Monday, May 25

My cousin and I at the Eiffel Tower

credit goes to my aunt -

We had an awesome day! Did alot of walking and sightseeing.  See more photos from my aunt

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.

Tuesday, May 12

The adventures of my arrival in Paris!

Warning: The account below is a detailed version of the joys and stresses of travel. If reading about other peoples stress is stressful then forgo reading and just know that I made it safe to Paris ;-)

Excitement and anticipation mixed with the sorrow of departure as I said my goodbyes to my brothers and sisters - though no tears were shed the heartfelt love was intense. The drive in the car with mom and dad was peaceful even though we saw shortly ahead the imminent goodbye at the airport. These thoughts and emotions however were interrupted when I received a call from my friend who was waiting for me at the airport … I will say that I was very touched by the effort to drive the three hours from Kansas to see me off. Upon arrival at the airport, and after a very big hug from the afore mentioned I proceeded to check in. To my initial dismay the flight from Tulsa to Dallas had been cancelled – thus making the following flight from Dallas to Paris uncertain. I became more concerned when I called the customer service and they could not locate my information. However my fears were relieved when after more searching they found my information under the correct name of “Lawless” rather than the more common “Wallace”. My bags being checked in, I had then only to wait some three hours for my flight after saying my goodbye to the most wonderful and caring parents in the world. Mom cried but still managed a smile through it all.
The lines were long and it seemed to take forever to load up the masses of people into the Dallas bound flight. My time was divided between thoughts of catching my next flight in Dallas and awareness of the tension of many people surrounding me while waiting to cram into the plane (since I was not the only one who had schedule issues). Once inside and seated I tried to stay calm and relax a little but when the plane came to land the pilot took a sudden change and turned the plane upward once more as it had at take-off. I still don’t know what the cause was but I know that it added quite some extra time to circle Dallas and go through the landing process again.
I tried to remain calm and composed as I walked briskly along the corridor from the plane to the airport. Which terminal? Do I get my bags? Ask a person or just look at the screens? Efficiency. Find the most fast route. Do I need to run? Is there even a chance I can make it? So many thoughts were running through my head while quick prayers were silently flying up to God. I leapt onto a small rail car which I thought was heading to Gate 37 and as the doors closed behind I heard from a fellow passenger that I was on the wrong car. The intensity reached a peak as I could not move out of the car and the sense that time was ticking that I did not have to spend in unnecessary travel was making me break out in a sweat. As the car began rolling another passenger asked me which terminal I was looking for and then much to my relief he informed me and the other passenger that I was going the right way. Big sigh of relief. But only for a moment for as soon as the doors opened I was off running down the large hall and down the escalators. I heard my name as over the loud speaker they were doing last calls for flight 48 and I waved at the speaker as I soon as my gate was in site. "Mission accomplished" were the primary words running through me head as I slowed to a walk down the otherwise empty ramp to the plane. I slept most of the 9 hour flight, waking every few hours to adjust to a new position. I found just about every possible way to sleep on two seats without sticking out into the walkway – it was fortunate that the flight was not full and so the extra seats were available.
As morning dawned and the plane began descending into Paris I could feel the butterflies in my chest … I was about to set foot in Europe, the place of so many stories and so much history. As I swung my back-pack behind me and adjusted the straps on my shoulder to prepare to leave the plane my mind was already gearing up for the real part of the adventure. What had already passed was in my mind the ‘easy part’ and I had yet to tackle the French metro system and get across Paris. But first order was to get my bags. I stood watching all the other passengers get their bags off the conveyor belt until only a few bags were left, but of my luggage there was none to be found. At the baggage service counter I filled out a form for missing baggage while the very helpful and kind assistant told me I could expect my bags to be delievered the next day. Though most people would probably be very annoyed at the inconvenience of being without their stuff for a day I was so happy to not half to bring two very heavy bags across Paris with me. Instead I just have to be without my stuff for one day and I get free delivery. God is so good and sometimes it takes a little while later to see it clearly.
It hit me as soon as I passed under the exit sign and into the common area of the airport - everyone was speaking French and all writing was in French. What was otherwise a no different scene than the one I had just left in Tulsa, was completely transformed by these most distinct changes. I found myself a map, exchanged my US currency for the flashy Euro paper currency and then headed across the airport and to the RER train. After a few min waiting in line a very helpful ticket man walked me through the steps to get to Versailles while completing the purchase of my ticket. His was my first sincere welcome to France.
Down more stairs (still thinking how happy not to have more bags than the two I already had) and then more waiting for the train. Once I sat down and observed the inside of the train I saw that it was so very much like the DC metro, and then only a moment later I also observed a sharply dressed middle age man came and sate directly opposite me. I was a bit uncomfortable the next 15 min even though he spoke on his cell in alternating fluent Italian and the French. But the angels surrounded me while I prayed and I still felt protected as I got up at my destination Gare du Nord. Step out – look around – find the magenta line. A ha! Once I had found the pink E with a circle around it I just had to follow the signs down a long crowded runway and then down several flights of stairs (so glad to not have those bags). The train was getting ready to depart and as I was about to jump aboard when I asked if it was bound for Saint Lazare from a young woman similar in age to me. No, she said to go back and get on the other train. So back up the stairs and then and down and around and then I found the right one. It was only a hop, skip, and jump to St. Lazare and I got off and onto the next train without any incident. As the train went rolling along through Paris I caught glimpses of the Eiffel tower and the crowded skyline. It was fascinating to see so much city and yet on a detailed level so much beauty in the architecture and adornments. Final destination for both me and the train was Versailles River Droit and I was the only one waiting for the doors of the car to open. I was bewildered when the doors refused to open by themselves (as the metro doors in DC do) and a kind gentleman on the outside just gave a nudge and the doors opened. All the little things that can make life hard but then give others a chance to help – it’s just life. I walked out of the station and then down to house #45. I had memorized the route from the station to the house from Google maps and it was like relieving a dream since I had never been there but already felt that I knew it. I rang the bell and the waited with eager expectation. I was not disappointed when a very friendly and caring face of the middle age woman greeted me with a bonjour and asked if I was Michaela. How wonderful to hear my name in greeting and then to be brought into the safety of a home. I spoke a little with the woman and her daughters while I had a glass of water. It was a very pleasant conversation though it was short since it took only a few min for Madame P to arrive to pick me up. So now I am here and the real adventure of living in France begins.