Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exploring Rouen


Since we had come home pretty late last night, it wasn't easy getting up early this morning to be in time for our 8 AM scheduled departure for Rouen with Br. Emmanuel. However, this is why we're here, and both Roch and I were ready to go by 8 AM, backpacks prepared and equipment batteries charged.

Br. Emmanuel met us at the car and off we went. It's Saturday morning, so the traffic was light, thankfully. All driving directions from Br. Emmanuel (French) went through Roch (English, I think), so I had to wait to hear them before executing them. A couple of times this led to a bit of miscommunication - with me whispering a bit of frustration under my breath (my fault; I should know enough French to follow directions) - but we found the autoroute to Rouen eventually. This time, the toll road was the kind that required up-front payment, several times along the route. Rouen is about 90 minutes from Paris on the toll road, with everyone driving as if they had a life to save, and it was clearly not their own. Br. Emmanuel knew very little English, so all of our communication was through Roch. When we got to Rouen, we drove hither and yon until we arrived at a non-descript wall with a metal fence behind which was St. Yon. I found a parking place (illegal probably, but what the heck) and we stood outside the fence, with me taking pictures and Roch filming as the light rain fell around us.

Then we moved to the other side of the property, down a tiny street, where I parked on the sidewalk and we again documented the area and the scene. At one point, Roch was filming from the entrance to an apartment complex across the street, and Emmanuel was explaining various fine points of history in a loud voice, when a French woman opened the door behind them and yelled at them to please be more quiet. Sufficiently mollified, the rest of the time was spent in silent work.

A short drive away - just the end of the block - we found a plaza with a very large statue of De La Salle atop an ornate fountain. By now it was raining in earnest, but somehow we managed to maneuver around and do our job. Cars whizzed around us in the roundabout and people paid more attention to us than to the statue. Across the street was a church that Emmanuel said contained some paintings of the Founder and the Brothers, but we couldn't find a way to get into it and so had to put that down as something we will have to do when we return in July.

On we went to St. Sever church, which was located in a small plaza, opposite the St. Sever shopping center. There were many more people in the shopping center than there were in the church. Roch and I went into one of the stores and picked up a big golf umbrella, so that we could keep the HD camera dry when we were shooting. Then we went into St. Sever, where Emmanuel showed us the small side chapel dedicated to De La Salle, complete with statue, altar, and beautiful stained glass windows. He also explained that Br. Bartholemew, the second Superior General, was buried under the floor of the chapel - neither recognized by a plaque nor dug up and placed elsewhere. He remains
a somewhat anonymous figure in our experience. In the side chapel next to De La Salle's is a side altar that was made by the students (inmates?) of St. Yon early in the 19th century. It clearly shows the Sign of Faith and is entirely made of wood.

On we went to the SJBDLS school in Rouen, where Joseph Monguy, the President and head of the Lasallian Schools organization in France, met us and showed us around. We spent a good deal of time in the large church associated with this K - University school (1600 students). This is where the relics of the Founder rested until 1904 when they were transported to Belgium before ending up in Rome. You can see the empty cavity under the altar where the reliquary had rested. In the main chapel, behind the altar, is a smaller reliquary containing one rib-bone of the Founder, held up by two kneeling figures of Brothers. Apparently, Rouen's leaders didn't want to see all of DLS leave the city and so kept one piece of him there. The church is part of the school and they have both religious services and assemblies there (a curtain hides the sanctuary, when necessary, and a movie screen is hidden in the ceiling for use when appropriate).

Joseph and his wife Christine, along with their teen-aged son Luc, hosted us for lunch. They live in what was the Brothers community up to a couple of years ago when the Brothers moved out. Joseph just took over as President, having worked in other Lasallian schools, and the family was invited to live on the property for a variety of reasons. The lunch was one of the nicest we've yet had - simple, very tasty, and very French. They have relatives in the Bay Area and understood some English. It was a very pleasant lunch and visit.

After this, we made our way to downtown Rouen to see where the first Brothers' community lived - a Norman house down a small alley, but with a garden in the back. Moving on, we went to where Nicholas Barre lived as a Minim - a church that is presently a Benedictine Sisters community. Several aged sisters came out to speak with us and were quite hospitable, although one sister somewhere in the darkened sanctuary kept throwing out insistent shushing noises. We were entirely too loud, apparently (again). Then it was on to the site of one of the five schools that the Brothers operated in Rouen during the time of the Founder. This one was located in an inner courtyard that pretty much was the cemetery of the city during the Black Plague. The school was located upstairs in one part of the courtyard and the kids would have watched as bodies from the poor section of town were delivered daily to be buried in common graves in the middle. Not exactly a great way to get an education. All of the buildings also had Danse Macabre motives carved into the woodwork. Finally, we went to a building next to the local hospital which had been the "hospital" where Adrian Nyel was based before and after working with De La Salle. It's still an active building that's being used for medical students' housing. It's here that Nyel first began his work in educating poor youth.


Now it was time for a couple of things that weren't on our itinerary. First, we went to a church located on a surrounding hill and overlooking the city of Rouens. Here, Emmanuel took us to a cemetery where a number of Brothers are buried, including Br. Timothee, the third Superior General and a key figure in the early history of the Brothers, and Br. Claude, the fourth Superior General, along with several Assistants and other Brothers. I wasn't able to quite figure out why they were buried here instead of St. Yon, but I'm sure that there's a good reason.

Now it was toward the end of the afternoon and Br. Emmanuel wanted to show us one last place, the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. (Nothing like ending the day on a high note.) The plaza that he took us to contained a fascinating modern church, shaped like an upside-down boat and featuring the saved stained-glass windows of a church that had been bombed to smithereens during WWII. It was quite impressive on the inside. Outsider, there was a large cross marking the exact spot where Joan was shoved into the burning pyre (so we were told) as a heretic on May 30, 1431. After touring the place, we had a nice cup of tea at one of the cafes surrounding the square.

By then we were pretty toured out and made out way back to Paris, where Roch and I had a dinner made up of items we'd bought at the Rouen markety, including some wonderful cheeses, butter (really good butter), olives, bread, and pate. Tomorrow, we're back on deck with Br. Emmanuel at 8 AM for the Paris tour. Are we having fun yet?

Photographs: St. Yon - building and chapel; Statue of DLS in plaza nearby; St. Sever side chapel of SJBDLS (left side of picture); Relic of DLS at SJBDLS school in Rouen - figures of two Brothers holding it; Main sanctuary of church at SJBDLS school in Rouen; Lunch with President's family; Place where Brothers had their first community house in Rouen; Nicholas Barre's monastery; Location of one of the schools in Rouen; Adrian Nyel's "hospital" in Rouen; Cemetery and final resting place of Br. Timothee, etc., overlooking Rouen; Roch and I having dinner en suite. (Click on a picture to see the larger version. Also, if you want to look through all the pictures I've taken - unedited or sorted - go to http://brgeorgevangriekenfscsharedphoto.shutterfly.com)

As promised, the video clip from the visit to Parmenie may be found here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Parmenie and Back to Paris

This was the first night on this trip when I slept soundly throughout the night, which I found to be a blessing. It's the time change, of course, but knowing what it is doesn't make it any more enjoyable. It was great to wake up to the sound of birds outside the windows and then to see that wonderful vista of the valley below.

Roch and I joined the community with morning prayer in the small chapel at Parmenie. The setting, with it's structure built out of local rocks is evocative of the area and of the history of the place. As with all the Brothers communities that we've visited, the Brothers sang 80% of the prayer - from the opening through the end. It's a tradition that the Brothers have had for many years. Even in Reims, when I went to their chapel in the evening, the two Brothers who were there for evening prayer sang all the parts as if the chapel were full of Brothers.

During breakfast, we had an extended conversation with members of the community about all sorts of topics related to our project, the history of Parmenie, the situation with Brothers around the world, and so on. It was a comfortable conversation and meal with Brothers who were genuinely hospitable and interested in the same sorts of things that we were. And after breakfast, everyone go to work.

Brother Francis began distributing new rocks and sand for various parts of the parking lot and garden that have been effected by the recent rains, Brother Xavier began to mow many of the lawns that surround the place, Brother Claude began tinkering around in the garage, Brother Henri had work to do in the office, and the others went about their own tasks. Roch and I took our cameras and highlighted various locations around Parmenie - garden, chapel, crypt, outside views, and the like.

At one point, Roch wanted to check the sound properties of the HD camera, and so I recorded several on-the-spot, spontaneous clips with Parmenie in the background. One of them should be part of tomorrow's blog. Around 11 AM, we needed to leave and so said our goodbyes to the Brothers we saw, loaded up the car, and set off for Beaucroissant, the little town nearby, where Roch had to ship a package he had been carrying around with him since the U.S., to Rome. That done, we set the GPS for Lyons and made our way there to visit with Br. Alain Houry in the Central Archives for the Districts of France. It's about an hour away from Parmenie, and thank God for the GPS. Otherwise I don't know if we could have found it.

Since we arrived a little early, we decided to explore a bit downtown and grab a bite to eat. Once again, the GPS was helpful in highlighted areas where there were restaurants, and soon we were seated at an outside table enjoying lunch along one of the wide streets of Lyons. After the meal, we made our way to the archives and spent an hour with Alain, who explained and showed us most of the archives there. In all, I counted four large, climate-controlled rooms full of boxes of files, books, artworks, and the like. There's a tremendous amount of history collected there. Alain said that just that day another 50 boxes of things had arrived. At one point, he recognized that whereas the Americans tend to get rid of things fairly quickly, the French always save almost everything, thinking that it will be useful one day. That meant that the new archives building, just nine years old, was almost full already.


Finishing with Alain a little after 3 PM, we finally left for Paris, setting off for the A5 auto-route, followed by the A6. Again, these were toll roads. Between the ticket we picked up in Lyons and the time we got out of the system in Paris, it ended up costing just under 31 Euros for the trip. But I have to say that it was worth it. Again, the roads were smooth, clean, and direct. Stopping just once on the road back for gas (diesel!), we arrived directly into Paris and the car zoo of Friday evening. Motorcycles zipped by us at breakneck speeds and trucks inched up against the car with millimeters to spare, but somehow we made it back to Rue de Sevres where our rooms were waiting for us. I decided that it takes quite a bit of psychic energy on my part to do this driving thing here in France. I was always cautious, paying attention to lots of things at once, but going as fast as the speed limit would allow. I don't think I'd want to do that as a regular job. On the way, we also checked out various vans, in anticipation of July when we would have to rent one for the next French phase of this project.

Having returned safely by 8 PM, but too late for dinner, we went out to the Saint-Germain-des-Pre area to get something to eat. We found a nice fondue place and relaxed for a couple of hours before heading back for some sleep. Tomorrow is another big day; on to Rouen. And on Sunday, we will have to cover the necessary sites in Paris, since we're back on the plane back to the U.S. on Monday. All work and a tiny bit of play. But that's what we signed up for.

Photographs: Roch filming at Parmenie; The chapel at Parmenie; Roch and I outside on the Parmenie grounds; Roch and Alain in the archives; Roch, Alain, and myself at the French National Archives; In Paris at night, looking for a place to eat; A figure of a Brother at the French archives.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Journey to Grenoble


Just like De La Salle, only a whole lot faster, Roch and I traveled from Reims to the South of France and the area around Grenoble. We left the Hotel De La Salle in Reims at about 5:15 AM, because we wanted to miss the morning traffic and get a good start. So while it was still very dark and very quiet, we maneuvered the car from behind the house, opened the heavy wooden gates, and drove out into the quiet darkness.

Leaving Reims proved to be a challenge, with its many one-way streets and small side streets going hither and yon,and more than once I believe that we drove in lanes meant for other traffic. But there was no one around to challenge our explorations. Finally, we saw signs pointing to Paris and took that as a good sign. So off we went to the South.

One thing I've learned about France is that they have beautiful highways - as long as you pay for them. The toll road system is extensive but also expensive. Once you're on one of these roads (they're the ones announced with blue signs) you can be assured of quality pavement, good and clean stops along the way, and pretty much nothing but farmland to look at until you leave the highway towards some town or other. My only problem was figuring out how to pay the toll in the non-staffed booths that you go through. At one booth, we finally gave up trying to feed in our various credit cards, all of which seemed to have been rejected just then, and simply fed in Euro bills until the thing stopped beeping at us and the arm in front went up to let us through. By that time, several people in line behind us had backed up their cars and moved to other booths, of course. All in all, I think that it cost about 55 Euros to travel from Reims to Grenoble.

Along the way, we stopped at Dijon in order to have a break and find something to eat. Downtown was rather nice to see, but hardly anything was open yet at 9 AM so we just found a supermarket and bought some things to eat in the car. Roch insisted on having at least a packaged pate with the fresh bread that everyone seems to have available. Some time later we stopped briefly at the Abbey of Citeaux, just to see what was there and to say that we'd visited. It was quiet, it was isolated, it was peaceful, and it had public bathrooms. When we had to stop for gas, I mistakenly put in several liters of regular gasoline before Roch reminded me, by way of some loud exclamations and gestures, that the car was a diesel car. The "regular" gasoline here comes by way of nozzles that are the same green color that you find in the US on diesel nozzles, but I should have red the "label" more carefully. So we just hope that the diesel fuel I added after this mixed well enough with the regular gas to make little difference.

Around 1:30 PM we arrived at Parmenie, where we are staying tonight. Without much time to look around - we're saving that for tomorrow morning - we had a quick, late lunch and then Br. Georges joined us in the car to drive to Grenoble and see the Lasallian highlights there. He took us first to the school building in the old city where De La Salle lived while in the South of France and where the Brothers ran a school in which De La Salle would occasionally teach as a substitute teacher for a Brother who'd become ill. The place is pretty tightly packed for a school. It is some four stories tall but only 25 feet or so wide. In the back is a small yard that was the play yard for the kids. We couldn't see inside of the building - it's all apartments now - but we did see a small inner light space and some beams that have been preserved and are part of the building. And the open stairs are the same kind of spiral ones that are at the house in Reims. I wonder if that's part of the reason that De La Salle liked staying there; and on the top floor.

Br. Georges then took us to the St. Lawrence church at the end of the street. It's a place where DLS would often say Mass. The church is a museum now, but the outside of the place looked impressive. The city is spending a lot of money rebuilding it and it looks as if the final product will be quite impressive. From there, we walked to the convent that the Visitations Sisters had in the time of DLS, in the other direction from the school than St. Lawrence Church. It's also a museum now, but much of the place has been very well preserved. The convent is up a rather steep hill. De La Salle would say Mass here as well, and we thought that he'd have to be pretty healthy to climb up those steps on a regular basis. Finally, we went to the church of St. Andre across the river from the previous places, where De La Salle would say Mass regularly as well. There's a tradition that the people of Grenoble remembered De La Salle for years after his visit because of the devotion with which he celebrated the Mass. Seeing now that there were three different places where he did so on a regular basis, I can begin to understand how that tradition could have started.

By now it was time to return to Parmenie, where we had just a short break before dinner began. There's a large group of students here for a few days from our school in Toulouse. They are studying for a major government exam that's coming up and look to be around 18-19 years old. Both they and the seven Brothers who are at Parmenie had dinner together in the large dining room. We also received a detailed tour of parts of the new crypt underneath the chapel from Br. Francis (Br. Henri had given us a quick tour upon arrival). This was a major undertaking over the last few years and has shown some fine results. But more about that tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that we accomplished what we had set out to do in Grenoble in terms of scouting various locations and shooting both pictures and preliminary video. The days are going by fast and there's still a lot to do during out time here. Thankfully, the Brothers have been very helpful in guiding our endeavors, and I consider that as yet another sign of providence in favor of this project. And I won't say anything about that small possible accident I happily avoided when I ran a well-hidden stop sign in a small village of Tuline nearby. Let's just hope my luck and God's grace hold out.

Photographs: Roch opening the gate in Reims as we leave; Br. Henri at Parmenie showing the Roman Cistern area; In the crypt where Br. Leo Burkhard and Sr. Louise presently lie; Br. Georges pointing to the old school building in Grenoble; A photo looking up inside the courtyard of the school - note the old beams; Church of St. Laurent where DLS said Mass; Steps up to the convent of the Visitation Sisters; Courtyard of the Sisters; Church of St. Andrew in the middle of Grenoble - also where DLS said Mass regularly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Liesse, Laon, and Beyond.

Today was the day to accomplish are there was to do in the area around Reims. There are a number of places associated with the Founder that we had to check out, and the Brothers were very generous is helping us accomplish our goal.

In the morning, Br. Fernand took us by car to the three key places outside of Reims which are associated with the life of De La Salle. It helped that he grew up in
Reims and knew the place like the back of his hand. This was apparent the moment we took off (and that is the correct word) from the Hotel De La Salle and flew through the streets of Reims toward Liesse. I was certain that we would hit some pedestrian or car or bus along the way, but he somehow managed to avoid all accidents, speak to us of De La Salle's history, and gesture with his hands - all at the same time. After a while, you just get used to it, say a little prayer, and go with the flow.

Soon enough, we arrived at Liesse, where there is a church dedicated to Our Lady that was quite special to De La Salle. Although it's quite a distance from Reims (30 miles?), he and the first group of Brothers to make vows also made a pilgrimage to this church to dedicate themselves to Mary. It is likely that the journey took at least two days. We took two hours, or less. Inside the church, we took film and pictures of all the locations that we needed to check out or record and then hopped into the car for the next place, Laon.

In Laon, there were several places that we wanted to see. One of them, of course, was the cathedral which, we were told, predates the cathedral in Reims. The town is up on a hill and much of the medieval city remains. So we had to park outside the old city and walk into the cathedral square. The church is very impressive because of its size and adornments, not least of which are scupted oxen that stare out from the top of the large towers. Inside, the place was as cold (temperature-wise) as other cathedrals that we've visited, but it had its own charms. Again, we took pictures and films various elements in the area and then hightailed it back to the car for our next location, Brouillet.

In Brouillet we were to meet up with the own of the local champagne cellar (Artisan Champagne) who holds the keys to the small church in the village. There, De La Salle and his mother would come to visit his grandfather, who owned vineyards in the area, and spend his vacation. Apparently, he also learned to say the Office on his grandfather's knee in that church. The village is very small and it took a while to find, but finally we did so and met up with the wine-maker who gave us the keys. Lots of pictures and film later, we returned the keys are were invited to a free tasting. I preferred his champagne to the Mumm's that we had tasted two days ago. He told us that that was probably because his champagne is more natural. In any case, Brother Fernard bought a case and Br. Roch bought a bottle, and thusly packed we returned to Reims for a fine lunch prepared by Br. Christian.

After lunch, we really did need a short nap. But soon enough, Br. Christian took us downtown where we looked at several places associated with De La Salle: the door where he met Adrian Nyel (or approximate door, anway), the inside of the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus, founded by Nicholas Roland, and who consider De La Salle as their co-Founder. There were pictures of him all over the inside of their convent. Although they are now few in number and quite elderly, they were uniformly hospitable, feisty, and funny. They had a really fine spirit, one that that more in common with us that I would have thought.

After that visit, Roch and I proceeded on our own to St. Maurice Parish, the first location of the first school. There, I was surprised to learn (or perhaps relearn) that the Jesuit school is located right next door, and that it had been there since 1619. Somehow I find it interesting that the first Lasallian school for poor boys was located pretty much right next door to a school dedicated to boys from the bourgeoisie.

Roch and I then walked to the church of St. Remy, which used to be a Maurist Benedictine abbey but is now a parish church. There we looked at all of its unique elements, including the elaborate place where St. Remy is buried. De La Salle spent many of night in prayer in front of that reliquary, apparently. I can't quite imagine what it must have been like to spent the night by yourself in a cold, quite, dark cathedral. Not quite my cup of tea right now.

Finally, we made our way back to the house where the Brothers were waiting with dinner. Also present was the Vicar General of the Diocese, who had said Mass for the Brothers that afternoon and was staying for dinner. Dinner, as before, was very jolly, conversational, and fraternal. I somehow survived by listening as carefully as possible to the rapid French around me and having Roch translate a question or two from me when it appeared appropriate.

After dinner, we visited the wonderful little museum that is located at the Hotel De La Salle, with lots of pictures, ancient books, and articles related to De La Salle. Finally, I went to my room to write this blog, and then to bed. We plan to be up at 4:30 AM tomorrow morning to make our way to Parmenie, some 7 hours away by car.

This little project is a challenging one, and I'm sure that there will be further challenges down the line. But I'm learning alot along the way and Roch is still confident that we can proceed as planned.

Pictures: Outside of the church in Liesse; Inside of the cathedral in Laon; a quick picture outside of the Laon cathedral; Roch and Fernand inside of the small church in Brouillet; Tasting champagne at Artisan Cellars in Brouillet; "The door" in Reims where De La Salle met Nyel (sort of); Inside of the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus; The tomb of St. Remy; Trying out the Founder's chair in the museum at Hotel De La Salle. (Pictures expand if you click on them.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In the Founder's House

It’s Tuesday and things are back to “normal” in Paris, compared to the Easter holidays, meaning that the traffic is deadly and the pedestrians cross streets without looking left or right.

I woke up to Roch’s knocking on my door. Apparently, I’d set my clock forward less than I should. When I thought it was 6:30 AM, it was really 7:30 PM. So having missed morning prayer and breakfast, I got myself ready ASAP and Roch joined me for a late breakfast – mostly apple sauce, juice, a piece of bread, spreadable cheese, and cafĂ© au lait in a bowl. Quite sufficient and well-balanced, when you think of it.


After breakfast, we got our stuff together, packed up, and left for Reims. The journey would take several hours. Once I’d negotiated out of Paris without major injury to anyone (at one point a lady on a bicycle made a left turn in front of me without so much as a backward glance), the highways were smooth and speedy. The only downer was the fact that we had to pay a 2 – 4 Euro toll every 40 kilometers or so. That could get expensive.


We stopped at a roadside pull-out for a lunch-time sandwich and then proceeded into Reims. But before going to the community, Roch directed me to the Mumm’s champagne cellars where we went through the whole under-ground tour of the caves, complete with a tasting at the end. Although I’m sure that there are those who appreciated champagne, I’m not one of these. Give me a good Cabernet instead. We did run into a couple from the Napa Valley who were on the same tour – small world – and spent time chatting with them during our visit to the cellars and the tasting.


Then it was on to work, because, as we constantly reminded one another, that’s why we were there. The Brothers at the central community welcomed us warmly and we spent several hours going over our notes, with Brothers Christian, Ives, and Fernand making all sorts of beneficial suggestions. Since by now it was later in the afternoon and the sunlight was warm and nuanced, Roch took the camera outdoors and began shooting lots of “B roll” scenes with his camera. We covered both the back and the front of the house where the Founder was born. Then we walked to the nearby Cathedral and spent several hours there, with him shooting film and me shooting various photographs. Inside the cathedral, it was quite cold compared to the outside, and the light was not very plentiful. But my eyes adjusted gradually and the cameras adjusted even more quickly. Roch filmed as much as he could from the outside and from the inside.


I was particularly touched when I found the chapel where De La Salle had said his first Mass after his ordination. It was the little Blessed Sacrament chapel and there were a number of people there praying the rosary or simply mumbling to themselves. To know that the Founder had walked there, had known the streets of Reims as we might know our own neighborhoods, and had been formed by all of that was quite striking to me. One could see how the close proximity of that cathedral might have influenced his vocation to the priesthood and the Church. It’s all quite dramatic and powerful, with statues on the outside and much history on the inside – e.g., most Kings of France were crowned in the Reims cathedral since the Clovis in the 11th century.


When the light faded and a loud bell ran inside the cathedral, we knew that it was time to return to the Brothers for dinner and an evening’s conversation in French. I understand just a bit of what was going on, but it was enough. I remember sitting there at dinner and reflecting on the fact that these Brothers whom I had never met before and did not know were yet as familiar as any of the Brothers I’ve known at Mont La Salle. Their generosity and personalities were those of teachers who dedicated themselves to a charism beyond themselves and they were as comfortable with us, knowing us as fraternal brothers, as we were with them.


Tomorrow, it’s off to Liesse, Laon, and other parts of Reims. More later.


Pictured above in this posting: Roch and Br. Ives filming the back of the Founder's House in Reims. Inside of the cathedral, looking back towards the entrance. Picture of myself with the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (where DLS said his first Mass) behind me. With the Brothers in their dining room - second floor of the house. And evening picture of the back of the house.

Scouting France

For the next few days, I'll try to keep this blog up so that interested folks can travel along with Br. Roch and myself as we scout locations for a video project this coming summer.

Background: About six months ago, I'd approached Br. Gerard Rummery in Australia about doing a video in France that would follow in the footsteps of our Founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle. He expressed his interest in it, offering to write the script and designate the locations. Providentially, Br. Roch had the time available to participate, since he is the key component in terms of shooting the video, editing it, and directing the technical parts of the project. And finally, the U.S. Visitors and administration approved the project and we moved ahead.

On Easter Sunday morning, I flew down to LA to meet up with Roch and we boarded the Air France flight to Paris. Our seats in economy were pretty tight, and I must say that sleeping in such a seat is a challenge, but we both survived pretty well. In Paris itself, we arrived at 11 AM. For only the second time, I used my Dutch passport (having dual citizenship now) and breezed through customs. Then we went here, there, and everywhere in pursuit of our car rental agency but finally connected, powered up our GPS, and drove into Paris. The GPS took us through Paris itself instead of on the freeways that surround the city. While Roch admired the scenery and announced highlights along the way, I simply concentrated on keeping from getting killed by the crazy drivers. Doing that, while using the manual transmission kept me pretty much occupied until we arrived at Rue de Sevres, where we would stay tonight. As it happens, today is the second Easter Day holiday, so the city was pretty quiet and traffic wasn't bad (so people said).

At the Brothers' place on Rue de Sevres, we were welcoming by several of the Brothers and settled into our rooms. The scene outside my bedroom window is one of the pictures here. (Clicking on each picture will bring up the larger version.) After dinner with the Brothers, Roch and I took the Metro to Champ Elisee where we wanted its length to the Arch of Triumph at the end. Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower to get in the sights before starting our work tomorrow. All of that took several hours, but it was great to see all the people out walking this late at night (9 PM to about midnight). We finally returned around midnight and went right to bed.

I must say that one of the pleasures of a good bed at the end of 18+ hours of travel is lying there and thinking how much more comfortable a real bed it when compared to a tight airplaned seat that doesn't lean back very far.

But I suppose I shouldn't really complain. I'm in Paris, after all.