One of the things I love most about traveling is trying new food. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a regional delicacy while we’re on one of our adventures. Eating in a foreign country is part history lesson, part cultural experience, and sometimes an Indiana Jones style adventure (I’m thinking about the breakfasts we encountered in Japan). Some of my best memories of the last nine years of traveling are food related. Portuguese cookies, Irish stew, Italian pasta, German sausages… sometimes a cookbook is as good as a passport.
When I get home from one of our adventures, I usually try to re-create some of my favorite recipes from the tour in my own kitchen. Sometimes it’s a great success. My kids loved the Peri-peri chicken I made from South African recipe. Other times it takes a few tries to get right – making Spanish Paella is an art I have not yet mastered, but I’m getting better with each try. Sometimes, however, its a complete mess – the Tiroler Gröstl we had in Vienna, Austria is a meal I still dream about, but when I tried to make it at home, well… I think I gave my whole family food poisoning.
This year, a number of our students have taken it upon themselves to try their hand at French cooking before we even leave the U.S.A. I can’t wait to see how they think their own culinary skills stack up to what we experience in Paris in a few months, and I’m even more excited to be invited to their houses for dinner after they’ve learned all about French Cuisine this summer in Europe.
This first video is McKenna T’s recipe for macaroons. Now, I’ve had macaroons. Real macaroons. Right from the bakery in Paris macaroons. And, as someone who firmly believes that macaroons are the most delightful food in the entire universe (and fun to say), I have to say that McKenna’s macaroons look incredible. This is McKenna’s second trip with TAP, so she know shat she’s getting into, and I foresee many stops at the patisserie to stuff our faces with colorful cookie heaven.
Another of my favorite foods in France is the crepe. I take the crepes very seriously. You can get them all over the place from food carts in the touristy areas of town, but those aren’t the best of the best. That’s the McDonald’s cheeseburger version of a crepe. Going to a real Creperie (a restaurant that specializes in crepes) is the way to go. First you order your meal – a darker, heavier crepe that isn’t sweet at all. It’s a savory crepe (actually called a galette). My favorites have been loaded with things like cheese, sausage, bacon, egg, chicken, onions… You get the idea. It’s nothing like an IHOP Rutti Tutti Fresh and Fruity. After you enjoy the savory crepe, you order the sweet crepe for desert – cream, ice cream, chocolate, salted caramel, toffee, fresh fruit… sweet crepes are loaded with fantastic dessert flavors. This video is Hannah J’s take on crepes. She does a phenomenal job at recreating sweet crepes that look just as good as anything I’ve had in Paris. I can’t wait til Hannah gets to compare her crepes with the Parisian originals.
Finally, two of our adventurers, Jilli R and Joy P (along with their friend Kiana), tried their hand at making a real French soufflé. This video made me hungry, and sad. Hungry, because their soufflé looks amazing. Sad, because even though I’ve been to Paris several times, I’ve never ever had a soufflé. Looks like I’m going to be trying it out using Joy and Jilli’s tutorial.
I love when the students preparing for one of our adventures take the time to try to get to know a culture before we even get on the plane, and for my money, food is the best way to do that. I encourage every one of our travelers to try out a foreign recipe or visit an ethnic restaurant before we go. Understanding a culture’s food is the best way to get to know what they’re all about.
I can tell already that McKenna, Hannah, Jilli, and Joy are all going to have a fantastic time eating their way through Paris.
If anyone else (students, parents, or teachers) from our France, Peru, or any of our past groups would like to try their hand at a cultural recipe and making a fun video, we’d love to share them. Give it a shot.
The TAP Adventures crew is very excited to announce our first visit to South America! We’ll be headed to Peru in June 2017 to experience the history, language, art, music, environment, and people of the Land of the Incas!
This will be our 11th student adventure, but the first time we stay in the Western Hemisphere for our travels. In the past 10 years, nearly 350 students have traveled with us to places like Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Japan, England, Poland, South Africa, and France! Now we’re adding beautiful Peru to that list. Check the FAQ, About TAP, TAP Trips, and TAP Teachers sections of this sight for more information about our program.
While in Peru, students will participate in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure customized just for our group. The kids will get to explore life in Lima, trek to the Machu Picchu – one of the Seven Wonders of the World, horseback ride through the Sacred Valley, learn about weaving and ceramics, kayak in Lake Titicaca, practice their Spanish language skills, and – for the first time ever in TAP – participate in a service project to help villagers in Southern Peru along the shores of Lake Titicaca make their lives better.
While preparing for our adventures, students will learn about history and culture, help write our student guide book, become published authors, and have the chance to earn college credit.
We want you to Join the Adventure!!!
- For the complete itinerary for our Peruvian Adventure, look here – Peru Itinerary
- To apply to be a part of the trip, you must be a 7th-10th grade student in the Minooka/Plainfield/Oswego area. The application deadline is 11:59pm on December 28th, 2015. The application can be found here. Please read the application instructions carefully, because incomplete applications will not be accepted.
Hannah Jackson is a sophomore student at Oswego East High School. Getting ready for her trip to France next year, Hannah has been watching movies, reading books, and doing tons and tons of research. She’s always wanted to travel the world, so now that she’s got her chance, she’s going to make sure she gets the most out of the experience by being prepared beforehand.
Below is Hannah’s review of “The Hundred Foot Journey,” a modern movie about life in France and clash of cultures. If you’re a member of TAP and would like to publish your work here, just let the TAP teachers know.
The Hundred Foot Journey is a movie that takes place in France in modern times about a feud between two restaurants that are across from each other in a small French town: one operated by a recently relocated Indian family with Indian cuisine and the other a Michelin-starred French restaurant. The Indian family restaurant’s goal was to spread their culture through their cooking to the French countryside, and in the process becoming a well known restaurant. The popular French restaurant of many years, run by Madame Mallory, strives for the 2 star restaurant status while strictly preparing traditional French dishes. The two restaurants compete for business until the family’s second-eldest son, their head chef, begins to work for Madame Mallory and starts to incorporate Indian spices into the French dishes and makes them better. The restaurants then work together for a common goal: making the best dishes and spreading their cultures. The movie shows much of the beautiful French countryside as well as giving insight to the French culture and its food delicacies. The collision of the two distinct cultures built off each other in the movie to give even more light to the true cultures as they combined into one.
I truly enjoyed this movie as I love cooking and eating food, and that was the main focus of the movie. It got me excited for all the new and different foods we will get the chance to try on our trip. I also loved how the plot built up to the two cultures coming together. It was very interesting to learn about both cultures and to see them assimilate into one. The scenes in the movie were very beautiful, showing the French countryside, and it illustrated what France is like and what life there is like.
I learned a lot from this movie that will better my experience on this trip. First of all I learned a lot about French food, restaurants, life, small towns and the French countryside. The French culture was illustrated very nicely in this movie by taking place there. I learned a bit about the French language because it was spoken frequently throughout the movie in short phrases like “thank you” and “hello.” Most of all, as the movie continued to combine two different cultures into one, I learned a lot about how it will be for us traveling to another country and experiencing a new culture. The movie demonstrated how simple it is to assimilate to a new culture and how to make a better experience by combining your culture with the new one. This message from the movie is great to learn while traveling and experiencing new cultures.
Sometimes it’s difficult to pick just the right movie of the month for our program. We want to use movies that are going to give you some insight into the history and culture of the places we’re going to be visiting, but those don’t always seem to be the goals of the Hollywood movie studios who make these movies. Some movies are super realistic, but boring as can be – while other movies are fun and exciting to watch, but so full of factual errors that there’s no point to watching.
In researching the many different Joan of Arc movies that have been made over the years, we found several that were exciting, action-packed modern movies that you guys would probably love… but… they were full of historical errors, political bias, and “just plain wrong”-ness that we couldn’t pick them. On the other hand, we found a French made movie, that critics claim is one of the best movies ever made and has one of the best female performances of all time in it, AND, at the same time, historians say that it’s incredibly accurate, because the script is taken directly from documents that have survived from Joan of Arc’s actual trial. So we watched it, and it was… well… pretty unwatchable for modern audiences, plus it only tells the story of her trial, not the battles and leadership that make her such an important historical figure (we did include this one below so you can be the judge).
In the end, we chose a happy middle ground – a movie that tells the entire story of Joan of Arc – in a more modern way – and, while it takes a few Hollywood liberties with the story, it is far more accurate than the Joan of Arc movies made in recent years.
This movie, Joan of Arc, starring Ingrid Bergman (rated one of the top 4 female movie stars of all time, thanks to her roles in Hitchcock’s Notorius and the WWII drama Casablanca), and directed by one of the most respected filmmakers of all-time, Victor Fleming (director of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind).
The movie is based on a successful Broadway play called Joan of Lorraine, which also starred Bergman, and was adapted for the screen by the original playwrite himself. Bergman had wanted to play Joan in a movie for many years, so this was considered a dream project for her.
Both Bergman and her co-star, José Ferrer (making his film debut the Dauphin) earned Academy Award nominations for their parts. The film was acclaimed director Victor Fleming’s last project — he died two months after it was released.
Even with much acclaim, and later the Academy Award nominations, the movie was not a big success at the box office. Bergman was a huge Hollywood name whose star had recently been tarnished by rumors of an extramarital affair, and audiences stayed away from the movie, because many people felt it was blasphemous to have an adulteress playing a saint on the big screen.
One of the important things we have to do while watching Joan of Arc, is differentiate the fact from fiction, and before we head to France next June, have an understanding of what the real Joan’s story was like. This is important, because we will be visiting Rouen, the site of Joan’s trial and execution. Her story is important to understand the history of France, so please take the time to read this post carefully, to watch the videos we’ve found for you, and to understand (not just watch) the movie Joan of Arc.
100 Years War
To give you a little context as to what the world was like during Joan of Arc’s short life, you need to have a basic understanding of The 100 Years War.
The Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts fought by England and France between 1337 and 1453 to gain control of France. All told, five generations of monarchs from the two countries fought for over a century to control the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. It really shouldn’t be called a Hundred Years’ War, though – that’s really a misleading name for it. Instead, it was a series of wars, with good-long chunks of peace in the middle (9 years of peace, 26 years of peace…) that all had the same goal – England wanted to control France, and France didn’t like that idea.
To help you understand the Hundred Years’ War, we’ll break it down a bit…
It all begins with the Norman Conquest. As you know, Normandy is a region in Northern France – we’ll visit Normandy to see the D-Day beaches from WWII. Normandy was a region of France settled by descendants of the Vikings, and in 1066, in full-on Viking conquest mode, the Duke of Normandy – William, because of some disputes as to who was the rightful heir to the throne of England, decided to invade England and conquer. He did. Afterwards, he was known as William the Conqueror.
After the Norman Conquest, the kings of England were vassals (which pretty much means they were assistant kings, running England, but answering to the Kings of France). Over time, the French royalty reduced the amount of land and property the English kings in France were able to control. This, of course, led to some animosity. Combine that with the fact that England kept going to war with Scotland (see Braveheart, a great movie that takes place around 1280) and Scotland was France’s ally.
As you can see, the fighting between England and France started long before what historians call that Hundred Years’ War, way back 271 years earlier.
Here’s a quick video to help you understand the Norman Conquest a bit better.
However, The Start of What We Call the Hundred Years’ War Was a Pretty Big Deal
In the early 1300s, after 270+ years of on and off fighting, the poop really started to hit the French and English fans when, in 1338, Charles IV, the king of France died.
You see, when royal people die, most countries would look to the “line of succession” to determine legally who is the next to take the throne. That doesn’t always work so well, because sometimes a king doesn’t have a son, then the rules of “who’s next” get all muddled (that’s why William the Conqueror invaded England 200 years earlier).
At the time of the French king’s death (remember, that was Charles IV), he didn’t have a male heir to take his throne. His sister, Isabella, however, had a son named Edward. A few decades earlier, Isabella had been sent off to marry Edward II, King of England, to bring peace to the two countries for a while. By now, though, her son was King Edward III, King of England, and (she felt) the rightful heir to the throne of France, too.
Isabella was her son’s biggest fan, even helping overthrow her husband (Edward II, who was Edward III’s dad) to get the English throne for her son (really, to make herself more powerful, too). The French did not agree – something about not being able to inherit the throne through a female relative, so Phillip VI became king of France. All was good for about nine years, but Phil kept sticking his nose in Ed’s Scotland business and the Hundred Years’ War began.
The Hundred Years’ War: Phase One – Team Edward
The Hundred Years’ War, as we know, wasn’t just one big war – it was a series of wars that historians now lump together with a really cool name. Those historians, simply because they can’t agree with their own selves, also break those 100 years of war down into three phases (why that’s not three separate wars, I don’t know). The first phase of the war is known as the Edwardian Phase (because of King Edward III) and lasted from 1337-1360.
After a few years of raiding and taking control of the northern regions of France, Edward was very successful, thanks, in part, to the supporters he’d bought on the mainland. The Battle of Sluys was the first big battle fought in the Edwardian Phase. It was a sea battle fought on June 24, 1340. The battle took place near the town of Sluis, in what is now south-western Netherlands. Most historians agree that the French navy outnumbered the English ships, but the battle went to the English, destroying almost the entire French navy and giving Edward III complete control of the English Channel.
Afterward, though, Edward overtaxed his sailors and merchants, weakening his naval defenses. It wasn’t long before Phillip had the French navy rebuilt and regained control of the Channel.
Because the world is awesome, the video below is a recreation of the Battle of Sluys done with legos.
The Battle of Crécy
In August of 1346, another major battle in the Edwardian phase was fought.
The battle was fought near Crécy in northern France. An army of English, Welsh, and allied troops from the Holy Roman Empire led by Edward III of England engaged and defeated a much larger army of French, Genoese, and Majorcan troops led by Philip VI of France. Having learned a great deal of new military tactics, strategy, and use of terrain from battles with the Saxons, the Vikings, and the Scots – along with new weapons (the longbow and the cannon) the English army was outnumbered, but far more experienced than the French. The English won a decisive victory.
This one doesn’t have legos, but it shows the Battle of Crecy to help you better understand it.
This battle was critical, because it allowed the English to take the city of Calais (the closest French city to the British Isles – a great strategic holding). The English held Calais for the next 200 years.
Shortly after these decisive English victories, the Black Death began spreading across Europe and fighting ceased. Phillip died in 1350, giving his throne and control of France to his son John, who became known as John II. There was a treaty signed in 1360, and, for the most part, the war ended for the next nine years.
Hundred Years’ War: Phase Two: The Caroline War
During those nine years of peace, John II, the king of France, was captured by the English. His son, Charles V, took over his throne and attempted to ransom his father, but John II died while in captivity and Charles had the excuse he needed to return to war. This phase of the war, known as The Caroline War, was named after Charles V (nope, I don’t understand either), because Charles broke the treaty and restarted the war in 1369, taking advantage of Edward III’s old age and The Black Prince’s illness.
Edward III was still in charge in England, but his son, Edward the Black Prince (who may have had one of the coolest names of the middle ages) was one of his military leaders and being groomed to take over the throne (unfortunately, Edward the Black Prince died before his father and became the only Prince of Wales not to become king).
Anyway, in May 1369, the Black Prince got a message from Charles V demanding he come see him in Paris. It was kind of a rude message, and the Prince didn’t take too kindly to demands, so he refused. In return, Charles V declared war.
Charles immediately began trying to regain the territory France had lost in the first phase of the war. Several battles took place, and France dominated, regaining almost everything they’d lost in the first phase.
In 1376, the Black Prince died. His father reached out to make a peace treaty with Charles V, but Edward III also died before the truce could be reached. A ten year old boy, the Black Prince’s son, Richard II, was now the King of England.
Just a few years later, in 1380, Charles V died too. His twelve year old son, Charles VI, was now king.
With two children on the thrones of England and France, and their advisors – both boys had their uncles really running the country – the war petered out over the next few years and ended in 1389.
The In Between Years
From 1389 to 1415, there was peace. A lot happened in those 26 years, but we’re not going to get into it except to say that it wasn’t just 26 years of nothing.
By now, after a whole lot of upheaval in England, Henry V was now the king. Henry V really didn’t have any legitimate claim to the French throne, but that didn’t stop him from wanting it.
Charles VI was still the king of France, and he was known as Charles the Beloved, but thanks to some questionable behavior in the next few years, he’d soon be known as Charles the Mad.
The Hundred Years’ War: Phase Three: The Lancastrian War
Alright, here’s the simple version of phase three (called the Lancastrian War, because Henry V was from the English House of Lancaster).
Henry invaded France and won some major victories very quickly – especially in the Battle of Agincourt, which was made famous in Shakespeare’s first play, Henry V.
This awesome video does a much better job than I could of explaining that battle.
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Just for fun, here’s a look at director Kenneth Branaugh’s (you may know him as the director of the first Thor movie) version of Shakespeare’s Henry V. This scene is the inspirational speech Henry V gives his men before the Battle of Agincourt. Listen for the line, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” Centuries later, Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg made a WWII movie also set mostly on battlefields in France, called “Band of Brothers.”
Just an interesting side note for you all – Mr. Curtis’ cousin is really into genealogy and had traced the Curtis family all the way back to a knight known as Richard the Courteous, fighting alongside Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.
After the Battle of Agincourt, the French began to get scared. Eventually, John the Good, the Duke of a region of France known as Burgundy, made a treaty with Henry V. Henry would marry Charles VI’s daughter, Catherine of Valois, and Henry’s heirs would become next in line for the thrones of both England and France. This meant Charles VI’s son, another Charles, would lose his right to the French throne.
This is where European history starts to get a bit crazy. Henry V died suddenly at the age of 35 in August of 1422, so his son, Henry VI became King of England. He was less than a year old.
Over in France, Charles VI died a few months later, in October of 1422. His son, Charles VII, was (at least according to many of the French people) next in line to become King of France, but his grandson (the baby, Henry VI – remember, Charles VI’s daughter married Henry V or England) was also thought to be next in line for the French throne.
Fast Forward a Few Years
The English were winning the war, big time. Charles VII was not recognized as the King of France, and the English had a major ally in the Burgundians (French people from a region known as Burgundy had sided with England).
In 1428, everything changed. Enter Joan of Arc.
The “Real” Joan of Arc
As with any Hollywood movie, the film your about to watch isn’t a 100% accurate version of Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc, Jeanne d’Arc as she is known in her native French, is thought to have been born in 1412 in the village of Domrèmy in northeastern France. Her family was a peasant family who valued Catholicism above all else. In fact, Joan was never taught to read or write, but was taught to have a deep love for her church and its teachings. At the young age of 12 or 13, Joan began hearing voices and seeing visions of saints and angels, particularly those of Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, and Archangel Michael. Joan believed these visitors were sent by God to instill a mission of saving France and returning Charles of Valois (the guy who would be Charles VII) as the rightful king of France.
In 1428, at the age of 16, Joan felt compelled to begin her journey and headed to the town of Vaucouleurs and appealed to the commander, Robert de Baudricourt, to allow her to see the royal French court. She was dismissed and treated as a joke. She returned a year later and this time, Baudricourt relented. Joan was escorted across enemy territory to Chinon and given an audience with the prince/king/Charles VII. During her 11 day journey Joan was given men’s clothing to wear and had her hair cropped. This was thought as no big deal and a measure to keep her safe during travels, however, this dressing in mens clothing was what eventually led to her conviction and subsequent death.
Upon meeting Charles, she promised to see him crowned king and requested an army of men. Perhaps at a loss for hope, Charles granted her request, but not before proving she was not a heretic or sorceress. He did not want his enemies to claim his crown was a gift from the devil. Joan was proven to be a Christian of the utmost virtue, and set off for the city of Orlèans which was under siege by England.
Joan led several assaults against the Burgundians (a French faction working on the side of England) forcing them to retreat. Joan’s reputation for success spread across France and in 1429 she was able to lead Charles to Reim, forcing resisting towns to relent, and enabling Charles to be crowned King of France.
After this victory, Joan wanted Charles VII to give permission to try to take Paris back from the Burgundians. They were unsuccessful and Joan and her men had to turn back. In 1430 Charles ordered Joan to oppose a Burgundian attack on Compiègne. Here Joan was thrown from her horse and left to be captured by the Burgundian forces. In a great amount of display, Joan was brought to the castle Bouvreuil in Rouen. Joan was put to trial on 70 counts including heresy, witchcraft, and cross-dressing.
In 1431 after being held for roughly a year, Joan signed a confession under duress. Not too long after that, she was caught dressing as a man again (to protect herself from being assaulted by male prisoners in the castle she was held in), was convicted and sentenced to death.
At the age of only 19, on May 30th, Joan was burned at the stake in the market place in the city of Rouen. Twenty years after Joan’s death, Charles VII had her retried and her conviction was overturned. It wasn’t until 1920 that Pope Benedict XV canonized Joan and she became Saint Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France.
Siege of Orleans
It’s worthwhile to take a closer look at Joan’s most famous victory, the Siege of Orleans. This video, as well as the movie itself, will give you a good idea what it was all about.
Here’s a fun TV show called Deadliest Warrior. This show takes a look at warriors from history, their weaponry, their techniques, and their technology and uses research and computer modeling to see who would win the fight. This episode pits two French leaders against one another – Joan of Arc, the French saint from the 1420s versus William the Conqueror, the Norman general, and later English King, who invaded England in 1066.
Finally, because this is the world we live in, and everyone needs a little bit of silly fun in their lives – here’s Joan of Arc vs. Miley Cyrus: Epic Rap Battles of History. Don’t watch if you’re offended by a few naughty words.
What we’ll see related to Joan of Arc
As you’ll see in the movie, Rouen is the city where Joan of Arc was put to death. On our trip, we’ll be visiting Rouen. The city is located on the River Seine in the north of France, has a long history dating back to the ancient Romans. Its location near the Seine led to its development and made Rouen one of the greatest cities in France. It is the capital of the region Normandy and was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Medieval Europe. Rouen is most known for being the site of Joan of Arc’s execution in 1431.
Rouen is thought to have been founded by the Romans in 3rd century CE and was known to the Romans as Rotomagus. In 841 the Vikings overran Rouen and it became the Norman capital. In 1066 Rouen became the subject to the English crown, but was captured by France in 1204. Then in 1419, Henry the V took Rouen back during the Hundred Years War. Finally in 1449 it was recaptured by Charles VII for France. Rouen remained prosperous until the Wars of Religion when more than half the people left the city. However, in the 19th century the textile trade brought new prosperity to Rouen.
Rouen is a city rich in history and culture, along the right bank of the Seine and surrounded by hills. There are many historic buildings and museums from a wide variety of architectural styles. Probably the most well-known building is the Rouen Cathedral, one of the finest gothic churches in all of France. During WWII Rouen was damaged by allied bombs, and the cathedral narrowly missed total destruction.
Another amazing site in Rouen is the beautiful gold faceted Gros Horloge, or great clock, a working street clock. It is a symbol of the past wealth of Rouen from the wool industry. Tourists can travel to the top for a panoramic view of the city.
Other places to visit include the Palais de Justice the gothic law courts of Rouen which were destroyed during WWII and later restored to their original beauty. Visitors can sit in on a court session. While at the Palais de Justice, visitors can also go to Monument Juif, which is the only relic from a medieval Jewish community and is hidden under a staircase at Palais de Justice.
There is also the Artre St. Maclou which is a village that is home to half-timbered buildings built between 1526 and 1533. These buildings, many of which were homes, are decorated with woodcarvings of skulls, crossbones and hour glasses. At one time it was where they housed victims of the plague.
Travelers are of course drawn to the Place du Vieux Marche, which is the site of Joan of Arc’s execution. A cross lays at the exact spot where she was burned at the stake in 1431. In 1979 Èglise Jeanne d’Arc, a modern church known as the Church of Joan of Arc, was built at this site, in remembrance of the Patron Saint of France. It is known for its fish scale exterior as well as ornate stained glass. The glass came from the Church of St. Vincent which was destroyed during World War II. However the windows were removed and stored during the war and remained intact, which adds an element of the past to the modern.
Finally, here’s the movie…
So, sit back, relax, grab some escargot and a few crepes, and watch our Movie of the Month, Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman, along with the other videos we’ve posted today. You can find the movie free on YouTube, so no need to spend any money or rent anything this month. We’ve embedded the entire movie below, but you can also find a few other Joan of Arc movies online if you’re interested. The Passion of Joan of Arc, is a French movie from 1928 that takes its script directly from Joan’s trial – it’s well worth watching a little bit of if you have the time.
We ask that all of our France/Benelux travelers take the time to watch our Movies of the Month, then come back here to discuss the movie, the history, and the impact this story had on the people and places we’ll visit. In your response, we’d like you to tell us first what you thought of the movie and why. Second, tell us three specific things you learned from watching this movie (and reading this post) that you think will make your experience in France and the Benelux countries even better than it would have been. Please remember, there is more to this post than watching a movie – you should be reading the post and viewing the other videos to learn about history too – your answers should discuss both the history and the culture you learned about in this post. The longer and more in depth our discussion gets, the better it is for all of us.
Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson, Spongebob Squarepants, Charlie Brown, The Grinch, Scooby-Doo, Winnie the Pooh, Asterix the Gaul…
Odds are, at your age, you know almost all of the names on that list. You’ve probably seen cartoons featuring most of those characters, and if not, you at least recognize their names and could pick them out of some sort of cartoon character line-up (If not, you’ve got some serious YouTube time coming to catch up on some missing parts of your childhood).
One name, however, probably isn’t as recognizable to most of you. That would be Asterix the Gaul, and even though you’ve probably never heard of him, seen his cartoons, or read his comic book adventures, he is one of the most recognizable and popular cartoon characters on the planet – just not here in the good ole USA for some reason.
Asterix, who my six year old son said looks like Thor and Popeye had a baby, is the star of a series of French comics (or graphic novels) that began in 1959 in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine, Pilote. Written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo (until Goscinny’s death in 1977, when Uderzo took over writing and drawing the series), there have been 35 volumes of Asterix stories.
Sometimes learning can be fun, and Asterix is one of those cases. It’s not the most historically accurate cartoon, but it tells the story of a village of Gauls (ancient French people) resisting being conquered by the Roman Empire. Throughout the series, Asterix, a warrior in this Gaulish village, has numerous comedic adventures, encountering people from all sorts of ancient civilizations, including those pesky Romans, the Egyptians, Spaniards (Iberians, Basque, Catalans), Picts, Normans (remember, we’re going to a region of Northern France called Normandy where D-Day happened), Goths, Vikings, Britons, and even ancient Americans.
So this month, we’re asking you to watch a few of the Asterix movies that have been made over the years (there have been nine animated Asterix films made between 1967 and 2014). You can choose which ones and how many, we just ask that you take the time to watch at least two of these films.
Why watch cartoons that aren’t very accurate historically? It’s simple. One, there is enough historical information presented to learn quite a bit about the ancient people of France (and the rest of Europe too) and to gain some insight into what was happening in Northern Europe during the Roman Empire. We all study Ancient Rome in middle school, but the northern half of the continent, where we’re going to be traveling is pretty much left out of our history books. No, Asterix comics and cartoons aren’t the best way to learn about ancient history, but they are a good way to get some of the basics.
Second, these movies are funny. No, not funny in the same way as Spongebob, Bugs and Daffy, or The Simpsons – This, for many of you, will be your first taste of European or French humor. A lot of the humor in the Asterix stories comes from puns or wordplay. Pay close attention to the names of the characters, both the heroes and villains – they’re quite clever, and there are going to be several other cases where the jokes are clever and quick. Of course, it’d be even better if we could watch (and understand) them in French, but maybe someday. Asterix is the most popular cartoon character in France – after 35 books (translated into over 100 languages), nine cartoon movies, four live-action movies, countless toys and games, video games, and even an Asterix amusement park (Parc Asterix was built in 1989 to rival the Disneyland Paris park),more than 325 million copies of the Asterix comics have been sold outside of France (making Uderzo and Goscinny the best selling French authors worldwide). Simply, to understand Asterix and the humor is to understand a bit more about French culture.
So, we’re watching the Asterix movies to get a basic understanding of French history and some insight into French culture. Both are good things before we head to France in just 11 months.
Each month in TAP, we select a Movie of the Month to help prepare our students for their overseas trip. This month we’re starting to prepare for our 2016 adventure in France and the Benelux countries, so we’ve selected the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, to watch first. The big question, of course, is what is this movie about?
Well, this is one of those movies that is just about so much. First, it’s about the idea that being somewhere else is better than being here. That’s an idea that’s near and dear to TAP’s heart, and it’s one of the reason why we’ve continued to travel the world with students for the ten years now. It’s not that home is a bad place, it’s that home isn’t the only place, and history books aren’t the only way to learn. In the movie, an American author named Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson), who is vacationing in Paris while trying to complete his novel. In the movie he visits a bunch of places that we’ll see on our trip (the Palace of Versailles, Monet’s gardens in Giverny, the used book stalls along the Seine River, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower) and many places we could visit during our free time (The Musee de l’Orangerie, the Rodin Museum gardens, and the Moulin Rouge).
Gil’s trouble is that creatively he’s stuck, but suddenly he’s magically transported back in time to the 1920s in Paris. In TAP, we’re lucky enough to travel the world, but how amazing would it be to travel the world and visit different time periods too? That’s what Gil gets to experience.
It’s also sort of about the famous question, “If you could have dinner with any three people from history, living or dead, who would you choose?” Gil gets to experience that. The 1920s in Paris was a time in between WWI and WWII when authors and artists from all over the world settled in the City of Lights, forming an incredibly creative community we call The Lost Generation. Gil gets to meet authors like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Faulkner, Barnes, and Eliot along with artists and musicians like Dali, Cole Porter, Picasso, and Matisse, who hung out and talked about art and literature while sitting in cafes, drinking in bars, and dancing the night away in Paris’ hottest clubs. What better place for Gil to get transported to?
It’s also about the very simple idea that there’s just something magical about Paris. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of places, but there is no place that has quite the same magic as Paris. You guys will know that soon. There’s just something unbelievably special about Paris, and I’d be a fool to try and put into words what that is. Far greater writers than me have made that effort and have failed, so you’re just going to have to wait and see what that feeling is like first hand next year.
For the time being, though, you can watch Gil travel back in time, meet his idols, and stroll through the magical streets of Paris. Every time I’ve been to Paris since seeing this movie, I can not help but hope a magical limo will transport me to different times in Paris’ past. This movie, unlike any other, captures a little bit of that magic that you feel what strolling through the City of Lights.
The world of the late 1980s and early 1990s was a world of constant change. In 1989, a student revolution erupted in China, and for the first time, I found myself strangely connected to something happening on the other side of the world. I don’t know why the story of the tank man of Tiananmen Square struck a nerve, but it was the moment I started to become politically aware.
I began to see that Eastern European countries were slowly fighting for their freedom from the Communist machine that had been keeping them down for decades. The Soviet Union, who had been the big, bad, scary threat in the world since long before I was born, finally crumbled. The Berlin Wall fell. Terrifying, but mysterious and fascinating things, were happening in places I wasn’t even sure where they were – Nicaragua, Liberia, Libya, Kuwait, Bolivia… The world was on fire, and I was engrossed.
Then I saw The Power of One, and I can’t fully explain the impact this movie had on me in 1992. I suddenly felt so sheltered and alone and helpless. Before then, I thought I’d been getting the hang of the changing world, understanding who needed help, knowing who was the good guys and the bad guys. I thought I was aware and astute, but that movie opened my eyes to how little I knew. Until The Power of One, I’d never heard of Apartheid. I had no idea what was going on in South Africa. As aware of the world as I had become, I still knew nothing.
I’m hoping that for each of you, The Power of One opens your eyes to the way South Africa was in the middle of the 20th Century. It wasn’t as simple as black and white. The racism, the inequality, the anger, the fear… The world isn’t simple and clean with a line down the middle to show you good on one side and evil on the other. The Power of One is all about that gray area.