Friday, April 17, 2009

Parmenie and Back to Paris

This was the first night on this trip when I slept soundly throughout the night, which I found to be a blessing. It's the time change, of course, but knowing what it is doesn't make it any more enjoyable. It was great to wake up to the sound of birds outside the windows and then to see that wonderful vista of the valley below.

Roch and I joined the community with morning prayer in the small chapel at Parmenie. The setting, with it's structure built out of local rocks is evocative of the area and of the history of the place. As with all the Brothers communities that we've visited, the Brothers sang 80% of the prayer - from the opening through the end. It's a tradition that the Brothers have had for many years. Even in Reims, when I went to their chapel in the evening, the two Brothers who were there for evening prayer sang all the parts as if the chapel were full of Brothers.

During breakfast, we had an extended conversation with members of the community about all sorts of topics related to our project, the history of Parmenie, the situation with Brothers around the world, and so on. It was a comfortable conversation and meal with Brothers who were genuinely hospitable and interested in the same sorts of things that we were. And after breakfast, everyone go to work.

Brother Francis began distributing new rocks and sand for various parts of the parking lot and garden that have been effected by the recent rains, Brother Xavier began to mow many of the lawns that surround the place, Brother Claude began tinkering around in the garage, Brother Henri had work to do in the office, and the others went about their own tasks. Roch and I took our cameras and highlighted various locations around Parmenie - garden, chapel, crypt, outside views, and the like.

At one point, Roch wanted to check the sound properties of the HD camera, and so I recorded several on-the-spot, spontaneous clips with Parmenie in the background. One of them should be part of tomorrow's blog. Around 11 AM, we needed to leave and so said our goodbyes to the Brothers we saw, loaded up the car, and set off for Beaucroissant, the little town nearby, where Roch had to ship a package he had been carrying around with him since the U.S., to Rome. That done, we set the GPS for Lyons and made our way there to visit with Br. Alain Houry in the Central Archives for the Districts of France. It's about an hour away from Parmenie, and thank God for the GPS. Otherwise I don't know if we could have found it.

Since we arrived a little early, we decided to explore a bit downtown and grab a bite to eat. Once again, the GPS was helpful in highlighted areas where there were restaurants, and soon we were seated at an outside table enjoying lunch along one of the wide streets of Lyons. After the meal, we made our way to the archives and spent an hour with Alain, who explained and showed us most of the archives there. In all, I counted four large, climate-controlled rooms full of boxes of files, books, artworks, and the like. There's a tremendous amount of history collected there. Alain said that just that day another 50 boxes of things had arrived. At one point, he recognized that whereas the Americans tend to get rid of things fairly quickly, the French always save almost everything, thinking that it will be useful one day. That meant that the new archives building, just nine years old, was almost full already.

Finishing with Alain a little after 3 PM, we finally left for Paris, setting off for the A5 auto-route, followed by the A6. Again, these were toll roads. Between the ticket we picked up in Lyons and the time we got out of the system in Paris, it ended up costing just under 31 Euros for the trip. But I have to say that it was worth it. Again, the roads were smooth, clean, and direct. Stopping just once on the road back for gas (diesel!), we arrived directly into Paris and the car zoo of Friday evening. Motorcycles zipped by us at breakneck speeds and trucks inched up against the car with millimeters to spare, but somehow we made it back to Rue de Sevres where our rooms were waiting for us. I decided that it takes quite a bit of psychic energy on my part to do this driving thing here in France. I was always cautious, paying attention to lots of things at once, but going as fast as the speed limit would allow. I don't think I'd want to do that as a regular job. On the way, we also checked out various vans, in anticipation of July when we would have to rent one for the next French phase of this project.

Having returned safely by 8 PM, but too late for dinner, we went out to the Saint-Germain-des-Pre area to get something to eat. We found a nice fondue place and relaxed for a couple of hours before heading back for some sleep. Tomorrow is another big day; on to Rouen. And on Sunday, we will have to cover the necessary sites in Paris, since we're back on the plane back to the U.S. on Monday. All work and a tiny bit of play. But that's what we signed up for.

Photographs: Roch filming at Parmenie; The chapel at Parmenie; Roch and I outside on the Parmenie grounds; Roch and Alain in the archives; Roch, Alain, and myself at the French National Archives; In Paris at night, looking for a place to eat; A figure of a Brother at the French archives.