Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day Twelve - Paris and Travel to Reims

An early rising again, with life outside the windows waking me up through birdsong, roadsong, and the day's beginnings.

I joined Gerard, Roch, and some other Brothers downstairs in the cafeteria for breakfast - a simple meal with Nescafe, milk, bread, butter, and some fruit. We talked about our plans for the day and generally prepared our minds for the places we would visit and film.

Afterwards, I prepared the van and we loaded it up with all of our necessary equipment. Br. Emmanuel joined us for our first visit, since he had arranged it for us and would facilitate our entrance into the Institute Catholique, from which we would walk to the gardens of the former Carmelite monastery - which is now part of that institute.

Negotiating the Parisian streets again proved to be a challenge, all the more so because the traffic coordinators down seem to have any paint for lines on the streets, except in the most extreme cases. Most of the time, you simply fit your car, or scooter, or bicycle, where it fits at each moment, jutting here and there, in and out, almost hitting someone and then roaring off. The second enjoyable activity is finding and fitting into a parking spot. This is a science in itself. Luckily, we found a spot near the monastery where I turned this way and that way in order to fit our monster van into a space made for a mini-car. And then we had to get a special parking pass at a local Tabac store for that area of town.

Reaching the Institute Catholique, we entered without any problems and made our way through the students and teachers and classrooms to the back of the property, where there was a doorway and small set of steps at which a number of Brothers had been killed during the French Revolution. It seems that they had been held there, and at one point were asked to take the oath to the State. Upon their refusal, they were guided outside, and on the steps were hacked to death, after which their bodies were thrown into a well in the middle of the garden. All very gruesome, but also quite courageous on their part. They would not compromise their faith and paid the price for it.

We filmed Gerard at that location and then walked around the garden to get further "B roll" footage to use as supplementary material. Every once in a while a student or staff member would look at us with curiosity, but largely we were left in peace.

At that point, Br. Emmanuel left us and we proceeded to the church of St. Sulpice. It took awhile to find another parking spot, and we ended up in an underground lot which lay beneath the church, I believe, or at least under the church plaza. It was very convenient, however, and allowed us to transport our equipment without much fuss.

In the plaza in front of the church, Br. Gerard filmed a segment about the massive fountains that are dedicated to four of the great orators of French history. The weather wasn't very cooperative, going from full sun to overcase every few minutes. Each time, Roch and Scott would have to reset the white balance on the video cameras, plus change other lighting elements. I would usually hold the portable reflector, angling it just so in order to light certain portions of Gerard's face during the filming. Finally, however, things worked out and we had a good "take" that we could use.

Then it was on to the church itself. We found the sacristan and received permission to film in the small chapel attached to the back of St. Sulpice - a chapel that De La Salle would have known and where he had given catechism classes to neighborhood children while he was a seminarian there. A Mass was about to said there, but we were given 15 - 20 minutes to film our segment. Roch and I had been here before so we knew the layout. Before long, the scene was set up and Gerard did a couple of takes about the chapel and De La Salle at the seminary of St. Sulpice. I tried to do a panorama shot, but it was so dark in there that I don't think it worked.

Having finished with St. Sulpice, we walked over to the Rue Princesse, where the first school in Paris had been located. There, amidst bars and small restaurants, in between an Irish pub and an English-language bookstore, is a large wooden doorway where the Brothers first lived and worked when they came to Paris from Reims. Since it was still morning, there wasn't a lot of activity on the street, but there was enough so that we had to cut our scenes short several times because of noise, or people walking by, or other factors. We didn't need to go inside - where things were way different anyway since the 1700's - but could do a good scene with the door as a background. About 45 minutes later we were done there and decided to return to Rue de Sevres for lunch and our trip to Reims.

Back at the ranch, as it were, we parked and walked to various stores in the neighborhood to pick up sandwiches or other things desired for our lunch. I even found a small specialty store that sold pickled herring of various kinds. All these things were brought to my room where we all sat here and there for a quiet lunch before our departure for Reims.

An hour after arrived back at Rue de Sevres we were on the road again. It took quite a while to get out of the city of Paris, and traffice seemed to be gridlocked at a number of places. But the thing is to just inch forward with everyone else, take up whatever space is available, and simply proceed in the direction that you needed to go. With all that confusion, it was amazing that we didn't hear a single car horn blast away. If we'd been in Rome, the noise would have deafening. But here in Paris that kind of thing just simply isn't done. About 20-25 minutes later we were on the motorway and things went smoothly from there.

In Reims itself, it was raining quite heavily. Although sun had been predicted, and I'd taken only "sun" clothes with me for the two nights we would be there, it seems that no one had informed the weather systems. Hopefully, the sun will come out tomorrow for our filming. Meanwhile, we tried to get a couple of shots at the Hotel De La Salle itself, both outside and inside. The inside filming went better than the outside filming - it started to rain again as we began. Roch and Scott made the best of it, however, and by the time dinner was ready at 7:00 PM, they had at least been able to put together a couple of takes inside the museum, in the front room that had been recreated to look the way it probably looked while De La Salle was growing up in the house.

Dinner was a fine event, with the three Brothers and ourselves enjoying both the meal and one another's company. It was done mostly in French, of course, but I found that by now I was picking up more of the conversation than I had previously. At least I picked up enough to follow the general trend of what was being said, although I'd be hard pressed to contribute anything beyond a smile and a nod. The meal was typically French, course after course after course of fairly small portions of food, complemented by wine and water and bread. The whole thing last a couple of hours, and by the end of the meal we decided that we would likely not be able to do any further filming, as planned. Instead, we would retire and start early tomorrow, when we would travel to Liesse, Laon, and Brouillet for the segments that belonged to those places.

Another full day complete and another full day ahead. Are we having fun yet?

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