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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Many Thanks to St. Joseph!

This is a family we met at a hospital emergency room. We sat together for at least 90 minutes and formed a little, temporary community where we talked, laughed, had some fun while we waited to see the doctor.

Eluiza and I had been hosting two sisters from New Zealand for three days. We took them to all the high points around town and they enthusiastically enjoyed them. 

Things had been going very well--until their last afternoon with us. We were on our way back home after enjoying lunch at a restaurant and visiting the Kitchen and the  scenographic history of the Sisters of St. Joseph. We had planned to hang out at the house, go to Mass, and have a simple evening meal when we returned. Unfortunately, Eluiza tripped on a huge crack in the sidewalk and fell off the curb and onto her shoulder! She could not move her arm and the pain was excruciating. 
Colleen and Marie
Marie and Colleen, who were walking a few meters ahead of us, heard the fall and ran toward us. Fortunately, Colleen is a nurse, so once she got Eluiza up again, she walked with her. After going down the steep hill, the two of them stopped at a small park at the bottom. Eluiza was feeling whoozy. Actually, she was in shock and had turned white. They eventually went to a pharmacy across the street where the pharmacist took Eluiza's blood pressure and recommended that she go to the hospital emergency center right away.

Meanwhile, I walked home to get the car so I could take Eluiza to the hospital. Marie came with me and then stayed at the Centre to pray to St. Joseph that everything would work out. He was already helping us get through this incident and he would proved to be with us many times more.

We made it to the hospital in a matter of minutes, and Eluiza continued to be in terrible pain. She sat down and asked me to go to the check-in window to register her. As I waited for a couple people in front of me, I practiced what I would say in French because I had to get it right. Fortunately, when it was Eluiza's turn, she came up to the window just in time and explained what had happened to her. (I was relieved!) 

We waited another 30 minutes before they called her. They gave her a sling for her arm and sent her to Radiology, which was a long, winding trip around the hospital. The x-ray technician examined the results and mentioned that she had fractured her shoulder. A fracture is apparently better than a break, so we thanked St. Joseph.

While we waited, which turned out to be another 90 minutes, we began interacting with the people around us. A family was there with their little girl who had a bee sting in her leg and a huge bubble on her hand, the result of her swinging on a metal bar. When I talked to Eluiza and Colleen in English, the little girl's eyes brightened because she recognized the language. Perhaps she was recognizing that English was a living language that people actually spoke and not just a subject she took in school. She wanted to engage me. She told me that she was 11 years old and in her fourth year of learning English. She also shared stories about her love of sports, which included soccer, basketball, and track and field. Her very extroverted father also told us that she was a born athlete.  

Whenever I attempted to speak French and would goof up, the whole family would correct me--in unison, which was very funny to me. I eventually told them I was a writer and asked if I could take a picture of them for my blog. They said yes. I rose from my chair to position myself for the shot. When I turned around, they were all posing (see photo above), which also made me laugh because it was so unexpected.

While we waited for the doctor, we also met another patient, a truck driver who needed some emergency attention. He was accompanied by his friend, a tour bus driver. The truck driver told us he had been hauling sheep milk for cheese over the past 30 years. He seemed to take a shine to Colleen and spoke in French to her even though she didn't have a clue about what he was saying. She just responded to him with smiles. Apparently, he just needed someone to listen to him, and he saw that she was good at that. Here is their photo. 

A young man in colorful pants that looked like a cross between Spiderman and Batman walked past us a couple times and attracted everyone's attention. I told the group that I hoped to get pants like his for Christmas, and they all laughed.

After we had been sitting in the waiting room for a long while, Eluiza suddenly got the idea--even in her pain--to ask the group if anyone knew the way to the St. Etienne train station. We were going to take the sisters there early the next day so they could connect to a train that would take them to the Lyon airport. The truck driver and the tour bus driver both knew the way and gave us directions. That was a lucky break, too, and we thanked St. Joseph.

Finally, the doctor called Eluiza. She took one look at him, became alarmed, and asked me to come with her. He looked a little like Frankenstein, was very business-like, and spoke very fast. Although the ER didn't seem that busy, he seemed to be in a hurry. Finally, he gave Eluiza a prescription for pain and a special sling for her shoulder. We went to the pharmacy in town just minutes before it closed, and the pharmacist, who was very nice, showed us how to put on this complicated sling. 

By this time we had missed Mass and Eluiza was in no condition to go anyway. We went back to the house and had a light dinner of soup and sandwiches, which the sisters helped me prepare. All had gone well under the circumstances, and we all thanked St. Joseph. 

Here is what Eluiza's shoulder sling looks like, thanks to Google Images. She didn't want her photo on my blog for all the world to see.

Almost two weeks have gone by and Eluiza is still in pain, although her shoulder is healing. A big part of her distress is that the Centre was about to go into its busy season, and she wouldn't be able to work. However, she didn't have to worry because St. Joseph would take care of that, too. A young Indian sister who is visiting Lyon for a while, will take Eluiza's place and help out at the Centre.

Eluiza also discovered that the French health care system provides a nurse to come to a patient's home to bathe her, cut her finger nails and attend to any particular needs. Ingrid is Eluiza's nurse, and she is very gentle and kind. Ingrid also showed Eluisa how to set up her bed with pillows so that her shoulder could be comfortable. Eluiza had been sleeping in a lazy boy chair for a week because it was the only place where she could sleep--even though it wasn't much. Sleeping in her bed with this new set-up has helped her tremendously. Only four more weeks until this ordeal is over!  

When Ingrid isn't there I am Eluiza's nurse. I wrap the sling around her, tie up her hair in a pony tail, open jars, peel back the tops of yogurt cups, cut her meat, cook our meals, put on her seat belt, and perform various other small things she can't do with only one hand. It has been an interesting lesson in what it takes to be a caregiver even at this minor level and to realize the important job that nurses do for their patients. 

So even though tragedy had struck Eluiza, St. Joseph was with her and taking care of her throughout this ordeal. Good thing Sr. Marie was back at the house praying to him that afternoon!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

My Day Off

I've been on a fast learning curve here at the Centre: French language, French driving, French shopping, layout of the city, routines and duties of the Centre, figuring out where I am and what I'm doing. It's all been good, but every one needs a break sometime--and today was it for me. What I would find out, however, on this brief three-hour journey was that I had touched eternity.

St. Julien Chapteuil
I read (in French) that a blueberry festival was being held in St. Julien Chapteuil (about 30 minutes away), so after a long walk, breakfast, French language studies and a shower, I headed out. It was a gorgeous day on the French countryside in this area called the Haute-Loire (the headwaters of the Loire River). The rolling hills, some of which are extinct volcanoes, made for a beautiful drive. 

St. Julien
I easily followed the road signs and found the city, but there was no blueberry festival! It must have been on Saturday but not on Sunday. So I made due, explored the downtown a bit and spent some time at St. Julien Parish, a 13th century romanesque church named after a Roman soldier. The church was originally a monastery. Today, it was eerily quiet but quite comfortable as I roamed around looking at its structure, altars, and effects. 

Front of the 13th century church with a clock tower added in the 19th century

The church is on the highest point in the city, so the view of the surrounding area was scenic. Like most of the buildings in this area, it was made of basalt, the hardened rock from the many ancient volcanoes of the area. 

The sidewalks were paved with panels of small stone, which reminded me of my Uncle Marcel whose company produced these types of panels among other stone products. He was born and bred in Italy so I think I'm beginning to understand him better as I spend time in France amid all the stones. He loved stone and decorated his house with stone. 

This love of stone also extended to one of my new French friends. After spending two years in the USA, she was returning to France. What she had missed the most was "the stone."

Stone is about permanence. It's about cleverly making arches and ceilings that don't collapse on another because they are properly placed and balanced against each other. It's also about a lot of old buildings that are still cared for and respected for what they represent or once housed. Europe is full of stone buildings and it is one of the things that I, too, like about living here. Stone is beautiful and it is of the Earth. It's not fabricated like other building materials, rather, it is cut, polished, and positioned for its greatest effect structurally and aesthetically. 

Romanesque cathedrals from the early Middle Ages (1000-1200) are solid, massive, impressive churches that are often still the largest structure in many towns. They feature  geometrically-shaped domes with arches and massive columns to support their weighty structures.

The decoration uses geometric shapes rather than floral or curvilinear patterns. The common shapes used were diapers (squares or lozenges), chevrons (zigzag patterns and shapes) and circles, which echoed the half-circle shape of the ubiquitous arches. (from Beginner's Guide to Romanesque Architecture)

Here's the baptismal font in a former chapel space. I liked it for its beautiful arrangement in a designated space. Although many churches today put the font near the entrance of the church, this one was to the right of the altar.

World War I was something the world had never seen before with 11 million military deaths, 7 million civilian deaths and 23 million wounded. All over Europe there are war memorials. This church had a plaque installed with its war dead, which illustrates the staggering loss of young men from this small town.

Here is an elaborate 19th century wood ambo where the Scripture readings were proclaimed. The bird at the top is a pelican, which is a symbol of Jesus because it feeds its young while it oftentimes goes hungry itself. This ambo is no longer used, but its beauty could not be hidden in a closet, so the parish keeps it in a small side chapel to the left of the altar.

The city's coat of arms is displayed on the balcony railing of the church.

More scenes in the city center of St. Julien Chapteuil that exhibit the use of stone on houses and streets.

This stone pathway dramatically leads up to the church.

This rather plain, garage-like building has become a tourist attraction with a restaurant, café, and souvenir shop for visitors to this quaint village. Of course, it was closed on Sunday.

It's a house now, but this building, which is across from the church, may have housed the monks.

Beautiful stone archways frame the next group of buildings.

Even the trash containers are propped up by stone.

Driving through the French countryside
I love driving. It relaxes me and allows me to be alone with myself, the road and the countryside. I started this habit on the Sunday morning after I bought my first car, a 1972 red Datsun. I drove south from my home in Detroit on the backroads of Telegraph all the way to Sylvania, Ohio. It was a smooth two-lane highway with hardly anyone on it. I would drive many a road like that over the next 45 years....and now I was driving on one in France!!

After I left St. Julien, I headed north of Le Puy to see what was out there. While I drove, I played French rock music on the radio and wove my way along the two-lane highways in the countryside until a sign pointed to the "Valley of the Volcanoes." It's a national park and an irresistible destination, so I pressed on for about an hour before turning back to Le Puy. Here are some of the sights, although my camera does not do justice to the majesty of the landscape.

There were a couple lone crosses like this one on the road. They probably designated early missions of the Church.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Radical Oneness: A Little Design within God's Great Design

The International Centre in Le Puy will host 13 sisters next week to participate in a program led by Janet Mock, CSJ from Baden, PA, Aug 29 - Sept 6. The program is called: "Radical Oneness: A Little Design within God's Great Design."

Radical Oneness is a guided retreat reflecting on and praying with the privilege and the call to live the charism and spirituality of Sisters of St. Joseph by claiming its incarnational power in a world hungering for great love. This retreat will take place within the context of our sacred spaces in Le Puy and Lyon.

Janet served in the ministries of education, formation, congregational leadership, community outreach and worked at the Religious Formation Conference and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the USA. Janet is currently involved in facilitation and retreat ministry, and lives in Aliquippa, PA​.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Picasso Exhibit

Claude dessignant François et Paloma

A Picasso exhibit is in town and Line, Eluiza and I went to see it on a Sunday afternoon. The exhibit is called "Picasso and Maternity" and it is in the art gallery of the Hôtel Dieu, what used to be an medieval monastery.

When his wives were having children, he was quite focused on this theme. He used his children as models until they were around 7 years old. Then he went on to other themes.

The paintings show a very tender relationship between the mother and her children. Here are some samples of what was in the exhibit.

Mere et enfants jouant


Before we went to the Picasso exhibit, Line and Eluiza and I had a Chinese buffet at the 
Au Lotus D'Or, which is near the Centre. 

The food was good, although a little too fried even for me -- and a very good day for all of us!  Here is my plate.

The second line says that you can have a buffet
or ask for your vegetables to be cooked in a wok

The restaurant was well-decorated and it must be popular because there were over 100 seats available.

What was interesting was the adaptation to the French palate. For example, also available for the buffet was French bread, snails, shrimp, oysters, French cookies and cakes.

Here is a description of the Picasso and his work from his website:

Pablo Picasso is probably the most important figure of 20th century, in terms of art, and art movements that occurred over this period. Before the age of 50, the Spanish born artist had become the most well known name in modern art, with the most distinct style and eye for artistic creation. There had been no other artists, prior to Picasso, who had such an impact on the art world, or had a mass following of fans and critics alike, as he did.

Pablo Picasso was born in Spain in 1881, and was raised there before going on to spend most of his adult life working as an artist in France. Throughout the long course of his career, he created more than 20,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and other items such as costumes and theater sets. He is universally renowned as one of the most influential and celebrated artists of the twentieth century. 

Picasso's ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles made him well respected during his own lifetime. After his death in 1973 his value as an artist and inspiration to other artists has only grown. He is without a doubt destined to permanently etch himself into the fabric of humanity as one of the greatest artists of all time. 

As an artist and an innovator, he is responsible for co-founding the entire Cubist movement alongside Georges Braque. Cubism was an avant-garde art movement that changed forever the face of European painting and sculpture while simultaneously affecting contemporary architecture, music and literature. Subjects and objects in Cubism are broken up into pieces and re-arranged in an abstract form. During the period from approximately 1910-1920 when Picasso and Braque were laying the foundation for Cubism in France, it's effects were so far-reaching as to inspire offshoots like the styles of Futurism, Dada, and Constructivism in other countries. 

Picasso is also credited with inventing constructed sculpture and co-inventing the collage art style. He is also regarded as one of three artists in the twentieth century credited with defining the elements of plastic arts. This revolutionary art form led society toward societal advances in painting, sculpture, printmaking and ceramics by physically manipulating materials that had not previously been carved or shaped. These materials were not just plastic, they were things that could be moulded in some way, usually into three dimensions. Artists used clay, plaster, precious metals, and wood to create revolutionary sculptural art work the world had never seen before.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

New Zealand Sisters Visit the Centre

Colleen Woodcock and Marie Skidmore came to the Centre for a visit, and we had the privilege of showing them around town. We took them or accompanied them to Notre Dame, the night time luminaries, Polignac castle, St. Laurent, St. Joseph Basilica. We also took them to the Kitchen where the first sisters lived and to the scenography, which outlines the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph from 1650 to the present. They went to the Saturday market and later that day, Colleen walked up to the summit of St. Michel Chapel by herself. It was a full three days and they never tired!

One of the joys of my job at the Centre is to meet people from all over the world and learn new things from them. One interesting thing they talked about was the New Zealand soccer team, The All Blacks, who do a haka dance before each international match. They are the only team allowed to do some sort of spirited gesture before a game. This tradition began in 1888 when the New Zealand Native football team went on tour. It then fell to the All Blacks to carry it on since 1905.

The haka is based on the Maori war dance, which was performed by warriors before a battle. By doing it, they proclaim their strength and prowess as a means of intimidating their opponents. Today, the haka is performed to welcome distinguished guests or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

Here's the way The All Blacks do it.

Here is the way the Maori do it (complete with subtitles).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Luminaries of Le Puy

Every night during the summer months, the City of Le Puy puts on a luminary display its most important buildings: the Cathedral, Mount St. Michel, the Hôtel Dieu. At 10 p.m. when it is pitch dark, lights are cast upon these buildings. Here are a few shots of what the light show looks like on the Hôtel Dieu. After each performance, the audience claps with delighted approval. It's really a clever thing for the city to do!!

Incidentally, night time in the city is gorgeous among its cobblestoned medieval streets. Here are a couple examples at the intersection located at the foot of the Cathedral. I just LOVE medieval towns for their mystical quality!!

And here is a close-up of the statue of Notre Dame near the top of the Cathedral.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Feast of the Assumption of Mary

Attendants carry a statue of the Black Madonna, who was honored in Le Puy
on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary--August 15
Today was a holiday in France--the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, which commemorates the belief that when Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, died, her body was not subjected to the usual process of physical decay but was “assumed” into heaven by angels and reunited there with her soul.

The Assumption of Mary is a holy day of obligation for Catholics throughout the world, which means that people generally go to Mass. In the United States, that's mostly all that the day means. In Europe and South America, the people have processions like the one we experienced today in Le Puy. 

In France, businesses closed their doors today in honor of Mary and churches held special Masses, celebrations, processions, concerts and other events. People lit candles and parishes dressed up their altars.

Déjeuner at the International Centre in Le Puy
(left to right) Sr. Lilly from India, Sr. Rose Marie from Mexico
and Sr. Catherine (Mother Superior) from France.
(Not pictured is Sr. Line from the USA.)
The top three leaders from the Congregation of Lyon came to Le Puy to celebrate the Assumption, which started out with 11 a.m. Mass followed by  dejeuner (our main meal of the day) at the Centre International. 

Eluiza (left) cut the melons and setup the meal while Line (below) made chicken and zucchini. I made potato salad the night before. Our aperitif was cantaloupe with port wine. After the main meal we had a cheese plate and a dessert of creamy, fruity delicious-ness.

Our meal lasted almost two hours. Then we walked into town to attend the 3 o'clock procession that recognized and honored the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The Procession
I had never attended a religious procession in Europe and so I was very interested to see what it was like. I expected a parade that we would watch. Instead we were a part of a long and crowded procession that snaked through the cobblestone streets of Le Puy and ended up at the Cathedral, which is located on a hill above the city. 

The procession started out with a group of men carrying a statue of the Cathedral's Black Madonna. (The face of Mary and Jesus are made of a black stone.)

Here is a longer view of the men carrying the statue.

Groups of priests dressed in their liturgical robes followed behind the statue. 

Thousands of people took part in the procession, which included pilgrims, tourists and the local people. 

Weeks before, the town hung blue and white streamers on the procession route, the colors of the Blessed Mother, as decorations for the special day.

Loud speakers had been set up along the procession route so that everyone could hear and join in the various religious songs that were sung a cappella. At the end of each song set, priests led a decade of the rosary. 

People of all ages walked on through the streets singing, praying, and reflecting on the mysteries of the Blessed Mother.

Many onlookers watched the procession from their apartments or from the street.

Some people sat in sidewalk cafés to watch the procession--what seemed to me to be a very French thing to do!

TV cameras were also on the scene and a  France TV 3 crew stopped me for a short interview about where I was from and why I was there. 

"This is a special holiday for the Church," I said. "I have never been to a procession before, and I wanted to experience it." (Eluiza watched and waited for me to get through the interview so that we could re-join the other sisters in the procession. Unfortunately, she didn't get a photo of my first big moment in the French media.)

After the procession that had circled the city, participants made their way up the hill to the Cathedral to hear the Bishop address them with a message of peace and unity in our world today.

Le Puy has long been an attraction for spiritual pilgrims. This particular feast day has been celebrated since the fifth century--the time of the Romans! We were participating in an ancient tradition!

One of the most interesting impressions I had of this day was the silence and reverence of the crowds as a display of faith and prayer. The Blessed Mother represents a call to unity and peace, which we surely need these days more than ever.

Security was plentiful. Given the incidents of the past few years in France, Le Puy was not taking any chances. I was grateful these efforts were made, but considered for a moment what it would be like if there were a terrorist attack among the crowds. Fortunately, there were no incidents.
Gendarmes walked with the procession. They also held stationary positions in various places along the route.

Buses were used to block intersections that led into the old town so that no vehicles could enter.

Heavy equipment and barriers were also used to block traffic.

Red Cross workers (in orange) were on hand to attend to medical emergencies.

Today was a great day.  And yet, it still puzzles me how France has separated religion and the state but that many Church holidays are celebrated. "It's a Catholic country," I'm told. While I'm here, I'll continue to study and learn about what seems to me to be an odd relationship--even though it apparently works for the French.