A final full day in Paris

How to spend one last day in Paris before moving back to America? For us it meant finally getting out to Versailles.

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This view is just a sliver of the huge palace.

That’s right; it took us the whole year to actually get out to the grandest château of them all. We toured the main château, enjoyed the gardens and fountains and went boating on the long, narrow pond before taking in the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon–two smaller residences that are impressive in their own right.

During our final days we have some family visiting, and so we’re taking in some of the big Paris sights again (or for the first time on this trip, like Versailles): The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. The Louvre and the Orsay. The Tour de France. The next few days we’ll be traveling a bit before we say goodbye to France for good on Sunday.

Like any big change or move, it feels strange now that it’s finally here. We’ve already got a lot packed up and done plenty of throwing stuff out and giving things away. We’re trying to get through everything in the cupboards and the fridge, but there are plenty of products that seemed like a good idea at the time that we haven’t even touched. C’est la vie.

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So: just a few more days. And then a whole new adventure begins: a voyage home… to a new home. More about that to come.

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Here we go: let the goodbyes begin

The best part of living in Paris? Without a doubt, it’s the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made. The hardest thing about leaving Paris? Leaving those friends behind.

Our year in Paris has been a wonderful time of making new  friends: classmates and parents from the girls’ school, people I’ve met playing in a band, and especially those we’ve met through our church, Trinity International.

Yesterday was our last Sunday worshiping there.

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After our last service at Trinity, with our friends, Paco and Leslie.

And not only was it our last Sunday, I also got to preach the message. I hadn’t preached since we moved to Paris (other than giving a brief devotional at a missionary retreat in the south of France last fall), but it went well and I even got a few laughs from my jokes—and if I can get my teenagers to laugh, they couldn’t have been too corny.

(Just a brief aside on preaching in an international context: this was my first time having to prepare for a congregation that had a considerable number of people who don’t speak English as their first language. It meant getting my message ready further in advance than normal so that the French translator could prepare. It meant thinking through the language and idioms I use that might be a bit tricky to translate or that could be confusing to some people—because some might be listening who don’t speak English as their first language but don’t speak French either! All in all, it was a great experience.)

From the first, we were warmly welcomed when we found Trinity last fall. Right away we met other expats as well as French people in addition to people from every continent (well, except for Antarctica).

Obviously, simply being in Paris is a wonderful thing, but it’s even better when it means making new friends to meet for dinner, or coffee, or a picnic. It’s meant getting together for game nights, going for a hike, or having a friend to go to a museum with. The girls have enjoyed the youth activities, we’ve done a treasure hunt that took us all over Paris, and even got to go see the Pentatonix with another family. We were welcomed into friends’ homes for Easter dinner and barbecues and pizza night.

Who knew we’d meet such a great group of avid gamers? Terra Mystica, Blood Rage, Code Names, Dead Men Tell No Tales… We had no shortage of good times gaming.

Creative Nights at the church’s Genesis Center were a hit with the girls. I save my creative energies for writing and music, but I always had fun talking it up with other people.

Food–one of my favorite things…

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…and something that definitely brings people together.

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The fall retreat.

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Carolyn and me singing at Music Night.

Finding Trinity turned out to be another great opportunity for music. With only a year here, there was no time to waste waiting around; after feeling so welcomed, I quickly asked about getting involved in the music. Soon enough I was getting chances to play bass and even serve as one of the worship leaders.

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Most of our songs were in English, but I’m going to miss worshiping in French!

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Thank you for such a wonderful year, Trinity. We’re going to miss you.

 

A visit to a few French Châteaux

Just two weeks left of our year in France. Two weeks! The goodbyes are hitting hard and we’re notching plenty of “this is the the last time we’ll do this…” moments.

But before we go, we’re packing in a few more places to see. On Saturday we rented a car and strung together visits to three châteaux in the Loire Valley. Along with a leisurely multi-course French lunch, a visit to a medieval fair and plenty of driving through lovely countryside, it all made for a wonderful day trip.

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Château de Cheverny

We did have some adventures tracking down a gas station that would accept my credit card and got stuck for a bit at a toll booth that refused accept my card–sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t; it’s a mystery–but let’s get right to the good stuff.

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Bastille Day

More tragedy in France. This time in Nice.

Though we visited that beautiful city a few months ago, we were in Paris for the celebration of la fête nationale–or le quatorze juillet, as I heard most people here call it–or Bastille Day as we call it in English.

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Just before the show.

Security was tight. As we crossed the Bir-Hakeim bridge from our neighborhood to get to the Eiffel Tower side, we stopped with many others and considered watching from there. That is, until a solid line of police started sweeping everyone off the bridge. So we proceeded on to one of the entrances to the Champ de Mars, the huge park below the tower. For the past month it’s been the site of a huge fan zone for the Euro 2016 football championship and it’s been outfitted with no shortage of security: fences and checkpoints and streets blocked off and lots and lots of guards with guns.

We got to the first security checkpoint and we even managed to find a reasonably short line. Merideth and the girls got through without incident, but I had the bag with a bottle of wine. Sorry, the guard said, no alcohol. I couldn’t believe it. This is France–everyone brings their bottle of wine to the park! I’d even read an article that very day that recommended a bottle per person when picnicking in the park on Bastille Day–three bottles per person if you were going to be there all day! And we just had one between the two of us. Oh well. So we all trooped out of the security zone and regrouped.

The short version is I stopped fuming about the dumb security rules, we talked to another guard, learned the problem wasn’t the alcohol but the glass bottle, Merideth bought a bottle of water, we guzzled the water, transferred the wine, got back in line, and got through. But this time a different guard confiscated a couple of dinner forks from our bag and made me throw them away (sorry, landlord). We also had to unscrew and throw away the bottle caps from our water and soda. At last, we were in.

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Carolyn thought the antics with getting wine into the park were pretty hilarious. I felt like some college kid trying to sneak booze into a football game.

Not quite. After this came another round of security. The first was just bag check; now we had to go through pat down. We got through fine, even though the guy who patted me down felt the corkscrew in my pocket. I was sure it would be another casualty, but he motioned me on and I didn’t argue.

Inside the perimeter, the place was already swarming. We got there around 7pm and the orchestra wasn’t on until after 9 and the fireworks wouldn’t be till 11. We found a spot off to one side where it wasn’t as crowded and even managed to find some friends from our church already set up nearby.

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This was before it got really crowded.

Our picnic was great: we played cards, enjoyed our Mediterranean take-out, talked with our friends, and the fireworks turned out to be perhaps the most spectacular feu d’artifice I’ve ever witnessed.

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If pictures are worth a thousand words, well, then I’d need a few hundred thousand to describe the many and varied fireworks that exploded all around the Eiffel Tower and were even shot from it throughout the night–and all coordinated to music.

All in all, we had a wonderful night in Paris. That said, it’s truly heartbreaking and disturbing and flat out terrible that the celebrations in Nice were marred by yet another act of terrorism. But the sad truth is that even with all of our security, we can’t prevent every awful thing from happening. No amount of confiscating forks and bottle caps and making sure no glass bottles are in sight will prevent a determined terrorist from driving a truck through a crowd of people celebrating.

Some ask: how long will we have to keep living like this? When will it stop? Well, have you looked at history? Has there ever been an era free from violence? I don’t believe we can enact enough security measures to prevent any bad thing from ever happening again–and I wouldn’t want to live in the world that tries such a thing. Nor do I think arming citizens to the teeth will make things better.

Personally, I don’t know how people have hope in this world for violence and terrorism and war to actually, truly, permanently end. It’s all been a part of our world as long as people have been a part of the world. Does that mean we’re without hope? I don’t think so.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

That’s the only hope I have.

“These honored dead shall not have died in vain”

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No, this isn’t Normandy. A look in the other direction and you can see…

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…Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Against the blue sky, the American flag flies at half staff in honor of those killed in Dallas on July 7.

This is the Suresnes American Cemetery just outside the city, the only American Military Cemetery in Europe where the dead from both World War I and World War II are buried: 1,541 from World War I and 24 unknown dead from World War II. 974 Americans buried or lost at sea from 1917-1920 are also commemorated.

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It was a beautiful day to explore parts of Paris we hadn’t been to. After the coldest, wettest, most-Seattle-like-spring we could’ve ever imagined, summer seems to have finally arrived for good in time for our last few weeks here. I’d been scouting out some parks with views of the city that we hadn’t seen before and discovered Fort Mont-Valérien, perched on a hill not far away in the suburb of Suresnes. The cemetery sits just below the fort and behind the Terrasse du Fécheray, a lovely observation point that looks toward Paris.

The view from the terrace was the real reason we came, and it wasn’t a bad view…

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The Eiffel Tower just beyond the sea of green that is the Bois de Boulogne, a huge park on the western edge of Paris.

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Looking toward La Defense, the modern district of high rises to the northwest of central Paris.

…but visiting the cemetery was more moving.

As an American, of course the American cemeteries I’ve seen are striking because I feel a connection to them. But as we’ve driven through small towns around France, almost everywhere we go we come across monuments and memorials to those who died in the wars, especially World War I. They turn up in plazas, in churches, and even at humble intersections. Every city and every town records those who were lost, their names etched in stone. In the U.S. you can visit Washington D.C. and see such memorials, and occasionally you find them elsewhere around the country. But here they are everywhere; every place you go has been touched.

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The World War II memorial at Fort Mont-Valérien.

It’s sobering to look at the rows and rows of memorials to those who died fighting and killing their enemies. The hope is that they will not have died in vain. But in this world, the fight is–and ever will  be–ongoing. World War I was called the war to end all wars; it didn’t work out that way.

War is hell–so said General Sherman, although when (or if) he spoke that famous phrase is apparently a matter of debate. But he did address a crowd in Columbus, Ohio and declare, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

I have no illusions that we will see the end of war anytime soon–or even of hatred and malice and infighting and racism and prejudice and bias and every sort of enmity. But while we have breath, may we live by these words: “blessed are the peacemakers.” Oh, how we need them now.

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths…
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

–from Isaiah 2:3-4

 

A glimpse of beauty

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In the midst of this dark world with so much pain and so much that is wrong, it is good to watch a young woman take an old man by the arm and help him make his way down the sidewalk. Halfway across a small square in front of a small church, they pause and he points with his cane toward an empty bench. She leads him to it and they sit down. They talk for a few minutes while the pigeons peck at the ground. Then they are on their way again. They walk slowly. She is ever at his side, matching his pace, holding his arm, watching his every step. And soon they are gone.