Post written by Rowan Sinclair; all photos taken by Shin Jaeyoon; For more of her work, check out Bourbon Sour and Irish Coffee.
We have been in Aix-En-Provence, France for three months now. Aix is a small city in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur area of Southern France, and the place where Paul Cezanne was born. This is the first semester of St. John’s in France, and the while the environment and the surrounding world differs greatly from the other campuses, the program is the same and the program’s authors are ever our teachers.
We have been reading Rousseau, Racine, Faraday and Newton. Building early batteries in Laboratory, called Voltaic piles and working with small Faraday cages. In Language we delve into Racine’s Alexandrian text of Phedre, and in Math we explore the intersection of geometry, calculus and physics in Newton’s Principia.
Here, our class windows look out to small French streets, brimming with people and their dogs, motorbikes and children. Down the street there are Boulangeries, Cafes and an open air market. Today, after class. I walk by the flower market, and I sit outside on a fountain and read Kant for next seminar.
There are eighteen of us from both campuses here. We all live with local families, our hosts. Many of these families, including mine, speak little English. Coming here knowing only a semester’s worth of reading French, it has been invaluable living with Jean-Claude and Annie.
I find my speaking French has affected my reading of it greatly. The French language is everywhere. In shops, at home, and in language class of course. So too are the French authors even more present. This is the country of Andre Ampere, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Moliere, Charles Colomb and Jean Racine, after all. Earlier this month we travelled together, tutors and students, to Paris. There we visited the Louvre, L’Orangerie museum and the Musee des Arts et Metiers. I most enjoyed the last of these museums and found it incredible to recognize some of the equipment we read about in Lab in the Musee des Arts et Metiers. We recognized an early Leyden Jar (a sort of battery) that we are currently working with in Lab, Pascal’s counting machine (though we know him from his philosophical writings) and Lavoisier’s meticulously preserved Laboratory (from the readings on Chemistry freshman year lab!)
To be able to see equipment I had read about, created by authors I had known, is a rare opportunity. While we may have diagrams of Lavoisier’s tools and modern recreations, to view his true laboratory was something else altogether.
When I learned last year I would be going abroad with St. John’s I was not sure what to expect. But here I have gained a great deal and lost nothing. I find, even in its early beginnings, the program is wonderfully preserved by our tutors, and the experience is only enriched by the surrounding milieu. Junior year at St. John’s I have learned to read and talk about French literature, second semester of the same year in St. John’s France I have begun to speak the French language. I find the change in environment invigorating (many students will suggest that one spend time at both campuses—and I concur) in Aix we are close to large cities, big museums, great bookstore, and cafes open late enough to study into the evening. We meet with our tutors for lunch, just as it is in Santa Fe and Annapolis, but not in the coffee shop or dining hall- instead in L’unic cafe or Le Grillon off Cours Mirabeau. Whether talking of Kant’s complex terms in Critique of Pure Reason in Aix, Annapolis or Santa Fe — the conversation remains much the same.