Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Places I tried to buy stamps today, with no success

In chronological order, which also happens to be the order of mounting absurdity:

1. A papeterie that sold magazines and cards and envelopes and paper and seemed like a good bet.

2. A tabac, which the woman in the papeterie told me was the only place that sold stamps.

3. The post office.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Heart of Worship

Annie Dillard wrote a beautiful essay called "An Expedition to the Pole" that you should go read right this very second if you've ever been to a mainline church, scoffed or prayed for the mainline church, or just if you like to read things that are beautiful and true. I don't have the essay with me, and I won't try to quote it from memory, but she does make a reference to having gone to a Catholic church to try to escape "Protestant guitars."

("Protestant guitars." As if that doesn't just sum it all up.)

So my big rebellion against a Protestant upbringing has been to seek out the most inaccessible ways of doing church I can find. I started small, with the Book of Common Prayer. Then I started going to mass in Latin. Then I crossed the Pyrenees and walked 800km to go to church in a(nother) language I can't speak.

Sometimes I still try to do normal church. Back in May I went to an English-language church on the Left Bank. But it was too "ladies' tea this afternoon" and "our missions team in Portugual." And oh, the Protestant guitars.

So I poked around a bit and tried to find something more like home. Some sort of emergent or unchurch where the minister might swear sometimes by accident, or where there wouldn't be a minister at all. A church I could knit at and we could grow organic vegetables to eat together and restore antique bicycles, talk about identity politics and read Dorothy Day and Henri Nouwen. But I came up blank and so did my hobbit-like bandanna-sporting go-to on all things unchurch. It seems the English-speaking community in Paris hasn't read The Irresistable Revolution yet.

A few weeks ago, though, I found the solution. I've been attending Gregorian mass at Notre Dame. Not a single Protestant guitar in sight. No clapping. No Sunday School picnic. No one's comparing God to a three-legged milking stool. Just chanting. Chanting in Latin. Chanting the same words that have been sung in that space for nearly a thousand years. Take that, Matt Redman.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I spent last week teaching English at a camp an hour outside of Paris.

Remember how grade school French teachers always seemed so mean? I get it now. Trying to discipline a group of French eight year olds using only English is hard. It was exhausting and frustrating right up until the last day when I realized that in between hitting each other with rulers and staring at me blankly they'd actually learned a lot of English. And when they were on their best behaviour because their parents were picking them up, I realized I'd actually kind of miss them.

Then after all the kids were gone, it was time to drive back to Paris. I remember when I used to work at camp all those summers during high school, we would talk about how strange it was to go back to the real world in September. I figured we were mostly just freaked out by all of the secular music and tank tops, but even after a week at this camp it felt odd to drive through the gates and back onto real streets with cars and shops and grown-ups.

When I was a kid and we would go on long car trips, I knew we were almost home when I could see the mall clock tower from the backseat. It would come into view just as we pulled off the highway, and it meant we were almost there. Saturday afternoon, driving through the outskirts of the city (which look perfectly North American: warehouses, IKEA, car dealerships) suddenly all of the big buildings got out of the way and I could see the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. Same feeling.

Almost home.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I've probably already mentioned that I live in a foodlover's paradise. Not just because I'm in France, although I know that this whole country is a mecca for butter enthusiasts, but my quartier in particular seems to be made up entirely of butchers, charcuteries, fruit stands, cheese shops and bakeries every third storefront. I was in the 7th yesterday afternoon, looking for a sandwich to take to the Champs de Mars with my new library books and was shocked that I had to walk three blocks to find a decent bakery. This is what living in my neighbourhood has done to me.

I love being around food like this. I love going to three shops to pick up bread and cheese and jambon with my dad. I love the bright colours outside the greengrocers'. I love the window displays at the fancy patisseries. I love sitting in the cafe downstairs and watching the butcher unload whole cows off of the truck. (As a side note: last week I was walking down the street to pick my dad up from his hotel and the butcher called out, "Bonjour madame!" to me from behind the counter. Like I was Belle in Beauty & the Beast. I pretty much moved to France for that one moment, and now that it's actually happened I can go home happy, even if I never speak French or find a job or learn how to wear scarves.)

When my father was here, he couldn't believe how many people were walking around with baguettes in their hands - he said he thought that was just a picture from storybooks. But there are three boulangeries between my apartment and the subway station, so the baguettes are everywhere. Right now there's a kid who looks about seven years old standing on the corner underneath my window holding one that's almost as big as he is, and it's pretty cute. Around this time at night there are lineups in all the bakeries as people stop on their way home from work to pick up bread for dinner. And lately my very favourite thing about Paris is that on every corner there is a grown man in a suit looking around furtively before breaking off the end of a warm loaf of bread and cramming it in his mouth.