Friday, July 27, 2012

Fête des familles

It's hard to believe, but our program is nearly over. Today is our last day in Saumur, and students have the day off to pack their bags and spend a few final moments with their host families. They are hopefully resting up from our busy week in order to be prepared for Paris as well. Much of the week was spent preparing for last night's farewell show, but we had other activities to keep us busy as well. On Monday afternoon, we went on a guided tour of Saumur, giving the students the opportunity to learn a little bit about the town's history. The guide took us to some historic buildings, including the city hall which was part of the outer wall used to protect the city, and a defensive tower that is normally closed to the public but was opened for us in order to get a very nice view of Saumur and an idea of what it looked like when it was fortified. 

Tuesday was a rather special day for us as well. At our fourth of July celebration in the nearby town of Turquant, the mayor offered us a visit to the Fontevraud Abbey and proposed that we stop by the nursing home to have lunch and to share some of our songs with the residents. We were finally able to arrange transportation for the students on Tuesday, so we left the school in the morning to visit the abbey. Construction of the abbey began in the early twelfth century and housed both men and women, but for much of its history, the monastic order was headed by women. The order was dissolved during the French Revolution, and the abbey was converted into a prison. During the Occupation in World War II, it was especially a prison for captured members of the Resistance. While it's an unfortunate history, they abbey may not have survived the Revolution if it had not been repurposed. Fontevraud is considered one of the largest monastic cities in Europe. We gave the students a little over an hour to tour the cathedral, the cloister, the refectory, and other buildings with an audio guide before meeting the mayor of Turquant outside of the abbey. The students thanked him for the visit, and he accompanied us to the nursing home where we were introduced to the staff and offered a
wonderful lunch. After eating, we went to the common area where several residents had gathered to hear the students sing. We sang a couple songs that the students had prepared for the farewell show as well as the French and American national anthems. The experience was moving for everyone--for many of the residents, the memory of the American involvement in the liberation of Paris is very strong. The Americans were seen as heroes, and despite more recent tensions between our two countries, there still exists a strong sentiment of gratitude and amity. I think it was good for our stagiaires to see this first-hand. Some of the residents sang along, another waved her arms with the music, and there were even a few tears. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to catch the bus back to Saumur, so we said our goodbyes and thanked them for having us. They thanked us in return, and it was clear they greatly appreciated the visit. 

For the next two days, the stagiaires were occupied with preparations for the farewell party as well as planning their Paris excursion. As in years past, we've divided the students into four small groups, each of which will be given some free time to explore the city, so they needed some time to collectively decide what they'd like to see and to plan out exactly how they need to get there. The professors will then decide at which stops we will check in on them. The rest of the time has been spent in rehearsal. For six weeks now, the students have been preparing a play, songs, dances, a poem, and a film for the farewell show, our way of saying thank you to the host families for welcoming the stagiaires into their homes. As usual, the show was wonderful and the families loved every bit of it. The families commented on how impressed they were that the students tackled a play of such a high literary
quality and that they put a great deal of effort into their pronunciation. Throughout the show, in fact, the families noticed a very mature and confident composure in the students. The choir performed beautifully, the dances were lively and well executed, the poem was recited with enthusiasm, and the film was very elegantly constructed. Overall, I'm incredibly impressed with the work they put into the show, not only into the actual performance but also into the creation of their own content and the input they provided each other during rehearsals. They took their work seriously, and it paid off--this was the perfect end to the program for the families.

On that note, tomorrow morning is going to be a very difficult time in the program. At 7:30, students will start arriving at the school to load their suitcases onto the bus and say goodbye to their families. If it's anything like last year, we're in for a very somber bus trip to our first stop in Chartres. We'll just need to remind the students of the plans we know many of them already have in place to keep in contact with their families and to visit them again someday. And of course, they have you folks to look forward to! In just a few more days now, we'll be back stateside for what I imagine will be an emotional reunion. In the meantime, I'm going to try to make one more post while we're in Paris to give you an idea of the events planned there as well as to upload some more photos. See you soon!

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