Monday, December 18, 2006

Please have snow...and mistletoe...

I have always placed considerable importance on traditions around Christmastime. December rolls around, and I instinctively go digging for a recording of the Messiah, stock up on extra butter for cookies every time I go to the store, and get sentimental at the smell of trees wafting over from the parking lot at Cub Foods.

Being overseas has not altered these seasonal compulsions one iota. I realized this suddenly on my way to work one day. Leaving the metro stop, I thought I caught a faint whiff of pine emanating from above. Sure enough, to my surprised delight, there were piles of prickly pleasantness just waiting to be taken home. That is, by anyone willing to drop the necessary euro. Aye, there's the rub!

Given our restrictions of space and budget, we had to content ourselves with something a bit more modest. As I told Karl, this will (Lord willing) be the only year that I will be okay with a tree that he can carry home in one hand. Here you can see him, struggling home with the burdensome mass. Poor guy.

Still, we mounted the final product high and proud on a barstool. Hopefully I didn't give it an inferiority complex with all of my whining. For trimmings, I had some mismatched earrings and postage stamps that seemed to be to scale.

Stop laughing. It's true. Still, it's kinda pretty.

Of course, admiring the tree leads - quite naturally - to eggnog and cookies. Eggnog? In France? Good luck with that one. After wandering the confusing aisles of the supermarket fruitlessly for a spell, we decided to have a go at the old fashioned route and make it ourselves. I can hear a chorus of clucking tongues and disapproving glances from all of the mothers who read this blog regarding the dangers of samonella. Allow me to explain. One of the best things about France is their obsession with the freshness of certain foods. One of these is eggs. Believe it or not, each egg is separately date-stamped. In addition, the fancy, organic type all have the name of the farmer right on the carton. Convenient, if you're dying of the dreaded disease and you want to contact them and let them know how crappy you feel. Unlikely, with the precautions that I've just described. So, the evening of the tree concluded with glasses of frothy wonderfulness and candlelight.

Of course, how can you nosh on goodies like that around the tree and avoid breaking into song? Rather than singing the glories of "O Tannenbaum", however, we joined our voices with those of fellow Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. We've feted His coming together on a number of occasions over the past few weeks. Last weekend, for a change of pace, our church met in the 13th century basement of a former jazz club downtown to sing carols. It was a treat to sing old favorites in French and English, and sometimes German.

Without any further ado, here we came a-caroling. (A few samples that my ingenious husband captured along the way):

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Joy to the World

Finally, we donned every inch of wool, leather, and Gore-tex that we own, and endured a stiff wind outside of the Notre-Dame. (Their Christmas tree was a little but bigger than ours. Really, I'm okay with that. Really...) Our patience "in freezing winter night" was well-rewarded with an exquisite rendition of Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of the Carols and a few other tasty morsels from the Middle Ages. En plus, it didn't cost a mite.

Sing we all Noel!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's Christmas time in the city

As the big day approaches, there is a certain glitter and glitz that gathers in corners of this city. It is as if the winter rains we've been having were showering down tinsel and strings of lights overnight instead of angry little drops of rain. Like snowdrifts, the decorations pile up in certain areas...public squares, restaurants, butchers and bakers.

But above all, the glam of the holidays clusters around the Champs-Elysees and the shopping district of the Galeries Lafayette, Europe's largest department store. There's the temple to, sorry....front lobby at left.

And then there are the famous shop windows outside of the Grands Magasins, along the Boulevard Haussmann. Those of you in Minneapolis, take the 8th floor Macy's show, multiply the square footage by about 10, and then squeeze it into hundreds of windows along many long city blocks. There's something for everyone here. The kids bunch around the colorful, animated displays of teddy bears and dollies, on little wooden steps built especially for them to see. The adults -when not busy rounding up the kids - are eying the more "artistic" of displays with that grave astuteness that comes so naturally to Parisians. This year, in awkward contrast to the somewhat saccharine displays for the little ones, the Galeries Lafayette did a series of pale women intertwined in various (some disturbing) ways with nature scenes. Seemed quite odd, till I thought of Edgar Allen Poe and those dark romantics. 'Course, then it seemed even more odd, because what on earth does birth of Christ have to do with a swooning lady in a wood?

No more than the birth of Christ has to do with a Christmas tree, I guess. Perhaps it is a small step from the sentimentalism of festooned pine trees with piles of presents to the somber specters of Gothic literature. One could argue that both indulge in empty emotionalism for its own sake. Either way, all the department stores really care about is whether their displays move me enough to buy that new pair of fine leather boots. (Oh wait...wasn't I supposed to be shopping for other people? Dang, it's hard to stay focused this time of year...)

Indeed, the question renews itself every year. How do we dwell on the true meaning of Christ's first coming in the midst of the hustle and bustle? Many people -Christians or not - find themselves turned off by the sentimental conventions of the holidays. (You can tell, because these are often the ones that are suddenly struck with the inspiration to fly the fam' down to Mexico for a week or two.) But really. Whether you're in snowy Minnesota or sunny Acapulco, the holiday is still so far removed from the original event. From the date we chose to celebrate His birthday, to the host of other traditions that have sprung up - not much can be traced back to that night in Bethlehem, really. Now, I happen to like many of these inherited customs, right down to cookie baking, elaborate gift-wrapping, and tiny white lights. But we let them steal the show. We expect nothing more than trimmings to hold up the glorious weight of eternal truths like "Hope", "Peace", and "Joy".

(Seriously. Read the paper napkins next time you're in Walmart.)

So, does Christmas as we know it "cheat [us] through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Col 2:8)? Or, can these cultural pleasures serve to remind us of Christ's coming? Should Christians make a fuss about Christmas time, or not?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Work and Play

"My goal in life is to unite"

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a class of students the possibility to describe one passion in their life. By all appearances, the prospect of giving a presentation in English in front of others did not enthuse the majority. For example, during a brainstorming session that same class period, I caught one mopey student with no suggestions for a topic, but plenty of ideas on how to re-present his teacher. In caricature format, primarily.

Appearances can be deceiving.

When it came to presentation day, this student had one of the most dynamic and coherent deliveries. "Why read fantasy literature?" Between his dramatic pauses for effect and breathless excitement for the topic, he had us all on the uncomfortable edges of our institutional, molded-plastic seats. As I succinctly told him afterwards, he simply belongs at the front of the classroom, scratching out reading assignments on the blackboard. Which is fortunate for him since he's planning to be a primary school teacher.

"My vocation and my avocation
As my two eyes make one in sight."

Others spoke equally well about topics ranging from sports to music : Why surf? Why dance? Why play piano? Why take photographs? Why salsa? Why scuba-dive? Why ski? Why play tennis? Why create hip-hop? Why draw? The marvelous thing was, for many of them, these pastimes had somehow paved the way for their career.

For a number of them, this was something of an epiphany. One thanked me afterwards, saying, "this has actually helped me make some sense of my life." (Whoa!) She explained that her varied interests, which had always seemed rather erratic to her (boy, can I relate!), suddenly were a meaningful path to her present life. Maybe she can help me out with that, now. (Though something tells me she already has.)

"For only where love and need are one"

Some students gave us a little window into their care for others: Why work with handicapped children? Why visit the elderly? Why work with socially-troubled teens? These people that I have the privilege of teaching every week have rich lives, interwoven often with pouring out their time and energy for others. The common thread here was that a family member, ravaged with disease of mind or body, had propelled them into compassion for similar situations.

"And work is play for mortal stakes"

Oddly enough, the most offbeat offering was also the most emotionally-charged, given by the young man in the class known as the "humorist". With intentional irony, his talk on "why am I the class clown?" was a recounting of the abusive childhood that he was obliged to walk through, and how he used humor to cope. Courageously, the class clown took off his mask for a while, and spoke frankly. Much more impressive than any of his jokes to date, it won him respectful applause from his teacher and closest colleagues.

"Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and for future's sake."

Per usual, my students taught me more than I could ever teach them. As I watched their careful and nervous preparations, their beaming countenances, the light in their eyes when they realized what meaning ran like a thread through their lives, I couldn't help but think of dear old Robert Frost. Whatever we do on earth, at work or at play, may it have an eternal value.

"My goal in life is to unite

my avocation with my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

For only where love and need are one

And work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and for future's sake."

~Robert Frost

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Real Sunday

After a week which included a busy practice schedule for Karl, a generous helping of job stress for Abbey, and six days straight of rain and grey sky, we were ripe and ready for a true Sabbath.

First we slept in. Magnificent.

Upon rolling out of bed, we discovered that we were in dire need of a real down-home kind of breakfast. Maybe it was something about the sunlight streaming through the windows for the first time in ages. Perhaps we were missing the legendary Lewis home Sunday pancakes (Abbey's parents, for those of you who don't know). But being that my kin were several thousand miles away and still fast asleep, our only recourse was our trusty Paris guidebook. Thus:

This little joint was a step into the very best of Americana. Now, I should probably clarify something: we are in France to enjoy France. In fact, we are often depressed when we have to run an errand in the nearby mall, the main complaint being: "I don't feel like I'm in France anymore." Still, with all the best cheeses and wine in the world at our fingertips, a stack o' flapjacks is a stack o' flapjacks. When the craving hits, nothing else will do.

We couldn't have short-ordered a better solution to refresh our diner souls. The servers were sunshiny, casual, and unabashedly English-speaking. Bits of bluegrass music, Motown, and riffs of Bob Dylan's harmonica came wafting by with the smell of maple syrup and hot griddles. Best of all, BOTTOMLESS CUPS OF COFFEE. You must understand: this is NOT NORMAL protocol in France. You get your cute little espresso for 2E and that's it.
Not a bad experience, just different. But it's terribly disappointing to try to wrap your fingers around a dolly teacup when what you want is a nice, thick MUG.

Yeah, baby. So, powered by approximately 8 mugs of coffee a piece and I-don't-even-wanna- know-how-many carbohydrates, we walked home in the sunshine in our winter garb of T-shirts and jeans. Then, it was a scramble to make it to the weekly market for les provisions, practice some tunes for Sunday evening worship service, and tidy up the house a bit. It was a good thing too, because after church, we invited the whole Bible study crew over to our place for supper. First guests, officially! I can't believe it's taken this long to have people over, but we have a lot of generous friends that always seem to beat us to the punch.

After everyone trickled out, we were sitting on the couch and trying to convince ourselves that it was bedtime. It was at this formative moment that Karl mischievously suggested something about "that Hammond organ player" playing at Caveau de la Huchette, and soon we were on the metro, rumbling our way towards the jazz show. The lady at the helm was Rhoda Scott. What a delivery! She and her drummer had the whole place hopping, directing an orchestra of bobbing heads and clappers, hooters, hollerers and knee-slappers. We hung about the entrance, because it gave us a clear view of her barefoot feet working the pedals, her well-worn hands working the keys, and her obvious amusement with the whole affair. Have you ever seen a blind person exude a no-holds-barred, devil-may-care kind of smile when they are engaged in their favourite activity? I think of Andrea Boccelli, the opera singer. Or Stevie Wonder. The remarkable thing about Rhoda Scott is that even though she is a seeing person, she has the same candid joy. And it's positively infectious.

Gosh, I hope that's what I look like when I teach.

In the end, we missed our second train and hiked home, tumbling into bed in the wee hours. After chatting online with folks back home, of course. I mean, what would a Sunday be without family?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

From faces to names

You're never going to believe it, but that shifting multitude of faces and feet that roll past us like rivers every time we get on the metro, those are real people. I guess I've had my suspicions all along. I think of the scarved woman who sits apart, hand cupped for any falling change at the exit on my last stop of the day. She's pretty singular. Or the little voice piping up in exasperated French over the rumble of the train and murmur of cell phone conversations: "Maman, mais, NON!" It's hard to miss the fact that there's a real little boy in the midst of all that anonymity. Or the fairly frequent occurrence of a couple in a passionate embrace on the platform, like an oblivious island. Yet, too often, we let our eyes glaze over in boredom or self-centeredness. And we miss a hundred encounters with potential kindred spirits.

We are thankful that some opportunities have not passed us by. I'll give you an example. In the beginning, we told ourselves that there were (hypothetically) "lots of" musicians in Paris for Karl to meet. In everyday life, however, it isn't as easy to track down individuals that are ready to invest time and energy. Still, as of this week, there are about three or so such persons who have faces, names...even instruments. They come to our apartment to practice. Sometimes they stay for tea or dinner. Real, live people, with aspirations and appetites. I like that.

Again, there was the supposition that my colleagues from work would be probably be somewhat easy to get along with on a daily basis. But who could have guessed that they would become such fast friends? Not only that, but that we would be able to recreate a homey, scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner together, complete with turkey, cranberries, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and wild rice.* Of course, it is not a very French thing to do with your weekend. But because we have been such glad recipients of other cultures since we touched down here, we were thrilled to share a distinctively American holiday with people from several other countries (see John, the happy Australian at left). There was truly a spirit of thankfulness afoot, as we shared stories and pie, and recipes and pie, and American history with more pie...

Ouf. Yeah. Still kinda stuffed.

Finally, there are our dear friends from church. It's been three weeks since we accepted Thomas and Conni's invitation to their place for pasta, but it feels like we've known this circle of friends for months, maybe years. Just days after meeting them, we received an email with contact info which read: you are so new in this city that you have to have some contacts that can help you if you need or if it's only to be not the whole time alone. It almost moved me to tears, it was so practical and loving. The best part is that we can worship alongside these dear ones, praying and studying our Bibles together. My wise mother reminded me that I shouldn't be so surprised, as we had prayed to happen upon such a group of like-minded people. But so many new friends! Whether they be fellow musicians, fellow scholars and teachers, or fellow Christians - we are rich.

Add to this, our loved ones at home whom we miss dearly. It was you who first taught us friendship, so we would be able to recognize the real thing in the wider world. For this we are most thankful.

"But since we were torn away from you...for a short time, in person not in heart, we [endeavor] the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face." (I Thess. 2:17)

A la prochaine! (Till next time!)

* Thanks, Pam! You're the best! : )

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Natural Habitats

Even if you travel to a new and mesmerizing place, it seems as if you will eventually gather around something of your natural habitat. Even if it isn't the easiest thing to come by.

Exhibit A. This is Karl. He is happy. This could be attributed to several things. First, he has finally got his keyboards set up in a pleasing, feng shui-ish fashion. Not only that, he's got some talent lined up as well. Between the two vocalists (count 'em two) beating down our door tomorrow to practice, and his rendezvous with some musicians from the church we've been frequenting, he oughta have his hands full. Of a lot of white and black keys. And that's the way he likes it.

Exhibit B. I love to teach. But, truth be told, I actually prefer to be on the learning end of the equation. I know that some people avoid classroom settings like the plague, only attending if they absolutely must. I'm a bit odd in the sense that I went looking for lectures this week. I happily attended a couple of talks on the medieval troubadou
rs by a distinguished English professor with whom I've been carrying on an email correspondence for some months. The classroom time itself proved to be utterly refreshing (seriously, like a fish in water...) not to mention the tea we enjoyed together afterwards. This honorable man has had a long and glorious career, but is precisely at the point when generous-spirited academics are ready to pass on the torch. Both ideas and resources flowed effortlessly between us. I thank God that I was in the right place at the right time to receive it.

Finally, Exhibit C. The forest on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Specifically, La Foret de Fontainebleau, about 40 minutes out of Paris by train. Being Minnesotans, we've been hankering after some woodlands since we moved to cosmopolitan Paris. We had heard rumours about 50,000-some acres of largely protected forest, a former hunting ground of many a French monarch. This area is perhaps known to some of you because of its famous chateau, holiday hideaway of kings throughout France's history. However, we chose to while away our daylight hours hiking around in the sunshine, rather than staring dumbfounded at Napoleon's former tapestries and dining sets. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the most spectacular surprise awaited us. The autumn colors were just reaching their full bloom.
After 'splorin' around to our heart's content (till it was dark, more or less), we wended our cold and weary selves to a pizza place in the center of Fontainebleau and mowed down on delicious, hot Italian food. Needless to say, the train ride home was a bit of a warm, sleepy blur. But thanks to Paris' efficient transport system (oh why can't they apply this level of ingenuity to their governmental paperwork....?), we were soon horizontal and cozy in our beds back in the 13th arrondissement of dear Paris.

Monday, November 13, 2006

City on a hill

Paris has been called the "city of light". There are several good reasons for this. Often at nighttime, the Eiffel Tower sends out purplish-white beams of light sweeping across the cityscape like a lighthouse, a beacon to all lost tourists straining for a glimpse of that familiar shape. Those same searchlights touch countless strings of lampposts. Garish spotlights from boat tours cruising up and down the Seine. Entire constellations of illumined apartments. Small yellow squares of friendly cafe windows. Tiny, glowing dots of orange on the end of a million and one cigarettes. Lights that move, sway, bounce, sparkle, and just stay put. What's more, if it rains, the effect of every one of these lights is multiplied by at least two, reflected in the wet cobblestones.

But supposing one such stormy evening, you duck into one of the thousands of narrow rues that zigzag over the map of Paris. Suddenly, everything is as black as ink and you must strain your eyes to avoid turning your ankle. Here, the light is very light. And the dark... is very, very dark.

You probably know where I'm going with this.

In a city gleaming with history, architecture and art, music and literature, there is the corresponding reality that many who live here do not think of the God who created all such beauty and truth. It makes me think of Paul, who took great pains to remind the philosophers in Athens of the proofs of the living God right under their noses: "as your own poets have said..." That is, the light of the truth is as plain as the lit facade of the Notre-Dame after dark. It's just that these monumental truths go largely ignored by anyone but gaping tourists.

O, to remain a gaping tourist.

And be willing to be gaped at. For, if we truly belong to Jesus Christ, we are the "light of the world," and "a city set on a hill" that cannot be hidden. Karl and I experienced this quite literally on Sunday evening, when we gathered with a group of young couples on the a 5th floor of an apartment building on the south edge of town. Nearing the end of the weekend, the neighborhood was quiet and dark --rather gloomy. In brilliant contrast, within the warm walls of this home, there was a group of individuals burning with excitement to talk about their varying passions in life and common love for God. Eyes snapped and comments sparkled; words and thoughts were challenged and refined (in several languages at once), and love was shown in the simple kindness of a casual spaghetti dinner.

It's good to have found such a well-lit hilltop.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What I wanna be when I grow up

This week, I walked one group of students through a well-wrought essay by Paul Auster of the New Yorker. "Why write?" was the alluring title. He recounts a monumental disappointment in his very young years regarding an unrealized autograph from the great Willie Mays. The Say Hey kid just stood there, waiting. The problem? Nobody had a pencil. "Sorry, kid. Ain't got no pencil, can't give no autograph." Heartbroken, the poor little guy sobbed the whole way home. From that day on, he made a habit carrying a pencil at all times. He explains:

"if nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there's a pencil in your pocket,

there's a good chance that one day you'll feel tempted to use it.
As I like to tell my children, that's how I became a writer."

Well, after clarifying quite a bit of vocabulary regarding that mysterious American diversion known as baseball, my students seemed as altogether charmed by the story as I had been (cue to teacher to keep digging - heads and hearts are wide open). What about you, I said, "why _____?" Why teach? Why cook? Why study logarithms? Why play football? And so they have been duly charged with the task of filling in the blank with one driving passion, and speak about it in front of the class in two weeks. I cannot wait to see what they come up with.

But I have asked them, somewhat unfairly, to do what I find impossible. That is, I cannot seem to narrow my purposes down to one glorious endeavor. I suppose this is not uncommon. Whereas I count my blessings in this area (several hundred, at last calculation), it can feel a bit haphazard at times. Something like a pinwheel rocket - plenty of creative sparks flying about, but not a whole lot of forward movement.

Then I was online today. (Hmm. Maybe this has something to do with the lack of direction...) Anyway, AOL news is not widely known for dispensing epiphanies about life. Today, however, was a happy exception:

Who's Waldo?

It is a story about centenarian Waldo McBurney, 104 and still a happy member of America's work force. Why? In his own words: "I'm not a strong believer in retirement. I don't think retirement is in the Bible. Maybe it's there, but I haven't found it." He has been married to his wife of 44 years, who he jokingly says was supposed to take care of him and bury him. (You do the math.) Oh, and then there are the marathons. He started running them...well...about when Vernice was supposed to be burying him. His secret? He says: "The Bible says God will supply all your needs," he said. "I feel like the next life is secure."

So that's what I wanna be when I grow up. A centenarian. I'm not interested in any morbid, demoralizing fountains of youth...just give me the days allotted to me, whatever their number. And forget narrowing it down to one passion. I'm gonna need all of 'em over the next...oh...seventy years or so. Lord willin', that is, and the creek don't rise.

So "why grow old?"

Because the next life is secure. And as far as Waldo and I are concerned, there's no such thing as retirement.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Return of the Karl

Well, as much as he admits to enjoying life in Paris, Karl had agreed to let Aryastone (his band for the last year or two) fly him back for a show with Little River Band. It promises to be a great concert, so here are the details of anyone in the Twin Cities is interested:

Thursday, November 2 at 7:30 pm, at the Medina Entertainment Center.

For those of you who find Karl entertaining enough on his own, feel free to shoot him an email. He'll be in Minneapolis until next Saturday, and he'd love to hang out with anyone who's game!

Feeling a trifle blue after putting the love of my life on a plane, I decided it was high time I figured out where all the runners in Paris were hiding. Eh, you say? Well, it's the oddest thing, but you rarely see a person jogging about town here. Now, I hear that Paris is the most densely-populated city in Europe. Moreover, these people can't be completely sedentary, given a) their skinny bodies, and b) their everyday consumption of bread and cheese. So, point me in the direction of the caloric drop-off location - I want in!

To undertake my investigation, I decided to head somewhere nearby that was colored in green on my Paris map. Drumroll, please.....The Jardins de Luxembourg. I was a bit leery of this location in advance, because my memories of these royal gardens told me that they do indeed command a triumphant entry. And the only thing flashy about be was my loud running shorts. (Hey, isn't there just a humble little spot where I could jog around a bit and go home? Where's my Lake Nokomis?) Nonetheless, I set off with my trusty GPS device on hand:

(sorry about the pun)

...and headed for the Jardins. Imagine my glee and delight to discover hoardes of others doing precisely what I was doing! I've never been so excited to see spandex in my entire life. Now, this runner's haven doesn't exactly contain as much green as my Plan de Paris had promised, but the chestnut trees were flying the colors of their full golden splendour, and the effect against the gray skies was giddifying. (Yes, I made up a word. It made me giddy, okay?) It was so good, I had to bring my camera back later. Cue up your Edith Piaf ("Ze autumn leaves....") and see the sidebar for the slideshow.

Also, if you will note the picture of Karl at the top, he is carefully pronouncing "Louvre" outside of that venerable institution. Almost a week ago, when the leaves in Paris had not yet fully turned, we headed into the Louvre for a four-hour marathon (the only kind I do these days). The experience brought us through a great number of epochs in one afternoon, which has a sort of dizzying effect.
I mean, it's a little surreal to be standing in a reconstruction of King Darius' temple.....

And then, fifteen minutes later, find yourself amongst someone's collection of Degas and Renoir. But never mind, there were good lessons to be learned about historical continuity: of human nature, of God's sovereign doling-out of measures of beauty and truth, and the resulting tradition of masterful art. It cost the same amount as going to a film in pricey Paris, but somehow the random series of pictures flickering before our eyes held more meaning than your average movie. Not a bad way to spend a Monday afternoon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A good land.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing...And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (Deut. 8:7)

Yes. That would just about sum it up. (Especially the bit about the bread.) France is undoubtedly a country rich in delicious and beautiful things. It seems as if every time we wander the windy streets (which you might have noticed by now is a frequent activity for us), we are carried away by various adventures. We run into rows of marchands passionately hawking their wares of wine, cheese, and fine sausages. Or a corner musician convinces a few dozen people to clap, sing along, and dance in the street. Wild and wonderous things are woven into the fabric of everyday life here, and I hope we don't ever take it for granted that we are living in such a serendipitous city.

Taking it for granted may seem far from our minds now, but this seems to be the primary danger inherent in entering a "good land":

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God ....when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them....all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God...Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’ (Deut 8:13).

Ironically, the "good land" that we are living in has largely forgotten God. We read these words of Charles de Gaulle's at the feet of his statue on the Champs Elysees last week:

There is a pact,
twenty centuries old,
between the greatness
of France
and the liberty
of the world.

Fine, admirable words -but strikingly godless. Perhaps the greatness of France and the liberty of the world are dependent upon one another in a philosophical sense. But, in this case, it is a sort of mutual admiration society that cuts God out of the picture. Now, regardless of what you might think about how faith in God ought to healthily play out in the political realm, you must admit that a person's worldview (including their conception of God) has an undeniable effect on their choices in life. And any time we humans get puffed up about our own efforts, we run the risk of forgetting the One to Whom we not only owe our liberties, but also our life and breath.

As a French pastor reminded us this morning, it is of great importance to thank God for His good gifts and what He has done for us. However, it must be balanced with praising Him for Who He Is as well. This keeps us from becoming too self-focused. It is a great relief to the human soul to thrust our eyes towards Someone other than ourselves, away from our own "greatness".

And yet He has a purpose in all [sweeping hand gesture] of this earthly greatness, doesn't He? In the midst of all of these baguettes, swirling street dancers, cobblestone pathways, marble steps, hidden frescoes, choral concerts, stammering students, swinging piano bars, accordian players, soups, salads, and humble corner cafes...

We shall remember the Lord our God (Deut. 8:17).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Jetlag, Job stress, and Jazz.

Salut from Paris on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

It has been a week since we arrived, and the bevy of experiences that have already piled up in our memories are too many to recount. This is a city with such a kaleidoscope of sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and tactile experiences, that even seven days' worth has become pretty much a colorful blur. However, our mental and physical paths seem to circle around a few basic concepts.

First of all, jetlag. Yes, it is an undeniable fact, and what's more, the quintessential excuse for any flighty (no pun intended) mistake one might make. We are slowly becoming accustomed to the decalage des horaires, but these things take time (again, no pun intended), and if I hand someone the wrong change or use the wrong verb tense, je m'excuse, je suis un peu fatiguee. So there.

Job stress. I was forewarned (by past participants in this teaching exchange) that I would have absolutely no idea what was going on at my job for a while. Uh, yeah. After a week of something like hunt-and-peck method, I have established that I am teaching 14 hours (though my schedule says 15), I am teaching 4 different types of classes (though I don't have any books for them), and I have about 60 students total (but if you bring them to the scheduled room, it'll be wrong).

The professors for whom I am lecturing tell me out of one side of their mouth that I must do [insert mystery lesson here], and then turn around and say I can do jolly well what I please, as long as they're happy and practicing their English. So, I try to strike a balance. Actually, this week, I just tried to survive. The (near) breaking point was when I had to fill in for a colleague, while covering my own class. That is, running back and forth between two classrooms, teaching the same thing to two different groups. Why couldn't we combine them, you say?

Don't ask. There's some compelling French reason.

I do have some very sweet students who are eager to learn, which brought me much joy in the thick of it. For the next couple of months, I have two very long days but also two weekdays off as well, so I am able to spend time with my husband and catch my breath.

Except that every time I try to stop and catch my breath, it gets stolen away by some encounter with Paris. Our recent wanderings have brought our feet in the direction of live music (which we expect will continue with some regularity, as much as our budget can take!). Our first show was at Caveau de la Huchette, where a Benny Goodman-style band from Switzerland serenaded half a dozen couples with hot, dance-driven swing. Abbey was asked to dance a foxtrot, which was a somewhat humiliating experience, given the fact that she doesn't dance the foxtrot. Everyone was very kind, however and you couldn't beat the atmosphere.

Caveau de la Huchette, which has hidden revolutionaries spouting off about liberties,
covered secret passageways to other parts of the city during times of oppression,
and was a secret meeting place for French Templars in the 16th century!

Last night, it was a bit trickier to find a place, given that it was Saturday night. We learned (the hard way), that if you have your heart set on a particular place, you'd better call ahead with a reservation. Fortunately, we had a veritable constellation of interests, most of which were in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. We finally found a spot here:

...where a Parisian singer of Malian origins sang her samba/soul-influenced tunes with fervor and finesse. Her quartet was quite extraorinary as well, and Karl soaked up as much of the piano and bass solos as possible. It was on the priceier side of things (18E for entry + a drink), but worth every euro. The club has hosted the likes of Charlie Parker, Stephane Grappelli, Miles Davis, and the Duke.

Well, it is probably about time that we make something to eat. You know, it's a French custom to get just the food you need for a day or two, which I think is a beautiful reminder of the daily goodness of God. Just as we pick up a baguette, a few fruits, and a new bottle of wine everyday before dinner, we must look to the Lord for new mercies every morning.

Miss and love you all!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In the fulness of time

In the fulness of time, we arrived in Paris. Promptly, we fell asleep.

You didn't fall for that, did you?

Truth be told, we couldn't keep ourselves from vagabonding a bit in the quartier. We slowly picked our way down the Avenue des Gobelins, searching somewhat aimlessly for dinner. It was sunny and we took our time. This was how we discovered the Rue Mouffetard: unannounced, winding, narrow cobblestone streets where pedestrians pretty much crowd out the vehicles for a day and just shop.

Oddly enough, there is a both a Starbucks and a MacDonalds that jointy guard the entrance to this lovely haven. We braved these formidable dragons, shunning their corporate caves with our best upturned Parisian noses, to see what unspoiled treasures lay beyond. Our courage was well-rewarded, as we found our way to the bread store, coffee roaster, cheese shop, wine store, and fresh fruit market, leaving a trail of receipts behind us like some modern-day Hansel and Gretel. (Not a bad idea with the wandering streets, come to think of it.)

At Rue Mouffetard, there are neither checkout aisles nor credit cards. There is only a friendly but tired face asking you for your order while you stammer your way to a decision with literally hundreds of cheeses spread before you. Finally, with stinky cheese (or dripping fish) in one hand, and euros clenched in the other, you fight your way through the little knot of people and come out the other side. Victory! And it is sweet. (Especially the wine: 2,90 euro. Not quite as cheap as the recent Trader Joe's wine phenomenon, but somehow more complex than your average bottle of Chucky Shaw. ) In short, the Lord has blessed us with a day of warm sun, safe journeys, a good Word from his lips, fine wine, daily bread, and tasty morsels along the way.

Oh, and our dear little apartment. You know, 410 square feet is pretty small. But somehow our future apart had shrunk even further in our imaginations, so that it actually seemed kind of roomy when we got here. For those of you who asked, here's a mini-tour:

This is walking in through the front door. Yup, that's Karl. Still sleepin'. He hardly slept at all on the plane, poor guy.

If then you go straight forward and turn left (at the white door), you will see the hallway, where most of the storage is:

To the left is the toilet, but that's kinda self-explanatory.

To the right is the bathroom, in cheery yellow:

Then there's the bedroom to the right of that, which is acres bigger than we imagined. Karl's already started setting up shop for a mini-studio, so it will probably be more of a music room than a bedroom. It's the only room in the whole place that's a little drab - everything else is quite charming.

Moving back to the living room. This is the dining table and a corner chair.

If I sit there, I see...
my wine glass, flirting with the bottle in the kitchen.

The kitchen. Tiny, yes. But do we look over the rooftops of Paris while we're washing dishes and slicing vegetables? Oh my, yes.

I have no new pictures of the balcony, which is really the best part. But it is now dark and I must go lay my head down. Thank you all for praying for us. Ciao.