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Friday, October 20, 2017

A Perfectly Parisian Birthday

I woke up on Thursday morning a year older. I do not mind getting older except for the creaking body parts. I still love celebrating my birthday and enjoy hearing from people all the world over thanks to the wonder of social media. I even received posted cards on the day! Always a treat to get real mail.
The day began with Doug presenting me with a big box filled with goodies to enjoy throughout the day.  Red roses, fois gras, jams, cheeses, sausage, yogurts (French yogurt is other-worldly), wine, the most heavenly cookies ever baked and a cake from a place we’ve walked by but had not to date taken time to taste. It was perfect. We had planned on a picnic supper that night because the weather has been amazing and we had friends coming in from Sweden so he had assembled it all so that it would be ready that evening. We had a modest breakfast, well, mine included a chocolate chip cookie, and off we went to enjoy this fantastic city. 
First stop was at one of my favorite places in the entire city: Sainte Chapelle. This wonder of gothic architecture and stained glass sits in the very center of Paris and radiates beauty. We had been before but it has been many years so we decided to soak in the beauty. It is dazzling. The windows represent such beautiful imagery from scripture and the architecture of it all is just so delicately gorgeous. The sun was shining enough to get the brightness that comes through stained glass when the light hits it just right and we enjoyed the beauty of our first stop.
From there we headed to the Conciergerie, the former palace and prison that figured largely in the French Revolution. We had never been here, only admiring the impressive fortress from the outside. Nothing like guillotines and revolutions to make you grateful for another year of life! For a French history buff, this is a must see exhibit. Carefully presented with a lot to read, it was enlightening for those of us whose main source of the French Revolution is the musical Les Miserables. I said to Doug as we entered the exhibit that we should just start belting out tunes from the musical to add flavor to our visit.Tempting as it was to break into song, we held back. French history is pretty complex and it was great to get a deeper look into those complexities. 
From there, hunger was gnawing at us so we were off to our next stop: Lunch. I had done some research on the Steak/Frites culture in Paris and had really wanted to try a classic French steak restaurant. One had been recommended by friends who live here but it was too far away. I had remembered the name of a place that was much closer so off we went. We were not disappointed. Relais de l’entrecote fit the bill perfectly. No menu. They offer one meal. Salad and steak/frites.  We said ok, let’s do this. It was delicious. By far the VERY BEST FRIES I’ve had in Paris. Just as we were savoring the last tasty morsels on our plate, the waitress returned to ask if we were ready for the second portion. WHAAAT? Another round?! A new, piping hot plate of steak and fries appeared on our plates and we could not be more delighted. I slipped in that these were the best fries and that I was celebrating my birthday! She heaped on another pile! We were in our glory. Serving it up in two portions is brilliant because everything was piping hot the second time a round as well instead of it sitting on the plate to get cold. It was such a great lunch. We skipped desert knowing that we had goodies at home.
The last thing that I wanted to do during the day was to go on a boat ride. One company, Vedettes de Paris, offers up a free ride with a glass of champagne on your birthday! You just have to show ID and voilá, free ticket, free glass! It was such a beautiful afternoon that it was a perfect post-lunch activity. We were both so sleepy from the delicious lunch and sunshine and walking around so it was nice to relax on the boat watching this gorgeous city go by.
After a nice afternoon nap, our dear friends Hannah and Sven, arrived from Stockholm. We assembled the picnic supper but stayed inside to indulge. It was so delicious! The perfect way to sample so many wonderful things. We popped the cork on one of our precious bottles of Champagne from Champagne and all were happy. 
We took a walk to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up and returned home to indulge in this beautiful cake. It’s hard to explain exactly what this is but there is meringue and cream and shaved chocolate on the outside. Not too heavy, not overly sweet, it was just right. 
What a day. Perfect. Memorable. Delightful. I’m grateful for my husband’s creativity and game spirit in making the day so special for me. 
The birthday celebrations continued on to Friday night with a birthday dinner that Hannah and Sven treated us to near the Latin Quarter. They even sang in Swedish, quietly, one more time!    Le Bistrot d’Henri was a wonderful spot to eat some French delights such as snails, kidney, scallops, and beef bourguignon.  The evening ended with ice cream from Amorino, my very favorite gelato place in all of Paris, maybe even in the whole world!  
I am so thankful for the voices of many around the world who took time to wish me well. Mine is a life well-lived, surrounded by friends and loved ones and I am deeply grateful. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Pilgrimage, A Walk, A Pledge

Soon it’s time for me to embark on my latest challenge. A group of women from the American Church in Paris have decided to take a walk to Chartres Cathedral as part of a spiritual pilgrimage that follows the Way of St. James. Perhaps you are familiar with the Camino De Santiago in Spain. if you’ve seen the film, The Way, this is what we’re talking about. The Chemin of Sainte Jacques in France allows folks to go on a pilgrimage to the magnificent Chartres Cathedral from Paris. Walking the Camino de Santiago has been something that Doug and I have been interested in since a good friend did it a few years back and our colleague here at ACP also just did it over the summer. That requires a bit of planning and significant training as it is about 800 kilometers walked over about a month! This walk from Paris to Chartres is about 100 kilometers and we will journey across 5 days to achieve our goal. I was asked to join the group as a fellowship traveler but also to provide a pastoral presence on the journey.
I am excited and a bit a nervous too. I am nervous because of the significant physical challenges I’ve encountered of late with my hip. But trips to various doctors, new custom built shoe inserts, and regular appointments with a physical therapist have bolstered my confidence in my ability to be more physically ready for this challenge. Of course, I have no idea what awaits me as I embark on this new and inviting challenge with 8 other women. I’m confident that I will encounter God along the chemin (way in French) and I am also confident that things unknown to me today will challenge and encourage me.
As I considered this walk, I was drawn to the link between my ability to do this walk and the significant work that ACP is doing right now to install a lift and lavatory that will make ACP wheelchair accessible. This is an important step for the church to take but as many of you know, often doing something like this, while the right thing, is also an expensive thing. ACP has decided to move forward with the project no matter the costs and so I got to thinking about how I could perhaps raise a little money to benefit this project. Sort of like my walk for those whose walking ability is limited or not possible at all. 
This is near and dear to my heart in part because of people that I love who live life from a chair. My niece is one such person and she lives life with more courage and zeal than many others. So in that spirit, I’m asking people to sponsor me, either by one time gift or per kilometer giving, on my walk to Chartres which will take place October 31-November 4. 
I am wanting to keep this simple so am not setting up a funding page or anything like that. I simply ask that you private message me with your intention to give and I can give you fuller details then. If you know someone who doesn’t know me but would like to get on board with a gift, simply be the go between for us. There are a few ways that you can give. If you are in the US or prefer dealing in US dollars and checks, then you will be able to write a tax-deductible check to the American and Foreign Christian Union, which is linked to the ministry of ACP and through which funding from the US for various projects is funneled. If you are in Europe, I can set you up with bank transfer information. 
The last really big physical challenge I worked toward was the half marathon in Nice, France back in 2015. While this will certainly represent a physical challenge of an entirely different thing, it will also be a mental and spiritual challenge as well. I look forward to all that will unfold on this journey. It adds meaning for me to be able to walk on behalf of a project for our church that I know embraces the Kingdom of God value that ALL are welcome here. It’s easy to say and it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. So I am grateful for the money, sweat and tears (ever try to get permits and constructions done in France? It causes tears!) that the church is committed to giving. If you are moved to give toward this project through sponsoring my journey/pilgrimage, I would be forever grateful. A woman who will meet us in Chartres states this in a book she’s written about pilgrimage to Chartres: “Each pilgrimage is unique, each pilgrim travels differently.” This prayer is meaningful as I embark on my own, unique pilgrimage: “On the way, God, may the gratitude that rises from the spring of love flow ever more strongly, and thus widely. May it be more so.” 

Thank you for your interest and support. If money isn’t something you can give, please pray for me and my on-going preparations and for ACP, to be the place of open, wide doors it longs to be.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Into the Void at Chamonix

I put some pictures up on Facebook yesterday of our stunning day in the French Alps above Chamonix as was too tired to think about doing much more.  But I wanted to take a moment and write a bit about our day because it was truly one of the most amazing days we’ve ever experienced. We were so lucky with the weather. No clouds, mild temperatures in the valley, bright sunshine and glistening blue sky. Being here in neither the summer nor winter seasons also means fewer people, but unfortunately it also means that not all attractions are open because this is when the big maintenance takes place to prepare for the upcoming winter season. Even so, the autumn color and a lack of crowds made it all very worthwhile. 
We had intended to take the cable car to the top, look around up there, take the car back down one stop and then hike across the valley to Montenvers where the giant Mer de Glace glacier is and take the cog train back into Chamonix. Alas, when buying our tickets we found out that the train was closed. Big disappointment because then it meant that if we chose to hike across the valley, about 2 hours, the only way we could get down would be to hike down, another 2-2.5 hours. We pondered doing it but with my recent tendinitis and neither of us being in the best shape, and not really knowing what the difficulty level of the hikes would be, we really wondered if it would be the best idea. We then realized that you could hike back to Chamonix from the stop of the cable care so we decided to do that. Unbeknownst to us at the time, that hike is one of the most difficult terrains of the entire region and the longer, more scenic hike might’ve been easier. We’ll never know because we are not going to go back up and try again today!
So, once on top after a quite dramatic cable car ride where the car swings in quite a lively manner high above the valley and scales the mountain in an almost vertical climb, there is a lot to explore. On the back side, views of Mont Blanc come into view and you really can see for miles and miles. The French Alps are quite different than the Swiss Alps and while Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe, it’s rounded top makes it look much less dramatic.  Still, the glaciers and fields of blinding white snow were impressive. And your breath was literally taken away. The air is very thin on top and you have climb stairs to get to all of the best viewpoints. It was a bit dizzying for me and I felt light-headed for much of the time we were up there.
The top of Aiguille du Midi is pretty great. Several people commented on one of the photos I put on Facebook yesterday as it shows us standing in a glass enclosure that juts out from the mountainside. It’s called Into the Void and you literally walk on a glass walkway and then step into this void where it does feel like a void. You have to slip into these giant felt slippers that go over your shoes in order to protect the surface of the glass. It was indeed freaky to step out over this glass floor with the sheer drop off below you. But once in, you are mainly mugging for your camera and not thinking about how weird it all feels. 
You can also walk into the glacier and some mountain climbers were just coming off the mountain into the opening as we were standing there. TOUGH CLIMB. From the platform at the very top, the wind was whipping and it was freezing cold. Oddly enough, just a bit lower and at a slightly different angle, it warmed up and wasn’t windy at all. The views were magnificent and you really do feel the grandeur of something so much bigger than you surrounding you. Your brain is released from all the stress and noise of every day life and it’s a glorious experience.
We finally made the decision to get on our way, still thinking that we might try the 5 hour hike. Then we realized that you could get to Chamonix so decided that was a better idea. After about 45 minutes a beautiful little restaurant greets you with inviting food and drink so we paused to enjoy a drink in what may be the prettiest place I’ve ever had a glass of wine. By this level, the sun was heating things up and so it was delightful to watch the cable cars, marvel at the para-gliders, and soak in the grandeur of this mountain range. The Red Mountain range that was across from us, reminded us of the cliffs of Utah with their color scheme. 
And the craggy tops of many of the peaks were a bit of a surprise as well.
Now it was time to get serious about getting down off the mountain and we started what would prove to be a very challenging afternoon. Steep, rocky, difficult footing, narrow, tree roots, had it all. The views were amazing as we paused to look back and up, with the autumn color spreading out in all its glory. After a full hour I needed more fuel so we stopped to finish off the picnic lunch we had packed. I was also very aware of drinking enough water plus I figured the more I drank, I less I’d have to carry! I can honestly say that the next hour was pretty rough. We were both starting to have some significant pain, Doug in his knees, and me in my calves and the big toe of my left foot. My new shoes were awesome however and I’m sure were the reason that my tendinitis didn’t flare up. The sun was hot. I was down to a tee shirt and was working up a pretty good sweat. We were having to stop and rest at pretty regularl intervals and the path ahead just seemed endless. The town still looked super far away and we remained at a fairly good height meaning more and more downhill. We kept hoping that it wouldn’t be so steep but then again, we were walking down a mountain side! That last hour was indeed really hard. Doug’s legs were super shaky and he felt unstable much of the time. My big toe was killing me and my calves were yelling at me. We employed variations in our stepping techniques, trying to go a bit side ways, attempting to somehow take pressure off of the parts of our bodies that had endured the most stress. Finally, we saw the path that would lead us home! We were never so glad to be off a mountain trail as we were right then and 
The walk back into town on a level surface actually felt good. I was able to stretch my calves a bit more and Doug was able to find some stability in his knees. Finally we were home. We both collapsed for a couple of hours.A hot shower and finding a good restaurant were essential tasks for the evening. We both felt better than we had expected to and the restaurant we found was an excellent value with just the food we wanted: Fondue! The Savoyarde cuisine, the cuisine of this region, is stuff we both love. The salad of the region was an excellent starter, the fondue was plentiful and delicious and a light dessert capped it all off. The lovely bottle of red wine was the perfect accompaniment to a delightful evening. We were even able to sit outside even though by the end it was a bit chilly. 
Perhaps it’s a bit obvious to state that we fell into bed and slept really well. This morning there is a bit of a soreness in my legs but overall I feel better than I expected. It was a very memorable day only marred slightly by the hour I was concerned about whether or not we’d get off that mountain in one piece!
I do know that going down a steep hill is harder on the body than going up but we couldn’t bear the thought of just riding the cable cars up and back without at least hiking a little. I had to laugh when looking at our guidebook later. It said, “Don’t hike down to Chamonix from plan de Aiguille. It’s a very steep path.” Oh well. We made it and now I’m glad I did!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Shoah: The Hebrew Word for Catastrophe

Shoah is the Hebrew word for “catastrophe”.  This term specifically means the killing of nearly six million Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War. The English-speaking countries more commonly use the word Holocaust, which is Greek for “sacrifice by fire”. (These words are written on the website of the Paris holocaust museum and probably appear near the entrance as well.)
We had a free afternoon yesterday and decided to head down to the Le Marais, an area of Paris that we have grown to love and appreciate. In addition to being the home of the best falafel in town, it houses the Jewish quarter and is filled with quaint and charming streets and stores. It's got a nice vibe and it's fun to get out of our own neighborhood and experience another aspect of the marvelous city of Paris.
Doug had done some reading on the holocaust museum that is housed there so off we went for lunch and to explore a new site. Lunch did not disappoint. Lines for both take away and sit down were well-formed but we got in fairly rapidly. We both had falafel pity sandwiches and I must say, the falafel did not disappoint. From there, it was a short walk to the museum. We were impressed by how expansive the exhibit was. Upon entering, there is a large cylinder with the names of the death camps and the Warsaw ghetto written on the exterior. A nearby plaque explained that the bronze cylinder evokes the chimneys of the extermination camps. It was a stark and chilling reminder of the reality and horror of the war. 
Another site that we encountered as we entered the exhibit area was the Wall of the Righteous: Le Mur des Justes. 

 This made a deep impact upon me because of the world we are currently living in. It reminded me of how important it is to oppose hateful rhetoric and denounce oppressive practices that seek to dehumanize any segment of our society. Of course, the walls with the names of those killed in the extermination camps are always powerful and moving.
The exhibition was very well done and free to the public. There are both permanent exhibitions and twice each year they bring in a temporary exhibit. I was amazed at how extensive the permanent exhibit was. It's a lot of reading but very well done with explanations in both French and English. A return visit is quite likely as it was just hard to take it all in. 
It was a bit tough to read about the French government's role in the perpetuation of the "Jewish solution." The Vichy government was equally as evil as the Nazi regime and cooperated perfectly with the oppression of Jews in France. Sarah's Key is a powerful novel that first exposed me to what is knows as the Vel' d'Hiver round up, a horrible season of rounding up Jews around the city of Paris. I am currently reading An Invisible Bridge which is also fiction but set during the time of WWII. The story features a young architectural student from Budapest who goes to Paris to study. Both of these novels are worthwhile reads for some insight into France. Of course, France suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazis, but it's important to note that there were also many Nazi sympathizer within the nation. I was impressed with the way in which France has been trying to deal with this ugly history. This plaque in particular was moving for me. The quote "After years of amnesia, France finally acknowledged the responsibility of the Vichy government in 1995..." That statement, after years of amnesia, indicating a collective attempt to reduce the negative history, or wipe it from the history of France because it is so painful stands as a stark reminder that we must embrace our full history, especially the ugly and shameful parts, so that those deeply injured by the events will feel seen and heard and so that we see how it unfolded so that we never allow such a thing to unfold again. 
Of course this wasn't our first exhibition on WWII or the holocaust. You do not live in Europe for almost 20 years and skip over the ugly and searing history that the war left on this continent. We have visited Dachau and stood before the ovens where thousands were burned. I visited the Ten Boom home in Holland to see where this passionate family risked everything to hid Jews from the Nazis. We have been to Normandy and visited the WWII museum and stood on Omaha beach imagining the carnage of June 6, 1944. We have been exposed to the devastating circumstances of how people were torn from their livelihoods and treated like animals on the way to a near certain death. But this exhibit moved me deeply because of the current state of our world and the less than enlightened man who is currently the President of the USA. He throws around his rhetoric, mentions nuclear warfare as if it were child's play, while lacking a seemingly acute sense of what war really means. He sports a nationalistic furor that at times dehumanizes others and it is often couched in subtleties that indicate a white nationalism is really what lies at the heart of what he's touting. I get a sense from his propaganda that he elevates certain human beings over others and there is nothing to say about this except that it is dead wrong. I am particularly disturbed by the Christians who continue to either actively support him or sit idly by, maintaining their silence because they don't want to rock the boat or upset people. 
It is here that the wall of the righteous comes into my mind. It is here that I realize that it is sinful to sit idly by and not rock the boat. The boat is being rocked by a force that is at the very least unhelpful and at its very worst, devastatingly harmful. I must denounce in no uncertain terms Robert Jefferies, the Baptist pastor from Dallas who affirmed that it was Trump's right to take down North Korea with a show of force. I must denounce all forms of white nationalism that parades itself as patriotic righteousness when in reality it is simply a form of racism that is too cowardly to actually come right out and state that. 
This photograph, near the end of our time there, just about broke my heart in two.  She is a non-Jew, he a Jew. These marriages were eventually forbidden. Underneath the photograph the caption tells us that her sign says I am the biggest slut. I only go with Jews. His says I only bed German women. It just reminds me a little too much of how we try to regulate who can be married to whom and the ways in which we oppress people who want to be together who do not fit our ideal of what an appropriate relationship should look like.
I am no way stating that under Trump's leadership the US is behaving like Nazi Germany under Hitler. But I do feel at times we are careening a bit too closely to a society that lacks a broader understanding of the small steps that are taken on the road to dehumanizing others and justifying certain behaviors and attitudes in society that are deeply consequential. The less we value the whole of human life, the more likely we are to become immune to the ways in which oppressive systems are in place to dehumanize and devalue certain people, which in turn makes it easier to oppress them or go to war war with them or to cultivate an interior attitude that we truly are superior. The more we think of war as a casual solution, the less thoughtful we become about the resulting carnage. The more we lift up one people group over another, even one country over another, the more we allow our worship to be directed to nationalistic and patriotic loyalties even when those loyalties lead to the oppression of others. 
In every memorial or museum I've been to, the words NEVER FORGET are written. We must never forget that war is not a good solution. We must not have national amnesia that refuses to recognize the sins of our past thus never take responsibility for them. We must never allow a national fervor to supersede a global peace. We must never forget that God so loved the world...and therefore so must we.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Le Tour De France

We managed to fulfill another bucket list item yesterday by watching the finish of the Tour de France as the riders skittered down the Champs-Élysée and around the Tuileries and place de la Concorde for 8 laps as they ended their 3000 kilometer race! 

 We've been interested in the Tour for many years and even spent one summer holiday chasing it around some smaller towns. It is an admittedly funny 'spectator' sport as you wait for long periods of time for about 30 seconds of action! Still, the parade of vehicles and the riders themselves are thrilling to watch whiz by and in the case of the final laps in Paris, you do get to see them 8 different times.
We were very lucky to live about 15 minutes from the area where the riders would be riding so were able to simply walk over to a spot near the Concorde about an hour before the riders hit Paris. It wasn't as crowded as I had expected and we were able to secure a spot very close to the course. Jets flew over head releasing the colors of the France and it was a very festive environment. We even saw some of the floats that come through prior to the riders, a very fun part of watching the tour. 
From our perch we could see the riders taking the turn off the Champs-Élysée, around the place Concorde and onto the quai de Tuileries where we were standing. The crowd noise would surge each time the riders appeared and the excitement was short-lived but intense! I was randomly snapping photos with my phone hoping to get a good one and I was able to secure a great photo of Christopher Froome, the winner, in his yellow jersey! Make no mistake, even after all of the tiding these guys had done, they were still peddling at a very rapid speed.
Best off all it was just super fun to be a part of something that is so important to France. And what a shame it would've been to sit in our apartment just a few minutes away and not bother to take in the atmosphere. I was texting with a friend in CA who was watching it on tv! That was pretty fun as she was giving us updates on the riders whereabouts while we waited.
We were nowhere near the podium where the awards were given and it would've been impossible to get there so we scurried home and watched the ceremony on television! All in all, it was indeed a thrilling day, filled with new memories that we will treasure from this season of life in Paris.