Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 17, 2012 Day 10 -- Last Day in Paris

May 17, 2012

Mom and daughter waiting to enter church

organ at Saint-Louis

 Ile. Saint-Louis

Waiting to sing in Mass

Waiting to sing!

We began our day with a trek back to the area around Notre Dame, to sing as part of a Mass at Ile. Saint-Louis. The church was ornate, but smaller than some of the cathedrals and churches we have visited, with a serene environment. The mass was a very traditional one, with numerous priests and altar boys participating in the service. One small altar boy held a book above his head for the main priest to read from, while another shook incense at various points of the mass (some of us were hoping we wouldn't start coughing--- the incense became rather strong at times!).                      

The choir sat directly across from the priests and altar boys on each side of the altar, singing "Jubilate Deo", "Non Nobis Domine", "Wondrous Love", and "Ave Maria" as part of the Mass. Following the Mass, the choir was able to sing a few pieces for the congregation including "Bright Morning Stars", "Medieval Gloria", and "La Providence". Etienne (our tour guide) told us that his wife attended that Mass and that she had tears, thinking it was so beautiful. Many of us, especially the students, were emotional at hearing "La Providence" for the last time with this group.

Singing "La Providence" for last time
On our way to lunch near Notre Dame, some broke away to run into various shops. Shopping has been difficult to fit in with our tight schedules, and many try to shop during any breaks. Following lunch, we headed to Versailles.

We have all heard about the Chateau du Versailles, Marie Antoinette, and the French Revolution, but to be at Versailles helped us all better understand the extreme extravagance of the royalty in the mid-late 1700's. Even now, we find we can't truly imagine the scale of the land included as part of Versailles! It is the largest palace in Europe and one of the largest in the world. In 1789, 6,000 women (many mothers) who were revolutionaries marched from Paris to Versailles, entered the Palace and captured Marie Antoinette and her family. They were kept in a wing of the building now known as the Louvre, escaped and later arrested in a town in Champagne, France. Marie Antoinette was later killed via guillotine in the Place de la Concord (where a plaque now marks the spot). The tour of Versailles was challenging as hundreds and hundreds of tourists were trying to move through the same rooms, and getting through doorways was cramped and hot. We learned that in one room, King Louis the XVI decided to send troops to help the colonists fight the British in the New World. In the Hall of Mirrors the Treaty of Versailles was signed (and where many U.S. presidents were received by the king. The gardens and fountains were truly incredible.

Following Versailles, we headed to our hotel to change for dinner. Dinner was in a quiet restaurant with a lovely meal including a quiche that was probably the best many of us had ever eaten. Some dressed up for the evening, while others dressed for comfort---everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to the evening cruise. The bus took us to the Seine river for our night cruise around Paris. While a little rain did fall, most stayed at the open top of the boat to take pictures and take in the beautiful sunset and brightly lit Eiffel Tower.

sunset over Paris

Notre Dame from Seine at night

Gazing at the water

Excited for the evening

The return back to the hotel was jovial and sentimental, with Michael thanking the group for being extraordinary in how they carried themselves throughout the tour, how well they represented SMWC, and how the choir performed. Professional and exceptional---Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Woods Women!

Now for a wake up call at 5:30 a.m. and a long trip back home tomorrow. It is hard to believe that the end of our Choir Tour in France has arrived. At times it feels like our time on the Normandy Beaches was months ago, and at other times it feels we just landed in the airport. Regardless, the amazing memories and experiences we had as a group will remain, for they have shaped and transformed each one of us. Thank you to all who helped to support the students who came on this trip, and for your thoughts and prayers back home. It's been a tremendous journey!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 16, 2012 - Day 9 - Notre Dame and the Louvre

May 16, 2012
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris

Rose window in N Dame
The day began a bit chaotically when we discovered that our bus could not get to the hotel on time due to traffic, so we learned at the last minute that we would be taking the Metro again that day. After arriving at Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, the choir had a quick tour of the massive structure and viewed the beautiful and impressive stained glass "rose" windows. The group was led down a "secret" passageway to the basement of the church, where there was a choir room with a piano and chairs! There was a basic "toilette" which has become a rare commodity in France, we've learned. The choir was led up to the main sanctuary, where our liaison at the church stopped tourists so we could pass and then announced that there be silence as we filed on to the steps. We sang a 30 minute program and while our small choir could not fill the entire cathedral with sound like a choir of 150-200, we sang well and happy with the performance. The aunt of Sydney Guiallaume (the composer commissioned to write "La Providence" for the SMWC Madrigals this spring) attended the concert and when the choir sang "La Providence", she called Sydney and he listened to the performance, LIVE, from his home in Los Angeles. Very wonderful connection and meaningful for both Sydney, Michael, and the singers and their families.
Michael meets Sydney's Aunt

"La Providence" has touched so many in such little time
Following the performance, the group dispersed for 5 hours of free time and a majority headed to the Eiffel Tower which is truly impressive up close. Some headed to view the L'Arc de Triomphe, others shopped, while others headed to the Place de la Concorde and Jardin des Tuilleries (best ice cream ever), or the Musee de L'Orangerie to see the Impressionism Exhibit. This exhibit includes works by Renoir, Monet (the Water Lilies!), Matisse, Edward Munch, Degas, Cezanne, Picasso, and many more. It also included Debussy as the focus of some artwork, as well as some of his original penned compositions such as La Mer. All for just 7.50 Euros (children free)! Several people saw photo shoots going on throughout the city, with many spotting the same model in a strapless gown hovering on the edge of a bridge over the Seine River for some shots, as well as other locations. A few saw a photo shoot in the Jardin des Tuilleries as well. Shopping along the Seine was the choice of the day, and for others it was stopping to eat food at a stand near the Eiffel Tower (where they appear to know how to make hot dogs taste like a gourmet meal).

Eiffel Tower
The group met up again to tour the Musee du Louvre, which someone said would take months to go through and see everything available, for just a couple of hours. The group split into two smaller groups and Etienne took one, and a woman tour guide took the second group. Etienne demonstrated his amazing knowledge base yet again, describing everything from the Venus De Milo to the medieval foundations beneath the Louvre, as well as paintings and relics over a span of 2,000 years. Too much to truly comprehend, but the sheer expansiveness and detail in each room/area is enough to leave an impression. That and the fact that we were passing pieces by Donatello (1386-1466), a sphinx, on our way to other things! We had all been told about how big the Louvre is, but until you see it in person, it is difficult to comprehend its imposing size.

Some students on balcony of Paris hotel
We then returned to the hotel (slow going because of a holiday weekend in Paris and the traffic was extreme) and had dinner on our own. Many have discovered a wonderful little Chinese restaurant right next door and others headed for Italian food. Go figure--head to Paris for some Chinese and Italian food.

Ah, the Metro
Everyone was exhausted and sore from walking so much, so earlier bedtimes seem to abound. Tomorrow is our final performance at a mass at Saint Louis en Ile Church and then a tour of Versailles, followed by the farewell dinner and cruise on the River Seine. We are hoping for no rain!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15, 2012 --Paris!

After a breakfast of cheeses, breads (there are always cheeses and breads!), yogurts, eggs, juice, and coffee (oh, the wonderful coffee!), everyone climbed on to our new bus with a new bus driver. We miss Dominique, but he could only work 6 straight days by French law, so today was new for everyone. We did have handy trays for every seat this time, but we are human and routine is part of what we most sat in the same seats as they did on the previous bus. Below are some sites of Paris:

Always flowers!

Glad she isn't driving in Paris

Joan of Arc Statue
Fun ads along the streets (note the purple goat)

Moulin Rouge (less glitzy by day)
Etienne provided us with a wonderful overview of Parisian history as we took a bus tour through the city. We passed the building where Voltaire died (it is now a restaurant), saw the restaurant where Hemingway used to always eat (not the same restaurant, of course!), drove by the Paris Opera House, the building where Comédie Française is currently housed (France's oldest theater group founded in 1680), and the Musee du Louvre. We have all heard how large the Louvre Museum is and how you would need days or weeks to see everything...but nothing prepared us for the massive size of the building. 

Louvre Museum (a portion)
We then headed to La Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. As we got out of the bus and headed to the tram which would take us up the large hill, it began to get very windy and rained. We headed to lunch in a huddle, umbrellas being pushed to their limit by the rain, and Etienne led us to a quaint restaurant for lunch, with brightly colored stone walls and waiters waiting to take all our umbrellas for us. Here many ate french onion soup for lunch and it was some of the best, if not THE best, they had ever eaten (The cappuccino and hot chocolate drinks were wonderful as well). After lunch the group was free to walk through Sacre Coeur and the area on their own, with warnings of high incidences of pick pockets. In the church, there was silence and reverence....calm and peace. It felt very, very peaceful. Beautiful ceiling art depicting many biblical scenes, as well as statues and many prayer candles lit, made many reflective. 

Window shopping, the Parisian way

Then, it was time to head to Parish de La Madeleine, where the choir was to perform in the afternoon. Amazingly, we were in Paris the same day that the new French President was to be inaugurated! Unfortunately, this impacted our ability to get to the church easily, so we had to abandon the bus on a busy street (with people honking angrily at us), grabbing our change of clothes and music, and head to the nearest Metro. We went underground and raced to the correct train, hoping everyone got on and off easily. After we got off the Metro, we raced up the stairs to the street to find it pouring rain and starting to hail a bit. Some did not have umbrellas (left on the bus), but the wind blew so hard, it didn't matter one way or the other because we ALL got wet. We walked for what seemed a long time (but in reality was likely not far), rather miserable in the rain, wind, and hail..but at the same time joking about the adventure. We arrived for our rehearsal in the church soaked, left valuables with our wonderful companions on the trip NOT singing in the choir, and ended up having a terrific performance. The size of the church could have easily swallowed up the sound of  such a small ensemble, but we were able to fill it, drawing a larger crowd as the concert continued. The alum &nIbsp;tour group came for this concert, the last they will be able to attend via their tour, so the support was wonderful. Pictures were taken and we changed back to street clothes and headed to the hotel to prepare for dinner.

Madrigals following concert at La Madeleine 
Michael Boswell, Director 

Tomorrow we sing in Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris (Notre Dame!) which is very exciting. The choir had to send in recordings in order to be accepted to sing. Then several hours of free time (what to do, what to do...) prior to the Louvre tour and dinner.