On The Road Travel Essays

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(COURIER: The group may want to know something about the chateau they're going to stay in. Use these notes at any time before arriving, perhaps supplementing them with information on your own if you're at all familiar with the French educational system.)

The Building  It goes back several centuries, with major additions in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Baron de Rothschild bought it for his daughter. But she didn't like it — perhaps it was too large — and so the Rothschilds gave it to an order of nuns, who used it as a training center for young postulants. A few years ago, the nuns moved to another location, and the building was put up for sale. It was purchased by CREAR-INFAC, a unique French institution, which operates it today. What is "Crear-Infac?"

CREAR-INFAC  For some years, French officials have felt that too much of French cultural life was concentrated in Paris. They have also felt that French education was too specialized: turning out narrow-minded experts, and leaving the broad public without any experience of the arts. An attempt has been made to remedy the situation by the creation of cultural "center" in cities and towns all over France. They are run by the Ministry of Culture. Each center is called a "Maison des Jeune et de la Culture," a "House of Youth and Culture." They function somewhat like the American Y.M.C.A.'s, except that the activities are less recreational and more cultural. These activities are open to young people and old, to students and to those who simply want a little cultural "broadening." They are not "schools."

Examples of instructional activities: ceramics (how to make and decorate your own vases), puppets (how to make and operate them, and to create "scenarios"), music (how to "listen" to a concert, or do it yourself), silk screening, book binding, games (what are games? why do people play them? how to design your own games), photography, audio-visual instruction (how to fix your own stereo), flower arranging, weaving, dyeing, etc. etc. You can see that these topics are a mixture of "theoretical" and "practical" activities.

Each town has its own center where these activities go on. There is usually a small fee, but local citizens in the town have their fee paid by the City Council.

CREAR-INFAC is the name of the organization co-ordinating these local centers.

The "Animateurs"  These are the people who conduct the learning activities. They're not "professors" usually, but local people with talent, or sometimes school teachers who have developed a "knack" on the side and are eager to involve other people in it.

National Workshop for Continuing Education  This is a series of sessions in which the "animateurs" themselves receive further training in their subject. And that's what goes on in the Chateau of Montvillargenne — all year around, except during holidays. There are two such workshop centers: in Paris, and here in the country. You might think of this whole idea as analogous to "adult education" in the U.S. — something which is becoming ever more popular, and which we now see in a French version.

Approaching the Chateau  The tall wall to our right screens from view an even larger chateau. This was built by another branch of the Rothschild family and later acquired by the Jesuits, who now use it as a seminary.


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