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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“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.

Three days in Provence

One of my college roommates is visiting us, and one of his priorities was to see Provence. A  very good priority, don’t you think? And as I’d never been down there, we were happy to take in a new part of France.

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Lavender! It’s all over Provence.

So last Friday we took the morning TGV (the fast train) to Avignon, rented a car and toured around, taking in a number of the towns: St. Remy, Les Baux, Gordes, Sur la Sourge, and Roussillon. We stopped in at the twelfth century Sénanque Abbey and visited a Roman bridge, that at 2,002 years old, made the abbey seem like a recent establishment.

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Drop everything and go to Rome

My phone buzzed and a message appeared: “How difficult is it for you to get to Rome?”

When you get a chance to see a friend in the Navy who’s been deployed and out to sea, you take that chance. And when that chance means a rendezvous in Rome—just a two hour flight away—you take that chance.

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The Colosseum always impresses… from every angle.

The girls and I were out to dinner in the heart of Paris when Mark’s message came in. (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to text during dinner, but I make exceptions for far-flung friends sending unexpected messages that they happen to be on the same continent.) He was going to be in Rome in a week, but just for a day. A quick web search turned up some flight possibilities. The one wrinkle: he wasn’t sure of his schedule—in particular which day he would be free. Hmm. It seems that making sure old seminary friends get their chance to meet up in an ancient European capital isn’t exactly the U.S. Navy’s top priority. So over the next few days we kept the com channels open as best we could—internet access isn’t always possible for those underway on a Navy vessel—to see what his schedule would actually be and what flight would make the most sense for me.

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Still receding…

This morning I did a loop around the bridges near our apartment. The water from the recent flooding has definitely gone down, but the roads along the Seine aren’t open yet.

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Yeah, that roadway is still wet and not far above the current river level.

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This is the same road, looking the other direction. Still very wet and lots of mud or silt or whatever on the road. But at least you can see the ground under the trees.

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The view last Friday (June 3).

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The tip of the island is barely above water level.

Paris underwater

Rain.

I know all about rain–I’m from Seattle. I know about storms and floods–in western Washington State they’re not exactly unheard of. But even though there’s water everywhere around Seattle, it doesn’t have a river running right through the  middle of town.

Paris does.

And after what has felt like a continuous deluge over the last week, that river is running high–higher than it has since 1982. The Louvre and the Orsay are closed today, moving their artwork out of basement storage. The RER C, which runs along the Seine, isn’t running now. Roads along the river are underwater. All this and strikes all over the country (but that’s another story)!

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See those trees? They run along a road just above–er, now below–the Seine near our apartment. Yeah, that road is closed today.

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And there’s where the road reemerges.

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You’ll need to use a dinghy to get to your houseboat.

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Message in a bottle?

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The menu boards outside Le Maxim’s aren’t exactly legible anymore…

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The Zouave statue indicates how bad the flooding is. In 1910, the water got up to his shoulders!

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Another view of the statue.

 

Secret gardens and secluded courtyards

Some friends are visiting us in Paris, so that means getting out and seeing the sights, including parks that are hidden away in corners that you only find if you wander off the beaten path.

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Square George Cain in the Marais district.

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All the rain we’ve been having means spring is here! Flowers in Square George Cain.

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A hidden garden across the street from Square George Cain. There were signs for some museum accessed from (or near) the garden, but looking it up on Google maps, I couldn’t find it or even any reference to this space. Truly a secret garden…

We also visited the Carnavalet Museum, a wonderful free museum focused on the history of Paris and especially the French Revolution. It has plenty of fascinating objects, such as historic merchant signs, furniture, and artwork. We’ve been before, and it’s a good thing: the entire wing devoted to the Revolution is closed for renovation until the end of 2019! So this time we enjoyed what we could, checked out the gift shop and headed to lunch.

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A view of the courtyard at the Carnavalet. One of our friends is really into black and white photography right now, so I had to take a few as well.

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Another shot of the courtyard. Too bad it’s so hard to find anything worth taking a picture of in Paris. 

The Marais is always worth a visit. We’ll definitely be visiting more than a few times before our time here is up.

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Napoleon and The Thinker

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In the foreground: Rodin’s unnamed Thinker. In the background, the dome of Les Invalides,  where Napoleon lies interred in his multiple coffins.

While the ravenously ambitious Napoleon conquered nations, strode across history like a colossus (although he was only about 5’5″) and ultimately died in exile, the Thinker seems to be frozen in perpetual contemplation of the enigma of his own existence.

What are you thinking about?