Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Venice

Sigh...

You know how you've done something or been somewhere, and you came away with the most perfect recollection...and then you planned to go back, and you were a little bit worried that the reality wouldn't live up to the memories you had?

I am pleased to say that Venice has lived up to all my memories.

There is nowhere in the world like Venice. I am sure you've heard that, but once you've been...you'll know its true. 

I have written a blog about this city before, with all of the art and culture and beauty mixed with old world buildings and canals, and all of that was still magical.

The food...oooo, the food. Homemade pasta, pizza and gelato on every other corner, all more delicious than the last corner. As we had already decided, Ashley and I set out to try as many different kinds of pasta as we could while here. We have marked spaghetti, ravioli, tagliatelle, rigatoni, cannelloni, fusilli, lasagna, and pappardelle off the list. We plan to add to it in our next stops. Even Patrick, who is a self-proclaimed hater of pasta, ate, and enjoyed, spaghetti with meat sauce. He also ate at least 75 slices of pizza...maybe more. 

The vendors are protective of their wares, and quick to tell us, forcefully, that everything is made in Venice, NOT in China. (They pronounce it "cheena.") Several times every day, we were told "All made in Venice. No Cheena." 

We have added to our pile of luggage, with more gifts for our loved ones, and plenty of gifts for ourselves. Italian leather handbags, handmade lace, hand blown glass, local spices and candies, and so much more. 

Tomorrow we leave for Florence, where we anticipate more of the same perfect food and architecture and merchandise. 

The churches..I cannot even explain the over the top beauty of the cathedrals here. I walk into every single one we pass...and I stand in silent awe.

It strike me as something of note that we don't have churches in America like the ones they have here. The people of the Old World knew how to build a beautiful structure, ornately decorated, gilded with the most expensive and precious materials of the time, with walls several stories tall and soaring, expansive ceilings. Its truly breathtaking. But after taking it all in, my eye always returns to the lit candles, each one representing a prayer. 

I've turned those candles over and over in my mind, together with the glorious majesty of the buildings they are inside...

And I wonder. Did the builders think they needed to build something worthy of housing the presence of God? Were they trying to make Him seem more or less approachable? Do the people who come in, and light candles, feel that they can only offer that prayer in that place, because its so truly wonderful that it must be where the presence of God resides?

I have stood inside at least 5 cathedrals since we've been here. And every time, I have pondered the simplicity of those tiny candles, those flickering lights, and the overwhelming beauty surrounding them.

"Lord," I whisper, "I see the glory of You, everywhere. I see You in the beauty of these creations...and I see You in the painted skies outside. Cause me to burn like these candles, simple and unassuming, but lifted before You in faith, believing that everywhere I am, there You are. Will You show Your glory in my life, more and more?"

We are off to bed, to hopefully sleep off the exhaustion of soaking up the wonder of this city. We will drag ourselves to the train station early in the morning, to beat more paths to more places.

And we will take the glory of God with us. Because He is IN us. And knowing that He is as beautiful IN US as in those cathedrals...oh, that is more perfect than even Venice itself.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Paris

Ahhhhh, Paris...

I hesitate to even try and write about this city, mainly because everything has been said, in movies, in books...it is famous around the world, and most people know what to expect when they visit here.

We had read a lot of things, and heard a lot of things, before coming to the City of Lights. So we thought were prepared.

But, I think all things magical and spectacular start out hiding their wonder from newcomers, the way my dogs want to make sure you appreciate them before they warm up to you.

That is how Paris was when we arrived. Windy and overcast, streets all but deserted, more than half the shops on every street closed for the weekend. It was only truly warm on our last day here.

But, we managed to see all the important things. We walked to the Arc of Triumph, rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower (where it was as cold as the polar ice caps (I'm only exaggerating a little bit) shopped on the Champs-Elysees (the most expensive and famous place to shop in Paris) visited Notre Dame Cathedral (and climbed the 420ish steps up to the tower to see the view) saw the Mona Lisa and other lovely art exhibits at the Louvre, and ate dinner at the Moulin Rouge.

Each site along the way was full to bursting with wonder and awe.

The food...ah the food...We began our visit with a list of items we MUST eat in Paris, and I am pleased (and bloated) to say...we accomplished our task. French onion soup (which they just all onion soup here, obviously) duck, escargot (ick...but I ate it) eclairs, macaroons, Crouque Madame (a fancy grilled ham and cheese with a fried egg on top)(yum) cheese (so much cheese...they have over 700 kinds here , we were told) and much more. Also, Ashley and I decided early that we weren't checking crepes or croissants off our list until we left the city...and so we ate one last flaky deliciousness as we waited for our taxi to the train station.

Over all, Paris is everything I hoped, and more. Its bustling with big city smells and sounds and activities. It's rich in history and memorials to times gone by.

It charmed me in a way I wasn't expecting. They take the presentation of their culture very seriously, from food to art to language. The people are decidedly patriotic, but I don't begrudge them...I am decidedly patriotic as well.

We are leaving the land of baguettes and croissants and crepes and all the rest of the carbohydrates now. The Paris train station is large and crowded and swirling with a variety of culture. We are awaiting the arrival of our overnight train, bound for Venice, Italy...the land of more carbohydrates.

We have a list of all the pastas we must try while we are there...and there is an excellent chance that none of our clothes will fit before we leave Europe. That's okay, we don't have space for the clothes in the same bags as all the things we are buying anyway (read-souvenirs for the kids and local delicacies for us).

Au revoir for now.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Freedom

A new city of the world can be marked off my list of things to do. 

I have now been to Paris.

I will write a long, drawling, comprehensive, totally biased opinion of my time here once we have finished soaking it all in...and by that, I mean eating as many croissants and crepes as we can find.

Today, though...today was an experience all its own, and it deserves an entry all its own.

Today we traveled by van to the coast of France, to the beaches, to the place where the scars of war still mark the ground and the buildings and the atmosphere.

There are many such places in Europe. Perhaps the rich history is why I love it so much.

But this place, these beaches and batteries and outposts and cliffs and harbors and cemeteries...

They have a heartbeat.

They have weight. 

They take your breath away with their combination of unassuming country-side and grand monuments of heroism.

Our first stop was Pointe de Loc, the cliffs that were scaled by 225 American army rangers, sent to capture a heavily fortified German outpost on D-Day, June 1944. Looking down, from the German outpost edge...seeing the drop...understanding that those men climbed those cliffs, took that outpost, and defended it against great counter attack...hearing that they were a band of only 90 when reinforcements arrived...the wind coming up off the ocean wasn't as breathtaking as the knowledge of the courage and sacrifices made there.

Then down to Omaha beach, the landing place of the American forces on D-Day. It seemed an almost sacred place to us. Families were walking on the beach, frolicking at the edge of the cold water, laughing and talking as all people do on a beach.

But it isn't just a beach. I could picture the planes flying overhead, the parachutes, the boats, the soldiers...I could see them in my mind, and my heart beat hard and loud as I grasped how far they had to traverse the sand, and after that, steep, fortified hills. I had to stifle the urge to ask the people to stop walking on the sand. So much bravery. So much sacrifice. So much pain. So much that was won because of it all.

We saw Gold beach as well, and a German battery that remains mostly intact. All of it...every thing, was sobering and breathtaking.

But...the Normandy National Cemetery...it left words rising in my ears, to the beat of my heart...

It's beautifully landscaped, even the parking lot and the entrance and the surrounding area. A lovely walk down a tree-lined path...and then you round a corner.

So many white crosses. Over 9 thousand American soldiers, buried there after the D-Day invasions and subsequent months of war. It isn't even the largest American cemetery in France...but the sheer volume of rows of white crosses...I stood, hand on my throat, choking back tears.

I don't have to imagine what it feels like to lose your family member overseas. To not get to say goodbye. To just feel...robbed.

And I swear, I could feel the pain of every mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter...everyone who loved a person buried in that place...I ached for them. I understood what this place must represent to their families. And so I tried hard to honor them, to take the time to remember what they had sacrificed.

The words kept beating like a drum in my head as we made our way through the museum there, filled with pictures and quotes and information. All the words I have said...they don't carry the weight of words spoken and written by those who were there.

So I will share a few.

"It all came down to this brief day of battle on the coast of Normandy, and, for so many of them, it all ended. For the rest of us, what has been since has not been the same." Captain Charles Cawthon

"You can manufacture weapons. You can buy ammunition. But you can't buy valor, and you can't pull heroes off an assembly line." Sergeant Ellery

"If ever proof was needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest...all we asked...soil in which to bury our gallant dead." General Mark W. Clark

"And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons, wheresoever they may be." FDR

"Some must die so others might live." Winston Churchill

If you've ever been to a cemetery like this one, that holds the bodies of so many courageous, mostly YOUNG men and women...I hope that you can understand the weight. I felt honored to be allowed to visit their graves, and sobered with the thought of all that had been lost...

We take it for granted, the pain and struggle of the past that bought for us so much freedom and peace. We don't remember it every day. Sometimes we don't even KNOW about it.

But today...today I remembered. And I will never forget the words that clambered inside me, rising to the surface with my tears, demanding to be heard.

"Freedom. Is. Not. Free."

It isn't something we deserve because we are...you fill in the blank...It was earned for us. It was sacrificed for, bled for, died for. It was grieved for, and the depth of that grief should never be forgotten.

It was paid for, for all of us. And we should remember.

Freedom. Is. Not. Free.