Saturday, March 29, 2008


Jesus having been risen indeed, we found a sufficiently compelling reason to rise ourselves at 6 am a few Saturdays ago and board an enormous coach bus full of French preteens bound for Chartres. Karl had a gig with a youth choir with energy to burn - and sugar too, judging from the bags of candy good-naturedly passed 'round during the rumbling hour-long voyage. It must have been Easter or something.

Our friends Charles and Magali direct this exuberant group of kids to sing and dance for the glory of God all over France. Karl has now become a fixture in the talented band, playing organ and keyboard parts. This project has recently taken them to Nantes, Chartres, Paray-le-Monial, and will soon bring them further afield. Sometimes this "in-house" roadie gets to tag along.

The day began and ended with chill and rain, with a very short burst of sun in the afternoon. This is typical French weather for March, called "giboulee de Mars", which I might translate as "stinging bits of cold interspersed with equally stinging bits of sunshine". At any rate, not the most promising weather for a festival. Still, the main event was safe under the tent.

The drizzle did put us in the proper mood for the somber atmosphere of the famous Chartres cathedral, which was all dressed up in its mourning veils for Holy Saturday. I dragged another supportive-yet-bored band wife (I mean, roadie) along with me to glimpse the glorious windows. The Bible and other stories laid out in brilliant, gem-like designs. Speaking of which, if you ever get the chance to visit a cathedral with a jeweler, jump at the chance. It's simply fascinating to see large-scale design through their eyes. My companion was equally fascinated by my interest in French medieval literature. How on earth does an American come to study such things? (I have no idea.)

The excitement for the evening's performance built and built, even as the darkness fell and the wind picked up to near-Minnesota bitterness. Cosy and snug in the warmth of a crowd, I watched as Karl and Charles and the band, and a crowd of smiling young bouncing people poured out their best to a full house. They did spectacularly, every one of them from the smallest to the greatest.

The bus was...a little late. We didn't get back into Paris and snug in our warm beds until 2 am or so, so Easter morning was a smörgåsbord of "fat morning" (grasse matinee in French, which means sleeping in) and refreshing victuals for breakfast. Happy (late) Easter everyone!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vendredi Saint

It is Good Friday, and I would like to share a piece by my favorite poet, Clement Marot. This is just a translation, but I'll include the original at the bottom for those of you who read French. My favorite part is when he says that "Death which our Saviour does quell" ("Ainsi la mort, qui le Sauveur oppresse"), which is ambiguous as it sounds. Is Death oppressing Him, or vice versa?

Maybe we find out in "three days".

Good Friday

Grief or joy, I have both unsurpassed
Grief when I ponder the somber day that passed
And see my Redeemer, hung on the cross
Or utmost joy, when by his blood-poured loss,
I am saved from my infernal fate at last.

Then I will laugh; no! Sorrow is my stance.
Sorrow? Yes, I say, with all jubilance!
In fact, I don't know which to hold fast:
Grief or joy.

Both are good, as God has taught us well;
And so Death which our Saviour does quell
Makes in our hearts both grief and joy descend.
Till our death, at last, renders us to dusty end,
And one or the other, will bid us farewell,
Grief or joy.

Du Vendredi Saint

Deuil ou plaisir me faut avoir sans cesse:
Deuil, quand je vois (ce jour plein de rudesse)
Mon Redempteur pour moi en la croix pendre;
Ou tout plaisir, quand pour son sang epandre
Je me vois hors de l'infernale presse.

Je rirai donc: non, je prendrai tristesse.
Tristesse? oui, dis-je, toute liesse.
Bref, je ne sais bonnement lequel prendre:
Deuil ou plaisir.

Tous deux sont bons, selon que Dieu nous dresse:
Ainsi la mort, qui le Sauveur oppresse,
Fait sur nos coeurs deuil et plaisir descendre:
Mais notre mort, qui enfin nous fait cendre,
Tant seulement l'un ou l'autre nous laisse,
Deuil ou plaisir.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A veritable ocean

“Paris est un véritable océan. Jetez-y la sonde, vous n’en connaîtrez jamais la profondeur. Parcourez-le, décrivez-le! Quelque soin que vous mettiez à le parcourir, à le décrire ; quelque nombreux et intéressés que soient les explorateurs de cette mer, il s’y rencontrera toujours un lieu vierge, un antre inconnu, des fleurs, des perles, des monstres, quelque chose d’inouï, oublié par les plongeurs littérateurs.” -Balzac

"Paris is a veritable ocean. Sound to its depths, you will never discover them. Skim it, describe it! No matter how much care you take to scan it, discover it; however numerous and interested are the explorers of this sea, one will always meet a virgin place there, an unknown lair, flowers, pearls, monsters, something extraordinary and forgotten by literary sea-divers."

Both having been home-educated for most of our lives, field trips have a rather broad meaning. Yes, the excursion to the art museum or meat-packing plant certainly qualifies. But how about the ten minutes you nab in to stare down the French baker preparing hundreds of baguettes in his marvelous ovens? Or the degustation at the wine shop that leads to a lesson in French oenological terminology? Captured moments and curiosity keep education part of our daily lives, even as "grown-ups" (whatever that means). This is home education's greatest lesson, for me at least. Wherever you are, take full advantage of the time that you have there and sound the place to its depths. With only a few months left in this city of unfathomable profundity, we have been cocking our heads and having a good long look at both some new places and favorite old haunts.

The Cluny. This is where the museum of the Middle Ages lives, and inside one can find all manner of flowers, pearls, and monsters. Really. The baths of the Romans form the foundations of the building, and Christianity just built up from there, sometimes neglecting that they were established upon groundwork that was somewhat incongruous with their beliefs. Well, that's the Middle Ages for you- a cornucopia of influences, passions, restraints, and beauty. They proudly display pillars which were found underneath the Notre-Dame during excavations. Pre-christian, they celebrate pagan gods. Did the priests serving Mass in the 14th century know what dark desires from the past were lurking beneath them? It makes one wonder.

Musee de l'Assistance Publique, or the Paris Hospitals museum. This humble presentation painted a picture of a society which once cared for the poor and sick out of love for God and man, long ago. Of course, it wasn't always completely altruistic, as eternal pardons and indulgences for sin were issued as payment for medical service. But there were the faithful and plucky few -check out Sister Rosalie's life for a good example. Near the turn-of-the-century, an increased emphasis on the survival of the fittest led to blaming society's ills on the poor and sick, with the solution of shutting them away into institutions. This was an extremely sad chapter, particularly for the most vulnerable, the children. The museum claimed that as of late, they have tried to find their way back to some sense of charity. Methinks they will be unsuccessful until they go back to that"loving God" part. Paris is full of needy people, and government programs seem about as efficacious as a bandaid on a tumor. Of course, the states of my own native country's health care puts me in a precarious position for judging others. But that's whole other can of worms.

La Fleche d'Or. This club is in an old train station. I like that. It reminds me First Avenue in Minneapolis, which is an old bus station. What is it about former transport systems leaving rock n' roll in their trail? Dylan said/sang: "it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry." Maybe the ghosts of a thousand tearful adieus has something to do with it. At any rate, we duck into this dingy establishment every couple of weeks, saying hello to a sampling of rock bands that are a bit wet behind the ears, but usually exuberant and fun.

Le chateau d'Ecouen. Karl was rehearsing yesterday with a band, so Abbey took the train half-an-hour into the countryside to see a castle. This is where the Museum of the Renaissance holds court, and what a lovely little box to keep it in! I somehow had a suspicion that it was going to be a magical experience when I read on their website ahead of time that I would have to "walk through the forest on foot from the train station" to get there. Most breathtaking was: the lovely portative organ (complete with demonstration), the painted fireplaces, the elaborate golden moving clock in the form of a ship with musicians, and the budding forest all around. Spring is on its way.