"Paris is not France" Laura Qi ('19, International Economics, minor in European Studies) investigates France outside Paris

Unlike most of his contemporaries who studied, lived, and worked in Paris (the cultural hub of France), Julien Gracq chose to return to his childhood home of Saint-Florent-Le-Vieil after his time in Paris. Laura wanted to research the influences of this prominent 20th century French surrealist author.

Saint Florent is a small town located deep in the Loire Valley, where the Èvre tributary meets with the Loire River. This region of France is one of the most historically Catholic and conservative areas of the country. I found the contrast between his surroundings and his writing style interesting, as other French surrealist authors at the time were working in Paris, a hub of surrealism centered around figures such as André Breton and Picasso.

I discovered Julien Gracq when I was abroad last semester, but at that time, I never had the chance to research him in depth, or really visit the places that influenced his writings the most. I specifically looked into his novel The Narrow Waters which is set in Saint Florent and the Marillais region where I visited. Additionally, I wanted to return to return to France to maintain the language competency I gained while abroad. I was also interested in exploring this project as an avenue to pursue for my European Studies capstone project.

I was able to stick quite closely to the schedule I had planned out. I went to the library Richelieu in Paris and visited the Latin Quarter, Lycée Henri IV, and the École Normale Superieur. I stayed one day longer in Saint Florent than I did in Nantes because I found an excellent collection of archives at the Maison Julien Gracq. They house all volumes of his works, several manuscripts, and several special illustrated editions donated by his publisher Jose Corti. I learned that up until his death, all of Julien Gracq's books were published in hand cut paper and were not pass produced in paperback format. These books are no longer produced, but I was able to purchase one in a book shop in Saint Florent.

The French say "Paris, n'est pas la France," which means "Paris is not France." At first, I found this bizarre, as any foreigner's definition of France would include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and boat rides along the Seine. It took me a moment to realize that these are all uniquely Parisian experiences, identified by a foreigner. The France described by Julien Gracq is much more subtle and extremely nuanced.

He describes a family run creperie across the street from a new automotive shop, new because the old one was inundated by flooding the previous year. He describes a man selling oysters at noon on Sundays after mass and watching kids made to stand in front of a giant fireplace to dry off after playing in the river. He describes a promendade, a riverside path he walked nearly everyday that took him from his house to the Abbastiale at Saint Florent, a path that looked different every day depending on the water levels in the river.

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to connect my readings with the physical environment in which Gracq wrote and to visit the people and places that inspired him. I enjoyed seeing a different side of France, especially interesting given the region's tumultuous history. There were many small towns I visited and people I met who were extremely kind and outgoing, and very helpful in my research.

Whether watching horses train at the fields in front of the Chateau of Beaupréau, or climbing to the top of a chapel carved into the side of a rock in Béhuard, this trip has given me a desire to learn more about the region and it's people. Most importantly, this experience has renewed my passion to travel and explore unfamiliar places, and has reminded me that there is always more to learn.

To learn more about the Nanovic Institute and undergraduate grants, visit nanovic.nd.edu/grants

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