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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. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

La Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day

July 14: French National Day, Bastille Day, La Fête de la Fédération: All names for a big day of celebration in France. (If you click on the photos, you can see them in full frame.)
My favorite uniforms. I want one of those hats.
We were happy to be here to experience this national celebration. The first event of the day was the military parade that winds downs the magnificent Champs-Élysée. We live a mere 15 minute walk from the parade route so we figured we should get up and check out the happenings. At 8.30 a.m. streams of people were already finding their way for a 10.00 start time so we were glad to have arrived when we did. We were interviewed for French tv and a clip of me was on the news! Pretty funny. The parade itself kicked off when President Macron drove by in his own vehicle. We got a mere glimpse of him.
The parade was interesting, full of pomp and displays of military color and might. There were no bands so we listened to recorded music as the various uniformed French military paraded by. Some of the uniforms were magnificent to behold. I'm not a big military girl, but it was fun to experience France's display of the branches of their military. 
The firemen got a big cheer. Those helmets glistened!
Once the big trucks and tanks began to roll through one had to admit that it was not a sight one sees on an ordinary day.

It also reminded me of times in France when the military presence was not so peaceful and of the great carnage that this nation suffered during the two world wars. The plane flyovers were the most magnificent of all and it was fun to watch the steady stream of jets flying in formation overhead. All in all, it was fun to be a part of these festivities.
We were pretty tired from the previous week so we just relaxed most of the day. We decided to take a walk around the Eiffel Tower around 6.00pm as we knew people would be gathering for the firework show that night. What a zoo that was. We were thankful that we had our own secret plan for viewing the fireworks that did not include fighting the thousands of people jockeying for position on the Champs du Mars. 
A wonderful young woman who has been a terrific youth leader with us this year joined us at about 8.00 p.m. and around 10.00 p.m. we climbed the spire of the church. It's quite a straight uphill climb but once there, totally worth it. The view was magnificent and the sunset was unfolding and we knew that our perch was going to be perfect for the fireworks show. We popped a bottle of champagne, toasted to our life in France and waited for the spectacle to begin.
We were not disappointed. I have seen a lot of firework shows in my lifetime and this one was one for the ages. The interplay of the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks against the dark sky was a sight to behold. We were dazzled time and again by the beautiful artwork that dotted the sky.
Soon it was over and as we watched the masses scurry home, we simply climbed down the ladders and made our way to home. We all felt satisfied with the way in which we embraced living in France and celebrated Bastille Day in a very French way. Vivé la France. They celebrate well on their national day. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sweet Summer in Stockholm

We have just returned to Paris from Stockholm. It is still strange for me to leave Stockholm to go home somewhere else!
 But it was an amazing delight to return during the long, light days of summer in that beautiful city we called home for almost 17 years. After an oppressive heat wave in Paris, the cooler temps that drove me crazy when we lived there were a welcome respite from urban, humid heat. The quality of the air, the cleanliness of the water, the deep green of nature, and the calm of the city were all things that reminded me of all that is good about living Stockholm.  One of the great gifts of returning to a place you've lived is that you are reminded of the things that kept you there with joy and delight and all of the stuff that bothered you or was hard fades deeply into the background leaving you with a treasure trove of warm memories that is pure gift.
Our trip was divided into distinct sections! The front end was spent with dear friends who have welcomed us into their home on countless occasions especially holidays and with whom we feel a very warm and familiar connection that includes their 3 adult children. 
Being in their home is like coming home to a warm cocoon. Hospitality oozes from every corner and we are so thankful for the ways in which they embrace our comings and goings. Their home that sits close to a lake was a perfect place to start our journey! One of the evenings we had a gathering over delicious food that included a significant conversation regarding my Louisville Institute book project. The depth of conversation and insight was so inspiring and I feel I am now well on my way with my project. SO EXCITING. 
We also shared a traditional Indian meal with our brother from another mother. They have moved to a new place that overlooks the sea so our waterside walk enabled us to take in the glorious sunset that put on quite the show that night.
The middle section of our trip was spent celebrating midsommar in the manner we had for years upon years with more extended family. What joy to re-live these weekends. It was cold, but not rainy. Doug swam on midsommar eve late in the evening after all of the dancing, eating, drinking and singing was done. It was too cold for me so I waited until the next morning when the sun was a bit warmer. All of the friends who we had gathered with over the years were there and it was as if we'd never left. Babies and spouses have been added along the way and it was a delight to see how these young ones are growing into responsible, beautiful adults. 
We returned to Immanuel International for the first time in 2.5 years. 

It wasn't weird. Didn't feel strange. We were warmly welcomed back with lots of love and appreciation, told we were missed but also understood that it was OK that we were no longer there. What a delight to enjoy the warmth and vibrancy of this lovely congregation. 
The last stop was the archipelago and time by Baltic. We longed for our boat and our doggy but at least the family we were with had both! We enjoyed returning to the home that we called our summer home on the outskirts of Stockholm and took delight in the comfort of yet another place that wraps us in warmth and welcome. We motored out into the archipelago to spend one day and night with more dear friends who own the very best summer place in the world. 
We have always enjoyed the days spent out here and this time there was no exception. The boat ride was beautiful and we arrived and got safely ensconced in the house before a raging thunder and lightening storm hit hard. But it blew through and gave way to a gorgeous evening. Late into the night I could not get my eyes off the horizon. The morning gave way to a gorgeous, warm morning so I took the chance to dip into the Baltic. I do miss swimming in the clear, clean, and yes, freezing cold waters of the Baltic. Everyone else thought I was crazy but I loved it. The boat ride back into Saltis was glorious and Doug and I both soaked in that beauty that dazzled our senses summer after summer in Stockholm.
Finally on our last day we held one more gathering of Immanuel folks to discuss my project and this was equally as fascinating and enlightening. Held at the home of a couple who met at Immanuel and eventually invited us to tie the knot for them, their hospitality overwhelmed us. Victoria's cooking is at the top of the my list and I just love being in her presence. She and Ingvar are filled with grace and openness and it was a delight to experience that once again. That night, we stayed up very late with a young couple who again, are like family to us, talking, laughing, sharing heart ache and joy.
Final day coffees with friends at the brand new Mall of Scandinavia, an epically huge and gorgeous US type mall, proved to be a perfect way to bring this trip to a close.
It's impossible to express what it's fully like to return to a place you loved and at times, drove you crazy through the years! We are both content that Stockholm is no longer our place of resident but we are also both fully convinced that there is a big Stockholm shaped place in our heart that is filled up with the beauty of the city but more importantly the beauty of the people with whom a deep love is shared. 
It was joy pure joy to return and enjoy these moments and memories.