Monday, March 26, 2012

mont st-michel. take two.


We woke up bright & early this morning for another full day of visits and touring. With another breakfast of pain au chocolat happily in our bellies (I think my Uncle Jack will never be the same after experiencing the delight that is pain au chocolat...), we headed back to the Caen Memorial to go through the museum. We did not have enough time yesterday, and we knew it was worth the visit.

It was a very detailed and involved museum. Starting from the end of World War I and going all through European history until the fall of the Berlin Wall (roughly 1918-1989, over 70 years of history...). There were so many artifacts from soldiers, the war field, civilians, and all of the affected governments. It took a few hours to walk through it all and read all of the descriptions.

After spending the morning at the museum, we drove to Mont St-Michel. Like a few weeks ago, we had great weather and the fam was blown away! They loved it, and it was so much fun seeing their reactions to this important French monument. We visited the abbey and the surrounding city, enjoyed a lunch in the sun, and then headed to Evreux for the night!

the bay :)

Another lovely day with the family! This week will be full of adventures!

pax christi.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

the family has arrived.


I have visitors!!! My aunt, uncle, and cousin are here for the week, and it is so wonderful to see them and be able to be a tour guide!

After some crazy weather and cancellations in Chicago on Friday, they ended up getting here early this morning and drove from Paris to Evreux to meet me at my apartment. It was surreal! They just showed up at my front porch! Real live Americans in the middle of Evreux! We grabbed a quick breakfast of pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants--a hit all around) and hit the road.

We began the trip in Caen, at the World War II Memorial and for a tour of the Normandy beaches. I hadn't been there ever, so it was a first for everyone. We had a guided tour with a lovely little French man named Jean-François and a great driver, Kareem.

The tour was powerful, to say the least. To be at all of these sites that saw so much bloodshed and violence in such a short amount of time, and that were so integral to the outcome of WWII was inexplicable. We had very appropriate weather--it was supposed to be sunny and warm, but we were covered in a dense fog with wind and a chill all day. Very somber for a very somber place. We saw German bunkers and artillery batteries, with real guns. We walked through fields that had been blasted with bombs and grenades and still bear the scars. We peered into trenches and heard the ocean beating against the now-serene beaches.

an intact German bunker

inside a collapsed bunker

One of the most moving stops on the tour was our trip to the American Cemetery. Over 9,400 American soldiers are buried here. It is a well-maintained, thoughtful memorial to all of the soldiers who gave their lives in this heroic attack. Every detail is deliberate and accounted for and the American and French governments have worked together for the respect of all of these men (and four women). Each of the graves is specifically tended by a French person, and they each face the West--towards the United States.

the memorial monument with reflection pool

map of all of the air strikes, from the beaches to Paris

Evreux--site of a major air strike

rows of graves

All of this to take in within a five-hour period. It was hard to believe that less than 70 years ago, this all took place, right beneath our feet. Soldiers poured onto these beaches and trudged across these fields with the goal of liberty and righteousness. Now, there are remains of this, but the grass has grown green again and the tide has washed these beaches clean. As pervasive as these memories are, the hope is permeable and has lasted since.

pax christi.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

saturday in evreux...

+jmj+ wonderfully French. I just wanted to walk around all day. And that really is what I did most of the day. Springtime suits Evreux very much. Especially on a Saturday, when everyone is at the market, except without heavy coats and giant scarves. Kids walk around with ice cream cones instead of warm croissants.

The warm weather is continuing, and will be here for the rest of this week as well. It is unheard of for spring here! I briefly reviewed weather and the seasons with my kids this week and, when we got to spring, they all gave the typical description of "It's rainy", "It's cloudy", "It's windy". But a few of my (brighter) students pointed out that it was, in fact, currently spring but neither rainy nor cloudy nor windy! So we added a nice big sun next to the rain and clouds because this spring deserves it. All the Normands are taking advantage of this unusual weather, and they're quite nice this way :)

pax christi.

another day in paris!


After a quick hour of teaching this morning, I hopped into Paris yet again. This time, to meet up with more American friends for an afternoon of catching up, strolling in the sun (with sandals on!), prayer, and venerating the Crown of Thorns.

Paris is bursting at the seams with people! There are tourists galore and Parisians out of hibernation and the city it just buzzing with life. Today was so perfect; it made me so happy to see everyone out and about--a stark contrast to the sleepy winter.

flocks on the steps of la Madeleine

the fountains are on!

crowds at the Louvre

the Seine :)

I took the train in and walked from the station to Notre Dame. Every Friday during Lent, there is veneration of the Crown of Thorns, which Jesus was crowned with before His Crucifixion by the mocking soldiers. One of the instruments of the Passion, the Crown of Thorns was offered to France in the 13th century, after having been brought back from the Holy Land by Saint Helena centuries earlier. Sainte-Chapelle, a beautiful church only a few hundred yards from Notre Dame, was built specifically to house the crown and it remained there until the French Revolution. It fell into the hands of the government for a few years, but was eventually returned to the Church and has been in Notre Dame ever since. The Crown of Thorns is kept under high security in the treasures of the Cathedral and is a very important relic of the Passion.

veneration of the crown of thorns

There was a beautiful service for veneration. It began with a procession of the crown from the treasures around the church and up the center aisle. After a brief Gospel reading and homily, we filed row by row to venerate the crown by kissing it or reverencing it. The crown itself is protected by a gold and glass case around it, and it is kept in a giant gold reliquary.

That was certainly the highlight of my afternoon, if not my entire Lent so far. It was a very moving, powerful experience to be able to reverence this crown that Christ wore, and suffered with. He died on the Cross with this Crown of Thorns. I cannot express what it felt like to be able to pray before it, reflect on what it means. I was so blessed for that opportunity.

The rest of the day was spent meandering Paris and basking in the sun and heat. It was just wonderful! I do not want to think about leaving Paris any time soon...

pax christi.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

current events.


Today we hit a major milestone. This morning was so bright and warm that I was able to walk to school for the first time since October! Now, I normally walk to and from school at lunch, and in the afternoon. But the morning, at 8am, is usually too dark, drizzly, and cold to brave the mile + walk uphill. But this morning was much different and I walked to school in the sun!

On a more somber note, France has been dealing with a pretty serious tragedy lately. On Monday morning in Toulouse, which is in the South, a man on a motorcycle shot and killed three students and a rabbi in front of a Jewish school. This shocking murder spree was immediately linked to another set of murders a few weeks ago. Three French military officers were shot and killed in Toulouse as well. Though this wasn't as widely publicized as the school shootings, they were just as unprovoked and shocking. The gunman was finally located yesterday and, after a nearly 30-hour stand-off in his apartment building, was killed in an attempt to leave. The whole situation has been in the news and in the air for days. Though the gunman was of Arab descent himself, he seemed to have specifically targeted Arabs and Jews and these attacks are recognized as the most violent hate crimes against Arabs since September 11th.

At Mass this evening, the priest gave a great homily relating to the recent assassinations. One of the soldiers that was killed a few weeks ago was Catholic, and his father recently released a statement forgiving the man who killed his son. This public statement has come as a shock to most non-Catholics, to whom such blatant and immediate forgiveness seems impossible. But it is sending a very important message that is particularly important during Lent. Hatred and violence will not solve anything--they cannot work to a productive end. Love and forgiveness, on the other hand, can and will changes lives.

The families that have been directly affected by these murders need lots of prayers, as does this country whose citizens are dividing and fighting against themselves.

pax christi.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

wednesday in paris!


beautiful spring flowers!

It is so fun to see American friends in a foreign country. That will really never grow old.

Today, I got to meet up with a friend from the University of Illinois. We met on a service trip to New Orleans just about a year ago, and now she is studying in Rome while I'm living in France. In Paris for her spring break, we wanted to meet up and, since I don't work on Wednesdays (or ever...really...), we decided to meet up for lunch in the afternoon! It was great to catch up, and I'm always down for a Wednesday in Paris.

On this second day of spring, the weather was just as glorious. And walking around in it in Paris--under a perfectly blue, cloudless sky with a shining sun reflecting off of every gold-topped church and monument--was just fantastic. Everyone was out enjoying the beautiful day!

Basically, I love Paris and I am very blessed.

pax christi.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

it is spring!


Today is the first day of spring, and it could not be any more welcome! I woke up this morning, before just 7am, and the sun was already risen! That has not happened in months (the sun being risen that is, not waking up before 7am...) and it was glorious!

One of the mysteries of France that I have not yet understood, or even accepted for that matter, is the "volet". Basically, every window on all houses and most apartments has shutters that completely block out all light. These shutters are closed in the evening and reopened in the morning--every single day, come rain or shine. They block out all of the light from the outdoors; the sunset and the sunrise. And opening and closing them is a complete ritual in the life of all French families/homeowners.

When I was on vacation in Bretagne the other week, I stayed with a friend's parents in their very comfortable home. Every night, they would tell me how to close the volets, and every night I would tell them that I preferred the natural light, especially in the morning. It is much easier to wake up when you see a beautiful sun (and even the more common rain clouds), than seeing complete black and thinking it is still the middle of the night. They all thought I was a little crazy for not wanting to close the shutters, but I just shrugged it off as cultural differences and they would be appeased until the next night.

The best guess I can make about the volet is that the French really value privacy. Still. I will sacrifice a little bit of privacy in my attic-level apartment (that has curtains, at least) by not closing the volets, if that means I will be just a little cheerier seeing some sun in the morning.

pax christi.

Monday, March 19, 2012

spring is springing.


Even though this past weekend was a little bit dreary (and consequently rather lazy and unmotivated...), the past week in Evreux has been just glorious, and is continuing into this week! We have had sunshine and warm temperatures all week, and it is just incredible the good that can do! Evreux has come out of hibernation; cafés have put out all of their outdoor tables, flowers are beginning to bloom, the sidewalks are filled with amblers, even the ducks are looking (and sounding) more alive.

I took advantage of the upswing in the weather by treating myself to lunch outside, reading by the river, long walks around town, and opening my windows to let in fresh--and not freezing--air! Today, the trend continued. A relaxing morning, the product and prize of not working most days of the week, with Mass in the morning, a sweet treat by the river in front of the Cathedral, some time to read and enjoy the sun, followed by a leisurely walk around town has been the perfect formula for celebrating St. Joseph's feast day!

my lunch dates

pax christi.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

will travel for food.


Really one of the greatest parts of traveling is being able to eat local food. Everywhere you go, food is at least a little bit different. Cuisines change and I love that! I ate plenty on my trips and enjoyed some delicious meals. Food is one of the most important parts of any culture and so, discovering what is eaten where helps you understand the people, the region, even the climate!

rosti in zurich

ice cream in zurich

swiss chocolate!!!!


swiss chocolate ice cream!

champagne and swiss chocolate macaron!

basically swiss-style mac & cheese in lucerne, with cider

flammenkuche with mushrooms in strasbourg

champagne in champagne

taco salad, french-style

Yum. In multiple languages :) Happy Sunday!

pax christi.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

mont st-michel.


About 1300 years ago, a sanctuary was built on top of a coastal hill in honor of Saint Michael, the Archangel. Little did St. Aubert (the sanctuary's commissioner) know back then that this humble church would turn into one of the world's most iconic locations, and one of France's largest tourist and pilgrimage sites.

Mont Saint-Michel, like the Grand-Bé and Petit-Bé in Saint Malo, is a tidal island. It is just off of the coast, a few hundred yards into the ocean and accessible by foot in low tide. Because it has become such a popular tourist & pilgrimage destination in France, however, a raised road has been built with adjacent parking lots, allowing access even in high tide. It is considered a town, with its own town hall and everything, but there are only about 50 actual, permanent residents. There are houses around the base of the hill, but the most prominent feature is the abbey at the very summit.

the abbey, with the village circling the mount

the façade of the abbey

In the 10th century, Benedictine monks moved into the church and began expanding the abbey. This community would live here until the French Revolution, surviving hundreds of year of wars, battles, and other disputes, and building up the structure to what it is today.

view out into the ocean, at low tide

from the abbey

abbey courtyard

Mont St-Michel can be a starting destination for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the ancient pilgrimage route leading from France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There are indications of its relations with the pilgrimage throughout the abbey, including in this window with small shells.

windows with seashells for el camino de santiago

The abbey has seen its fair share of uses. When the Benedictine community that had inhabited the abbey for centuries was dissolved during the French Revolution, it was turned into a prison. This contraption, a giant wheel, was constructed to be able to lower down meals to the prisoners kept in basement cells. A prison until the 1860's, Mont Saint-Michel was classified a national historic monument in 1874 and was restored to its monastic conditions.

the giant wheel.

We only stopped quickly, and took a rather brief tour through the abbey, as I knew I would be back in a few weeks with family and we were on the way back to Evreux. So Mont Saint-Michel, à très bientôt!

pax christi.

Friday, March 16, 2012

saint malo.


France is so old that, even in the Middle Ages, it had lovely resort cities on the ocean front. Saint Malo is one of those ancient tourist destinations with a colorful history that Americans only dream of. Think pirates, huge masted ships, menacing seaside forts with cannon look-outs and tall flags all coupled with long, sandy beaches, cafés with an ocean view, and enough seafood to make any little sea-goer as happy as a clam.

hello there, island forteress

the city from the fortress

The weather the day that we went to St Malo was not perfect. It was overcast and drizzly most of the day, but I was not about to let that interfere with our explorations! First stop of the day: le Grand-Bé. The Grand-Bé and the Petit-Bé are both small tidal islands, meaning they are small land masses connected to the mainland via a strip of sand and are only accessible during low tide. On each of these little sand dunes are the ruins of ancient forts, meant to serve as the first level of defense for the city.

view of the Petit-Bé from the Grand-Bé

windswept, as usual

The biggest reason that I wanted to visit Saint Malo, and the Grand-Bé specifically, is because one of France's most famous, influential writers is very humbly buried on the island. François-René de Chateaubriand was nearly always on my reading list for classes, and he pretty much single-handedly started the Romantic movement in literature. He was born in Saint Malo and grew up in a noble family that had lost most of their wealth. He spent most of his childhood at Combourg (a small town on the way to Saint Malo), and attended school for a few years in Dinan (one of our stops), as well as in several other towns in Bretagne. Chateaubriand decided to join the military, but left once the French Revolution broke out, and decided to travel to North America. His experiences and observations across the ocean would influence his future writing and inspire some of his most well-known novels (Atala and René). Throughout his lifetime, he wrote several novels, a detailed autobiography, as well as hundreds of essays and letters, and is known for his contributions to Romanticism.

His grave is not even marked, and the only sign in the area says "A great French writer wanted to be laid to rest here to only hear the sea and the wind. Please respect his last request when passing by."

After visiting Chateaubriand's grave, I got to fulfill the second of my only two goals of the trip--SWIM IN THE OCEAN! Swimming, unfortunately, would not have been a wise choice on this chilly, windy, drizzly day. So I compromised by simply walking in the water. I was so excited.

i ran there

And with all of those goals accomplished in just a few hours, we set into the city to explore. Because it was outside of tourist season, we did not have to battle with the normal crowds, but that also meant that there were plenty of things that were not open. We still got to enjoy a yummy crêpe lunch, saw some famous dead people (their tombs, I mean...), and walked more winding streets before the rain cut our afternoon short.

flowers! in front of the cathedral!

jacques cartier's tomb

And even though the rain pushed us out of Saint Malo a bit early, we still stopped at another point on the coast before heading home, so that I could dip my toes in the water again :)

beautiful little hidden beach :)

pax christi.