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First trip to France, 2008

Georgia & Zig

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Episode 1- Paris, St. Denis and Epiney-sur-Seine
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oh, that first day of overseas travel is a killer. But the flight from Lexington to Detroit was smooth and a lightening storm blew through Detroit while we were saying morning prayers in the waiting lounge. Just at the moment our petition asked God to “Grant us good weather” the rain stopped as if someone had thrown a switch. Have we got pull, or what?
The overseas flight was tolerable. My carry-on weighed 24 pounds and fit in the overhead just fine. Georgia’s bag weighed 29, but that included her purse, which I swear contained a bowling ball. I don’t sleep well on planes so watched the in-flight movie “Sex in the City” that caught me up on popular culture. I’m glad I’m not young and eligible. Air France doesn’t seem to have discovered what’s happening to the rest of air travel. The movie was free. The wine was free. The Champagne was free. The food was good, excellent in fact, and free. But Georgia couldn’t sleep sitting up, and my sensitivity to altitude meant I woke up gasping whenever I managed to drift off. They have little in-flight radar screens that show you where the plane is—so we both stayed awake most of the night watching our little plane crawl across the Atlantic.

Thursday morning, September 4, 2008
We landed at Charles de Gaulle / Bourget Field outside Paris. It’s about three times the size of Detroit and Detroit is BIG. I do swear though, that it seems to get easier each time we travel. Even the problems seem less vexing. I guess that’s because we’ve survived so many adventures and “issues” before, we feel like nothing is going to happen that we can’t manage to get through. And this time we decided that we would depend on the local people more freely. In past trips we found the people helpful, but there was always an element of distrust—a feeling that we could only depend on ourselves. This time we are going to be more relaxed. It must have showed in customs. Checking visas was a snap and neither of us was strip-searched. Poof! We were through and out in the wide, wide, world. Well, out in the wide, wide, Paris subway system! The thousands of combinations of train and bus routes stagger you. The system is SO complex and confusing that even the vandals leave the maps alone so they don’t get lost!
There is in Paris an insane mélange of “gares” or train stations, plus metro and bus stops. Not all of the metros go to all of the stations and none of the train stations connect directly with any of the others. To go from one station to another you take a metro. Each train station is like an octopus sending out tentacles in all directions. You have to take off on a tentacle and look for a place where your tentacle touches the tentacle from the train station you want to reach. Get off your tentacle and grab the other one, but remember that, like jealous octopi these tentacles will naturally be at different depths. And most of them were built in the late 19th century and early 20th so the breath-taking Art Deco stations have multiple flights of stairs that will also take your breath away. There are no fat Parisians. None. Not a one. And I know it’s because of the transportation system. But we made it to “Abbesses”—our metro stop in the north of Paris just at the base of Montmartre, the mount of martyrs.
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Suppose there was a mountain fully inhabited since the year 258. Try to picture how many houses and shops and stairs there would be on such a mountain. Wrong. There are many more than that. And flights of stairs that just go up and up and up without landings or places to look for your lost breath. But there are also wonderful parks filled with roses and peonies and even a vineyard in the middle of this urban tree house. The cabaret Lapin Agile, with its rabbit dancing in a frying pan was almost buried under a hundred years worth of wisteria. I swear I could see Toulouse Lautrec sharing a bottle of absinthe with Claude Monet, Gabriel Faure, and Salvadore Dali. I could hear them clinking glasses and laughing at the gasping tourists.
In the steeply sloped park immediately in front of Sacre Coeur sun-bathers gather, and there is a wide landing on the stairs where buskers entertain the crowds. As we walked up we saw a man in a tuxedo playing a golden harp. Can’t imagine how he got a harp up there. Must have had a helicopter. The Basilique itself is made from white marble and fronted by beautifully green patinated equestrian statues. Its multiple gleaming domes are visible from just about all of Paris, except for the bowels of the subway.
When we arrived at the guesthouse of St. Ephrem in the convent attached to Sacre Coeur our room was ready. We had to sit in the vestibule for 30 minutes or so anyway—the sisters were terribly understaffed. The time was well spent, though, visiting with a young Italian priest named Allesandro Sabotelli who was there on retreat. He practiced his halting but competent English on us and we practiced our dreadful Italian on him.
A beautiful young nun was trying to check us in, but continually interrupted by phone calls and other nuns arriving with minor crises. The Pope, Benedict XVI, was arriving in Paris in a few days for a mission trip and many, many people wanted to stay at the guesthouse. I’m glad we made reservations well in advance. She remained so calm, I think her name must surely have been Sister Placida.
Our room was on the fourth of five floors but because Sacre Coeur is also on top of the tallest mountain in Paris the view from our room stretched out over the Parisian rooftops. It reminded me of the chimneysweeps’ view of London in Mary Poppins. But we could see such a wide swath of the city it was also somewhat disheartening. It was instantly obvious that we were not going to be able to see the entire city. Very different from the view we had in Florence that gave us the illusion of a tidy little city, easily walkable with everything close at hand. Paris looked gigantic and spread out below us like a jumble of toy blocks on a wrinkled blanket under a leaden sky. There was no way we were going to see everything. But before we ventured out we thought we’d better rest our eyes.
Two hours later, about 4pm, we decided to find a little “smackerel” of something. We had to explore the church first, of course. The Basilique is dedicated to perpetual adoration, where Jesus in the consecrated host is visible for adoration. There is an enormous, mosaic of Jesus on the back wall of the apse, under the main dome, with his arms outstretched facing the suspended monstrance and embracing the congregation.
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The nuns sing the hours in the choir located just below him to the accompaniment of a dulcimer. Unlike most Gregorian chant these nuns sing in parts and the harmonies are haunting. When you sing the hours you try to sing only loudly enough to be heard by the person on either side of you. Louder than that and you are too loud. And yet, the sweet voices of the sixteen sisters filled that enormous space. If we had moved the chairs we could have set up goal posts and played a game of football, but you would play by candlelight. The votive candles lit by pilgrims were stacked on rows and rows of candle stands. The soft glow was warm and inviting.
Out behind the church we found a creperie and had our first Nutella-filled crepe. Nutella is a peanut-butter-like confection made from chocolate and hazel nuts. We also had a “baguette au jambon et fromage”—ham and cheese. We walked around trading crepes back and forth. Whoever had the ham and cheese was also wiped Nutella off the other one’s kisser.
I’ve never been to Disneyland, but I suspect that they try to capture in plastic what Montmartre embodies in cobblestones and brick and mortar. There were strolling portraiteurs, street musicians including the essential accordion player playing “dos de val e dad” for pennies. We passed museums but our rubber legs weren’t up to any more stairs so we just circled the mountain-top. We rested in a lovely little park looking out over an iron railing down 30 or 40 feet into the backyard of a little pensione where three groups of elderly men and women were playing spirited games of bocce ball (boules) on a dirt court. It’s akin to bowling but the object is to get your 4-pound ball closer to a little golf ball than your opponents. Knocking their ball away produces a wonderful cacophony of French insults.
I suspect that the main difference between Montmartre and Disneyland is the smell. Montmartre smells like New Orleans’ French quarter at Mardi Gras. Maybe it’s a French thing? Your typical men in both cities make casual water against walls, and you must always navigate the ever-present dog-poo on the sidewalks. There are, of course, pay toilets, but why in the world would you need one as long as there are perfectly good wizzing walls?
In an hour or so we headed back to Ephrem for supper. It came with the room. I certainly wouldn’t have ordered it otherwise. It consisted chiefly of some sort of leek-filled ham roll and a watery soup made out of thin grass-like threads. But we had a nice bottle of wine and that helps anything go down more smoothly. And we had an interesting conversation with Padre Allesandro, and a taciturn Frenchman whose name I never learned. Padre Allesandro was from Ravenna and led a charismatic/Pentecostal-style parish, though it is hard to picture him jumping with Holy Fire. He was thin and good looking, with brown hair. Probably 5’9”. He reminded me more of a young lawyer than a fire-breathing Holy-Ghost-filled evangelist. “But I’m not crazy,” he assured us.
After supper we walked back down the hill to the Abbesses Metro stop. We stood and watched a juggler entertain the crowd ebbing and flowing through the famous art-deco wrought-iron entrance. Across the tree filled park there was an Internet-Access shop where you could rent a computer for 30 minutes for 50 cents, euro. We got an email from Amy that her third ultrasound confirmed that she and Judge were going to have a little boy! They didn’t have a name picked out yet. We left the shop walking on a cloud and strolled along the Parisian streets until we found a charming corner café. We took a table in the back under a nineteenth-century mahogany-framed mirror. There we toasted Amy, Judge, and the newest twig on our family tree with French champagne in a French café in Paris. Someday we’ll have to bring little “whatsisname” here to see it for himself.
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The stream of pedestrians on the sidewalk was incessant but there was one little girl oblivious to them. She must have been 9 or 10 and she was dancing on the sidewalk to the beat of her own interior rhythm section. Her dance partner was a 3-foot tall steel pipe buried in concrete to provide a barrier from any car so ill-mannered as to try to usurp the sidewalk Round and round, swaying to and fro; dipping and bobbing, her honey-colored hair swinging in time to that different drummer. And then her father, mother, and little brother materialized from somewhere to collect her. The father seemed slightly exasperated but placed his hand protectively on her back to steer her, dancing, through the Parisian traffic.

Friday morning, September 5, 2008
We got up early for Mass and the early hours. I decided to really try, on this trip, to use what little French I have. No fear. We sat behind Alice, a student from Dijon, but now in international banking in Paris, and then ate breakfast with her as well. She comes to stay at the guesthouse, she says, when she needs to recharge her batteries.
We caught the train for St Denis, and walked past St. Oest but couldn’t get in. It was locked. The little town of St Denis now looks like a village in Morocco or Algiers. The women in caftans and scarves, the men in skull-caps, and the children in multi-colored soccer shirts. I know there was a time when colonialism seemed like a good idea—and maybe it was, but it’s awfully hard to say which culture has been changed more—the colonizer or the colonized? Colonizing the mid-east and North Africa has led to undercutting traditional French culture “back home.” But then, of course, the French Revolution may have played some small part in the decline as well.
The Basilique St. Denis, was the traditional place where the coronation and burial of France’s kings and queens took place. The stained glass was being refurbished—at least some of it—though there was still plenty to admire, especially the small windows in the crypt and the large window near the tomb of Marie Antoinette. Speaking of Marie and her royal relatives, they were in various states of dishabille. King Henry II and Catherine De Medici were both completely nude.
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Looks like they gave up the illusion of semi-divinity at the end. Kind of a nice touch of humility, I guess, or maybe the ribald humor of their descendents? But poor Marie. It’s bad enough to lose your head but then to have a nude statue on your tomb. And it was obvious from the dirt and grime that her breasts were receiving a good bit of unwanted attention from the rabble taking liberties with her person. If she weren’t dead already I’m sure the chagrin would have killed her.
We took a bus to Epiney-sur-Seine. I wanted to see the banks of the Seine, where so many of the Impressionists had painted landscapes. It didn’t disappoint.
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We walked an old towpath for a mile or so past gracefully bowing willows who murmured their quiet secrets to the clear brown water. From time to time there were small alleys leading to the village. We turned at one to find some bread and cheese. Then we sat on a bench in the middle of a little traffic island for an intimate picnic. We were just drinking in the ambience, shielded by beautiful swaying pampas grass when a toothless old man accosted us: “Oh great,” I thought, “homeless Frenchmen.” How do you say “Buzz-off Bud?” in French?

(to be continued)
 
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Georgia & Zig

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Episode 2 - Epiney-sur-Seine, Paris and Vezelay
Friday Afternoon, September 5, 2008

Monsieur Toothless grinned at us and said something that sounded like the French equivalent of “Having a picnic, eh?” “Oui, Monsieur,” I replied in my best high-school French, “Comment t’allez vous?” “How’s it going?”
You know, when you learn to speak a foreign language at 10-12 years old you do learn how to pronounce the words. Somehow getting older petrifies your tongue, but if you learned it early you can still sound competent: Monsieur Toothless launched into a long explanation of how things were going for him. “Yes, things are . . . and then . . . and then after that . . . but Sacre Bleu, . . . And how about with you?” The torrent washed over us. “Pardon, Monsieur, je ne comprend pas, je parle francais, un petit peu,” “I don’t understand and I only speak French a little bit.” He looked dumbfounded, and blushed bright red. Wish I’d understood what he’d said—must have been good. I thought that perhaps he’d been trying to hit us up for a loan. I finally managed to make him accept a garlic-stuffed olive. He was a janitor, and a communiste/Socialiste. He told us that our bread was called pain de companie, companionable bread. (We found out later that he probably told us that it is pain de campagne, country bread.) No wonder it felt so good to share pieces of it with strangers. A bicyclist riding by stopped to see what was going on in our little crowd. The Janitor had to explain that I might sound like I knew how to talk, but I was actually an Americain, and could hardly understand anything at all. The bicyclist clucked sympathetically and commiserated with the Janitor about the unspeakable tragedy of not being fluent in French. But they wished us a “bon appetit!” anyway and took their leave. How charming it all was—No wonder Matisse and his friends came to Epiney- sur-Seine - A town, so full of natural bonhomie, it was exactly the kind of place that would produce feelings you would struggle to capture on canvas. I wish that I could have captured it all in my own impressioniste painting. Instead, I have only my rusty vocabulary and leaky memory.

A convoluted collection of busses, trains, and metros, plus a walk in the rain through Chinatown and the moonscape cliffs and waterfalls of Butte Charmant, which was charming, got us back to Montmartre where we had to take some more refreshment in the form of “French Draft 1664” at “St. John’s Bar.” Just in time, it fortified us to make the final ascent of the back stairs below Sacre Coeur.
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Supper consisted of spaghetti, carrots, and prunes with Padre Allesandro and a sacristan from Normandie who slurped his food eloquently. How else would a man convey just how good a meal was if he didn’t slurp? I think my lack of social graces offended him. Georgia and I were entirely too quiet—no slurping—and worse yet, we ate our cheese with our spaghetti instead of using it to cleanse our palates afterward as any real gentleman would have done, and as if that weren’t bad enough, we never even used our cheese plate.
The first Friday prayers in the church were for Priests, Deacons, and Vocations, and for Pope Benedict’s visit to Paris and Lourdes. There were two girls sitting in front of us—they must have been in their early twenties. Mother Superior asked one to do the reading of the day. She tried to demure, but Mother Superior would not take “Non” for an answer. I’m glad she insisted. The girl had such a nice clear voice. I complemented her, and her friend just grinned. The poor girl blushed so brightly her hair turned red!
The organist was marvelous. A large crowd remained behind after the service to listen to the postlude, and gave him a nice ovation when he finished.

Saturday morning, September 6, 2008
Breakfast with Tom from Flanders, Raphael from Mexico and Chicago, Father Allesandro from Ravenna, and us from Lexington—with some of the sisters evesdropping over our shoulder. The topic for the morning was “Language Families, and their relationships, peculiarities, strengths, and weaknesses.” All of them were much more fluent than I. Tom would start out in one language, come to a place where he couldn’t explain what he meant and would switch to another language. Rafael would interrupt in Spanish and I would hang on as best I could and Father Allesandro would throw in comments in Italian and fractured English. English predominated among us all, but there was also French, and Spanish, and Dutch, German, with just a few words in Chinese and Japanese. I think that it must have been a foretaste of heaven but in heaven everyone will be fluent in each other’s language.
After breakfast we said goodbye to Father Allesandro. He seemed genuinely sad to see us go. Kierkegaard was right that one Knight of Faith would always be able to recognize another one, even if they weren’t able to speak deeply with each other. He said that he will pray for us. I told him that we would pray for him, and we would try to visit him in Ravenna one day.
We made the mistake of leaving our suitcases in the hallway between the guesthouse and the basilique while we made one more trip around the interior of Sacre Coeur. When we came back to retrieve them a sister was standing right beside them, furious. “Are these yours? We had 9/11 here too!!” I think she was so angry because she had been so frightened. I was ashamed of myself for being blind. Of course security at the monumental churches could not be taken for granted any longer. How sad. I don’t think I’m fit for this new century.
Our trip on the metro was more difficult this time. We went the wrong way and had to spend another ticket to go back to where we had begun. We arrived four minutes late for our train and had to wait two hours for the next one at 13:38. But you know what? We missed our train IN PARIS FRANCE! We sat in a wonderful café across the street from the Gare de Lyon at the Hotel Terminus and Restaurant and had Saumon avec tagliatelle and marinam sauci. Georgia baptized my lap with a glass of eau gazeuse. It dried eventually.
The trip to Vezelay was spectacular! The train rolled along leisurely through the early fall countryside stopping frequently in the villages of lovely pastel houses topped with red tile roofs.
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We rolled past festivals taking place on village greens. The train blew its horn in cheerful salute. Beautiful green rivers (or were they canals?) with ancient tow-paths now converted to walking paths. Small dogs being taken out for their afternoon constitution. Postage-stamp sized gardens crammed full of greenery, reminiscent of those we saw in Switzerland but with graceful Italian poplars hedging the sides like gigantic green spear points undulating in the breeze. We passed a man working his little garden with a hoe. Who knew that they had weeds in France too?!
Under the bridges we could see homeless encampments with cardboard houses in a quasi-village layout. We were shadowing the Yonne river through the breadbasket of France. There were huge silo complexes and fields plowed and ready for a winter crop. Fields of sycamores next the water planted in row upon row, but pruned to within an inch of their life. They were each about 20-25 feet tall and as big around as one of our huge feral sycamores. I’m sure they were being grown for lumber and the number of behemoths they were able to crowd into a field was remarkable. Every village also had pruned Sycamores on either side of the village streets. They looked like rows of bright green cotton candy on olive and gray toilet paper tubes. But that the streets were shaded and the buildings could be close to the road. Makes sense.
We stopped in Laroche Migennes about noon and got off the train. There was an old iron pedestrian bridge from the station to the village over a picturesque canal. We could see a graceful church spire down the road. The road itself was flanked by flower beds bursting with riotous red geraniums.
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The church was open but the stained glass was mediocre and the sanctuary was obviously being prepped for a wedding. We thought we’d better leave. Just as we started down the stairs the wedding party arrived. The bride was a lovely blond vision in clouds of veiled whipped cream, but feigning boredom. The mother of the bride was beside herself with joy. The father looked like his tie was on too tight. The groom looked to be about 13 years old, and judging by the roaring engines, screeching starts, horn honking and hollering out the windows of his mustang he must have still been driving on his learner’s permit. But there was no doubt he was very very happy.
We headed back toward a super-market we’d passed that had a handful of cars in the parking lot. We bought olives and crackers and cheese and more delicious bread and a bottle of wine (of course) and came out looking for a place to have a picnic. We could hear laughter down by the canal and headed in that direction.
Under the pedestrian bridge there was a small park alongside the canal’s tow-path. A group of four or five men was playing bocce ball (boules) and we sat on our suitcases to picnic.
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A cute little terrier came over to make friends and try to mooch a little something. The men laughed and motioned for me to come join their game. To my everlasting shame I must confess that I waved them off with my broken French. I swear, with God as my witness, that I will never, ever, refuse an invitation to join people having a good time again—whether or not I can speak their language. Never. Ever.
After lunch we crossed back over the bridge to wait for our train.
We arrived in Vezelay Sermizilles near sunset to discover that the cathedral was at the top of a nearby mountain. We didn’t have reservations and the conductor warned us we’d have to ask the stationmaster to call a cab.
As we passed through one of the little towns on the way we saw the young train engineer leaning out his window talking to a young matronly woman on the platform—obviously his wife. Their kiss goodbye was so light, but wonderful to see.
In Vezelay Sermizelle he leaned out the window again and said something to the station master—telling him we’d need a taxi. He had no English but called a cab for us. The cabby had no English either but my broken French let me know he thought “no reservations” could be a problem. He raced us to the Cathedral and the nearby guesthouses were all either full of pilgrims or closed. (The brass scallop shells embedded in the pavement indicated that this is one of the starts to the Camino de Santiago de Compostella).
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The cabby got out and peered through windows and looked worried for us and motioned for us to get back in the cab. He took us back down from the heights to the lower part of the village and showed us the “expensive,” “less expensive,” and “economy” hotels. Then he shook our hands goodbye and wished us well. He was a good man. Maybe someday we will begin our Camino here in Vezelay.
The lady innkeeper staffing the bar at the economy hotel told us there was no room. “C’est dommage,” I exclaimed. “That’s terrible.” She smiled at my histrionics and pointed next door. “Casimir” had one room in the basement opening onto a lovely enclosed garden with a table and chairs overlooking the most picturesque of green valleys. We pretty much had the view and the garden to ourselves. What a glorious way to not have reservations.
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We dropped our suitcase off in the room and took off up the mountain to the Cathedral as the sun settled closer and closer to the horizon. We arrived just in time for evening prayers. It is a co-ed Cistercian order. They too sing in harmony accompanied by a dulcimer. As lovely as the sisters were at Sacre Coeur the 4-part harmony at Vezelay was ravishing. The Cathedral is not as large but it is a marvelous sound chamber and the lack of colored stained glass (it is Cistercian after all) meant that the setting sun lit up the interior with a warm glow.
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I really could see myself living out my life in a community like that. But oh, how I would have missed all the children who have tumbled and rough-housed through my life.
In 1946 Vezelay was the site of a peace conference whereat POWs from 14 countries sent representatives. Each contingent was lead in procession by a large simple wooden cross. Poland, Holland, France, England, United States, and on and on. The monastery recognized that there was one country that should not be left out. It too had suffered. Germany. They too, were asked to bring a cross. That moves me. It is a simple recognition of the fact of our human existence. We are all sinners, and our wounds as sinners are self-inflicted. But whether or not our wounds are self-inflicted, we are nevertheless wounded—in need of healing.
After vespers we walked all around the top of the mountain photographing everything: the stone houses and barns, the hollyhocks (and we put some seeds in a little envelope), the valley below, a cemetery, and the brass scallop shell buried in the pavement outside the Cathedral. Click, click, click until it just got too dark to see any more.
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When the sun set the temperature plummeted and we headed back down towards the hotel. Little Vezelay doesn’t have a lot of streetlights and the sun always sets last on the tops of mountains. So when it was dark on top of the mountain we needed seeing-eye dogs and canes down at the bottom. Lucky that our landlady left a candle burning in the window.
The bed was large and comfortable. The TV was large and incomprehensible. Talking Heads discussing Obama vs John McCain in French on “Nuit de McCain,” the night John McCain was to give his acceptance speech. I flipped the channel.
And fell asleep trying to decipher Wallace and Grommet in French.

(to be continued)
 
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Georgia & Zig

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Episode 3 - Vezelay and Rouen

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It looked like it was going to be a good day. Gray sky but no rain and cool, but not cold. Georgia was able to get a couple loads of clothes washed, and because we travel so light, a couple loads was virtually all the clothes we had—except what we were wearing of course.
We walked slowly up to the Cathedral photographing all the glorious stone houses, walls and barns that we hadn’t been able to see for the dark last night.
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The singing at lauds was just as glorious as the singing had been for vespers. Four-part harmony accompanied by the dulcimer. The men knelt on the left. The women on the right. Both sexes wore long flowing white open robes. They resembled capes that reached all the way to the floor. The women had wrapped their hair with long white headscarves as well. Most everyone used a small kneeler that looked like a footrest. But it was designed so that you could kneel then place this little “seat” over top of your legs and sit back on it. It would be a much more comfortable way to kneel for long periods of time, and the Fraternity of Jerusalem spends many hours a day in prayer. Sometimes I would see some of the brothers and sisters also using the kneeler as a prayer rail. They would kneel and then lean forward to rest their heads on their hands on the kneeler. It looked so very peaceful.
Since this was one of the starting points for the Camino there were a lot of pilgrims—and people who obviously just wanted to spend some time in a place wholly dedicated to prayer. There was a very tall, slender Frenchman sitting next to me. He must have been about 55. He sang bass. No, that doesn’t really describe him very well. He wore a gabardine suit. Blue-black with tiny little light-blue pinstripes. The suit was threadbare—frayed cuffs and shiny spots at the elbows and knees. His shirt collar was unbuttoned, but his tie was still tied. Black tie. He sang BASS! It’s not that he was loud. He wasn’t. He knew how to sing in a situation like this, but he sang an octave below the normal bass note—the pew vibrated. The stones vibrated. His voice. It was like sitting next to an organ pipe.
After the hours we had Mass. The church was mostly full—which surprised me greatly since we were not near any large city or tourist spot. In front of me I saw a group of 4 or 5 Japanese tourists. They realized they shouldn’t be taking pictures during Mass, but they were certainly trying to memorize all their surroundings. They were looking around at everything and whispering and making notes. I wondered what they would do at Communion. They got up, shuffled forward with the rest of us and stopped in front of the sister. “Corps du Christ.” The girl right in front of me took the body of Christ but had no idea what it was or what she should do with it. As she made her way back to the pew she studied it curiously and noticed me watching her. She gave me a quizzical look as if to say, “What should I do with this?” I motioned for her to put it in her mouth and eat it. She did and motioned for all the others in her party to do the same. Wonder what they thought of it all.
After Mass we stood for a while and listened to the “Gatinais Brass-Band” giving a public concert on the steps of the Cathedral. Their uniforms consisted of black slacks and bright red windbreakers. Very rousing.
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Then we walked all around the mountaintop taking even more photographs. Visited a cemetery and had to photograph the funerary art: porcelain flower arrangements. I have to admit they looked much better than the typical plastic flowers I see in the States—and seemed more respectful somehow. The pink porcelain roses were really quite lovely. I was also fascinated by the lichen-covered tombstones. The winters must be pretty harsh there, as many of the stones were split and crumbling—I assume from the ice. It left me with a strange sensation to see a stone basically destroyed by the cold with only the words “eternal remembrance,” still legible.
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Back at the Cathedral we saw the reliquary for Mary Magdalene and puzzled out the story in French on how it made its way here after one of the Crusades. The Church has always felt the loss of the sacred places in the Holy Land keenly. Maybe there is some truth to the idea that James was the head of the Jerusalem (Semitic) Church and Paul was the head of the Gentile church. The Gentile church, in Rome, became the locus of Christianity and the Semitic church withered away—to be completely swamped under Islam in the 7th century. And the western church trying to take back the Holy Land by conquest was actually an admission that “Roman” Christianity had ceased to be “native” to Palestine, Syria, Arabia, Lebanon. It became identified with the “Crusaders,” who were so ignorant of their own heritage that they attacked and killed the Christians of the Holy Land as well as the Moslem “infidels.” I wonder what the world would now look like if Paul had not seen the universality of Jesus’ message. I guess Christianity would be a sect of Judaism, or a footnote in religious history—certainly not a world religion.
We saw a permanent deacon who had read the gospels at Mass. I tried to introduce myself to him. He couldn’t understand a thing I was saying (or trying to say). He said “Je suis desolaté.” I was desolate too though he let me have my picture taken with him.
We headed to supper at a restaurant sporting 3 stars. The chef was “Antoine Lopez” and he proudly displayed a certificate on the wall from the “Confrerie de Gastronomique de la Marmite d’Or.” It’s really hard to know when the French have their tongue planted firmly in their cheek. The diploma also sported a rather crude drawing of Francois Rabelais—not noted for being terribly serious. So I don’t honestly know if we should care that the Gastronomic Fraternity of the Golden Pot confers its “diploma of honor” on Monsieur Lopez or not.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say—or in this case, in the chicken and fish. Georgia had the chicken and I had the fish. Both were excellent! We kept passing our plates back and forth. But then, we also had an excellent bottle of local wine and everyone knows that “In Vino, Veritas.” Which means, “With wine, everything tastes wonderful.”
For the French, it was way too early for supper, but they must be used to boorish Americans. No one was unkind but the place was pretty empty when we arrived and pretty full when we stumbled out.
Back to our Basement snuggery, and off to sleep.

Monday, September 8, 2008
Our lady innkeeper called a taxi for us in the morning. While we waited we enjoyed an automobile tour that was passing through. There were perfectly restored touring cars from the 1920s and 1930s. There was an elegant white “Talbot,” a European car I was not familiar with. Several other, very exotic, and by me unrecognized cars. I wish Jason could have seen them. He would have loved my personal favorite, a bright red 1941 Bugatti sports car.
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The Taxi rushed us back to the train station through the lush green fields and forests, but not to catch a train. We caught a bus that took us to the train at Chatolet. We’d hoped to catch a train to Bourget to see the Cathedral. It was only about 45 km away but there was no train. We would have to go up to Paris then back down. No bus there either. We didn’t have tickets for the train but there was a kind lady who looked out for us with the conductor. The conductor turned out to be the wife we saw kissed so sweetly from the train on the trip to Vezelay. I told her to give my regards to her husband and left her with a card. We got half-price “senior” tickets!
There was an octogenarian lady sitting across from us eating her lunch. I know it is not polite to stare but I couldn’t help it. She was dressed so elegantly. Expensive clothes—probably 20 years out of date, but exquisitely tailored to fit her petite frame. Her skin was like fine parchment, and her white hair was pulled back in a tight bun. But what made her so very interesting to watch was the way she was eating. She opened her purse and removed a tiny sandwich wrapped in a white paper napkin. The sandwich was about the size of a deck of cards. I think it was made out of some sort of paté on thinly sliced wheat bread with a piece of lettuce cut precisely to fit the sandwich. She unwrapped only as much sandwich as she was prepared to bite, and each bite was so delicate it must have taken her forty-five minutes to finish. But each tiny bite was exquisite. She enjoyed her little sandwich more than I have enjoyed a multi-course meal at a fine restaurant. You could see her savoring each flavor and texture. The world is absolutely brimming with beauty for those able to see and taste it. And how those grateful people do enjoy it.
In Paris we needed tickets for Rouen and that train left from a different station from the one where we arrived. No sweat! Our guardian-angel-lady helped us again. She showed us which ticket office we wanted and where the metro stop was. Seriously. This being our third European trip we were able to relax and trust that people would help us when we needed it. And they did. What a difference from our first white-knuckled approach to travel.
Looking out the windows of our train the countryside of France looks more “wild” than does Italy. Italy looks like a manicured garden to me. France, for many centuries, was the wild west of Europe. It still has that feel, with unkempt woods interspersed with the alleys of tightly pruned sycamores. Our train zig-zagged through the forests, past tiny villages, back and forth over the Seine, which snaked its way around the low hills toward the sea. The train station in Rouen has lovely impressioniste murals on the wall celebrating Monet, their favorite son. His painting of the Rouen Cathedral is especially fine.
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Outside the station it was spitting rain at us from time to time. But, you know what? It was French rain! And we didn’t mind walking in it. The information office was right beside the Cathedral and we booked a room for 49 euros a night. It wasn’t the most pleasant-smelling room we’ve stayed at, and you didn’t want to walk on the bathroom floor in your bare feet. But the sheets were clean and right out our window there were interesting street noises. It was a block and a half from the Cathedral.
That first day we walked our feet flat, and sampled food everywhere. The French pastries are amazing! If only they could discover how to make real Gelato. We made a late night of it sitting in an Irish Pub with rows and rows of tables under dripping canopies. It was fun listening to the polyglot of conversations. Some of them were actually sober.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The room came with a nice petit dejeuner. We had coffee, cereal, bread, jam, cheese, yogurt, and orange juice. We went to Mass at the Cathedral in the apse chapel behind the altar. It was celebrated by an elderly priest with a very strong voice. About 90% of the congregation were old women. The homily was about choosing the disciples. A night spent in prayer—presumably to decide who to choose. Why did Jesus have to spend a night deciding such a thing? And then, why did he choose Judas? I listened, of course, but my French wasn’t up to understanding the answer—if he had one. I don’t know that I could propose an answer. It’s hard to think of Jesus being indecisive. Hard to think that he might have been weighing alternatives. I think of the 12 as having been selected from all eternity. Would things have been different if He had passed on Judas?
After Mass we walked around studying the stained glass. The Cathedral took 7 bombs in a direct hit in 1944. What a catastrophe. In 1956 they worked with fragments of the ancient windows to rebuild what they could. Most are pastiches of old glass worked into new designs. The old glass dates from the 12th through the 15th century but it would be impossible to recreate exactly what was there before. Things are truly lost when evil is on the rampage.

St Oest Abbey is closed for 14 month to be renovated. All the churches in Rouen are made from a rich warm limestone stained black as pitch by years of air pollution. They are having to redo much of the stonework when they clean the black off. We saw many ancient buildings being cleaned. It will be glorious when they are all refurbished. We walked and walked and walked some more. We saw sunset on the quai of the River Seine. There were diving ducks fighting and splashing in red water over who would get to eat a little black eel.
We ate supper at “Flunch,” a sort-of French Morrison’s cafeteria where you self-service the veggies and bread you want and they serve you the entreé. No eel for us. Then off to bed with visions of Giverny tomorrow dancing in our heads.

(to be continued)
 
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Georgia & Zig

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Episode 4 - Rouen, Giverny, Vernon and Honfleur

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Before leaving for Giverny we decided to visit the Museum of Beaux Arts. The building was in a very pretty small city garden with a tumbling waterfall and swans. There were nice gravel walkways.
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The Museum and grounds only took up one city block, but there were benches everywhere and the respite from the traffic noise was very welcome. On the way over we passed a young man, dressed like a college student, throwing up in the bushes. Another reminder that we were in France, and also in a college town.
We saw a line, and like tourists everywhere we decided that we probably needed to be in it; asked some questions of the other people in line. They all seemed to have children in tow. Sure enough, we were in the wrong line. This one was for some sort of after-school program at the museum.
Once in the right line we made it into the museum easily. They had some wonderful Monet’s: “Fete,” and “St. Denis,” and “Rouen Catedrale.” And some lovely stained glass from the 1860s.
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To get to Giverny, we had to take a train to Vernon. Once there we needed to catch a bus. Piece of cake! Monet’s house and gardens were everything you could hope they would be. The kitchen was all in yellow with lovely blue Delft plates. Every room of the house was full of Japanese prints from the 16th through the 18th century. And there were also some “American Impressionists.” Their garden paintings were evidently an homage to Monet, but looked positively anal-retentive compared to Monet’s loose style—so full of life. But photographs were not permitted in the house—and picnics were not permitted in the gardens.
The house gardens were a riot of color, and the famous water garden was by a wilderness of bushes, water lilies, weeping willows, and bamboo. It was all too much to take in. But we were able to find a bench and simply sit and experience it all.
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Even with the many tourists it didn’t feel crowded. Except for the famous half-circle bridge that is. It was hard to get a picture of Georgia there by herself. As I sat and relaxed, one poor woman told me she was having a terrible time trying to take it all in because of jet lag. I think that is a common problem for people—especially those on a 10-day or two-week holiday.
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We may not have been able to have an official picnic, but there was a lovely little garden full of fruit-trees and hazel nuts. They were just lying on the ground and we were hungry so we did what the squirrels do, and had an unofficial picnic of fruit and nuts.
Bus back to Vernon. Persuaded the bus driver to let us off in the small business area where we saw a church with amazing stained glass, Notre Dame de Vernon. I think the original windows were probably destroyed in World War II. The new studio was Ateliers Lorin from Chartre. The artists were G. Hermet and M. Juteau. They were installed between 1990 and 1994. The designs were like multicolored flames licking up but in wonderful complementary colors: pastel greens and blues and yellows, or earth tones with burgundy brown. One window kept the original glass in the tracery above the new design. The colors complemented each other.
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I love them all. For me they are special because they show what can be done by sensitive artists working in conjunction with the original designs but utilizing contemporary religious sensibilities. Each generation deserves the opportunity to express their own religious aspirations. A church is a living institution not a museum.
Then we found a small café where we had cassolette of potatoes with bacon and chervil, cheese and a carafe of Rose’.
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An old man with a walking cane came slowly by and offered us a good evening and took pity on my terrible French. He asked where we were from and I told him we were from America and he got very animated. “The Americans were here in Vernon for 4 years during and after the war. I thank them and I thank you!” His appreciation was so sincere it brought tears to our eyes.
We got lost trying to walk back to the train station and met a French couple walking on the sidewalk. We asked for directions and they tried to explain but we couldn’t understand all the instructions and thanked them anyway. We continued our walking until we were stopped by a car that pulled up beside us. It was the French couple and they were motioning for us to get in their car. “A la gare!” Then they took us the rest of the way, since we had been walking in the wrong direction! There are wonderful people everywhere!

Thursday September 11, 2008,
Checked out of the Arcades Hotel to find Mass. Found pastry and coffee instead and the train to Le Havre. Passed gently rolling hills with woods and fields of black and white cows, little villages of red-tiled roofs, houses in a simple federal style.
Le Havre is very large and heavily industrial but clean. (at least at the train station) The bus station was hard to find because it was built into the train station! We weren’t looking that close. There was interesting graffiti labeled “The end of art school” or “The real art school.”
The bus to Honfleur only took about 20 minutes. The tourist office found us a terrific hotel, Hotel Dauphin, right on St Catherine’s square by the church and bell tower. At the windows were boxes of red begonias. This was a medieval building completely refurbished but still with some floors leaning toward Fisher’s fence.
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The stained glass in St Catherine’s was lovely. I especially liked the traditional design.
There was some fine painted glass and pictures of St Therese of Liseaux in her coffin. The church was a low wooden structure with a separate bell tower with knee braces to support the weight of the bells. They were afraid that they would be too heavy for the church since it wasn’t made of stone.
The stained glass at St Leonard’s (a deacon) was very fine and from a famous studio but badly weathered with broken leads and panes falling out. But the painting that still survived was some of the best brush work I’ve seen. Too bad it was under-fired.
Lunch was an assortment of “gifts of the sea.” Oysters, shrimp, and sea snails, a carafe of white wine and coffee. We had take-away kabob for supper and I liked it better at ¼ the price. Went to Mass at St Leonard’s. The priest had a beautiful tenor voice. We sang in parts and he complimented the congregation for sounding so good after the service.
Walked along the sea wall all the way to the beach. There was a beautiful park and lake along the walk and the hillside inland was lovely too.
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Friday, September 12, 2008
Tried to find early Mass but couldn’t so we went to the patisserie for sweet rolls and I asked if she had take-away coffee. She did and asked if we wanted sugar. I said we did (all in French) so she asked how many. I said “deux (two)” and she gave us 2. I asked for more (encore) and she told me that was quatre, not deux. Very funny.
It was threatening rain but we walked uphill anyway and stopped at a little café just as it started to rain harder. We tried to sit outside with another couple who took our photo but the rain was blowing under the awning and we had to go inside. The proprietor had some great coffee signs behind the bar and I took his photo.
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He had some of Obama, Hillary and “Chelsey’s Mom” campaign buttons.
We walked toward the sea and came to a road leading to Trouville. There was a narrow sidewalk so we followed it as far as we could up the slope of a good sized mountain and then back down. Along the way was a very ritzy restaurant called Ferme de St. Sinson with beautiful grounds and view of the water. There were apple trees with ripe fruit on the ground. Obviously they weren’t harvesting. We ate a couple of the delicious apples and looked out toward the beach where we could see the beautiful park we’d skirted the night before along the walkway but couldn’t see any way down to it from where we were. There was also a beautiful thatched roof cottage on the grounds.
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We started back toward town and saw a road to the Chappelle de Grace. We decided to follow it. We were now going UP the mountain whose slope we’d skirted. Up, Up! Two women walking down assured us we were going the right way and that the church was open. Whew! There was a stunning view and beautiful stained glass. The church was dedicated to those lost at sea and many stone plaques (about 8”x 8”) affixed to the walls in memory or in thanksgiving to St Marie in gratitude for graces. There were many model ships hanging from the ceiling as well.
Later we walked along the quay through the long park and all the way to the beach. Then walked around town and left a note at Vitreaux Atelier saying we were staying at Hotel Dauphin. Later that day we got a call that he was going to his shop if we’d like to meet him. We had a nice conversation about glass availability, technique and using enamels. He fires everything at the same temperature (except silver stain). He loves doing skylights and does his own simple welding. He also gave me the address of his Paris supplier. I will try to stop there.
We walked some more and saw houses with names on them. Marie Bodin, Eric Satie and Pierre Jongkind.
We took a boat ride to Normandie Bridge (50 minutes) in a fast little boat shaped like a tug boat. The manly men all gathered on the bow to see where we were going. The trip through the lock was interesting. The sea side of the lock was 10 feet lower than the “basin” side (low tide). We shared the lock with another tour boat, a sailboat and a little speed boat. Once in the main channel we passed the other tour boat in a rush and when we crossed their wake with so many manly men in the bow, huge waves splashed up over the prow and soaked them. We were sharing the boat with a large crowd of dutch tourists and it was their friends and husbands who got the bath. Hilarious! We went under the bridge at full speed, made a tight turn and caught our own wake. They got soaked even more!
The bridge is a stunning suspension bridge with an enormous span.
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Back in town we had ice cream in waffle cones. Yumm!
We saw the priest from St Leonard’s and he said he had a “diacon” too. They were going to Paris for Pope Benedict’s Mass and leaving at some ungodly hour of the morning. 35 or 40 people. Excellent.
After sunset we ate our take-away kabob and frites in the room and fell asleep.
 
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Georgia & Zig

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Episode 5 - Amien and Reims

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

We’re getting good at buying ticket and navigating the train and bus system. We caught the bus to Le Havre and bought train tickets to Rouen and tickets from Rouen to Amien without having to go back through Paris.
The train ride to Rouen was through the gently rolling farmland filled with corn and dairy cows. (Honfleur was filled with cow souvenirs as well.) This is obviously one of the dairy centers of France.
We arrived in Amien. It is a much larger city than we expected. Seems to be about the size of Cincinnati or Louisville. Honfleur was the size of Athens, Georgia, or even Watkinsville. But the cities are much more compressed with 2 or 3 strong shops with living areas above and the appearance of 7 – 8 story apartments as well.
The walk from the train station to the tourist office beside the cathedral was very bumpy because we chose streets that were made solely of cobblestones, even the sidewalks. Pulling the roller bags was tough.
At the tourist office we learned that there is a medieval festival in town and all the rooms in the 1 and 2 star hotels are gone. The girl at the office said we will need to stay in a 3 star hotel tonight. Then we can move to a 2 star hotel on Sunday. The 3 star is near the old town where the festival is and the 2 star is near the train station for when we leave on Sunday. Perfect.
We needed to wait an hour before we could check in, so we toured the Cathedral leisurely. The glass has been about destroyed over the centuries and there are pastiches with shards just leaded together. But the church itself is stunning with a ceiling so high you can’t take it all in. It’s not the kind of building an architect could work on while doing other things. This must have taken a lifetime effort for many people and their children and their children’s children.
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But it is so dirty! Years of dust and grime. They are cleaning the exterior (as in Rouen) and the stone is glorious where cleaned.
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But the interior needs cleaning too, just to the level of simple dusting! We check the Mass times and head to our hotel for check in.
Ugh! The room is styled in “modern,” which means cheap construction interior, orange and green walls and pieces of furniture selected for shape instead of function. But it has a large screen TV and a king-sized bed so that makes it 3-star. We drop off the bags and head for the medieval festival.
It is glorious but it is raining now, varying between periods of just a misting rain to a steady rain, but that doesn’t seem to bother people. The fair is crowded though, not uncomfortably so, because the park is enormous.
Amien calls itself the Venice of the North and it’s easy to see why. There are canals everywhere. The river Somme meanders through and the old town is on an island in the river. The town is bisected and bisected and bisected again and again by canals so every house (I guess) could have water access. The size of the canals don’t come close to matching those in Venice, of course, but they were working with the Mediterranean ocean instead of a river. But you just work with what you’ve got instead of doing nothing.
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There were booths lining the long entrance walkway with occasional strolling minstrels and jugglers. And a Bolivian music troupe playing traditional pan pipes and drums. They played traditional medieval works like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” and the theme from Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet. I swear we’ve heard this same troup somewhere else – in Bloomington, Indiana or Lexington, Kentucky, at another fair.
We ate and drank our way up and down the main drag. Oh the pastries! Oh the pomme frites! Oh the beer kegs! Oh the champagne! Oh the croque monsieur!
We saw a tapestry booth showing how medieval tapestries are made. We saw huge ovens being used to bake loaves of bread 18” in diameter. We saw a kids’ Merry Go Round filled with squealing kids spinning around to the tune of “We will, we will, Rock you!”
There were knife makers, calligraphers, candy makers and green grocers.
After eating every 6 feet, we waddled across a pedestrian bridge over one of the canals (with attendants stationed at each end to keep the bridge from being overloaded). And they had screens built up to keep crowds from gathering at the crest to sightsee. We were definitely at the bridge’s weight limit. Across the bridge we were in a much larger field made out to be a medieval camp, complete with beggars, pilgrims, peasants and royalty preparing for a pageant.
On a bench at the edge of the camp there appeared to be a sleeping or dead man with strange looking skin which children were encouraged to touch. Then he would come to life and growl. Why do grownups like to see kids wet their pants?
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So sad it was raining. There was a stage with Irish Frenchmen or French Irishmen singing Celtic ballads with a terrible accent. Like Maurice O’Chevalier; and they went on and on while the crowds ringed the area roped off for the pageant. An American crowd probably wouldn’t have been so patient, but everyone waited peacefully in the misting rain. I kept thinking each song was surely the last, but they had an extensive repertoire and were not going to be hurried.
The low pressure area causing the rain also meant that the wood smoke wouldn’t rise so we passed the time picking ashes off each other.
Finally the pageant began. There was a fire breather drinking from a bottle of kerosene, a girl baton twirler twirling flaming balls on the end of a chain, and royalty taking their places under the canopy to view the proceedings. Horses were put through a dressage course including sitting on the ground and rearing up but resting their hooves on the shoulders of their handler.
Then knights were soliciting “favors” from ladies in the crowd. Some got long scarves, others got a few flowers and one even got a man’s pocket handkerchief tied to the end of their lances. Then they were shooting arrows from galloping horseback, chopping an apple off a stick with a sword, hitting a hand held shield with a hatchet and generally doing things that suggest there are no liability laws in France.
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But now it was raining pretty steadily and water was dripping off an umbrella onto the kids and people around us so we wandered away from the combat before a clear victor was determined. Sir Galahad was pretty obviously a girl and her horse was afraid of her chain mail and the noise, and spooked by the crowds so she was at an extreme disadvantage, while Sir Mordred dressed all in black with gold piping was the obvious favorite even though he was having a bad day. His arrow missed the target by a good 3 feet and he chopped the stick instead of the apple.
We decided to take a nap before the fireworks show and we woke up in a green and orange haze the next morning.

Sunday, September 14th, 2008
We got up early to look for coffee before Mass but nothing was open before 9:00 a.m. and we had to change hotels, so we checked out of Mercure with its orange and green “three-star” modernity and looked for St Louis with its “two-star” charm at half the price. It was a trade I was glad to make even if the TV was half the size and had twin beds. They were still very comfortable and the linen was freshly washed and pressed – almost crisp. I loved it.
We left our bags for them to carry up while we hurried to Mass.
We had to go in at a side entrance for Mass and sit in the “stalls” where the monks used to sit. Altogether there were about 100 of us at a Sunday Mass. Maybe the later Mass (10:30) would be better attended but this one was very sad. The priest must have been about 80 and seemed to have shrunk in his vestments. The real presider was an 80 year old woman who lead the songs in a weak gravely soprano while waving her arms vaguely in no particular rhythm, rather like the motions of an exhausted swimmer half heartedly treading water when she knows she’s not going to be able to stay afloat much longer.
The reading was from Numbers about lifting the snake in the desert to save the people from snake bite. The Letter to the Philippians (Christus Factus) spoke of Christ Jesus emptying himself to die on a cross and the Gospel was from John: “For God so loved the world…” This Sunday was the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross.
I could understand very little of what the priest said. His voice was not strong. But this was the day Pope Benedict was to be in Paris celebrating Mass outside Notre Dame before traveling to Lourdes. The contrast between the excitement we saw on TV and the exhaustion I sensed here was startling. But I could feel the enormity of the task they were faced with. It would require a staff of several hundred to properly care for a building and a parish like this. The human needs would dwarf the domestic needs and they really would stagger young men and women; here you had two people in their dotage trying to cope.
The only young vigorous people I saw were African and only a small handful (maybe 5 or 6) white Europeans. And yet, when we toured the building the day before in the rain, hundreds of people were inside admiring the beauty (and the dust) and streaming in and out. Where were they now?
“If I be lifted up…” Everyone, it seems, is naturally curious about these magnificent buildings, how and why they were built. The “why” I suspect is even more interesting to people than “how.” For the most part I think they attribute the effort to superstition – much like the superstition we suppose to have led the ancients to build Greek and Roman temples, superstition we think we have outgrown in the Western industrialized world.
And yet, I saw several people weeping at the end of the service. Something touched them and everyone who was there was there. And in the church’s weakness, like Jesus’ weakness somehow it will be its strongest.
As I see it, the seeds of the destruction of “Christian” Europe were sown by its strengths. The colonization of foreign countries led to a high standard of living, low birth rate, great wealth and a consequent need for imported labor from the colonies with their different religions and customs. But the evangelizing in these foreign hands paradoxically has led to the renewal and rebirth of the church as well.
How I would love to hear Amien ring with the songs and voices of joy from Africa echoing and re-echoing in the jubilant cries of the prisoners freed, the hungry fed, the naked clothed the mournful comforted and the oppressed liberated. And God willing it will come as the weakness of the church becomes its strength just as its strength led to its current weakness. These were my thoughts as I sat there listening to the quavering voices in the deepening gloom of leaden skies.
But then, in fact, outside the sky was clearing and it promised to be an absolutely beautiful day. As we walked around we saw graffiti decrying the modern motto “Acheter.” The ironic adage “To buy” is so similar to the Pope’s warning about the dangers of materialism. I just know the church has the good news for the modern world as well as the ancient. We stopped for coffee at a patisserie next to an open flower shop before collapsing. The cups of coffee were large and delicious. Café crème seems to be espresso with steamed cream in it with sugar. It is really good!
Then we went to the medieval fair again which we expected to be over, but was now in full gear with even more people because of the good weather, though really not that many people were kept away by the rain. We had all the same foods again with more local champagne.
I had a great time trying to speak French which often seemed to occasion laughs and startled looks from the locals. I bought some calligraphy pens to try to use with stained glass.
We walked all over the park looking at all the flowers, canals, people, dogs and children.
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Though very footsore we started off toward the zoo but only could make it as far as the “plant garden” where they had “aromatique,” “toxique,” and edible plants on display. Georgia had to sample several of the cherry tomatoes that were going to waste. We saw beautiful squash, pumpkins, over-ripe cucumbers, apples and oranges just there! I’m not sure they could have avoided vandalization in the U.S. But we had the place to ourselves and my only vandalization was to surreptitiously water one of the bushes.
We were pooped and tried to rent an electric assisted bicycle (called a Velo) from a self service stand. You use your credit card to detach a bicycle and then again to return it. You are charged depending on how long you have it. The first 30 minutes were free. It would have been perfect for our tired feet but you had to have a credit card with a chip in it.
Back at the room we rested, then headed for Jules Verne’s house which cost too much to visit, then to the Picardie Museum of Art which had one floor closed off for renovation (so we couldn’t see the El Greco), but had interesting archeology and some ancient glass and 11-12 stained glass windows but had them exhibited badly. You could hardly see them since the light was so weak. There was an especially fine collection of 18th and 19th century statues. Lots of “romantique” nudes.
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After the museum we went back to the park where the festival was still going on. We tried some potatoes and sausage, but the potatoes tasted burned. Sad. We sat on a park bench and tried to talk with a couple on an adjoining bench. She wanted to talk with us; I struggled manfully but my skills were not up to the task. We went back to the hotel to rest before the laser light show at the Cathedral at 21:45.
French TV isn’t any easier to understand and we didn’t have cable at this hotel so no BBC World. Sounds like there’s been some real damage to Texas from Hurricane Ike.
The light show was like the laser show at Stone Mountain, Georgia, but more educational – talking about the importance of color for the medievals who painted all the statuary on the façade. There were some painted figures still inside surrounding the stalls, but the colors were very faded.
The show was just in French, then shown again in English. Very impressive and quite a large crowd for a chilly night.
We stopped for a hamburger at “Quick.” A French McDonald’s. Micky D’s has nothing to fear. They seemed to do everything wrong and “Quick” may be an aspiration but certainly not a current reality. The drinks w/o ice are too flimsy for toting in bags- the tops pop off and soak the food. They prepare your order after you order instead of having food ready. They argue with dissatisfied customers. They seem to screw up orders routinely. The burgers were very sloppily made and inconsistent in the amount of lettuce, tomato, sauce, etc. All in all they have to have a full time security person there to escort irate customers outside. They do slow food really well but not fast food. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The “Flunch Cafeteria” we ate at seemed a better model for French sensibilities where you buy an entree and pick it up at one line but get our coffee, dessert, vegetables, etc at other ones.

Monday, September 15th, 2008
We got up early for our train @ 11:07 and had coffee at a nice outdoor table near the station with pastry from a patisserie across the street. Georgia suggested trying the glass artist shop before catching the train. I’m really glad we did. Monsieur Claude Barre (https://www.vitrauxdart-claudebarre.fr) was there but readying his truck for a trip somewhere. His English was even worse than my French but he found a young woman who spoke some English to show us around. He has amassed a true museum of glass from the 11th to the 19th century and early 20th century glass. Really remarkable and we got a private tour through three floors of work. Roques Azilio studied glass out in Paris and then came to work for Monsieur Barre who is obviously a master craftsman with 8 employees in 2 studios – Amien and Lille. They all wear white lab coats. I love it! Looked like a clinic. I left cards and took lots of photographs.
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The train to Reims went through more flat farm land and little farm villages strung like pearls along the track. The conductor had fun trying to correct our pronunciation of Reims. Sounds like HARease.
In Reims we thought we had to find a bus to go to the tourist office, which we could have actually walked to in 10 minutes. We stood at the wrong bus stop for awhile until a policewoman showed us where the right one was. We got on the bus going near where we wanted to go but missed our stop and ended up getting an impromptu tour of the suburbs. The driver thought it funny and showed us where to get off on our return. Our 10 minute walk turned into a 45 minute ride.
The city is cleaner than most but the church still shows quite a lot of damage dating from WWI in 1914-1918. It’s hard for us to appreciate what it must feel like to be heavily bombed and fought over, or have so much blood soaked into your soil as the French do. It changes you. The attitudes of the South USA after the Civil War are similar I suppose, but much farther removed now than for the French, for whom the cultural memories are still fresh. There is still a touchiness superimposed on a more basic kindness that makes it hard to deal with them if you are thin-skinned too. We heard many loud arguments between shopkeepers and patrons who felt they were not receiving the respect they were due and my poor French led to more than one shopkeeper becoming exasperated until they realized my using the wrong words was not disrespect, but ignorance.
This whole thing about language is so complex and obviously hard to talk about. A person becomes an expert in something by becoming truly proficient in the language and specialized terms in a field. But this specialization is laid on top of a more basic language shared by all the people in a culture. But there is also a culture formed by a specialite that allows one stained glass artist to “understand” another, etc.
But just as there is a common language within a culture to allow mutual converse there needs to be a common language for humanity. Leibnitz thought mathematics could be this language and to a certain extent he was right, but it leads to a society of technocrats intent on learning more and more about what can be made or can be done. Science has no conscience and no way to arbitrate what ought to be done. It’s a version of “not knowing where to put your easel” again. In the Western World, at least, it was Christianity that provided this necessary common language and moderated humanity’s rather ingrained tendency to follow the Golden Rule: “The one with all the gold makes all the Rules.”
Reims, for instance was where the kings of France were crowned, beginning with Clovis, baptized by St Remi. Joan of Arc brought Charles VII here to be crowned against his will. It was here that the Holy Ampoule was kept. It is a glass vial containing chrism oil used for anointing Kings from Louis VII in 1131 to the coronation of Louis XVI in 1774.
The real shame is how the church of the 1700s became so enamored with the trappings of political power that the peasants identified the church with the government which was oppressing them, and overthrowing one meant the necessity of overthrowing another. I’m afraid there is a lesson there for us.
We finally found the tourist info office and the girl called 4 or 5 places to find us just the right room at the Hotel Cecyl. Another 2-star and very clean and comfortable. She first wanted to put us in the Holiday Inn, but we just had to have more “French” than that.
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It was an easy walk through a great pedestrian area and our room was on the 2nd floor (3rd in the USA.) But they had a lift. (I love French lifts – like Italian ones they let you get close to your traveling companion.)
Then we went to the Cathedral where I could see mostly non-descript glass installed after the general destruction.
But there was one interesting window visible through the door opening in the altar. When we got back there it we saw that it was a Marc Chagall. Who knew?? A stunning window! It was as bright and chock-full of symbolism of the finest kind. The Christian symbolism that spoke cross-culturally in the 1st century and still speaks today wherever it is heard.
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There is Mass tonight in this very chapel. I could hardly wait.
The Mass was so very different from the one at Amien. This little chapel had only about 25 chairs and the priest was easily as old as the one in Amien but the “feel” was completely different. All the chairs were filled with all ages and colors and a few people stood outside the chapel. As the church darkened and quieted (because tourists were excluded) it felt just like a secret band gathered in the catacombs surrounded by our arcane symbols that man so much. The bleeding lamb, a man hung on a cross, a rooster crowing, a field of wheat and a hillside full of grape vines.
The priest’s voice was strong and his ritual matter of fact and assured. It was very comforting in a world of turmoil and uncertainty. The number of young people there buoyed up my spirit and reminded me that God does not see our worldly situation the way we do. Each new baby is a testimony to the optimism of God.

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008
The museum of Beaux Arts was closed today but a careful circuit of the Cathedral was followed by a bus trip to the Basilica of St Remi, who baptized Clovis the first King of the Franks and started France as a Christian country. It ended, perhaps, with the Jacobins or the philosophes but somewhere something changed and people who thought of themselves as Christians realized they were not in charge of the power structure. We’ve struggled with the demotion but it is closer to what we started as, except that now we carry some pretty heavy baggage of property to maintain. Mother Teresa is a new St Francis trying to focus on individuals, the poorest of the poor, not buildings and masses.
All around Reims there were ancient buildings surrounded by scaffolding in the process of being repaired.
We walked by a store with only champagne for sale with prices from 10 to 155 euros a bottle.
We went into the Cathedral museum and bought a book which was a guide book and a book on the Vitraux. There were TVs showing odd “art.” (girls tied together by their pigtails, a naked woman using a barbed wire hoola hoop on the beach with sores on her abdomen) There was a glass grand staircase and tapestries of the life of St Remi. A school group was looking at archaeology exhibits.
The Cathedral dominated an apartment/store complex and also had a grocery store with an ice cream bar.
We were outside looking for a bus to go to the Vergeur Museum; a man was so concerned for us he took my sleeve and directed us on to the right bus, showed us when to get off and walked us to the right corner, then told us to “be of good courage.” We ended up having a private tour by a girl with pretty good English. The house and furnishing were very impressive and the restoration of the 13th century home was on going. There were stunning Albrecht Durer prints and I wanted the souvenir book but it was 30 euros.
I asked our tour guide about her attitude toward the Cathedral and her response was just that it was there – part of the background of her life, but the church was clearly not on her radar screen. I asked about the typical French attitude to Benedict XVI’s visit to Paris (which was drawing large crowds) and she told me that “most people” were upset with President Sarkozy meeting with the Pope, which means that was her attitude, that there should be a hard and fast wall of separation between the church and public life. The church should be strictly a private affair.
Next we walked to the chapel of Our Lady Queen of Peace designed by Tsuguharu Foujita, who painted the frescos in the interiors. The stained glass windows were of enameled glass in a very modern style, somewhat similar to Marc Chagall but with more realism in the figurature work (even with little flies and wasps on the fruit) and pastel clear glass for the backgrounds instead of the rich blues of Chagall. The artist is buried in one of the small transepts with a space for his wife, BUT the altar was placed against the wall so Mass could not have been done properly and there was no crucifix and no chairs. It’s hard to imagine that this chapel is used for anything more than tour groups. Seems like the ultimate privatization of religion. One man, one church but with room for his wife. Rather like an artistic answer to the pyramids. My camera died, but no photography was allowed anyway because the windows were all copyrighted!
We went to a supermarket near our hotel and the clerk was upset at my poor French, but then became solicitous when she realized that I wasn’t malicious, just ignorant.

Back at the room we watched “Witness” in French.
 
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Georgia & Zig

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Episode 6 - Paris

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

We ate breakfast at McDonalds (4 euros) and waited for the battery store to open at 9 AM. We needed camera batteries before our train trip to Paris. Mickey Dees provided a good lookout for people-watching: They had good coffee, pink “biscuits(?)”; an Australian, hale-and-hearty-good-fellow-well –met-sort-of-guy “helloing” lots of people he and his wife knew. He was evidently on a walking tour even though crippled.
It’s scary that Paris was beginning to make sense. A sure sign of impending disaster.
We found the apartment pretty easily but I’d been too nervous to call ahead for fear of the French telephone system. As we walked up to the door the window shutter beside it swung open and a woman leaned out to ask who we were. I said “Je m’appelle Zeigler” and she said something fast in French ending with “Alain Bertholt?” That was the apartment we were renting. “Oui,” I said, so she said she’d be right out. A few moments later the door swung open and she was there with a little girl and 3 other women, one of whom must have been at least 90. The concierge (as we learned later) had to explain to the old woman who we were and where we were from, and the old lady just beamed at us and took the keys to show us herself how to open the door with the little magnetic chip in the key chain. It was so cool!
There was a very welcoming note from Alain that told us to use the computer and telephone as much as we wished. It was free to make calls to the United States. We tried to call but kept getting a recording. The computer had special wake up instructions in French which I finally deciphered and was able to check my e-mail. The French computer keyboard is laid out differently though, and was pretty hard to get used to.
There was an E-mail from Sam, my employee, saying we were offered a chance to bid on a pretty big repair job. I emailed suggestions but really wished I could talk with her. I tried to find the concierge to ask for help but she was gone. It was really fortunate we arrived when we did. No telling how long we might have had to stand outside waiting.
We started some laundry then took off for a quick whirl of sightseeing without our museum pass because it only lasts 4 days and we were staying a week. We caught the number 95 bus that went to all the main tourist sites and got off at the Place de la Concorde near the Louvre, then walked through the Tuileries Garden and down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and caught the metro to the Tour Eiffel. Along the Tuileries a boy approached us to say he had found a wedding band and wanted to know if it was ours. “It looks like real gold.” I assured him it was not ours and we walked on. This was the first of many wedding bands “lost” in Paris. Careless, careless people.
We walked up the 328 steps to the 1st level of the Eiffel Tower. The view was nice but windy and cold. We watched an interesting film on its construction while sipping a nice cup of café crème in the bar. We then rode the elevator down to save our quivering legs.
We took the train to Notre Dame St Michel and walked in just as the Mass was ending. I asked an attendant when Mass would be held tomorrow. He said “6:30” in English and it was now about 6:15 PM. I couldn’t tell it he meant Mass would start again in a few minutes or in the early morning. There seemed to be a lot of people just sitting inside the roped-off section (and a river of tourists flowing around the outside of them.) So we just sat and waited as well.
Sure enough, at 6:30, a bell rang; we all stood up and a young man came in carrying a crucifix, two women carrying candles followed close behind and then two priests. The tourist-river didn’t slow down. Our little congregation reminded me of the church itself situated on an island in the middle of the Seine; and it was like an island of calm in the center of a turbulent river. The younger priest, in his 40s, was the presider and the acolyte read the first reading. The two women were the cantor and music leader respectively, and an organist played the grand organ. The cantor’s voice was so beautiful and the space was so serene. Little eddies in the river of tourists formed to see what was going on in the main aisle. One woman came in from the side and tried to take a picture of the altar. A woman in the front row wagged her finger and the woman sat down. A few minutes later another woman came down a side aisle and also tried to take a picture. Another woman stood up to wave her off as well. She sat down too and the service continued. Flash bulbs continued to go off from time to time but the center remained inviolate. After a bit the second woman got up and left but the first remained throughout the service. Some people at the sides also remained throughout the service like leaves caught in little whirlpools. I wonder what they thought and what kept them there. Perhaps they were lapsed Catholics remembering the way their spiritual life used to be. Perhaps they were protestants trying to spy in the service the roots of whatever liturgy their church used – or perhaps they weren’t in any church and wondered what was going on and why so many people were drawn to this amazing “work of the people of God” for that is the meaning of liturgy. The Church has been declared dead and irrelevant over and over throughout the centuries but it keeps being resurrected in each new age. The Word continues to be made Flesh and dwells among us.
After the consecration we, like the beggars outside every French church, shuffled forward to beg our “coin” from the priest. We are all beggars after all. We cannot save ourselves.
After Mass we walked over to the Latin Quarter and visited Saint Julien le Pauvre Greek Catholic Church, one of the oldest churches in Paris. In the 1920s it became a hangout for the “revolutionary” Dadaists and other “Ne’er-do-wells.” The “upright” churchgoers finally had enough and banished all students. That seems to happen pretty frequently through the centuries.
We searched for the bookstore “Shakespeare & Company,” but couldn’t find it.
Had a delicious supper and then headed “home.”

Thursday, September 18th, 2008
We took the subway to the Opera bus stop and had pastry, cake, coffee and raisin bread.
We went into L’Orangerie where Monet’s “Water lilies” were on all four walls of two joined rooms! Sitting on the benches in the middle was like being in a rowboat on the water. There was an interesting film on Monet. And there were other impressionists’ downstairs. There were also models of houses showing how the paintings had been displayed.
We got into the Louvre through the Lions’ Gate (no line) and whisked right through the check-point and into the painting section of the museum. The Mona Lisa was swamped with admirers, and poor Titian nearby was ignored, as were other paintings by Leonardo.
I overheard a man who wouldn’t believe his poor wife that there were other “worthwhile” paintings up one flight of stairs. He didn’t want to walk. She had to find him an elevator and an attendant to confirm her assertion. Here they were in paradise, and he didn’t want to look around. She was so angry she was almost in tears.
We saw a lot of huge paintings then pulled the plug and headed out for lunch. On the sidewalk outside, a lady found ANOTHER “gold” ring right beside us!!! Quelle surprise! We assured her it wasn’t ours and turned onto one of the bridges across the Seine to take some photos. There was a teenager who’d found yet another ring! The coincidences were just amazing and I said I wanted to take a picture of him with his ring. He got quite upset for some reason and stalked off.
We found a little restaurant beside the Musee Orsay where we sat in a little bay window. Georgia ordered a “classic” ham sandwich which was ham on a naked baguette. Luckily I’d ordered oeff and mayonnaise which meant two hard boiled eggs, a pile of mayonnaise and a “salade” of some lettuce and a piece of tomato. Voila; we had ham and egg sandwich with some delicious mayo/mustard plus lettuce and tomato. I also ordered water and a bier Monaco which was beer, grenadine and lemon juice. Delicious!
Then the Orsay: Wonderful Impressionism, post impressionist statuary (Seurat), glass art-deco, Degas’ little ballerina, Monet’s “Rouen Cathedral,” which was special for us having actually been there. Honorae Dumas’ charming little caricature busts.
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Upstairs, looking through the huge clock on the side of the building there was a view across Paris. We could see Sacre Coeur. Beautiful! Amazing paintings by Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh (a wonderful self portrait, the famous Dr. Gachet, and his famous room as well as some of his very early ones), there was the statue of the praying John the Baptist as a child. And we watched all the exhausted people. Everyone was just completely blown out!
We had lunch in the museum café and sat next to a group of Canadians. They got ice cream and complained that each and every bite was horrible. They told us all the travails of renting cars. I’m not sure what they enjoyed more, Paris, or complaining about Paris.
We walked from the Orsay to Sainte Chapelle near someone griping and sniping the whole way. But Georgia was right – we didn’t need to go down to the river level.
There was a line outside the Chapelle and I asked what it was for. A concert! With French soloists at 25 euros. It was so glorious! And inside such a jewel of a chapel. But there wasn’t any altar or crucifix that I could see. Is it still used as a church? Maybe just secularized for these concerts? There was an Armenian harp and violin duo playing Debussey, Khachaturian, Ravel’s Pavanne for a Dead Princess and Massenet’s Meditation from Thais. Lovely music in an exquisite space.

Friday September 19th, 2008
We rose early for our day trip to Chartres since it was to take 56 minutes from our subway stop to the train. We missed our subway stop, had to back-track and got really confused in the passageway between the metro and the train. But we made it.
There is another maze inside Chartres that we walked. With all the others it was a very moving symbolic pilgrimage. We walked up to the upper chapel and got shoed back downstairs, so asked about Mass. It was being held in the crypt even as we spoke.
The priest looked like a friend of mine, Charles Macklin – a big jolly man with a white beard and mustache. A Santa but without any saccharine. As he raised the host a cell phone went off just like the bells should have, and as he raised the chalice he sneezed. Sort of a modern “bells and smells.” I had to smile. Then after the prayer of consecration he blew his nose noisily into a large blue and white handkerchief. For some reason Georgia didn’t want to take communion.
She couldn’t understand why a big place like Chartres would have Mass in the “basement” so we had a long discussion about where altars are placed in a church and why, and that the altar in the “basement” was where it was because of who was buried there, and that the upper high altar was placed where it was because of the one in the “basement.”
Outside, a beggar gave us a little bouquet in return for a coin. Purple something and yellow daisy.
My pen ran out of ink and I didn’t want to pay 4.50 for a souvenir pen with a gargoyle on it so we got directions to the monoprix where the real people shop. We bought a picnic lunch since we had to wait for the Loire Atelier to open, and stopped to eat it at a table in the town center. A woman, her mother, and her son were eating and said the tables were for eating. So we sat, but she said we needed to ask at the nearby bar. I went and saw that the owner wasn’t likely to approve our eating for free so I went back to Georgia and suggested we eat on a bench in front of the Cathedral. A little boy was talking with Georgia. He was fascinated by people who couldn’t speak French and he loved her strange accent. When I arrived to tell her we needed to move he kept saying “Au revoir” over and over just to hear us repeat it in return. So cute.
After lunch we visited the Loire stained glass shop and learned that we were in the wrong place. His studio was 3 kilometers away. We tried to get a bus but couldn’t understand when and where it ran, so we hailed a taxi.
The studio grounds were marvelous with so many glass panels on display outside in the weather. Caroline Gautier was our private guide. We took pictures of everything and thought of so many ways to make some really special sculptures and 3-D glass. I want to someday have studio grounds like they have. Perhaps we can get some grant money from Bourbon county outside Lexington to build a studio.
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We had a taxi bring us back to Chartres and take us right to the train station for our trip back to Paris. Chartres' Cathedral really is beautiful but I didn’t need to go in again. The studio was more inspirational. I saw what I needed to see – seeing what is possible is often the very best way to see what else is possible.
Gare du Nord at rush hour is other-worldly – when you don’t live in a place with this many people it is impossible to imagine an absolute river of people. If there was a “river” in the cathedrals we visited then Gare du Nord at rush hour is an apocalyptic flood and I know the other main stations must be just the same!
A piece of metal plate on the floor, like flashing between floor sections, had evidently been caught by a piece of luggage and bent up about 2 inches. I saw the man ahead of me stumble, looked down and saw that he had just caught his shoe on it. I managed to miss it and made sure Georgia was clear as well, but a young woman behind us didn’t see it and caught her foot full force. I know it hurt terribly. I went back and stepped on it to hold it down, but when I stepped off it popped right back up again. So there we stood as if on a small rock in the midst of a flooded river. I knew that if we moved, others were going to hit it. The woman who was hurt just stood there watching to see what we would do. The metal was thin so with Georgia keeping me from getting trampled, I knelt down and managed to bend the piece down enough that the natural springiness would hold it down. It was the best that could be done and the young woman and I just smiled at each other and shrugged. Then she went one way and we went another. At one point we had to cross over the flood so we waded into the stream and were immediately swept along for 30 or 40 feet before we managed to claw our way up on some rocks on the other side and circle around to some stairs built up and over the torrent.
Somehow we made it back to the relative peacefulness of the streets of Montmartre where we fixed ourselves some sandwiches and washed them down with Vin Rose Doux, a nice bubbly sweet rose – poor man’s champagne.

Saturday, September 20th, 2008
We got up early to catch the subway to Sainte Chapelle but it was closed for Day of Patrimony. We went across the street to Mass at Notre Dame and saw they were having it in the choir stalls with a Washington D. C. priest concelebrating. Very different from our first Mass. We felt like celebrities with all the tourist flash bulbs flashing. We happened upon two seminarians from St John Vianney Seminary who knew the two seminarians from our diocese.
We got in line for the tower-tour which started as two lines with us in the wrong one, but got so close to the front that when they had to be consolidated we still made it in. There are lots of steps up to the top! Poor Quasimodo.
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The gargoyles on the tower were wonderful and we took lots of pictures. So very Paris!!!
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Went down and into the crypt with its archaeology exhibit. It smelled really bad to me so I waited outside.
Then we were off to try to find the Cluny. We found a sandwich shop in the Latin Quarter first and had 2 sandwiches and beer for 4.50 euros. We ate them on the steps of the Sorbonne, giving pigeons the crumbs and watching little boys walk out of their way so they could splash through puddles on the sidewalk.
We thought that the large building across the street must be the Cluny, but no, it was the main building to the Sorbonne open today for the day of Patrimony. We saw thesis defense rooms and conference rooms where all kinds of big important things are discussed and decided. A temple to rationalism. It left me cold. We cut the “tour” short.
I asked a guard where the Cluny was and he pointed down the street to a medieval looking house, built in 1485 by Jacques d’Amboise, the Abbot of Cluny, surrounded by a high brick wall. Unlike the sterile Sorbonne, it was absolutely captivating with treasures created out of love. Medieval glass, wood carvings, crucifixes and exquisite statuary.
Next we went to the Pantheon, another temple to rationalism but this time with a surprising mural dedicated to St. Genevieve, beloved of the poor, and patron saint of Paris. Surprising because it was so out of chronology and so contrary to the spirit of the Pantheon. The “crypt” had tombs but not religious ornamentation.
Then we found, accidentally, the church of St. Etienne du Mont with a completely different feel. It had the tomb of St. Genevieve and a photo of Pope John Paul II praying there. The story is fascinating: The body had been moved from St. Etienne to the Pantheon (then called St. Madeleine) because Etienne wasn’t swank enough. Then came the crash of the Revolution with its anti-Catholic emphasis, and her body was cremated, her ashes sprinkled in the Seine, and the Church secularized. Later, some small relics and the stone on which her tomb rested were transferred back to a small chapel at St. Etienne where John Paul II had prayed. Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine are also entombed there.
We then walked to the Jardin du Luxembourg where there is a gloriously huge fountain and little toy boats for rent. The flowers and trees were beautiful. Nice chairs everywhere for citizens to catch a few rays. There were soccer games and pony rides. A charming young mother and her son offered to let me sail their toy boat. I sadly declined but enjoyed watching the boy’s skill. Stone-masons were demonstrating how to recut new blocks to match the weathered old ones on the magnificent buildings. For a huge city, Paris feels like a village.
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We went to Saint Sulpice to see the Delacroix of Christ at the Mount of Olives.
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Then we tried to find the restaurant our landlord recommended. No one is open at 5:30 for dinner. They looked at us like we were crazy for wanting food. So we had 2 beers and 2 wines at the local pub to kill time. Then we walked UP, UP, UP to Montmartre stopping only for coffee to collect our breath for the final assault. We ate pizza and ice cream for supper and walked around looking for a good vantage point to see the Eiffel Tower’s “light-up.” It was illuminated a gorgeous blue, then sparkling flashing lights for 10 minutes at the top of each hour. Very pretty through the trees.
We walked down past the Montmartre cemetery which was a little creepy and then onto a dark street. We saw several women walking alone. I think the streets are safer than big U.S. cities. Back in the room we watched a racey French movie on TV from the early 1960s. Time warp!

Sunday, September 21st, 2008
We got up early and attended Mass at the L’eglise de la Madeleine with the Archbishop (I think.) He seemed like a grumpy, distracted man.
Later we walked through the Tuileries Garden again back to the Louvre. We went to the pyramid in the center and saw a ridiculous line, so we headed for our own private entrance at the Lion’s Gate again. Slick as a whistle. We hurried through what we’d already seen and headed for the Delacroix and Ingres paintings. We had such fun watching the other people. Saw a charming mother and daughter sitting on the floor trying to mimic the mother-daughter embrace in the painting on the wall. Saw the Winged Victory and Venus de Milo statues. Then we searched for the Rembrandts.
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We found a collection of pocket watches and some stained glass, though the largest panel wasn’t illuminated. I asked one of the docents if he could turn on the light. He pffted at me and asked if I thought it looked like he was in charge.
Exhausted, we walked out through the pyramid and back to Notre Dame for an organ concert. There was a very long line to get in but it moved fast. As we got to the front we saw several people breaking in line and mugging each other when they were “successful.” It made me wonder what they were going to get out of their visit. I suspected it would be “nothing.” (Tolstoy’s onion story came to mind: An awful man was suffering in the lake of fire and his guardian angel begged God to look for something good that could merit his admittance into purgatory. God said “Well he once threw a rotten onion to a beggar. See if you can haul him out of Hell using that.” The angel dangled it over the man, who grabbed onto the rotten green sprouts and then started slowly getting pulled up out of the lake of fire. As he was pulled up, other damned souls saw what was happening and grabbed onto his legs. They were getting pulled up too! The man looked down and saw that others were being saved and kicked at them: “It’s my onion!” he screamed. And then the onion broke.) There are means which destroy the ends being sought.
The play of light on the stone walls at sunset was breath-taking and the music was ravishing. Then came Mass. It was more than I could stand and my eyes kept tearing up.
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We took a picture of sunset from the bridge over the Seine looking toward Rouen and Honfleur. Then we rode the metro home.

Monday, September 22nd, 2008
This was our last day in Paris. We packed a picnic lunch of wine, bread, cheese, olives, and chocolate for our trip to Butte Chaumont. But first we had coffee and croissants at Café Descartes with Frank Browning, author of one of the books published by the University Press of Kentucky. He suggested visiting the Islamic Studies Center but it was closed. The building was interesting though. We visited a series of churches in the area: St Louis, St Paul, St Gervais. We tried to visit the memorial to the deportation of Jews but it was closed for lunch. We saw a tree planted by Rafic Hariri and Jacques Chirac commemorating the love between France and Lebanon. So sad to think of them now both dead.
We then bought a silver goldfish at the garden shop by the Citi’ Metro stop. Caught the metro and walked up the hill of Butte Chaumont. We ate our picnic on a bench near a small pavilion where two men were practicing Tai Chi and lovers were necking in the grass. There was a nice view of Sacre Coeur through the trees. We heard someone asking a local for directions to the hanging bridge and we just tagged along at a discreet distance. The center of the park has a gazebo on a high promontory above a peaceful lake and a waterfall. Very classy.
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We left the park looking for a stained glass supply store nearby. It was the one the man in Honfleur had told us about. It was closed as well, so we consoled ourselves with coffee at an outdoor café. Then we rode the metro back home and took our last two pictures; one of the outside of Alain’s building showing our room and the stained glass in the stairway.
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We then decided to be even more parisien and walk back up Montmartre one last time for Vespers and Mass. It was all magical – an impromptu concert in front of Sacre Coeur, the dying light of day coming through the windows, the chanting of the sisters, the river of tourists circulating around the nave. Occasionally, in ones and twos, people would stop their circuit to listen to the ancient liturgy and haunting melodies.
We saw several people join the procession to receive communion and be turned away by the young sister – not unkindly, but firmly. There’s a homily in that. The sacraments are not prizes awarded simply because someone wants them.
Finished up with ice cream and a walk back home. Luckily we dropped bread crumbs coming up the maze or there’s no telling where we would have ended up!

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
The trip to the airport was the rockiest of all. Perhaps we should have taken Alain’s advice and grabbed a taxi. There was trouble on the line and attendants were handing out instructions in French telling us we needed to go to a different track, but we had no idea where it was. With help we finally found it about the time the train was supposed to leave, but it didn’t leave, and we were stuffed on the train like sardines for 30 minutes. Then we stopped at the first station outside Paris and waited for another 30 minutes while there were periodic announcements that made everyone groan. I had no clue what was going on except that it didn’t sound good.
Another train pulled into the station from Paris and it sat there too. People on our train rushed for it thinking it was about to leave and people from that train straggled over to ours. We didn’t know what to do. At least our train had cleared out some and we were able to get a seat after standing for an hour.
Suddenly a horn blew, our doors closed and we were off!
The next station had people standing 4 deep on the platform wanting to get on. They were virtually all working class laborers probably heading to jobs at the airport.
We were packed in again and I scrunched up close to Georgia and motioned for a pretty young black woman to sit down. She smiled gratefully and said something to a young black man across the aisle from us. He shrugged and scooted in closer to his seat mate and another young woman gratefully sat down as well.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and my new seat mate gave us the prettiest smile when she wished us “Bonne Journee.” People are so sweet.
We were really late getting to the airport. It’s good that we left Paris so early. We finally arrived at our gate just as boarding began.
3 movies plus a nap and we landed in Detroit. People looked HUGE. It was a shock I’d been expecting but it still shocked me. We would occasionally see a fat person in France (often a tourist!) but in the US we only occasionally saw a thin one.
I hope we can turn this around.

Things I learned:
. The French feel about their language and their country the same way Americans feel about theirs. Why would anyone want to speak another language or live in another country?
. A secular society can become just as vehement as a religious one. Anger with the President speaking/ meeting with the Pope during his visit knocked me back.
. The French really are kind to strangers.
. French shop keepers can roll their eyes very eloquently.
. It’s amazing how many wedding bands are lost in Paris. You find them everywhere.
. You really cannot see too much wonderful art.
. When you have toured 7 cathedrals, your appreciation of the stained glass in the last one will suffer.
.And most of all, I realized all over again that Georgia Mae Weir Zeigler, besides being an amazing mother and wife is also an spectacular travel agent. And she is unsurpassed as a travelling companion as well.
 

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