Dancing, Smoking, Dukes and Saints

Okay, okay.

I danced last night. For probably three solid hours. It was great. Bastille Day is so much better than the Fourth of July. I’m sorry America. But the fireworks were so close, and the band was so loud and the parade was so small and quaint; everything was wonderful. It was the best fireworks show that I’ve seen. Of course, Laura and I pointed out that since Sarkozy said France is going bankrupt, this must be where the last of the French budget is: fireworks. But heck, they were worth it.

The dancing was good. Maggie (prof’s wife) wouldn’t hear of anyone not dancing. So we held our own purses or sent them home with someone else and we were crazy Americans who practically started the dance party in the Plaza. It was great too, a couple of our girls were grabbed by Frenchmen who wanted to tell their grandchildren a story about the time they danced with an American. And some of our girls dragged French boys over to our group. They then turned out to be creeps. Or just good teenagers. Instead of dancing, they stood and stared at us, and then pulled out some weed. Mm. I love the smell of weed mixed with body odour and cigarettes. But our young men put themselves in between us and the creepers and finally they wandered away.  And we danced until I thought my feet would fall off. Vive la France!

Today we went to Rouen and Giverny. Giverny is Monet’s home and garden. I saw a print of the painting that gave the title to the Impressionist Movement and it was gorgeous! Becca and I frolicked through a field we saw in another painting too. It might have been illegal and we might have jumped a little wire fence. But it was worth it. I felt free and happy dancing in that field of brown wheat and red flowers. If only I’d had a white dress like the women in the painting!

Rouen should have a post of its own. This is where Jeanne d’Arc was tried and burned. It’s also home to a beautiful cathedral (where she was put on trial) which has the tallest spire in France, which Monet painted several times at different hours of the day to catch different lightings. And there’s a massive clock.

The church is Gothic, and everything that you expect in an old world cathedral. Walking up to the door is intimidating. Saints stare down at you from their pedestals that cling precariously to the church’s walls. Inside, your eyes have to adjust to the light, dim and musty. But when the sunlight from outdoors fades, you are in an entirely different world. The ceilings are so far above, so perfectly curved, so intricately designed that you stand in a moment of dumb stupor. What can you do but stare? People are coming in behind you, pushing and waiting impatiently while their own eyes adjust and they suddenly come to to the same glorious realization that you have just discovered.

Becca said it’s humbling. I think this is what church is supposed to be like. I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to feel. There were dukes buried there, from the 11th century. I saw their sarcophagi and walked over their tombs in the floor of the apse. I saw Joan of Arc’s sword and I prayed where countless saints have before me.

I stood beside a stone sculpture that was from the 11th century and had been damaged (I believe during WW2). It was of St. Simeon and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple on his eighth day. You could hardly make out the faces, the stone is so worn away. But their robes were flowing and wide, and the stone was grey and ancient and I felt this weight lay on my shoulders. My chest tightened as I thought of my nephew, Isaac, who is not even a week old. So I took a deep breath. I reminded myself that the Pope and the Catholic church can be good, I dropped a Euro in the box and I light a candle. I light a candle and I prayed for Isaac. And I think, standing in that massive hall, with my heart pounding in my head, and the candles tingling around me, I think I felt the presence of God. I think I heard the saints whispering and the ancient Dukes smiling and St. Simeon in his alcove listening and praying for me.

But maybe it was the French laughing at the non-Catholic trying to light her candle. Maybe it was the dim accordian playing outside. Maybe it was the shuffling feet over ancient polished stone.

But I think it was the Spirit.


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