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…