France #4: Avignon: Past & Present

Lillian ’24, reflects on a visit to the historic city of Avignon.


Today, we visited the city of Avignon. I’ve read about it in my European History class, so I was very excited to see some historical buildings and take lots of pictures for Ms. Batchelor. Avignon is just 15 minutes away from Arles by TGV, which stands for high-speed train in French. By the way, I adore French public transport; so far, it’s been cheaper, more accessible, and more comfortable than at home in Illinois.

After a walk through some touristy shops along the main road, we turned the corner and stopped to behold the Palais des Papes: the Popes’ Palace. It’s too towering, too sprawling to accurately describe with words. I felt like an ant looking up at a mountain. Which, I suppose, fits with the whole “the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church and the literal mouthpiece of the Lord, lives here” thing. As a lifelong Catholic, it was very bizarre to be walking on the same stones where popes once stood. Even setting aside the religious significance, the Pope is like a really secretive A-list celebrity in that no one you know has ever even seen him, but he’s always talked about. He’s like a fairy tale archetype, almost. More of a role than a person. 

But as I walked under impossibly fine stone carvings, bright stained glass, and expansive murals, I felt a concrete sense of reality. Paradoxically, the same building that exacerbated the disconnect between me and the popes also lessened it. They lived in those rooms. They had to breathlessly climb flights of stairs. They tripped over uneven floors. They winced in the sunlight as they tried to look out over the city from a rooftop tower. They were, and still are, real. Everyday in France, I am continually astonished by the overwhelmingly rich layers of history that seem so much more tangible than in the US. The past has never seemed real to me when I’ve read about it in books, but here, I feel that ancient people lived and breathed just like me. 

Till next time, 

Lillian ’24

P.S. What else is happening?

  • I managed to successfully take the bus by myself today after missing it yesterday.
  • Daphne bonded with a bubble tea shop owner over their shared Taiwanese heritage.
  • Elizabeth posed like Marilyn Monroe on the famous Pont d’Avignon.
  • Mason managed to carry a conversation in which he spoke French and the other person spoke Spanish.
  • Svetlana thought that a statue of the Virgin Mary looked like the Statue of Liberty. 
  • Aaron was almost late for the train because he was buying tacos.
  • Toler navigated us through town with nothing but Google Maps and the ability to get people to listen to him.
  • Gracie has found that French mosquitos love her.
  • Sammy saw that someone had thrown a Pokémon card in the Palais des Papes wishing well
  • Mac fell asleep on the train in his rockin’ sunglasses.