Sunday, December 18, 2011

quick post for a long journey


I officially begin my trek home today!!! This weekend has been absolutely incredible, and the fact that I get to end it in Paris, then Chicago, makes me even happier!

This weekend was particularly marked by birthdays. Friday and Saturday were both friends' birthdays, and we celebrated each of them. Friday night was girl's night. We had planned on going bowling, then having pizza, cake, and playing cards at a friend's apartment, but that plan turned into grocery shopping and chatting over pizza and wine! It wasn't what we had originally had in mind, but we had a fun night anyway!

Then Saturday was the particularly busy day. It was a camp day for Katorin, so I headed to Louviers, a neighboring town, around noon and we spent the afternoon eating and preparing for the kids to arrive around 4pm. We played games, had a snack, made paper angels for Christmas, then all went to Mass together.

After Mass, we headed back to the rectory, where there was a birthday party for Audrey and Marie Annick! There were about 20 people there, lots of food (as usual!), singing, dancing, laughing. It was a great night, and the perfect little send off from Evreux before a few weeks in the States!

opening gifts

This afternoon, after Mass at the Cathedral, I'm heading into Paris to spend the night with a friend from UofI, then heading to the airport early Monday to catch my flight home! ETA into Chicago is about 4:20pm Monday evening, after more than 16 hours of traveling, in one day...I can't wait! :)

pax christi.

Friday, December 16, 2011

a very french christmas celebration


our christmas table

It is officially winter break in Evreux! I head back to America to celebrate the holidays with family and friends on Monday, but before then, it's time to party in France! Last night, the other assistants and I got together for a traditional French Christmas dinner to celebrate before we all part for the holidays. We had quite a spread! And everything was particularly fancy and special for Christmas.

We started with the apéritif (drinks and hors d'oeuvres). We had blinis with salmon, pain d'épice (which is like gingerbread), foie gras, and a delicious onion spread. Very rich foods, and very special for Christmas. Then came dinner! It consisted of turkey (traditional in France for Christmas) with chestnuts, green beans, potatoes, stuffing, and dressing. Delicious!

After a filling dinner came dessert. French families eat a bûche de Noël, which literally means "yule log". It is a cake, made with either dough or ice cream, in the shape of a fire log. They can be very elaborately decorated, as ours were! One was made of ice cream, one was made with chestnut spread, and the other was made with chocolate. And the two made of cake were hand decorated--check out the beautiful marzipan leaves!

the bûches de Noel, all 3 of them!

With everyone content and full of food, we played a little white elephant game. Everyone brought a small gift (some were real, some were really silly...), and we had to answer questions about Christmas to be able to pick a gift. It was very goofy, and everyone was laughing :) All together, it was a wonderful little celebration with food and friends! And of course, a beautiful blending of cultures, languages, and traditions.

me and my white elephant gift--a flower :)
the Christmas tree. literally a tree.

table chatter

pax christi.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

still discovering evreux


The beautiful weather here is continuing--even into the middle of December! I don't know how long this 50 degree climate is planning on sticking around, but winter should be approaching soon, at least according to the calendar. The days lately have been alternating between rain and sun. The rainy days are still too warm for snow, but the beautiful, sunny days are great to be able to explore my town a little more!

Even though I have been here for almost three months now, and even though Evreux isn't terribly big, there are still parts of town that I haven't been to yet! A few weeks ago, I was asked to translate a class for an academic adviser giving a lecture on teaching English. This adviser had requested a native English speaker to be able to pronounce words and give suggestions because his English is not very good. But he is a complete Anglophile, and spent the whole day asking questions and talking about Americana. He even taught me a little Franco-American history that I was not aware of!

There is an air force base just outside of the city of Evreux. It was built just after World War I and had been used variably by the British, German, and French military for a few decades. Then after World War II, the American air force was able to use it during the Cold War, until the mid-1960's. So there was a major influx of American soldiers in the area and, as a result, there are 2 "American" neighborhoods in Evreux!

This French adviser drove through one of them so that I could see it. It is basically a huge camp of ranch-style homes neatly organized on the edge of town. It is noticeably un-French. For example, there are large front yards and no fences or gates around the homes. It is very obviously inspired by traditional American suburban neighborhoods.

Rue du Canada, Rue de Washington

The other week, I decided to explore the other American neighborhood. It was a bit of a walk outside of the city center, and separated from the rest of town by a little forest, but it was a pretty walk. I finally found the neighborhood, along with streets named "Rue de Washington", "Rue du Canada", among others--it was a quick giveaway.

one of the typical homes in the neighborhood

Unlike the first American neighborhood that I saw, this one has been significantly French-ified. Families have added gates (without which, any French home would not be complete...), and funny entrances. So this particular neighborhood hasn't been preserved in such an obvious way as the first. The neighborhood wasn't very big, and has essentially been taken over by French families. But you could still see the traces of American culture, which was really interesting. It was fun to discover a little bit of Franco-American history, right in my own backyard! 

pax christi.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

lisieux, revisited


This beautiful, if unseasonal, weather lends itself perfectly to traveling! Even little day trips are made that much more enjoyable without the traditional Normandy fog and rain. Yesterday, for a few hours in the late morning/early afternoon, I ventured to Lisieux again. It was a perfect day for walking around, and visiting the holy places that were so important in St. Thérèse's life!

St. Thérèse statue, outside of the Carmel

After getting off the train in the sunny town, I made a quick stop at the Carmel before heading up the hillside to the Basilica for Mass.

Lisieux from the basilica

the basilica

After Mass, I went back into town to visit the Cathedral of St. Peter. After St. Thérèse's family moved to Lisieux from Alençon (another town in Normandy), this was their parish. It was amazing being in the same church where this holy family attended Mass every Sunday, and where St. Thérèse and her sisters prayed on a daily basis before entering Carmel. Because it was a regular Monday afternoon, I was the only person in the church. It was so peaceful, and I was able to pray and explore without any distractions--perfect.

the confessional where St. Thérèse made her first confession

the high altar her father, Blessed Louis Martin, donated

the chapel where St. Thérèse attended daily Mass

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us

Again, I can't believe how blessed I am to live so close to Lisieux. With a quick train ride, I can easily find myself in a town that has had a profound effect on the world, and the Church. To think that St. Thérèse, just about a hundred years ago, lived here and prayed here, is an incredible thought. I am here, living in Evreux this year, for many, many reasons, and this is one of them!

St. Thérèse, pray for us!

pax christi.

Monday, December 12, 2011

l'abbaye du bec-hellouin


Yesterday I visited yet another monastery in Normandy! This one is one of the most famous and most important monasteries in Normandy and, let me tell you, there are plenty of them! Located in the town of Le Bec Hellouin, its official name is L'Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec. It was founded in the early 11th century by St. Herluin as a Benedictine abbey.

The abbey as it is now is nothing like it was in the Middle Ages. It was essentially destroyed during the French Revolution, and then rebuilt as a possession of the French government. That explains why it looks more like a château than a religious monastery. It wasn't until after World War II that the property was given back to the Church, and it is now home to a community of Olivetan monks. The only structure that remains from the original monastery is the St. Nicholas Tower.

this was a car museum before World War II

St. Nicholas tower

The abbey is renowned for its ecumenical work in the Church, and has a very strong history with the Anglican religion. In fact, several abbots have also served as the Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the most famous abbots, St. Anselm, served as both Abbot of the Abbay and as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was also named a Doctor of the Church! The abbey is also famous for its intellectual heritage. Several saints, and even the future Pope Alexander II, were educated here.

the view of the hills

pax christi.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

christmas in paris


With every visit, I am more and more convinced that Paris is the most magical, lovely city in the whole world. It doesn't get old--this city is something else.

Yesterday, I went into the city once again. The second time in a week. And that has happened before. I was meeting up with Rose, a friend from U of I who is studying in France for the year. We were going to visit some of the Christmas markets in Paris, and catch up before I left for home! What was supposed to be a foggy Saturday turned into a beautiful, sunny day.

l'Assemblé Nationale

Christmas market near the Eiffel Tower

skating Santa

letters to Santa

Walking around the market, several vendors told me Bonnes vacances, which means basically "have a good vacation". Most of the people walking around were very obviously tourists, and so it made sense to assume that 2 English-speaking girls were just on vacation in Paris. But it made me so happy to think to myself that I'm not on vacation--I actually live here!

Paris by sunset, from the steps of La Madeleine

pax christi.

Friday, December 9, 2011

the circus has arrived...


As if Evreux wasn't already exciting enough...the circus is coming to town! And to promote the big show, a camel was paraded in the streets yesterday. I passed him on my way back to school after lunch, and had to stop just to make sure that, indeed, there was a camel on the sidewalk. Everyone was stopping to take pictures and ask about him. Good advertisement!

As I continued on my walk, I also saw this little guy.

The only thing is, this chicken is not part of the circus. It lives in someone's yard. I just hope it's not dinner! Evreux is going wild!!!

pax christi.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

marché de noel in amiens


Blessed Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception! How beautiful that, mere weeks before Jesus is born, we get to celebrate when His Mother Mary, our Mama Mary, was conceived!

Mama Mary in Amiens

wind-blown with apple brandy-laced
cider at the christmas market. yum :)


Yesterday, the language assistants in Evreux made a little Christmas pilgrimage to Amiens, a city in northern France, to visit the Christmas market there! The market itself wasn't terribly spectacular, but we had really nice, sunshiny weather, and enjoyed delicious food and lots of laughs walking around the city all day!

Cathédrale Notre Dame d'Amiens

We quickly realized when we arrived that the city was still waking up. The market wasn't open yet, and there weren't many people out and about. So we decided to start with the Cathedral. The Amiens Cathedral was built in the 13th century, and is the largest in France! It is the tallest Cathedral, and also has the most square footage. It is quite impressive. We snapped some pictures and walked around the interior for a bit.

you can't quite see the perspective in this photo...

it's huge.

Inside the Cathedral, there are beautiful statues, paintings, relics, and even a labyrinth in the middle of the crossing. The most famous, venerated relic in the Cathedral is St. John the Baptist's head. The fate of this important relic is highly disputed, in fact. Amiens claims that his head was brought back to the city from Constantinople after the 4th Crusade. There are, however, several churches and even religions who claim to possess St. John the Baptist's head. Even if his relics are not there, though, the Amiens Cathedral is a major pilgrimage site in devotion to St. John the Baptist, and contains other relics of this great saint.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

the labyrinth

After checking out the Cathedral, we walked a bit around Amiens and had lunch. With our stomachs full and happy, we went on a beautiful walking tour of the city. Amiens is called the "Venice of France" because it has a number of canals running through it. We found a number of paths along the canals, and the houses along them were so cute!

swans at the park

We also nibbled on some yummy warm waffles, tried warm cider with Calvados (apple brandy from Normandy), and visited Santa--a few times...

merry christmas from the best assistants ever

pax christi.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

sunday in paris


couldn't be happier :)

Because I live so close, it's completely normal to simply head into Paris for a Sunday afternoon. Just for the afternoon! So that's what I did last Sunday! This trip had two objectives: visit the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France) to see an exhibit on Casanova and find Sugarplum, an American bakery in Paris. Both missions were very successfully accomplished!

I hopped on the train into Paris in the afternoon and made my way to the Bibliothèque Nationale to meet Faustyna, who was already in the city. I had never ventured out to the Bibliothèque before, and I wasn't quite expecting what I found! Basically, it is the hugest library I have ever seen.

1 of the library's 4 towers filled with books

The Bibliothèque Nationale was founded centuries ago, but the current building was finished in 1996, and is home to over 10 million documents.

Not only does the library boast four huge high-rise towers that take up a whole Parisian city block, but in the middle of it all (or I should say underneath it all...) there is a whole forest surrounded by a number of subterranean levels with huge museum-like exhibition halls, study rooms, bookstores, and more book collections. Frankly, I was stunned. Even though the library has essentially the same design concept as the Undergrad Library at U of I (underground), and therefore isn't particularly novel to me, the sheer grandeur of the place is too impressive!

the underground forest at the library

We managed to find the exhibition on Casanova that we were there for, but I could have spent all day simply walking the halls of this enormous institution! The exhibit was really interesting; Casanova's personal manuscripts were recently acquired by the Bibliothèque and so they are hosting a huge exhibit dedicated to his life. It was really interesting learning more about this mythic figure, seeing his own personal, hand-written autobiography, and discovering more about French and Italian history.

Our next stop was Sugarplum. I had heard about this American bakery on different blogs, and every American expat living in Paris raves about this bakery/coffee shop that makes authentic treats, just like home! Sugarplum is owned by three Anglophones (two Americans and a Canadian) who bake cakes, cupcakes, rice krispie treats, cookies, cheesecake, brownies, pies--you name it--just like in America. French pastries and cafés are, of course, incredible, but there is something so nostalgic about baked goods like I am so used to. We treated ourselves to a little dessert for dinner...double chocolate cake and blueberry-lemon cake with ice cold milk and hot chocolate! I was so content :)

our treats--so so so delicious!

After our sweet treats, we headed back to the train station to catch our train back to Evreux. We got to walk through most of the city and see plenty of Christmas decorations! Paris knows how to celebrate the holidays. All the shops are decked out, especially the famous department stores. Les Galeries Lafayette, for example, is covered in lighted, Moroccan-inspired designs that are constantly glowing. It's so magical to walk around Paris at Christmas!

galeries lafayette, deptartment store, lit up
pax christi.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

happy st. nicholas day!


evreux town hall

Starting today officially, on St. Nicholas Day, Evreux is beginning to look a whole lot like Christmas! The town has finally lit the Christmas lights that have been hanging in the street for almost a month now, town hall is all decked out with lights that change color every 5 seconds, and all of the stores have finished decorating themselves for the holidays! It's really exciting to see everything lit up--the anticipation for Christmas is certainly mounting. My kids especially are already going crazy!

I celebrated St. Nicholas Day in the coolest way possible today. I went to a Nativity play in English and in French! I have a friend in Evreux who is originally from a tiny nearby town, Acquigny, and he took me to his home parish tonight. There is a small Anglophone community in the area (some people from England and Ireland) and, every year, they help to organize a Nativity play in the church. The kids play all the roles while an adult, speaking as the cow in the stable, narrates. The play is perforated by Christmas carol interludes--in both French and English! We sang O Come, All Ye Faithful, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, the First Noel, and many more English classics, as well as traditional French carols. It was so much fun! And so cute to see all the kids!

a French rendition of the Nativity scene

After the play, we all went to a local restaurant, owned by a boisterous Irish woman. Bernadette is the most cheerful, friendly woman and she played host to a whole towns-worth of French- and English-speakers. We shared mulled wine, mince meat pies, spice-bread, brioche, and other typical Christmas treats. I was able to speak in French and English! It was so interesting meeting English and Irish people who have moved to France, and who have been living here for decades. It was a very jolly evening.

My Christmas celebrations continue tomorrow with a much-anticipated trip to the Christmas market in Amiens!

pax christi.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

happy december!


the chicken I saw in a yard on my way to school

It is hard to believe that today is the first day of December already! It's time to break out Advent calendars, to start preparing for hibernation, and to welcome that feeling of Christmas in the air :)

dessert, chocolate cake and red wine

pax christi.