Enter: Paris

europe 2019, into my world

I’ve now passed my first week in Paris.

It both is and isn’t a big deal. After all, I’ve been away from home now for coming up on two months, living among francophones and trying to blend in. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t think I can. 

I love Paris. It’s a cool city. It’s big, of course, but it’s beautiful and old and full of interesting things to explore. Every corner whispers of some thing that’s happened, some life that’s passed. There are churches and saints everywhere–I mean, half the streets seem to be named after Saint So-and-so. It’s a place where people come, and have spent generations coming, to be inspired. And my host mom is both very kind and absolutely hilarious.

There are four stages of culture shock: the honeymoon stage, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. 

I don’t know if I’m in stage three or stage four.

It varies from day to day. This city, this country, is beautiful and very cool, but it’s also simply not home. I have to practice the phrasing at least a dozen times in my head before I ask a question. You go to half-a-dozen different stores to buy all your groceries. And there are little things that drive me insane, little idiosyncrasies (most of which are bureaucratic) that make me want to tear my hair out. 

I actually kind of like the specialization of stores.

Paris is really cool, but this is really hard. 

I don’t have friends yet. I’ve started making them, but I’m (1) only three days into school and (2) relearning how to make friends. It’s harder when you’re working in a different language. Most people speak English–and fairly well, too–but I want to make friends with natives and practice, well, French. 

This is neither long nor well-written, but it’s what I’m working with right now. I’ve got some amicable prospects and fun future plans, but my current goal, besides surviving French grammar and becoming okay with being foreign (because, let’s face it, I am foreign and I have an accent and I am, as a person, a lot more culturally laid-back than Parisians), is to make some friends.

If nothing else, I’m done eating alone.

(far from) home

europe 2019, into my world, summer 2019

I’ve tried—and failed—to write this multiple times now, so perhaps it’s time to face facts: I’m homesick and a little bit lonely. There. I said it.

I knew that it would take me some time to really realize that I’m in another country, in a different time zone, surrounded by a different language. Different parts of this multifaceted reality hit at different times. French hit me in the face before I even stepped onto the tarmac; the timezone sunk in as I texted friends and family… and had to do math to know when to reasonably expect a response. But the reality of being away from home, from friends and family, pounced last week. 

I’d known it was stalking me, but Switzerland looks just enough like the Willamette Valley that I was able to ignore it, fend it off. But last week, as I was listening to country music-— “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” specifically—it hit me. I’m far away. And I’m going to stay that way for quite a long time.

I haven’t really missed home in a long time—but I also haven’t been at home for a long time. This summer was the first time since I graduated from high school that I lived with my parents for more than Christmas break, and while it was hard in some ways (because I’d gotten used to doing what I wanted, when I wanted), it was also really fun. I got to go on trips, watch movies, take part in Friday night pizza night—just laughing at and with people that I love. 

And so, like that first summer away from home, I went into withdrawal again. 

This post isn’t particularly long because there isn’t that much to say. I’m having a good time, but I miss people my age. I miss having a travel buddy to create trashy, very niche memes with about our experiences there. I miss English, spoken with native speakers. I miss my family. I miss my friends. 

I just miss home—both with my parents and at Fox. And I’m looking forward to France (I leave for France next week!), but France means school. 

This whole experience is so cool, but there are moments where I pause—and just miss. Europe is cool, but it isn’t home.

(Even if some of those churches feel pretty darn close.)

A Tale of Three Churches

europe 2019, into my world

If you know me, you know how much I love old churches. They’ve got a lovely mix of art, history, and prayer—the communion of saints feels much more present when you walk into a space where people have been praying for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before you were born. Their prayers are still echoing there.

Also, I love gothic architecture.

Geneva is a fascinating city, historically, being in many ways the birthplace and seat of the Reformation. Switzerland as a country has (to me) a fascinating relationship with religion in general (separation of church and state, who?), but the odd, almost lopsided relationship between the two is most obviously present in Geneva. Publically, the state embraces Christians and Christianity; I lost track of how many streets were named after some (mostly Protestant) theologian or another. But there’s also a sense in which the devotion is lacking. 

I went to three churches while I was in Geneva—I want to call them cathedrals, as they look like cathedrals, but I’ve recently learned that such buildings can only be called cathedrals if they’re the seat of the bishop of that diocese (fun fact!). So the first church I wandered into was Basilica Notre Dame of Geneva. Her bells were ringing and I was drawn into the sanctum. It was cooler inside and smelled of time and tears. I stayed there for a long time, praying and journaling and wavering and watching. The place was practically bejewelled with stained-glass saints and prophets and candles burning in prayer. I was not at all alone. Later, I read that the Basilica is actually a pilgrimage spot for Mary (as in the Mother of God), who also happens to be the patron of la basilique

I lit a candle, bought a rosary, and got directions from one of the caretakers of the Basilica to the nearest bookstore which would have a decent religious section. (I’ve spent the last few weeks missing my Book of Common Prayer, but have yet to find a replacement.)

After locating the bookstore (where Lewis, Eckhart, Austen, and Keats were acquired for my European library) and a taking leisurely lunch at a darling little Italian place, I wandered into Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Once a Roman Catholic cathedral, Saint Peter’s was overtaken by the Reformers and became the adopted home church of John Calvin himself and seat of the Reformation. (I mean this literally and figuratively. Calvin’s chair is still there, serving as a relic of sorts.) It’s not my first time at this cathedral; I visited a little over two years ago with my mom. 

The place is striking, because not only is it big, but it is blank. When the Reformers seized the cathedral, they stripped it of its color. There are still stained glass windows, and the Chapel of the Maccabees is stunning (seriously, google it), but other than that, the place is bare. The Reformation’s hatred (fear? misconceptions?) of iconography scraped the walls, ceilings, and floor clean. The place was full of tourists. I bought several postcards, sat on the same pew as the last time I visited, and wrote to my mom. My new rosary was wrapped around my right hand.

“It’s like an overcast day,” I wrote, “especially after Notre Dame… it feels like something’s missing.”

The last church I visited, I’ve forgotten the name of. On approach, I thought it might be Lutheran—something about the cross on top of the building suggested Luther to me. Upon entry, I discovered that I was very incorrect.

It was another Catholic church—this one clearly more modern than the first, but still old by American standards—and people were scattered throughout the pews, praying. I squeaked into a pew, whispered the Lord’s Prayer (they had it up in French, bless them), and then, after inspecting their assortment of stained-glass saints and the beautiful crucifix which inhabited a back chapel, left.

I’ve spent the last eight months or so in an interesting sort of theological limbo. College has done a lot for my faith—pushing it, building it, changing it—and at this point, I’m sitting in a narrow place where I’m not sure if I’ll stay Protestant (probably Anglican) or become Catholic. This teetering is one of the reasons I was excited to come to Europe: where better to ask such questions than places where so many of the authors who have challenged my faith themselves lived and argued and prayed?

Perhaps, then, it was the presence of Calvin that bothered me during this most recent visit to Saint Peter’s Cathedral. (I read a hefty chunk of his work in Honors. We didn’t get on well.)

Notre Dame Basilica had a wooden carving of some saint or other—I forget who because it was impossible to see his face. The carving had been in Saint Peter’s and was defaced during the Reformation takeover. Sitting in Saint Peter’s, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The ornate choir stalls, which had remained intact, reminded me of it. They were what had been—and they were another thing no longer fulfilling their original purpose. From where I sat in the cathedral, I couldn’t tell that it was still in use as a church. It felt like a tourist destination.

I couldn’t decide if I was deeply grieved by the split or deeply embittered at the irony.

I haven’t used the rosary yet, besides clutching it as I walked around Geneva. And I missed mass that Saturday night, though only by about three minutes.

We’ll see.