Friday, November 6, 2009

Adventure #4: Lourdes

I’ve written these last two posts while sitting on trains (I brought my computer since we now know painting my nails is a bad idea). I’m glad I had the practice of accumulating little victories with a group so that I won my solo little victories a little more easily. Plus, while leaving Paris I got my first glimpse this year of the Eiffel Tower. I have to remind myself surprisingly often that I am indeed France, not because things don’t look or feel French, but because it’s just such an odd thing to believe I’m doing. I’m so not cool enough to be jet-setting around France, but I am? Even though I’ve been here over a month, it still is taking some getting used to.

Fellow SJA alum-turned-French-assistant Caroline and I planned a trip to Lourdes over the summer (actually, it was mostly Caroline, merci!). I remember rooming with Caroline for Key Club Convention sophomore year of high school and now, six years later, we’re in France. Definitely an upgrade from the nasty Holiday Inn near the Biloxi Convention Center.

Lourdes was… OK. I’m so glad to have gone to catch up with Caroline, to have seen the home of Saint Bernadette and stick a butterfly on it, but I don’t think it’s a place I’d revisit. Outside of the sanctuary with the Basilica and the Grotto, there’s not much. And I couldn’t help feeling that the town itself is just kind of… tacky. The streets are lined with store after store selling Bernadette refrigerator magnets and Mary-shaped water bottles that people crowd in to buy. Last Lent I read Song of Bernadette by Frank Werful. The coolest part of the book may be that Werfel was a Jewish refugee in Lourdes during WWII and he decided to write about this little girl saint he heard so much about during his sanctuary. At the time of Mary’s apparitions in 1858, Bernadette was just 14 tears old, illiterate, and hadn’t even had her first communion. Completely humble, she was totally just dragged into this thing and faced so much criticism and suffering just because she wanted to listen to her “pretty lady.” Mary even told Bernadette, “I can’t promise you happiness in this life, only in the next.” After the apparitions Bernadette had such a hard go of it that the first part of that promise definitely came true (and I’m sure the latter part eventually did as well). I really admired Bernadette but I found that Lourdes’ animatronic nativity scene and holy wax museum distracted and kind of disappointed me.

I had these negative thoughts about Lourdes in my head when we visited the Cachot, where Bernadette lived with her family at the time of Mary’s apparitions. Formerly a prison, this tiny little two-room house literally takes about three minutes to tour. A display of the things Mary told Bernadette included her instructions to build the Basilica so that “people would come in procession.” This struck me, because I realized then that Mary had her wish, people definitely come in procession to Lourdes and so what if that procession leads past pink bedazzled Mary statues? It’s all to a good end I suppose. (Pictures of Lourdes are posted here!)

I enjoyed seeing the real grotto (and not just the imitation one at the University of Notre Dame) but I have no real comment or opinion on the healing powers of the spring. I touched the waters but didn’t drink them though I did fill a little bottle to bring home (but not a gas-tank sized one like I could have bought) just in case anyone might need it in the future.

We went to mass in Italian in the Basilica and said the rosary in French at the Grotto. Would that be enough to let me to say grace at dinner, Dad? Speaking of Italians, Lourdes seemed about as much Italian as it did French, between the language and the restaurants. You’d think the Spanish influence would dominate because of proximity, but I guess the Italian tourists outnumber. Anyway, good food! We ate two great dinners and do love Caroline’s style! A bottle of wine, courses, dessert – we definitely weren’t fasting.

The Pic du Jeu also makes its home in Lourdes. An old, steep train track leading up to the top of a mountain that marked the beginning of the Pyrenees, we rode up and walked a beautiful little mini-hike. I’m on a mission to see a French cave, any one would do, and the one at the top of the mountain had the highest elevation of any European cave. Unfortunately, the timing (and the coldness) just didn’t work out. Every summer vacation with my family involved some sort of a cave (thanks to my Aunt Marie we were big fans of National Parks) so I’m anxious to become a cross-continental cave crawler. There’s one near Besancon I have my eye on.

Successful Toussaint? Check! Now it’s time to plan Christmas season activities. So far on the agenda: Geneva, Strasbourg, and Lyon. Not to mention the grand European voyage I’ll be taking with my dear mother in less than two months. But I guess I should think a little bit about my job in the meantime…

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