Marriage is love.
(And thanks to The Mad Prophet for pointing me to this bit of code.)


I almost forgot

I didn't get any sightseeing pix on my day-trip to London earlier this month. That's because I was too busy working in the National Archives to see much of London beyond what was visible from various train windows as I passed by. And that's a bit of a bummer.

On the other hand, I was busy working in the National Archives, where they handed me 800-year-old documents (after I provided proper identification, of course) like it was no big deal, and let me work with them all day. Imagine the thrill of holding something that old in your own two hands, feeling the contrast between the hair and flesh sides of the parchment, and wondering who all has held these very same documents since pen was first set to that parchment. Incredible!

Here's a little bit of what I went to see that day. I'm only reproducing a snippet because the Crown holds the copyright to the image and I don't want to go beyond the permissible use of the material:

The picture shows the bottom of the first membrane of S.C. 2/209/54, part of the records of the manorial court at Sevenhampton. The session in question was held, in the jargon of the document itself, on the "Thursday next after the feast of Saint Gregory in the eleventh year" of the reign of Edward I. (That's 18 March, 1283, by our reckoning.)

The first line in the photo is why I took it. It records the payment of a fee of 20 shillings by a Robert Eliot so his son Thomas could have the liberty to go to school and to be ordained: xx s. De Roberto Eliot ut supra pro Thoma filio suo libertatem habendo eundi ad scolas et ordinandi.

A bit of background information to put that line in context. According to other manorial records, Robert Eliot was a cottar, albeit a fairly prosperous one. Cottars typically held just their dwellings and a tiny fragment of land barely big enough for a garden. They usually earned their living by renting themselves out as cheap labor to other people who needed help, although Robert's holding was on a par with many of his villein (serf) neighbors: he held a virgate or yardland of land, which could, with care, support a family from its produce. Twenty shillings, or one pound sterling, was about half of what a skilled laborer could expect to make in a year at the tail end of the 13th century. It also represented twice the annual rent that Robert Eliot paid to his lord for the privilege of working his bit of land.

In other words, he paid a pretty penny (or rather, 240 of them) to gain permission for his son to leave the manor for schooling and to become a cleric. That was extremely rare in those days: the clergy was mostly for younger sons of the aristocracy, though exceptions were not unknown. I just think it's awfully doggone cool that I got to examine the evidence for one such exception with my own hands and eyes.


Just say no to Alberto

I am joining my fellow members of the Liberal Coalition in saying no to Alberto Gonzalez' nomination to be the next attorney general. The following is the e-mail I just sent to both of my senators (Durbin and Obama, thanks be to God!):

I am writing to urge you to vote against the confirmation of Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General of the United States. I am of course distressed that the man is yet another in the long parade of right-wing ideologues that the Bush administration is attempting to foist upon the nation it mistakenly believes it has won a mandate to govern.

The bigger issue, for me, is how on earth we could possibly expect a man to uphold the laws and treaty obligations of the United States when he has already expressed a willingness to bend, break, or abrogate them at the demand of the Executive Branch. I refer, of course, to Mr. Gonzalez' leading role in drawing up the infamous "torture memorandum" by which the Bush administration attempted to justify the unjustifiable (and illegal, under U.S. and international law) use of torture in the interrogation of detainees and terrorist suspects.

Such a breach of professional ethics (and his duty as an officer of the court) is reprehensible in any lawyer. But it is positively heinous in the man who is called upon to uphold and defend the laws of this land at the head of the Department of Justice.

There is simply no way that Mr. Gonzalez can credibly represent the interests of Justice. He will almost certainly find himself in a disadvantageous position when it comes to negotiating international agreements, as if that position weren't bad enough already, with Mr. Bush throwing his weight around as if he were one of the Roman emperors.

I urge you to cast your vote against the confirmation of Mr. Gonzalez, and in favor of our once-sterling reputation as the world's premier advocate for freedom and individual rights.


Damn, and I missed it!

Looks like I was out of town for a rather historic event here in Illinois a couple of weeks ago. The Illinois General Assembly finally passed a gay rights bill, which Governor Blagojevich signed into law January 21. This makes Illinois the 15th state in the union to extend equal protection under the law to all of its citizens, no matter whom they have warming the other side of their beds at night.

I have to say "It's about bloody time!" considering that the first bill to require such civil-rights legislation was introduced in the legislature 31 years ago. But that's the only element of carping I'm going to indulge in. For the moment, I'm just going to rejoice a little in the fact that the people of Illinois (and their legislators) have decided they aren't going to stand for any kind of discrimination in this state, and when it happens, they're going to make sure there's a legal avenue for seeking redress.

Because, when you get right down to it, that's the "special right" that gay and lesbian Americans want. To be treated exactly like other people. Nobody says you have to like us, but we do say you have to treat us fairly. You do your thing in the privacy of your home, and we'll do ours. No need to share details either way: just live and let live.

I wish I'd been here to celebrate it.



Saturday France photoblogging

I think I've mostly recovered from the jet lag, and I've unpacked, done laundry, and restocked my refrigerator. I've started ploughing through the 40 hours or more of TiVo'ed TV that I recorded while I was gone, and I'm finally getting around to posting some of my France pictures.

I'm going to try and go back to my recent France postings and add appropriate pictures to each of them. Others may appear separately. And it's not out of the realm of possibility that I'll be posting more later on. Meanwhile, enjoy.



Safely home

I've safely returned to the land of the putatively free and the home of the too-infrequently brave, where I find things much as they were when I left: Bush and Co. are still lying sacks of merde, the country is in debt up to its ears and Dumb-ya (a) just asked Congress for another $80 billion to feed his Iraqi War MachineTM (but won't tell them what he plans to do with the money until after his carefully crafted budget message--which will doubtless be a tissue of lies from beginning to end--comes out in February), and (b) apparently still thinks he can cut the deficit in half in five years while simultaneously lowering taxes, privatizing Social Security, and spending a billion dollars a week in Iraq alone. As they say in France, Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

It wasn't easy to leave France in some respects. In others, I'm glad to be home. It's good to be among my own things, in a place that smells like home, and close to friends and family again. On the other hand, I'm going to have to get used to the idea that I can't just walk out the door and grab a quick lunch from the shops along the street, and especially that I can't just walk across the street and grab a baguette and a tartelette aux framboises for about five bucks--and both of them made fresh that day. I've formulated a new rule for determining whether bread is any good: if you can eat it cleanly, it's not worth eating in the first place. There's no way to eat a real croissant or true French bread neatly. Just tearing a chunk off the morning croissant to dunk in the café au lait results in a shower of flaky bits all over the tablecloth--and oneself. Ditto breaking apart the baguette.

Anyway, I'm running on fumes right now. I'm going to send this off, do a little more fiddling around the house, and then head to bed. Tomorrow is going to be laundry day, mail day, and grocery day. This weekend I'll be catching up on the 40-odd hours of stuff I Tivoed in the last few weeks, and sorting through pictures and probably posting a few of them here.



Je voudrais rester à Paris!

It's my last day in France, since I'll just have time to get up tomorrow morning, get cleaned up, pack, and wait for the shuttle driver to pick me up at the hotel. Sitting in an airport really doesn't count as time in-country as far as I'm concerned: airports pretty much look the same the world around (or at least those parts of the world that I've visited thus far). And I must say, after reading this morning's edition of Le Monde on the Métro on the way to Vincennes for my last day at the army archives, I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the prospects of coming home to America à la G.W. Bush.

Parisians woke up this morning to discover, on page 2 (I think it was) of their morning paper, that Bush (or more accurately, Dumsfeld) has been operating a clandestine intelligence agency for the last couple of years, in contravention of a whole buttload of U.S. laws, and without even deigning to inform Congress. Put that together with his raft of ultra-conservative whack-job nominees for the top posts in the U.S. government and his recent saber-rattling on Iran, and I have to say I feel considerably safer and more secure here in Paris than I do sitting in my quiet little apartment in a quiet little Midwestern town. At least over here almost everybody feels the same way I do about that idiot in the Maison Blanche.

A peek through the door of the royal chapel in the Château de Vincennes. Unfortunately, the chapel was damaged in the freak windstorm that struck Europe in December 1999 and is still being repaired, so I wasn't able to go inside for a better look. But this was right outside the army archives where I spent several days, along with a 13th-century donjon--also closed for renovation, alas. I'd have loved to go climbing through it!

I did have a bit of an ironic chuckle tonight when I came in to check my e-mail. At around 1:30 this afternoon, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs e-mailed me to say I could bring a copy of that e-mail and I'd be admitted to their reading room. Trouble is, at 1:30 this afternoon I was still in the Château de Vincennes, in the reading room of the Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre, which I didn't leave until around 2:30. And even if I'd gotten the e-mail from the MAE yesterday, there's no way I'd have been able to look at everything I'd like to see there in just one day. So it's looking like I might have to come back, especially since I had to request a derogation for one of the documents I wanted to see at SHAT, which I know is supposedly communicable because extracts from it have already been published. It's fairly tangential to my main topic, but I'd like to have a look just to see what other nuggets of use or interest might be in there. It will depend on whether my research director thinks I have enough to do my thesis or not. If not, then I'll probably be coming back for a week or so this spring or summer. I'll request permission to look at some of the Colmar files I couldn't get to, and talk to the MAE again about getting in there for some reading time, and I've already filed my request with the Ministry of Defence.

The opera last night was good. A full house, which I considered a good sign, given that it was a very cold Tuesday night and there were snow flurries falling when I left the hotel. (Though when the opera was over and I was walking back to the hotel from the Métro stop the sky was clear and the moon was out.) The sets and costumes were very well done, the tenor who sang Count Almaviva was great, and both the baritone who did Figaro and the soprano who sang Rosina were superb. I wasn't entirely happy dishing out 10 euros for a small sandwich and a can of Perrier, but I hadn't had a chance to grab a proper meal, and at least I got two things for that bill. If I'd wanted a glass of champagne, I'd only have gotten the one.

I needn't have dressed up, either. Some did, but most didn't--at least at the Opéra Bastille. I imagine things would have been a little different if I were going to the Palais Garnier (the old Paris opera house) tonight for Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Still, it was nice to get a little swanked up. Also nice to see younger people in the audience. It wasn't just blue-haired old ladies and people my age and above. There were some people with small children (which I don't recommend, by the way), and quite a few who looked to be high-school or college-age in the crowd. A good time was had by all, I think.

Montmartre, this afternoon, on the other hand, was quite a disappointment. Maybe it's just the cold and the fact that I'm here way out of season, but there really wasn't much atmosphere that I could see. Sacré Coeur was more grey than white, and there looked to be a big red stain on the side of one of the smaller domes at the right of the building as I looked at the church. I wasn't too pleased that they wouldn't let me photograph the interior, either. I mean, I'm Catholic: I understand the need to preserve an atmosphere conducive to prayer. But nobody stopped the tourists from photographing us at Mass in Notre Dame last Sunday, and there was a bookstore/gift shop operating in one of the side aisles at Sacré Coeur the whole time I was there. Granted, Jesus never said anything about photographers in places of worship, given that photography hadn't been invented yet. But I'm pretty sure I remember reading something somewhere about people buying and selling in the House of God...

Anyway, it's nearly 7 p.m. here and I'm perishing from hunger. I think I'm going to hit "preview" and then "post," and head next door to this lovely little Italian restaurant for my farewell-to-France dinner.

Back to a more regular posting schedule (though probably interspersed with vacation pictures) soon. I've no idea when I'll actually get home tomorrow, what with the weather, Customs, traffic coming out of Chicago, the need to pick up my car, get groceries, and all that. But I'll try to pop out at least a quick post to say I'm home safely. Assuming I don't decide to apply for asylum in France!



Oh, my aching...

Back. Legs. Feet. You name it, it probably hurts. I'm simply not used to being on my feet this much, for this many days in a row.

The rue Cler in Paris, where my hotel was located.

I had a three-day Paris museum pass (which basically meant I could get into anything worth getting into, no need to stand in line to buy tickets), and I worked that sucker for everything I could get out of it. The down side is that it's only good for three consecutive days from the first day you use it, which meant I had to do Saturday, Sunday, and today as my main museum days--at least if I didn't want to have to pay to get into them. Saturday was Versailles (in and of itself a hike) and the Invalides. Sunday started with a Gregorian chant Mass (at least the main service bits; the readings and the homily were in French) at Notre Dame--during which the sun came out from behind the clouds, and the stained glass windows at the apse end of the church just came alive! (I wish I'd dared snap a couple of pictures during the homily--but they probably wouldn't have done it justice.)

This isn't Notre Dame, but I think it's even better: this is what 600 square meters of stained glass looks like, in the upper chapel of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

Ordinarily, I'd have taken the #8 Métro line to the Strasbourg station and changed for the #4. In fact, that's what I started to do yesterday morning. But when I got off at the Strasbourg station there was an announcement that traffic on the #4 line had been indefinitely suspended while the police hunted a wanted person at the Gare du Nord, a few stops up the line. So I had to backtrack and catch the #11 line to Chatelet, which, while not actually on the Ile de la Cité, it's at least just across the river from it. So I hiked across the bridge and made it to the church in time for the last half of Lauds.

After Mass, I walked round to the end of the island and got some good shots of the exterior, then started to hike in the direction of the Museé d'Orsay, which was going to be my main stop for the day. On the way there, I noticed that St. Germain des Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris, and the site of Descartes' grave, among other notables, was just a little bit out of my way. So I hiked down the rue Bonaparte and found the church, then navigated my way back to the quais and on down the Seine to the former railroad station that now houses the major Impressionist collection in Paris.

Interior and exterior shots of one of the transept rose windows at Notre Dame.

Frankly, I found it rather underwhelming, except for a few star pieces (like Whistler's mother, and Van Gogh's other starry night picture--from Arles). I think the Art Institute in Chicago has more of a collection, and certainly a more diverse one. Then again, the Impressionists were never very popular in their native land, so perhaps it isn't quite so surprising that not many of their works remain here.

That done, I figured I'd hike over to the Rodin museum which I skipped on Saturday, because I was tired and the Invalides was closer (though not by much). By the time I'd gotten through there, I was on my last legs--literally. And then I decided to walk home, rather than waste a ticket to go just two or three stops. I'm amazed I had the energy left to get off the bed after an hour or so of relaxation (and a couple of ibuprofen) to go grab some cash and some dinner.

Today was my big museum day. I started with the Musée Cluny, technically the National Museum of the Middle Ages, though everybody still calls it the Cluny, after the name of the house it's in. The house itself is a bit of a wonder: part Renaissance-era palace, and part the ruins of an old Roman-era bath house. It's just chock full of wonderful stuff, as you might guess by the fact that I shot over a hundred pictures there.

A sunburst captured through Rodin's sculpture, "Cathedral." I'm rather fond of this shot. I was practically dead on my feet by the time I got to this museum, my back was killing me, but I saw the angle of the sun coming through the window and figured it was worth the cost to get down low enough to try for a shot of the sun coming through the splayed hands.

Then it was a couple of short walks to a couple of nearby churches that some friends had recommended. One was OK, the other was really neat. But after that, it was back down along the Seine and across the Pont Royal to the Louvre, where I planned to spend the afternoon. I stopped for a bite at one of the cafés after checking my coat. Not long after I'd placed my order, two women and two children sat down at the table next to me. They were from Calgary--a mother and her two kids, and her mother, and they were traveling around Europe for a couple of months to let the kids (boy, just shy of 10, and girl probably about 6) see some of the places they were going to be learning about in school. When they found out I was an historian here on a research trip, they were thrilled. I must have talked to them about history and stuff for a good hour and a half before we parted ways.

I then did what may well be the world's land speed record for getting through probably about a third of the Louvre's collections in one afternoon. By the time I left, at a little past four, I'd taken another hundred or so pictures, and was running out of room on my 128-meg memory stick. Good thing I decided to listen to my feet this time, or I might have had to start culling shots from earlier in the day.

Looking down the Seine toward the Louvre from the mis-named Pont Neuf which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris.

It's back to work tomorrow, though: the museum pass expires at the end of today, and the army archives in Vincennes open up at 9 tomorrow morning. So I'll be ensconced in a comfortable chair in a 17th-century fortress with cute men in French army fatigues handing me 60-year-old files all day. Then it's back to the hotel for a shower and change, and maybe a bite to eat, and over to the Place de la Bastille where I have a ticket for the 7:30 performance of The Barber of Seville. Wednesday is either going to be my last day of working in Vincennes (if I can't get everything accomplished tomorrow that needs doing), or another touristy day, plus souvenir shopping. Maybe both. I may or may not get another chance to post before the shuttle comes and picks me up at 9 a.m. on Thursday to head for the airport. Just pray that there isn't any more damn snow in the Midwest this week, OK?



I'm tired

And well I should be: I spent the morning hiking around Versailles (the château and the park, though I didn't get all the way through the park before I pooped out). Spotted an internet place on the way from the railroad station and
A view down the Allée Royale at Versailles. For perspective, this picture was taken standing with my back to the palace proper, just in front of the famous frog fountain, which is in the foreground of the shot. The rectangular body of water in the background is the long arm (it's exactly one mile) of the Grand Canal, and it was a good 10-minute hike down a reasonably steep hill to get to it. I'd estimate I was already at least a quarter or a half a mile away from the palace at this spot in the gardens.
decided to take the opportunity, even though their prices are highway robbery--6 euros an hour, when I was paying at most 2.70 in Colmar, and 2.50 most of the time: so this is probably going to be a short post.

I'm back in Paris now, after a long day of traveling yesterday. One problem about staying in a hotel recommended by Rick Steves: most of the other guests are there for the same reason. I heard hardly a French voice except from the staff, and that's something I've enjoyed not having to deal with the rest of this trip. Hopefully it won't subject me to any of the "ugly American" stereotypes I've thus far managed to avoid.

The Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at Versailles.

On the other hand, yesterday's edition of Le Monde was worth the price of the trip alone. The top story above the fold was of course about the inauguration coronation of Emperor Chimpy. Right alongside the first couple of paragraphs of the story text was this simply delicious editorial cartoon. It showed three elderly judges (in French judicial attire), one of them holding out an enormous Bible, clearly identifiable by the giant cross on its cover, in the direction of a bemused-looking Chimpy. Chimpy was dressed in a bad set of tails, with another enormous cross on his left lapel. The caption read, Tiens? Finalement, Dieu n'est pas venu?, "Huh? I guess God didn't come after all?" I thought for sure I'd bust a gut, I was laughing so hard.

The front page of Le Monde for Friday, 21 January, 2005.



A date that will live in infamy...

Alors, as they say in France, today is Emperor Chimpy's big day. Personally, I hope he falls flat on his face in front of God and however many of his fanatics turn out to see his inauguration coronation. I laughed the other morning at breakfast when I read, in DNA (that's Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace, by the way), that Bush was trying to defuse some of the criticisms of his big party by saying it was his way of celebrating and supporting the troops. Oh, puh-leeze! That's like saying you're supporting the poor by renting a big room and putting on a huge party--without inviting any of the poor. If you want to do something for the troops, Georgie, give them the 40 million bucks your gala is projected to cost, and then bring them the hell home, post-haste.

And while I'm on the subject of politics, I had to look twice at the television the other morning. They were showing part of Condoliesherarseoff's confirmation hearings (Barbara Boxer was in the process of ripping Condi a new one, which cheered me up for a few seconds). Thing is, the footage they had of her looked eerily like a puppet show I saw (a weekly satire, apparently; I think it was on Canal+) just after I arrived in Nantes. Evil Condi was portrayed as running a rigidly regimented castle; when things were not just so, she flew into a rage and heads rolled. They had exactly captured Condiliar's perennially pissed-off expression, just as it was subsequently on display in the news footage. Does that woman (if she is a woman) ever smile? Or at least look like she didn't have a giant sandpaper suppository shoved up her arse? L'on se demande...

A 1606 tombstone in the Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar. The inscription, I believe in the Alsatian dialect, reads, Frog nit noch mir wer ich bin gewesen. Gedench was du bist und wirst werden, "Do not ask me who I was. Think of who you are and what you will become."

On the other hand, today's something of a celebration here in Colmar. Sixty years ago today, the French First Army under General (later Marshal) de Lattre de Tassigny began the reduction of the "Colmar pocket," the last bit of French territory that the Germans still controlled at the time. Two weeks later, after some heavy fighting, elements of the Fifth Armored Division and some American forces fighting alongside them liberated this city. There were tons of army vehicles on the road today, but according to what I heard it had nothing to do with the anniversary; just a routine reassignment, apparently from Senegal, of all places.

It was also the last day of a week of strikes all over France. Today it was the turn of the public works people to demonstrate in the streets. At least given what I saw when I was walking down the Avénue d'Alsace to do my laundry, it looked like quite a few of them were taking to the streets. Public reaction was mixed; I heard a lot of horns honking in support as people passed by the demonstration, but the proprietor of the laundry I was in at the time the demonstrators marched by was vehemently opposed. "They've got their hands in our pockets," he told me, and later on he railed at them to another couple who had just come in: "Go and work if you want our support!" Me, I think it's great that they still care enough to demonstrate, unlike most American workers who can't even be bothered to join a union.

Anyway, it's farewell to Colmar for me; I finished up as much of the archival work here as I reasonably could. I found some sources just after I got there yesterday that would have occupied me all day today--and then some--but what with the strike today I didn't feel like risking ticking off people I need on my side for when I come back: and it would have been a rush job to get through all the files I'd identified, anyway. I might be able to get the same numbers (and a more complete picture at that, given that everything in Colmar is at the local level and dependent on the local authorities having kept their records, which not all of them did) in Paris, if I can get permission to visit the Quai d'Orsay. And if not, well, shucks, that just means I have to wait for the ministerial wheels to grind and then I'll come back sometime this spring or summer: and while I'm at it, I can request permission to see some of the reserved files that I couldn't look at this trip. I have most of the policy information I need; all I'd like on top of that are some hard numbers. But if I can't get them, no big deal. My main interest was the policy anyway.

So it's on to Paris tomorrow morning. I do still have some work to do in the army archives in Vincennes, and obviously at the Quai d'Orsay if I can get in. But otherwise, it's tourist time! I've got a three-day Paris museum pass and I intend to get every bit of use out of it that I can. I've also got a list of restaurants, brasseries, tea places, and pâtisseries to visit, and I intend to do my best to get to all of the ones on my list. And finally, I've got a ticket to the opera on one of my last nights in France; regrettably not at the famous opera house (the Palais Garnier), but I hear the new one at the Place de la Bastille is very nice inside, though it's thoroughly modern on the outside.

Lastly, before I go on to check my e-mail in what's left of my hour of Internet time, I want to say thank you to all of my readers who've left comments wishing my stepfather well. The surgery went off without a hitch, and the last news I had from home was that they'd moved him out of the cardiac unit and into the regular hospital service, so it would appear that his recovery is well underway--at least as far as the heart condition is concerned. But it would appear that in the course of his fall he may have cracked one or more vertebrae, and that will have to be dealt with later. For now, at least, it seems he's out of danger.



It's fun to be a tourist!

I took advantage of the archives' being closed the last three days to play tourist. And of course that meant the weather decided to turn much colder; good thing I'd come prepared!

Frost on the trees, shot from the window of the train on the way to Strasbourg.

I spent half of Friday and all of Saturday wandering around Colmar and snapping photos or walking through museums and doing the same. (And of course sampling the odd pastry now and again!) Yesterday after Mass in the Collegiale of St. Martin (which just misses being a cathedral by the fact that Colmar isn't an episcopal see anymore) I hopped a train up to Strasbourg to go look around their cathedral, and also a few museums. I will say this much: after having celebrated two Sundays in two different French medieval cathedrals, I understand why the Catholic Church uses the vestments it does. It's to keep the poor clerics (and their helpers) from freezing to death. You know it's cold when:

  1. The parish bulletin actually lists a "collection for heating" for the day's Mass:
  2. The lectors go to the ambo fully dressed--right down to overcoats and, in the case of the women, hats.
  3. Nobody takes off his/her coat when they come in.
The tympanum above the great west door of the cathedral in Strasbourg.

On the other hand, while it was cold sitting in the church for an hour and more, it was more than made up for by the fact that the organist decided to use one of my favorite pieces (Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue) as prelude and postlude music. I got to church way early, having overestimated the amount of time it would take to walk from my hotel (the bus line that runs out that far only runs Monday through Saturday), and could hear the music even from outside the church. Pretty doggone neat, especially since you almost never get to hear that kind of stuff in American Catholic churches these days. Didn't hurt that the reverb time was at least four seconds; makes me wish I could sneak in there and record myself singing a couple of my favorite pieces that are just meant for those kinds of acoustics.

View from the transept crossing down the nave toward the rose window above the great western door in the cathedral in Strasbourg.

The trip to Strasbourg was nice. It's been very foggy here the last few days (though it was clear when I left to go to the archives this morning, and the sun has been out all day), and the temperature has dropped below freezing the last few nights as well. That produces a lovely frost effect on all the trees and grape vines and the like. I'm not 100% satisfied with the way they turned out, but I did take a couple of pictures out the window of the train yesterday as we sped north. I'll be sure to post the best of them when I get the chance; and I'm beginning to think I should talk to my Coalition buddy NTodd about getting myself a better camera, at least if I'm going to keep this kind of thing up. My little digital works great for most things, but its functions are rather limited if you want to do advanced tricks.

A view of Strasbourg across the River Ill from a window in the Palais Rohan.




I was more than a little surprised to hear the telephone in my hotel room ring last night around 6, not long after I'd gotten back in following a delightful day of wandering around the old town of Colmar and digging some of the great medieval art in the Musée d'Unterlinden (which used to be a convent until the Revolution). I figured it might have been someone from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, calling about my request to visit the archives in Paris: but it was my sister, calling from the States.

Seems my stepfather, who had tripped on the stairs a couple of days ago and gone to see the doctor about that, had admitted to having had chest pains for some time; the doctor, understandably, was more worried about those than about his back, so he had some tests run. They found a 98% blockage in one coronary artery, and an 85% blockage in another: so they rushed him off to the hospital for a surgical evaluation. They were going to operate on Thursday, but he failed his breathing test (he'll be 79 this summer, and he smoked for most of his life), so they put it off a day to give him some exercises and hoped to improve his chances. When my sister talked to me yesterday, she said they were planning the surgery for yesterday afternoon, U.S. time--or the middle of the night for me here in France. Naturally, I didn't sleep too well last night.

However, the news this morning is good. The surgery went off without a hitch, and while he's still groggy from the anesthetic, he's at least responding (though not verbally, since they have him on a respirator to assist his breathing) when people talk to him or touch him. I guess there was a reason I decided to light another candle in the cathedral when I visited there yesterday afternoon!

The "Petite Venise" (Little Venice) in Colmar.

Meanwhile, here in Colmar it's foggy. Very foggy, in fact: I could hardly see the cranes at the construction site across the street from my hotel this morning (ironically, they're building a new hospital, named for Albert Schweitzer) when I got up. And it's cold, too: the first time since I got here that I've needed to put my gloves on, and I was wishing I'd thought to fish that nice new cashmere scarf out of my suitcase before I left to walk down to the bus stop. But now that I know all's as well as can be expected at home, I think I'm going to proceed as planned and wander around the Petite Venise district today, and maybe go back to the Musée d'Unterlinden to take in their ancient collections which I missed yesterday. Oh, and there looked to be a nice bookstore down the street from the Petite Venise...



A day off

It's my first real free day since I got to France more than a week ago. My first Saturday was a travel day, and while I did take Sunday as a holiday last week, it was in Nantes. After Mass in a frigid cathedral and a walk through the Musée des Beaux-Arts (and a visit to a lovely artisanal bakery I found near there), I had pretty much exhausted the available options for recreation, so I went back to the hotel and just lounged around: relaxing, but not terribly engaging or very different from how I might spend a Sunday afternoon at home.

Wine casks in the former Unterlinden convent (now a museum) in Colmar.

But since the archives here in Colmar are closed today, I'm taking a bit of a jour ferié ("public holiday"): I hiked about a kilometer to do my laundry this morning (don't even want to think about the prices I paid!) and then back to the hotel afterward. Now I'm downtown and planning to take a turn through the Musée d'Unterlinden and have another look at the 13th-14th-century cathedral (former cathedral, anyway; I think it was downgraded during one of the German occupations), then maybe stop into one of the brasseries or winstubs and have a spot of dinner: I'm dying to try a tarte flambée or a good Alsatian choucroute! Tomorrow I may see about taking a train trip up to Verdun or over to Epernay to tour the champagne cellars, or something fun like that.

View of the cloister garden in the Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar.

As to the research, it's going typically: finding some things, having trouble getting access to others, and finding out that everything relative to the Occupation isn't actually here in Colmar. Some of it is kept at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, and they're understandably leery of letting just anyone walk in off the street and visit the reading room. Had I known I was going to need to visit there, I'd have made arrangements in advance; as it is, I've requested permission and the présidente de salle here has promised to check with Paris about the status of my application if I haven't heard back by the time I leave to go back there next week. On the other hand, I may just have to come back in six months and do it then--there are also longer restrictions on some of the dossiers I need to look at than I was led to believe, though one can request permission for an exception. But that process takes months, and they won't make copies--if permission is given at all, I'll have to come look at the materials in person. Dang!

I've never seen an armored codpiece before, but here's one from the Musée d'Unterlinden in Colmar.



Updates from France

Well, I've already had to change my plans around once, and it looks like it might be necessary to do it again. Lots of things I found on the web before coming over seem not to have been true (or at least not current), and some of what I was told here has turned out to be incorrect. But I'm coping! (Except with these doggone Euro keyboards: none of the damn keys is in the right place, it seems.)

I have successfully navigated the French transportation system, I'm happy to report. I'm an old pro on the Métro by now, and I've had the experience of riding on the Eurostar to London through the Channel Tunnel, and a trip out to Nantes and back on the TGV, which really didn't seem all that much faster than the ordinary regional line I took from Paris to Strasbourg yesterday (though now that I think of it, getting from Nantes to Paris took about half the time it took to get from Paris to Strasbourg, though the distances look to be pretty much the same). On the last leg of yesterday's day-long journey, from Strasbourg to Colmar, I sat across from a young woman with a simply adorable baby; we chatted for a bit after I helped watch the kid for her while she was getting herself put together. She did ask if I was British, though, which surprised me a little; I really didn't think I had that much of an accent! (She told me it was very light, and I hope she wasn't just being polite; but at least she didn't accuse me of being an American right off!)

On that point I have to say I've been very pleasantly surprised. Nobody to date has even batted an eyelid when I've presented an American passport; in fact, the women in charge of the archives both in Nantes and here in Colmar seemed quite happy to see an American face. (Apparently they only get two or three a year here; not really surprising, I suppose, given that the woman I met on the train yesterday evening has lived in Colmar for a year and didn't even know there were archives here; she seemed surprised to learn they'd been here since the mid-80s.)

I'm certainly leaving traces of myself all over France. I've had to register separately at each of the three archives I've visited here (and at the National Archives in London as well). Pretty soon, my wallet won't be able to hold all the ID cards I'll need to carry around!

I'm really enjoying France. I'm not sure I want to come back to the States!




Just a quick note to say I'm here, safe and sound. Got into Paris an hour early (tailwinds are our friends!), landed in a very thick fog--like, "Oh, my God, how did they find the runway" thick). French customs was a breeze: navigating the RER (suburban rail) was not. But I found the hotel eventually, and I've had a bit of a nap, and now I'm going out to make rail arrangements, and maybe see a little of the city. It looks like the rain has stopped, and the sun is poking through the clouds.

Doesn't look like I'll be able to post photos until I get back. And this crazy European keyboard is making me crazy: 25 years of touch-typing out the window!



I'm going to France!

And it looks like I may be getting out of Dodge just in the nick of time. We had a bit of an ice thing going on today (though fortunately the worst of it went west and north of here). And the National Weather Service office in Chicago just sent out the following bulletin:




Our in-house forecaster at the university where I work is calling for 8 to 10 inches by the time this thing ends. If any of y'all are the praying kind, send a few good vibes my way that I get out of O'Hare before the weather gets fouled up for fair. My flight's supposed to leave just before 6 p.m. Be interesting to see what the picture looks like when I get to the airport around this time tomorrow.

With luck and a favorable wind, I may just escape the Midwest before it gets its first real taste of an average winter.



A New Year's prayer

I'm cribbing this from Fr. Edward Hays' wonderful 1979 book, Prayers for the Domestic Church:

Lord, You who live outside of time,
and reside in the imperishable moment,
we ask Your blessing this New Year's Day
upon Your gift to us of time.

Bless our clocks and watches,
You who kindly direct us
to observe the passing of minutes and hours.
May they make us aware of the miracle
of each second of life we experience.
May these our ticking servants
help us not to miss that which is important,
while You keep us from machine-like routine.
May we ever be free from being clock-watchers
and instead become time-lovers.

Bless our calendars,
these ordered lists of days, weeks, and months,
of holidays, holy days, fasts and feasts--
all our special days of remembering.
May these servants, our calendars,
once reserved for the royal few,
for magi and pyramid priests,
now grace our homes and our lives.
May they remind us of birthdays and other gift-days,
as they teach us the secret
that all life
is meant for celebration
and contemplation.

Bless, Lord, this new year,
each of its three hundred and sixty-five days and nights.
Bless us with new moons and full moons.
Bless us with happy seasons and a long life.
Grant to us, Lord,
the new year's gift
of a year of love.

I'm not much given to making New Year's resolutions--or rather, I don't see why we should limit resolving to amend our lives and better ourselves or our world to just one day on the calendar. If something is out of joint, I think we should fix it as soon as the problem is noticed, rather than wait around until the year's turning forces us to contemplate new beginnings.

If I were into making resolutions, however, I think this year's might be to strive toward a more Buddhist outlook on life, the universe, time, and everything. We have a tendency to let our watches, our PDAs, our calendars, and our schedules run our lives for us. If it isn't on the calendar, it's not worth paying attention to. The Buddhists see that as a problem, and I'm inclined to agree. Time is as much our servant as our master, and we would do well to remember it.

Realize that I say this after having spent most of the last four months looking forward to the trip I'm taking in three days' time. A lot of things have been held in abeyance or put off "until I get back from France." A lot of other things have gotten pushed to the side because I have "all this stuff to do before I go to France." For others, it's things like "I'll do that after I get the promotion/new job/unemployment check," or "I never have time to sit down and take care of that" because they're always running off to volunteer for something, or take care of a parent/sibling/friend/loved one who is not well. And there's also the pernicious tendency to limn the golden days of our youths with roseate hues, and bemoan how far things have gone downhill since that time.

The present is what we have. The past is over, and the future isn't here yet. But if we waste the present by dwelling too much upon the past, or putting everything off until some future time--be that near or far--we will shuffle and stumble our way to our graves without ever having truly lived. That's not to say that we should forget the past (our own, our nation's, our culture's, our world's). Nor is it to say that goals and aspirations are unimportant or should not be chosen and striven for. All I'm saying is that we should remember not to miss the present out of a concern for what has been or what has yet to be.

Perhaps that's why this snippet from the Book of Revelation (1:4, my translation from the Greek) has always been among my favorite passages of Scripture:

Charis humin kai eirēnē, apo ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos.

Grace to you, and peace, from the One who is, the One who was, and the One who is coming.

Happy New Year to all my readers. I'll try to post what I can from France, and I'll be back home, Deo volente and the airline doesn't lose my luggage, at the end of the month.


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