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.