The French Experience – Part 1

Let me tell you this… French weather is something.

You know it´s bad when you land in Lyon and, confident of the shorts and T-shirt you´re wearing, venture out of the facility only to find your face hit by ten degrees celsius.

Did I mention it was August 7th?

Let alone the fact that a typical Lebanese would never admit they´re cold when taken by surprise (we have this in Lebanon is the sentence we all say), I was freezing.

We met up with a French group who was more than welcoming. Imagine people you don´t know hugging you and innundating you with too many names, which at the time you thought would be impossible to remember.

We were then taken to the city of Lyon. We were supposed to vist the shrine of Notre Dame de Fourviere, which translates as Our Lady of Fourviere.

Located on a hilltop, it has the exact same statue of the Virgin Mary we have in Harissa in Lebanon, except it´s covered in a thin layer of gold, overlooking the city which it protects.

The church itself is huge. Have you ever been to a place where, despite being tired beyond measure, simply takes your breath away? That´s the church of Fourviere right there.

Pillars after pillars of marble, paintings and mosaics… the decoration inside is of epic proportions that our guide told us: “It´s very easy to get lost in the grandeur of the decor… but it´s the architecture that matters.”

Interestingly, there´s a small shrine for Harissa inside Fourviere – dedicated to Notre Dame du Liban. And based on what a good French friend of mine told me, the day the shrine was opened, the church had hundreds and hundreds of visitors attending the ceremony, something which is rare to be seen.

And then it was time for mass… now imagine the scenario: you haven´t slept in over 24 hours, you´re too tired to even open your eyes and you have to be attentive in mass because you, as a Lebanese group, are so important that you were placed in the first two rows of an overbooked cathedral.

Now imagine poor me trying every single way to sleep and make it look like I´m praying. Needless to say that I was unsuccessful. But you know what, that was one the best services I ever attended. Even though almost everything was different, I was mesmerized by how grand everything was. You had too many priests, too many readings and yet they all fit in so little time. The order of events in mass, which we´re used to as Maronites, is out of order in a Roman Catholic mass.

And then there´s the singing… there was a full-blown band called Malak performing the chants in church. And I got goosebumps when Claire sang a chant that I had never heard before: Couronnees D´etoiles.

And since we were V.I.P during mass, we were asked to chant something in Lebanese as part of the mass. So when I was leaving church, a woman stops me and asks: “Vous etes des Libanais?”

I nodded. She proceeded to say that her mother, who passed away nine years ago, was also Lebanese. And when we chanted in Lebanese, she imagined her mother standing between us and chanting with us. She hugged me in thanks and left.

I guess my first few hours in France were a success…

Off to France and Spain

I’ve never traveled before. Ever. Unless you count that brief two day trip I took to Damascus last December and the one before to Northern Syria in July.

Well, if you do, let me tell you this: if you don’t go to your destination in an plane, then you haven’t really “traveled.” At least that’s how I understand it to be.

But I digress.

In a few hours, I will be taking my very first airplane ride to Southern France where I will spend four days before heading out to Spain for a thirteen day excursion.

I’m definitely excited. But also quite anxious. It could be that I haven’t packed yet. I just look at the suitcase and decide there’s still time.

My stay in Spain will involve three cities: Toledo, Madrid and Sevilla. No Barcelona for me, sadly. But I guess there’s a time for everything. And with a Schengen on my passport, it’ll be easier to go there some other time.

While in Spain, I will be participating in the international Catholic Youth Day, formally known as JMJ: Journee Mondiale de la Jeunesse, which will be an opportunity for me to meet the pope – although I have low hopes about actually “meeting” him unless you consider spotting someone in a sea of a million people “meeting.”

While I’m definitely not the most religious of people, I think this will serve as an opportunity for me to meet lots of new people. Let me tell you a secret though, my group is going to miss out on most of the religion sessions and we’ll be going touring the cities we’re in. Awesome, right?

France should be great as well. I’m not doing the cliche France trip of going to Paris and staying there for the whole vacation, which I honestly would have loved to do – there’s just something about Paris, right? My French stay will give me an opportunity to practice my dying French skills. Yes, AUB, I blame you.

A woman in my travel group is of Argentinian origins and she was giving us Spanish lessons the other day in order to get around in Spain. Apparently the people who speak something other than Spanish are rare over there. Who would’ve thought? Needless to say, only one sentence got stuck in my head. And no, it’s not good morning or good evening.

“No habla espagnol, habla inglese?” will be my motto for the upcoming two weeks. I’m sure you can deduce what it means quite easily.

As for now, I’ll leave you and hope you come to read the posts that I’ve written and scheduled to be posted. There will be a book reviews, a short story split in seven parts, among other things… And if I get the chance to tell you how my French and Spanish adventures are going, well, why not, I guess.