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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Day with the Dead

One of the truly delightful things about now living in Paris for an extended period is getting to explore many of this city's delights that are often out of reach when you are here as a tourist for just a few days. Touring the Pére Lachaise cemetery on the outskirts of Paris is one of these wonderful activities. Located in the 20th arrondisement, the cemetary was a 45 minute bus ride from The American Church in Paris. We did take the metro(underground) on the way back and it was much quicker but the bus ride took us through cool neighborhoods so it was just fine with us. It was also 18C(almost 70F) outside, the sun was shining and it felt like a summer day!  
The cemetery is a very cool place with flamboyant and impressive gravestones along with many famous dead people buried underground. The most famous American to be put to rest there is Jim Morrison. 
 His grave has been damaged many times so now sits behind a chain link fence. A bust of him used to adorn the grave, but alas, was also stolen so now it's a rather non-descript grave site. Other famous graves include Gertrude Stein, which was interesting since I'm currently reading The Paris Wife, a memoir written by Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson and Stein figures prominently in their journey while living in Paris. Her grave is understated. 
Not surprisingly, the grave of Oscar Wilde is a bit more pronounced with a lovely quote about being mourned by outcast men serving as poignant reminder of all that Wilde suffered in his life.
 It is ensconced in glass and many still kiss the glass as a sign of affection and connection. Apparently people used to kiss the grave itself and it was causing more damage than was helpful. Other notables include Moliére and Edith Piaf along with Bernhard Verlhac, a name unknown by most, but upon discovering that he was French cartoonist who drew for the satirist magazine, Charlie Hebdo, it doesn't take long to realize that he was on the 12 killed by terrorists back in January of 2015. 
There is always a cartoon on the grave and many notes that state, "Je Suis Charlie." Interesting enough, Chopin, the great Polish composer is buried here after coming to Paris at the tender age of 21 and never leaving. 
The last grave we spotted was that of Gioacchino Rossini, the man who wrote the William Tell Overture. 
There are many, many more graves to see. Many non-famous people often used their grave marker as symbol of their profession. This camera reminds me of my talented cousin, the photographer. Perhaps the most fitting grave marker for artists is a symbol of their craft.
The place is huge, 100 acres and you could wander for days. People are still buried here as was evidenced by a couple of interments we witnessed.  it costs €11,000! Of course, I could not resist this adorable, yet poignant grave marker of a child and his dog. The child buried here was indeed only 9 years old. 
One of the most moving aspects of our wander were the numerous memorials devoted to victims of WWII. Always when on the continent and I encounter a memorial to WWI or WWII, it brings it much closer to home since I am often standing on the soil where the lives were lost. Every small village in Europe has a memorial or two to these world wars and the sheer number of memorials that stand in this cemetary alone is powerful. Most of the memorials were dedicated to the lives lost in the concentration camps. 
The names of Auschwitz, Dachau, Ravensbruck, Buchenwald, to simply name a few are powerful reminders of the pain suffered at the hand of the Nazis by so many people in so many places. The memorials are graced with powerful pieces of art, sayings, and names. I was amazed to see how they went on and on.
On a more whimsical note, many people, not in the least bit famous, have beautiful graves and the artistry of the cemetery is well worth the wander in and of itself. 
I loved our warm and beautiful afternoon here. I thought a lot about these prominent people in history who are now gone, only remembered by their graves and of course, their work that lingers. But death is death and when life ends, well, it's the ground that awaits our earthly shell,  no matter the legacy we've left. I pondered why seeing someone's grave is such an interesting thing to do. And I guess it's rooted in the fact that when you know something of someone's life, seeing where they were buried somehow gives credence to the life that they led on earth. But it's really the living that we do that we are remembered for, not the dying. It's interesting to know where Chopin is buried and see his beautiful grave and see how people come to pay homage, but listening to his compositions is more interesting and life-giving, that's for sure. 

Cemetery's are the great equalizers. All are equal in death. A grave plot, a grave stone and some words...that's what often marks our death. It's what we were about while living that truly matters. It has inspired to me to live well for after I die, that's what people will be interested in. No composer nor writer nor artist has ever been given the chance to return after death to write a story or a song or to paint a picture. It's only what we accomplished while living that inspires people to visit where we eventually died. So live inspired by those whose life is now over but whose legacy in words, song, and art live on for us to enjoy and to ponder.       

Thursday, March 9, 2017

French Learning Curve

A bit more than a week is under our belts. Overall, it's been a great week but the onslaught of newness does make one feel a bit overwhelmed at times. That coupled with the butt kick of jet lag with gray, rainy skies can lead to a bit of a foggy brain. But today is day 10 here in Paris and the old adage says that for every hour of time zone change, it takes that amount of days to "switch over" so with those 9 days behind us, I am hoping for more regular rhythms of sleeping and awake will continue to kick in.
I wish the title indicated the learning curve we're on with the French language but unfortunately our knowledge of French pretty much remains at Parlez vous francais? At least we can also say thank you, good day, and goodbye, all of which are important niceties in the French culture. Most of the young people we are hanging with in public settings speak wonderful French so we rely on their finely honed skills. We are learning to read a menu so that is perhaps the most important quest of all!
It is good for our hearts and minds to be back in Europe and the International church. Our spiritual heart soars in the midst of the diversity and joy of the International church and we find that while the French story differs in some ways to the Swedish story, there are also many resonant similarities. Here are a few of our initial impressions:
--Everything in France starts late in the day and many things happen at night. The earliest we ever start anything is 7.30pm. Last night we gathered at restaurant with a group of young adults to discuss life and theology. The evening began at 8.00 and we were not home until close to 11.00. We have not been out that late for a very long time! We are having to bring our retired, early to bed selves out of the woodwork and into the light once again. It's amazing to see how Paris bubbles late into the evening with people arriving for dinner well past 9.00 p.m. Fortunately for us, we don't have too many early morning events to attend to at the moment.
--A smaller refrigerator and bread that tastes best the day you buy it contribute to the notion that you stop by the grocery store at least every couple of days to buy fresh food. The stock up mentality does not really exist. Fortunately for us, there are many close options in our wonderful neighborhood.
--Paris is expensive in some ways, and in other ways not. I also know that our neighborhood is quite highly priced. Beer is a lot more expensive than wine in a bar or restaurant. No big surprise there. We haven't fully explored the cheaper eats like crepes and other "fast food" options but there is time! With working and living in the church complex, zipping home for a quick lunch is not hard to do but at times, the luxurious 2 hour Parisien lunch is a treat. The 1 euro baguette remains a mainstay.
--It is still a thrill to see the monuments that are so well known when simply wandering about town getting something done.
--Have yet to have a glass of wine that wasn't great. We were given a box of chocolates by a fellow staff member that has proven to be an endless box of amazingness. I know that's not a word, but it should be. Chocolate covered cherries with the stem and pit in tact were on the top layer. Little did I know what awaited me on the second layer. Discs of chocolate with nuts and candied fruit strewn on top. Then the ultimate surprise of finding yet a third layer with other delights that I can't describe. I have eaten most everything in the box. It is there for Doug to dig into but he isn't lead to the box in quite the same manner that I am. The onion soup that we enjoyed before an evening meeting was every bit as delicious as you might imagine. I wondered if was considered rude to just pick up the bowl and lick the interior.
Here are some things that I want to get a handle on:
--Truly figuring out how to grocery shop and meal plan and eat well while here. I also want to figure out where the local markets are as I've heard shopping at these is delightful. The famous one, Rue Cler, close to our house, is amazing and beautiful but a bit high end at times. Have to admit however, that the produce is delicious and smells great.
--A trip to Ikea today should help us more fully get our house in order. We need some decorations and some 'touches' to make it feel less like a vacation rental and more like our home.
--We have to learn some French and are working on figuring that out.
--Get a good plan together for exploring the city, especially the lesser known spots of Paris that being here for an extended time will allow. It's really such a beautiful city that to not more fully know and experience it while here would be a great shame.
--I am excited for the warmer, sunnier season, when the daylight lengthens and picnic become a way of life. I might even start running again as the paths that are available are stunning and beckon.
--We plan to figure out ways to jump on a bus and just see where it goes in order to more fully understand Paris.
What grounds us is the church and the wonderful people we are meeting. We are enjoying getting to know the stories of how and why people have landed in Paris. The reasons range from Embassy appointments to fashion and of course, falling in love with a French man or woman and it's quite a thrill to see how the American church in Paris brings all of these diverse threads together to shape a tapestry of connection and relationship.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Paris Beginnings

We arrived on Monday evening and were very thankful for our dear friends from Stockholm days who picked us and our luggage up!
We didn't do any shipments so crammed 7-8 months worth of clothes and personal effects into 3 suitcases a piece along with 2 carry-ons. It seems like a lot but with seasonal changes and not wanting to feel like a tourist the entire time, it really wasn't all that much! It is great to be unpacked and settling into our apartment on the river Seine.
A view down the Seine, not far from where we live
Our friends had also been busy getting the apartment ready for us, with clean bed sheets and towels, along with a gorgeous basket of French delights. Numerous bakeries and grocery stores line the nearby streets so I'm pretty sure we will not starve! To the contrary, I hope I will continue to fit into the clothes I packed!
Having been to Paris a number of times, and attended 2 different pastors' conferences here at the American Church, along with staying here last year when I did the women's retreat, the area is very familiar to us, which is a blessing. Even so, there are the usual feelings of disorientation that accompany a move abroad, especially to a country where we have little knowledge of the language. Working on it, but French is not easy! My favorite phrase of late is Désolé je ne parle pas français! But, I am determined to make progress.
We both love the French grocery stores...what's there not to like? We look forward to exploring the outdoor market scenes as well.
The juxtaposition of the old obelisk and the new ferris wheel at the
Palace de la Concorde
No matter how many times you've visited a country however, it's still a bit overwhelming to begin to figure out how to do daily life. Getting unpacked and re-arranging the furniture in the apartment helps to help us feel at home and not just on vacation. We have successfully run the dishwasher and washer and dryer! The other staff members at the church have all warmly welcomed us and been very helpful with the small but important details. We managed to get sim cards for our cell phones but Doug's doesn't work and mine only partially works! Hope to have that resolved soon. We obtained our Navigo travel cards after only 2 tries! We haven't solved the banking issue yet but think because we still have our account in the UK, we will be able to use that with a Euro account. The bank here was hesitant to open an account for us since we will be here less than a year. Our Swedish (EU) passports make life 100% easier than if we only held a passport that was outside of the EU so that is a great gift indeed.
Thus far the weather has been dodgy, lots of gray and some rain with only a smattering of sunshine along the way. But temperatures are mild and spring is coming. The daffodils are emerging and the trees are showing some buds. Springtime in Paris holds great promise for much beauty!
It's been a good week.
The beautiful altar of the American Church on Ash Wednesday
We attended a worship planning meeting, attended a beautiful Ash Wednesday worship service, met with the senior pastor, shared meals with various staff members and their families, met with the intern for youth and young adults ministry, attended a young adults gathering and met many of the amazing young people we will be working with in the coming year. With each new gathering and new acquaintance we feel a deep resonance with the international church community. It remains the place we feel most at home and are delighted that the privilege of serving this community and being a part of the family of God here in Paris is now ours to enjoy.
The view of the American Church spire alongside of the Tour Eiffel
Tomorrow is a big day. 3 worship services, meeting the parents of the teenagers we'll be working with, gathering with the teenagers we'll be working with and meeting with the leaders of the teenage groups we'll be working with! Cue a nice bottle of red wine around 8.00 p.m. tomorrow! In the meantime, we'll keep fighting through the jet lag, wandering through the grocery store, eating baguettes and croissants, discovering a new place to soak in Parisien beauty, and learning French. La vie est belle.