Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22, 2013 Day 3 of the conference - with Laura in Paris

Sitting in a church in the middle of Paris. The church is steeped in silence and the smell of incense from centuries of burning it.

I feel at peace, happy to be insulated from the noise outside and the hustle and bustle of the crowds. The sandy stone of the gothic columns reaches skyward. The sun, which is streaming blue and cloud-free outside, is filtered through translucent but not transparent panes of centuries-old glass. It mixes its patterns with the masonry of the walls. I am captivated by the movement of light across the walls as the minutes pass.

The centuries collide at the altar where a modern tableaux claiming that Christ est resuscite! And the 16th century altar proposes the same message. The small altar towards the front is much more modest and less imposing than the stone one framed by angels, mounted by a gold-bedecked cross in front of the pipes of a beautiful organ. The golden candelabras are as tall as any priest and appropriately hold 20 candles each since they are from the time before electricity.

There are no lights on in the sanctuary but it is light enough here, perfect for contemplation and for leaving the outside world behind. Only the ripping of paper or ringing of the phone in the office adjacent to the sanctuary is a reminder of modern times.

Mary prays in her own side chapel, votives lit to ask her intercession for many, flowers at her feet in thanks. A pieta, much smaller, is in another area, her face displaying the agony of her blessed child's gruesome death. The imagery of the Catholic Church is more disturbing than not most of the time.

Notre Dame this morning was full of curious tourists, hundreds lined up outside, moving quickly into, around, and out of the cathedral. An orchestra was setting up instruments for a concert to be held there in two days time. I was reminded of the time in 1981 when I sang there. I was on a choir tour of Europe with my college choir and had the honor of singing several songs in that beautiful space. Our notes resonated throughout the acoustically wonderful space and I felt moved to tears with the pleasure of singing there. Knowing how many people had come and gone through the place, how much history had been made there, how much amazing art had taken place - the stained glass, the organ, the bells, the stone and wood carving - the artisanship and craftsmanship moved me deeply. To be singing there gave me chills.

Being back there today with Laura, so many years later, telling her about it gave me pause to consider the wonders of my world. I never could have imagined then all that has transpired since, especially the lives of my precious children and that I could share that space with one of them almost exactly 32 years later. I could picture the 60 of us fresh-faced college students prepped for perfection in tone, enunciation, projection and comportment, singing our hearts out, aware of the magic of the moment. It brought it all back being there with Laura today. Though I can't remember which songs we sang, I saw us in our black skirts and white blouses with red sashes, the men in tuxes, lining up, playing a tone so we could sing a Capella then following Dr. Lendrim as he led us in song.

Ah, I do wax poetic today!

Back here in this smaller church with only a few people, mostly in prayer, I breathe deeply and notice the sounds of cars swooshing by outside, the shoes of a tourist on the stones as he walks quickly by the altars, looking for familiar names of artists.

I find it interesting that we honor artists as great and grand in perpetuity, but in life it's difficult for us to acknowledge that what they're doing might be important or worthy of attention or payment. Artists seem to be the ones who notice and point out what's going on in society. They are the canaries in the mine letting us know when the air is getting too thin and we need to beware. Their lives are at times equally disregarded until they are dead when they are recognized as having been prescient and important.

Sitting here in the church, I asked God to let me know what's next, to lead me where he would have me go. I am clear that God has things for me to do. My job, it seems, is to stay open and courageous enough to follow through on the leadings. I don't know what it will be like in China but I am guessing there's a good reason for me to go there and that way will open so I will know what it is. I was imagining my speaking to Dylan and asking him if he knows what the government is doing in East Turkestan and what he thinks of it. I want to make him aware so that he isn't taken in by everything he's experiencing.

The woman behind me to my right just began singing, "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu Jesu." I looked over at her and she smiled at me. Her voice was so beautiful. It filled the space like an angel's. Thank you for that, God. It brought me back to you from my head space. Beauty is powerful. Truly domineering and all encompassing when I can let it be. Please let me be a vehicle for beauty, God, in bringing it to others. It brings me such joy. I would like to spread joy the way that woman just brought it to me with her glorious simple voice. Thank you. Amen.

After leaving the church, I wandered the streets for several hours, until about nine o'clock when I figured it would be a good idea to head back to the hotel. Unfortunately, I didn't quite do that - I went to the right station, but when I asked someone if I was on the right train, she gave me wrong information - well, it was right AND wrong - the are two stations with the name Charles de Gaulle in them. One is the airport. The other is not. She gave me the correct information that I was headed in the direction of the other one. I noticed about 20 minutes into the ride because I was busy editing my pictures and assuming I was going in the right direction. Finally it dawned on me that perhaps I wasn't. I asked the very kind people I was sitting with if we were heading towards the airport. The looked quite regretful to be informing me that no we weren't. The woman got out with me a couple of stops later to show me where I needed to go to retrace my steps so I could take the right train the next time. When I got back to the original station 20 minutes later, another couple of good Samaritans were kind enough to show me the way onto the right train. I think I am going in the right direction now. I'm a bit tired but don't really mind having gone off in the wrong direction earlier. It was good having the time to sit and work with my photos and focus inward. The whole day has been pretty extroverted, so it's good to chill and be inside my own head for a while.

Tomorrow the folks from the conference, me included, will take a bus tour of Paris. I don't have any idea where we'll be going, but I've hear we might be going on a boat, to the Eiffel Tower and to the Louvre. That would suit me just fine. It'll be lovely to have a chance to spend some free time with the participants of the conference too. They've been so busy with lectures and workshops there hasn't been much free time.

Tomorrow evening I'll have to get myself ready for China. Crazy!
I'm still kind of hoping that the plane will be delayed in Amsterdam for several extra hours so I can make a detour to the Van Gogh AND Rembrandt museums on the way to China! Wish me luck on that one!

Images I saw today that struck me as interesting:
- A couple of gay bars with scores of handsome men lined up outside waiting to get in.

- A slender Swiss man with dreadlocks playing a fascinating instrument which resounded beautifully throughout the plaza in front of the Pompideau. I wanted to buy a CD from him but I didn't have 10€ in cash, darn it. I recorded a video of him playing. He licked his fingers to get a different sound and otherwise played it a bit like a steel drum. The instrument looked like one of those turned out instead of caved in and it was hollow turned out on both sides like an almond but round. There were indentations all around it where he would play and a bump on top where he could make it sing a higher tone while dum dum dumming around the edges. I was captivated by the sound.  (I promise to remember on my next trip that videos can only be recorded ONE WAY!)

- a photography gallery with images of twirling dervishes and another of four Tibetan monks at a waterfall with seven levels. Both were quite magical.

- Another gallery with a statue of a Venus similar to that of Willendorf but with a more elongated upper torso, about 6 inches tall, huge breasts and hips. It makes me even more curious to take pottery and to create some forms out of clay. Sculpture seems to be calling me. That and the desire to make some beautiful plates and bowls with gorgeous glazes. I might have to do that this summer just for fun!

-scarves upon scarves upon scarves. Parisian women wear scarves. And no wonder - it's been about 50 degrees Fahrenheit each day we've been here, so it's been chilly. Scarves are the perfect fashion accessory for warmth and chic-ness. I looked through a lot of scarves myself today and ended up buying 5. My friend Kathy Benner loaned me several of her fabulous silk creations for the trip and has certainly shown me the joy of wearing them. Now I'll have some of my own as well. I have a lot of scarves at home, but the ones for sale in Paris as well as the ones Kathy loaned me are wider and longer and warmer and easier to keep on. They're a different beast.

- early this evening when I went into an interesting African goods shop to look at their fabulous material, I was told by a charming man (who, admittedly smelled strongly of alcohol - not to diminish the truth of what he said, mind you(!)) there, "Vous etes tres belle!" (you're very beautiful.) Further, he told me he'd like to spend some time with me. I told him no thank you I'm married, happily married - not interested. Flattered, I turned my eyes away from him and moved away. When he realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with me, he left the store. The woman who ran the shop rolled her eyes and said she was so glad he finally left - he'd been there too long. Then she warned me to put my iPad away and to watch my things carefully. Chances were he had scoped me out and was going to be watching when I left so he could follow me. Yuck. That made me uncomfortable. When I left the store I saw him down the street and went the other way of course. I checked to make sure he wasn't following me and held my purse close to me for unite a while afterwards. I'm always fairly mindful of it and of my surroundings but that made me even more so - for a while, at least. I actually felt very safe all day. There were so many people around all over the place, I didn't worry at all.

When I was in Paris in 1981 on the choir tour I was with a group of students on the Metro. We were talking and laughing as American students tend to do. Suddenly I felt a hand in my pocketbook. I turned around quickly and said in perfect French, " what are you doing?" I remember being particularly impressed and surprised that my French came out so well in such a tense moment. The guy looked at me defensively and said, "nothing! I'm not doing anything,". He jumped off he metro as quick as anything at the next stop. I felt so fortunate. My passport and plane ticket and money were all in there - that was in the days before credit cards or electronic tickets, so I would have been up a creek if he'd gotten all that. Good thing Monsieur Cloutier taught French so well - I was prepared even for a pickpocket on the Paris metro!

I'm just noticing that its 10:50. The last shuttle to the hotel leaves at 11:30. I hope it isn't actually earlier. I would be frustrated if I had to take a taxi to the hotel! Silly me.

- I wanted to go to the Sainte Chapelle today with Laura but when we got there the line was very long and it was going to cost 8,50€ to get in - frustratingly expensive. It's a very beautiful building but I didn't feel like paying $11 to see it. We were also planning to go to the Pompidou but didn't go there either. We decided we'd rather enjoy each other's company and hang out wandering the streets. That was a terrific decision. Laura and I haven't had all that many occasions to be grown ups together hanging out enjoying each others company so it was quite a treat. I look forward to more when she gets back home after her Fulbright this summer.

By the way, she's looking for a job teaching or working in Human or Animal Rights or as a vegan pastry chef - the woman has MANY talents! If you happen to know of any jobs available, she's interested in living almost anywhere, overseas or in the US. She's a hard worker, a wonderful teacher, a solid thinker and will be an amazing addition to any organization. She is completely fluent in German, 90% fluent in Spanish and speaks some French and Portuguese as well. If you know of any positions that might be a fit for her, please let me know and I'll pass the info on to her. Thanks so very much!

There was lots of PDA in and around Paris.  It was sweet to see the love and desire expressed so openly.

I LOVE having public transportation so available and affordable.  I wish every city in the US would have it!

"Fashion - the art of being unique."

There were many flower shops around Paris with their beauteous bounty cascading over the sidewalk, beckoning passersby to indulge in the burgeoning blossoms.

Seen in the window of a used book store

at the top of the escalator at a subway stop

My perfectly gorgeous girl and me on a perfectly gorgeous day in perfectly gorgeous Paris at the perfectly gorgeous Notre Dame cathedral!

Apparently these locks are quite a thing all over the world.  Lovers buy one and attach them to bridges or other monuments to show their attachment for one another.  I saw them in China on the Great Wall as well.

the money shot!

In case you didn't bring your own lock, you could get one right here on the other side of the bridge from Notre Dame.

Even the mannequins are fashionistas here!

Laura, taking off for Germany.  I'll see her again in mid-July sometime after she's done with the Fulbright!  Au revoir, Laura!

1 comment:

  1. (This is my third attempt at posting this comment!)
    The instrument the man is playing in the street is called a "hang". It is an expensive and fairly exclusive Swiss-made instrument, which is individually made to each musician-buyer's desired tuning. They cost over $1000 and there is quite a back-log of people who want them. Check out this guy's playing:
    I'm enjoying reading your blog about your travels! Bon voyage!