Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day Fourteen - Reims and Travel to Paris

This was our last day in Reims. Now that I'm writing this later in the day in Paris, I'm sorry that I didn't take a photo of my small room in Reims, because I certainly see it in my minds eye. It was sort of like an attic room, with one "wall" angled down under the roof, and a small window jutting out at chest level within a small alcove that held a small table and lamp. Looking out of the window, one could see the inner courtyard below. Besides the small bed and wash basin, there was an ancient, giant clothes cabinet that looked as if it had been made in the 17th century - rough wood, strange non-perpendicular angles at the corners, and rough metal hinges and locking mechanism. Everything was quite comfortable actually.

I again awoke before six, completely refreshed and ready for the day. Some 3o minutes later I was in the house, on the computer, uploading the blog I'd prepared the night before. Joined the Brothers for breakfast and then went off to the cathedral for Mass, while Br. Gerard and Roch and Scott did some shooting in the inner courtyard. They wouldn't need me, and I had enough pictures of them filming, so I was content to let them simply work it out for themselves.

The priest at Mass was another new face. The way he celebrated Mass was with gravitas - including singing, a homily, and long pauses between parts of the liturgy. I thought that he would have been a good candidate for bishop; or at least he was acting as if. After the Mass, I found out that he was the secretary to the Archbishop of Reims. Mystery explained. During the time I was there I reflected on the fact that in this vast, beautiful space, dedicated to the glory of God and the worship opportunities of the people of Reims, we were in a small back chapel - beautiful as it was with the Chagall stained-glass windows - occupying perhaps 2% of the space of the cathedral with about 20 people, while more visitors than that padded by quietly in the background in their tour of the place. Rather poignant and significant, I would say.

Returning to the Hotel De La Salle, the others were ready to take off, and all I had to do was jump in the van and start driving. We drove right away to the cathedral, where I'd already scoped out a good parking place close by. Since it was Saturday, the tour buses were out in force, but the local work force was at rest, so there were plenty of available parking spaces. We took all of our stuff - film equipment, tripods, lighting suitcase, etc. - and traipsed into the cathedral, walking confidently up the side aisle to the side chapel where DLS had said his first Mass and where there was a statue dedicated to him. We didn't need to show our letter of permission from the pastor, since the sacristan(s) seemed to know about us and didn't stop of from proceeding. An elderly Vietnamese sacristan (and apparently a student of the Brothers in Vietnam) came over to make sure that we had everything we needed. It would have been nice to have the lights of the cathedral turned on for our filming, but he explained that the day before there had been a flash flood because of the intense rain, and that all of the electricity in the place, beyond basic lighting, had been shorted out and wouldn't be available for a couple of days. We would have to work with what we had, not an unfamiliar situation.

Roch and Scott went to work, while I took photographs of them and of the various elements of the cathedral. In between times, I went to the gift shop outside in order to get some historical background booklets as references. In the shop, the woman behind the cash register was upset over the fact that she had no change for some customers, including me. When she rung me up, I placed all of my spare change on the counter, and she counted it dilligently. At the end, I was still shor 50 Euro cents, which I didn't have. She kept trying to figure out what to do, counting my coins over and over in the hope, it seems, that they would add up to more than what they were. Finally, I just took my money and said that I would buy it later, leaving her somewhat relieved but now having to face the person behind me who had no change to offer at all.

The filming in the small chapel went well, I think. It was also the chapel where Pope John Paul II came to pray on his visit to France. There's a famous photograph showing him kneeling at prayer at that altar, with the Founder's statue in the background; a photo taken at the direct suggestion of one of the priests of the cathedral who had been taught by the Brothers. It's the rare occurence when De La Salle shows up in an "official" public capacity.

After the side chapel, we moved to a placed right next to the high altar, where his stall as canon, number 21, would likely have been located. From there, you can gaze down the nave at the amazing stained glass windows at the far end, and Gerard talked about what it must have been like for De La Salle to pray there five times a day for over 16 years and see that vista before him each day.

Also at the location, I took the opportunity to ask him some questions, having him answer them extemporaneously - something that I think he's good at. I wasn't disappointed, and we took some fine footage of Gerard speaking about DLS's sense of Providence in his, and our, lives.

After this, we packed up and went in search of the Colleges Des Bons Enfants, the school which De La Salle attended from his early years until his MA degree. It took some driving down small streets and gazing at maps before we finally found the place, right along a busy street and solidly locked up. However, it was still a school after some 350 years, and the outside looked pretty much as it would have in the 17th century, so that was a blessing. We set up on the opposite side of the street and filmed a segment, trying to judge in between the noisy cars and trucks and motorcycles that would speed by.

Another doorway, this time associated with the Sisters founded by Nicholas Roland, who consider De La Salle as one of their co-founders, became the subject of our next quest. It was an important location because it was here that De La Salle and Adrian Nyel first encountered one another. Because of that meeting, De La Salle became involved in helping to establish those first schools and eventually became completely dedication to the education of the poor in Reims and elsewhere. The doorway was located on an especially busy street and it took quite a while to get a couple of good takes that we could edit and use later one. But by now we were used to various kinds of challenges, and an hour later we had what we needed and moved on to St. Remigius, the former Benedictine church where De La Salle would often pray through the night at the tomb of St. Remi, the one for whom the city is named.

This church is impressive for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the building dates back to Roman times and shows signs of architectural styles spanning over a thousand years. It's a building that has a strong, quiet dignity and a very appealing, contemplative atmosphere about it. Gerard said that it was his favority building in Reims, and I can sympathize with that perspective. It's one of those buildings that you can feel very settled and comfortable within, even though it's old and made of stone and somewhat stark and a bit dark. Somehow the whole thing works well. I noticed that people uniformly were quiet and respectful within it, without being asked, unlike other churches where they would have to be reminded to respect the place where they were.

There was one place left to visit, the church of St. Maurice, located nearby and situated right next to a Jesuit school and college that dates from 1619. It was at St. Maurice that the first school was established. De La Salle determined that Fr. Dorigny, the pastor, had the disposition and interest that would guarantee that Adrian Nyel's efforts would not be interfered with by the local authorities. Br. Christian, at the Hotel De La Salle, had arranged for someone to open the church for us so that we could film the statue of De La Salle that was within it. We arrived on time, but we found the church doors closed. After about 15-20 minutes, Br. Gerard found a side door open and we found a French lady inside waiting for us. The statue we discovered at the back of the church was one that none of us had seen before, Rather uniquely, it not only showed students with De La Salle, but it also showed Fr. DOrigny kneeling in respect to him. While this is something that DLS himself would never have tolerated, the statue conveys the respect with which he was held by the clergy of Reims, especially after the work had begun.

By now it was about 2:00 PM, and we returned to the Hotel De La Salle in order to finish up our filming segments there - in the chapel - and to add on an introductory segment from the archives on the bottom floor. Finally, we had completed our scheduled filming in Reims. We settled down a bit, had lunch at a nearby cafe, and then organized ourselves for the trip back to Paris. By 4:00 PM we were on the road, having thanked the Brothers profusely for their great hospitality and welcoming spirit.

The two-hour ride back to Paris seemed quite familiar to me now, except for when we entered into Paris itself, and the GPS took us along a lengthy section of the Seine river before bringing us downtown and the Rue de Sevres. By now, I think that I was driving like a Parisian, rushing down one-lane roads, pedestrians at each side, shifting gears up and down, darting around double-parked cars, old lady's trying to cross the road, and generally behaving rather calmly at what used to get my heart and mind racing a mile a minute. Like everything else, we adapt.

Back at the ranch, we took a rest for about 90 minutes and then met up again for our evening repart, taking the Metro to the Latin Quarter. Here, the evening was just beginning, with restaurants opening, young people and old people milling about, and musicians settling into the corners they would occupy for most of the night. We walked down lots of streets, looking at various restaurants, and finally settled on a fondue place that also had "regular" menu items. Here we stayed for several hours, enjoyed a well-deserved break from our furious pace. Afterwards, we walked a bit more and then made our way to the Metro and home to Duroc station and the maison on Rue de Sevres.

Tomorrow, the idea was to have time to fill in any needed filming that we hadn't done before this. But because of our efficient use of time throughout the week, we will only have one scene to film in the morning. Then we are pretty much done with this portion of the project. Gerard wants to contact some friends and professional acquaintances in the time remaining, and it's likely that Roch, Scott and I will do some sightseeing in the city. By late afternoon, however, we will begin organizing our luggage and the van for the 4:00 AM departure the following morning for the airport. And with the Tour de France finishing tomorrow in Paris, it's likely that our choices for sightseeing will be a bit limited and filled with tourists. But, on the other hand, it's a great opportunity to experience Paris on one of the busiest days of the year. Should be fun.

(Note: Click on small pictures to enlarge them.)