Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dispatch From The Road: Paris, FR

Hey Everyone. I know it's been several days since my last post, but my trip has been jam-packed with activity.

First of all, we arrived safely on Thursday. Thanks to everyone praying for a safe trip. It was like a season's worth of Amazing Race boiled into one day on Thursday: navigate the 405 during rush hour; bear a 10 hour transatlantic flight in a crackerjack box; take 3 trains in London; sleep underwater; speak French to a cabbie; and find Mike Tyson in less than 24 hours.

It's true. I met Mike as we disembarked, he was on his way to the Cannes film festival. Naturally.

Now I will warn you. This blog contains few references to music. Although we heard plenty today at the churches we visited in Honfleur (a very sharp organist) and Rouen.

Friday was a whirlwind of site seeing in Paris. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, and it was actually hot. OK. Top of the Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame Cathedral. Louvre in the early evening. In between, lots of good eats at Cojean, Bleu Canard and Juveniles. This is my fourth trip to Paris and there are always the obvious places to visit, but they can't be missed.

My favorites at the Louvre are Raphael's La Belle Jardiniere (it's Mary with Jesus and John the Baptist as children) and Veronese's Wedding At Cana. No matter where you stand in the room, Jesus's eyes follow you from Veronese's wall sized canvas. Very moving. Especially considering this painting is across the room from the Mona Lisa. And seeing the Raphael up close is stunning.

Then yesterday, Patty and I hopped in a car and literally drove the Normandy coast checking out D Day monuments and memorials. It's lush countryside. Farmland dotted with churches and countless tiny towns. The rain rolled in at Arromanches where the British landed and brought in the Mulberry Harbor. We actually walked out onto the beach and got pretty close to the remaining hulk of landing gear.

Storm clouds and intermittent showers made our visit to the American Cemetery particularly moody. That is a moving experience. Seeing Omaha beach and the 9000 grave markers is breathtaking. They have a small non-denominational chapel, so I gave thanks for all those fighting men and those who survived. We're almost on the D Day anniversary. I have seen several famous battlegrounds, including Waterloo and Gettysburg and it always amazes me how serene and peaceful they are. Hard to picture the destruction and carnage.

I have no idea how many miles (or km's) we logged, but it was a plenty. A lot of long and winding roads through Normandy to get to Mont St. Michel. The abbey was closing, but we still hoofed it up the hillside to take in the setting and the view. France is so far North that it didn't really get dark until after 9 PM. As a result we didn't wait to see the Mont lit up. From there we zipped back East to Honfleur.

Today, we strolled the old harbor town of Honfleur. Charming, in a word. Today the local post office was celebrating Champlain's arrival at Quebec, Canada 400 years ago. Champlain's ship set off from Honfleur, so that was a logical location for a first day stamp cancellation. This little fishing village has a lot of ateliers (or studios) and I wondered how can the community support all of those artists or vice versa, but it does. Oh, by the way, driving in France easier than in the UK, 'cause you're on the right, tougher because those streets are narrow! The harbor actually looks like New Orleans Square and parts of Pirates Of The Caribbean (the ride). I mean that in a good way.

Our last stop before Paris was the Cathedral in Rouen. That place is a mess. The Church, begun in 1190, caught fire in 1200. Took them 400 years to lay the last stone. Then was bombed out in 1944, reopening in the '50s. Then in 1999, day after Christmas, a tornado ripped it up. And they still haven't finished repairing it. Can you imagine your family being members of that parish over 800 years and practically no one saw it as designed?

And don't get me started about the blight upon blight that surrounds the Cathedral. Yeah, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake there, but the citizens must have martyred taste and civility too. Rouen's heart and soul looks like a sad outlet mall & smells like used wine. Oh and we saw battling street accordionists. I don't know how you land a punch with that thing around your neck. Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But if I had paid money to stay in Rouen, I'd be shaking a fist.

That being said: I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to see the Cathedral at Rouen that so inspired Monet's famous series of paintings.

From the hotel room, I can see the Eiffel Tower and it's all lit up. Like the Rouen panhandler waving his big, empty green bottle at the daytrippers. Seriously. The Tower is incredible and just another reminder that there is a lot of beauty out there among the steel and concrete. And FYI, I drove through the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe tonight. Yes, I did. Like a local!

Tomorrow, we'll check out Sacre Coeur and view Paris from the north. Pictures to come. Check out myspace and you'll see one of Mike Tyson and me. That man has BIG hands. And apparently larger opinions about the cinema.

Bon soir, mes amis.

Peace & Disco Beats


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