Thursday, December 15, 2005
"But Katie," you might be thinking, "will it still culminate with the heart stopping unveiling of your latest photographs from Nantes and elsewhere?"
Christmas in Nantes:
Christmas markets in Nantes, and more famously in Eastern France and Germany, are small wooden chalets where various artisans, gourmands and kitsch-pushers sell their wares. In the heart of Nantes, chestnuts roast on open fires, a carousel entertains small children, and a Pere Noel (Father Christmas) booth allows those with an American bent to get their pictures taken. All the while, the scent of vin chaud (hot spiced wine), hot chocolate and warming pretzels wafts through the chilly environs. And in the other Christmas Market square a few blocks away…more ugly jewelry, bad art and wind chimes. Oh, and a giant, steamy vat of Tartiflette – a tasty Savoie (French Alps region) treat of roasted potatoes, cream, Gruyere cheese and bits of smoked ham. Next-door, you can get a dessert Guafre (Belgian-style waffles) with your choice of chocolate, Nutella, caramel, or just plain sugar. But enough about food…
Christmas in Nantes…the streets are adorned with lights and many store windows with trimming. Music is piped through the busier-than-usual pedestrian streets. However, not the Christmas standards you may imagine, but rather a strange mélange of salsa, American pop and adult contemporary. I guess traditional Christmas music is bound to step on somebody’s toes? Oh well, it makes for a nice little soundtrack for shopping, but makes me itch for some Bing Crosby crooning.
There are some organ concerts and other sacred music events at local cathedrals. We visited the city’s main St. Pierre Cathedral last weekend. No Christmas carols, but we did witness the lighting of the third advent wreath candle, and as a bonus, the priest was a stunning likeness to St. Nick. Speaking of St. Nick, he is not Santa here. Santa is Pere Noel (father Christmas). St. Nicholas’ day has already been celebrated earlier this month. Our Romanian friend Daciana brought the class chocolates to commemorate the day. Also part of the French saintly celebration is the eating of the Galette des Rois (King Cake). Yes, the concept is similar to the Mardi-Gras season King Cakes…something is hidden in the innards of the confection and he (or she) who finds it is not only “King for a Day” but must also make the cake next year. Well, I was fortunate to ascend to Kingship last Friday evening.
"Oh...I think I've found it!" I cried when I spotted what I thought to be the traditional crèche (manger with baby Jesus) in my 2nd piece of Galette. I delicately picked the pieces of marzipan and pastry off the figurine to reveal...not the Christ child, but a tiny likeness of Bob l’Eponge…aka - Sponge Bob Square Pants.
Okay, first no Christmas music, now Jesus has been replaced by Sponge Bob? I almost makes me miss the uber-Christian cultured U.S. South. And it made us all laugh really hard.
Christmas in Nantes means some people get trees. In fact, I think my favorite moment from the last week was sitting on a comfy couch in the home of one of the French students, Thomas. His family welcomed us for a “Big French Meal” (to be referred to as BFM) last Sunday afternoon. (Pictured above at Chez Thomas, pictured center) Given that an imbalance of this blog’s words have been about food, I will sadly omit detailed explanations of each superb bite, but will only say….it was a gift to be in a loving, welcoming home… with a lighted, decorated Christmas tree. And in true Franco-American style, we even sang a few lines of "O Tennenbaum.
“So, are you happy to be returning home?” Many have asked us this question, and we Americans have asked one another. Honestly, the idea of leaving behind this ephemeral French life that we've enjoyed for four months - BFM’s, cheery well-walked streets, welcoming friends and countless other joys - is saddening to us. We anticipate the culture shock of being swept back into “real (American) life.” But of course, the treasure of family and friends awaits. And for that, I will continue to let my emotions wrestle. I may even cry as when we lift off from Nantes-Atlantique airport, as what was the unreal present becomes memory, and for how excited we will be to have our old bed back!
VIEW MORE NANTES SCENES AND OUR WEEKEND IN LILLE
Friday, December 02, 2005
I’ve felt frankly overwhelmed by cultural experience and opportunities to reflect and write about. Thus, I’ve put off this latest entry until it could be perfect, or reflect exactly what is marinating in my head. But it won’t.
However, speaking of marinating. I’m going to write about food again. There are countless things to cover…the great “Mexican Pizza” we’ve discovered at the local joint, the two entire rows devoted to yogurt and like products at the local grocery store, why vegetables here are so cheap and good here, but no one seems to eat them, etc. But rather than vent or brag about particulars of the local eating habits, I want to rave, and reflect on the act of eating, the art of the French meal, and what we can learn. Particularly in light of Thanksgiving and the current Christmas season which will provide us opportunities for feasting with friends and family. I hope we do it well.
Le jour de l'Action de Grace (Thanksgiving) came and went here in Nantes without much great fanfare. I heard echoes of certain restaurants or home gatherings that would feature turkey (or some sort of available fowl) and other fixins. Jeff and I had a good friend from Atlanta in town, and decided to spend the evening with her, being thankful for being in France by enjoying a long, delicious French meal. I had a sumptious Boeuf Bourguignon and in true Thanksgiving style, when I was sure my stomach could hold nothing else, I still topped it off with a warm apple dessert, a la mode. In this case, it was Tarte Tatin - a regional specialty.
But what has my mind really spinning about the joy of communal eating and gathering at a common table, is our trip to a friends hometown the weekend following Thanksgiving. The drive itself merits a tall tale as it involved a freak snowstorm, iced-over highways, roadside snowmen, strange foreigners (that’s us!...well, just Rocky) pushing cars up a slippery hill which evidently locals deemed impassable. Ultimately, the trip which should have gotten us to the warm fires of Sylvain Le Mauff’s home in L’Hermitage Lorge at 9pm, drug us in around 11:15.
Despite our extreme tardiness, Sylvain’s family had let the set table sit for those 2 or so hours, and the feast commenced upon our arrival. Aperitif and snacks for an hour or so. Dinner served around 12:30, and we somehow managed room for dessert around 1:45. Come 2:30 or so, we realized we were quite tired. Spanish, Greeks…eat your heart out! (Well, actually the Spaniard and Greeks would have gone to the disco afterwards).
L’Hermitage Lorge is a lovely, quiet, Breton (in the Brittany province) town. I suppose viewing our little slideshow will do as much to describe our trip as my words could. BUT BEFORE YOU LOOK…You will notice a common theme in many pictures: food. The table of community, of feasting. Particularly in this weekend of being served as we were, of being in community with others, of paying no regard to time or calories, enjoying good food and wine, I am convinced again that sharing the table is in many ways a spiritual experience.
To Christians, this points to our celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s table where the community gathers, as Christ did with his disciples, to celebrate mystery, and to remember the Sacrifice which happened just a few hours after that first “last supper.” But as was discussed on a recent edition of Public Radio’s “Speaking of Faith”, Christ was just initiating a ritual that was already rich within Jewish and other mid-eastern cultures. In many religions and faiths, the act of sharing the table holds a significance that is easily taken for granted in our distraced, high-speed culture.
A Native American “Speaking of Faith” listener wrote in that “There is an ancient belief held by many First Nations people in which the act of taking and eating food is a kind of covenant between two beings.” Eating with one another is relational, and I have experienced this joy in France many times now. And for that, I am extremely thankful, and humbled.
And, in case you don’t visit the SOF website to read about this particular episode, I will highlight another important feast tradition: “in the earliest churches, which gathered in homes, the community meal was afterwards shared with outsiders and especially the poor. Communion was inextricably linked with service.” I hope that as Jeff and I have been served in the homes and apartments of our friends here in France, so we can give that gift to others, just as in bread and wine we recall sacrifice, and are spurred toward it at the grace-full table of Eucharist.
So now, take a peak at our Mobile Home table, Brittany Raclette communion (a little bread, plenty of wine), and other memorable experiences with friends. Hope to sup with many of you when we return…we’ll provide the table and the Pastis ;-).
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Ah, the moment of truth arrived. Truth = French bodies are not like my body. I gingerly yanked a medium shirt over my un-exercised, but still-broad shoulders, and generous gene-pool bosom. Had I accidentally raided the Zara children’s section? This medium is not supposed to show my navel and the scoop neck is about to become a v-neck…
Hmph. Better luck with the sexy white jeans? Non. I couldn’t get their slimfit past my right thigh and teetered precariously in the tiny dressing room trying to remove the jeans without falling or ripping the tiny-T.
I breathed in, assuring myself that my brawny American “athletique chic” build doesn’t need these trendy teeny clothes anyway. However, upon further contemplation, I moved beyond my “proud to be from the land of Venus Williams and Mia Hamm” harrumph, and came up with another theory. Perhaps this is a subtle French revenge taken out on my Germanic body. “Those thick Prussian honches have no chance in our cute pedal-pushers and faux-fur boots!” Like a size 6 kick in my Wittgens shins. The Maginot Fashion line – and this one works! If I can ever peel these dang white jeans off, I’ll surely wave them in surrender.
And in an unrelated story - you can now look at a few photos from my parents visit a few weeks ago. Hope the link works this time... BRITTANY AND NANTES WITH THE FAM
Doctor Visit - $20
Fever Reducer- $3.36
Cough Suppressant - $3.21
Throat Spray - $2.64
Anti-biotic - $27.76
Chance for foreigner to milk the nationalized health system….priceless
I went to France for four months and one souvenir I've picked up is this crappy cold-like thing which has manifest in everything from shivers to sweat-all-night fever to cough all night bronchial irritation...and now a very painful rib muscle strain from coughing – no fun. Early on, I decided to seek a professional. Both because French friends seemed to all ask if I had been to the doctor, and because I was advised by mom, amid the email version of motherly coddling and a chicken soup recipe, to “get thee to a doctor!” As a student at the University, I can see doctors here for free. Problem is that no one could see me for a week. Option 2, talk to your friends, and go to a local GP who will charge you $20 to hear about your symptoms, scribble a bunch of info on a piece of notebook paper, listen to your heartbeat, and scrawl off a prescription list of drugs to cover every possible malady within your maladies. I went with option 2 and got an appointment that very day.
Following the brief visit, my friend and I trapsed off to one of hundreds of well-marked pharmacies throughout the city. The pharmacies here don’t offer much in the way of easily-accessable (or recognizable) over-the-counter meds, but they all seem to have a large selection of homeopathic remedies. The friendly pharmacist quickly (and cheaply) filled my list of scrips and I left with a huge sac of medications…each with its own dosage, timing etc. By this time, though the cough lingered, I was starting to feel better already.
Truly, the hero of the story is my friend Maiwenn. She is one of the French students in the program with Jeff at the University. She has already provided me with disinfectant and band-aids for an infected finger laceration. Then cough lozenges for my throat. I then thought I would push my luck by asking her to call the student health clinic…only to find they could not see me for a week. So she and her boyfriend Sylvain quickly called another doctor they know, and had me an appointment that afternoon. She picked me up, waited with me, helped communicate with the physician on my behalf, then accompanied me to the pharmacy pick up my goodies and drove my coughing self home. Incredible selflessness for which I am grateful.
Postscript: Neither Homoepathic nor "real" cough syrop have totally relieved my symptoms yet. Now 10 days from my initial shivers, I'm still dealing with head congestion and a cough, but its really only bad at night. I've also have taken matters into my own hands and picked up 2 more cough syrops from the pharmacy, and am nursing the final few Tylenol Cold & Flu tablets a friend had brought with him from the states. Main ailment now, painful lower rib cage - a residual from last weeks coughing fits I guess.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! I wish you all wonderful time with friends and family. There is much to be thankful for indeed. What will us Americanos be doing to celebrate? Well, thanks to my good friend Beth who sent us a halloween / thanksgiving care package, our little trailer is adorned with various Thanksgiving kitsch like decorative napkins, turkey votive candles and a big cardboard turkey. It's probably the closest we'll get to having turkey here though. Since we are oven-less, we may settle for a nice French dinner out of Coq au Vin with potatoes or something. But boy will I miss pumpkin pie.
Final Note: I've tried my darndest to fix some of the broken picture links. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. (And follow instructions from your more technically savvy friends.) So, try your luck again and I hope to have some ones up soon! Oh, and regarding my last post...I bought some clothes yesterday at Zara. Size Large. I've even found jeans (at another store), so all shopping hope is not lost.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
But now, after reviewing Le Figaro and cnn.com among others, I see that the violence is spreading, into towns we’ve visited, have friends in or plan to visit soon. In fact, here in Nantes, there have been about 60 cars torched, a primary school burned and mixed reports about a “cultural center in downtown” being effected. I recognize some of the neighborhoods mentioned, but none are within stones throw to where we spend most of our time. We are thankful that most of Nantes seems tranquil, and I hope and pray this finds peaceful ends soon. I hope to have more to write about these emeutes including student reactions and other feedback.
Speaking of burning…..(journal excerpt 11- 6-05)
Did you know that sunsets happen every night! As if amid our hussle and bussle, God stops us and says – “here, beauty, enjoy this gift for a few moments.”
Sure, there are rainy days, like yesterday in Lyon where nary a shaft of light was seen from the heavens – but those days make me appreciate big blue fluffy-cloud days like today even more.
Now 2 long traintrips, and 2 sunsets over French countryside. For this evening’s show, I crane my neck to peer over seats and foreheads to the windows opposite my row. My fellow travelers read magazines, fiddle with cellphones..unaffected. And soon, I feel silly for being so taken in, so I try to read, but its no use. The light draws my eyes, and I was to scream “Fire!” so people will look and see the awe-ful burning horizon.
We get it almost every night. This past week I have seen yellow change to pink, to purple to velvety blue over Loire Valley vineyards, alpine valleys and the majestic Mont Blanc. And still tonight in this boxcar…I must stop and stare.
I can’t claim to be well accomplished at the art of sucking the marrow out of life. For as hard as I may try, I wish I was more attuned to the nature, and people around me. But having this time, these 4 months in France to stop, look and wonder has been a blessing. I would dare say at times this leisure is a curse – like when I am on an Alps afternoon hike in which every angle offers stunning beauty. The beauty is rich, but I could never soak it in enough, never suck enough marrow from those mountain-air moments to adequately communicate the experience. Sometimes things are too wonderous to be readily explained. One must experience it.
What’s your favorite in-explicable wonder?
Check out some flimsy camera renderings of the scenes that recently left Jeff and me speechless. Notes: In lieu of of a lengthy travel journal about our time this past week, i've just let pictures talk with a few captions. Let me know if you want some more details or specifics! Also, you may be required to "sign in". Sorry, but I promise they won't e-stalk you, it just means you can view our pics.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Here is a weekend trip sandwich for your pleasure. First, we scurried off to visit the Chateaux country and had a beautiful weekend away. SEE PICTURES HERE.
The following week provided its own adventure in Nantes as I worked toward my goal of: Being Able to Use the Gym. Oh the story is long and Kafka-esque but the clif notes...
To use gym must have MEdical Certificat. For medical certificate (i thought), you need social security card (which i've already paid for but am still unregistered). For social security card, I need proof of residence, a bank account and a birth certificate. Birth certificate must be translated. To find a translator I must go to the Town Hall. Town hall man #1 gets help from town hall man #2 (neither of whom speak any English). Town hall men 1 and 2 wait in line on my behalf for town hall woman #3. Town hall woman #3 prints me 5 pages of maps and names of translators - no "American" translators in Nantes. Only "Anglais" (c'mon, its just for words like "date of birth" is there really American vernacular that somebody from teh UK wouldn't know?). Town Hall woman #3 also recommends a visit to the office of Foreign Affairs (provides another map) where they may speak English and be able to help with the fact that I don't even have my Birth certificate or a copy there-of in France. I leave town hall, trying to hold in my laughter.
Long story much shorter...went to doc without social security card, was no problem. Quit my pursuit of foreign affairs officials, translators, etc. ...still haven't used the gym.
Part 2 of Weekend trip Sandwich - Normandy beaches, Caen War Museum, Bayeaux cathedral and tapestry....SEE PHOTOS HERE.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Perhaps not so dramatic, but more comfortable a scene was set. Jeff and I strolled through the sunsoaked Park du Proce’, one of many in Nantes, but I would say the most beautiful. The pleasant weather had coaxed out hundreds of others – the young and old kicked soccer balls around, elderly couples walked arm in arm, families tried to keep up with delighted children. And there, amid a scene already draped in happiness, I heard a familiar sound which made me utter to Jeff – “I think I am in heaven”. Mountain music…bluegrass perhaps, English lyrics. Bam: transported to an Appalachian cabin afternoon. The sweet familiar sounds of the mandolin and fiddle took an entirely French Sunday afternoon and positioned it in front of rolling Southeastern hills…and it made my barefeet happy.
To take a peek at some more scenes from Park De Proce, view our short LA VIE EN NANTES PHOTO ALBUM.*
Memory is a beautiful thing - during portions of ma vie it has served as a respite, others as a cave that trapped me so I couldn’t move beyond, or see the beauty of today. I would hazard to say that for me, nothing brings memory to life more than notes played, sung…I have written many times about transport via music. For me, here in this strange land, I am only headphones away from being in the lyrical arms of Jeff Buckley or within the masterful touch of Sasha’s 1’s and 2’s… Such artists take me from France to a time when I was 21 lying on the dirty floor of my apartment clearing my head of Business Finance, refilling it with artistry, and maybe thoughts of some boy. Or I am in a crowded smoky club in Athens…tired feet, ears strained to the point of pain, but..it hurts so good.
And perhaps in times apart from here, I will hear Damien Rice sing “..can’t take my eyes off you..” and think of watching the movie Closer in French…befuzzled by the still-strange language, but amused at the people around me in that stuffy classroom that I have been lucky enough to pass time with for 4 months. Or I’ll hear Moby’s 18 album and smile that people likened my husband to the weasely music genius…so I created background music to a soiree at a friend’s flat…cheese, bread, sausage, wine, and good conversation ensued, it is a pleasant memory. I thank God for music from hillside churches, to smoky clubs, to my soul.
You can shop for music later, but first, view some photos from a similar party, and some other social events involving our new friends here...visit LA VIE SOCIAL PHOTO ALBUM.*
*As always, I recommend "View Slideshow" option so you can read our informative, witty captions :-).*
- Special Thanks to Matt Elliot whose recent post on a similar theme inspired some of these musings.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
At the other end of the equation is Spain, which I have unfortunately never visited (a major element on the proverbial "to do" list). I have heard, however, that they would put France to shame in the funky scheduling game. No breakfast, big lunch, siesta, back to work until 8pm, come home, dinner at 10:30, discoteque at 1:30, earliest, home about 6am. I think I’m thankful for France, for being relaxed enough to offer a lengthy lunch break, and no-work Sundays to stroll with the family. That said, I haven’t quite figured out how their economy will survive. Not just for the reasons listed here, but perhaps that is a discussion for another day. Until then, I can get used to late dining, lengthy mid-day breaks, and Sunday strolls. You keep working your 60-hour weeks America.
Click here for some pics from our trip to London – it was mostly a social call to spend time with our good friends Rudy and Susan Reudelhuber, and their new Baby Thad. It was incredibly refreshing to be with old friends, in a home (it even had forgotten luxuries like soft carpet, an oven, sofas, consistent internet and a big TV!!!…) we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Many thanks for their hospitality. (No pictures of either Rudy or the Reudelhuber pug, Claussen made it into our pics...We plan to meet up with them again later this fall, so more to come.)
Monday, September 26, 2005
Okay, i still havent quite figured out how to upload images directly onto the blog, but here's a link to the full photo gallery from our Recent Paris Excursion - a brief 2 hour highspeed trainride.
On another recent lunch occasion in Paris, Jeff and I grabbed an overpriced sandwich and Orangina (my favorite global softdrink) for take-away, we found a shady spot to picnic on in the sprawling park between the Louvre and the start of the Champs Elysees. I bit into the goat cheese, walnut, tomato sandwich to find there was also a healthy coating of butter on one side of the baguette. As if I haven’t already been getting 4 peoples daily saturated fat allotments with pure cheese consumption here in France, I now have butter to add flavor and calories to my sandwiches as well! It was a good sandwich. Our meal that evening was supherb as well, boeuf bourgingon – fall off the bone beef simmered in a wine (and doubtless butter) sauce, served with herbed, butterey potatoes. Ah, French cuisine.
The buttery litany is not out of frustration. I dare not challenge ceturies of famed French cuisine methodology. And in fact, I am joyful that the “healthy food” questions burden me little. Besides, is there anything healthier than locally grown produce, un-steroided chicken, and freshly baked (no preservatives or hydrogenated oils) pastries? I am health conscious, but the food here has given me the freedom to enjoy its richness in moderation, then walk it off. I have only gone running 2 times, and done no other supplemental cardiovascular exercise (though I’m hoping to get some soccer in this week). The workout is in the walking -I wish I had a pedometer to guage the number of miles I have traversed. For example, this past weekend in Paris (i know...I just HAD to say it), we strolled from the Pantheon to Eiffel; Odeon Theatre to St Chapelle to the Louvre; Louvre down the Champs Elysees up to the Arc De Triomphe, etc…. Bring on the buttery croissants and afternoon Glace (ice cream). I’ll soak my feet and enjoy another round tomorrow morning.
Coming Soon in this Cuisine Series: Why it would suck to be Vegan in France, A trip to the French “Super Target”, and Okay, Maybe the French Aren't so Healthy After All.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Okay, so they are not viewable from here, but if you have a few moments you can view photos from our time so far, including Jeff as trailer trash, Benoit's sweet family, and some pics from one of our weekend trips. Some have captions, others have comments. It will help you know what you're looking at.
Friday, September 16, 2005
I was there this morning, But now I am typing on Jeff’s laptop on the front porch of our tiny Mobile home at Camping du Petit Port (see previous entry for an idea). I hope to have some pictures up soon of our little abode. It has its ups and downs. However, at the moment for me, it is up; it’s a beautiful clear evening, we’ve just-finished dinner – sautéed veggies with Provence olives from the market, couscous and the requisite baguette, local cheese, and local wine – and I can finally use an “American” keyboard. The ease of which my fingers glide across these keys is a beautiful thing compared with the backspace-heavy typing I do in the University lab. Several of you have probably received short, concise emails from me with many colons and other odd punctuation and letters that are in “the wrong place.”
I have an ongoing list of blog topics in my written journal because just a week here has produced many a thing to ponder. The problem is I haven’t much had time to do so, as the settling process is longer and more involved than I’d expected. Much of this may be due to the French University Beaurocracy (one of my potential vent..er..blog topics) and the ridiculous amount of time and and energy it has taken to get fairly simple things accomplished. Another large reason for the long-spent acclimation process is that we don’t speak the language. An outside, multi-lingual observer would no doubt find many of the conversations I have been engaged in quite amusing, such as this exerpt of me and the Dept of Law & Economics Administrative Secretary who processes enrollments:
“hello, we are students American we have papers..um..un grupo de..papers…white…from Mr. Agnes Plessis”(..she is actually a Mrs.)
“(long French response involving…I call…you pay…wait at office of Agnes….)”
“yes. How much we you pay? We have need pay social security?”
“(long French response..i get about 10% with a puzzled look on my face, say..’okay, je compre’…more French…another puzzled look…then “okay, I don’t understand”. Turn. Katie exits stage left.)
Apart from such encounters, we are having a great time. I feel no frustration toward folks here not speaking English, we are after all at a French University. I’m actually quite amused at the surprised looks we receive when telling people we are from “Etats Unis” (the U.S.). Nantes…not a tourist town.
Any advice on what French phrases I should go to work on learning this first month?
**post script...i'm posting this from the first computer I've found that's relatively fast and can take my USB storage device...yeehoo!
Sunday, September 04, 2005
"With two steps of the centre town , the Camp-site of the Small Port accomodates the campers , but also the caravans and the motor homes within a green framework in the heart of the city.
24 mobile-homes (O' hara or Willerby-Abi) are also proposed with the hiring. All the hotel comfort combined with the charm of the sport
The camp-site of the Small Port, it is also an easy access to the relaxation and the leisures:"
And in another bit of humour, our trailer is called O'hara. I will thus ask all the residents to call me Miz Scarlett.
We leave Tuesday, our house looks as if every closet in the house vomited all over the floors...a colorful array of shoes, clothes, coats, adapters, books...and they must all fit in 2 suitcases. see ya.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
It seems so lopsided that when such a tragedy would befall our land of plenty, that those with the least would suffer most. Be it that they did not want to leave, or simply did not have the money, the desperation speaks of a lifetime of being underfed, underserviced and disappointed. As I laid in bed tonight and prayed for God knows what, I felt so helpless, and frustrated, in part by the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the past few days: “oh, we’re still rich America..this suffering doesn’t compare with decimated Sri Lankan villages”, “maybe if they would have left when they were told to this wouldn’t have happened”, “all the news shows people are the fantastic stories, the shock-value pictures, its not really as bad as the evening news makes it sound..”
Is my heart so hard? Sometimes it is. Even if those assumptions held a fraction of truth, there is still suffering happening that breaks the Creator’s heart. That people are hungry, children who should be playing and active are listless from lack of food, homes are decimated. This is no small thing. And as with any such disaster, I face the tension of not wanting to overwhelm myself with the unfolding drama, of choosing “lighter” programming so the images won’t stick in my head too long…how much should we, from afar, dive into this story?
My problem, and I think it is an American or even a Western problem, is that I don’t allow myself time to engage with this tragedy, to let the images, sound-bytes, testimonies, truly sink in. I thought tonight about my road-trip to New Orleans one sweltering weekend several springtimes ago. Our purpose was the famous Jazz-fest. However we also trod those famous New Orleans streets, had Beinets at Café DuMonde and window-shopped the works of local artists while live music lilted through the sticky air. I think about that kitsch shop we found on a quaint side street in the French quarter and wonder if looters have stolen the Jesus Action Figure we saw in the front window.
What do I expect as a Christian observing all of this? I expect there will be some that claim God’s wrath on riverboat gamblers or Mardi Gras lasciviousness. Some may experience crises of faith, wondering where God could be in this helplessness. I also expect and hope that there will be, and probably already are, thousands of churches, and relief agencies moblising to assist in the effort to do as Jesus instructed us: feed the poor, house the refugee, care for the widow. One such group is Mercy Works, headed by a friend, Debbie Lascelles. Her heart for mercy and service is contagious, and I hope to see her teams on the scene in New Orleans soon.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Here is the opening few paragraphs of Chapter 2. I write and read this now, wondering if I will find any of the France that gave Merton such a rush.
How did it ever happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in
western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingled with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for
ferocity, hatred stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality – how did it happen
that, from all this, there should come Gregorian chant, monasteries and
cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the
Moalia of Gregory the Great, St. Augustine’s City of God, and his Trinity, the
writings of St. Anselm, St. Bernard’s sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of
Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langland and Dante, St. Thomas’ Summa, and the
Oxoniense of Duns Scotus?
How does it happen that even today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, can put a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grow up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American universities?
When I went to France, in 1925, returning to the land of my birth, I was also returning to the fountains of the intellectual and spiritual life of the world to which I
belonged. I was returning to the spring of natural waters, if you will,
but waters purified and cleaned by grace with such powerful effect that even the
corruption and decadence of the French society of our day has never been able to
poison them entirely or reduce them once again to their original and barbarian
And yet if was France that grew the finest flowers of
delicacy and grace and intelligence and wit and understanding and proportion and
taste. Even the countryside, even the landscape of France, whether in the
low hills and lush meadows ad apple orchards of Normandy or in the sharp and
arid and vivid outline of the mountains of Provence, or in the vast, rolling red
vineyards of Languedoc, seems to have been made full of a special perfection, as
a setting for the best of the cathedrals, the most interesting towns, the most
fervent monasteries, and the greatest universities.
But the wonderful thing about France is how all her perfections harmonize so fully
together. She has possessed all the skills, from cooking to logic and theology,
from bridge-building to contemplation, from vine-growing to sculpture, from
cattle-breeding to prayer: and possessed them more perfectly, separately
and together, than any other nation.
Why is it that the songs of the little French children are more graceful, their speech more intelligent and sober, their eyes calmer and more profound than those of the children of other nations? Who can explain these things?
France, I am glad I was born in your land, and I am glad God brought me back to you, for a time, before it was too late.
-Thomas Merton, “The Seven Storey Mountain”
I'll be in France for 4 months while countless people "live vicariously through me". What better forum for expounding on Jeff's and my experiences than this one.
Blogs are hip.
Blog is short for "web log". And boy do I LOVE those pecan logs from Stuckey's roadside convenience mart. I don't think they have Stuckey's in France...or pecan logs for that matter.
I'll have time on my hands while Jeff toils away learning Information Systems stuff from the French. hm.
I love my friends, family and good conversation. Perhaps this blog can stir some.