Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day Fifteen - The Last Day

This was the last day in Paris and the last day of this phase of our Footsteps projects. It's amazing how fast the time has flown by, both because of the intensity of events that were concentrated into the time available and because of the dynamic of the individuals involved. We were constantly on the go and on the job, and uniformly we were focused on the job to be done.

The first thing to do, at 8:30 AM, was to film a segment that had been interrupted repeatedly by cars and motorcycles and the like rushing by, without any chance to get even 30 seconds of relative silence. This was the clip that we filmed a couple of blocks away from the Maison de La Salle, where there was both a small statue of DLS in a niche in the corner of a building built by an order of Sisters, and near where the main house for the Brothers in Paris was in the 17th and 18th century. It was from that house that the letter to DLS was sent, asking / ordering him to return from the south of France and again take up the "holy work" of leading the Brothers.

We reached the spot during a wonderfully quiet time period, with few people walking about and only the occasional car. After setting up the camera and working out the lighting possibilities, we did a few takes. But since it was early morning, things weren't jelling yet, and so we did a few more takes. By now, people were beginning to wander by, crossing the street in front of us as they looked over. One man had obviously spent the night imbibing and hadn't yet slept, judging by the way he swayed across our screen, looking over with frank curiosity. Another take. Then we would do well but at the end some car would come screaming down the street, breaking up the quiet we had just experienced. I was beginning to despair that we'd never get a good take when all of sudden everything came together and at the end we all said: "That's it!"

From there, we walked to the Barre Sisters place - another couple of blocks away - in order to film the front door for a later voice-over possibility, since (as Gerard told us) these Sisters had been closely involved with us both in the beginning and later in our history, when, for example, they joined us in going to Malaysia to teach there. When we got to the place, we tried the door and spent a while trying to convince the lady overseeing the entrance to let us film inside. But it was no good. She didn't quite trust us, I think, and we hadn't received previous permission, so we had to be satisfied with some footage of the front of the door, and a peek inside when a work van entered the place.

On our way back to the Maison, Gerard and I stopped into the Vincentian church just down the street where the body of St. Vincent de Paul was displayed, under glass and well-lighted, above the main altar. It's probably one of the main reasons why I would never want to be a saint (or a recognized one anyway). You end up having your bones and body parts scattered hither and yon for veneration, and you have the rest of you folded into a wax effigy that lies under glass and plastic flowers until the second coming. Not that for me. I'd rather wish for the burial that the Cistercians have, with their monks buried the day after they died in their habit and wrapped in a simply sheet. That's what the "ashes to ashes" is supposed to be about, I should think. Anyway, Vincent lookied quite the saint up there above the altar, and the church was pretty impressive by itself.

We returned to the Maison and after a break took off for Notre Dame and the 10:00 AM Mass there. Scott would join us later, after Mass, for some sightseeing. When we got to Notre Dame, we found the place pretty full already, but the Mass parts were in Latin so some folks were able to join in. During the Mass, hundreds of tourists would idly walk down the side naves, looking around and taking pictures. It gave a surrealistic sense to the whole thing, with devout things happening in the center nave and simple curious observation happening along the perimeter. But perhaps that's the state of the church in any case. At the end of Mass, I'd looked forward to a good organ postlude, but all the organist seemed to want to do was to place his fore arm on the several keyboards at once, at the loudest setting, and make suggestive noisy gestures. I'm sorry to say that I eagerly left Notre Dame in order to avoid listening to more of the organ than I had to. God knows why organists think that they're being clever when they play something that's more of a nuisance than a creation.

Scott eventually found us on the square and we proceeded with our quickie tour of Paris. He had never been to Paris, and it had been awhile since the rest of us had seen the sights. We took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower and watched hordes of tourists stand in line to buy tickets, after which they would stand in long lines to get into the elevators that would take them to the first level of the tower. The upper level was closed because of the Tour de France. It was clear that we wouldn't be going up on those elevators, and nobody had a real hankering to do so anyway. So we contented ourselves by simply walking around and taking photographs here and there.

On our way out, Roch suggested we take the Seine water tour as a good way to see some of the major sights. Upon general agreement, we got our tickets and got onto a boat that would stop at major sites along the way. It was a get-on and get-off sort of thing, whereby you could get off when you wanted and get onto another boat that would be along within 15 minutes. After a couple of stops, we wanted to have some lunch, so we got off at the Latin Quarter and found a small restaurant for a fine little lunch. We'd had to cross the road right next to the Seine - a road that had metal barriers on each side but which could be easily breached by people crossing the road.

When we'd finished lunch, we found Gendarmerie (police-types) filling the road and we could no longer cross to get back to the Seine and our tour boat. The only option was to take the Metro under the Seine and then to walk back over. So we joined several thousand other people who needed to cross in lining up at the Metro, getting onto a jam-packed train, and getting off at the very next stop. The Tour de France riders were still hours away, but there was no way that the police would let anyone cross those barriers. Some thirty minutes later, we had made our way back to the river on the other side and rejoined our boat tour.

About 80% through the tour, at one of the stops, there was bright yellow display area that advertised the "Live Strong" program of Lance Armstrong. I wanted to get off and pick up whatever trinkets might be there for some cyclist friends of mine, so I left the others to briefly run up there and see what was what. Of course, when I returned some two minutes later, the boat was in the process of leaving the dock for its next stop. O, well, these things happen. The others went on and would make their way back to the Maison and I would somehow do the same. I did pick up two boxes of yellow chalk markers which that "Live Strong" site was distributing, inviting kids to write messages on the ground within a demarcated area, which many of them did. I just looked for a Metro stop nearby.

I walked a good way and ran into the staging area for the "parade" that accompanied the Tour as it reached Paris. These were the sponsors who had the privilege (?) of driving all sorts of funnily adorned vehicles advertising their products ahead of the bicycle riders. By now they had arrived and were busily throwing to the crowds all sorts of advertising trinkets, most of which were not quite worth the effort of reaching out for them. But the folks gathered there were reaching for them and jumping up to catch them as if they were 10 Euro bills. All fun to watch, of course.

By now, I'd found out that the riders would reach the Champs-Elysees nearby within about 40 minutes. Well, this was not to be missed of course. How often do you happen to be in Paris at the end of the Tour de France and have the opportunity to watch the riders ride down the Champs-Elysees as they end their arduous racing journey? I walked to that wide boulevard - remembered from Bastille Day - and after some searching found a spot near one of the wider plazas that reach into it. There, the crowds were only 3-5 people deep. I planted myself there, took out my umbrellas to protect myself from the sun - to the gratitude of an elderly French couple in front of me - and proceeded to listen to rapid-fire French announcers booming loudly from the speakers that lined the boulevard.

Some forty minutes later, a stir went through the crowd, cars with all sorts of logos rushed down the boulevard as if on the way to a fire, important people in colorful suits on motorcycles did the same, and word was passed the the leaders were about to reach the boulevard. I'd prepared my little camera to take some film footage of the experience and aimed it down the road. Now came more cars, more motorcycles, more important people doing who-knows-what as part of the race. It seemed as if this was a race of cars and motorcycles instead of cyclists. Finally, behind a phalanx of cars and motorcycles with cameramen riding backwards on the rear seats, came the first peloton. They were indeed going fast, and it was all I could do to keep the camera pointed at that first group, and then at the riders behind them. The riders were obediently followed by the support vehicles, each painted in some garish color and carrying the 8 - 10 extra bicycles on their roofs.

The riders went to the end of the boulevard, rounded the corner, and then came back down again for one of their 7(?) circuits that marks the end of the Tour de France. I only stayed for one. The short 5-minute video I shot has been uploaded to YouTube and you can find it here:

After the racers had passed by, I knew that the others from my group wanted me back at the Maison in order to pack, and I also knew that the Metro would soon be packed. So I made my way to the nearest Metro station, figured out which way I needed to go, and left for home. About halfway there, I looked at the names of the stations we were passing and realized that I was going in the wrong direction. Yikes! So I got off at the next station and figured out how to get to the opposite side in order to go in the "right" direction. It took a while, but I finally got to the familiar Duroc station and the Rue de Sevres that we'd returned to again and again over the last two weeks. It was all quite familiar and comforting to me now.

We packed our bags and spent a good hour or so packing the van in preparation for our early departure tomorrow morning. Our flight is at 7:00 AM, Gerard's is at 7:30 AM and Scott's is at 10:30 AM, so we needed to leave here at 4:00 AM - no time to pack early in the morning. With the seats returned to the van, there was precious little room, and we'd already had to make arrangements to send some of our equipment back via DHS or Fedex. There was simply no way that we could do so individually. The things we would keep, however.

This evening, we walked down the street a ways and found a very nice restaurant on the corner of Rue de Vaugirard and Boulevard de Montparnasse. I think our dinner on the Rue de Vaugirard was significantly better than that which the Brothers at Vaugirard in the 17th century had. However, we enjoyed our final French meal without guilt, at the end of a very busy two weeks, and I think that we were as relaxed as we'd been within this wonderfully French setting.

This marks the end of this phase of the project and also the end to this installment of the blog. It will resume at some point in the future. But right now I'm taking some "personal days" to regenerate the mind, body, and soul. Later on, Roch and I (and others) will begin to put together the final format for this resource. Suggestions, of course, are welcome. But not yet. I would like to hear, however, about DVD formation formats that others think would "work" well for the kind of thing that we'd like to put together, utilizing both the video clips, maps, written resources, and the like.

If you've followed our journey so far, thanks for coming along. There's more to come.

There's always more to come.

God be blessed