Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Journey to Grenoble

Just like De La Salle, only a whole lot faster, Roch and I traveled from Reims to the South of France and the area around Grenoble. We left the Hotel De La Salle in Reims at about 5:15 AM, because we wanted to miss the morning traffic and get a good start. So while it was still very dark and very quiet, we maneuvered the car from behind the house, opened the heavy wooden gates, and drove out into the quiet darkness.

Leaving Reims proved to be a challenge, with its many one-way streets and small side streets going hither and yon,and more than once I believe that we drove in lanes meant for other traffic. But there was no one around to challenge our explorations. Finally, we saw signs pointing to Paris and took that as a good sign. So off we went to the South.

One thing I've learned about France is that they have beautiful highways - as long as you pay for them. The toll road system is extensive but also expensive. Once you're on one of these roads (they're the ones announced with blue signs) you can be assured of quality pavement, good and clean stops along the way, and pretty much nothing but farmland to look at until you leave the highway towards some town or other. My only problem was figuring out how to pay the toll in the non-staffed booths that you go through. At one booth, we finally gave up trying to feed in our various credit cards, all of which seemed to have been rejected just then, and simply fed in Euro bills until the thing stopped beeping at us and the arm in front went up to let us through. By that time, several people in line behind us had backed up their cars and moved to other booths, of course. All in all, I think that it cost about 55 Euros to travel from Reims to Grenoble.

Along the way, we stopped at Dijon in order to have a break and find something to eat. Downtown was rather nice to see, but hardly anything was open yet at 9 AM so we just found a supermarket and bought some things to eat in the car. Roch insisted on having at least a packaged pate with the fresh bread that everyone seems to have available. Some time later we stopped briefly at the Abbey of Citeaux, just to see what was there and to say that we'd visited. It was quiet, it was isolated, it was peaceful, and it had public bathrooms. When we had to stop for gas, I mistakenly put in several liters of regular gasoline before Roch reminded me, by way of some loud exclamations and gestures, that the car was a diesel car. The "regular" gasoline here comes by way of nozzles that are the same green color that you find in the US on diesel nozzles, but I should have red the "label" more carefully. So we just hope that the diesel fuel I added after this mixed well enough with the regular gas to make little difference.

Around 1:30 PM we arrived at Parmenie, where we are staying tonight. Without much time to look around - we're saving that for tomorrow morning - we had a quick, late lunch and then Br. Georges joined us in the car to drive to Grenoble and see the Lasallian highlights there. He took us first to the school building in the old city where De La Salle lived while in the South of France and where the Brothers ran a school in which De La Salle would occasionally teach as a substitute teacher for a Brother who'd become ill. The place is pretty tightly packed for a school. It is some four stories tall but only 25 feet or so wide. In the back is a small yard that was the play yard for the kids. We couldn't see inside of the building - it's all apartments now - but we did see a small inner light space and some beams that have been preserved and are part of the building. And the open stairs are the same kind of spiral ones that are at the house in Reims. I wonder if that's part of the reason that De La Salle liked staying there; and on the top floor.

Br. Georges then took us to the St. Lawrence church at the end of the street. It's a place where DLS would often say Mass. The church is a museum now, but the outside of the place looked impressive. The city is spending a lot of money rebuilding it and it looks as if the final product will be quite impressive. From there, we walked to the convent that the Visitations Sisters had in the time of DLS, in the other direction from the school than St. Lawrence Church. It's also a museum now, but much of the place has been very well preserved. The convent is up a rather steep hill. De La Salle would say Mass here as well, and we thought that he'd have to be pretty healthy to climb up those steps on a regular basis. Finally, we went to the church of St. Andre across the river from the previous places, where De La Salle would say Mass regularly as well. There's a tradition that the people of Grenoble remembered De La Salle for years after his visit because of the devotion with which he celebrated the Mass. Seeing now that there were three different places where he did so on a regular basis, I can begin to understand how that tradition could have started.

By now it was time to return to Parmenie, where we had just a short break before dinner began. There's a large group of students here for a few days from our school in Toulouse. They are studying for a major government exam that's coming up and look to be around 18-19 years old. Both they and the seven Brothers who are at Parmenie had dinner together in the large dining room. We also received a detailed tour of parts of the new crypt underneath the chapel from Br. Francis (Br. Henri had given us a quick tour upon arrival). This was a major undertaking over the last few years and has shown some fine results. But more about that tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that we accomplished what we had set out to do in Grenoble in terms of scouting various locations and shooting both pictures and preliminary video. The days are going by fast and there's still a lot to do during out time here. Thankfully, the Brothers have been very helpful in guiding our endeavors, and I consider that as yet another sign of providence in favor of this project. And I won't say anything about that small possible accident I happily avoided when I ran a well-hidden stop sign in a small village of Tuline nearby. Let's just hope my luck and God's grace hold out.

Photographs: Roch opening the gate in Reims as we leave; Br. Henri at Parmenie showing the Roman Cistern area; In the crypt where Br. Leo Burkhard and Sr. Louise presently lie; Br. Georges pointing to the old school building in Grenoble; A photo looking up inside the courtyard of the school - note the old beams; Church of St. Laurent where DLS said Mass; Steps up to the convent of the Visitation Sisters; Courtyard of the Sisters; Church of St. Andrew in the middle of Grenoble - also where DLS said Mass regularly.