Wednesday, June 14, 2006

French Thoughts Part 2

5. The French must be dangerously dehydrated. In the desert we stress hydration. Leaving the house without a water bottle is a wild, daring thing, like riding a motorcyle without a helmet. Water here is a right, not a privilege. Legally store owners are not allowed to deny people water. People put water out in the desert so that people crossing the border illegally will not die out in the desert. Water runs freely! Not so in France- I never saw any non- American drinking water. And of course I've figured out why. In France, water is more expensive than wine. Seriously. We bought one bottle of water in a restaurant our first day. It was clearly tap water (no ice of course) and cost 5 euros. That's about $6.25. I bought an entire (larger) bottle of wine for the same amount. I haven't yet figured out why wine is cheaper than water, please feel free to share any thoughts. I just know the first thing I did in the good old US was drink a huge, cold glass of H2O (and it was free!).

6. Saving Private Ryan was real. You know that long, dreadful scene in SPR when the Allies come to France and invade the Normandy beaches to get rid of the Nazis in Europe. The one with all the blood and guts and guns and explosions. The one I could barely watch? It's real, it happened. I saw the huge craters in the beach. I saw the bunkers blown to smithereens. I saw the thousands of gravestones of Americans (and of course Brits, Canadians and apparently some Polish and a few others I can't remember) who died. It's incredibly moving to see all the crosses and the dates of death. They're all within weeks of eachother, many on the same day (June 6, 1944). I knew this was true but it didn't really hit home until I saw it with my own eyes. Incidentally, the beaches of Normany where they actually launched the invasion, were some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. It is nice to see that it hasn't become all commercialized and strip mallish.
7. Christianity has a long HISTORY in France. This picture is of Mont St. Michel. It is a gorgeous monestary built in devotion to the arch angel Michael. It's built on an island surrounded by quicksand and it's like a billion steps to the top where the church is of course, breathtaking. Every where you look in France there is a cathedral or chapel or abbey or monestary. One of the days we were there was pentecost, a holiday most of us didn't even know about it, and it was an official French holiday and no one worked. Yet, true practicing Christianity is very rare there. We only saw some old people going to the services on Pentecost, most everybody else spent the day out and about. It is so sad. Where did this vibrant faith go?

8. If France is so cultural, why is the media so American? Think about France's culture: it's known for fabulous food, wine, philosophers, writers, painters... Yet everywhere we went, they played American music, in English. You'd hear the French DJ's doing their playful banter (it sounds the same in all languages) and then suddenly you'd hear them clearly say "drop eet like eets haut". I heard Black Eyed Peas (and saw the video on TV), Avril, Pink, Whitney Houston, not to mention Fleetwood Mac, Duran Duran, and who could overlook the Wham song? On TV I found, dubbed into French, The Notebook, CSI Miami and Desperate Housewives. I saw posters for The DaVinci Code and X-Men. Everyone drank Coke and I saw many Starbucks and McDonalds. The French may dislike us (although I did not experience anything negative as an American) but they certainly enjoy our media.
9. Castles are a tribute to narcissism. These kings built them really for one reason: a tribute to themselves and their eternal glory. The castles themselves aren't really that comfortable (such small beds! so cold!) and many of them were not lived in most of the time. Many were given away to minor nobles who never set foot in them. Yet, each new king needed a new castle for himself, or at the very least, major renovations on the old one. It makes for an impressive landscape, but a pretty dim view of the humility of man. One castle has 800 salamanders (his symbol) carved throughout the building. Versailles has a huge hallway made entirely of mirrors. They all liberally sprinkle their initials (or those of their wives or mistresses or both) throughout the floors, walls and ceilings. I found it very interesting that many of the soft limestone walls in these castles are carved with names and initials of modern tourists. It seems that the kings aren't the only ones who want a little piece of immortality.

10. I'd go back in a heartbeat. I'd been to Paris before and thought I knew what France was like. That's like going to New York City and thinking you've seen the United States. France is amazing. The countryside and coasts are gorgeous. It is totally worth any sort of inconvenience (lack of toilet seats, jet lag) in order to enjoy. James Michener said "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you better stay home." I realize this may be ironic given some of my previous thoughts, but I believe it's true. Suck it up and get out there and you might be surprised what you find.

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