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Ludeamus Igitur
20 entries back

Date:2008-10-14 21:04
Subject:In conclusion

A wonderful trip.

Paris in the fall is as good as the song says. (And did I mention the trees were turning? and the weather was excellent?)

And S is a wonderful travel companion and tour guide! I would be lost (literally) without her.

And I feel relaxed to go back to work tomorrow and see what the wreckage on Wall Street has done to my company. It could be good, it could be bad. Au revoir.

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Date:2008-10-14 21:03
Subject:Day 6 - CDG-JFK

Back to the Air France shuttle... it takes about an hour, but we had to wait about an hour for it to leave. We arrived at the airport
S went out to do a little shopping but I guess we need to take another trip since I deprived her of the shopping opportunities by dragging her to all this art and culture!

Air France has an odd hodgepodge of uniforms that I can't quite understand - is there a system here? But French airport security is much more dapper than the TSA... but just as annoying. A moment of panic when I thought I left my keys in the hotel, but no, I was just a fool and put them in the wrong pocket of my jacket when I got the "special security" screening. S tells me I looked "extremely annoyed" while being searched.

This time we got the best seats in economy (in my humble opinion). 53B & C... with the window, just the two of us on the right side, and the big bin right next to our seat, big enough for my carry-on bag and computer. There's even room for my long legs on either side of the equipment box under the seat. (Did I mention in my last blog about AF that their mapping algorithm likes to pick strangely obscure cities as landmarks?) The flying TV dinner was about the same as last time, but with more personalized service, as the flight is only half-full (if that). There are so few people that people have moved into the center aisle to stretch out across the four seats and sleep (which seems counter-productive going in this direction for handling the jet lag). The sleepers have unfortunately resulted in the proximity of some guy's feet to our seats the wafting of sneezy perfume in our general direction.

I will now draw overly-broad conclusions about the liturgy in France based on only seven Masses (mostly daily), but in at least seven different churches. I will guess that this is representative of what an average Parisian is seeing on a daily basis, who's not seeking out good liturgy in any systematic way. Please skip if you are uninterested in liturgy.

It seems to me that there are three levels of liturgical praxis to be considered:
(1) the basic is fidelity to the rubrics: did they read the black and do the red? About the same level as New York. I note that the French translation has some of the same paraphrase problems as the English and in the same places (Suscipiat and Domine Non Sum Dignus), but overall is better (pour la multitude, the Confiteor is correct, etc.). No egregious abuses at all. A few interpolations in the Eucharistic Prayer (after praying for the clergy, naming the religious and the lay people and the sick, etc.). Slightly too much reliance on Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist but better than suburban America. In general, I didn't see the required genuflections at many of the Masses, but it is often difficult to tell whether the priest is impeded by health (or considers himself impeded by health). Eucharistic Vessels were all noble and unbreakable (yay!) but unremarkable - and I'm guessing there are some remarkable vessels dusty in the parish treasuries.
(2) the second level is decorum: is there a sense that this is something special, sacred, oriented toward God, a ritual, and a super-cultural communal, universal act? The sense of decorum is better than suburban America but not much better than New York. Every Mass ended with some variant of "have a nice day." The kids-around-the-altar thing on Sunday and the Amazing Dancing Cantor were horribly distracting. Priests come out for a shaking hands-love-fest during the Pax. Generally, the priests weren't trying to be overly theatrical or call attention to themselves, but people behave with more solemnity at the symphony.
(3) the third level is Preferential Option for the Awesome: no evidence whatsoever that the New Liturgical Movement is having any effect on parish life in Paris. Liturgical minimalism, ugly or boring vestments, no Ad Orientem, few candles, no incense, few or no servers, no chant (except occasionally the Responsorial Psalm), perpetual amplification, very little singing (and if so, Haugen-Hass or the equivalent French--complete with horrible paraphrases of the liturgical text in the Gloria), no sign of the Benedictine altar arrangement, etc. Occasionally there was some minor Awesome, in the form of addition of the angelus prior to the introit and singing the Marian antiphon for the season after Mass. There was a general preference for Eucharistic Prayer IV or III (EPIV actually has a does of Awesome, in my humble opinion) and a few priests opted for II (the one exception being the Roman Canon on the first night in Paris.)

Pray for the liturgy in France. Pray for the Church in France. I was impressed with what I saw and read in the churches - despite the things I have read about laicité and the collapse of Catholicism in Europe, my sense is that the Church in France is really doing a lot of good work and moving in the right direction. The homilies I heard, particularly by younger priests, and in the 15-20% of the content I understood were doctrinal and orthodox, preaching the Gospel and not being overly political or touchy-feely. Marian devotion is strong.

Finally, a conclusion about orientation. I am increasingly convinced that turning the priest to face the congregation instead of the prior practice of the congregation and the ministers facing together toward the crucifix and altar is the most destructive (and unnecessary) liturgical fruit of the council. There is no better evidence than the churches I have seen in Paris. Every one of these churches (with the possible exception of St. Therese and Sacre-Coeur, where the vertical rise of the new altar and its construction out of beautiful, fixed, immobile materials in the sanctuary), has had its architectural-liturgical focus totally destroyed by the imposition of an additional, smaller, less-noble altar in the crossing or in the middle of the choir. The whole grammar of the building was intended to orient the congregation and the priest toward the east, the rising sun, the resurrected Lord, the presence in the tabernacle (in some cases), the crucifix. It was intended to diminish the priest and the ministers in the face of the mystery. Modern buildings have a different grammar. Mass versus populum is less jarring in them. Push the altar back to the east end, use the great works of art that those high altars are, make the priest humble himself by climbing the steps to the altar--90% of the problems with the liturgy will disappear overnight

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Date:2008-10-14 21:03
Subject:A Homily

Given by a priest of the Basilica of Sacre-Cœeur
Monday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Jesus did not wish to do signs on account of our demands. Rather, we had already ignored the signs of Jonah. We must remember that the action of God occurs everyday. Our life is penetrated with the action of God, even in the little things. The marvels of God are in words - in our family - in our groups. Jonah called out to Ninevah and they converted. What about our conversion?

Listen to the little words of your conscience! "Change ton cœur" - Change your heart. And listen to the great words of the gospel! The sacrament of Reconciliation is not just for us, for our own souls. It is for us to reconcile ourselves with our brothers. "Converte-toi. Change ton cœur. Croyez les paroles d'evangelie." Convert yourself. Change your heart. Believe the words of the Gospel!

Today, return to your family and home. Look for the little things, the little marvels of God. Begin to tell the word of God to your friends.

The core of our humanity is the grand presence of Christ in our hearts, in our lives, in our hearts, in our words, in our way of being. Be signs.


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Date:2008-10-14 21:03
Subject:Day 5 - La Madeline, L'Opera, Louvre, Montmartre, Sacre-Coeur, L'Arc de Triomphe et Champs-Élysées

Today was almost certainly the busiest of our vacation - we had to get everything done that we hadn't so far in the week!

Our first stop was Mass at the famous Paroisse de la Madeline, where the French organ music tradition of Widor, Saint-Saens, Fauré and Duruflé is alive, but not during the week. There was also a curiously placed microphone (Matthew can perhaps comment if this is an evolution of the microphone-as-pontifical-insignia liturgical practice) that sprouted up from the crucifix on the high altar and ended directly below the lips of Mary Magdalene, just in case, I suppose she wanted to add some commentary during the service. After a quick stop for goodies and lunch at Fauchon (the gourmet food store with the color scheme of Victoria's Secret), a prime spot for people-watching. (My completely ill-informed French fashion commentary: dark suits are in, skinny ties and short breaks on pants, are not as in as the American designers want them to be, and stripes can be mixed much more freely than I would have done.)

Next: l'opera. Puts the Metropolitan to shame. Rehersal was ongoing, so we we weren't able to see the amphitheater. But we did discover in the upstairs salon, according to the allegorical pictures on the ceiling the history of music involved a lot of naked people frolicking, which is news to me after a four-year degree studying same.

Then off to the Louvre. Where the official verdict is: "wow! It's much more impressive than I thought. And there's not enough time!" We had a spirited debate about the pyramid, in which I'm not sure who was playing devil's advocate, and then proceeded almost directly to the Mona Lisa with a lengthy stop for the monumental and religious paintings of David and some of the other French romantics. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Monna Lisa (I had even suggested that we just pretend we saw her, since everyone will expect it and go see ), but it's been re-hung in a larger gallery with other contemporaneous paintings, nicely lit, without the heavy security barrier I had been told about, and the crowd was not overwhelming. We were able to take a good long look - and it's really a stunning painting. Not overrated. Worth the trip. Better than the 1000 postcards you've seen.

(A side thought at the Louvre: did women during the 18th century really run around with their breasts hanging half-out of their clothes all the time? Or is that "artistic license"? Then again, someone might look at photos taken today and say did women really always run around with their butt-cracks exposed to the world in the early 21st century?)

I do think it's funny to watch people take a 1 MP camera-phone photo of an enormous masterwork.

They are brutal about getting you out the door of the Louvre. We will have to come back.

Then: Sacre-Cœur. It turns out this is a pilgrimage church for the year of St. Paul, an unexpected bonus. And I vividly remember it being one of my favorite churches in our French textbook - I think I actually copied an illustration for some project (this was before my Gothic period). It's up a lot of stairs - we went up the back way (not the famous steps directly leading to the Basilica), stopped for water at the French equivalent of a bodega - these places no English is spoken.

The Basilica is serous about Perpetual Adoration. In addition to the enormous monstrance with what must be a pizza-sized lunette and Host (with a very steampunk-nerd-cool remote-control curtain to cover the Sacrament during celebration of Mass), they don't allow any photography (and will inspect your camera to make you delete the photos if you try!) and enforce silence quite strictly inside. We found a copy of the Litany to the Sacred Heart in French and prayed it in English - or something resembling it, anyway, and vowed to return for Compline.)

Of course, dinner took too long - and while it was a stunning setting, an outdoor cafe directly in the shadow of the Basilica at twilight, with a wandering accordion player providing ambiance and artists plying their paintings outside, the food was so-so. We stopped in another cafe for dessert and a trip to the salle de bain, which was coin-operated(!) and encountered our only rude French waiter.

So instead of Compline we heard Mass - at 10:00 pm - in the darkened Basilica. The liturgy was quite good - bells rung, servers in albs, an excellent homily, the chailce veil used, a stately main altar that fits architecturally with the whole church. Glad we came tonight!

(We also got a peek inside St. Peter's Abbey which is almost directly underneath Sacre-Coeur, just as it was closing. Very monastic, primitive Gothic, dark and cozy despite its size. Some service had just ended - perhaps Mass, and we heard the end of the "Salve Regina" in French, I believe.)

I should make a few comments on the Paris Metro: As much as I love New York, I think the Paris Métro may have it beat. Except in summer, when the air-conditioning on New York will outweigh Paris's more-frequent trains, brilliant wayfinding signage system (that could be a whole blog-post of its own, but I won't bore you), station information displays (the next train is in 2 minutes). But New York's subway runs later and has express trains, and the doors open without having to open them yourself. So there are tradeoffs. Still, we never once felt the need to hail a taxi, which does occasionally make more sense - for timing - in New York) An equal number of crazy people, homeless, and Andean fusion bands, but fewer upturned-bucket-bangers and more accordian players.

Then for one last stop we peeked at the Arc de Triomphe and walked a short way down the Champs-Élysées, so that I wouldn't have to pretend that I had been... and returned. Tomorrow will be just a travel day. Au revoir, Paris!

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Date:2008-10-14 21:03
Subject:Day 4 - Lisieux (dimanche)

Today was the day of the wild goose chase.

Last night we looked up the schedule for trains to Lisieux, and I saw that there was a train that would leave at 7:49 and get us there by with enough time to catch Sunday Mass at the Basilica. So it was a very early morning after a late night, but when we arrived
Today was S's day - the whole impetus for this trip was that she wanted to make a pilgrimage to Lisieux this year. I hoped to surprise her with a first-class upgrade on the train, which the website of the SNCF indicated was both available and not terribly expensive. (Chemins de Fer - paths/roads of iron - an evocative term I had forgotten before this trip, and which helped me understand one of the homilies this week, which kept referring to various "chemins") Well, so much for that plan. The train we had hoped to take was the TER, which either wasn't running, or left from a different terminal and the ticketing agent, who was helpful but with whom my Franglais was not very successful, didn't know about or didn't think of. So we ended up with a much more expensive second class ticket.

Second class is equivalent to First Class on Amtrak, however. And aside from a group of ugly Americans possibly from New Jersey (not in the physical sense, but in the Euro-stereotype sense) who made a lot of noise and then blessedly decided to take a different car, it was a thoroughly pleasant trip, through which we slept.

We arrived in Lisieux well after the last morning Mass, visited the Basilica and found the schedule of services just in time to see that we could have heard Lauds at the Carmel a few minutes before.

The Basilica is beautiful despite being completed in 1957. And it was a quiet reflective place to pray. We perambulated and made our novena, and venerated the relics.

We walked around Lisieux as well, a picturesque little French town hugging the hillside, with zig-zaggy steep roads dominated by the Basilica. The walk up from the train station was much steeper than my former commute from Ossining. Our speculation on the theory of the heavily-promoted American book "why ze franch womennn, zhey do not get faat" (as the radio announcer says it) is that because they walk up and down 5000 steps a day just to get wherever they're going. See, we just saved you $20 at your nearest bookstore. Thérèse's parents, M. et Mme. Martin are to be beatified next week, so the town is festooned in the Vatican colors and everything had been nearly . The high altar in the Cathedral, which was dedicated by the Martins, seems to have fallen into disuse but perhaps the beatification will change that? (Unused altars are sad in general, they should at least be used on the feast days of their titular saints!)

We also visited the Carmel, the cathedral of St. Peter (formerly a cathedral? no cathedra there anymore...) where we heard a bit of the organist rehearsing, and saw several other sites related to the life of St. Thérèse. And in another feat of brilliant timing we went about 2/3 of the way to St. Thérèse's childhood home and realized that Mass was about to start, and that we had a long way to go uphill to get there in time.

Mass looked promising at first - the order of worship included the Creed and Sanctus in Latin, there was an organist, the altar was the most dignified we had seen so far in France, and the priests were wearing halfway-decent vestments. Then, as the organ postlude was coming to an end, the world's most animated cantor led an entire school's worth of high school kids into the sanctuary, the priest and the organist started fighting about whether or not to continue playing the prelude, and then the cantor proceeded to bounce up and down on the lower step of the altar all through Mass gesticulating in some hybrid between conducting and the Universal Cantor Gesture of arm-lifting. Plus half the kids marched directly across the sanctuary from the Gospel side to the Epistle side. And afterwards we overheard a lady say to the cantor "quelle jolie Messe!" Chacun son goût. Oh and the music was not what was in the order of service. (Actually the kids were fairly well-behaved, some of them even genuflected before receiving communion, but they were also 13 and squirmy and distracting.)

On the way back, the mysterious TER arrived (at least according to the schedule - it looked exactly the same as the non-TER SNCF train that took us out) and took us express to Gare St. Lazare. But there were no seats left, so we sat on the luggage racks. This time we stayed awake, mostly - and got a nice view of farms, little French towns with their parish churches, and I observed students - on the train - taking notes in the famous French style with multiple rulers and colored pencils. (Which I have read is actually useless in terms of learning the material, but quite impressive nonetheless.)

Finally, we arrived at Le Coupe Chou, a restaurant in a series of old Medieval houses - vin Chateau Grossombre wine, feuil st. jaques, salade, escalope de saumon, carre d'agneau, mille feuille, gratin de fraise. I confused the host by confusing tôt and en retard, but we still got our table and all was well for another night in Paris.

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Date:2008-10-14 21:03
Subject:Day 3 - mon anniversaire, Saint-Germaine des-Prés, Musée de Cluny,

Our mornings now have a routine - S awakens and goes out exploring and shopping and brings a pastry back for me, since I am the lazy sleepyhead on vacation. I can't complain!

This morning we went to Mass at St. Germain de Pres. The freestanding altar here is much better than the other parishes we have visited so far, although the old high altar is still used as a credence table. It is interesting that every era leaves its mark in a church - St. Germain is the oldest church in Paris, and it consequently has touches that are Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, neo-Classical - and then the 20th-century additions. In some cases, they are harmless (like the nonsensical "seven sacraments" stained glass designs in the apse of St. Severin - pleasing colors, but without the guidebook totally incomprehensible), in a few others (jumping ahead chronologically to tomorrow's trip, the Basilica of St. Therese has a lot of well-executed Art Deco/He-Man Jesus style mosaics), but in most cases, destructive. Carpeting. Reorientations of the sanctuary. Star Trek chasubles. Scary pseudo-primitive sculptures. It makes one weep. Will this stuff go away eventually, consigned to the aesthetic dust-heap, or will it remain for centuries? Eventually will it look like it belongs?

And really, what kind of frightfully consistent ideologue would decide that not only should the chapel for reserving the Eucharist be placed outside the main body of the church (I see the point in pilgrimage churches that have so much foot-traffic) but then, the tabernacle in said Eucharistic chapel, which was originally built to combat Jansenism, should also be off to one side? Ugh.

On the way out of the church we saw our first Obama button in Paris.

St. Severin was our next intermediate stop -- skipping from one end of the Medieval architecture spectrum to the other. All of these Gothic buildings are the feasts for visual analysis... following the ribs of the ceiling vaults to the responds on the pillars - counting how the different layers of windows and blind arcades interplay. St. Severin is almost diagramatic of the Gothic style. Walsh's architecture lectures replay in my head (although not the warm, sleepy room where the slide projector fans dangerously lulling us into a post-lunch stupor.) and I attempt to impart some remembered knowledge on to S.

We stopped into a modernized Art-Deco Brasserie for Croque-Monsieur. There seemed to be only one waiter running the place, and service was slow, but we got a chance to do a lot of people-watching. Unlike New York, everyone seems to have an Outfit with a capital O. Now, I work in the Fashion District, and there are plenty of people with capital-O Outfits, but there are plenty of schlubs who look like they just rolled out of bed too. Here schlubbiness seems to be an affront to the national character. And everyone bikes to work too, even men in business suits!

I'm starting to do a lot more thinking in broken French and I think the eavesdropping is becoming easier. I don't know if objectively a lot of my vocabulary has come back - and I think . However, knowing that so many people speak English and that S doesn't speak French, we have no way to have private conversations here - except for a handful of useful words I've picked up in Tagalog so far. Still, we're thinking that Latin might be an even more useful secret language to learn.

On the way to the Musée de Cluny (otherwise known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages), in the Abbot of Cluny's former in-town Paris mansion (so the Middle Ages did have their excesses too...), we walked along the bank of the Seine where booksellers have set up shop. There are pages cut out of old Graduals or Antiphonaries, which are tempting but also sad - that these books are no longer used, and only thought of as useful for cutting into pieces and selling to tourists.

We also see a motorhome with a family and their dog drive by - my parents would appreciate that! Just like most of the cars, it is a miniature -- and judging from the roads, that's about all that would be able to safely make its way through the streets.

Remarkably, there was a very long line for the Cluny museum - which made our visit shorter than I would have liked - and it's hard to sum up - I saw quite a lot of sculpture that I had studied before (especially the heads of kings from Notre-Dame and some of the St. Denis column capitals). S seems to prefer that crazy modern stuff (you know, from the late 15th century!) but I'm happy to look at 12th century portal sculpture all afternoon.

S took me out for birthday dinner at the Auberge de la Reine Blanche (which does not mean Eggplant of the White Queen, just like Pour Énlargement des Buts has nothing to do with enlarging one's posterior). Vin Chateau Piconruean, duck, soup l'oignon... everything was perfect, and then as we were getting the check I heard organ music from the church across the street.

Sure enough, we were able to stop in for the second half of a recital by Lucie Zakova at the church of Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile. She played mostly Czech composers, including a sonata by Benda - which I had played on the piano! And finished with Bach's a minor prelude and an encore of something very French and Romantic.

Proving that organ geeks are the same the world over, an older gentleman after the concert came over to tell me (in rapid-fire and incomprehensible French) all about le génie de M. Cavaille-Cole. He seemed satisfied when I told him I had enjoyed the concert and came from New York. Perhaps he thought we came just for the recital. The church had put up a large screen and projected a video image of Mlle. Zakova while she was playing - a great idea for organ recitals in general.

Back to the hotel, which has a somewhat peculiar system for securing the keys. You leave them at the desk when you leave for the day, and then if you seem nice and can remember your room number, they give you the key when you return - no ID, just an ability to smile and speak broken French. C'est la vie ici. The keys, which are high-tech lightweight RFID fobs, are attached to a keychain that weighs about 2 pounds.

Also, two cryptic notes from today that I can't remember what they were intended to represent:
like 8 event
even king doesn't stop

(And speaking of Law and Order: Paris, S. presented me with a birthday card that plays the famous chunk-chunk from LO:CI. Hehehehe!)

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Date:2008-10-14 21:03
Subject:Jour 2 - Tour Eiffel, Sainte-Chapelle, Seine

Our next stop was supposed to be the Sainte-Chapelle, but it was closed for lunch so we decided to do the same. We stopped in a bistro across the street from the Palais du Justice, whose clientele seemed to be a fifty-fifty mix of tourists and lawyers/businessmen from across the street. I remembered that Dick Wolf had started a Law and Order franchise in Paris. Tomorrow being Sunday, S and I should watch it, since that was our usual routine in NYC. (We've only had the TV on a little - there are two English channels - BBC and CNN Europe and an Italian and German channel, and maybe 12 French channels?) I had lamb and S had

On the way back, we noticed a store that sold academic, court, and legal attire - another way for me to indulge my geeky love of esoterica and medieval ceremonies.

There is a long security line to get into Ste-Chapelle, probably not to prevent revolutionary mobs from destroying the Holy Relics (but you never know), and we noted that French historical museums provide free admission to the unemployed (insert cheese-eating surrender monkey joke here). The Sainte-Chapelle is no longer a church (and the holy relics have actually all been moved across the square to Notre-Dame), but there is a staff of shushers to maintain a minimally church-like atmosphere. (The Vatican should consider this at the Sistine Chapel, which is still a church but sounds like a football stadium.)

We were able to spend hours pouring over the stained glass and the structure and vaulting. The idea that the stained glass was a "catechism for the illiterate" strains credibility when you actually see how high and small those windows are. And not everyone's vision was corrected to 20-20 back then. We identified a number of the scenes... but the program admittedly strains my biblical knowledge. Even after my recent re-reading of the Old Testament the details of the book of Ezekiel don't flow off the top of my head. (I'm not even sure "dem bones" made it into the glass.)

On the way out, we saw a judge in judicial robes and cravat (although he looked too young to be a judge - do lawyers in Paris wear robes to appear before the bar?) running off with his girlfriend/wife for a rendez-vous.

Next stop: le Tour Eiffel.

If you believe the movies and TV, you might think the Eiffel tower is visible from everywhere in Paris, but up to this point I still hadn't seen it. So when we got out of the subway, I was shocked. I expected it to be much, much smaller. I had misunderestimated it entirely. We walked around and took a few of the obligatory pictures, then boarded one of the tourist boats for an evening cruise on the Seine.

At the evening's restaurant (L'Arcade, I believe--I don't remember where exactly), we discovered some of the peculiarities of the French restaurant reservation system, in which reservations are accepted but for no particular time, and if you are rude to the wait staff you get told there are no tables available but if you are two good-looking girls from Califorinia, the "reserved" sign is mysteriously removed from the table. Also, the waiters unbutton another button on their shirts. Our waiter used to work in a restaurant in New York, so when we said we were from New York he immediately brought us tap water and bread (not standard, I gather). I think my accent must be fairly convincing, because usually it is not until I give the blank stare after the first non-trivial question that they realize I'm not really fluent in French. Sometimes I think S's Asian features tip them off preemptively, though. It might also be helpful that I have some Québécois in my accent. I wonder how easy it is for the French to tell the difference between an American and British English accent. I wonder if British speakers of French sound noticeably different from American speakrs of French-as-a-second-language. At any rate, I've been pleasantly surprised by how tolerant everyone's been of my broken French - none of the famous rudeness to foreigners yet. I think it may be more about the politeness of the French people than the quality of my accent.

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Date:2008-10-11 20:22
Subject:A preview of Day 3

I am falling behind with the blogging... But I can't keep writing-- it's late here and we have a train to catch to Lisieux early in the morning.

But I can't resist giving you a preview with this anecdote: we went to the National Museum of the Middle Ages today, and among the patrons in line are a Goth and an Orthodox priest. I said to S: "those sculptures don't stand a chance..."

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Date:2008-10-11 20:01
Subject:Jour 2 - Notre-Dame

I'm not sure why I wrote the previous entries in the historical present. I think I'll go back to the normal past tense for a while...

Yesterday, I forgot to mention, we did stop for a snack at La Grande Epicerie, which is something like France's Whole Foods or Eli's/Zabar's. We were amused that "les Etas-Unis" has its very own section, complete with rare and exotic American delicacies that hardly seemed exotic to us!

This morning, S, who likes to get up earlier than me, brought orange juice and an excellent croissant back for me, and we set off for yet another church (this isn't supposed to be a liturgical tour of Paris, but so it is.) Notre-Dame de Paris is more impressive in person than I expected. S said it was much more crowded last time she was here, but we were able to leisurely perambulate through the perambulatory chapels, and spent a long time studying the sculptures on the choir screen, only to discover they were labeled.

Time arrived for the daily Mass, celebrated at the crossing altar, which is, you guessed it, horrible and modern, with faceless largely featureless anatomically exaggerated rough-hewn apostles (I guess). A canon of the Cathedral (I assume, since he wore a canon's pectoral cross over an alb) served (bells!) and two priests concelebrated. The Mass was entirely in French, except for the Kyrie (I suppose I am being too post-Vatican II in my thinking - Mass is Mass, whether I can verbally participate or not, but I think that one of the great tragedies of vernacularization is no common liturgical language. Being able to sing the Sanctus, or the Tantum Ergo or Salve Regina(as we did last night)--it puts the catholic in Catholic). The priest was young and a good singer. He wore very similar vestments to last night's, a different color, of course (we actually passed two stores last night - one of which sold religious goods some beautiful and some ugly, but none tacky - relatively uncommon among Catholic goods stores. The other sold nothing but the most banal, uninspiring, modern vestments, chalices, etc. - and judging from the liturgies we've witnessed so far, is outfitters to every sacristy of Paris.)

But when the moment of Consecration arrived, and the species were elevated, the bells rung, the noise of tourists subsided almost to nothing - the axis mundi has its pull.

I wondered, as we walked around one last time, what it was like when the Cathedral was at its greatest height of use - surely, there were tourists and gawkers and noise, maybe even worse than now. And maybe they sold religious goods from stalls inside (which always reminds me of what Our Lord did when they were changing money in the temple). But when Leonin and Perotin were composing those magnificent Offices, and the whole Liturgy of the Hours was prayed in glorious chant and polyphony, that enormous choir filled with canons, Masses being said in the side altars! What a magnificent sight that must have been. I also wonder when it ended. Was it sudden? At the Revolution? Slowly as the Church lost power and prestige in the Renaissance and Reformation? Were the choir stalls still filled daily and hourly in 1967 and then emptied in the name of "noble simplicity" on the bizarre universal misinterpretation of the Council and the great vocations crisis? Was it the Liturgical Movements of the 20's? What about the other great churches of Europe? These rhetorical questions can presumably be answered with a little research once I get home... (or by you, dear readers). The Mass is still the Mass and the Office still the Office, whether it is 3 priests dwarfed by the huge choir at a table-altar, without music or lights or incense, or the most ornate Tridentine rite in the presence of multiple prelates with 50 canons and extra torchbearers and an enormous choir at the (still perfectly servicable, I note) East end altar with ars subtilior polyphony. But I wish I had lived to see the latter in Notre-Dame.

(I do like modern plumbing and medicine a lot, though.) (On the other hand, the economy the way it's going, maybe the Church will once again be the only employer for well-educated literate men. And maybe I'll learn to live without modern plumbing and medicine.)

There is something on the Notre-Dame schedule that says "vêpres orthodoxes" - what's up with that? Ecumenism?

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Date:2008-10-11 19:27
Subject:Jour 1, cont. - Churches, Paris, Dinner

So, next we find St. Vincent-de-Paul, which is very quiet and beautiful. A nun is praying before the relics (not my photo), reposed above the high altar, and we are able to go up after she leaves.

St. Ignace, on the other hand was a beautiful neo-Gothic building that was horribly Jesuitized in 2001, well after everyone should have known better. Carpet, central altar. Eww.

Finally, we arrive at the famous St. Sulpice in time for the Magnificat of vespers, and Mass. Particularly appropriate, it is the Feast of St.-Denis, the first bishop of Paris. Inconveniently, but awesomely, there are diocesan Propers but they are not included in the Missal we are using.

The altar in the apse is set up with the weird 3-candles-on-one side configuration for Vespers, and to the side is the World's Ugliest Monstrance. But the Mass is set out conventionally - sort of. The High Altar has the gifts for the sacrifice sitting there, with two candles on either end of the mensa. Briefly, I think that Mass will be offered ad orientem, but alas, they are using the old altar as a credence table and candlestand.

Still, the Mass is well celebrated. No server, a lay reader. The priest, who is Asian (S was not sure, didn't think he was Filipino), wears a typical plain chasuble with a modern chunky unbalanced cross (straight off the rack), but the stole is inside. The Gloria is sung acapella to the "Gloria, Gloria in Excelsis Deo" insipid ditty, but with French lyrics. He chooses Eucharistic Prayer I, and it's not clear what the local custom here is - kneeling from the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer to the Memorial Acclamation? Not at the Agnus Dei? I am also not sure about the proper gesture of reverence before receiving. There are about 30 people at Mass, and one extraordinary minister.

The Grand Orgue Cavaillé-Coll is silent but imposing. Looking at the schedule it seems that we will have to return another time to hear the instrument of Widor and Dupré in action.

It's wonderful that there are so many churches open late in Paris - and they have late Masses (7:30, 8:00) - something that is lacking in the Archdiocese of New York. Also, the spirit of Vatican II (no, really) seems to be alive in that the liturgy of the Hours is celebrated frequently with the people, although with very low ceremony. Confessions are also scheduled for a good chunk of time daily (although no place lists English confessors, there must be some around).

Finally, we wind our way through the streets attempting to find something to eat and although I am a bit cranky from being very tired, we settle on a nice creperie, "la crêperie des Canettes" and return to the hotel.

My most significant and successful conversation tout en français was to understand which type of Métro ticket to buy and purchase the right one with a credit card. Mmes. Thibault and Ryder should be proud, almost 10 years after my graduation...

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Date:2008-10-11 05:50
Subject:Day 1 - CDG, Churches

We took the Air France shuttle bus (navette) from CDG to Montparnasse, which is where our hotel is.

The trip from the airport is hardly inspiring - an ugly industrial wasteland with buildings that at least look like public housing (this is what Corbusier wanted to turn Paris entirely into, I gather). Barricades everywhere and lots of graffiti - more than New York, I think. Is this where les jeunes were rioting a few years ago? I don't recall.

Finally 20 minutes or so into the trip, we see a classical style building amidst the brutalist monstrosities and pomo flights of fancy. Then a column topped by St.-Louis (I assume), a carousel, and we are in the Paris of pictures (still a lot of graffiti, though).

We check into the Hotel Lenox Montparnasse, where English is spoken - I guess I didn't need to translate those e-mails into French- and I attempt some Franglais. The room is small but artfully decorated. We have café and biscuits, unpack and set out.

Our first stop is the chapel of the Missions Étrangères de Paris, by mistake - we are looking for St. Vincent de Paul, but we look briefly in a museum about the missions to Asia, to which all of the treasures of the sacristy have been moved. The crypt chapel is horrible, modernist, ridiculous. We are in a bit of a hurry, so we pass on the upper chapel, which I learn later is where Gounod was organist. Interestingly, all of the brocuhures show the mostly intact (minus, I presume, a former high altar, but centrally-located tabernacle at least) upper church, which is neo-Classical in style.

Next, we visit the Chapel of the Miracuous Medal, where we hope to hear Mass. Actually, we visit the wrong end of the Rue de Bac, and then ask a police officer (who has no idea where the Church is, but does speak english) and stop in the waiting room of a Catholic hospital, where someone does. We see Catholic social services, schools, culture everywhere - I don't know if that is typical or just the neighborhood we are in. My knowledge of the state of the Church in Paris is shaky - a vague idea about the Revolution, Napoleon restoring religion and then everything going crazy on the 60's.

It is not Mass at the chapel - I was worried when the priest came out wearing just a stole - instead, the sign of the cross, a brief homily, the rosary with a hymn after every decade - by rote repetition I now know the Hail Mary (Je vous salue, Marie) in French, benediction, a strange manner of incensing the sacrament with 3 12-swings, the Tantum Ergo (which S and I sing heartily, since we know it!), a litany - not the Divine Praises, and then benediction again. Finally, the Lourdes Hymn, which again we were to sing - at least the refrain (with the a-VE, a-VE, a-VE Mari-A version, not the A-ve, A-ve, A-ve ma-RI-a version). Actually, it was quite thrilling - some people actually joined in in harmony.

As it turns out, the relics at the side altar which we thought were St. Catherine Labouré are in fact another saint.

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Date:2008-10-10 19:08
Subject:Flight Report

Well, Air France is no Singapore Airlines but still reasonably comfortable and a far cry from normal US domestic service.

At the gate, the agent told us we had "middle and aisle" seats, as opposed to a window+middle seat which SeatGuru had identified for me. So thinking that the gate agent might have better information than SeatGuru (and recalling that the Air France online seat-selection tool showed extra seats in the row), I asked for a change, and so we were moved from row 53 (two seats together next to the window) to 50 (two of three seats together.) Last time I will doubt the Guru. It turned out to be fine, except that the Frenchman next to us, with whom the girl across the aisle seemed to be failing at flirting, listened to his iPod too loudly.

Apparently I do not look Gallic enough because all the staff spoke to me en anglais. Perhaps it is my Filipino girlfriend that gives me away?

Dinner: shrimp & couscous (shrimp of the shrimpy variety, not the jumbo sort that SQ serves)
chicken tarragon or beef with balsamic vinager (S chose the chicken, which was too salty)
a "cheese course" consisting of a small brick of monterey jack, vacuum sealed
rice pudding (as an "entremets")
berry chocolate cake/brownie thing

Airlines meals are essentially glorified TV dinners, I suppose... and these were better than your average TV dinner, but not much.

I think the funniest thing about the meal service is the vestigial "real china" that appears in the form of a wine/watter goblet and a real coffee cup that is placed on your tray, but all of the coffee and wine (Heidsieck champagne, for the record... at least Air France splurges a bit on wine even in economy) are poured and served in plastic cups that are then placed inside the real china. I assume they still have to wash the cups. Tradition dies hard, I suppose.

I really like flying. S thinks I'm crazy, but I just think it's so cool to be 30,000 feet up in the air, traveling 600 miles an hour, crossing timezones, watching places fly by below you that previously only existed on maps or in the TV. And you can see things looking out the window - flying over England looks like England (that's where we had breakfast, well, Wales). You can see the moors and the farms and the way the villages are laid out. The in-flight status meter is also fun for a geek like me. The one on Air France has a tendency to choose very minor cities as points of reference, and doesn't show any national/state borders, and shows the plane direction "up" instead of North - a disorenting orientation. If I had one of those jobs that required a lot of travel, I could easily imagine myself the sort who whiles away hours on FlyerTalk trying to figure out the best way to accumulate the necessary miles for upgrades, and learning all the ins-and-outs of which aircraft fly which schedules and so forth.

(Breakfast - minutemade OJ, raspberry yaoût - one of the most fun French words to pronounce - and pain au chocolat).

Although the service and food on Singapore was better, the seats in economy were a bit bigger (more caucasian-sized, I supposed?) and more comfortable to stretch out. Still, despite not having a lot of sleep the night before I found it difficult to really stay asleep more than 10/15 minutes at a time. It's going to be a long day today/tomorrow since the plan is to stay up for the duration so as to get acclimitized to the time change.

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Date:2008-10-08 20:02
Subject:Europe Trip - JFK

I think that I might have better connectivity on this trip than in Asia, thus I'll attempt to make a few posts in real-time rather than the going on several months late.

S got her visa just in time this morning (and got a special greeting from the Consul General) so the trip is on... now we're in JFK waiting for our flight after a happy intervention from the

There is also a serious VIP in the business class lounge (we're slumming it in economy this trip)... someone traveling with a uniformed police officer, five beefy black-jacket-lapel-pin-and-wired-earpiece types and a special attache from the airline.

I've been mentally practicing my rusty French all day. Hopefully it comes back to me soon. Boarding soon, AF010 to CDG... catch you on the ground ...

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Date:2008-10-07 14:00
Subject:Must everything be politicized?

Upon leaving the new production of A Man for All Seasons, I predicted that it would only be praised by critics if it could be twisted into an anti-Bush statement.

"the second act, in which More would rather face death than bend to the will of authority, is a striking condemnation of the current United States administration."

The first act, by the way, is a condemnation of the Bloomberg administration.

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Date:2008-10-02 11:11
Subject:Civilization's inevitable decline

Wine Enthusiast magazine has demoted its previous mascot Lord Winston to a commoner. And he no longer wears his ascot.

Must everything be democratized?

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Date:2008-09-30 10:46
Subject:RIP Sun

Alas, the New York Sun has again come to an end.

Some remembrances and farewells:

Chris Rovzar
Andrew Cusack
Mayor Bloomberg
The Journal
The Sun itself (op-ed)
The Sun (editorial)

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Date:2008-09-26 17:58
Subject:McCain and the debate

I was beginning to think that McCain's team had pulled another amazing PR coup with the "drop everything and rush to Washington to fix the economic crisis." But now he's decided to go debate anyway even though there's no deal. That makes it look like a patently self-aggrandizing move. I really thought that crazy maverick McCain might have seriously believed that his personal presence in Washington would help solve the problem. And his campaign manager was brilliant to suggest it. But now... I don't get why he "resumes his campaign" now.

My favorite thing about the Palin pick, by the way, is that everyone can laugh about her for the same reasons. I love sitting around at work while people are talking about how she'll never win because she's just a small town mayor, or hates community organizers, or thinks abortion should be illegal, or has a lot of kids, or talks funny, or loves guns, or is a wacky Christian... and I think to myself, yes, that's exactly why she was a brilliant pick for McCain. (To wit - funny, but for all the opposite reasons they think)

And while I do not generally engage in political debate at work, during a freeflowing "Republicans are evil" yakk session this morning, I attempted to make the (carefully couched in counterfactuals) argument that "if you are so totally crazy as to think that abortion is murder, you also have to believe it's murder in the cases of rape and incest. That belief doesn't make anyone more extreme than the average pro-lifer." (Frankly, anyone who doesn't think abortion is equally wrong/permissible in cases of rape and incest just hasn't thought about their position terribly deeply.)

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Date:2008-09-12 23:26
Subject:September 11th Remembrance

Yesterday was my first September 11th as a resident of New York City.

Can you handle another moving September 11th account? The author was a member of our parish, now a deacon, soon to be ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.

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Date:2008-08-22 16:33
Subject:From the MTA website

This could have saved me a costly move into the city:

Free Wi-Fi In Grand Central Terminal Station Master's Office

Free Wi-Fi is now available in our Station Master′s Office in Grand Central Terminal, making it the hotspot of midtown Manhattan! This Wi-Fi accessibility will allow you to use your laptop and other wireless devices to browse the Internet while waiting for your trains. And best of all, you can browse our website for the latest information about train service.

(I promise a report on my Asia trip over the weekend.)

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Date:2008-08-10 22:48
Subject:Unexpected aesthetic experience

The annoyance of waiting on hold to talk to a United ticket agent is somewhat lessened by the opportunity to listen to a complete performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in the meantime.

That's branding I can approve of.

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PadrePuffin is the pseudonym of a 30-year old man, soon to be married, who enjoys blogging about New York City life, the Catholic Church, music, opera, and other random interests.