Thursday, April 20, 2017

an american cathedral

One of the good parts of life in Europe is its grand churches and cathedrals. As a contemplative person, I love these spaces. I love their quiet. I love their grandeur. I love the symbolism written into nearly every bit of their structure and décor, even if I don't know how to read all those symbols. (I've written a little about that here.)

Such grand spaces have never been part of my US life. But a couple weeks ago the friend I'm staying with invited me to join her and her mother for high tea at Washington National Cathedral, an Episcopal church that has been the site of many of America's important moments of grief and celebration. The teas, which serve as a fundraiser for the cathedral, are offered by the women's guide that volunteers to keep up the cathedral's gardens. Tea includes a pre-tea tour of the cathedral, led by a super knowledgeable docent.

Though it was constructed rather recently, as Gothic-style churches go, authentic construction techniques were used so the cathedral took 83 years to construct (1907-1990). It's now the second largest cathedral in the United States and the sixth largest in the world. Though "national" is in its name, the church has never had any government funding. While numerous notable Americans are buried here, Woodrow Wilson is the only president entombed in the cathedral. According to our tour guide, he was a big supporter of having a church like this in the capital.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

#persevere - lent 2017, day 36

Eighty-three years patient
faith without sight
thus is
God's call again and again
and again.

Inspired in part by today's tour of Washington National Cathedral,
constructed 1907-1990.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#glow - lent 2017, day 10

Lord's ear.
Leans near.
Lord's love
Is here.

Monday, March 6, 2017

#broken - lent 2017, day 5

I was at the home of expat acquaintances living in France and found their bathroom décor endearing.
Thus, the photo.

They'd framed the plane-ticket-as-excess-baggage papers for a beloved dog who had traveled with them.
How cute.

And then I proceeded--somehow (not the first time I've been klutzy Kami) while changing
into a swimsuit--to knock this adorableness onto the ground.
Tile floor met glass.

I confessed, asked for a broom, cleaned it up. But I never offered to replace the destroyed frame.
I should have.
Faux pas #2.

Faux pas #3 is that such faux pas still hang in my guilt-box longer than they should.
Shake it off.

Broken happens in many forms.

Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

#injustice - lent 2017, day 2

Oh, healthcare, let me count the ways
Injustice reigns
Lord, please be so very near the broken bodies
Who can't access
or afford

#struggle - lent 2017, day 1

Computer time.
People time.
Time with words.
Time shared between words.
Sometimes intertwined.
Sometimes competing.
The struggle is real, they say.
Yes. Yes, it is.
And the Lord is in it all.

I'm traveling during Lent this year and need to keep my Lenten practices as simple as possible. Hence, I plan to follow The Lent Project from Biola University's Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts. I also hope to participate in a daily photo activity that I'll mostly just post here on my blog, and perhaps occasionally also over on Instagram. I'll follow the themes proposed by the United Methodist Church at or, like today, pull a one-word theme from The Lent Project. Join me!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

north carolina mountain vignettes

Along a scenic mostly two-lane highway that runs through the North Carolina-Tennessee mountains I grew up in, I was surprised to find this lovely coffee bar inside the gas station market when I stopped for a bathroom break. I decided a little afternoon caffeine would do me good and asked the woman at the register if the bar was open. She said it was, but she'd have to wait to take my order until her colleague returned from her smoke break to cover the register again. There was something so charmingly home-grown about all this that I decided to live in the moment and wait for the smoke break to end. While I later paid for my chai tea latte, the next customer was asking if the store had any worms today. The register-woman answered in the affirmative and told him where they were. He then piled a container of nightcrawlers--which looked a lot like a small tub of hummus or cottage cheese--up along with his food purchases.

I love, love, love such little moments wherever they happen in the world - whether far from home or in the corner I grew up in.

Watauga Lake, Carter County, TN - There was so much
photo-worthy scenery along this highway route,
but with few turn-offs and a schedule to keep
to, I had to content myself with this one
sun-drenched photo.

Monday, February 13, 2017

celebrating thanksgiving paris-style

Before it's lost forever, finally I bring you the story of Thanksgiving 2016 à Paris!

Months earlier my American friend Mary had alerted me that she and her husband and son would be in Paris the week of Thanksgiving. Would I like to/could I join them? At the time, I chuckled a little over how impossible it is for me to plan things more than about a week in advance, let alone scheduling things that are months away. But I made note of it, and we hoped for the best.

And it worked! Mid-evening on the day before Thanksgiving, my train from Pau pulled into Paris's Montparnasse station. I made my way to Mary and Ryan's Airbnb apartment, we all exchanged hugs, and then Mary and I headed out for late dinner while Ryan had put-the-toddler-to-bed duty.

On our dinner hunt, we passed La Taverne de Montmartre, and tempted by the lovely aromas escaping from it, we stopped in. Though people were still eating, we learned that the kitchen wasn't taking new orders. The man we talked with seemed friendly enough, so I tried to joke about whether we could beg the chef to stay a little longer, but then I couldn't come up with the French word for beg. So that joke fell completely flat.

Fortunately, the next evening as dinnertime approached, Mary remembered that we should try this place again.

Et voilà, success! This time we were on the very front end of dinner hours, and the long family-style tables with benches weren't even set with tableware yet. But they welcomed us in and remembered us from the night before.

The fun began in earnest when Mary asked if they happened to have some paper that could occupy two-year-old Liam. The friendly proprietor happily produced paper and markers. And his five-year-old son was quickly enamored with Liam and joined in the drawing, producing his own pictures for us to ooh and aah over. The two boys quickly became pals, the five-year-old (who has no younger siblings but would like to - hint, hint, to his parents! :-) ) happily assuming the role of big brother half-watching over Liam while helping entertain him. When his parents called him to the back of the restaurant for his own dinner, he insisted that Liam join him so he could share his dinner with him.

When it was time for our new little friend to head home to go to bed--because he had school the next day--he was really sad to leave us behind.

For all the bad reputation Paris has for less than personable or kind service in its cafés and restaurants, we had an absolute warm-fuzzy of an evening, which turned out to be a lovely--and somehow very appropriate--way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

americans, please forgive me if i don't apologize for bumping into you

A sure sign you're no longer in France where
most people use long-life "shelf" milk that
isn't refrigerated until it's opened. I'm a
dedicated milk drinker, so I'm always raiding
a grocery store's small refrigerated shelves
holding 0.5 L, 1L, and occasionally 2L
"fresh milk" containers.
I rounded a corner at Walmart last night and nearly bumped into a couple coming from another direction. I intended to apologize. But it didn't happen.

I was foiled by that slow motion thing that's happening in reverse during this visit stateside. That slow motion thing where my mouth starts to say something (in this case "Pardon," as one would in France, but this time with English pronunciation instead of French - go figure), my brain stops it before it's said aloud, then those hills and valleys in my head try to figure out what I should be saying instead and why I'm having so much trouble, and then the split second appropriate for polite apologies of this sort was past as the girl in the couple murmured a "sorry," reminding me that this is what my slow-motion brain was trying to come up with.

I've been stateside for about a month and a half now, and it's been an interesting visit for discovering the way French life has infiltrated me after four-plus years there. Despite the fact that I still have slow-motion moments abroad when my American brain tries to figure out some oh-so-French situation, I have finally crossed that threshold I've heard about where that's also happening in reverse.

I officially belong nowhere now, it seems. Or everywhere.

So in honor of slow-motion moments the world over, here are a few other things that have tripped me up so far:
  • I've apparently acclimated to the size of drinks outside the U.S. Many times now I've been subconsciously shocked over how huge "normal"-sized drinks are here. Twice I've been intentionally ordering a small drink and ended up being given one of the gigantic huge ones for free. This has made me chuckle. That other me--the pre-France one--would have felt like I'd won the lottery. The cheapskate current me is appreciative but really doesn't want to drink that much.
  • I'm internally shocked here when servers at restaurants show up with the bill while we're still eating. It feels incredibly rude to me - like we're being asked to leave, rather than that they are just trying to provide good service and keep us from waiting. Apparently I've adjusted to the leisurely pace of most French dining (which works well for slow-eating me), where lingering long around a table is totally normal, where you almost never feel rushed out of a restaurant, and where you need to plan to start trying to get your bill about 20 minutes before you actually need to leave.
  • I'm still adjusting to the fact that here it's not a mark of rudeness not to say goodbye to servers/salesclerks when you walk out of their establishment. It's okay to do it here, but it's not a cultural norm like it is in France.
  • I had the hardest time the other day not using the 24-hour clock that has taken me forever to adjust to. So if I text you about meeting at 18h instead of 6 p.m., I hope you'll appreciate the little math exercise.
  • I'm still kind of shocked inside when people speak nonchalantly of running to the store to pick up some sort of food product or other necessity on a Sunday. My insides want to gently remind them that stores aren't open on Sundays, especially not after 1 p.m. And then slow-motion-brain finally realizes I'm back visiting the land of Sunday-shopping-is-a-thing-here.
  • On the up side - I was able to stay at a Starbucks the other night working on a proofreading project until 11:30 p.m.!!!! Such establishments in most of France are typically closed by 7 or 8 p.m.
  • And a friend and I were able to enter a restaurant and order food within about 30 minutes of their posted closing time! Kitchens are often closed at French restaurants well before closing time, so this felt like a huge treat and the height of good customer service.
Et voilà! Reverse-slow-motion-brains-R-us.

Friday, November 25, 2016

sometimes life is idyllic

It's a pleasure watching Montmartre wake up this crisp morning, as the roaming portrait artists amble to work ahead of the tourists' arrival. A pleasant, still-sleepy calm still rules the cobbled streets here at 10-ish a.m.

A bit earlier as my friends and I vacated their Thanksgiving week Airbnb apartment, I waited on the sidewalk with their toddler son while they took care of parting details inside.
Covered in a bathrobe, the downstairs neighbor opened her shutters for the morning. Since I was nearly touching her window's bars while my toddler friend watched the antics of pigeons across the street, from the vantage point of his stroller, the neighbor-du-jour and I exchanged bonjours and then started chatting. She said she's lived in Montmartre for 38 years, but the neighborhood has changed a lot, and she's planning a return to her roots in Montpellier. This strikes me as both sad and happy. We didn't talk long enough for me to discern how she feels about the impending move.

Since then, I've ensconced myself in a Starbucks, from which a group of Asian tourists (sorry I can't distinguish their roots without asking) has recently departed. American import it may be, juxtaposed against the local treats of this morning, but here I'm free to fit in a few hours of work on a stubborn project before I head on to the next leg of this present escape from the isolation of my Pau apartment. I am hoping the creative vibe and lingering glow of a fun two days with old friends will work some magic on this long-in-process bit of writing.

May it be so.

Friday, November 18, 2016

the era of fixed things

If not for Air France's manhandling, my next suitcase purchase--whenever that day came--would have most likely been online or wherever I found the cheapest valise after hours and hours of research that would have included minimal opportunity to actually handle the bag I might buy. So while at first I was frustrated with another complicated-feeling thing to take care of in a place where I still don't know how everything works, I'm now a little grateful to Air France.

Because yesterday my unplanned suitcase purchase happened here at SPARBE, which turns out to be a family-owned business that's been operating in this same location for nearly 80 years. It was incredibly pleasing to walk in--at first just to see if they could repair my bag--and find that they knew exactly what needed to be done, knew exactly which forms the airline would ask for to prove the suitcase couldn't be repaired, knew exactly which form to submit to request reimbursement for the replacement carry-on, and were just all-around knowledgeable in helping find a bag that matched my damaged one as closely as possible in size (it was a larger-than-usual carryon that I wasn't eager to say good-bye to). It was really nice not to have to navigate another complication totally on my own.

This has turned into a sappy-sounding Yelp review of a mom and pop store from a bygone era, but because of them, a really frustrating experience turned into such an unexpectedly positive experience that, well, sappy-be-hanged, it was great enough to be worth recording for internet posterity. ;-)

A few of my broken things that are now fixed!
 The Fixing-Things Era

Perhaps because I've been here long now enough that belongings I owned before I came to France are getting old enough to be showing some wear, this summer began ushering me into a whole new era of life that involves fixing broken things. And it's turned into a lovely era for a few reasons:

  1. It's nice to get to keep using belongings that I like a lot. No need to despair over discovering that something is damaged!
  2. It's nice to avoid spending dollars or euros I don't have to replace things I hadn't prepared to replace.
  3. It's nice to avoid shopping, which I really don't like. And to avoid having to figure out how to replace products I'm attached to but can't find exact replacements for here, only in the U.S.
  4. It's given me a chance to get out into these lovely small shops and converse with people. When you're buying something, you don't necessarily have to talk much. But when you need something fixed, talking is much more necessary. No slinking into shops anonymously.

Becoming so nomadic has already changed my relationship with belongings--I try to mostly only own what I really need, not exactly the bare minimum, but close (as close as possible, given that I'm not a real minimalist...hence, my need for the very largest carry-on suitcase possible). I guess you could say that I keep pretty short accounts on my belongings these days, and I have to be pretty practical about things...if it's not useful, I don't keep it. This has even extended to the books in my life. You know it's serious when I ration how many of those I own at a time!

So in my long-ago, faraway American life, unless I or my parents could fix something fairly easily (and to be sure, I don't come from a family of cobblers, so shoes were not on the fix-it list), I assumed it had to be replaced. I never thought of going to a shoe shop to have my shoes fixed, for example. I didn't even really know where to go to have them fixed. Here, there are cordonniers in pretty much every town of reasonable size.

Thus, having things fixed is fairly easy to pull off...though I've taken to giving the cobblers and other fix-it people here magical powers in my mind, so then I'm disappointed to discover that not everything, said suitcase as an example, can be repaired.

I'm a New Woman

In short (I know, I know...after all those words...), this is just one of many only-sometimes-perceptible internal changes that has taken root inside me courtesy of changing cultures for a while. I suppose I knew those changes would come, except that when I came to France, I didn't know I'd stay so long, so I wasn't thinking about how four years and counting in this place might change my insides.

At any rate, I judge this change to be a good one.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

strangers in bruges, belgium

As I walked into his shop to pay for postcards in Bruges, Belgium, at the end of a weekend visit a week and a half ago, I overheard the shopkeeper explaining to the Welsh couple standing before his back-of-the-store counter that Bruges was still seeing normal amounts of British tourists but that Americans had dropped off following the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Suspecting he was someone who enjoyed talking, I chimed in as I approached the counter, "We're Americans who aren't afraid." Or something to that effect. And then began a lovely conversation with this charming man while my friend browsed his shop for gifts.

We'd read in a guidebook that the Flemish aren't very friendly, but this man certainly didn't get that memo. He and his wife have had the shop for 30 years and love it, though retirement is near. Unlike other shopkeepers who keep strict hours, they get there when they get there and leave when the store empties out in the late afternoon. He lives 7 km outside Bruges in a home that includes the dream retirement garden he's created, where he plans to putter around once the shop closes.

When customers approach his cash register, he offers their choice of language: Dutch, French, English or Spanish. But then he mentioned the cheat sheet he's holding in the photo that's normally tacked to the wall beside the register and explained how much people appreciate it if you can say even a couple polite words in their language. The language menu then expands to Greek, Turkish, Polish, Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech, Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Ukranian, and Hebrew! We talked about the difference between the Flemish and Dutch languages, and I learned that it's the same language with some vocabulary differences, like American and British English. But he did note that the Dutch tend to be more direct in their communication, whereas the Flemish will take the long way to say something to try to make you feel good about what they're saying.

Talking with this shopkeeper was a highlight in a day filled with pleasant interactions with strangers, from our Airbnb hostess to a bus driver to helpful direction-givers in a restaurant. The world is a beautiful place! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

refugees welcomed into french communities

Yesterday afternoon, newspaper headlines caught my eye as I visited a press kiosk on Place Clemenceau to buy some postcards.

Communities in my part of France--Béarn--are preparing for the arrival of refugees, as France prepares to dismantle the ill-reputed and controversial "Jungle" in Calais, where refugees have taken up camp in hopes of escaping over to Britain, and moves the camp's residents to temporary welcome centers around France.

During both 2015 and 2016 as the refugee crisis engulfed Europe, I've intentionally looked for opportunities to volunteer with refugee aid in France, but there have so far not been any easy-to-find opportunities where I've been living in the south of France (in Marseille in 2015 and now in Pau in 2016).

Yet today I've learned that a community on the edge of Pau will be welcoming 50 refugees. Perhaps I can finally get involved! But in addition to an article detailing how that community is preparing for their arrival, the mixed reactions of community members, etc., a smaller article caught my eye yesterday as I read the newspaper (a too-rare pleasure to read the news on paper!) at a new-to-me café that smelled delectable inside (I had to content myself with only a coffee rather than the lunch menu deliciousness wafting from the kitchen).

Here's that article and the results of the translation exercise I've given myself today.

“A huge wave of solidarity in Baïgorry”

Jean-Michel Coscarat, the mayor of Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry, a Basque town that welcomed 48 refugees from last November 15 to February 15, says of this experience: “I made the choice to welcome them. There was a huge wave of solidarity. It couldn’t have gone better. I saw in their eyes, as soon as the first refugees arrived in the dark of night, that they had experienced painful times. More than 80 volunteers helped out. They had interpreters, French language courses. Heads of companies called us to offer refugees employment...There was a little apprehension at the beginning, because they arrived just after the November attacks [in Paris in 2015]. We very quickly reassured the community. The intercultural festival organized when it was time for the refugees to leave was fabulous. Some of them come back to see us still, especially those living [nearby] at CADA [the center for people requesting asylum] in Pau. This experience was really great. No one regrets it.”

November 3 update: Media reports of the emptying of the Jungle don't totally match this on-the-ground account from a person volunteering in Calais: "The Jungle" Calais from our own correspondent.