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About gjervis

Bonjour mes amis! My husband and I are planning a 5 to 6 week trip to France this September. So far, all that we know for sure is that we need to be in Paris from September 29th to October 4th for a partner's conference for my husband. Other than that, we have a lot of questions to answer: Where do we go in France? What do we want to see? How do we get there? I am an avid reader and I have decided that for the next 8 months I will read only books related to France whether the books are fiction such as Almost French or non-fiction such as The Most Beautiful Walk In The World. Some are stories about people who have moved to France such as C'est La Vie; others are fun books such as French Women Never Sleep Alone and What French Women Know. Of course, I will be reading many Travel Guidebooks to help us narrow down our itinerary. Besides reading books, I will be watching DVD's of France and watching a series of lectures by The Teaching Company called the Louvre and a series about impressionism to prepare me to see Monet's source of inspiration in Giverny. And of course, I will be finding movies that are located in France such as A Year in Provence and Paris In September. There are so many other aspects to this trip that I want to explore: Where are the best places to shop? What kind of luggage do I want? What kind of shoes do I need to go for long walks but not have to wear "nerdy" shoes? What kind of clothes do I need to pack? How can I pack efficiently? How do I wear my hair since I don't want to spend too much time taking care of it but I still want to look nice? . This blog then is covering a lot of topics but they are all related to my trip to France. It is a tool for me to record all that I am learning and I welcome you to join me on this journey and to give me any helpful feedback.

REMEMBERING THE SOLDIERS AT JUNO BEACH

When we were driving to Juno Beach, I was thinking how nice it will be to listen to an English speaking Canadian during our 11:00 a.m tour. I guess I am a real westerner and forgot that we are a bilingual country. Our guide was from Quebec and in a broken accent told us that he was learning more English since he has been a tour guide for the Canadian Juno Museum! There were some French speaking tourists and of course English speaking tourists so he gave his presentation twice. He turned our attention to the following sculpture of the young soldiers and said that during the war, these young men turned into men. I wanted to quibble with his comment since most “men” don't have such horrific experiences to endure in order to be called a man. However, he is right – that they were no longer fun-loving, carefree young men who once only thought of who he was going to date, what kind of car he would like to drive, and where he would like to live.

 

Greg and I were in awe of the war proficiency of the Germans as we looked at the triangular concrete obstacles that they placed all along the coast of France and Spain to make it difficult for anyone to easily surprise them and attack them. We stood inside one of the many German concrete bunkers that protected the soldiers so well. If anyone was able to get close to them, they could see them and shoot them. If someone actually did get closer, there was an effective means of escape.

 

As I sat and listened to a letter that was written on the beach of Normandy, I was reminded again of how young the soldiers were and how as a lover or as a parent, I would have been overcome by anxiety waiting for those letters. Then I looked up on a high screen to see the names of all of the fallen Canadian soldiers who died believing that they were fighting for a good cause – democracy. I also remembered those men like Greg's dad who fought in Normandy and were given the privilege to return home. And I felt shame that as parents, Greg and I never took our children to any Remembrance Day activities to give honor to these men.

Soldiers and civilians were warned that their loose tongues could help the enemy reminded me of James comment about the tongue: (James 3:5) “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire.!” I thought some of the following posters were humorous, yet forceful about the impact of the tongue when used carelessly:


Before we left, I read the following poem that was framed very largely but didn't show very well on my camera so I thought I would just type it. It comes from a much longer poem, but what was on the wall was a very appropriate stanza:


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Beauty At Caen War Memorial

I don't always think people pay much attention to their mission statements but Greg saw the owner's statement at Les Bleuet's and we definitely saw demonstrations of his desire to provide good service. Two young women asked for a taxi to go to the bus station and instead, he offered to drive them. Later that morning, a couple inquired about going to Honflueur Hospital since the man had been in an accident and was doing poorly. Our motel owner didn't recommend going there and instead drove them to the airport so that they could return home to Brazil. In the afternoon, he

chatted with Greg and he recommended two restaurants. He told Greg he had once been a restauranteur and knew which ones were clean and had good food. He practices what he advises since when we walked into Deux Pont, there he was with three other people.

With the help of our waiter who knew more English than we knew French, we chose the fixed menu. We were rather impressed when he told us that much of the clientele spoke Spanish, Mandarin and English so that he has learned all three languages!

 

Before we arrived in France, I had learned that entree here means a starter and since we chose a fixed menu that included 4 courses, we chose poisson soup as our entree.

Then for our “plat” we had the “poisson du jour” which was a very moist salmon with a lovely sauce. We cleansed our palates with a small salad and two pieces of camembert cheese. By this time we were getting rather full but that didn't stop us from having our fourth course: Greg chose Creme Brulee and I chose Chocolate Mousse – both of them delicious and need I add, high caloried.

This morning, September 18th, we drove to Caen looking for the War Memorial. Unfortunately we failed to give a specific address to our helpful GPS and we drove through the centre of Caen and finally out onto the peripherique where we should have been much sooner. We had a longer drive but we were impressed by our GPS that made adjustments to our wrong turns. Greg who had been indifferent to having a GPS actualy said that he doesn't know how we would have managed without it. I had been concerned when we got our rental car that we were going to drive away without getting instructions on how to use it. I was rather insistent that we talk to the assistant there and she showed us what to do. We were especially grateful that she changed the language from French to English!!

We finally arrived at Caen and spent several hours at the War Memorial. I hadn't slept that well the night before and so I googled positive characteristics of Hitler wondering if the speaker I had listened to on the plane about Theology of Beauty was accurate: Does everyone have some beauty residing in them? Or can some people just be pure evil? Did Hitler have some spark of God in him? He didn't have much of a start in life having a father who beat him. However it looks like he was able to love since he had a positive relationship with his father's third wife. He must have appreciated beauty since he longed to be an art student until the school in Vienna rejected him. And of course during the war, he collected many art treasures. Perhaps this lecturer is accurate when she says we are composed of two realities: one that comes from God and one that is filled with illusions and deceptions. Most likely, false reality became more and more dominant in Hitler and finally squeezed out any indications of true and good beauty. Sadly, much of the German population became equally duped by Hitler's charisma and persuasive speeches. Therefore our experience at the War Memorial was much more sobering than our experience at Monet's garden as we comprehended what happens when we focus on pride, greed, hate, and imperialism. To think that it was after the war that a new term was necessary to describe the horrific attempt at destroying an entire race of people: Genocide.

However, just as the polar opposite of God's Beauty was apparent during World War II, we also saw many examples of goodness and truth as soldiers risked their lives to defend democracy, and as they risked their lives to run out into the fighting field to rescue another soldier. I appreciated Eisenhower's simple speech that he had prepared in case the battles in Normandy failed when he said that only he could be held responsible for failing – that the brave soldiers did everything they could. This war memorial became a perfect demonstration of how we have two choices: choose illusions and deception for our reality or choose God's truth and embrace nobility, courage, idealism, and heroism. Thankfully, these battles at Normandy lead to a reversal of Hitler's imperialism and there would soon be closure to this terrible war.

We returned to Honfluer and planned having an early dinner. Unfortunately, the second restaurant our landlord suggested was quite full. We were seated near the door and we were getting really chilled with the cold wind blowing at us. We decided to leave. We eventually ended up at the same restaurant as last night. Our experience wasn't quite as positive but we still enjoyed our four course meal. Sadly, it was too cold for a long walk to wear off at least one piece of our camembert cheese!



The next morning on September 19th, we left the pretty town of Honfleur.


 

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

ARRIVING IN FRANCE

My mom used to be packed at least one week before she went on a holiday. I have aspired to be as organized for years and have failed. Since Greg and I have known that we were going to Paris for months, I had hoped that we would finally be relaxed at least the morning of our departure. However, the morning of September 15th, Greg went to the office for an hour and then he took me to FY Doctors where I purchased my new frames in order to loosen the nose piece. We returned minutes before Jesse arrived to take us to the airport. We hurried upstairs into our bedroom and tossed in a number of items for our carry on bags, zipped our already packed suitcases and got into Jesse's truck only ten minutes late.

After we checked in our suitcases, we looked at each other expectantly actually looking forward to our flight since we would be sitting and doing nothing! We just hadn't expected we would be sitting on the airplane an extra forty minutes still on the runway since the pilot's door needed to be fixed. Unsure how much longer this would take, the pilot told us to use our cell phones and contact anyone we needed to tell them we are running late. Greg and I became a little apprehensive since we only had a two hour window at the Montreal airport before flying to Paris. Fortunately, shortly after I text messaged our four kids, we were told that we would be leaving.


When we landed in Montreal, a rather dingy airport, we grabbed a quick bite to eat since I couldn't eat the really bitter and disgusting vegetarian sandwich I was given. It was so bad that Greg couldn't even finish it for me! Anyways, we shared a small quiche and crepe which was a good thing since for supper on the plane, I was served a vegetarian curry dish. Curry has never been my favorite spice but I could eat it if I had to. However, last year when I was having radiotherapy I went to a wedding where Indian food was served. The strong curry smells in a very hot venue was too much for my nausea and caused me to be very ill. Since then I don't seem able to tolerate curry at all. Even as Greg ate this dish for me, I was gagging. Greg very graciously shared his beef stroganoff with me. From now on, I will not be requesting vegetarian on the plane!!

We left Edmonton in the morning and arrived in Paris early in the morning. Even though we were jet lagged and longed for a bed, we had decided that we were going to adjust to France time and go to bed early in the evening. It took awhile before our car rental was ready but by 10:30 a.m. we were sitting in our four door Peugeot trying to figure out how to use the GPS. We received help from the rental assistant. She was particularly helpful when she switched the language from French to English!!

Greg had to adjust to driving a standard and outside of stalling it a few times, he did a good job. We drove to Giverny where we saw Monet's house and garden where he lived when he became a successful artist and where many of his later paintings were done as he continued to explore the effect of light on what we see. We stopped there and shared a delicious bun fill with beets, goat cheese and walnuts. Even though we were exhausted, we were glad that we stopped there and enjoyed the beautiful surrounding.




On the plane, I had listened to a lecture about the theology of beauty and how beauty should reveal truth and goodness. As we stood surrounded by the colorful flowers, smelling their delicious fragrances, and as we witnessed the effects of light and shadows on the water, we knew that we were in the midst of beauty. During the lecture, the professor impressed upon her students that the ultimate essence of beauty is God and His Glory. She explained that everything in the world has this shining forth quality because God's splendor is breaking forth. Walking through Monet's garden we experienced that breaking forth of God's splendor.

WE had one hour left to drive to Honflueur which turned into a rather long hour since we had reached our peak of exhaustion. I did my best to entertain Greg by reading information about Honfleur – our destination – from my Kindle. Then I proceeded to tell him a little I learned about how stinky the Palace of Versailles was since men urinated in the corners of many hallways! I proceeded to tell him how King Louis XIV could hold court even while he sat on his special “toilet” which some people found offensive. What I found offensive was that special servants were assigned to wipe his behind! Desperate conversations for desperate times. Even my “stimulating” conversation had limits and finally we read a sign that if we could just drive ten more kilometres, we could stop and walk around and of course find a bottle of caffeine – Coke! The Coke only had limited effects of energizing Greg but enough to get us to Honfleur. We found our motel called Les Bleuets which is not fancy but very clean. We desperately wanted to go to sleep but instead we drove back into the main part of town and looked for our supper. We had become catatonic and we found a place that sold pizzas and we took the box back to our motel room and ate our Margarhita Pizza and Ham and Vegetables there. By 7:30 p.m. we were lying in bed and minutes later Greg was asleep. He woke up at 3:00 a.m. and then settled back into a deep sleep until 10:00 a.m. which he hasn't done for years and years. I woke up more often but mainly because it had rained last night and I had forgotten to take my pain medication for the evening to help control fibromyalgia pain.

In the morning, 45 minutes before breakfast would no longer be served, we entered the room at Les Bleuets to have a continental breakfast and no one else was in there. We were literally the last couple to indulge in a fresh bun and two patisseries – one stuffed with chocolate, another one stuffed with raisins. We washed them down with our glasses of orange juice and Greg's hot chocolate and my cup of tea.

By noon, Greg loaded our daypack with water and rainjackets and we began our walk into the town. We did experience some rain that required our jackets but later the rain stopped and the walk was lovely. When we arrived on Sunday, there were people everywhere, but today the walk was quiet and when we walked through a park, no one else was around.

 

Often when we are touring and visiting churches, we walk quickly through it and then head to the next tourist site. There is not that much to see in Honfleur and our pace was slow. Therefore, we made time to sit in the pews and even read a prayer from my Kindle. We looked more closely at the stained glass pictures although we weren't always certain what they depicted. We discussed how we Protestants may have lost some meaningful spiritual gestures when we no longer light candles. Along the wall, you could choose what saint you wanted to light a candle in front of. I don't really believe I need a saint to intercede for me, yet I believe I could light a candle as a gesture of gratitude for answered prayer, or a gesture of petition for something I longed for that God would answer. In fact, when we go into the church at Rouen where I believe we are going tomorrow, I may light a candle.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Horsies and Duckies At The Louvre

When I started this blog to record what I am learning about France, it seemed like I had such a long time to read all the books on my list, to watch the DVD’s and to create a detailed itinerary of what I want to see.  However,  the urgency of busyness and my health problems caused a lot of my plans to be shelved. Presently,  I feel like I am a student cramming for exams as I watch lectures on the Louvre, skim through guidebooks, read a few more memoirs of people living in France and watch just a few more French movies.  However, I am becoming increasingly aware that my objective to be really knowledgeable and informed needs to become more realistic as I only have three weeks before departure.

My frustration that I didn’t absorb as much about France as I would have liked stems from my ignorance when Greg and I went on an European bus tour when we were in our twenties.   It’s embarrassing to admit that I had no desire to go to the Louvre as I didn’t even  understand its significance.  At any rate, Greg and I chose to walk along the Seine River while friends of ours went to the Louvre.   Ironically, we had a really relaxing time and they returned despondent since it was closed.  It must have been a Tuesday!!  Anyways, I thought I should be a little more culturally astute this time!

Besides knowledge, I am aware that some travellers also have epiphanies about themselves as they interact with their new surroundings.  I finished reading  Traveling With Pomegranates which is a memoir by mother and daughter who described their travels to Greece and France and how each one of these women explored themes of identity.  Sue Monk Kidd reflected  on aging and looked closely at all paintings that included Anne the Virgin Mary’s mother.  Ann Kidd examined her lack of self-worth and had the epiphany that she wanted to be a writer as she reflected on paintings and icons of Mary, Athena and Joan of Arc.  Their intense journal reflections made me think of an old Charlie Brown Comic Strip that I found in its entirety on the following web-site:

Van Pelt: Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud’s formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus Van Pelt: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. [points up]  That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins,  the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there… [points]  …gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy Van Pelt: Uh huh. That’s very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well… I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

In other words, my reflections as I travel are not always that serious or that personal or that revelatory.   Does this mean that my holiday will not be as significant or as meaningful?  Does it mean that because my knowledge of the history of France is very elementary and my knowledge of the French language is that of a preschooler my appreciation for France is lessened?    Well, undoubtedly the answer is yes.  However, as I read the dialogue from the Charlie Brown comic strip, Charlie Brown still saw something in the clouds, didn’t he?  He may not have been able to see what the more intellectually informed could see, but had he not been intimidated by them, he could still have appreciated those clouds and the images that he saw in them.  It’s like watching a basketball game.  Greg understands all the complexities of the game and I only understand that the object is to get the ball in the basket.  My enjoyment may be more “child-like”  but it still exists.

 Therefore, when I go into  a famous building like the Louvre,  I know that my appreciation for its many paintings  will  be limited since I don’t understand those fundamentals of art such as its composition, colour distribution or the author’s manipulation of pictorial space.  And yet, like Charlie Brown, I can look at the image before me and still see something that may give me pleasure.  And fortunately for me, I have guidebooks that may also point me toward a more intellectual response so that when I gaze at the “Fete Champetre,” I will see more than two well dressed men and two naked ladies sitting outside on the grass. As I have begun watching the lectures about the Louvre through Teaching Company, I need to embrace what Professor Richard Brettell says about our tour of the Louvre and for me my tour of all of France:   “Relax, you can never know it all.”

 
 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Books, France, Paris, Travel, Uncategorized

 

ZIGZAGGING MY WAY TO FRANCE

I may be “Bound for France” but it sure  hasn’t been in a straight line.  I’m not sure why I write that in surprise since Greg and I were not sure even when we purchased the airline tickets if we would definitely be sitting on that Air Canada airplane preparing for lift off to Paris.  My constant health problems has made our decision to go on this trip really  difficult. Besides dealing with constant fatigue due to Fibromyalgia, I have been coughing for 9 months that has been diagnosed as asthma.  This cough has greatly improved but  hopefully, when I see the lung specialist at the end of October, he will suggest something that will get it under complete control.

Why then am I a little discouraged since I haven’t been walking those miles every day to become physically stronger?  Part of the problem is that  I have a rather naive optimism that no matter how often I have setbacks they  surprise me.  For example, for the past 15 years, my body temperature is always warmer than other people’s and when I am exposed to great heat my body just “melts” and I turn into a lifeless rag doll whose legs aren’t strong enough to walk  on her own.  And yet, as Greg and I sat in a stifling room that had only ceiling fans to circulate the hot air, I still hoped that I would be able to withstand the heat and stay at least long enough to hear the wedding speeches after the dinner.  Surprise!!!  Greg had to drive me home early.  Two days later,  my body is still in the recovery stage.

To continue my rant, since a car accident in 1978, I have had constant neck pain that can flare so that my mobility becomes more limited and my headaches become a vice where I think if I could just poke a hole in my head, some of the pressure would ooze out.  Since the new year, I have aggressively been trying to stabilize the pain by getting massages, acupuncture, laser and presently, intra-muscualr stimulation.

And no, I haven’t finishing lamenting as I think about the torture I receive every night since I seldom  get into a deep rem sleep.  A good night’s sleep is around 5 hours.

And yet, I also know that I have much to be grateful for.  There have been years of health symptoms where we couldn’t even consider this kind of holiday. We did go on a lovely trip to Greece with our daughter but there was still too much emphasis on, “Okay Gayle, you can do this.  Put one foot forward and now the next.”    My heart’s desire is to be fully present on a holiday or for that matter anywhere!!   And that is where I am very hopeful for this trip since one of my doctors has really helped me come out of what we Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Sufferers  call a “brain fog.”

I do not succumb to self-pity very often since I have never found it particularly helpful to me and it certainly isn’t enjoyable for others to witness.  I think it has occurred today since we are 27 days away from heading to France and that destructive emotion called fear has surfaced.  And yet, I know I should rebuke this fear and recall how far I have come since the day that  Greg and I began spending  thousands of dollars looking for answers for all of my health symptoms.  Some of those dollars we have lost, other dollars at least gave us hope when we needed it, and still others actually strengthened my body.  For that I am grateful.

Interestingly, fear slithers away when I put my attention on my progress.  I am particularly thankful  that last week after  yet another CT scan, my oncologist tells me that I am doing well.  She wants me to continue seeing her every four months especially since I have had two bouts of cancer in one year and the probability of its return is then higher.  I am not as afraid of its return as I am afraid that I will not have experienced fully all the abundance and goodness that this world offers to each one of us.  And as I close my eyes recalling how ill I was last summer and fall due to the radiotherapy, and then how the new year began with an extremely debilitating and exhausting cough,  I know that this setback shall also pass.   I may not be that eagle soaring in a straight line to its destination but even zigzagging gets me eventually to where I want to be and presently that is to France!

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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NO MASK FOR ME ON THE AIRPLANE!!

My immune system has been severely weakened after years of of fibromyalgia plus last year’s radiotherapy treatments.  Therefore, I get colds and flus very easily and they last forever.  Literally!!  I got a cold in December and I am still coughing 6 months later.  Recently, I learned that that was due to my having Cough Variant Asthma and guess what is one of its triggers?  Yes indeed,  a Cold!  Why do I share this with you?  Well, I am trying to discover some strategies that will keep me healthy on this trip in the fall.  The first important question is how do I avoid contracting a cold while sitting in a viral and bacterial infested airplane?

And if I am so fortunate to walk off that airplane with my immune system still fighting its hardest for me, how do I minimize amy multiple chemical reactions  when I walk into very old buildings- that will most likely include our apartment?  Certainly, those reactions have greatly improved since I can now venture into stores without that “adventure” tossing me back into bed for awhile.  I am hoping gone are the days when Greg, bless his heart, would go into a hotel by himself and request to see the room.  Really, he was “smelling” the room trying to determine whether there were any recent cleaning products that had been used that could negatively impact our holiday.  What will we do in France when I will most likely be bombarded by smells that emanate from older buildings?

Well, those questions have lead me to search for solutions.  My dentist’s wife has a special necklace where she can insert specific aromatherapy oils that she swears help her multiple chemical sensitivities.  The only drawback she said is that people sitting near her don’t always like the strong smell emanating from her “necklace”!

My doctor wants me to wear a filtered mask, but I have resisted that strategy.  Greg was frustrated with me when I refused this solution  since he thinks my health is more important than vanity!  However, since I am usually warm on the airplane I can’t imagine anything less comfortable than my sweating under this ugly contraption!

Obviously, another solution is necessary which is why I became quite excited when I stumbled onto this device called  Ultra-Miniature Air Supply.  It may help me not just on the airplane but wherever there may be increased demands on my immune system and on these frustrating multiple chemical sensitivities and can help prevent an asthmatic attack!  I feel rather confident by its effectiveness since the reviews all seem so positive.  World Travel Guide writes, “Air Supply, the world’s first wearable air purifier, draws in contaminated air and directs purified, germ-free air upward at about the same rate as human breathing. A terrific product for asthma and allergy sufferers.”  http://www.worldtravelguide.com/travel-gear/

I also felt quite encouraged when I read an article by the former editor of Fodor’s and  present assistant editor to Frommers  as he evaluated whether air purifiers work on plane trips.  He writes, ” It’s not scientific proof, but, for example, I think my purifier, Air Supply, works. I don’t believe it’s just a coincidence that the number of plain old ordinary head colds I suffer after flying somewhere has dropped from about half the time to around a fourth of the time, a 50% decrease.”  http://www.frommers.com/articles/4856.html

 There may also be some scientific proof that this “does reduce pollutants, dust, smoke, pollens, bacteria, perfumes orders and allergen particles floating in the air”  Apparently, the manufacturers, Wein Products, performed two year tests at UCLA School of Microbiology, “resulting in 90% reduction in germ colon growth.” www.weinproducts.com

As I was writing this blog, I received a call from my sister-in-law who lives out of town and she is coming for a visit this afternoon. When I told Greg that she had a cold, he immediately questioned whether she should come to see me!  Then he suggested that we sit outside hoping that will decrease my probability of contracting a virus. That was when I told him about this device that I was debating about. Rather than asking, “How much?”  he just responded, “How soon can you get it?”  Apparently, that is my cue to go on the following Canadian site and purchase my own Air Purifier while it is presently on sale for $99.00:  http://www.healthyenvironments.ca/

Photo:   www.weinproducts.com

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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YOU WON’T FIND US IN THE CEMETERY

I would think that cemeteries would be sad places to walk when we don’t believe in God.  I watched a documentary about Pere Lachaise, a cemetery in Paris, that has the remains of many famous people. The people interviewed who visit regularly never professed any belief in God, although some commented that it would be nice if these people existed someplace else.

 And yet, there was such a respect for the dead as so many volunteers  filled  large bottles of water from the outdoor water tap on the grounds, poured it over the stones and using a cloth  cleaned and shone them.  Often, flowers were left on top of the tombstones.  Sometimes, if it was an artist, a bottle of paint or a paintbrush was left.  If he was a famous writer, a pen would be left. Unfortunately, the best cared for tombstones were those of famous people such  as Chopin, Proust, Maria Callas and Yves Montand. Therefore, there war many tombstones that were not so well kept.

And yet, many family members and friends paid their respects to their loved ones by visiting their tombstones.  Some came every week and even daily to shine the stones and to talk to their loved ones.  I wondered if I should feel any guilt that I  don’t go visit my  parents, but I wondered if I would be more apt to go there  if the cemetery wasn’t so far away.  I have memories as a young girl of my family going to the cemetery every Mother’s Day to visit my paternal Grandma.

I liked it when one tour guide interviewed said  that he has his tourists spend more time with people they  don’t know rather than the famous.  He said he wanted them to “feel a connection not just with famous people but also with people you don’t know.”  Perhaps we have even greater connections to the ordinary men and women since few of us have experienced fame. If those stones could talk, we would hear stories of love, anger, jealousy, betrayal, hard work, sickness, and sadness.  I suppose those same stories are true of the famous.  In fact, one volunteer cleaning a tombstone of a young Italian artist told the story of how this artist’s model and lover jumped out of the window and died and joined him the day after his death!

Certainly I connected to a mother’s love for her daughter who died at 21 years old.  She had all of her young daughter’s poems inscribed on her tombstone.  Sadly, since it hasn’t been taken care of, only a small portion of a poem can presently be seen.  I was moved by the tour guide’s compassion when he told this story and how he was touched when he saw that a flower had been left in memory of her.  When I go there, I would like to find Elisa Mercouer’s tombstone, but the tour guide said that it is difficult to find since so much of the stone is worn and her stone isn’t even mentioned in the booklet that tourists receive.

As the documentary continued, I watched a young pianist become emotional when she discussed her connection to Chopin.  However, the connection was particularly deep since her father loved Chopin and whenever she played this composer’s music, she sensed her dad’s presence and felt that she was playing for him.  So often our connections are held together by some common experience, some memory, or some emotion  and that is why I felt a connection to a young singer who died at 28 years old from cancer.  For some reason I thought of her story when I received today’s e-mail about praying for a cure for cancer:  ” “You can go along for years in remission and then one day it pops its head up again.  If you ever have it you will never be free of it.”  I didn’t find that particularly encouraging since I have had cancer two years in a row.  This young singer had been  living passionately and was following her dreams of becoming a well known singer until she became ill. No matter our age, that is all that we can ever hope to achieve in this life.  My connection with her through this devastating disease inspired me and challenged me to do the same.

As a Christian, I believe that my loved ones are in heaven so that I don’t believe I have a greater connection to my Mom and Dad when I sit by their tombstone.  Yet, there was something lovely to watch all of these people coming by showing their respect to the dead.

Therefore, with Father’s Day  approaching, perhaps I will suggest to my family that we go and pay our respect to my parents. I may even leave two roses on their shared tombstone. And in honour of those many people I don’t know at our cemetery, I will stop at a few and pay my respects.    And when I go to Paris, I will do my best to find  Elisa Mercouer and leave a flower on her tombstone and tell her that she has been remembered.

However, as I walk through these two cemeteries, I know that I will be grateful for my Christian beliefs.  I am confident that my Mom and Dad are spending eternity in heaven and that I will someday see them again.  I am grateful that when I think about how their bodies have returned to dust that I believe that they have souls and that those souls have left their bodies.  Ironically, as I walk through these cemeteries and possibly sense all of our humanity,  I might even sense more particularly the presence of Mom and Dad.  However, I suspect what I might see is the  shaking of their heads when they ask one another,  “Doesn’t she know that we aren’t here?”

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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