Wednesday, November 30, 2011

dreaming of a white christmas...


...and I'll have to keep dreaming for now. Winter and anything that even remotely resembles it, including snow, is very far from Evreux! Today, for example, the last day of November, the sun was shining all day, and the thermometer stayed in the upper 40's to lower 50's! Beautiful weather, but not as seasonal as I know!

The weather in general here is certainly milder that I am used to. I have been told that this fall in particular has been unusually mild, with much less rain and cold than normal. But even in general, the weather isn't anything like Chicago! Everyone always asks me about how Chicago compares to Evreux in terms of climate, and I always reply that Chicago is much colder. I recently told this to someone at the Cathedral, and he proceeded to give a very involved geographical analysis of this. In terms of latitude, Chicago is physically closer to the Equator than Evreux (and most of France, for that matter), so you would expect Chicago to have the warmer climate. But, because of the jet stream, it is in fact France that is warmer for the most part. Thus I find myself with September-worthy weather at Christmastime!

I've asked some French friends if we can expect snow at some point this winter, and they are all optimistic. So I anticipate at least a little bit of beautiful French snow in Normandy! But, as one friend wisely noted, I should hope that it doesn't come too soon--I don't want anything causing any trouble for my flight home! So snow can come in January, and that'll be fine by me!

pax christi.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

my kids!


my borrowed French peasant nativity :)

Teaching over 200 little French kids English isn't always easy. It gets pretty frustrating knowing that my students don't understand 87% of everything that I say to them.

But almost every day, I have little rewarding moments that make it all worth it. 

Today I had an extended lunch because the class that I normally work with after lunch was going to a play in the afternoon. So I was already happy to have that extra break. When I got back to school, the kids were at recess and, immediately upon seeing me coming, a big group of kids ran up to me and started bombarding me with questions about Christmas! Every question began with "In your country, do you...". And they still get really confused about America vs. England; they sometimes don't understand that the culture is different. They asked about Christmas pudding, Santa Claus, Christmas crackers, turkey, if kids get presents. And I'm sure they have even more--I had to go inside to prepare for class. It was really sweet to see the kids so excited to interrogate me! And I was so happy to talk about one of my favorite subjects in the whole wide world!

the courtyard of the Cathedral, lit up at night. so beautiful
pax christi.

Monday, November 28, 2011

3 weeks.


my homemade Advent wreath

As happy as I am here in Evreux, there is really nothing like home. And that makes me so joyful that I'll be there exactly 3 weeks from today! I am so blessed to be able to come home for Christmas. I get to see my beloved family and friends for the holidays, and there are so many people who do not have that opportunity for so many reasons. It is truly a really special blessing that I am very thankful for.

This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent--the 4 weeks before Christmas where we get to anticipate baby Jesus' humble birth in a manger. I spent the first Sunday of Advent on retreat in a little town in northwest France, and I was able to meditate a lot on the Gospel and what it means to be beginning this season of Advent. We are told by Jesus to "Be watchful! Be alert!" We know that He is coming, that little baby who will live to love and die for us, to save us. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Savior, and Advent is the time to prepare our hearts for that! We need to make sure that we are prepared for Him and what His birth means to us and for us!

In my prayer and meditation on retreat, I kept thinking about spending most of Advent in France. I know that I'm going home soon. But I will be spending the next few weeks here still. Just like Advent is a patient anticipation, I have to be patient in the anticipation of my flight home :) It will be hard, but I have 3 weeks where I need to be focused on my life here--enjoying the beauty of Christmas celebrated in France, preparing my students for the holidays with a bit of American culture, sharing love and excitement with my wonderful friends here. This is all part of my preparation for coming home, and I need to make sure that I'm fully present and aware of my blessings here!

the view from my room on retreat--beautiful French countryside :)

pax christi.

Saturday, November 26, 2011



I'm thankful for turkey,
I'm thankful for yams,
I'm thankful for cranberries,
biscuits, and ham.

I'm thankful for pumpkins,
I'm thankful for cheese,
I'm thankful for gravy,
potatoes, and peas.

This is the Thanksgiving poem I taught most of my students, and though I'm not particularly thankful for turkey or ham, I do have quite a list of my own "I'm thankful for"s. I know Thanksgiving was a few days ago, but there is too much to be thankful for to just dedicate one single day to gratitude!

This year has, yet again, been filled with some incredible blessings. I kept it simple and told my kids that I was thankful for my family & my friends because they understand those words (for the most part...), but it is so true. I have an incredible family and dear friends, and I wouldn't be able to be here if it weren't for their love, support, and prayers. There really isn't anything I am more thankful for than them.

I am also so thankful for my faith. God has led me to Evreux, and I have been so abundantly blessed here. If it weren't for my faith, I would not have the wonderful, welcoming Catholic community that I have here. I would not have met the friends that I have, and I would not have had all the experiences that I have. I am so thankful for all of these things, and I truly owe it all to the Lord. I know that, because I stay close to Him, in prayer and in my everyday life, He has taken care of me in everything. I pray that for us all :) And I am blessed to be able to look upon all that I am thankful for with a grateful, humble heart.

pax christi.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

an American Thanksgiving in Evreux.


Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

the chefs/hostesses :)

Thanksgiving was celebrated on Wednesday in Evreux, mainly because it's the day that most/all of the language assistants have off! Just like a traditional Thanksgiving, we spent pretty much the whole day cooking and eating, and it was just wonderful. Though not exactly like an American Thanksgiving with family and football, we managed to prepare all the traditional dishes for our international guests! Us Americans were in charge of the whole shindig, so I got to co-host Thanksgiving for the first time! It was exciting, and we took our duty to transmit a traditional Thanksgiving to foreigners seriously! The three American hosts in Evreux were accompanied by 2 other Americans, 1 Italian, 1 Spanish, 1 German, 1 Jamaican, 4 Brits, and 2 French for a big, beautiful meal!

The day started around 1pm, with our major food preparations begun! We prepped plenty in advance, but there was still much to be cooked before dinner time! Guests started arriving around 3pm for appetizers & drinks, and dinner was ready around 6pm. 

the appetizers

The grand menu:
  • baked brie w/apples, cinnamon, and pecans
  • "thanksgiving bites"--sautéed sweet potato slices with goat cheese, celery, apples, and more things?
  • green beans amandine
  • garlic mashed potatoes
  • cranberry sauce
  • sweet potatoes
  • stuffing
  • brussel sprouts with figs
  • turkey
  • pumpkin pie
  • chocolate pumpkin cake
  • apple crisp
And, of course, there was plenty of wine and bread. All of the food was delicious!

our lovely centerpiece

the table & guests before the attack

the aftermath, during dessert :)

Happy Thanksgiving, from all the Evreux assistants!

I just about rolled home--always the sign of a successful Thanksgiving. Even though I'm missing my family today, yesterday was a really fun substitute. I'm sure I'll always remember my Thanksgiving in France! Happy Thanksgiving :)

pax christi.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

turkeys according to 8 year olds


As a little pre-Thanksgiving treat (and because I've celebrated it all week long in France...), here are some of the most unique hand turkeys ever created. I'm pretty sure all of my students think that Thanksgiving is a big party Americans throw every Thursday--you try explaining Thanksgiving in English to a bunch of kids who don't speak English...--but at least they can all draw a turkey with their hands now! I'm teaching them some useful skills at least!

this kid was a little confused--he thought we were
actually drawing our hands rather than just tracing them,
hence the turkey with fingernails & a tattoo...

the turkey with 5 hearts

look closely--this turkey has glasses :)

It was too funny seeing what they all came up with! There was also a turkey decorated with the colors of the French flag. And almost every kid at some point erased their turkey because they thought it was too ugly. I was very encouraging, but everyone took their turkey-drawing very seriously. It made me proud :)

Happy early Thanksgiving! We are feasting in Evreux today! I wish you all a blessed day full of gratitude, love, and plenty of food!

pax christi.

last night's dinner


"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop 
whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating"
--Luciano Pavarotti

Mona is one of the most interesting and coolest people I have ever met, and I enjoyed a 5 hour dinner at her home last night. Yup--5 hours. Literally. It was awesome.

Being an American and a foreigner, I get plenty of invitations for a home-cooked meal, a cup of coffee, English lessons, etc. But last night, this invitation came via a good friend, and at an American's house! So I knew this wasn't going to be your average French dinner party. We showed up at Mona's house around 7:30, and were immediately welcomed into a beautiful, warm home. Mona is so friendly, and she opened up her home to me so quickly and generously.

We had an apéritif before dinner--a French tradition I have gotten quite used to! After over an hour of conversation and champagne in the living room, we moved to the dining room for the actual meal. Mona is also a vegetarian, so she made a traditional pot-au-feu for the men, and tofu with rice and vegetables for us. With our meal, as is customary, there was plenty of wine and bread. After dinner came the cheese course, and then dessert. Mona made chocolate mousse that was so rich and delicious! Somehow, 12:30 rolled around and we finally realized how long we had been there! I was very reluctant to leave, but I had school in the morning and Mona reassured me I'd be back.

A bit about Mona. She is an American by birth, but has been living in France since the '70s, so she is a seasoned expat. She is also an artist and her personality reflects that so well. Or the other way around. In any case, she is unique. She's very intellectual and loves to tell stories with passion, sound effects, and gros mots. I've never met anyone quite like her, and I really admire her. I so enjoyed getting to know her and hear about the incredible life she's led!

Needless to say, I was up way past my bedtime and very tired this morning for school, but it was completely worth it! Last night was quite an experience. It was certainly the longest dinner I've ever had, and I'd place it in the top 5 meals ever shared! And again, I am so blessed that I've met the people that I have. I believe that it is no coincidence that I am here. God keeps putting specific people in my life who are taking care of me and who make me so happy!

ps--Thanksgiving in Evreux tomorrow :) Yes, it's not the real Thanksgiving day, but it's the day we are able to cook and eat all day long! I'm so excited!

pax christi.

yes we cook!


Just like in the US, everyone and everything has been spending the last few weeks getting ready for Christmas! Evreux is strung with lights across the streets, shops have put up garlands and trees to decorate the store fronts,  window displays glisten with twinkle lights and glitter, and of course, stores are bringing out their holiday gift ideas to entice Christmas shoppers. 

book, diner napkin dispenser, ketchup & mustard bottles

As I was browsing a local bookshop this afternoon, a box decorated with the American flag caught my eye. It's not uncommon to see American or British flags on clothes, backpacks, or other accessories--it's very trendy here to pretend like you speak English. But to see a box like this in a bookshop was more curious! I though to myself that it surely couldn't be an actual book in English! So I investigated, and was amused to find "Yes We Cook", a gift set containing a recipe book with "authentic" American recipes. I love the emphasis on the fact that Americans do, indeed, cook. The French are working on breaking that stereotype!

I think the back description is the best part. Here's a translation: "Immediate departure for a gourmet voyage to the heart of the United States! 50 easy and familiar recipes: American breakfast, New York Cheesecake, Chicago Ceasar Salad, Avocado pie, T-bone steak, Gingerbread men, house ketchup, Manhattan cocktail..."

First "recipe" on the list: American breakfast. American breakfasts are much more substantial than French breakfasts. I could write a whole post on just that difference--and I probably will! I also had no idea that Chicago is known for the Ceasar Salad? And I can't tell you what avocado pie is; I've never seen that in the United States, or even heard of it...So this is an attempt to replicate American cuisine. I have a feeling that they should have consulted an actual American before actually selling this, but it's too late now! What we have is something that curious French people will buy to imitate in their homes, and something that will make an American cock their head and laugh :)

pax christi.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

la bise.


Every day, I lose track of how many people, even strangers, I manage to kiss. Or who kiss me. This doesn't happen in a completely unwarranted or at all promiscuous way. This is simply French culture, one of plenty of particularities that, for any American, take some getting used to. Faire la bise means "to do the kiss", and it's the expression used for this little greeting, done when you first see someone and when you are leaving them. In its simplest form, it is a little peck on each cheek, but depending on the relationship of the kissers or the region they come from or how much wine they've had, there can be as many as four kisses in a single exchange. I'm still working on the rules, and I get it wrong from time to time (which has led to some very awkward situations...). But it is becoming normal for me to kiss just about anyone.

Last night at dinner, I was eating with a group of all French people and I was asked what has been the most difficult thing to adjust to living in France. Before I could even think of something, someone else brought up the bise. He explained to everyone that anglos shake hands when they greet each other, and everyone started laughing! When I threw in that we also hug, they were even more amused! To the French, handshakes are much too formal, and hugging means too much physical contact. Kissing everyone is so normal for the French, but is far too friendly for English-speakers, and it's true that the bise is one thing that I wasn't completely prepared for before coming here, and have had to adjust to!

After that conversation, I've been super aware of the bise. For example, today at the Cathedral, after Mass, I counted that I kissed 5 people whose names I did not know. A few of them introduced themselves in the process (typical protocol for kissing a stranger is that you say your name as you're going in for the kiss), but two of them didn't even do that! So I still don't know their names!

The long and short of it is this. I've gotten used to kissing my friends. I know them, and this is the French way. I'm still getting used to kissing strangers, but it's not completely shocking to me. And I'm starting to worry about coming back to the United States! I'm going to instinctively faire la bise with everyone I see, whether they expect it or not, and it's probably going to be really awkward. Wonderful.

pax christi.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

some beauty, brought to you by the letter "w"


I was blessed with this beautiful view on my walk back from school today :)

I was walking on the bridge that crosses the train tracks on my way home from one of my schools this afternoon, and I turned the corner to see this beautiful sun behind the hill and trees. The weather lately has been beautiful. Some cloudy days, but they have been scattered amidst perfect fall weather with the sun shining and a chill in the air, with the wind gently blowing falling leaves around. So beautiful! I had to stop and take a picture, even with the snobby teenagers walking home from school around me. Even this little perspective made me fall in love with Evreux yet again! I'm praying this weather lasts :)

On an unrelated note, I noticed today a general love among all of my students for the letter "w". I have been working on the alphabet with them all for the past two weeks. I have some kids who still don't know the letter "a", who perpetually confuse "g" and "j", who consistently add numbers to the alphabet...but without fail, every single kid knows the letter "w"! And they love saying it! It's the funniest thing. I would never have guess that this letter would cause so much joy among these little French kids!

more sun :)

pax christi.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

why kids rule


my portrait,  an 8 year old

Teaching over 100 French kids to speak English is not the easiest thing I've ever done. Sure, there are some kids who pick it up quickly enough and are a little bit more with it, but there are about 10 times as many kids who scrunch up their noses and stare at me like I'm an alien. Most of those kids are genuinely confused. Some of those kids just want to be difficult. And because of all of this, I have the opportunity to get frustrated about a million times every day.

the art gallery in my apartment

BUT! To make up for all of the exasperation, I am still teaching kids, and kids are adorable. I have received pictures and gifts from my students, including this first Christmas decoration for my apartment!

a painted pine cone--how cute!

In addition to little gifts, I have received some very sweet compliments from my students. Yesterday, I was teaching one of the youngest grades at my school. These kids have only just started learning English this year, and are understandably very limited in their English capabilities. I spent basically the whole class period dancing around singing the alphabet song (side note: one of my kids yelled out "DISCO!" when I started dancing. I'm quite proud that's one of the only English words he knows!), but at the end of class as they were leaving, one little girl stopped me and said tu es trop belle, which means "you are too beautiful"! It was so unexpected, and so sweet. It made my day!

It is moments like that, so candid and innocent, that are among the most rewarding. They give me the extra boost of invigoration, reminding me why I am doing this, and for whom I'm doing this! I surely can't expect these kids to be perfectly fluent right off the bat; I certainly wasn't when I started learning French! I can't blame them for that! They're trying their hardest (sometimes...), and I never know when they'll surprise me next!

pax christi.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

paris, revisited


Today, I got to spend another beautiful day in Paris. The second day this week! It was a lovely day, especially since I was able to spend it with a friend from U of I! Not only was it comforting to speak in English all day long (I literally spoke the least French today since I moved was kind of weird), but it was also such a joy to see a friend--someone who knows me, knows St. John's, and with whom I can talk about anything!

I took the train into the city and met Rose at St. Joseph's Church, which is the English-speaking church in Paris. We attended Mass (my first English Mass in 2 months!), and were able to go to Confession with an English priest as well. I have yet to attempt Confession in French, but it's a goal I'm working on! After Mass/Confession, we grabbed lunch at a little brasserie in the neighborhood and had delicious crêpes :) Most people think of crêpes as a dessert, but there is a difference between sweet and savory crêpes. For example, for lunch I had a crêpe with spinach and mushrooms. Definitely not a dessert crêpe!

From lunch, we had decided to visit the Arc de Triomphe. Although I had seen it before and walked around it, I had never been to the top. And I was very happy to discover that I could go for free since I'm a legal French resident!

l'Arc de Triomphe
Rose and I at the Arc

L'Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in the early 1800's to celebrate his military victories. In typical Napoleon fashion, he insisted in the most elaborate and impressive structure. So we have this incredibly grand arch! It is situated in what used to be called the Place de l'Etoile (Star Plaza) because it is an insane intersection with 12 streets radiating from the center! To even reach the Arc de Triomphe, you have to enter through an underground tunnel to avoid the cars circling chaotically! This huge archway was finished in 1836, over 10 years after the death of Napoleon, and it is decorated with huge stone reliefs depicting Napoleon and other powerful historical or mythical rulers and warriors. Carved inside each of the pillars are names of Napoleon's military leaders and battles that he had fought. There are also memorials of wars that France has been involved in since Napoleon.

the tomb of the unknown soldier

One of the most powerful and well-known aspects of the Arc de Triomphe is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After World War I, the tomb was installed in memorial for all of the soldiers who died unidentified with an eternal flame. Every year on Armistice Day, there is a ceremony at the Tomb. And since we visited the day after Armistice Day, we got to see all of the beautiful flower arrangements!

From the Arc, I wanted to show Rose one of my favorite places in Paris, the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal. In the 1830's, Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, a sister of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, and instructed her to create a medal to be worn to receive blessings and protection from Mary. This chapel is a popular site for Catholic pilgrims in Paris and it is a beautiful, peaceful place to pray. St. Catherine's body is incorrupt and displayed above a side altar in the chapel. You can also pray in front of the chair that Mary sat on when she appeared to St. Catherine. We arrived near the end of the Rosary, and the chapel was packed!

"I was established Guardian. The protection of God is always there!"

I was able to visit this chapel several times over the summer and, even when it is full with pilgrims and Parisians, there is a respectful silence and an undeniable peace. That is a characteristic of any place that Mary has appeared. Her presence persists, even hundreds of years after the apparitions. It is the same case with Lourdes. Though Mary was physically present to St. Catherine and St. Bernadette, she is always with her children--watching over us and protecting us from heaven! I know I can always find peace in any church I visit and pray in, but there is always a special comfort where Mary has been. Visiting the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal today was an unanticipated treat!

With one last stop, for ice cream, Rose and I went our separate ways to catch trains and return to our respective French stomping grounds. I was so happy to spend the day with her!

pax christi.

armistice day


Today is Armistice Day--November 11th. Celebrated very similarly to Memorial Day in the US, towns all around France have traditional festivities to commemorate the end of World War I. At 11 o'clock on November 11th in 1918, in a forest just north of Paris, an armistice was signed between the Germans and the Allies, putting an end to a war that had lasted 4 years and had ravaged Europe. Even though this was almost 100 years ago, the memory of the tragic losses and destruction is still strong.

St. Denis cemetery, Evreux

As this is a national holiday, most things are closed today, including schools! I went to Mass this morning at the Cathedral. It was a special Mass for peace, and there were a few soldiers there with the French flag. It is common in most American churches to have an American flag somewhere inside, accompanied by the Vatican flag, but in France, that is not common. Because of the distinct and strict separation of Church and State in France, the French flag isn't displayed in churches.

Because of Mass, I missed a small military parade in the center of town, but I did see the barricades and City Hall decorated with flags. Evreux flew the flags of each country involved in World War I, so I saw an American flag!

this is probably the only day an American flag can be flown in France!

At 11am, there was a small ceremony at the local cemetery. It reminded me of what Park Ridge does in Hodges Park on Memorial Day. The mayor gave a speech and a military officer read a letter from President Sarkozy. There were representatives from the different branches of the military, as well as from various war memorial groups in Evreux, who laid flowers on the World War I memorial in the cemetery. A group from the Evreux community band played the Marseillaise (the French national anthem) to conclude the ceremony, which lasted about half an hour.

the mayor of Evreux giving a speech at the cemetery

It was really interesting to see how another country commemorates an event like this. I am used to American celebrations, but the US is such a young country in comparison to Europe. Our culture, history, and traditions are not as deeply rooted as those in France. Just from hearing the mayor's speech or seeing military uniforms, I noticed so many indications that this is an old country, one that has a very rich, particular history. It was really neat to be able to take part of this little ceremony! Happy Armistice Day!

pax christi.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

fall sunrises can't be beat


This morning, rather than waking to a dark, overcast sky that is unfortunately all too typical in Normandy, I was greeted by this. The patchy clouds reflected a fiery sun that lit up the sky. It was an exciting way to start the morning and I left my apartment for school with a big smile on my face, thanking God for this beautiful day!

a room with a view

pax christi.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the city of light


"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
                                                                       --Ernest Hemingway

I happen to be lucky enough to live an hour away from Paris. Hemingway spent most of the 1920's living and writing in self-imposed expatriation in Paris, and he fell in love with the city and its vibrant, international culture. When he called Paris "a moveable feast", he gave a name to the unique sensation that only Paris can evoke. And I live close enough to experience that for myself.

a fountain in the Luxembourg gardens

It's hard to believe that I live closer to Paris than I lived to Chicago during college. A quick train ride from Evreux into the Gare St. Lazare and then the city is mine to explore and to love! And for the first time since moving here, that is exactly what I did today!

fall in Evreux

The other Americans and I in Evreux don't work on Wednesdays, so we decided that we would venture into  Paris for the day. We ended up having a fabulous day--absolutely perfect fall weather and the perfect amount of exploring/eating for the day! We took the train into Paris and arrived just in time for the clouds to disappear, revealing a gorgeous sun, and for lunch! Emma and I made a beeline for falafel. We walked across the city for some of the most delicious falafel sandwiches, at Chez Marianne. Taking advantage of blue skies and moderate temperatures, we ate outside and savored the Middle Eastern goodness! From there, we decided to wander until meeting up with Faustyna. We didn't have any specific route, so we headed for the Latin Quarter, and ended up finding Café Procope!

Café Procope!!!

As a student of French history, allow me to briefly explain the significance of this single most important café among all other cafés in Paris--and the world. Café Procope is considered the first café of Paris. It was opened by an Italian in 1686 as a restaurant men could come to and drink coffee, a new and intriguing import from the New World. So many important figures in literature and history have frequented this café--including Balzac, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Some of the most famous novels and documents have been written or discussed here--including the American Constitution! Needless to say, when we stumbled upon the café on a random side street, I was just short of speechless. If you can't tell from this picture, I was beside myself with excitement! In all my time in Paris, I had never seen this incredible establishment. But now that I know where to find it, I'll be back soon to enjoy a hot chocolate and dessert!

Continuing on our journey, Emma and I made our way to the Luxembourg gardens to meet up with Faustyna. We made a pit stop at Starbucks--my first time in a foreign country--to pick up some taste of home. I normally do not approve of Starbucks runs when in Europe, but after two months without its convenience and familiarity, I made an exception for myself. With all of the cultural adjustments I've had to make in the past 2 months, it's incredibly comforting to have even such a small reminder of home. And so with hot chocolate and coffee conveniently in hand, we chatted and people-watched in the beautiful weather surrounded by falling leaves and huge flower pots of mums.

christmas cups--just like home!
a flower tent in front of the Odéon, a national French theatre

From the Luxembourg gardens, we decided to walk some more! We ended up near the Louvre, and continued to walk along the Seine towards the Tuileries gardens. The sun was beginning to set, and the river was the perfect backdrop. It was so beautiful!

the Seine at sunset

We finally decided to make our way to the train station to head home--with one last pit stop for chocolate! We made a slight detour to find Fouquet, a chocolatier opened in 1852. I treated myself to a delicious dark chocolate ganache "bouchée". So good! And the perfect ending to a wonderful day in Paris. Our train ride back to Evreux was sleepy yet I was so content! There is really no place like Paris! And I'll be back on Saturday :)

pax christi.

Friday, November 4, 2011

la bretagne!


Chateau de Vitré

I returned from my little vacation for All Saint's Day a few days ago, and I couldn't be more content! This relaxing little break, after only a few weeks of work, was a wonderful opportunity for me to discover more of France, more food, and to get to know some of the friends I have made here better!

One of the French friends that I have made in Evreux moved here almost 2 years ago from Bretagne to be closer to friends. She was returning home for the break to clear out the rest of the old house that she's selling and she invited me and another friend to join her. I eagerly accepted her kind invitation, even with her warning that I'd be helping with the move plenty! We did spend a significant time packing and cleaning the house, but we were able to visit some cities as well.

We left Evreux on Wednesday afternoon and drove about 3 hours south to a small town in Bretagne. Bretagne, or Brittany, is the region of France just south of Normandy. Even though the physical distance is minimal, it is very different! The landscape, the architecture, the food, and even the people change from one region to the next! Bretagne has a very specific culture. There is even another language that is spoken there! The Celtic influence in this region--stemming from centuries of history connecting Bretagne to Great Britain--is very prevalent. Breton is a language that doesn't at all resemble French. It is much more similar to Gaelic, and there are signs all over the region written in both French and Breton. It's so fun to see!

emblem on the Chateau de Vitré

I took a total of 4 pictures on the entire trip--and we were gone for almost a week. I wish I had taken more, but I've been promised that we'll be back when we can spend more time being tourists.

Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine in Rennes

When we weren't loading a massive moving truck or sweeping cobwebs off of window sills (which I didn't actually help with...) we took some trips into towns around Bretagne! We spent a day in Rennes, which is a really cool university town. There are a number of beautiful churches that we visited, as well as a very French city hall and several huge open-air markets in squares all around the city. We also were able to see Vitré, which is a medium-sized city. It has a castle that has been converted to the town hall, a very nice library, and plenty of picturesque, winding cobblestone roads. We decided to explore without a map, and we ended up finding all kinds of hidden paths and ancient buildings!

What struck me most in our little trip was the generosity that was shown by everyone that I met. I am very used to complete strangers cooking meals for me, letting me sleep in their homes, and basically temporarily inviting me into their families thanks to Totus Tuus over the past 3 summers. But receiving this same generosity in a different country has been a completely new witness to me. I was blessed to enjoy delicious and abundant homemade meals all week and to meet people who were so warm and welcoming. I was very well taken care of :) And so thankful for everything that was so generously offered me. It was a humble trip filled with lots of blessings!

pax christi.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011



All Saint's Day, November 1st, is a Solemnity in the Catholic Church--it's an opportunity to recognize and celebrate all of the many, many saints who intercede and pray for us in heaven. There are over 6,500 saints canonized by the Church, but there are millions and millions and millions of people who have gone before us who are also in heaven, and whose intercession we can ask for as well!

Today is also a national holiday in France--historically a VERY Catholic country. Schools have been on a 2 week vacation, and all other institutions, public and private, are closed today in observance. It is a holiday for families to spend together going to Mass and typically visiting the grave sites of loved ones. This morning, I went to Mass at the Cathedral with the Bishop and sang in the choir :) It was a beautiful Mass!!!

Basilica of St. Thérèse

After Mass, 2 of my French friends and I left on a mini-pilgrimage to celebrate the holiday. Evreux is about an hour away from Lisieux, which is the town that St. Thérèse grew up and lived in! It is such a blessing to live so close to Lisieux, and this was the first time that I had visited this holy place. St. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, and I definitely think that it is no coincidence that I live so close to her home.

As one of the first little miracles of the day, the morning rain and gray skies slowly disappeared as we drove closer to Lisieux. By the time we arrived, the weather was beautiful! Lisieux is very similar to Evreux; it's a small town tucked into the hills and trees of Normandy. This was my first view of what has become the legacy of St. Thérèse--an enormous basilica built in her honor. We parked, enjoyed a very French picnic lunch, then spent time visiting the Basilica and Crypt. The Basilica was built in the first half of the 20th century, and though the exterior architecture is rather traditional, the interior is decorated with modern mosaics and murals. There are altars dedicated from countries around the world--devotion to St. Thérèse has spread to the farthest corners of our world! The Crypt is much more intimate, and contains side altars devoted to saints that St. Thérèse venerated particularly as well as the remains of her parents Louis and Zélie Martin, who are both beatified.

the Carmel of Lisieux

From the Basilica, we walked about 10 minutes further into town to visit the Carmel where St. Thérèse was a Carmelite nun for almost 10 years before she died. It was amazing to be in this Carmel, and to pray both in front of the remains of St. Thérèse as well as in the chapel that she prayed in every day. It was so peaceful and fruitful--definitely my favorite part of my pilgrimage :)

After our little tour/pilgrimage of Lisieux, we had another treat for the day! One of my friends has a friend whose family owns a beautiful organic farm just outside of Lisieux that we visited :) Her family raises cows for meat and also grows apples for cider! We got a tour of the vast, gorgeous farm, including the distillery and the farmhouse that is hundreds of years old! Then we had a little tasting of the family's personal cider :) We had a great time at the farm, then made it back into Lisieux in time for Vespers with the Carmelites! The perfect ending to a wonderful, holy day!

pax christi.