The Eurostar train is a “fast train” and it glided along the rails from London through the countryside to the coast and then dove down below the English Channel into the “Chunnel.” I tried not to think about where we were, nibbling on my lunch, wishing we were on dry land without tons of water above us, soon to come crushing down for sure. At home, our BART trains manage the same trick, slide underground, deep deep underwater between the East Bay and San Francisco, but the time is short, or so it seems. But even at home, I’d rather take a bus or car on the bridge over the Bay than enter the cavernous highway underneath.
We glided onto French territory, safe and sound, and I watched the broad fields, killing fields at one time, slip past. France is full of war memories for me although I was born after World War II. Still my generation heard the accounts of our parents and grandparents. We will not forget the horrendous slaughter in France, the boxcars of innocents sent to the camps, the cries of children and boy soldiers. Here, in the north, some of the last battles were fought, as Americans stormed Normandy beaches. Here lie many brave men, the white crosses growing in the fields of green. They fought for us, that we might be free, and I shall always be grateful, shall always remember.
We soon neared Paris, leaving the distant villages marked by steeples nesting in low hills and entering industrial outskirts. I could see in the distance spokes of windmills, and thought how we had hoped for wind power in the U.S. but with our consumption, it is a drop in the bucket, or perhaps one should say a whisper in the air, of energy technology. Nuclear looked the most promising, and now this resource has been dealt a severe blow by the earthquake in Japan and the broken power plant.
The train halted as quietly as it started up, an astonishing feat, and we disembarked, loaded our luggage on a trolley, and headed to our hotel, one of the mega hotels with tour buses parked in front. We worked our way through the lobby crowds and Reception and through the throngs gathered in the conference areas, to the elevators where we figured out the security system to get the elevator to move at all. It was a long travel day for us, and after unpacking and having supper in the restaurant downstairs, we called it a day.
As I said my prayers, I wondered what I would encounter in this City of Light, so besieged by crowds and tourists and noise. My second novel,Offerings, has many scenes set here, in the churches and restaurants, and it was a great blessing to write about these offerings of Paris. I thought how the churches here are quiet sanctuaries in which to spend time amidst the chaos of the city, much like the silent train gliding through the fields of war. These churches, like sanctuaries everywhere, offer another way of seeing, of being together on our journey through life. Without them we would be lost. I looked forward to Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre, to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal on the Rue du Bac, to La Madeleine Basilica up the street. We would visit Notre Dame where they have Lenten veneration of the Crown of Thorns on Friday afternoons. Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, the great royal abbey, has high gothic stained glass and a stunning Lady Chapel. Perhaps we will go there for Sunday Mass.
The weather seems balmy, low seventies. If it holds we shall walk in the long Tuileries Park, past the historic Louvre, and along the Seine, past the animal and bird stalls. We shall cross the river to the Isle de la Cite and cross once again to Left Bank and the historic English bookshop, Shakespeare & Company, carrying with us a few copies of my novel,Offerings, to offer to place on their shelves.