June 13, 2015
To respect the memorials, many of my photos will not be shown, and many of the photos shown can be publicly found online.
Before we took off to the memorial, Kane and Pitts reminded us once again about how emotionally heavy today’s venture will be. I knew that my emotions would be challenged today. I thought that I was stoic enough to endure the memorials without losing my composure. I wasn’t.
THE DEPORTATION MEMORIAL
At the Entrance we were greeted by a woman, who told us to be silent and respectful while experiencing the memorial. I took off my hat and stuffed it in my pocket. To our sides, we passed a Triangular shaped plain, mounted by two small triangularly shaped gardens, and met the steps. It was a narrow staircase. The design forced a single line, and demanded deliberation. Feeling closed in, trapped, the only unobstructed view was up, and so I looked to the sky. But even that view was limited by tall walls, and curtailed every step down that uneasy descent. Soon my eyes caught sight of a sharp metallic piece. At first I made it out to be a gate. I went toward it. The floor tiles were organized to make any attempts at a leisurely walk an unforgiving experience, so I was again forced to be deliberate with a supposed habitual movement. I looked through the gate and only saw water. My eyes explored the area, and led me to realize that I was barricaded. These walls mean to siege those within. Looking up again, I saw an infinite sky, but the barriers meant I could never experience the world again. It reminded me of being trapped in a well. A moment when water confines, walls oppress, and the sky teases.
Between two Staircases, I entered the Dark narrow into the tomb of the unknown deportee who was murdered at a Camp. I saw before me an eternal fire, bounded by ropes and stands, in front of something magnificent. Behind vertical bars, there is a golden path. Parallel walls, holding Two-hundred thousand glass crystals memorializing each of the two-hundred thousand deportees, and at the end of the passage, a bright and almost palpable light. It was an amazing moment. All at once, my emotions conflicted. It was Hate and Hope, it was the tragedy that continues to this day, it was my participation. I was reminded of the Resistance Museum. Am I to ignore, assimilate, or rise against with the memory from this feeling? Then emotions were followed by another internal debate, the same old Whys, Hows, and Ifs that I’ve been negotiating and interrogating with in past days. I briefly investigated the two short routes on the sides of the chamber, and found myself behind bars both times. I took my leave, after revisiting the Two-hundred thousand. Exiting from where I came in from, and hit by the sunlight I couldn’t resist looking back once again. I took a picture of the path, and followed everyone upstairs.
During the same morning, Dr. Pitts informed us about the history and controversy regarding the Memorial. The Deportation memorial is located behind, and almost shadowed by Notre Dame, located at the Center of Paris. France refuses to admit their participation in the deportation of their own, including Eleven Thousand youths that were not even demanded by the Nazis. The plaque that gave history and brief about the tragedy had been taken down. Although the Deportation site inspired emotion within us, we were reminded to recognize those who suffered in silence, still to this day.
THE SHOAH MEMORIAL
After visiting The Shoah Memorial, I reaffirmed and reignited my beliefs and purpose. I was told the Shoah is a prime target for attack by radicals. But I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of fear until I saw the guards. At the front, two Soldiers were armed with FAMAS assault rifles at the ready. They patrolled the front, and their presence made me uneasy and uncomfortable. When I noticed that my peers moved with more control than usual, innocuously communicating with more intent and smiles than usual, I knew that they felt uncomfortable as well. I tried to meet eyes with one of the guards, but my nerves still trembled. Clearing the security and detectors, I felt at ease inside the complex, but it was short-lived. Encountering the Wall of Names, I felt crowed. My eyes scanned the Walls that commemorated the seventy-six thousand Jews that were deported from France. My mood went half-circle when I was charmingly greeted by the front desk. But again, that too was evanescent. I made my way down the stairs, into the Crypt. I staggered when I first witnessed the memorial. The Perimeter around the dark room was modestly lit, and a grand light centered a bold beam upon the Star of David. On the Star, rest the Ashes of Victims from the Camps. I kept my eyes at the Star of David as I walked around the Memorial, and realized that I shouldn’t be studying this moment. So I sat down at the steps, and faced toward the Star. I closed my eyes, and let my thoughts wander as I empathized and reflected with the moment.
I tend to speedily scan all the rooms of an exhibition at first round to avoid missing anything, and to note points of interest. This day, I did not make it to the second round. I scanned my way towards the room that would move me in a way that I haven’t felt for some time. There, pictures of countless children surround a few seats at center. Each Child’s picture had their name, their birth date, and the day they were deported, the day they were murdered. I sat there for the rest of the time we had at the Shoah. I made sure I acknowledged each face I saw in that room. There were pictures of them on bikes, playing the violin, smiling with their families, living and posing for the moment, looking straight at the lens, at you. I tried to imagine being in their shoes, reanimating their lives after their picture was taken. I tried to imagine, and I attempted to feel what it felt to be taken away from their families, betrayed by their guardians, barred within deportation trucks, deemed to be unfit, accompanied by others inside the chambers, and their final moments. Each one of these people had a story to tell, had opportunities, and could have become Some One. But the future of these people had been taken away from them, and they were made to suffer because of the Ego and Self-Righteousness that Humanity holds. I was not even a quarter through before tears broke out. Both Kane and Pitt found me and asked how I was during the experience, and I tried my best to hold back and resound a “ Yea I’m good”. Leaving the Room, I realized and knew that my memory could not remember each picture, and that I shouldn’t take this experience as a possession. I became reminded of an adage, a person who loved and yanked a flower out of soil, instead of leaving it be, and appreciating that it was there. For some reason, there was one frame that I remembered more than rest. I went in and took a picture of the photo, and left. I wanted that image to forever be a vessel for the memory and emotions of my experience in that room. Outside the complex, I felt that the memorial had affected everyone. I don’t know how each person experienced it, but what I do know is that we came out stronger. I trembled for another reason now.
Vogue , Ruins, and Pesky Eiffel Tower Merchants
Although the thoughts of the memorials followed for the rest of the day, there were moments in between and afterwards that gave me a greater appreciation to be where I am. Moments like traveling through the Hot spots of Paris and being….g…g..g..Gargoyles! Snap, Snap, Snap , “Strike a Pose!”. Along with Lowell’s hilarious commentary, the fabulous impersonations of Gargoyles gave everyone a well needed comedic relief.
Lowell Kane and Yvonne Pitts treated us to a delicious meal after everything. Absolutely amazing! I had, I believe it was a form of a Gyro with Merguez, sausage that’s rarely found In the States. Bethany and Kelsey gave me a chance to try it with chicken and another meat. I forget, I just remember it being good.
Later that day I visited the Catacombs with Alex , Holly, Jen, and Molly. The stairs descending down to and up out of the Catacombs were ridiculously long and monotonous. Literally, a tight spiral staircase that took about a good few minutes to distance. The tunnels were freaking spooky. The beginning passageway was lit by fairly spaced lights, and I still couldn’t make out the turn of each straight. The rocks were cold, and sometimes moist….I also was met by bars that trapped the darkness and unknown behind it. Yea, I stuck real close to Alex and Jen. Aside from the spooky stuff, the architecture and tomb itself were remarkable scenes. For me, the most memorable sequence through the Catacombs was the never-ending pile of human bones and skulls. They were piled and organized neatly, almost “artistically and aesthetically” remarked one of my peers. I honestly don’t know what was more amazing at some points, the number of bones or the number of people taking selfies with said skulls…including myself. Hopefully, I didn’t bring back no curses. Knock on wood. Topping off the day by doing the most touristy thing to do in Paris. Chilling and taking selfies by the Wonderful Eiffel Tower, which was more mechanical and bigger than what I imagined. I can only dream of coming back and having a romantic picnic there at night, with a big sign planted by us to deter all the damn relentless street vendors ruining what is to be a romantic and perfect moment.
The following day was Rest and Relaxation. Went to the Market, broiled some good chicken legs , and ate them with old fashioned College Kid Insta-Noodles. Followed by the Best Dinner I ever had. We also saw Vicki there! I had Swordfish for the first time, and was generously given a bite of the most tender and zesty cut of pork in my life, as well as many bites of delicious steak. Thank you Alex and Bethany, <3.It was a great ending to the last days in Paris, and the Trip for that matter.
Thanks for the Memories!
As the final Post, in behalf of the Students of the 2015 Study Abroad, we would like to say Thank You So Much Lowell Kane and Yvonne Pitts for organizing this Life Changing, One in a Life Time, and Exceedingly Educational Experience! From this trip we have directly experienced Activism from Prominent Organizations like ACT-UP and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. We learned to take new perspectives while visiting World Renown Museums, some of which were privately guided by Brilliant Art Historians. Thank you for directly introducing us to Famous Figures, and the Opportunity to Experience the Culture and Life of New York City, Paris, Amsterdam. Most importantly, thank you for inspiring us to believe that we have the ability to make a difference as Activists, and guiding us along the way. Once Again, Thank you, Vicki!