On the first day of our study abroad program (Sun. May 29, 2016), I made my way down from my family friend’s apartment in the 17th arrondissement of Paris to the Gare de Lyon train station just above the eastern section of the Seine. Once there, I met up with 9 other Rutgers students and our professor to begin our journey to the region of Burgundy. After reintroducing ourselves and exchanging stories about our travels before arriving at Gare de Lyon, we all climbed aboard the 4:45PM TGV train to Mâcon. Once aboard, we soon found that the train lived up to its name – Train À Grand Vitesse – as it transported us quickly and smoothly through the French countryside. In fact, less than 15 minutes after leaving Gare de Lyon, the window was filled with views of beautiful pastures, wide open farm land, and the occasional herd of cattle. An hour passed quickly as I watched these sights move swiftly past us through the large windows, and then the pastures were gradually replaced by vineyards of all shapes and sizes. After 30 more minutes we arrived in Mâcon and made our way to a coach bus for the next short segment of our journey. Just 15 minutes later, we had arrived in Cluny, where we will be staying for the next two weeks during this study abroad program. Upon arrival, we met Professor Healey, who is a specialist in the local culture and its connection with gastronomy – or as the French would say: la patrimoine gastronomique. Finally, we finished our first night in Cluny by eating at a restaurant in town that serves some of the local specialties of the region. I chose to order the Boeuf Bourgignon avec Pommes de Terre au Gratin and the strawberry-flavored pâtisserie du jour for dessert. After this delicious meal, we made our way back to our hostel to relax for a short period and then we went out once more to explore the town of Cluny a bit before returning home and going to bed.
The following day (May 30th) we woke up at 7:00AM and I took a quick shower before heading off to the cafeteria to eat a typical French breakfast around 8AM – a sliced baguette with butter, jam, and some black tea. An hour later, at 9PM, the cafeteria closed and our class began in a small room adjacent to the cafeteria. During class Professor Haggblom spoke about fermentation and the varied pathways microorganisms utilize to obtain energy. Immediately afterwards, Professor Healey spoke about the culture of French wine and cheese – including the terroir (the climatic, geological and human effects on the wine or cheese of a certain region) and la patrimoine gastronomique (gastronomy as part of French culture and heritage). She also spoke about the heritage of Cluny and its historical and religious significance.
After our classroom lesson we made our way across town to a local supermarket where we purchased a variety of different items for a picnic planned for Tuesday (May 31st). I bought 3 types of cheese, two of which were locally produced goat cheeses, a small baguette, a small length of dry sausage, hummus, and several other miscellaneous items. Upon returning to the hostel, we ate a small amount of the food that we had bought and then stored the rest away to be eaten later. After doing so, we once again went out into Cluny, this time to meet Professor Reinert, who is an expert in the local religious and cultural history of Cluny. The town of Cluny, as Professor Reinert explained, is an extremely old town that is rich with medieval history. From roughly 900 CE to 1800CE Cluny remained at the center of a religious reform movement that swept across Europe, and the large church built there was the largest building associated with Christianity for much of this period. The abbey was founded by Benedictine monks who lived very differently from the normal townspeople of Cluny, and these two groups were separated from each other by a large stone wall which still stands in some parts of Cluny. Although the Church has been mostly destroyed, one can still get a good idea of how large this amazing monument was by examining the various models and sketches of the building and comparing them with its remains. One part of the primary transept of this church (which includes a large tower), is still almost completely intact, as is a portion of the entrance archway hundreds of feet away. By standing at the entrance and looking at the tower hundreds of feet in the distance, one is able to get a much better idea of how massive the church actually was. Next we examined some of the archaeological artifacts from the area, including intricately carved archways, figures, and columns.
As we finished our extensive tour of the Cluny Abbey, the rain once again began to fall and we hurried into the cellar of a small Cluny wine shop to taste an assortment of wines from across the Burgundy region. We tasted 2 white wines, one made from Chardonnay grapes, and one made from Aligoté grapes. Then we moved onto two red wines, one made from Pinot Noir grapes, and another from Gamay grapes.
After the wine tasting was complete, I went off with a few others from the group to have a delicious dinner of pâtes (pasta) au pesto and then returned to the hostel to go to bed early.