Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paris Mosque

Take the metro to Place Monge, cross the little square, and few side streets over you will find the mosque. You will come to its entrance, in front of which a woman is begging. On the other side, at 39, rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, you will find the entrance to the tea room, restaurant, and hammam, which, if you haven’t already experienced somewhere in the Arabic world, you need!!!

I met a friend there for lunch (see photos on Facebook), and we checked the prices and protocol for the hammam (meaning, how naked did we have to get?! We’ve gotten caught more than once in compromising situations in other European spas!!!)

As it turned out, the hammam prices proved prohibitive, but lunch was affordable and copious, with sparrows flying through the air, picking up crumbs. Couscous and tajine, with some mint tea, and we were stuffed and happy! No dessert, because they didn’t ask, and we were too full anyway, in spite of a tantalizing platter of baklava and other honey-gooey goodies passing around under our noses.

A stroll around the 5th and 6th arrondissements on the beautiful fall day did not negate talking about some of the hard issues my friend is up against, and how to survive emotionally in a spiritually barren landscape. I recognize the signs in all too many of my friends there, because I lived it too. There are no easy answers, just some good old heart-to-heart conversation, listening and empathizing, with the occasional kick in the butt! Working in France is often an isolating experience, and without connections and community, one is quickly overcome.

Back to her house for dinner with her husband, and more conversation on the arts. A flicker of light came back on in my friend’s eyes as we talked. One of her dreams is to write a novel, and she has been working on one for some time. I shared my happy news that I’m about to be published, after 7 years of work, and encouraged her to not give up. I left them both with a list of resources, both online and live, in Paris and not, in hopes that God would take it from there.

Take it he did! The next day, who should I happen to be sitting with, but a novelist, telling me of her writer’s group, and where and when they meet, and the upcoming November writing challenge they were going to participate in! I quickly scribbled down the info, asked if I could introduce her to my friend, and fired off an email on my return to the hotel. They are now connected, and I trust my friend will now have a community of writers to help her get out that novel that is in her, just waiting to get out.

I barely had time to digest my coucous…some answers to prayer move more quickly than others!!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Poetry of Time

Jet lag is a dark morning, awake hours before the rest of the world, contemplating the gift of this trip, and the muscles aching after hauling luggage around the Paris metro system. There is a bagel for breakfast instead of baguette, and a good shower a few footstps from my bed.

The flight home took 9 hours and 40 minutes, and I needed every second to shift gears back into my American personality. (I'm not sure I made it.)

The flight was uneventful, and gloriously empty, so I could stretch, squirm, and breathe deep again in the expansiveness of American space, something I sorely missed in France. With no seatmate next to me, I created an in-flight studio, and worked steadily for several hours. (This caught the attention of one of the stewards, to whom I offered a portrait. He didn't take me up on it.)

But I sorely miss speaking in French too, and my morning walk around the Montparnasse neighborhood. On the other hand, no more bundling up under cloudy skies and unseasonably cold temps. A glorious sunset greeted me last evening curbside at the airport, and temps for the next few days will be in the 70's here.

Gone are the French pout, the vertical jaunt to their step (born of claustrophobic space), and the extravagant elixir they call coffee. I still don't quite trust the ubiquitous American smile, but it does make for a more pleasant environment overall. And I will head for Starbucks today for my welcome-home coffee.

I do not miss the bathroom down the hall, or the shower two flights up, or dodging the strikes. But after dispensing with the blow dryer in a country that invented bad hair day, I know I will have to be somewhat more well-groomed here in the South. And I cannot wear the same thing four days in a row.

So the 'bilan' (resume) is in progress, the laundry will start soon, and emails will be beaten back. No more standing on my head, walking around a facility, waiting for one more bar to get a fluid internet connection. I am back in Tyrone, to continue to cultivate the stretch of Kingdom the Lord has given me here.

A Facebook friend posted this little bit of fun: and I highly recommend Eric Maisel's A Writer's Paris. Whether or not you're a writer, he has masterfully captured the essence of time spent in Paris, and some quirky little fun spots to check out.

I don't enjoy having to make these huge psychological shifts as I go back and forth between cultures, because I never feel like I have enough time to make the shifts. Duty calls, phones ring, invitations come, emails clobber, and there is a manuscript of poems are waiting to be organized. But there is a poetry of time too, as this ad in CDG airport reminded me; a time to stop and notice: what did God do? I don't want to miss that. And I want to thank him, deeply, for the gift he just gave me. Otherwise I am the child on Christmas morning, ravaging open gifts, barely seeing what I open, in my eagerness to get to the next one. Just another toy on the toy pile.

I close with my mantra for these journeys, with their paradoxical mingle of joy and sorrow: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”—Dr. Seuss

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Ok, made it to Charles deGaulle Airport with a minimum of inconvenience, with some very helpful folks along the way, and with enough time for a last blog post, cup of coffee and pain au chocolate!

Charles de Gaulle has had a facelift, at least in my neck of the woods of this enormous airport. I’ve been dropped into a bubble of affluence, cleanliness…dare I say efficiency?!

The law for retirement was passed yesterday, unblocking some of the gas distributors, and thus canceling some strikes. This week, in contrast to the first two weeks, the French seem less aggressive, less angry, at least in my little slice of perception. This is a vacation week in France, so folks are less likely to want to strike. In spite of the continuing strikes, the French seem happier than when I last left them.

In a bit more time, most likely, France will calm down even more, and enter winter with its focus on the holidays, the cold, and perhaps another strike or two around Christmas. This is the rhythm of life in France.

I leave filled to overflowing with amazement. It seemed that every encounter, each person I planned to see, was a divinely scheduled appointment. There were some meetings off the agenda of course, but equally if not more potent for their unexpectedness. I was able to make some connections I hoped for, others morphed into something else, and some new ones opened up.

And while I arrived feeling like a ‘stranger’ (as the French would put it), within two weeks I felt ‘back home.’ Language was flowing, cultural cues had emerged, and some of my favorite foods ingested.

It will all go underground again in a matter of minutes. I’m organizing my final photos while waiting for my flight, which is expected to be on time. Yes, life is good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Villa Seurat

Just off the rue de la Tombe-Isseoire, you can find the Villa Seurat, with its little houses built for artists and sculptors. It was the home of Georges Seurat, and Henry Miller also lived here, from where he wrote such masterpieces as Tropic of Cancer and Max and the White Phagocytes. As he describes Villa Seurat:

"The whole street is given up to quiet, joyous work. Every house contains a writer, painter, musician, sculptor, dancer, or actor. It is such a quiet street and yet there is such activity going on, silently, becomingly, should I not say reverently too? This is how it is on my street, but there are hundreds of such streets in Paris. There is a constant army of artists at work, the largest of any city in the world. This is what makes Paris, this vast group of men and women devoted to the things of the spirit. This is what animates the city, makes it the magnet of the cultural world."--Henry Miller

This cultural magnet was destroyed during World War II and with the construction of the towering and incongruous Montparnasse tower, the tallest office building in Paris (which has a law that buildings can only be built to a certain height, in order to keep the city ‘intimate’—not sure how Montparnasse slipped through!). But the area continues to draw the culturati and is a lively, café- and theatre-filled quartier.

And so I met my artist friend for raclette and a complimentary kir here in the midst of Montparnasse, not far from the hotel (where Sartre and deBeauvoir lived for a time, by the way). After a catch-up and rabbit-trail-laden conversation, we ditched our original plans to museum hop, and went to her studio instead. What a delightful time seeing her artwork, brainstorming and dreaming, and sensing another piece of the puzzle of arts ministry going into place. Stay tuned for that one…

Late again getting home, I merged back into the black-robed Parisians in rush hour, thankful that this part of French life is almost over for me.

So now I’m packing and consulting alternate routes to get to the airport. France is calling for a general strike tomorrow, and that will surely make things interesting in the morning…stay tuned for that one too!

The Ghosts of the 14th

I am in the 14th arrondissement, an artistic and literary center about 100 years ago. Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Seurat, Hemingway, Cocteau, Giacometti, Matisse, Modigliani, Miller….the names are everywhere, on cafés, bookstores, buildings, cemeteries. The statue of Balzac by Rodin stands near the Metro Vavin, where I had a cup of coffee with a friend on Monday. But the Brancusi statue eludes me…although my second visit to the cemetery yielded this find of Charles Pigeon’s tombstone!

It’s a bit staggering to walk around in so much cultural history, stamped into such a little bit of geography. The ghosts of artists past are haunting discussions with artists today. Is it possible for Christians to even approach what these artists accomplished last century?

That’s the question we’re asking—me and the artists I’m meeting with daily now. Why are we so mediocre in comparison to these surpassing talents? It’s an enigma. I have a hard time believing I’ll see the church reach these heights, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to give up. “The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it."

So today I walk past these ghosts, and board the metro in a sea of black-garmented Parisians during rush hour. The sky is still dark, the moon is up, the eyes are mostly at half-mast. I travel out to the eastern suburbs of Paris, eyeing the frost on the ground, and regretting that I have not added another layer of wool. I am following up on our SALT attendee Paul Dixon, meeting with OM France leadership, other team members, and one couple considering joining OM Arts.

After a full day of meetings and meals, we inch forward, and a stake is very definitely in the ground. Some of these artists have persevered for over 20 years. Some are afraid, some broken, some mystified as to how to proceed. Or all of the above.

But we can do nothing else. As the disciples responded to Jesus when so many deserted him, and He asked if they were going to quit too, so we respond: “Where else can we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Montparnasse, the Grand Palais & Rodin

What a delight to start a crisp autumn Sunday with a slow wander through the incredible Montparnasse cemetery, where such luminaries as Guy de Maupassant, Alfred Dreyfus, Andre Citroen, Brancusi, Saint-Saens, and Baudelaire are buried. My goal was to see Brancusi’s “The Kiss” (a response to Rodin’s “Kiss”) but this is the nature of the larger Paris cemeteries: huge and labyrinthine, requiring a map. Which I had, but…well, an hour later, I was done with the cemetery. Since it’s practically across the street from my hotel, maybe I’ll try again tomorrow…

My ultimate goal was the new exhibit at Grand Palais, on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. On the way, I was seriously derailed by finding an art flea market, and spending some time talking with a number of the artists. Serendipity! What a pleasure, treat and delight to meet these artists and see their work, discuss their process.

For a peek at one of the artists, go to I made the ultimate error of picking out three of her pieces, having read the price wrong, and then having to tell a very excited artist that I couldn’t afford any of them! Sigh….I hate that.

Onward and forward. Metro over to Place Concorde, one of the most stunning places in Paris, if not France, if not the world. One of its arteries spins off into the Champs Elysee. Up I went with hordes of other tourists, in the direction of the Grand Palais, stopping first for a hot dog (I know, shameful) to bolster flagging energy levels.

Why did I imagine I would saunter into a major museum featuring a new exhibit on a Sunday?! I saw lines I’ve only seen once before—at the Louvre—and quickly abandoned Plan A. Heading in the opposite direction of the crowds, I crossed the Alexandrine bridge, an incredible beauty that makes you stop and watch the Seine underneath, and the occasional Bat-O-Mouche.

Crossing over to where the Assemblee Nationale stands, I found myself a cozy little café for some coffee, a bathroom and the development of a Plan B. As it turns out, I had wandered close to the Musee Rodin, one of my favorites in Paris, so that was my next stop.

The museum had its own little line, paltry by Grand Palais standards, but a line nevertheless. The bonus: an expo by Henry Moore, a British sculptor I first discovered in Lille, who does monumental work. One of his works, “Warrior with a Shield”, has an interesting history. As Moore describes it, “The idea for the warrior came to me…very early in 1953. It evolved from a pebble I found on the seashore in the summer of 1952, and which reminded me of the stump of a leg, amputated at the hip…”

Only an artist could write that!

After a couple of hours, my legs instituted Plan C, which meant sitting down a lot! A few sketches of the extraordinary sculptures in that museum, and I was ready to make my way back to the hotel.

And so, feet now up and contemplating a new work week about to start, I marvel again at the privilege I have, and the wonders I have seen. Yet the desire remains to do only what I see my Father doing. I’ve been on the look out, but no particular spiritual bonanzas have been apparent. Maybe tomorrow…

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have made a new friend in France, and his name is Epsom.

At my most recent stop, in Villeneuve D’Ascq, I stayed with two friends, who shall remain nameless. One of these friends lost her sight in a car accident almost 20 years ago; the other friend took her in, enabling her to transition from normal life to life without sight.

This year, my blind friend moved into an apartment to live independently. (The other friend is also staying with her temporarily while some work is done in her home.) The move included some training in how to live alone, and the arrival of Epsom, the guide dog.

Epsom is only 18 months old, and needs a couple more years to be fully adapted to my friend, and to being a seeing eye dog. For the time being, he knows the basic commands, and must learn to adapt to my friend—her rhythm, her voice, her commands, her routes. But he is easily distracted; as we went out for several walks, Epsom kept looking at cats, children, other dogs, and me, as if I was the seeing one in this group, and surely I should take charge of the situation!

As we walked through one park, I was disturbed to see how many people let their dogs run loose, creating quite a challenge for Epsom and my friend. Time after time, Epson ‘broke ranks’ and charged after a dog on the loose, who would come running up to him to do that sniffing/aggression thing, to determine the alpha dog in the routine.

And although I had to be very circumspect in not responding to Epsom’s doleful brown eyes, and let my friend instruct him, one intervention proved necessary: when Epsom led my friend under a sign, walking through the bars while she would surely have endured a face plant if I had not grabbed her arm.

Entering my friend’s world was eye-opening (no pun intended!). Her courage in the face of incredible challenges, and her spirit in attacking one after another with simplicity and good humor, humbled me. And as schedules turned out, we had some long stretches of time to explore our spiritual landscapes, and bolster each other’s faith. At the end of my time with her, we planned skype calls and a vacation together in Atlanta as soon as possible.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Northern Cuisine

Ok, I have to bring you up to date on the eating thing, but because eating in French is such a big deal, such an art form, such a delight, and I got to do a lot of it with my friends in the North.

Let’s start with the chicons—endives—a staple in the northern diet. They are nothing like the pitiful offerings you may see in your grocery store, for exorbitant prices. The northern version is a plump and hefty torpedo that goes fresh into salads (especially good with walnuts, blue cheese and a vinaigrette), or gets steamed into casseroles on a regular basis. Or you could try them baked in an oven, wrapped in ham and covered with grated emmental cheese, with a hollandaise sauce.

Then there’s the leeks, as plump and sweet as the American version is small and bitter. They usually accompany any fish dish, and I ate them almost daily when I lived here.

Raclette, a cheese you melt in a special apparatus and pour over potatoes, or cooked eggs or cold cuts, or whatever you want for that matter, is a convivial treat for friends to enjoy together, sort of like a fondue.

Coquilles St. Jacques—scallops in a cream sauce with basil, or a white wine sauce—yep, had that the other day too.

“Moules Frites” is THE northern signature dish: mussels and French fries, usually accompanied by a good local blond beer. The mussels arrive in a black pot, unless you get them gratinée, or some other way, and piles of shells are a local folkloric sight, especially during the Braderie, the local flea market, one of the largest in the world. It takes place the first weekend in September, when it is time to eat mussels again, after the summer months, when the mussels aren’t good.

Of course, incredibly good wines accompany all these dishes, and an apero is part of the social encounter.

A plate filled with a variety of cheeses arrives after the main course, followed by dessert, then coffee. I will be rolling onto the plane soon, happy as a clam, but probably fasting and dieting as I get home!

Oh, and there’s nothing like a square or two of Cote D’Or chocolate, eh Francophone friends?!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chez Chantal

You will not find a better garden than the garden chez Chantal. And actually it is not Chantal’s garden but her husband’s. Each morning I’ve been looking out over the most beautiful scene, eating the most wonderful breads and jams, and drinking tea. We talk at least an hour, and sometimes longer, before launching into our days. What a way to start the day.

And I couldn’t have arrived at a better time: the annual weekend of the Artist’s Open Studios! The day was spectacularly, unusually, filled with sunshine—crisp temperatures notwithstanding. I wandered the old section of Lille, to find the artists, but unfortunately did not have much luck. The tourism office no longer had the guide book, so I had to look for the posters in windows that signaled an artist’s studio, and only found two.

Others I knew of were either closed or gone. But the day was still a wonder of wandering old streets I had fallen in love with, glancing into some of my favorite shop windows (closed now on Sunday), and finding my way home at sunset. (Only slightly aggravated by the transportation strike.)

Dinner with Chantal and Yves, after an apero around a lovely fire with some port and nuts, is also a peaceful feast around a candlelit table. Each evening after the meal, Chantal and I continue to talk until we fall into bed, and the last three evenings have been particularly amazing, as we have invented a story: The Tale of the Tea Woman. Watch for it in your bookstore in about, say, seven years!

And speaking of writing, I’ve also been hunkered down working on my manuscript, in order to meet the publisher’s deadline coming up November 5. It’s been a bit of a juggle to keep up with the publisher’s requests and visits--It’s been a bit of a juggle to keep up with the publisher’s requests and visits—but I manage to sneak off to visit someone I haven’t seen in years, and these have been joyful reunions.

I move today, over to two dear friends who live in nearby Villeneuve D’ascq. Saturday, strikes permitting, I leave for Paris. The whirlwind continues!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chez Les Barrauds

Catherine was the first friend I made when I moved to the North of France in 1995. We met while attending a meeting of the French-American Club; after talking for a while, we exchanged phone numbers, and I wasn't quite sure if she would call, or if I should call, but before I had the time to think about it much, Catherine called. She had passed some years of study in the States, and retained a love for the American culture. Maybe I could help her keep up her English?

Apart from English, we shared a love of art, psychology, and faith. We began a Bible study together, and passed several years discussing the great questions of the faith.

In 1996, Catherine met Fred, and I got to know him too as a great tease, a connoisseur of wine and good food, and an adept businessman. They visited me in the US when I was home on furlough in 1997, to ask me to be a witness of their marriage, which took place in 1998. I was speechless at the honor, but happily accepted.

And in 1998, I traveled to the family vacation home in Charentes, near Bordeaux, discovering that region with great delight. The wedding truly was magical and romantic, among the vineyards that produce some of the great wines of the region, and a specialty called Pineau de Charentes. I felt like I was in a movie most of the day. And this was the day before digital cameras, when almost all my film was lost in a developing error. But the memories are untouchable.

Now Catherine and I continue to plunge into conversations about art, psychology and faith, often during a long walk around whatever neighborhood they happen to be living in at the time. Fred and I discuss politics, economics, wine and the French culture. The kids ask me questions in English, and we watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark”; I read them stories at night.

Life is simple, if hectic with five kids, and I am grateful there is no TV in the house, no grand airs. Just good old-fashioned friendship, around a good walk, or a table of good food, with good conversation. Le Bonheur, quoi?!

Fifteen years, one husband, and five children later, Catherine remains a loyal and astonishing friend. How many women do you know who can raise five children, work, not be on Facebook, and still find the time to communicate with me on a regular basis?! Merci Catherine! Je t’embrasse! Et Fred, ben, merci pour les bonnes bouffes, les bons vins et astuces sur la culture francais, et tes blaques :) Bonne continuation avec le troupeau!

Off to the North I go...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Au Revoir Le Camp

Time to leave Camp des Cimes…the Moores head out at 7:30 am for bus, trains and planes. I leave later in the afternoon, after some final photos of another beautiful fall day, and after lunch with the Guffeys, our colleagues of many years.

Hard to come down from the mountain!!! To leave such beauty, such good friends, with conversations too short, and the mountains speaking volumes in their grandeur and solidity. Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since my first trip to France, to this camp. Hard to end long final glances to soak in the beauty, to get in the car to leave. I could easily stay another week.

Allison drops me off in Bourg d’Oisans, to catch the bus to Grenoble, a lovely slow descent with the sunbeams, from the mountains into the valley that Grenoble sits in. Arriving at the bus station, I spot the Barrauds—all five children, and Catherine, smiling and waving. Bisous, bisous, bisous…followed by much jumping up and down of five children who either don’t know me, or barely remember me, greeting me as if I was their long lost best friend. Then off to find the toilets, and hit the road; this is a day of strikes, when public transportation strikes force many to take their cars, and we anticipate traffic jams getting out of the city.

An hour later, we arrive at Sillans, where the Barrauds live, a lovely pastoral village. I discover I have been sitting on a chocolate cookie in that hour…agh!!!! first order of duty is a quick change and laundry. A chaotic dinner follows, then bundling the kiddies off to bed. Catherine crashes too, to read, and I take a deep breath, and switch gears. I’ll be here for three days, renewing our friendship, getting to know the kids, and no doubt running interference for exhausted parents from time to time. I think I’ll turn in early myself…

Monday, October 11, 2010

A "God Moment" with Rose

Rose has been a worker here for so many years…and become a dear friend with whom I share a few commonalities: a love of healing, counseling, and the arts, hanging out one on one and going deep over a cup of coffee or tea, and a passion to speak truth into peoples’ lives. Although we see each other rarely, we pick up where we left off each time, and go further.

I wandered down the path to Rose's house on the camp property, and stopped in for a visit before leaving, and as we talked, we had a “God moment.”

It has long been a dream of mine to host a healing retreat here at the camp. The facilities are perfect to accommodate a large group (rare in France), and the beautiful setting would be soooo conducive to healing. But then I took a detour into the arts ministry…or so I thought.

As the arts ministry develops, I have seen the acute need for healing retreats for artists, and have been mulling that over for some time. The need was apparent again during our SALT conference this summer, and I thought again of the camp.

This morning, as Rose and I caught up on our lives, and began dreaming together, I had the sense that one day in the not too distant future, we will probably be working together, that God has something up his sleeve that is going to be quite special for us in the future. Rose is fast approaching the empty nest, and as time frees up for her, and I develop materials and experience in the healing power of the arts, there will no doubt be convergence. I look forward to the possibilities!

Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis!

It is a tradition that when the Moores and I get together, we watch “Mission Cléopatra”—a movie based on the famous Asterisk and Obelisk cartoons—which came out a few years ago. It is a very silly movie, but filled with hilarious and brilliant word/visual/ cultural plays, and there is absolutely no way to translate it. So I can only enjoy it with a few people—and last night we enjoyed it again, laughing until we fell inevitably on the floor in tears.

The Moores have also introduced me to another hilarious film, which not even all the French would get: “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis”— Welcome to the Home of the Ch’tis—a film by Dany Boon, a well-known comedian from the North.

“Ch’ti” (pronounced “shtee”) is a local word for the people of the North, and it recreates the ‘sh’ sound the Northerners put everywhere, very often at the beginning of words. So for example, if I wanted to say I was from the North, I would say, “Je suis ch’ti, moi.” And it would sound like “J’shwe (one syllable only!) shtea moi.” It’s no wonder I didn’t know what I was hearing when I first got to the North fresh from language school!

Back to the movie: a spoof on Northern culture, the movie plays on all the clichés of the North, as the North is perceived by the rest of France, and the famous ‘ch’ti’ patois—the distinctive northern pronunciation and convoluted grammar. We are now walking around with our northern accents reved up, and leaving poor Andrew in the dust. (Although he is doing a fine job of picking up the more standard French!)

Unless you are from the North, or have lived there for a good amount of time, you would miss the allusions and word plays, even if you were French. But if ever you want to get a glimpse into my life in northern France, I highly recommend “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis”—and don’t worry if you don’t get it all. If nothing else, we'll have something to talk about next time I see you! The translation is ridiculous, but the scenery and the emotional landscape are right on. The only inaccuracy is the weather--which belies the gray, dreary, rainy climate of the North.

So, two of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen I cannot share with my Anglophone friends! But you all know the joy of serious belly laughs with good friends. And
if you’ve lived cross-culturally, you know also the joy of finding again those roots that go so deep. We will always be ‘ch’ti’ somewhere in our hearts.

La Boum!

…French slang for PARTY!!!! Party in a quiet culture means you alert your neighbors to the noise level coming, which will probably go till dawn. Wedding celebrations are the quintessential ‘boums’—with the meal lasting well past midnight, and then the dancing begins…

The French wedding celebration of Patty Moore and Andrew Harris—the reason we’re all here—was no exception, although we did finish the meal before midnight, and the dancing didn’t go till dawn.

Saturday afternoon, a group of us women descended on the main dining hall, transforming it with amber dishes, purple napkins in the wine glasses, and flowers. Someone went out to collect fresh ivy, and Allison arrived with a box of tea lights, pillar candles and runners. We even hauled out the Christmas lights to blink on and off over the fireplace.

Raymond, our chef, worked for two days to delight us with stuffed tomatoes, escalopes de dinde (turkey breasts), in a white cream sauce (shallots sautéed with white wine is the secret, he divulged), green beans and egg noodles. The cheese course followed, with a blue, a goat cheese, and an emmenthaler. White wine accompanying…although we had a delicious Bordeaux that I stuck with, and the French baguettes flowed by the basketful. Gigantic “Iles flottantes”, everyone’s favorite dessert, was served. The ‘iles’—islands of meringue—were more like small icebergs, floating in a cream sauce. (Sorry for the duplication on photos--I'm having blogger issues!!)

French games, designed to embarrass...ahem, get to know better...the couple, interrupted our ooo’s and aah’s over the meal, and our "Bravo, Raymond!" (in several languages--French, English, Italian and German) as he introduced each course.

And then the clean up began, and then the lingering talk with coffee, tea, as so many of us haven’t seen each other in years. And as the baby boomers drooped a bit towards midnight, the younger generation moved downstairs to the improvised dance hall, complete with disco light, ping pong table and that table soccer game for which I forget the English name.

The ‘boum’ went up with a disco thump till I feel asleep, somewhere in the wee hours, reveling in the camaraderie, the French-ness of it all, and the knowledge that I had no specific time to get up the next day!

Patty and Andrew – c’etait genial!!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bonjour Grenoble!

After boarding the train for Grenoble, I promptly fell asleep, waking two hours later in Lyon, where I had to change trains. During the hour descent to Grenoble, from the silent cocoon of the TGV (bullet train), my bleary eyes rested on the gentle scenery rolling by; the red tile roofs, the ‘fraidy cat’ electrical towers extending over the entire landscape, and cathedrals on hills—citadels of suffocation, or refuge, depending on your point of view.

We passed country villages, towns and small cities: La Tour du Pin, St. Andre le Gaz, Voiron; passing the Chartreuse distillery, which I visited on my exit from France four years ago; watching the man at the picnic table behind the factory, drinking a beer; spotting the first peaks of the Alps come into view, still quite distant and low, and the white cows of the region—Charolais. In Voiron, a woman board the train with her bike.

Finally arriving in Grenoble, we poured into the station and out onto a pavement hot with the warm temps of an Indian summer day, and filled with disenfranchised youth. Where was the bathroom?!

The Moores found me first, wandering around the Grenoble train station, wondering what the arrangements were to get to my final destination: Camp des Cimes—Camp of the Peaks—the camp where my French journey began in 1991.

The family I worked with for 10 years in Lille, as jetlagged and bedraggled as me, surrounded me for a group hug, and I met Andrew, the newest member of the family, Patty’s husband of two weeks.

Howard began punching numbers into his cell phone to connect with Allison, their daughter and our chauffeur back to the camp, where she works. It was a glorious autumn day in Grenoble, and we stood in the shade of the train station chattering away until we saw her roar into the parking lot.

We quickly loaded the luggage, jumped in the van, and found our way out of Grenoble, to make a pit stop at LIDL, one of the cheaper food chains in Europe, to load up on groceries for the week. You probably never saw a sillier group of shoppers, giggly and punchy, squealing with delight as we rediscovered forgotten French treats, specialties and favorites—tiramisu, iles flottantes, chocolate mousse, baguettes, wine, cheese, sirop de menthe, herbal teas, pate au canard, du champagne, au porto (sorry for those of you who don’t know these delicacies, but for those of you who do….well, you know what I’m talking about!) Our basket was soon full of all the goodies, and few of the essentials.

An hour later, after a breathtaking ride up into the Alps, we pulled into the camp, and Allison showed us to our rooms. After almost two days of journeying, we dropped our suitcases, back packs and water bottles, and convened in the kitchen to break into the Swiss chocolate and French coffee—it was gouter, snack time, a quintessential part of French culture, and not to missed the first day back!

Besides, we had to introduce Andrew to all this! Dinner and a slide show followed, falling asleep to Patty and Andrew’s pictures of their honeymoon in Boston.

It’s going to be a good vacation.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Discover Your Journey

In a whirl of travel, I have arrived. The swirl of emotion as my psyche tries to connect with what we’re doing, and where, is trumped by the need to focus: watch out for terrorists, and navigate through the labyrinthine Charles de Gaulle airport—one of my least favorite places on the planet. I need to get to the train station (probably at least a five-mile trudge through the airport) and catch my train to Grenoble.

The kiosk from which I am to obtain my electronic ticket won’t accept my Visa card; I have to join the very long line of travelers at the ticket counter. Ugh. The despicable task is made easier by the helpfulness of the ticket agent.

A two hour wait for my train is filled with people watching, drawing, munching on biscuits and drinking Evian. I inhale a familiar smell—the train station at Charles de Gaulle. I wonder how many times I’ve sat here…

I find myself sitting straighter. No slouching. No smiling. The strict code of public etiquette. The quietness of public spaces, the soft voices, the discretion, things I always appreciated. My French personality spurts out in spasmodic reflexes as familiar patterns lurch into consciousness, triggered by the sights, sounds and smells.

The lady sitting next to me asks me something forbidden, with a worried look on her face: would I watch her luggage while she goes to buy a bottle of water? “My flowers need it,” she pleads, indicating the bouquet wilting on her suitcases. It takes me a minute to respond; she is the incarnation of someone I know in the North—even to the cadence of her speech, and her word choices. She must be a nordiste, I think, and I want to give her a hug, faire des bises, and I stifle a pang of homesickness for Lille. She is not who I remember; and I am pretty sure she is not a terrorist; I assure her I’ll watch her things, if she will watch mine while I find a toilet.

What will it be like to return to France? I have a few hours on a train ride to ponder that question, if I don’t sleep through the whole trip. I settle back against my suitcases and rehydrate with great gulps of the Evian water.

This is going to be a different kind of journey…

Friday, October 8, 2010

30 minutes...

…curbside to gate, with a pit stop for a pumpkin latte to kick the vacation off, and a slight scolding at the security check for an infraction. (Dang…always forget something in the labyrinth of regulations.) Thank you, Atlanta Airport, for being calm today! I’m off!

My suitcase is loaded with books, gifts, one package of highly-coveted brownie mix, and sketchbook project.

My ear is language-tuned after watching “Avenue Montaigne”—a French film that is so quintessentially French I was laughing even in the serious parts—I love the French!!! Can’t wait to be immersed in the language again, and flex my French language muscles.

I’m ‘prayed up’—with many spontaneous prayers yesterday and this morning, as I bumped into colleagues and friends. Travel alerts notwithstanding.
One set of verses is tucked in my pocket—courtesy of one of our worship leaders here, a towering sister from the DR:

“For the seed shall be prosperous, the vine shall give its fruit, the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew. I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these…Ask the LORD for rain in the time of the latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds, he will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone!”—Zecharaiah 8:12, 10:1
Sounds rich, doesn’t it?! Bring it on, LORD!!!!

I’m trying to pick out the Frenchies here at the gate, but so far, only Americans, with one African. The array of travel paraphernalia is astonishing.

Jet lag, here I come!!! See you on the other side!!

PS - I'm on the other side - safe and sound :) Patience as I navigate unpredictable wireless connections!!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The French Connection

I could certainly write more on Italy, but it’s time to segue into France!!! Tomorrow afternoon, I leave for three weeks in the Beloved Country, where I spent twelve delicious and difficult years of my life. Time to find again my French personality, to put away the colorful tanks, capris and open-toed shoes of Hotlanna, and dig out the rain gear, scarves, and muted tones of Europe.

It’s great to be going back, and it’s intimidating. The terror alerts are on again. When I lived there, it became routine; now, it gives me pause…the world grows increasingly tense. But I want to live in the armor of light and from the nature of who God is.

I know it’s the dream trip for many, but I go in not as a tourist, but as one who knows the culture enough to know the spiritual oppression, the cultural confusion and the mental gymnastics with language that await. No romantic notions here. Still, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

So, ciao Italia, and Bonjour La France! J’arrive…

I close with one of my favorite quotes:

For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.—Dag Hammerskjold

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friends and More Friends!

And here we have a few of us gathered for more pasta (or was it pizza?!), at the hotel in Pomezia….brainstorming, dreaming, enjoying the good food and fellowship…

Meet Andrew and Ruth Garvey-Williams, brilliant artists working in Ireland. Andrew has been an Artslink team leader for the Art Zone at Teen Street, an annual event in Europe that draws thousands of teens each year to encounter God. During the SALT sessions, Andrew executed what became our signature piece, “Restoring the Ruins” which you can see on my July 20 post with the same title. (

Ruth, a gifted communicator, produced a spoken word piece from Ezra, and gave a dramatic performance to open our gathering. I want to move next door to them…

To their right is Ellen Anderson, who is our volunteer UK rep—a dear friend and a skillful artists! I have enjoyed Ellen’s company and work in Spain and Italy (where next, Ellen?!).

And to my right is Josh Butler—no relation that we know of! Josh has a vision bigger than himself—a vision for Kosovo: a night club church!

Well, can’t say as I’ve ever thought of that one before…

But as Josh riveted us with his enthusiasm and dedication, I jotted notes and asked questions; we will continue the conversation from now until this dream realizes, for Josh’s vision is God-sized: impossible, improbable, and therefore probably going to happen.

He invited us to come to Kosovo and minister to the women of that broken country, to fight the sex trafficking and prostitution there, and restore the broken places in their hearts. One more for the list of things to do…

Can you imagine how rich these meal times were?! And then we cooled down with a stroll into town for a gelato, our heads chock full of ideas, our eyes as star-filled as the cool Italian night, filled with wonder at what God is doing in his artists….

July in Rome seems long ago and far away now…Josh is in Kosovo, the Garvey-Williams are back in Ireland, and Ellen in England. Now we are sifting through vision statements, invitations, requests. Where to next? Coming up next post...

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.—Marcel Proust