Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day Seven – Travel to Parmenie

Early morning is early morning, and 4:15 AM is a prime example. I woke to the sounds of Roch and Scott loading up the van downstairs in preparation for our trip to the South of France. It didn’t take long for me to pack and get ready. We’d be leaving some of our things here in Reims since we would be back within the week, but nevertheless I took most of my things with me – you never know what you’d need, and if you didn't bring something, you'd certainly end up needing it.

By 4:35 AM we were on the road, making our way through the dark and empty streets of Reims to the toll road just outside the city. At the toll booth, we took one of the magnetic paper tickets that recorded your "start" point and proceeded down the road at 130 Kph, or thereabouts. There were a number of cars and trucks already on the road, and it rained intermittently for the next several hours. The problem wasn’t so much the rain as it was the water thrown up by the cars and trucks that passed us or that we passed. Sometimes the water that was thrown up obscured virtually everything in front of us, as if an instant rain torrent had occurred.

Scott went quickly to sleep, while Roch helped to keep me alert with general conversation and planning for the week ahead. We’d turned on the all-France music and traffic station – advertised on the road every once in a while – and we listened as descriptions were given of the various roads and congestion spots throughout France. As the morning progressed, the “A4” between Paris and Lyons became more a more a virtual parking lot. At one point, apparently, it was gridlock for 13 km. This is the time when most of northern France goes on vacation to southern France, something that the campers and packed cars that passed us going 180 Kph attested to. By way of the advice given on the radio, we avoided going through Lyons on the way to Grenoble and instead took roads that went around that city.

After some 300 or 400 kilometers, I thought it would be a good time to stop, so we pulled off the road into one of the occasional rest stops with a gas station, stores, and all the rest. In the parking lot, as soon as I’d turned off the engine, we all proceeded to sit there and nap for about twenty minutes, listening as the rain pelted the roof of the car. Then Roch and I went into the store for some food and coffee. Thus restored, we continued on our way. Noticing the signs along the road, we gave up the chance to go to Switzerland or to Italy - both were now within driving distance - and proceeded obediently toward Grenoble and Parmenie as our GPS directed. Along the way, we would see small villages at a short distance away from the road, whose small streets and quaint squares would have been very different from the smooth, straight, efficient highway that we were driving on right now. Both were welcome.

Just before 10:30 AM we pulled off the toll road and proceeded to the booths where we would pay for our journey. The lines here were long, but we thought that the “credit card” row would probably work best. Some ten minutes later, when it was our turn, I placed my ticket in one slot and my VISA card in the other, only to find out that this toll booth only took American Express. So now it was a scramble for the back-pack in the back that had Roch’s credit cards, among which was an American Express card, while I tried other cards that I had. While the people behind us must have shaken their heads at this guy who kept stuffing different cards into the machine, Roch ransacked through his stuff until he’d found his wallet, and happily the machine was happy with his American Express card. Although the screen was so bad that we couldn’t see how much the journey between Reims and here had cost, and the receipt part of the machine was either broken or non-existent (nothing came out no matter how many buttons I pushed), at least the bar in front of the van raised and we were able to make our escape.

Some thirty minutes later we had gone through several small towns, and after Izeaux came to the Parmenie turn-off. Thankfully, the rains and cloudy weather that we’d experienced all day had begun to dissipate, and now there were just large clouds in the sky that broke up the sunlight streaming through. Driving into the Parmenie property, we noticed a bunch of tents pitched on the large lawn in front of the chapel. We subsequently found out that three groups of young people were there for a camping / retreat experience. This location is special to the Brothers because it was here that De La Salle came on an extended retreat towards the end of his life - a place already filled with a long history that dates back to Roman times. It was here that he found both quiet personal contentment and an understanding that his work with the Brothers was not yet complete. Although he wished to remain here, he was called back to Paris by the Brothers, and Sister Louise - a holy, simply woman who was both a mystic and friend of De La Salle's and who "owned" the place - told him that God wanted him to continue to be with the Brothers he had founded.

We went in and re-acquainted ourselves with the Brothers, almost all of whom had been here when we’d come last Easter. We were soon settled in our rooms and joined the community for lunch in their dining room, gazing out of the windows at the wonderful vistas just beyond the property. The Brothers were most gracious with Scott and I, who knew so little French, and Roch of course was very helpful in translating when necessary. Some of the Brothers knew a little English. We all got along just fine.

After lunch, the three of us went to “lay down for a while.” Two hours later, we again stirred and began filming & taking photographs throughout the property. We concentrated on the vista of the Grenoble valley at one end of the property. It’s an amazing scene that overlooks a large part of the valley beyond. The view reminded me of a location in Switzerland rather than in France.

I took several panoramic series of pictures and went to my room to process the results and make sure that the results were acceptable. Roch and Scott continued to other parts of the property to film their “B roll” material.

Around 6:30 PM, I joined the Brothers in the restored small chapel for their evening prayer. As with the Brothers in Reims, they sang practically the entire prayer service. Afterwards, one of the Brothers told me that their novice master had been a great musician and a strong advocate for sung prayer. Therefore, all the Brothers now were quite familiar with sung prayer and found it both easy to do and rewarding.

Supper followed, consisting of soup, bread, ham, peas, cheese, and fruit. All the time, the Brothers talked and translated and joked with warm familiarity. One could tell that the ministry that they do here – retreats, conferences, and the like – spreads to the quality of their community life.

After supper, I continued working in my room while Roch and Scott went with Br. Francois to the crypt in order to film there. Later on, Roch came to my room and we made plans for tomorrow; where to go, what to film, how to make sure that we’d be at the Lyons airport to meet Br. Gerard in the evening.

A long day today, but full of the kinds of things that make it a good day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day Six – Reims

Today we stayed “home” for our work. For reasons that I cannot understand, I again woke up early and spent the time until breakfast up in the office of the Hotel de La Salle, working out the various details involved in this trip and organizing my photographs, despite the quirky nature of my laptop right now.

I joined the Brothers and Roch for breakfast and then Br. Yves and I took the 5-minute walk to the cathedral for the morning Mass; pretty much a duplicate of the one from yesterday, especially since I didn’t understand much of the readings. The community of those at this daily Mass appear to be “the usual crowd” who know each other and have their chosen places in the chapel. Some of them are fairly devout, kneeling on the floor at certain points in the Mass, while others appear to be fairly liberal; but it’s hard to really tell. In any case, it’s a fine example of the “catholic” nature of the church - old, young, devout, liberal, well-dressed, not-so-well-dressed, etc.

After Mass, I hung around to take some photographs of the beautiful Chagall stained-glass windows that adorn the back of this little back chapel. They’re truly striking. I remember hearing that the artist who executed Chagall’s directions researched and recreated the method for making the especially intense blues of the Medieval period so as to do justice to the kind of blue coloring that Chagall wanted. The results show the success of his efforts.

Upon returning, there was more work to be done by all of us on our computers. Finally around 10:30 AM we left in earnest to do our "field work." The first part of the day was spent at the Reims Cathedral, filming both outside and inside, especially at the small chapel where De La Salle said his first Mass and where there is a large LeJeune statue of him. We found out from a sacristan that we couldn’t set up any lights and would have to get permission to film next week. Later in the day, Br. Christian said that he would make the arrangements for when we return next week. Nevertheless, we filmed without lights and I took lots of photographs. Several hours later, we were ready to move on but took a quick lunch break first.

Then it was off to the Church of St. Remi, located about 25 minutes by foot from the cathedral. We took the van. Other locations in Reims we'd already scouted and it was these two that required our full attention this time. This church of St. Remigius is where De La Salle would often spend the night in prayer. It’s very simple from the outside, compared with the cathedral, and inside it is striking in its elegant simplicity – not ornate in the sense that the Reims cathedral is, but still extremely appealing in its details. There was a pillar that would turn on the lights for a couple of Euro and so we had the lights on while we were filming and taking photographs. Here we also stayed quite a while, checking out all the section of the church and discovering those elements that were worth recording.

On our way out, I stopped by next door at the former Benedictine Abbey associated with the church. It’s now an extensive museum. Walking into the courtyard, I discovered a free solo bass violin concert going on, with hundreds of people in attendance. It was an all-Bach program, so as I wandered around the museum, waiting for Roch and Scott to finish next door, I listened to some very wonderfully played Bach music echoing around the courtyard. That was some treat.

Within the hotel were artifacts going back to early Roman times. Reims has a long and extensive history, and artifacts are being discovered every year. One particularly striking one, for me, was a geometric mosaic that dated back to the early 1st century. I don't know if the fish on the corners has any relation to the early Christians (I'd rather doubt it), but the mosaic itself was certainly impressive enough by itself.

Back at the Hotel de La Salle, work continued with filming and photographs in the courtyard, outside, and inside the various sections of the Lasallian museum that make up the ground floor of the building, along with the small chapel. All of these elements may become part of the final product. The point now is to have the footage “in the can” as it were.

One of the interesting pieces in the museum that I noticed was a drawing that showed the Reims cathedral in the 17th century (?) and with a group of clerics (perhaps Brothers, but probably not) walking in front of the cathedral in the plaza area. It's still quite amazing to me that the building has survived for such a long time as the largest Gothic cathedral in France - so I'm told. The area around it has changed, the Brothers have changed, the world has changed, but the cathedral structure survives and, in fact, is being repaired and renewed every day as part of a long-term plan by the city.

By 7:15 PM we had to stop because it was time for dinner. We had invited the two Brothers to join us for dinner out at a restaurant, in appreciation for their great hospitality and their generosity in helping us work out various details of our project. And so we went to a local restaurant and spent a good couple of hours talking in French (80%) and English (20%), with most of the French being done by Roch and the two Brothers, and most of the English being done by Scott and myself. But somehow we communicated.

On the walk back to the house, Br. Yves pointed out various features of the Hotel de Ville, or the City Hall of Reims, which was all lit up with LED lights for the night. Quite the spectacle.

Now it’s off to bed and up at 4:00 AM for a 4:30 AM departure for the South of France and Parmenie. We hope to arrive there in the early afternoon so as to be able to do some filming there as well. Not a minute to waste on this trip. On Sunday Br. Gerard arrives and then our schedule is sure to become very tight indeed, if that’s possible.

Day Four and Five - Rouen, Reims, Liesse, and Laon.

It’s been a busy two days and my computer has been difficult (not enough memory – also my problem) so I will condense two days into one report.

On Wednesday morning, we packed up all our equipment and luggage, settled everything into the van – which required several tries to make everything fit – and set off for Rouen which is several hours away. Our GPS, we decided, was the best invention after the automobile itself. While not blessed with a “native” intelligence of Parisian streets, it gets you there. Along the way, we did stop at the downtown FNAC store in order to pick up a couple of technical items we’d forgotten to bring, but we were soon on our way towards Rouen on one of France’s wonderful toll roads. They’re not wonderful because of the price you pay, but they are in terms of the quality of the road and the speed with which you’re able to tool along.

Several hours and a rest stop later, we arrived in Rouen, making our way to the location where St. Yon had been. It now appears to be a largely abandoned building, with broken windows, wild gardens, and a generally unkept appearance. In fact, Roch and Scott decided that there were a number of squatters that they’d seen peering out from some of the upstairs windows. At the same time, it had been the Motherhouse of the Institute for quite some time, and the rebuilt chapel dates from just after the time of the Founder. So it deserved the time that we spend filming various aspects of the property.

We then walked down the street to where there is a 12-meter statue of DLS in a roundabout area. It’s really a fountain, but there’s no water in it. The statue could use some attention, and several bronze panels of Lasallian scenes are missing from the base of the statue. Kind of sad, actually, to see it neglected like that. But the surroundings are nice, and just across the street is the church of St. Clement, which was not from DLS’s time but had some very interesting things inside that allowed us set up and test out our equipment and technique for filming. The docents inside were quite helpful, turning on the various lights and giving us some of the history of the place.

After this, we made our way to the church of St. Sever, which does date from the 17th century, although the church building is new. Inside of this church is a fine little chapel dedicated to De La Salle, and we spent a good while filming it. This is where (approximately) De La Salle was buried right after his death, prior to being moved to the chapel at St. Yon some time later.

We took a short break in the busy plaza outside of the church, surrounded by shoppers going to and fro. It’s struck me repeatedly that the number of people going into the churches and cathedrals pales in comparison to the people going into the stores and shopping centers that surround them. Yet in terms of beauty and potential and depth of perspective, each represents an entirely different world.

Finally, it was time to get on the road to Reims. The town is located to the East of Rouen, some 3 hours or more away. So we were on the road for quite a while after that. I enjoyed the scenery of the countryside and the small French towns that occasionally showed up in the distance. The others either napped or read or stared vacantly into the distance.

We arrived in Reims around 7 PM and decided to stop for dinner prior to arriving at the Brothers house downtown. There was a plaza area we passed that was filled with bistros and restaurants, so we simply picked one and sat outside to watch the locals as they walked by. (One lady had a live white rat on the top of her head – apparently a pet. Roch explained to Scott that they were all the rage now.)

We arrived at the Hotel de La Salle (not actually a hotel; just its name) just before 9 PM and were kindly greeted by the two Brothers who are currently there. Two other Brothers were gone on vacation or elsewhere. Brothers Christian and Yves were very hospitable, inviting us to sit with them for some refreshments and conversation, which we happily did. Brother Christian knows English well, and Br. Yves gets along fine with some English and mostly French. Roch spoke most of the time or translated for us, and so we passed a companionable hour or so before heading off to our rooms. I spent another 90 minutes in the community office at the computer – finishing the previous blog entry – and then went to bed myself after midnight. A long day.

The next morning, Thursday, I woke up quite early and made my way to the community office to get online and get ready for the day’s activities. Today we would go to Liesse and Laon to visit the Lasallian sites there. During my time in the office, I heard the Brothers chanting morning prayer a little way off. There’s a fine chapel downstairs, but the Brothers use a small oratory upstairs for their prayers. Their singing tradition, I was told, dates from some years ago when a Brother who taught in their scholasticate for years trained all the Brothers coming through to sing the psalms, etc., and since then the Brothers have chanted all their prayers, even if there are only two of them in the house. Now I find that impressive. Of course, I’m prejudiced towards singing our prayers, but nevertheless it is a fine thing to hear.

The Brothers had a continental breakfast ready for us (toast, coffee au lait, tea, juice, fruit, etc.) and we shared the croissants we’d bought on the road yesterday. At 8 AM, I joined Br. Yves in going to Mass at the Reims cathedral. Walking into that vast structure is a trip, I can tell you. First we walked straight to it from the house, right through a portal and courtyards where the Canons lived. (I wondered if De La Salle had a house there – that he could rent out if he didn’t live there – while he was a Canon.) We walked into the vast space that is the cathedral and then made our way to the very, very back where there was a small chapel with about 20 people seated around a small wooden altar. We took our seats and were soon into a simple Mass – all in French, of course. There was no chanting or singing anywhere, unfortunately. Soon enough, it was done. (There were no prayers of intercession, by the way, which I found strange. I didn’t know they were optional.) On our way out, we met two Brothers from the other community in Reims – Br. Louis – who had taught in the U.S. for two years – and Br. Gilbert. We spent some time chatting in front of the cathedral and then walked off in different directions to our separate communities. The experience gave me a brief insight into what De La Salle must have done from a very early age and for many years as he made his way from his family home, where we were staying, to the cathedral for the various liturgical services as a young boy and as a Canon.

Br. Yves and I walked to the Post Office after Mass and as a result I got to see a good part of the old town in the process. The streets are narrow and lined by buildings that are either ancient or modern. The ancient ones have been restored, looking classic and interesting, while some of the modern ones look dated. As we walked along, I noticed some of the buried tram tracks that remain from trams that ran through town some 50+ years ago. Today, the main street in another part of town is completely torn up to install a brand-new set of tracks for a modern tramway, set to open in 2012. Everything old is becoming new again.

Once back, we organized ourselves for the day and then set off for Liesse. This small town is about 30 miles away from Reims. The GPS took us along country roads and through small villages, turning here and there, and generally giving us a tour of the countryside. Once in Liesse, Roch and I were familiar with its potential from our previous scouting trip after Easter. We took all of our equipment inside and spent a good 2.5 hours filming, setting up the lights for video shots, and testing how everything would work in a darker space. I was the stand-in for Br. Gerard as we did sample shots and refined the lighting and audio needs. Every once in a while, some tourists would come in and wonder about all our equipment and filming, looking around intently in case they’re missing something that we had noticed enough to film. Most of the time, however, we were there by ourselves.

After finishing our work there, we crossed the street to a bakery and had some fresh sandwiches made (fresh baguette with ham, lettuce, tomato, egg, and mayonnaise) which we decided were the best sandwiches we’d had so far in France. Roch said he wanted a “bucolic” setting to partake of our lunch, so I found a dirt road in the countryside, drove into a forest-like area and parked there. It was all quite nice.

Then we drove on to the medieval city of Laon, with its huge cathedral perched on top of a distinctive hill (500 – 700 feet high?) that you can see from miles away. We parked outside of the embattlements and walked in, carrying much of our equipment. Then we set up outside the location of our previous Lasallian school site to film a small statue of De La Salle in a niche in the wall and walked from there up to the cathedral where we spent the rest of our time filming and taking pictures both inside and outside of the cathedral. Finished with all that, we made our way back to the car and returned to Reims via the motorway, which may or may not have been quicker than returned via the country roads.

Back at the Hotel de La Salle, the Brothers had prepared a dinner for us, so we met upstairs at 7:30 PM and enjoyed our meal and conversation with them for quite a while before heading off to our rooms to end yet another full day. (Of course, we were all on our computers for some time after ending our day. Besides email and the like, we needed process the video and pictures we’d taken that day.) Tomorrow we will stay in Reims and visit many of the primary locations associated with De La Salle during the first part of his life.

(Note: Click on pictures for a larger version.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day Three – Paris

It’s Bastille Day in Paris and a general holiday. Most of the stores and shops are closed. On the streets it feels like a Sunday, but that will soon change from all reports. While it might be a holiday in France, we’re still “on the job” and we have a number of tasks planned for later today.

I awoke fairly early and did some work in my room before going downstairs for breakfast with Br. Kevin Fitzgerald, who was in the dining room with some of the French Brothers. He’d planned to go down and see the grand Bastille Day parade down the Champs-Elyses, and later on joined us as we made our way there via the Metro. One of the older Brothers had told us that we’d see much more on TV, but we wanted to “experience” the parade.

Once we got to the Champs-Elyses station, we found ourselves in a tight crowd trying to get to the stairs and out to the top. Everyone was quite polite, but it was slowly shuffling group that made its way to the wide avenue where the parade was to happen. And outside it was worse. Later on we found out that at least a million people had shown up for the festivities.

We walked along the side of the boulevard, under the trees which kept us mercifully cool, and finally decided on a spot where we thought we might see something. In front of us was a 15-foot gap running the length of the street and marked off by metal barriers, inside of which were police and other official types. On the other side of the barrier was a 15-foot second section filled with people who had camped out overnight to get a good overview of the parade. So from where we stood, we could just see between the gaps of people’s heads, the caps or hats of those who were part of the parade – all standing at rest waiting for the parade to start.

Roch had brought with him his camera and a long pole, which he extended and lifted high above the crowd. The only real view we had of the parade was when he would film some of it, bring the camera down, and then play the footage for us. But it was enjoyable just to be there along the Champs-Elyses with thousands of others, listening to the music blaring from the speakers, and watching plumes of various colors bob in between the crowds of people in front of us. At the beginning of the parade, scores of jets did scream overhead in various formations. We had glimpses of them through the leaves of the trees above us. And we certainly heard them.

After about 30-40 minutes of all this, Roch and I moved on, while Kevin stayed around to watch some more. He told us later that he’d gone to a Brasserie for a drink and found inside a large-screen TV showing the entire parade up close and personal. He promptly sat down and enjoyed the parade from that vantage point. Roch and I walked around a bit more, stopping to watch a mounted guard on a side street, waiting to join in the parade at some point, and then made our way back to the Maison on the relatively empty Metro trains.

Back at the Maison, we picked up some bread at a nearby bakery, found some other items at a nearby grocery store, and had lunch in my room – all this while watching out the window at the parachutists who were dropping down around the Invalides memorial on their way to the festivities still going on on the Champs-Elyses. After all that we were ready to get to work. The three of us took the equipment we’d brought to the Rue St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle (nearby) and practiced using it on the street sign and the nearby buildings. The people and dogs that passed by all seemed very interested in what we were doing. Of course, after a while we simply ignored them.

We also did some filming on the Rue de Bac and the Maison itself, making sure that all the equipment was up to standards and configured properly. I myself tested out a new panoramic photography unit that will allow me to create spherical photographs of various rooms and locations. It’s a bit of an effort to learn how to use it all, but I think that it will be appreciated, especially if we will be inviting people to experience this pilgrimage first-hand.

Once finished with that task, we walked to the church of John Baptist de La Salle and recorded the wonderful stained-glass windows of his life that adorn the insides. One of the clerics spoke with us a bit before starting the parish Mass in a back chapel. But the light was just right for taking both photographs and digital pictures. They even had a photomosaic poster of De La Salle made up of all the members of the parish. There is a large statue of De La Salle in the fa├žade of the church, but curiously there is no statue inside that allows people to light candles. Other statues (of Joseph, of some angel, of the Cure d’Ars and others) all have an array of lighted candles in front of them. I have yet to see an altar, other than the one in St. Patrick’s in NYC, that allows folks to light candles in his memory.

After that visit, we went down the Rue de Saxe to check out good locations for the evening fireworks. And after a bit of a dinner break, Roch and I went to watch the Bastille Day fireworks around the Eiffel Tower (Scott decided to turn in early), choosing a position near the Military College that would give us a view of the top two-thirds of the tower. We knew that going any closer would be well-nigh impossible.

Promptly at 10:45 PM the fireworks started and lasted for a good 30 – 40 minutes. Of course, they gradually built up until it seemed like a virtual fireworks war was going on around the Eiffel Tower. It was quite a spectical. Around us wer about 1,000 people and at the end of each series of fireworks, everyone broke out in applause, even if there was no one involved who could hear it. They were spontaneous "Amen" expressions of appreciation for all the effort that went into presenting this spectacular show that celebrated the tower's 120th birthday and Bastille Day.

Roch and I made our way back to the Maison and went to bed. As predicted, it was full day, but very rewarding on all sorts of levels.

(Note: All of the photographs shown here can be enlarged by simply clicking on them.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Footsteps of DLS – Day Two – Paris

Time adjustment is still a bit of a problem. I woke up very early – wide awake – and simply got up and started doing things in my room. Scott, having been warned by me that this might happen to him, ignored the entire notion and stubbornly slept blissfully through the night, as he told me later on. Talk about being hoisted on your own petard, to throw in a little French. Since the weather is so nice here, I just opened up the large windows and gazed out over the rooftops of Paris as the scenery gradually grew brighter and the day began. The wifi continues to be generously provided by a neighbor and time was spent checking emails, writing the blog, and searching around Paris via Google for an Apple store. There’s one place near the Arc de Triomphe, apparently, and I figured how to get there via Metro.

Around 7:45 AM I went down to the dining hall for breakfast (big bowl of coffee and milk, along with bread, jam, and yogurt if you wanted it). I sat opposite a very nice, older French Brother who knew no English but who smiled and tried to be as hospitable as possible to this obviously confused American without the grace to know more than a few phrases of French. Eventually he wished me a good day and left. Thankfully, the three American Brothers were there as well, and we spent a good deal of time talking about their Lasallian pilgrimage and other sundry matters. Also in attendance was Br. Benildus from Australia, passing through on his way to elsewhere.

Scott was still sleeping.

Towards 9 AM or so, I found Scott awake and told him I’d pop out to the Apple store, returning in time to pick up Roch at the airport around noon. Then it was off to the Metro at the end of the block, four stops this way, four stops that way, and out I came at station Argentine, near the Arc. I wandered around getting oriented and finally set of in the right direction, reaching the Apple store, but finding it still closed.

While killing some time looking at the various shops around, I noticed a car dealer with an unfortunate name that probably would not have been chosen in the USA. But apparently it’s okay for Europe. (see photo

Once the Apple store opened, I found out that they didn’t work on iPhones or their problems at that location and there was nothing for it but to return four stops, four stops, to Duroc Station and the Maison de La Salle. When I’d left earlier, I was struck in the Duroc Station by the absolutely stillness of the platform, where at least 80 – 100 commuters stood like statues on either side of the tracks, staring vacuously ahead of them or reading their newspapers, waiting for their trains. Not a word, not a shuffle, not a sound was heard other than others pat-patting onto the platform. They all were the “regulars” – commuters who did this every day of the year. They probably knew each other by sight, but conversation was not called for at all. Kind of creepy, actually, and something like a scene out of Gattica or 1984. I thought that the echo-like nature of the space would have benefited from someone taking out a harmonica and playing a blues tune, the sounds echoing off the walls. Maybe that would made somebody’s day.

Back at the Maison, Scott and I took the back seats out of our van, storing them in the front office, and then took off for the airport. Our Garmin GPS behaved a bit strangely along the way, changing it’s mind a couple of times as to which direction to take, but we were its obedient slaves and would go where it told us. Traffic was bear, of course, since this was a regular workday. There are barely legible lines on the road, and everyone seems quite content to sneak into whatever inches were available – and that included monster tour buses. Finally, we hit the A1 and reasonable sanity.

At the airport, we parked in the parking lot (2A) between two sets of terminals (interesting configuration of terminals – check it out online – CDG airport) and wandered around looking for Roch. Finally asked at the information kiosk and discovered that he would have arrived at the extreme other end (2E) , a good ten-minute walk away. Although late, we eventually found him just outside customs, where he’d been for 45 minutes waiting for us. Then the long trek back to the car, along with the suitcases and camera equipment that he had brought along, followed by the trip back to downtown Paris, during which he was able to tell us what we were seeing along the way.

We didn’t stay home very long because Scott and Roch were hungry and it was now 2 PM. So Roch suggested that we go to the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Church on top of a hill overlooking the city in the Montmarte part of Paris. That was fine by me. This time it took some 12 stops on the Metro, with two different lines, before we emerged nearby the church, at the bottom of a rather steep hill. Scott wanted a hamburger so Roch found a Turkish / Greek sort of place that had hamburgers, hot dogs (of a sort), pizza and Gyros. One burger and Gyros later (with lots of fries), we were in the upstairs sitting area looking out over the crowds below. Scott decided he liked Roch’s Gyro better than his hamburger (too much local mustard) and would let Roch decide from now on what food to get. I just had a Fanta and shared a couple of fries.

Then we walked up a whole bunch of steps to get to the church. Inside, the place struck me like most 19th century churches we’d seen – dark, cavernous, oozing history, with lots of people shuffling around or sitting in prayer and little candles glowing in the semi-darkness. A lot of effort was made to quiet people down with “Shhhh” being said out loud by the locals every 30 seconds or so. It seemed like a ritual all by itself. Generally it worked, and people were very quiet as they made the circuit tour.

Outside, it had begun to rain softly, but that made little difference to us. We wandered around the streets nearby, seeing the various artists in the area drawing people’s faces for a fee or painting their bright, garish paintings on popular themes. It was all very crowded with tourists and vendors, but that seemed to be part of the charm of the place.

Returning to the Maison, we took all of our equipment to Roch’s room, where he and Scott unpacked the things they’d brought and made sure that it all survived the journey. Scott had even brought one of those clappers they use for films, on which you write the scene number, etc. – all that will come in handy.

By this time, they were both tired out. So while they retired, I went out onto Rue de Sevres (the street we’re on) and walked a while to find a phone store. A couple of blocks away I saw an “Orange” store and bought a local cell phone for almost nothing, putting some credits on it, so that now we could use that phone in our travels and folks could contact us if needed. (Cell: 06 82 46 81 03) It’s good for six months, so I think I’m covered.

Once back to the Maison, I couldn’t roust either Roch or Scott and figured they’d either fallen asleep or gone out somewhere else. While working back in my room, the 3 other traveling Brothers invited me to their final-day room social (a couple of small bottles of wine snuck out from the downstairs cafeteria) and we spent a good hour or more chatting away about many esoteric Brother topics. Then back to the room for final bits of work and bed.

This morning, as I write this, it’s Bastille Day and a holiday. There’s going to be a major parade downtown and fireworks tonight at the Eiffel Tower that are apparently not to be missed. The Brothers here advised us not to go to the parade, since it will be almost impossible to find space, but it’s certainly likely that we’ll go to the fireworks tonight. Meanwhile, I’m also going to try to find a photography store that’s open today, since the tripod I’d brought is missing it’s camera shoe and is useless without it. With all the care I took to make a packing list, and checking it twice, I forgot one or two key tiny pieces of equipment without which the big stuff cannot be used. Go figure. Today we also plan to do some filming in and around Paris for our “B roll” material. Then tomorrow we’ll leave for Reims.

(Note: You can click on each photograph to see a larger version of it.)