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.