Monday, June 18, 2012

A Grave Day

On Sunday, we woke up to a rare sight—the sun. It was beautiful all day as we traipsed from the Pantheon to the Montparnasse Cemetery to the Luxembourg Gardens and then back to the Pantheon, which had been closed the first time due to a celebration honoring Jean Moulin, a hero of the resistance.

Given the situation with the Pantheon, our first stop was the cemetery at Montparnasse.  Cemeteries have long been on the tourist circuit in France.  Twain talks about visiting Pere Lachais in Innocents Abroad.   Our primary reason for visiting is to go to the graves of Alfred Dreyfus and Simone du Beauvoir, both of whom play central roles in the course.  It turns out that du Beauvoir was born on one side of the cemetery and bought an apartment on the other side.  She lived most of her life within a 10 block radius of where is she buried. 

The idea for the course was hatched here
Dreyfus’s grave is where the idea for this course was hatched.  Dr. Nell and I were at a seminar on Ignatian pedagogy together in Paris seven years ago where we were urged to motivate our students to “jump into the mystery.”  We visited the cemetery where quite unexpected I discovered Dreyfus’ grave. Dreyfus is related to my wife’s family and his trial played a seminal role in the creation of Israel.  It was a very moving moment for me and at that moment, Dr. Nell and I decided that we wanted to return with students to build an experience in which they could connect what they read with “stuff” on the ground (or in the case of the cemetery, folks in the ground.)

In front of the Pantheon
After a great picnic lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens, my favorite park in Paris, we made it back to the Pantheon and finished the day drinking coffee at the CafĂ© Deux Magots, a favorite stomping grounds of the Existentialists.  There, the students discussed choices that they have made in their lives and the outcomes of those choices, in preparation for their second paper.

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