Paris is amazing. More amazing than I can begin to tell you. It is so lively! People are out every day and night actively engaging with one another. There are so many different neighborhoods (called arondissements). It feels gigantic and so alive. This program has really taken us to two sort of extremes in France. In Mandelieu, a town of around 30,000 people, I shopped at the same market every day, there was one ATM, and we got to know the owner of the wine bar we frequented personally. Everyone in the program also shared meals together each morning and night, so we built a really solid community, but it was hard to feel very independent. Here in Paris, things are much more anonymous, and I feel like we have a lot more freedom. Instead of staying in a castle where the only guests are the people in our group, we are living in The Citadines Hotel in the 11th arrondissement, and we are on our own for cooking meals, etc. It has been making me think a lot about the differences between collectivist and individualist societies. While community is great, independence is so valuable and important. Being with a group can lend comfort, but I think it is important to go off on one’s own to avoid the pitfalls of groupthink and missing out on a personally meaningful experience. I am enjoying the relative freedom of living with one roommate and having more small group activities. Big groups can be really overwhelming for service staff, too!
Anyways, I have been wanting to write about Henry Clews’s tomb for a long time now, so that is what this blog is really about. Henry Clews was an amazing painter, sculptor, and poet. The chateau at La Napoule was filled with his work, which was often fantastical (he liked to make gargoyle-like creatures that remind me of characters from Where the Wild Things Are). He created his own little world in this castle that was built in the 1100s, living with his wife Marie and creating art, away from most of the rest of the world. It was not until his death that the castle was opened up to the public and for students like us.
One day after painting in the “Love Garden”, Francisco, one of my classmates, showed me Henry Clews’s tomb, which underground. At first, I was really weirded out by the idea that there were dead bodies (two because Marie was buried there too) buried somewhere near to me, but I got over that very quickly as I realized the magnitude of my experience. This happened through poetry, something I had really intended to write while here, but haven’t really had time to do. (There is no free time in summer abroad). I am hoping my memory will serve me well enough that I can write poetry after the program about it, or perhaps tomorrow at the Louvre.
Since the tombs were buried in a rock tower and underground, the acoustics were really lovely, and I had my classmates read the poem that was inscribed between the tombs aloud with me. These are the words:
If God grant me three score and ten
I shall be ready to depart.
I shall have finished with my art
And with the ways and wiles of men
I hope, however, to return
But not as Ouija spook before
Pures, spiritists, or Marxist or
Scientific feminist—I yearn
To come at eventide as sprite
And dance upon the window sill
Of little folk, wide-eyed and still
When summer moon is shining bright.
And I shall dance with might main
To let dear little children see
How quaint and funny I can be.
From science I shall set them free
And give them mirth and mystery
And myth and fairy lore again
This poem really hit home because as a psychology major, I feel trapped by science, and I too want to set mirth, myth, and mystery free. I believe there are so many other avenues of knowledge that can be used to make sense of the world and to improve it, but for some reason, we only listen to science, what has been validated by statistics or laboratory experiment. What about experience? What about art? Is this why people look like drones on the subway to work? We are not valuing the human individual enough. We are focusing too much on averages and math and science, when humans at their best are comprised mostly of magic and art. Science is not better than art, and, while I would not argue that it is not worthwhile, I would argue that it is not any more worthwhile than other ways of knowing, but for some reason it is privileged over all else.
To conclude, summer abroad is making me feel like a real person again, more like myself really, as opposed to a drone that needs to follow someone else’s rules. I have let myself free in so many ways from the constraints of worrying what other people think because I do have so little time and this is a once in a lifetime experience. I feel free to express myself, and if other’s don’t agree, that’s totally their prerogative. We need to make our individual voices heard. We need more than just science.