Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Days Nine & Ten – Grenoble, Parmenie, and Paris

It’s been a very busy two days, but I want to keep folks informed and so will combine two blog days into one.

Early on Monday morning, Br. Georges had prepared breakfast for us before morning prayer because we were to be off with the dawn, pretty much. By 8:30 AM we were packed and ready to go to Grenoble. Arriving at the Rue St. Laurent a little after 9 AM, Roch again was able to gain access into the building that used to house the Brothers community. It’s also where De La Salle spent some months in 1714, revising the Duties of a Christian and substituting for a Brother whom he had sent to the North for news. The place has 66 stairs that he would have to negotiate each day in order to get to the small circular room at the top that he had reserved for himself.

Roch, Scott and Gerard spent the time filming on the staircase and giving a sense of the place on video. Then they moved to the street where some more footage was shot, while cars, scooters, and people passed by – most of whom were respectful but some of whom were quite noisy. We ended up doing a number of takes before we were satisfied with the results. From there, after a few hours of work, it was on to the museum of the Visitation Sisters, where De La Salle had regularly said Mass. We were able to get into the chapel – in fact I think we were the only visitors – and rather than ask for permission, we simply set up our equipment and did our work. Only once did one of the staff members come by and ask what we were doing. When Roch said that we were filming, she said that we would need to get permission for the lighting, etc. Then Roch replied that we were simply using natural lighting for this personal project, and she said “bizzare” in that French sort of way and walked off. We quickly finished our shoot and moved outside to the public space where we filmed the steep steps that DLS would negotiate each time he came up to say Mass for the Sisters.

From there it was on to the church of St. Andre, another place where DLS would say Mass, this time often bringing the children of the school across the river. It’s said that when people saw him coming with the kids, they’d say: “Here comes that holy priest who said Mass so devoutly. Let’s go see him.” For years, his effect on the inhabitants was relayed from generation to generation. We were able to access the church, and the Salesian priest who was hearing confessions said that if we’d come back around 2:15 PM he could turn on the lights. So this was a perfect time for lunch in the square outside the church, after which we went inside and did our filming.

Now it was later afternoon and we made our way back to Parmenie for some more filming on that property. While they were doing that, I went off to the surrounding villages in search of a good bottle of champagne. The community would be celebrating three birthdays that evening and Gerard suggested that we should get a good bottle of chanmpagne as a gift. Some 90 minutes later I returned with a fine Moet Chandon, found in the town of Voirons after a lot of driving around and searching for a place that would sell good champagne.

When I came back, Scott and Roch were sitting on the stoop in front of the chapel waiting for me. They needed the lights that were still in the van when I’d driven off for one of the shots they were doing with Gerard. The three of them had already done several scenes, but there were a few more to be done. We all went into the small chapel to do some shooting there prior to evening prayer, and after evening prayer I stayed to do a couple of panoramas in the chapel.

By around 7:30 PM we were in the dining room celebrating the birthdays of Br. France, Br. Claude, and the prefect of the kids canped out on the lawn in front of the chapel. They had already broking out their own champagne, so Gerard decided that we would simply give ours to them as a parting gift tomorrow morning. The dinner was a fine one in every way, with lots of joking and attempts at speaking both English (on their part) and French (on our part).

Afterwards, we went down into the crypt for the shooting of a final segment before retiring around 10 PM to our rooms and pretty much a collapse on our beds.

The following morning, I was up early to take a few more panoramas of the property with the early morning light – both in front of the chapel and at the vista point at the other end of the property. I’d tried to do so the previous evening, but both the light and the batteries on the panorama unit weren’t cooperating. This morning it went a bit better, I believe, although we’ll see when the final result is produced.

After morning prayer and breakfast with the Brothers, we packed up our stuff and left at around 9:00 AM for Paris. The Brothers had been extremely cordial and helpful in moving our project forward, and I left with a real sense of appreciation of everything that they’re trying to do there. It’s evident that their work is very worthwhile and rewarding for both themselves and for all those – students, adults, and Brothers – who come to share in the spirit of Parmenie and the ministry that Br. Leo Burkhard had begun way back in the 1950’s when he’d first been exposed to the place and decided to dedicate himself to rehabilitating it as a place of retreat and refuge.

Before we left, we noticed the group of students gathered in a circle in front of the chapel for morning prayer. They were a generally attentive group - holding open doors and smiling at us when they passed - and were apparently a Catholic youth group out for their annual retreat, living both in the dorms here and in tents that they had set up. As always, it was encouraging to see Catholic young people who have taken real ownership of their faith even amidst a society that isn't generally supportive of such things. I think that it is things like this that keep the Brothers going in their ministries, or at least give them hope for the future.

On the road, we only stopped a couple of time during the next 6 – 7 hours, once to pick up some food supplies, and the other along the motorway to get fuel and eat some lunch. Even while our lunch stop was the French equivalent to a quick-food place, the food was very good – all chosen from a buffet – and much better than you’d find in the American equivalent. But as Br. Gerard said later, the French have made eating into an art form. Also along the road, we would pass lots of small castles or chateaus and Gerard would sometimes share with us some of the history or highlights of the places that we passed. Having brought lots of CIL groups to the area, he was quite familiar with most of the places that we passed.

Along the way back to Paris on the A6, Gerard and I kept up a conversation about Lasallian formation in Australia and his work with the online formation resources that they have developed much more than anyone else in the Lasallian world. From what he described, they are on the cutting edge of where Lasallian formation will be in the future.

We entered Paris around 3:30 PM and arrived at Rue de Sevres at 4:00 PM, with the Brothers and our rooms waiting for us. I was happy to take a quick shower and refresh myself for what was still ahead. This time, my room was on the back side of the property, overlooking the back courtyard and seeing the dome of Les Invalides in the distance. We took about 30 minutes to get settled, etc. and then set of for a couple of locations nearby where we wanted to do some filming. Since this was the evening rush hour, the noise factor was significant and we decided that we will likely come back next Sunday (our last day) in order to film in a quieter environment. But we filmed what we could so as to have something “in the can.”

By now it was dinner time. Returning to the Maison De La Salle, we decided to eat at a local restaurant recommended by Gerard. Not only did this save a Metro journey to another part of town, but the Bistro on the corner that we went to was excellent. The food was very good, the service was friendly, and the atmosphere was very French. It was the perfect way to relax at the end of a long, long day.

On our way back to the house, we picked up some desert pastries at the bakery next door and then returned to our rooms for a well-deserved rest. Tomorrow morning, we’re off at 8 AM for Rouen and another very full day of filming. Br. Emmanuel will be accompanying us, as he did last week with Roch and I, and we’re looking forward to being able to get into the St. Yon property, something that no one in the Brothers has been able to accomplish before. I hope that all the arrangements that were made months ago hold true.