the word “sadism” comes from this man’s name. Following our tour of the fortress keep, we were able to enter its chapel, a small but nonetheless impressive structure.
From the Château de Vincennes, Jeff Bohorquez and I made our way to the Eiffel Tower. We were actually able to make it to the top. After our breathtaking tour of that world wonder, Jeff was kind enough to accompany me to a memorial for the Franco-Algerian War (my class research topic), just east of the Eiffel Tower along the Seine. Unfortunately, we had arrived as light maintenance was being done to the memorial, which somewhat complicated our picture-taking and viewing efforts.
After a quick examination of the memorial, Jeff and I made our way across the street to the Musée du quai de Branly, a wonderful new cultural museum that Dr. Rhoades had recommended for me to see. The museum’s extensive collection included all kinds of artifacts from Algeria, including a beautiful portrait of an Algerian woman from 1860.
My major at Wabash is political science, focusing on international relations. The Middle East and North Africa have always fascinated me, and this is why I chose to write my class paper on the topic of Algeria, which is still controversial in post-colonial France.
Algeria’s war of independence, which lasted from 1954 until 1962, played a pivotal role in the downfall of the Fourth Republic and the return of General Charles de Gaulle to power after a decade hiatus. Many wanted to maintain control of Algeria as a colony, as it was considered an unquestionable extension of metropolitan France. However, Algeria was eventually given its freedom after a bloody conflict. A considerable Algerian population remains in France in the aftermath of the war. And while my memorial and museum visits did not answer all the questions I have about France and Algeria, I’m glad I could still learn from them.
This trip to Paris has not just been all “fun and games.” Dr. Rhoades continues to challenge us to observe the world around us and, indeed, to try and immerse ourselves in it.
My French has improved, however little, but my appreciation for this foreign culture is continuing to grow with each day. While I am looking forward to returning stateside and reuniting with my family and friends, I am trying my best to continue to “soak it all in.” I am grateful to Dr. Rhoades and Wabash College for granting me this wonderful opportunity. I will never forget what I have learned here.
From Paris with love.