Here I am again, writing a “getting caught up” post. We’ve done quite a bit these past several days, so fasten your seat belts folks! We’ll start with last Thursday, April 25th. That was the day we decided to take in the art exhibit of Constance Hirsch, the woman we met Palm Sunday at the Metro station. Her exhibit was showing at the Paul Brousse Hospital in the southern suburbs of Paris. We hopped on the #7 Metro at the Sully-Murland Metro station, which is close to our flat, and took it almost to its southern terminus. Getting into the hospital was an interesting experience, in a “you can’t get there from here” kind of way. The hospital grounds are right next to the Metro station, but due to security concerns, there is only one way in or out of the hospital grounds, and as luck would have it, that entrance is on the complete opposite side of the grounds from where we were. After a walk through the town we came to that single entrance. After consulting the map of the hospital grounds and asking around, we learned that the building we needed to get to was, you guessed it, on the complete farthest side of the hospital grounds from where we were, practically at the Metro station we arrive at.
The hospital campus was the fascinating combination of pre-WWI buildings combined with 1960s and 70s vintage stark modern architecture. Constance told us that it was not the kind of place people were happy to have to go, so her art was installed to help bring some happiness and joy to the patients and their families. While none of us are likely to be happy having to go to the hospital, I could imagine being especially unhappy having to go to this Hospital. We eventually found our way to her small exhibit in the main lobby of the primary building. We enjoyed her artwork of wireframe figurines, made with fabric scraps and other bits. I did not take pictures inside the building for privacy reasons. While we had hoped to find a shorter way back to our Metro station for the return trip, we were unlucky and had to retrace the steps we’d taken on the walk in.
Friday night we joined our new friends, Jean-Pierre and Ellen, for drinks and appetizers at their Paris flat, followed by dinner afterward at their favorite restaurant across the street. We met Jean-Pierre and Ellen at the American Church in Paris at an Easter Sunday breakfast the church was hosting after the sunrise service. Ellen is a Wisconsin native from Green Bay and Jean-Pierre is a French native from Brittany, where they live now in retirement. We brought a nice bottle of rosé from Provence to share and they provided the snacks. The conversation flowed naturally, and eventually touched on the place music plays in our lives. Ellen is a pianist who loves nothing more than playing and singing the old tunes. Once she found out Priscilla is a singer, she quickly jumped up and moved over to their upright piano and asked us if we would sing along on some songs. We knew this was going to be a magical evening. After our singalong, we went across the street to their favorite restaurant, Le Murmure. We had a wonderful dinner, and again, the conversation just kept on naturally flowing, even after leaving the restaurant and standing at the top of the stairs down to our Metro station. We have vowed to keep in touch and I’m certain we will.
On Sunday, our good friends Peter and Karla Myers joined us on the last leg of their European travels. Our first outing together was the D-Day Tour in Normandy. We caught the 7:05 a.m. train to Bayeux at the Saint-Lazare train station. Our tour guide, Lloyd, who worked for the Bayeux Shuttle tour company, would pick us up at the Bayeux train station. Lloyd is a native of Wales and is extremely knowledgeable about World War II and D-Day. He is licensed to search for WWII relics, something he does in his free time. We all agreed that Lloyd was a top-notch tour guide. The sheer scale and human cost of the entire operation was mind boggling. When you see how great that expanse of sand is at Omaha Beach and how commanding the German positions were, it’s a wonder that the Americans were able to ever accomplish their objective at Omaha beach.
After visiting Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and Omaha Beach, the D-Day Tour finished at the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Seeing all those grave markers lined up in seemingly endless numbers, it’s clear how great is the price that was paid for freedom. When I think of the neo-Nazis in the news nowadays, I want to bring them to a place like this cemetery or a concentration camp like Dachau or Auschwitz and force them to come face-to-face with the horrible logical extension of the hateful and repugnant words they spew.
Our time at the cemetery finished with the lowering of the U.S. flag to the sound of a lone bugle playing Taps. My eyes welled up with tears. I thought of my Dad hearing that same Taps each night at the lowering of the flag when he was a young Staff Sargent in the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy during WWII.
The next day was another early morning, meeting our Giverny driver in front of our flat for our ride to Giverny and Monet’s estate there. The gardens and home on Monet’s Giverny estate are every bit as amazing as we had heard. The gardens are of an almost overwhelming scale. I can’t imagine how many gardeners are employed keeping them up. Our timing to visit Giverny couldn’t have been better. The weather was beautiful and the flowers were abundantly in bloom.
Priscilla was wondering how the gardeners tended the flower beds in the famous Water Lillies gardens, since the flowers go all the way out to the edge of the pond. There didn’t seem to be any way for the gardeners to get to the flowers. A photo in the slideshow provides the answer to that question...they do it by boat. The photos likely don’t give you a sense of the number of people visiting Giverny. Our driver got us to the grounds early in the day. We were practically first in line to get into the house when the door was opened. The opening was delayed a bit due to some filming that was going on inside with great-great grandson of Claude Monet, Philippe Piguet. Priscilla actually got to meet him, having commented to him that he “must be famous” to be getting filmed at Giverny. He replied that he wasn’t famous, but then fessed up as to who he really is. If you plan to go to Giverny, we highly recommend that you arrive at the opening as we did, since by midday when we were wrapping up our visit the place was crawling with people and the line to get in was lengthening down the small street of the village. We are happy that we booked with a private tour company so that we got in early and did not have to stand in that long line.
We had a marvelous time with Peter and Karla. It was so much fun showing them around Paris, or at least the wee bit of it we were able to show them in the time we had. We were sad to see them leave this morning for their return flight to the States. We wish them a safe journey.