FDA grad enjoys in-depth experience in ‘la belle France’
The dream began in her high school French classroom four years ago. Ever since then, Susanna Coleman—aspiring writer, computer whiz, sci-fi aficionado and genuine Francophile– has been dreaming of the day she would journey across the great Atlantic to experience the language, culture and history of &uot;la Belle France&uot; first hand.
The 2000 Fort Dale Academy graduate and National Merit Scholar finally saw her dream come true for six weeks in May and June 2002, as a part of the University of Alabama’s ‘Alabama in France’ sightseeing and study program.
Susanna and six fellow students, shepherded by a UA professor, spent five weeks together first in Paris, then as part of a study program in Tours, France. (The Fort Deposit native returned with friend Elizabeth to Paris for an additional week).
A week in the fabled City of Light was the beginning of the Susanna’s summer adventure.
On the group’s first evening together, they enjoyed a walk along the Seine, the river that runs through the heart of the 2,000-year-old city.
For supper, Susanna was tickled to taste &uot;my first croque-monsieur [French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich] and Orangina [a popular citrus soft drink]&uot;. It was a perfect start to a memorable week.
The group made a visit practically mandatory to all travelers to Paris: a journey, via elevator, to the top tier of the Eiffel Tower.
The view, Susanna says, was &uot;really amazing&uot;.
The group later visited the Arche de Triomphe, the magnificent arch ordered by the egotistical Napoleon to honor his military victories.
&uot;NO elevator there…so I climbed all 287 steps to get to the top—the view from there was worth it, though,&uot; notes Susanna.
Susanna and her fellow students also spent one morning seeing some of the world’s greatest art treasures when they visited the Louvre.
In the afternoon, the Musee d’Orsay, (formerly an elegant Victorian-era railway station) offered the group a chance to see some of the finest works of Monet, Renoir and other Impressionist artists.
&uot;One of my favorite parts of the trip was going to the absolutely amazing palace at Versailles,&uot; notes Susanna.
Her tremendous enthusiasm for the history of Versailles and its ties to the French Revolution quickly became evident to the group’s helpful tour guide.
He even went ‘off the beaten path’ and took the group through the palace’s secret passageway, one used by the ill-fated Marie Antoinette to escape riotous peasants out (quite literally) for her blood.
&uot;I also saw the balcony where she knelt before the people that same day…it literally gave me chills,&uot; recalls Susanna, an English major who plans to write a novel set around that volatile period in French history.
The group toured the palace’s vast formal gardens and another destination Susanna admits she was &uot;desperate to see&uot;: le Hameau de la Reine, the charming Austrian village in miniature that was especially created for Marie Antoinette.
This grown-up ‘dollhouse’ was a place for the flirtatious, frivolous—and ill-fated–young queen to cavort with friends while she pretended to be an ordinary young shepherdess or milkmaid.
&uot;Beautiful!&uot; Susanna enthused.
The following day the group visited inside the picturesque gleaming white walls of the church at Sacre Coeur, and toured France’s most celebrated cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris. Susanna was thoroughly intrigued by the cathedral’s gargoyles and detailed carvings of her favorite Biblical figures, exclaiming,
&uot;Notre Dame was certainly the most beautiful thing in Paris!&uot; The students also enjoyed a visit to the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub and the colorful artists’ colony high atop Montmartre.
In her free time in Paris, Susanna took advantage of France’s extensive public transportation system and her ability to &uot;parle le francais&uot; to journey via ‘le Metro’ (the Paris subway), TGV (high-speed trains) and bus to places that piqued her interest.
The intrepid student visited many sites tied to the French Revolution, including Paris’ Rue Saint Honore where the architect of France’s bloody Reign of Terror, Robespierre, once lived, &uot;a moving experience&uot; for the young scholar.
She also visited Louis-le-Grand, where many of the Revolutionaries attended school, along with the site of the Bastille, the ancient prison where the first great uprising of the Parisian populace happened.
Susanna’s imagination has been particularly captured by the tragedy and romance of Saint-Just, Robespierre’s handsome and ever-faithful lieutenant, who became known as &uot;The Angel of Death.&uot;
&uot;I found Saint-Just’s own pistol [at the history museum, Musee Carnavalet] as well as his bust and military decoration.
I actually started crying just seeing the pistol and knowing I was inches away from something he had touched,&uot; she declared.
Susanna considered the day she journeyed by train and bus to Blerancourt, Saint-Just’s hometown, to be &uot;the BIG day.&uot;
&uot;For four years, ever since high school [French class] I had longed to go there and I FINALLY made it!&uot; Susanna exclaims.
Here she discovered, within his house, a museum dedicated to &uot;everything Saint-Just—original works of art…books of his writing, posters and other pieces of various exhibits that had featured him.&uot;
The beautiful 18th-century building was fully restored in the late 90s and featured a very high-tech Internet room upstairs for Blerancourt’s townspeople to use
&uot;Although some people I talked to in France hated Saint-Just and the Robespierrists, here, everyone adored him,&uot; noted Susanna.
One &uot;very happy history buff &uot; returned to Paris that night.
(End of part one)