Sunday, July 30, 2006

Notre Dame: The Gargoyles

When we walked over to Notre Dame from our Left Bank hotel on our first evening in Paris, I was completely taken aback, even though I've seen it before and knew what to expect. How was something so magnificent ever imagined, let alone created? I felt exactly the way I did when I first saw Michelangelo's David: like crying. Maybe it's because I have no imagination or capacity for creating things in three dimensions; architecture, geometry, sculpture, the mediums of stone and glass -- all beyond me. If the world had depended upon me for the development of shelter in any form, we would all still be huddled in caves, awaiting the full impact of global warming as we did the last ice age. Fortunately, the great cathedrals of Europe, all built within the same few-hundred years' time span, were not dependent upon anyone with my limitations.

Onew of my favorite things about the cathedrals is how they incorporate so much of so many kinds of things -- and the gargoyles are among my favorites of those things. When you visit Notre Dame, you can climb the North Tower, walk across the outdoor balustrade between the towers, and climb up and down the South Tower. Up on top, you can see the upper ranges of the cathedral, you can scan the rooftops of Paris, and you can make friends with the gargoyles.

A Walk Through Montmartre

We spent a pleasant few hours in Montmartre (Mount of Mars to the pagan Romans, Mount of Martyrs to the Christians who followed them), before and after our visit to the Chapel of the Martyrs. Having taken the "funicular" (sort of like a cable car -- costs one metro ticket) up to Sacre'-Coeur and wandered around there, we gave the rest of our time over to most of a Rick Steves walking tour of the area around the basilica. (Our Rick Steves Guide to Paris really made our trip -- I can't recommend his books enough.)

The photos:

1. Boulangerie (Bakery)
painted by the artist Maurice Utrillo. You can see Sacre'-Coeur peeking up from the background.

2. Renoir lived here while painting his famous
Bal du Moulin de la Galette.

3. La Maison Rose, also made famous by an
Utrillo painting and by the artists and writers who frequented it.

4. amd 5. The Clos Monmartre Vineyard, where monks and nuns have produced wine for 800 years. (Monmartre beckoned artists because of both its pastoral atmosphere on a hillside above Paris and the fact that the Paris wine tax did not apply there.)

6. Le Lapin Agile (The Agile Rabbit): who could resist a cabaret so named?

7. The headless St. Denis -- a bishop sentenced to death by the Romans for speading Christianity, he became the victim of some impatient soldiers who en route to execution neatly sliced off his head, which he then reputedly carried for three miles before finally keeling over. His headless self was a favorite theme of painters and sculptors.

8. The Moulin (Windmill) de la Galette, originally one of 30 windmills on Montmartre. After most of the vineyards disappeared, it found itself in the center of an outdoor dance hall (as painted by Renoir and mentioned above).

You can enlarge the photos for a better look. Le Lapin Agile is worth it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Happy 53rd to Me!

Gannet Girl at 3: Idyllic life in the country, next door to grandparents who think she is Miss Perfect. Probably not entirely idyllic, as six-month old baby brother is on the scene and Gannet is probably exhibiting less than perfect behavior.

At 13: Miserable and away at summer camp in Minnesota. Gannet’s readers know that she views camp in North Carolina as having saved her life, extricating her as it did from Wicked Stepmother for months at a time. But Gannet’s father never grasps the importance of building on friendships summer after summer and keeps sending her to DIFFERENT camps. Gannet would run away but she can’t figure out which direction down the road would lead to Minneapolis-St. Paul. She will return to Ohio at the end of the summer and go straight back to Catholic boarding school. Her days at home are long gone.

At 23: Married, working as a waitress, and about to start law school. Days are full of onion rings and low tips.

At 33: Mom with twin almost-two-year-olds, practicing law part-time. The boys are charming tow-heads who charge around Chautauqua talking to fire hydrants. The work, in an era when mom-lawyers/lawyer-moms are still surprising aliens in their field, is draining. Most people at the firm have no idea that Gannet does so much of her work at home between 5:00 and 8:00 a.m.

At 43: Kids are just about 12, 12, and 9. The boys are in camp in North Carolina. The daughter is in day camp at home. The mom has her own law practice and is immersed in other people’s divorce and custody battles. There has been one medical crisis, but at the moment all is well and is good, especially since trips to North Carolina always involve sliding waterfalls, where Gannet plays with as much abandon as her children do.

And today: The kids are approaching 22, 22, and 19. They are working in an office job in Chicago, studying (somewhat) in Barcelona, and camp counseling in North Carolina. Life has apparently stabilized after another difficult period, Gannet has switched careers and been teaching for several years, and is about to acknowledge the call toward another direction. Everything depends upon the continued health and employment of the adults in the family and the continued health of their parents and children. Making new choices is so much more complicated when there are pipes with leaking issues, college loans, adult children almost in need of steady employment, parents steadily approaching (or already in) their eighties, and a history of repeated unanticipated disasters that have had a way of sucking up every ounce of energy in range. But there are people singing in the Chautauqua Ampitheatre and in the Iona Abbey and in Chartres Cathedral and in the North Carolina camp lodge and Gannet has made it to all of those places this summer. Life is good again.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Serendipity (Paris: First Entry of Six)

For the last ten months or so, I've been doing a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Ignatius, who worked out the concepts and practices that eventually emerged as the Exercises over a lengthy period of convalescence from a disastrous battle injury and over many years following, initially thought of them as the foundation for a thirty-day retreat. However, recognizing that there would be people interested in doing the Exercises who would be unable to absent themselves from their usual responsibilities for thirty consecutive days, he noted that it would also be possible to work though them on a daily basis, with periodic meetings with a spiritual director, over a much lengthier period of time. Hence, the "19th Annotation" retreat, so named because he mentions it in the 19th Annotation to the Exercises.

As my own retreat neared its conclusion last month, I became obsessed with early Jesuit history and so, at the same time that I was reading about Celtic Christianity in western Europe in preparation for the trip to Iona, I was also soaking up information about the Jesuits and their beginnings 1000 years later. And while I had initially planned a trip to Paris in large part for the purpose of getting to Chartres, the Jesuits found their way into my objectives, too.

Although he was born in the northern Basque area of Spain and obtained his early education there, Ignatius eventually made his way to the University of Paris, where he met the men who would become his earliest companions and the founding members of the Society of Jesus. (Fascinating to at least this Presbyterian is that Ignatius was a contemporary of the early Protestant reformers, and that he and John Calvin attended the University of Paris at the same time.)

My quest evenutally focused in on Montmartre and on the tiny church at the foot of Sacre'-Coeur known as the Chapel of the Martyrs.
Sacre'-Coeur is a famous landmark in Paris if for no reason other than its singular appearance on a hillside to the north of the city. Tourists who know nothing about it from a religious or historical standpoint still recognize it when they see it from the towers of Notre Dame or the top floor of the Centre Pompidou from its image on hundreds of postcards and guidebooks.

Almost no one has heard of the Chapel of the Martyrs, and probably very few people stumble across it, located as it is on a side street slightly out of the way of the usual Montmartre walking routes. I was at something of a loss myself, until at the very last minute I stumbled across an article giving the address and indicating that it might be open on Friday afternoons.

"Okay," I announced, our first full day in Paris being also our only Friday there, "we are off on a quest for the first Jesuits," seven men who met in the Chapel of the Martyrs and made their first vows among themselves on August 15, 1534. The chapel itself was, like many of the sacred buildings in France, destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt during the next century.We found it nestled on a busy side street, almost hidden behind scaffolding, but with a sign indicating that it would open at 3:00.

Having arrived early in the afternoon, we went on up to wander around Sacre'-Coeur and Montmartre. Photography is not permitted inside basilicia, and it was barely light enough even to see the mosaics lining the side chapel walls, including one extensively illustrated by portions of the Jesuit story and another featuring St. Angela Merici (of interest to me since I went to an Ursuline school for a time). (Look for photos of Montmartre in another entry.)

As the afternoon waned, we found our way back down the hill to the Chapel of the Martyrs, nestled partway underground at the end of a short corridor. The chapel itself is maintained with the simplest of decors -- whitewashed walls, clear windows, a plain altar, and a large oil painting on the wall of the Jesuits making their vows at that spot. I won't try to convey what it meant to me to sit there quietly for an hour, to pray and absorb the powerful event that had taken place there but, after nearly a year in the company of Ignatius, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. In another week I would be en route to Iona, frequently mentioned as one of the earth's thin places, where the seen and unseen worlds seem almost to meet, but I had already found a thin place under the bustle of Montmartre.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Great Chautauqua Day

A friend and I left for Chautauqua at 6:15 this morning, because the week-day service starts at 9:15. Our trip was an uneventful one -- a relief after the attempt my son and I made a few years ago to celebrate my birthday by going to hear John Claypool, another of my favorite preachers, when we suffered a complete car collapse and ended up spending most of the afternoon being towed the 100 miles home via AAA (thank you God for gold cards).


An exquisitely crafted sermon presented by Barbara Brown Taylor, who is in fine form despite the baffled and mixed reviews her most recent book has received ~

A fascinating talk on American attitudes toward global warming and what we need to do to create an impetus for action (start talking in terms of national energy security and personal heath issues) by pollster Whit Ayres ~

The Black Dog/Martha’s Vineyard/2001 on the back of a t-shirt a couple of rows ahead of us (that one’s for you, Paul) ~

Another and equally fascinating presentation by conservative Republican evangelist lobbyist and environmental activist Richard Cizik, who talked about how we need to forget the Left Behind Armageddon nonsense and focus on the Biblical mandate to care for and restore the earth ~

The realization, as we sat in the grass outside the packed Hall of Philosophy for the above, that Al and Tipper Gore were listening intently from their seats on the porch behind us ~

Ah, summer days. . . .

Monday, July 24, 2006

Can't Resist

Island of Staffa (Scotland), July 2006

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Exactly What Time Is It?

Almost no sleep last night. Seems that all of youthful Glasgow was out celebrating most of the night only a few blocks from my open hotel window.

But . . . four destinations and eight flights later, my luggage, cameras, and I are all home; the thoughtful husband is making dinner; and we're off to visit with friends.

I started my day officially at 5:30 am Glasgow time, where it's now 1:00 am. I'm thinking a l-o-n-g sleep tonight and tomorrow.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Almost Home

The week on Iona is behind us -- a week of community (which some of us -- ahem -- experienced differently than others), of pilgrimmage, of moving worship among centuries old stone, of ceilidh dancing and late nights in the pub, of sheep baa-aaa-ing and cows munching on lilies just outside the window at sunrise, of terns and oystercatchers and gannets, of conversation on the sand and over the dishes, and of new friends from Scotland.

In Glasgow for one last day, where I have visited the cathedral and -- wonder of wonders -- found a FABULOUS cemetery and therefore taken many more photographs of many more Celtic crosses than I had planned.

I have no idea how many new images I have collected but they must number well into the hundreds. I'm thinking I may need a new blog just for the photos of July.

Back home tomorrow and in a few days I'll start writing about this trip.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Puffin Palace

Yes, we went to the island of Staffa and saw puffins -- dozens and dozens of them, landing practically at our feet. And on the way out, in the fog and clouds and mist: skuas, shearwaters, guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills -- all life birds for me!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sky and Sea

Woke up just before 5:00 am to see that the sun was about to rise and managed to get dressed and outside with my camera before it reached the horizon. (This despite dropping my contact into my toothpaste and having to madly squirt solution all over it in my haste to be out the door.)

Three hours outside, crossing sheep pastures to reach an isolated beach where I found oystercatchers, including a (frantic) pair with a chick and my first ever eider.

Breakfast, door window washing (my morning chore), a communion service in the Iona Abbey, a massive Sunday dinner (one of our young ladies struggled to try the lamb since she now views sheep as her friends), a hike with a couple of friends from home to the highest point on Iona, a nap, dinner and dinner clean-up (my meal chore.)

Tomorrow we are off to the island of Staffa to look for. . . PUFFINS!!!!!!!

Someone asked about the weather. We came prepared for cold, rain, and the freezing over of the Irish Sea. In fact, it has been sunny and often warm enough for shorts. But I did purchase a new sweatshirt.

All good.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blogging from Iona

This comes to you from the computer room of the St. Columba Hotel on Iona. Twelve of us gathered in Glasgow last night and today proceeded from taxi to train to ferry to bus to ferry and all arrived intact, mising only one camera and one pair of glasses among us. Luckily I have contact lenses to spare! We've taken long walks and met lots of people at the Iona Community where we are staying and participated in a welcome service in the Iona Abbey and now, since it's completely light at 10:00 pm, I'm off for another walk.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Happy Bastille Day!

Monday and Tuesday in Chartres: photos photos photos, Malcolm Miller tours, concert in the cathedral, long long walks, fabulous light shows on churches and other public buildings late at night (it never gets dark here).

Back in Paris: lots of walking per Rick Steves guides (Rue Clare, Marais), more time at Notre Dame, museum of French history, maybe a cruise on the Seine tonight depending on Bastille Eve craziness.

Tomorrow: husband heads home and I am off to Glasgow to meet up with church friends going to Iona on Saturday for a week where it will be much quieter and stay light even longer than on the Left Bank.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Nous Sommes en Chartres

Ayer ~ Pantheon de Paris, Musee d'Orsay pour les impressionists, World Cup at neighborhood bars.

Today ~ Train to Chartres. Hard to explain the hold this cathedral has on me ~ but there it is. Someday I'll try ~ when I get home and the keyboard c'est ne pas de francaise!

A dream come true ~ a few years ago we took a bus tour from Paris to Chartres on a freezing New Year's Day and I looked at the surrounding town with its lovely river and arched bridges and village houses and said, Some summer day I want to walk through that city and along that river. And that is exactly what we've been doing.

I have no idea where to find the quotation marks.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Thursday night - walked all around Notre Dame and found a terrific gelato place

Friday - climbed the towers of Notre Dame to hang out with the gargoyles; spent the afternoon wandering Monmartre, visiting Sacre Coeur, artisty spots, and the chapel where the Jesuits essentially got started; went to a Vivaldi concert in St. Chapelle

Today - Versailles: opulence, gardens, fountains and music

I am not going to attempt any links - the French keyboard is way enough of a challenge!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Just Waving Hi. . .

from the Glasgow Airport!

France vs Italy -- will Paris be a soccer madhouse or what?!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Contradictions Hit The Road

It has forever been my fate or, as I now look at it, a sign of God's grace in my life, to struggle with contradictions, look for possibility in everything, and
try to accomodate mystery without resolution.

A Methodist girl attending a Catholic school.

A descendant of Puritans in love with Gothic cathedrals.

A Presbyterian elder teaching in a Jewish school.

A Protestant woman doing the 19th Annotation version of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with a Jesuit priest.

And now my Presbyterian self is off to Paris, where nearly 500 years ago Ignatius and his first followers took their initial vows toward lives of contemplation in action in the context of the Roman Catholic Church, and then Iona, where 1500 years ago monks sought lives of mission in the Celtic version of Christianity, 1000 years ago Benedictines sought lives of stability in the Roman version, and 500 years ago the Presbyterians
burned them out.

Let's see just how well I manage to contend
with all of that.

We're leaving Wednesday, but no time to blog tomorrow. I'll try to check in occasionally
during the next few weeks.


Celtic Crosses from Local Cemetery
St. Mary Magdalene Window, Chartres Cathedral
Portrait of St. Ignatius

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Guess Where I've Been?

Hyde Park Bed and Breakfast,
University of Chicago,
Orchestra Concert in Millenium Park
(Most of the images enlarge with a click.)