Sunday, May 17

First impressions of Versailles and Paris

Tomorrow marks my one week anniversary of being in Versailles. So much has been packed into one week that is almost a staggering job to do one post on a whole week packed full of new experiences and stories. 

Beginning where I left off would bring me back to my first time driving in the car with Mrs. P to the house. It amazed me how narrow the streets are and the tiny cars that occupy them. I immediately chuckled at the thought of our family excursion trying to navigate the narrow streets (I don’t think we would get very far). Once we had completed our short but complicated drive we pulled up the most quaint street lined with beautiful stone houses adorned with colorful foliage which reminded me of something out of a book. My first walk through the little courtyard and then into the P. house revealed a cheerful, well-kept home where every corner was being put to good use. Yellow is one of my favorite colors for the interiors of houses, and the soft yellows of the P. house spoke happy thoughts of what was in store. Over the course of that first day I met each of the family members. I had memorized their names and had heard stories that I could put with each face as we exchanged greetings. It was so exciting to set my bags down in the room that I was to call me own, for it was a marking point that I had made it – laying my stake in the ground – I had a place to call my own in France. 

After a very comfortable night’s rest (in a bed that was a million times better than trying to sleep sprawled across two plane seats) I began after breakfast my first day of helping around the house. I had a stack of laundry that had piled up from several days waiting to be ironed. Now, I will say that ironing is something that I had never learned to do, other than lay the clothing down as flat as possible and iron away until you get as many wrinkles out as you can. I was very open with Mrs. P that I wanted to learn how to do it properly and she demonstrated each step.  For shirts it was one way, for pants another. While I was left to put into practice my first lesson I found that the steam (which was coming out at an alarming rate) would not stop. I had the sensation of a person holding a machine gun that would'nt stop shooting. The youngest daughter, little F. was nearby and I begged her assistance by hand gestures since she does not know English and I don’t know French. She easily turned off the explosion of steam and then I realized that I had just bumped the wrong button. It is funny looking back since now, at the end of my first week the iron has become one of my most familiar acquaintances. 

By the time lunch was drawing close I began my next lesson - learning to set the table ... the proper way. Mrs. P is a very good teacher and patiently walks me through each detail of how things are to be done. Plate in the center, napkin folded on the right with the knife (each person has their own personal colored cloth napkin), fork on the left and dessert spoon horizontal above the plate with a glass just above that. We had a simple meal but everything was well prepared and served in courses. I helped with putting away left-overs and cleaning up the dishes. 

When the older members of the family are speaking to me, they speak in English (most of which I can easily understand) but amongst themselves they speak French - so at meals I usually don’t have a clue what is being talked about unless of course I hear my name (which makes me wonder. Lol.) As the week progresses I find myself beginning to pick out words that I know and each day there are more. I am curious to see how much I will have learned by the end of July. 
My first few days I spent just learning the basics and getting accustomed to the new family and setting. On Wednesday morning I accompanied Mrs. P to the nearby Church, St. Antoine, where mass was celebrated. At first we were going to ride bikes but since I was not prepared for this mode of transportation and had come dressed that morning in a long straight skirt Mrs. Poulnais decided to take a car. The church was only a few block away up on the hill. It is a massive, old building adorned with grand carving. It looks straight out of the middle ages but when we walked inside the center piece above the altar was a classic interpretation of the modern crucifix. Since mass was in French (and French still just sounded like babble) Mrs. P had a French ‘Magnificat’ that I was able to read along and at least get a better handle on pronunciation. It is amazing how different French sounds from the way it is written. Unlike Latin where every letter is gets its due sound, in French, is seems at first as though half of the letters are completely skipped over. I know eventually it will all make sense and I will see reason behind it all.

The following day I wanted to go to mass again, even though I would have to go alone. I equipped myself with my map (which I had already looked over many times) and set out for my first time on the streets of Versailles by myself. Usually I have a very good sense of direction but for some reason for the first few days I always felt completely turned around. It was not until that Thursday, out and walking, that I began to calibrate my internal compass. I had walked out the front gate with only 15 min to make it to mass, which was a possible distance to cover only if the walk was very brisk. So I set out with all the confidence I could muster and tried to look as ‘normal’ as possible. I did not want to look like I was really nervous (even though I was) being surrounded by a completely different landscape and people who speak french where I cannot easily just ask a question. Back in the states my standard mode of operation was: get a general sense from a map, if in doubt ask someone to point you in the right direction and once very close ask someone for confirmation (I always ask for confirmation at each major step because it is so much easier than trying to undo something you got wrong). So I was really nervous when I first stepped out onto Versailles streets, but the farther I went the more the town’s charm began to soften my fears and by the time I got to the church I was very much at ease. I found the church, but then at first could only find the adoration chapel. I watched some people walk into a side door and followed them into the crypt of the church where mass was was being celebrated. It is so wonderful to have mass because there I can pour out my heart to someone who completely understands what I am trying to express. Even though the P. family and others around can speak some English it is not the same type of communication.  This helps me to turn to God to open my heart. 

I was very hungry and since I had a good walk back (well really only about a mile) I decided to drop into a little shop and buy a pastry. I think the patisserie shops are one of the most beautiful things ever. They are warm and inviting and looking through all the delicious baked goods just makes my mouth water thinking about it. After deciding on an inviting raisin pastry I pulled out my wallet to make my first payment in Euros. I asked for the price and quickly realized that I needed to learn numbers in French since the only answer I was getting was the same French babble sound. The lady helped me count out the change and I set out with the best tasting pastry I had ever had. Yum! The walk back was very enjoyable, as you can imagine, and I could tell that walking around Versailles was not going to be difficult at all (as I had been wondering).

Another funny story. As the week was coming to an end and I was becoming more comfortable with Le Chesnay and Versailles I was walking along and double checking my map when I a man pulled over in his car to (what I presumed was) offer help with directions. I said in my best French accent the name of the street I was looking for.  The man shook his head and said as he was beginning to drive off, that he did not speak French and was not from the area (in what I guessed was a Australian accent). It took me a minute to realize that we had both thought the other was French, oh well!

I did most of my walking on Friday when I walked to the mall to try to get a cell phone. The mall which is relatively close was like stepping back into American culture. It was strange to go from the quaint European cobblestones and beautiful gardens into the air-conditioned plastic paradise packed with ads and pop music. I found a store and after waiting for several min talked with an employee who knew a little English. As it turned out to get a new phone and the most basic plan for 3 months was going to cost me in the realm of 90euro. I was not too excited about the price and decided to think about it before making any decisions. I found another store but got the same answer. So with unpromising brochures from both stores I headed back into the streets of Versailles through the light rain. 

The weather this whole week has been unusually cold for this time of year – or so I have been told. I was beginning to think I should have packed clothing for a different climate. If I have been enjoying Versailles even with the wet weather I have even more to look forward too.

Today was my first day in Paris. Early this morning I walked to the Rive Gauche station (a 25 min walk) and took the RER C to the St. Michelle station. I was late for the 10am mass at Notre Dame and so I was ready to run as soon as the train came to a stop. As I ran up the stairs and the light of day and the gentle rain hit me so did the impressive view of the steeples of Notre Dame de Paris. My first thought was wow! There it is! And my second was, I am late! I had to wait for a little while in a line of tourists to get into the church and while thus occupied I took in the ornate carvings and figures all over the face of the church. Once inside the massive interior and awe inspiring architecture had me distracted as I searched to find a seat. I wanted to see the altar and so I walked up a side isle and then paced a bit looking for a place in the crowd. A kind woman sitting on the end motioned to me and let me into the seat next to her. After thanking her I could see that I had an awesome view of the altar. We had Gregorian chant for the mass – though much different the chant at the monastery back home. The mass was beautiful and it reminded me even more how much there is to be proud of in the traditions of our Church. It was a bit distracting having tourist going all around the perimeter of the church the whole time taking pictures (with flash of course) and that many people attending mass did not seem to know what was going on. When it came time for communion though all that seemed to not matter since I was able to go up to the front and receive our Lord. When I was kneeling in thanksgiving I was so happy to be able to appreciate the depth of the place, but most especially what this great place contained: the precious body and blood of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar now come into my heart and into the hearts of those who were around me.

After mass I found my friend Rebekah and we rendezvoused with two other girls - an old friend and her friend. After a bit of walking we found a patisserie (my new favorite place) and had a bit to eat while we chatted away about life it Paris. Myself and one of the girls had only been in Paris for less than a week while the other two were seasoned veterans who could give advice and encouragement. We had a goodtime and after exchanging contact info went our separate ways. Rebecca and I stuck together and visited until I was ready to head back to Versailles. On the train ride home, as I was resting my head against the glass window of the train and looking out at the houses and small gardens as they went whizzing by I just couldn’t help being in awe. I was in France, I was having an amazing time, and it was all just so perfect. God is so good. I think the expression is true that all good things come in time to those who wait on the Lord. I have always dreamed of living in Europe, but now I can say that it is a 'dream come true'.

I hope you enjoyed theses accounts. If you read this whole thing you must be a very patient person. Please keep me in your prayers.


Andi said...

I read the whole post, although I'm not sure if I would exactly describe myself as "patient". Reading about your adventures and looking at your pictures, makes me want to back to Europe so badly (even though I hate traveling far distances). If only I could just materialize with my possessions at a certain destination, all my problems would be solved. Reading your post also brings back my old desire of learning French.

Tim said...

Hi, MK!

It sounds like you are having a wonderful time in Paris/Versailles!
Thank you for keeping us updated on your travels and exciting experiences. I love and miss you!

Shelle Belle