November 30, 2015

Where is the Abbot in St. Denis?

The following post was written two days before the Paris' attacks happened and subsequently got put on the back-burner. It was erie, however, seeing M. Bernard Cazeneuve, France's Interior Minister on TV - after the police had raided the center of St.Denis - standing in the exact same spot we had visited not even a week earlier! 

St. Denis is not a place you hang out in Paris. A northern suburb of Paris that was probably on the Fox News much-discussed "No-zone map" earlier this year.

Well, this morning that was where I was headed. Not on my own I might add but with 18 other International ladies who were all curious about the large medieval abbey church of Saint Denis where France's Kings and Queens are buried.

It took four different metro lines to reach St. Denis and heading out of the metro station, I couldn't help but noticing the cold, bare irregular concrete walls. Gone were the fancy tiles, the beaming spotlights, the coloured chairs, and the decorated, themed metro stops; welcome to the real world.

The Gothic Basilica of St Denis with the tombs of the Kings of France completed in 1144, is considered to be the first Gothic church and is one of the most interesting and splendid in the Paris Region.

Saint Denis, a patron saint of France, became—according to the legend–the first bishop of Paris. The story has it that he was decapitated on the hill of Montmartre and subsequently carried his head to the site of the current church, indicating where he wanted to be buried. A martyrium was erected on the site of his grave, which became a famous place of pilgrimage during the fifth and sixth centuries.

The basilica became the burial place of the French kings with nearly every king from the 10th to the 18th centuries being buried there, as well as many from previous centuries.

In the 12th century the Abbot Suger rebuilt portions of the abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features. In doing so, he is said to have created the first truly Gothic building. He also included his portrait in the decoration of the church.

The abbey church became a cathedral in 1966 and is the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis, Pascal Michel Ghislain Delannoy.

Place Victor Hugo, the cafés opposite the basilica

The front side of the basilica

Lunchtime already?

The rose window to the South is even more impressive than the front clock

I wonder if St. Denis ever housed a hunchback?

Many a story to tell if you know where to look

The south transept rose shows the Creation

The central nave with lower aisles and clerestory windows

The glazed triforium of St Denis is a notable feature of Rayonnant Gothic

Memorial to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette

I found the hunchback! 

November 27, 2015

Blue, white and red

Today, Francois Hollande declared a national homage to the victims of the Paris terror attacks, inviting the French to decorate their homes in red, white and blue. We are not French but we feel deeply touched by events that happened since we consider ourselves - after all - a part of Paris. I do not own a French flag but rather than rushing out and buying one, my version of hanging a tricolour flag out the window today - as encouraged by the French president - are the pictures I have taken this week around the sites where the attacks took place two weeks ago.

I visited the Place de la Republique and rue Alibert and initially had decided not to post any photos on my blog. This journey across Paris on a cold, rainy autumn day was personal and suppose to bring some sort of closure, an attempt to understand how such a terrible attack on life could take place. It is merely impossible to make sense of it and as I wondered around the bronze statute of Marianne, the personification of the French Republican, holding aloft an olive branch in her right hand and resting her left on a tablet engraved with "Droits de l'homme", I caught glimpses of other bystanders similarly emotional and searching to comprehend just like me.

As I start spotting French flags hanging from the windows around town today, emotions start rising and the urge to "do" something surfaces again, to manifest my solidarity, to protest against violence, to overcome the feeling of being threatened.

Therefore, I will post my photos on this blog... in remembrance of the victims, hoping that - somehow, somewhere - they can see what a difference their loss of life has made in this world!

November 23, 2015

Let's go out for a walk

Like many Parisians we are determined to continue our habits and proceed to enjoy a night stroll under the Eiffel Tower. The city of lights is a beautiful spot and we remain in awe of the Grande Dame de Fer every time we see her:

A beautiful sight from afar

Close up and sparkling

Reflections of her everywhere

Dressed in France's colours

Late night traffic rushing past below her

Christmas lights in Avenue Montaigne

Fondation Yves Saint Laurent on Avenue Marceau 

The Peninsula on Avenue Kleber

Peeking though the windows

L'Arc de Triomphe at sunset

Restaurant Le Fouquet in Christmas attire

Louis Vuitton inviting shoppers from across the globe

November 18, 2015

Never could they have imagined!

Over the past four days there has been an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity coming from all parts of the world. The entire globe has caught the French fever it seems. Our family - as did many Parisian and Expat friends - received heartwarming messages and phone calls from loved ones in the Americas, Europe, and Asia all looking for reassurance that we are well. Never have I experienced such a human outreach where people are trying to connect in order to feel reassured and protected. The Paris attacks have hit very close to home for many people. The world seems to be bonding.

Lugano as well as Madrid's city halls are dressed in blue, white and red, the colours of the French national flag are projected onto the Jet d'Eau fountain in Geneva, the tricolours lit up the Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, the Milanese stepped out in force in a demonstration of solidarity on Saturday afternoon. These are all cities that are close to our hearts since we have called them home over the past 20 years. They have all proven their support by lighting their landmarks and showing they share the country’s defiance.

For the first time, I actually shed a tear listening to an emotional and powerful rendition of  La Marseillaise being sung during a friendly football match between England and France. The Wembley stadium had turned into what seemed "Le Stade de France" for an evening. The French anthem has become the ultimate symbol of solidarity, a way for everyone in the world, no matter whether they speak French or not, to express their unity with Paris. 

I bet the Parisian never knew how much the world cares about them! I follow the news on Swiss, US, British and French national channels to better understand the image as well as the message the International media is projecting outside of these National borders. As I let the information sink in, I ask myself: "Did the Parisians ever think the world would reach out to them in such an unconditional, compassionate way?"    

However, this is not about a country it is about humanity. All of a sudden, our daily routine has come to a grinding halt and we have been forced to reflect hard and deep about the freedom we enjoy, to think about the rights and the values we live by. It is time to reclaim these beliefs but it has become a great deal harder as we realize that they are no longer to be taken for granted. The French are the first to defend these rights today with the reassurance that the world is standing right behind them. 

November 16, 2015

How do we go back to "normal"?

It is Monday morning and we all need to get back to our daily routine. It seems like Paris has been living a bad dream, however, everybody's thoughts are constantly circling around Friday night's attacks which are terrifyingly real and as the victims turn into faces one by one over social media, sadness and helplessness continues to overcome the Parisians as they desperately and vainly try to make sense of it all.

Feelings are raw, emotions are overflowing, the people's fragility is tangible nevertheless the sense of defiance and the need for solidarity led many Parisians out into the streets yesterday despite the recommendation to stay indoors. It was a beautiful sunny day and although parks, museums and shops were closed, people walked along the boulevards interlinking arms a bit stronger, standing a bit closer exchanging looks of complicity that I have only ever seen once before... in January.

We are doing fine just a bit more nervous than usual and a great deal sadder. Fear is slowly turning into anger and defiance. The need to "do" something becomes compelling.

As the day went on more and more people gathered around the Place de la Republique to deposit flowers, candles and personal notes. At midnight, on live TV, I see locals and tourists alike still rending homage at the places of attack.

"La Marseillaise" has been sung many a time since the attacks and with every chant the French seem more resolute to stick together, to show their strength and not to give in to fear and violence.

The International media is broadcasting the worst possible scenarios which do not necessarily coincide entirely with the reality here in Paris and this irritates me. On the other hand the outburst of messages, mails and phone calls from family and friends across the world has been amazing and heartwarming.

This morning we all got back to our daily routine... nearly! The roads were quiet until 8:45 and the traffic started building a little later than usual; maybe many of us decided to take a little extra time this morning to drop our children off at school rather than sending them out by themselves as we would normally do?

November 14, 2015

Peace for Paris but what do we tell our kids?

The evening started with a lovely dinner at a friend's house. We were enjoying our wine and were happy to reunite as old friends do on a Friday night in Paris. While we are licking our fingers over a Strawberry Pavlova one of our teenage boys comes into the dining room looking very worried. He had received a twitter... a twitter and a second later... and the world had taken a drastic change for the worse.

We turn on the TV to discover that confusion reigns. One, two, three or more attacks are happening the other side of the city. There is talk of hostages and we are all thinking... please, not again! Scenes of the January attack come flooding back immediately.

A phone call home to check on the kids and to confirm that they are safe.  Another minute for the situation to sink in. It seems surreal as a creeping, familiar feeling of having lived though this anguish not so long ago overcomes me.

Terrible attacks have hit our city. It is a very, very sad day for Paris. The uncertainty and the feeling of helplessness to defend ourselves leads to fear. Now, you can either give in to this fear or defy it. It depends on your personality, culture and attitude, I suppose. Everyone reacts as best they can.

However, the media are producing headlines that can't be helping the current situation of nationwide emotional instability. I have turned the TV off for a while. We cannot let ourselves descend onto the assailant's level. We are not at war! We are a civilized country. We have values, believes and a constitution that prevents us from descending into chaos.

Going for my morning run, I find the ho-bos sitting on their usual corner, the cafés are open as are the local supermarkets. There is less traffic but I am queuing at the boulangerie just like every Saturday morning. Life goes on. People are exchanging knowing looks but the Parisian who ventured out of the house today are sending a message. A devastating tragedy has occurred but we need to "faire face" and stand united and strong against this threat.

As I walk home carrying my shopping, I can hear a familiar tune and I turn my head. All the way down the road a four year old boy is singing "La Marseillaise" at the top of his lungs for everyone to hear while his Dad is pushing his stroller. That is what I will tell my kids: Stand up for your rights and show solidarity. Sing "La Marseillaise".

November 10, 2015

"Every Child" by Expat daughter

Every once in a while my kids' abilities blow me away. Today was one of those moments. Let me share my 12-year old daughter's English homework for tomorrow:

Protest Poetry, Children’s Rights
“Every Child”

Every child has a right to be happy and have fun,
Every child has a right to have a name and identity,
Every child has a right to be free and run,
Every child has a right to not have an enemy. 

Why don’t all kids have the same possibilities,
We are all equal and need the same things,
Each of us have our own responsibilities,
We should all be treated like kings.

Kids should have an education,
Kids should eat,
Kids should be part of a nation,
Kids should sleep,

They should not wake up at 3:00am,
They should not work all day,
They should not go to sleep at 11:00pm,
They should pick who to obey.

They are children, they have feelings,
Everybody needs to treat each other the same way,
Let me remind you, they are human beings,
Kids were born and have the right to play.

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