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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saturday Market Day

It's Market Day in Le Puy and the main streets of the old city are crowded with people--not only local people but hundreds of tourists who have come to visit the historic city. The early morning fog did not deter anyone. If anything, it made the climb up to the city more mystical, more intriguing, more intentional. The coolness of the air is especially refreshing after so many hot days. 

The sights here are colorful in a setting of cobblestone streets and gray plastered buildings with painted wooden shutters. People mill about the countless stands of vegetables, breads, cheeses, meats, sausages, seafoods, honey, liquors, nuts, clothes, soaps, jewelry, antiques, food trucks and roasted chickens. Everything you'd ever want is here. The smell of the cheese stinks, but the lines are long so it must be good. Some things are strange delicacies. And the familiar hot dogs, hamburgers and ribs are missing, but pinch me, this is France!

artisan bread 

food truck 

quail all set for Babette's feast

pigeons and 
their eggs (I think)

green lentils of Le Puy
(a.k.a. French lentils)

goat cheese 

red garlic

distinguishing a product stand with a funny hat

roasted chicken 

saucisson -- 
the spice of life in France

yellow mushrooms

As with American farm markets, people are happy and curious. Even children are engaged. Those who want to walk their dogs frequently end up carrying them, at least the small ones, to avoid getting them hurt by the crush of the crowd.

Then there are those who advertise something or another. This morning some very strange-looking, almost medieval-like animators were attracting crowds.

I'd love to see whatever entertainment they offer. It's got to be good.

International Folk Festival -- July 17-23

Malaysian Band marches down street to find a place to perform
On this particular weekend the town is celebrating folk cultures so every day from July 17-23 groups from several different countries perform in the streets. The folk festivals have been held since 2013 and they are most inspiring. These groups share their culture through music, dance and song, and it's really extraordinary to see all these young people perform after they have traveled many miles to be here for the festival. What an opportunity for them--and for the locals and tourists who come to see them. This year's groups are from Malaysia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bolivia and Extremadura (southwest Spain). We saw all but the Bolivian group.

Spanish dancers from Extremadura use their castanets to the approval of the woman in the back

Macedonian band plays romp pah pah

Malaysians provide a dramatic drum and "tambourine" performance

shy boy clings to his mother as they pose with Serbian dancers
It is striking that so much of life here takes place outdoors. Windows of houses and buildings have no screens and they open wide to the outside. People walk everywhere all the time. We walk almost every day and that means we scale a steep hill upwards and downwards. (I'm getting used to it after 2 weeks!) Of course, there are the sidewalk cafés where people sit over a glass of wine or the tiniest cup of espresso and nurse it for hours. 

People aren't afraid of the street nor do they shun or condemn it. I'm sure they don't think about it, but they seem to celebrate the street and use it as a gathering place whether they have business to attend to or not. They certainly guard this kind of life. For example, on November 13, 2015 when gunmen and suicide bombers almost simultaneously hit a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars in Paris and left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded, a French friend of mine said he and his countrymen were not about to give up on their way of life (meaning life on the street) no matter what.

In the USA we've largely gotten away from this sensibility and retreated instead to our cars and secured our houses. People who "live on the street" are seen as poor people, and loitering is not allowed. Even so, I think one reason why Americans enjoy places like Europe so much is that they encounter an open-air celebration of life that the Italians call "la dolce di non fare niente" (the sweetness of just doing nothing).

Dr. Colleen Long was featured in a September 2014 article in  Psychology Today talking about "la dolce di non fare niente." She says:

"The idea that “doing nothing,” is actually an event in and of itself. The idea that we no longer run on a treadmill of activity from getting the kids ready for school, to brushing our teeth, to conference calls, to picking up kids, fixing dinner, and bed- only to start over again. The idea that our actions day to day become influenced by our instincts and no longer by routines, shoulds, and musts."
It's the Puritan ethic of hard work and avoidance of idleness that gets to us, she says, even though we yearn for a little relaxation. 
The kind of relaxation we are looking for, we all yearn for--does not exist on the side of a volcano, in a rare flower, or on a desolate island far away. That kind of relaxation exists within each of us and is ours for the taking if we’re willing to put in the effort.
La dolce di non fare niente is something we can aspire to in our daily lives. And maybe we could get a little push toward it if we made the street a little more attractive and a little more lively.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sisters from Brentwood and Boston Visit the International Centre

Sr. Line Rioux (front right) leads the group up the hill to The Kitchen, the only physical trace of the founding Sisters of St. Joseph in LePuy in 1650. (left to right) Sr. Joan, Sr. JeanneMarie, Sr. JoAnn (behind Line) and Sr. Bernadette

It was their first time here but Brentwood Sisters Bernadette Westman, Joan Gallagher and JoAnn Squitieri and Boston Sister Jeanmarie Gribaudo, were totally enthralled with LePuy. 

They visited The Kitchen, the only physical trace of the founding sisters of 1650. Afterward, they visited the scenography of the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph from all over the world. (The scenography was opened in September 2016 thanks to a grant from the Anna-Maria Moggio Foundation of Haverford, PA.)

The sisters' impressions of Le Puy revealed not only the connection they felt with the early sisters but with the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph that has endured for over 350 years.

The sisters pose in front of the fireplace that the early sisters used. Sr. JeanneMarie, Sr. Joan, Sr. JoAnn and Sr. Bernadette (left to right)
"As soon as I got off the train I was amazed at how calm and quieting the place was," said JoAnn, who is doing her canonical novitiate this year. "As the days go on, I will be able to be very reflective about what I saw and felt as we walked in the steps of the sisters that founded the Congregation. It was very touching."

Sr. JoAnn will go on retreat in August where she anticipates reflecting on this this trip and gaining a whole new perspective about the Congregation as she prepares for her first profession. 

"I've been hearing about Le Puy and the early sisters for three years now and after living here for five days I have a whole new experience of our beginnings. I'm sure it will deepen my commitment to the Congregation as I look at ways to know that this is the path God wants me to take."

"Le Puy is different from what I expected," said Sr. Jeanmarie, a professor of theology at Merrimack College near Boston. "It is much larger, for example. However, without a doubt, my indelible memory will be walking into that Kitchen and finding it an extremely simple place, a place that speaks of the ordinary. After all, the kitchen is an ordinary part of any home.

"What is so amazing is that the great love of God expanded from that Kitchen to the people of Le Puy and managed to stay alive and grow to the four corners of the earth even though it was often squelched. 

"I believe that the first sisters and that ordinary Kitchen have much to teach us in the United States at this particular time. I believe it is imperative for us to read the signs of the times wherever we find ourselves, particularly as we painfully let go of what has been--except that there will always be a place for the love of God and love of the dear neighbor."

Sr. Bernadette, who is a YouTube aficionado, prepared for the trip by finding websites about LePuy. Among them was a lecture by Sr. Simone who usually provides tours of The Kitchen

"My whole sense of Le Puy was its historical nature," said Sr. Bernadette, a retired teacher and finance director who currently works in a soup kitchen. "Also, so much of the good that the early sisters did was not done on their own but through other people--lay people and benefactors. We do this same thing today. What was most striking to me was the whole idea that the mission is accomplished not just by sisters but by the people we work with."

What Sr. Joan got out of this trip to Le Puy is the life of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the future will lead.

"To say that the early sisters were courageous is an understatement," said Sr. Joan, who is currently in congregational leadership and director of the St. Joseph the Worker Program. "I have felt a real connection to them by previously spending time with the story and Fr. Medaille's writings. It's as though today we are almost back to the foundation that started in Le Puy where we do our work for the great love of God with God and with neighbor. Given the state of our world today, we're still needed!"

As the sisters stood in The Kitchen on the same floor that the early sisters did, they paused for a brief prayer honoring the founders and asked for their guidance into the transitions of the 21st century.

While in Le Puy, the sisters also had an opportunity to participate in the Tour de France festivities as well as to partake in the delicious French food offered in town. They visited Notre Dame Cathedral and St. Joseph Basilica. They also took a day trip to Monistrol in the church where Jeanne Fontbonne and her blood sister entered the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Prior to coming to LePuy, the foursome spent two days in Paris. During the last days of their trip to France they will visit Lyon where Mother St. John Fontbonne re-founded the community in 1803 after the terror of the French Revolution had concluded. 

It has truly been an enlightening experience to spend time and conversation with these four beautiful sisters!


Monday, July 17, 2017

Tour de France Festival in Le Puy

The City of Le Puy has taken advantage of the Tour de France cyclists' rest day and created a day off and provided a festival for visitors and townspeople. We joined them amid the craft booths, music, restaurants and loads of people just hanging out in town. 

Occasionally, we would see a cyclist taking the day off--by cycling around town. Ya gotta love them!

Here are some photos of our time at the festival in Le Puy.

There were bands.


Cyclists in Baggy Pants

Curious and engaged children 

Local cows to provide local milk 

Local artisan honey

Local ice cream and sorbet. (Noisette is my favorite--it's hazelnut) 

Renaissance queens who will be there for the Bird Festival in September

A pistachio nun in a crêpe habit 

Beautiful swans in the city's central park

T-shirts for sale @ only 12 euros each; sorry they were all sold out before I could get one. C'est dommage!  :(

.....and a lunch of Le Puy green lentil salad with my new colleagues: Sr. Anita, Sr. Line and Sr. Eluiza. A perfect day!!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

And Here They Come -- Tour de France in Le Puy

Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands won his first stage victory here in Le Puy, the end of the 15th stage of the Tour. Mollema is a professional cyclist currently riding for Trek–Segafredo.
According to the travel guidebooks, the French are not much into sports, at least not as much as Americans are. However, they love bicycling (and, of course, soccer). The Tour de France classic is one of the most coveted events of the year and on Sunday, July 16 at 5:30 p.m., Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands pumped his way onto Le Puy's main streets to complete the 15th stage of the tour. 

Le Puy was a welcome place on the Tour and a half-way rest stop of the 23-day tour that started on July 1 in Düsseldorf, Germany. It is slated to end July 23 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. This was the first time since 2005 that the Tour has come through Le Puy. The very first time the city hosted the Tour was in 1954.

The Tour started out with 198 young men on 22 teams dressed in short, tight pants, colorful corporate-sponsored shirts and matching shoes and crash helmets. The Tour wanders throughout the country, the Alps, the Pyrenees and not all of them are expected to finish. Due to slippery wet roads in the first of 21 stages of the tour, several riders fell off their bikes and 2 riders were knocked out completely. Eight riders withdrew in the 9th stage alone with one and two riders out in many of the other stages. Here is a complete list of the withdrawals. (To see the difficulty of the terrain, scroll down on this site.)   

While the crowd awaited the cyclists' arrival, a caravan of the Tour's sponsors (which sported each team's colors) created much excitement with floats. Cute young women on the floats danced to loud rock music while others threw out promotional gifts to onlookers. I was able to collect three hats, two inflatable pillows, four stir sticks, two Madeleines, two rulers and one box of juice. Pretty good for a rookie gringo! Here are some of my favorite floats.

As one can imagine, security was high with plenty of gendarme troopers and local and national police available to protect the cyclists and control the crowds. Helicopters also flew overhead on the route. Each section of cyclists was accompanied by motorcycle police (and cars with their bike racks). Fortunately, there were no incidents and everyone was loose and happy on this special day.

The motorcycle gendarme below waved a yellow flag and blew a whistle to warn cyclists of the road divide. I don't know how he was able to stay cool in a long-sleeve jacket, gloves and helmet. It was not a hot day, but being out in the sun for a long time could not have been easy. (It certainly wasn't easy for me!) Seeing these committed public servants at a major event like the Tour gave me an appreciation for them for the hard work they must do. 

I'm very pleased to have experienced the Tour de France!


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Les Aventures de Mme. Beaubien: Bastille Day -- July 14

There's nothing like the parades, picnics, fireworks, Sousa marches and BBQ that we experience on the Fourth of July, but the French celebration of Bastille Day on July 14 is quite different.

In LePuy, it was a pretty low-key day. Most stores were closed and traffic was quiet and at a minimum. People took the day as another opportunity for leisure on this long weekend. After all, the Tour de France would be coming soon and people were perhaps saving up their energy and excitement for that. In the evening, however, we were treated to a 30-minute fireworks display near Notre Dame, the church built on top of an ancient volcano that is topped off by a statue of the Blessed Mother. It was your typical fireworks show except that for me, this year, it was in France. 

The real action on this day was in Paris. This year was different in that newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron entertained newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump in a show of unity between our nation and France. Macron's invitation to Trump also marked the 100th anniversary of America's entrance into World War I. 

The two-hour parade down the Champs-Élysées included thousands of French troops, 241 horses, 62 airplanes and 29 helicopters all marking the storming of the Bastille military prison in 1789, the turning point in the French Revolution. About 150 U.S. soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines (see photo above) dressed in the uniform of the time participated as American aircraft  maintained a flyover the parade route along with the "Patrouille de France" who typically let loose with a dramatic trail red, white and blue signifying the French flag.

As ceremonial as the day was supposed to be, most of the media focused on the leaders' handshakes and Trump's indiscreet and undiplomatic remark about what good shape Macron's wife was. Oh well, we've learned to expect such obsessive concerns on the little things when it comes to the relationship between Trump and the press. 

After the parade and talks, which amounted to five hours between Trump and Macron, the most time Trump has spent with a foreign leader thus far, the president and his wife, Melanie, took off for home and Macron and his wife made their way to Nice to participate in memorial ceremonies of the 86 lives lost last year there when a huge truck sped through a crowd celebrating France's Bastille Day. Fireworks displays there had been banned for this year, and the cannon traditionally fired for Bastille Day was silent. First-responder heroes were recognized with medals and the whole ceremony was somber, low-key and dignified out of respect for the victims of the tragedy. Quite a contrast to the celebratory nature of the day.

However, the evening celebration in Paris featured an impressive concert of classical music performed by the Orchestre National de France, the Choeur de Radio France and the Maîtrise de Radio France who accompanied several well-known international opera singersThe music mostly included arias from famous operas like PagliacciLa BohèmeDon Carlos as well as orchestral pieces like "The Gates of Kiev," "Boléro" and the theme from the film, Chariots of Fire. A large choir of children in white tops and black bottoms backed up by a large choir of adults in formal wear sang a couple pieces. In all, the music was breath-taking with a concluding rendition of a most beautiful national anthem, "La Marseillaise" as all on stage and in the 600,000+ audience sang together (see YouTube below).

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes !
Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

To arms citizens Form your battalions
March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows

The evening ended with a climatic 37-minute fireworks display (feu d'artifice) that interacted with the Eiffel Tower accompanied by jazzy recorded music that included "I Love Paris" by Frank Sinatra. C'etait magnifique

Sr. Line made three batches of popcorn--with butter--as our staff and the four sisters from New York munched on this treat and witnessed the evening's shows both on TV and outside our front door. It was truly an evening to remember.