Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day Eleven - A Long Day in Rouen

Today was the day when there was more to do than time to do it. However, we would give it our best effort, and as it turned out, what needed to be done was done. I was up at 6 and ready at 6:30 for the day that was making itself heard through the open window in my bedroom. I'd slept with both windows wide open, and nothing flew in to disturb me or made enough noise to awaken me. I rather enjoyed having the breeze come in every once in a while throughout the night and hear the nightsounds of the city of Paris.

At 7 AM, I walked down the Rue de Sevres to the nearby BNP Paribas bank ATM in order to withdraw some cash for the day (affiliated with BofA; no charges for ATM use). It's amazing how many of these ATM machines there are now - at least three per block, it seems. Thankfully, they have an "English" option on one of the first screens so that I wouldn't just have to guess at the sentences that appear. The street was as busy as it would be at noon, with cars and people going to and fro to their jobs (I would think) or the like.

Once back, I brought the van around in order to get it ready for our trip to Rouen. By 8:00 AM, we were loaded and ready, with five of us in the van (Br. Emmanuel from here in Paris joined us to facilitate our entry into St. Yon, etc.). The Paris traffic was a nightmare, of course, as we made our way across town to the motorway to Rouen - A13. The confidence of Parisian drivers is astounding, especially when it comes to the motorcycles and scooters. They must have a death wish or think they're playing an online game. More than once did I find myself saying things that I normally would not say, and all in reaction to people cutting in front, squeezing their way in, or simply darting past with inches to spare. Finally, however, we were on the "Paeage" motorway and the relative calm of cars and trucks traveling along at over 120 kph.

It takes a good 1.5 - 2 hours to get to Rouen, and we stopped along the way for a short break at one of the convenient rest-stops. Mostly, those in the van either slept of talked in French. I was content just to drive and pay attention to the road.

Once we reached Rouen, following the advice of our trusty GPS, Br. Emmanuel directed us in a different direction to St. Yon than the GPS - which of course I followed for political reasons if not for practical ones. It took us a little longer to get to St. Yon, but get to it we did. There, waiting in front, were the two "guides" for our visit. One obviously was the person with whom Br. Emmanuel had negotiated our visit, and the other looked to be a supervisor, or some representative of the province, no doubt there to make sure that we didn't do anything harmful to the state.

They first took us to the former chapel of the property, which had been split into two floors years ago. We went to the upper level, where you could see the roof. There we filmed a couple of takes with Br. Gerard and I did a panoramic picture series. It's amazing that this was the actual place where the Brothers and the boarders and the students and the "prisoners" would assemble for Mass regularly for so many years. It's the place that was the Motherhouse of the Institute for quite some time and it's now a series of government offices and education resources. Major sections of the place are being turned into classes for various kinds of arts and crafts. So I guess that you could say that it's still being used in favor of the "artisans" and the poor of Rouen, the location of the property being in the working class part of the city.

After the chapel, they took us to the dungeons, where those who were commited with "lettres de cachet" were held for an indefinite period of time, as sort of prisoners of the state. The Brothers cared for them, oversaw their confinement, tried to reform them, and did the best they could. (De La Salle was particularly effective in reforming them and developed a bit of reputation in relating well with these prisoners, so we're told.) Counting the with boarders, delinquents, students, novices, and Brothers, it was quite the busy place. It's also where De La Salle lived out the last years of his life and died. The property had extensive gardens, apparently, but very little remains of that. The huge building that now covers the property came along much later, and only the chapel is authentic from DLS's time. Our "guides" also showed us, at our request, one of the individual 10-by-7 individual cells, and we did some filming there as well. This was all in the basement, where it was quite gloomy and dark. It's a wonder that people survived the experience at all. The greatest challenge that Roch and Scott had was to set up sufficient lighting for filming. Roch had put together and brought along an amazingly creative set of strong LED lights - from places like Home Depot - and devised a way of adapting them onto portable stands, with the whole setup able to be carried around in a large metal case. Since these lights worked on battery power, they would just have to be rechargd every night and then we could get several hours of lighting from them. Designed as work lights for a shop, with the right kind of gel coverings they worked pretty well as filming lights. This way we didn't have to worry about power cables, outlets, and the like. Without them, we certainly would have been up a dark creek without a light.

After a couple of hours at St. Yon, it was time to leave and move on to the statue and fountain at the plaza at the end of the same block. We did some filming there but had difficultly with the lighting, since the sun kept coming and going throughout our time there. But eventually we got a good "take" and moved on to the other side of the city and the medieval courtyard of St. Maclou, where the Brothers had a school as part of a series of square medieval buildings surrounding the public cemetery. The buildings in the area still whole area around there retain their medieval character, and you can see carvings of the dance macabre in the lintels of the framework at St. Maclou; vestiges of the Black Death and the cemetery that made up the courtyard. Apparently, the students would regularly hear funeral processions coming in for a burial, and certain elements in the Conduct of Schools talk about the prayers that the students should say when they hear the funeral bell approaching. This came from the experience at St. Maclou.

Filming at that location was difficult because of the many visitors that show up, and because city workers were doing some cement work in the plaza. Whenever we'd set up and started a take, one of the workmen would begin to shovel cement or use his trowel to smack down the cement that had been poured. It took some gentle glaring and 4 or 5 takes before the team of 1 worker and 3 supervisors left with their equipment and allowed us to do our filming. I also worked on getting a good panoramic photograph here, although with the various visitors coming in it was difficult to get a clear series of pictures. On our way our, a whole busload of tourists was coming in - I guess that I should count my blessings.

Now we were ready for lunch, so we drove to the plaza of St. Sever and had lunch at the various stores and stands that dot the area. After that, we went into the church of St. Sever and filmed at the small side chapel dedicated to De La Salle. It's where he was buried after his death and before being moved to the chapel at St. Yon later on. There's a statue of De La Salle there along with a plaque that was written by the pastor of St. Sever at the time, a priest who was very critical of DLS while he was alive but was a great advocate of his after De La Salle's death.

Done with St. Sever, we drove to the cemetery of Rouen at the church of the Sacred Heart, overlooking the entire city on one side of the river. (This is also where there is a large cemetery where a number of the early Brothers are buried, including Br. Bartholemy - the Superior General after De La Salle - and Br. Irenee, another significant figure in our early history.) By now it had begun to rain, but not hard enough to stop filming. So we found a good spot overlooking the city and filmed Br. Gerard as he related the importance of Rouen and the various times that De La Salle was closely associated with the city. At the end of the filming, the rain began in earnest, yet I stuck around to take a panoramic series of pictures, even if there was the good chance that they would be marred by raindrops on the lens.

It was now nearly 5 PM and everyone was tired. We got in the van and I drove back to Paris while almost everyone else slept, waking up occasionaly for the toll plazas or to have short conversations. Once back in Paris, Br. Emmanuel directed me through various streets in order to highlight for Scott and others sites like the small version of theSstatue of Liberty near the Eiffel Tower, the tunnel where Princess Diana died, and other buildings associated with the history of the Brothers. We got to the house at Rue de Sevres at around 7 PM.

The four of us had a well-deserved dinner at a place just down the street from the Brothers place. This was all the better because by now it was pouring rain. After a leisurely dinner, we stopped at a nearby bakery - what else? - before returning to our rooms for our individual nightly work. For almost each one of us, this meant work on the computer. Then off to bed, hopefully.

Tomorrow, it's all about Paris, after which we will drive to Reims where we will be tomorrow evening in preparation for the following day's filming in Reims.

(Note: Click on each picture to enlarge it, if you wish.)