Saturday, June 28, 2014


I would like to put down a lot of thoughts about this experience but am exhausted.  The exhaustion is a combination of several things.  We spent last weekend on a mini-pilgrimage in the French Alps visiting the birthplace of St. Peter Faber (Pierre Favre.  His name is not mispronounced in the same way as that of a former quarterback for the Packers) who was, with Ignatius and Xavier and six others, a founder of the Society.  Most people are surprised to learn that Faber (his Latinized name) was the first Jesuit ordained a priest.  

The trip was great but tiring. We were at about 5500 feet elevation.  That is higher than Denver.  I went berserk with the camera but had to move a bit more slowly than usual.  The Alps are magnificent.  We stayed in something that was a cross between a vacation hostel and a very simple hotel.  While there was a sink and shower in the room, the hoppers were down the hall.  Echoes of college!  The hotel supplied neither soap nor towels.  It seems that no one told me that before we went.  It  was good to get into the shower when we got home on Sunday.  As it was quite cool and very dry the inability to shower was not a problem.  It was way too cold in the room to even think about air drying

On Friday evening three of the novices put on a short two-act play about Ignatius, Faber, and Xavier in the village church.  It was very well done.  Will describe the one picture from that even when I post it. 

On Saturday AM after breakfast we drove to Villaret, the tiny village where Faber was born, and parked at the church.  After a bit of a talk from a Belgian Jesuit, we walked about 2 miles to the chapel built over the site where Faber was born.  The chapel is tiny.  It could not hold all 30 of us comfortably.  Or even uncomfortably.  I stayed in the doorway an sat on the stoop.  We then walked back to the cars and returned to the hotel.  There were several hours of free time and I took a number of photos (total for the weekend was about 1400).  Some afternoon conferences on Faber were interesting but I skipped the evening activities as my French wasn't, and isn't, up to it.

Sunday morning we drove into town for Mass and then a reception put on by the parish. All told there were 30 Jesuits including the novices.

After lunch we drove home.  The drive home on Sunday took only two hours.  The drive from Lyon to Villaret at the peak of rush hour is best forgotten.  Thought I was back in Boston. It was a splendid weekend though one that included a lot of activity.  I probably overdid it in combination with what was a busy week at school.  

Slept poorly last night.  A combination of several things including stupidly having about 5 ounces of red wine with dinner.  Won't whine about that any more. 

Below find the photos and explanations.
The first is one of the novices who portrayed Ignatius.  Technically this photo should not have happened.  It was hand held rather than taken with a tripod for 1/6 second.  That is eternity when holding a camera.  Was sitting on the steps to the choir, hugging the wall and tucked into myself more tightly than your average Olympic diver.  Am beyond pleased with the result.  Wanted the Low Countries genre look and got it. 

The chapel built over the birthplace of St. Peter Faber.  Very small.  

This view of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in France was a shock in that it was the view from my room in this, at best, 1/2 star hotel.  It was not visible in the morning due to fog and cloud but when I looked out the window after Mass I was struck speechless (only for a very short time).  This was the view at sunset.  I got up from my chair every ten minutes to take another photo as the sun gradually disappeared. 

There were cows grazing on the ski slope just outside the hotel.  Each of them had a cowbell attached.  Fortunately they were far enough away that the sound was rustic rather than infuriating.  Good way to keep the grass mowed. 

The next two are views into valleys on either side of the hotel.  The hotel was on a bit of a plateau with glorious views in both directions. 

A dormant ski lift awaiting the snow. 

The two village churches we attended.  

Spring flowers near the hotel. 

More views of the mountains surrounding the area. 

Great weekend. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Living in French and Thinking in English

Praying and Counting

During our time in the novitiate, one of the men in my class noted that "you always count and pray in your native tongue."  It was one of those statements for which the truth was immediately obvious.  Later on, when I lived in international communities, I would watch men in places like the store etc. when they had to count out money.  All of them were muttering in their native language as they counted.  Even the ones who spoke English easily and well.  Obviously both praying and counting have become significant stumbling blocks here in Lyon.  Counting first.

Counting from one to sixty-nine in French is easy.  Then it gets challenging.  After sixty-nine, all the numbers between 70 and 100 involve a system addition and multiplication.   After 69 (soixant-neuf) 70 to 79 involves soixant (60) plus something between 10 and 19 such that 75 is 60 + 15.   For all numbers above 79, the base is 80.  Thus 93 is 4 times 20 plus 13 (quatre (4) vingt (20) treze (13).  The teacher can see my fingers moving trying to figure those numbers out.  There is no way I will ever be able to count or think in French numbers.  The glories of centigrade don't help either.  I can handle milligrams and kilograms.   Med school made certain of that.  I can sort of handle meters and kilometers.  But temperatures are a vast unknown.  I have had fevers of 102.  I have never had a fever of 38.8.  Oh sure, one can convert that 102 into 38.8 but it is lacking a certain je ne sais quoi.  "It's 101 in the shade"  says a lot more than "It's 38.3 in the shade." 

Another number difference between France and the U.S. is in how phone numbers are given.  In the U.S. it is one digit at a time starting with the area code 7-1-7-7-7-9-1-etc (part of dad's and my office phone number in Plymouth, now defunct).  Here the numbers are given in two digit numbers unless there is a zero.  Zero trois (03)-vingt cing (25) soixant huit (68) and so on.  The day we spent part of class learning how to do this was a truly wretched one.  French numbers will never mean anything to me until I translate them into English.  I will save a description of my illiteracy in other realms of math, such as calculus, for another day.

I suspect unless one grew up fully bilingual from the earliest years, one prays in one's native tongue.  When grandma was dying she laid in her bed and whispered prayers (short, simple ones as dementia was a problem) in Polish, her first language.  Here in France I am not even trying to pray in French.  Mass, particularly small Masses in the chapel, feel more like an obligation being fulfilled than anything else.  Even saying the Our Father, which I have to read and can rarely keep up with, is painful.  I have a new sympathy for Jesuit friends who spent years in the U.S. during formation always having to attend Mass in English. 

Prayer is the most emotional of human endeavors.  It is the most affectively laden.  Affect, for the most part, happens in our native tongue.  Over ten years ago I recall a newspaper item about a Cuban woman, a writer, who was fully fluent in English and Spanish.  She who wrote and published novels in both languages.  She noted that when she wrote about some of the difficulties of her childhood it was easier to write in English than in Spanish because, though fully bilingual, Spanish was her mother tongue and it carried all the emotion.  Writing about childhood was easier in English because some of the emotion was disconnected.  During fellowship at MGH I had dinner with the chief resident.  Her husband was a PhD linguist whose first language was Italian.  She said that one's first language is 'limbic' while subsequent languages are 'cortical.'  Quick explanation. 

The limbic system is the most primitive part of the brain.  The amygdala in particular appears to attach emotional valence to experience; i.e. if a child puts his hand on a hot burner (been there done that) the emotional valence attached to the pain of that experience will prevent him from doing the same thing again (it did).  In general the amygdala is more efficient at attaching emotional valence to negative and painful experiences than to happy and positive ones.  There is obvious survival value for the individual with this arrangement. 

In contrast, the cortex ('cortical') is what most people think of as the brain.  It is the gray matter that gives most human skulls such as pleasing appearance as it fills the cranial vault.  As one goes over lists of vocabulary or looks up a word (for the fifth time!) the cortex is engaged in the learning.  The limbic system is relatively silent, until things get really frustrating (am there, doing it). 

It is difficult knowing that I won't celebrate Mass again until September when I get to Ireland.   Or perhaps not until I get to the U.S.  The language in Chad is French plus a bunch of Chadian dialects.  I don't expect much of a need for Mass in English.  Am not happy with this part of the situation but there is nothing much to be done about it.  I say the office in English, do my meditations in English (with the occasional French sound creeping in) and read scripture in English.  I have a book for Mass that is helpful mostly as a way of learning French but the words, even when I translate them, don't particularly move me. 

Even during the words of consecration I feel strangely detached and unmoved.  I've said them at the altar over a thousand times.  I've known them by heart for years and always deeply moved while saying the them over the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord.  But at the consecration in French something is missing.  That something is the limbic system (it also attaches valence to positive experiences).  I am thinking the words of consecration in French but not feeling them in the depth of my soul.

On occasion I go over to evening Mass at St. Georges across the river.  All Masses at St. Georges are celebrated in the extraordinary form in Latin with the priest facing the same direction as the people.  There are long periods of silence and almost immobility on the part of the priest who is saying the prayers in a low voice.  Maybe because it hearkens back to my youth and days as an altar boy (Introibo ad altare Dei.  Ad Dei qui laetificat juventutam meum) there is a deeper emotional involvement in what is going on.  In addition, I recognize and recall much of the Latin.  However, the affective charge isn't from the meaning of the Latin.  Most of us did not know what we were saying.  The affective charge and emotional involvement comes more from the ritual and the memories of times past.  Think Proust. 
The photos will progress from the ridiculous to the truly sublime.  

And what is more ridiculous in Lyon, the center of French gastronomy, than McDonald's?  I titled this photo, "Kilroy WAS here but Ronald IS here."  This particular McD's is not far from the community.  There is one huge difference between this McDonalds (and I assume others) and the U.S.  It doesn't open until 10 AM and closes at 2 AM.  One assumes the Egg McMuffin has not replaced the baguette. 

One can photograph tourists in Vieux Lyon unawares by using the rearview mirror of a motorcycle. 

Tourists in Vieux Lyon. 

I saw this place and thought immediately that it would be a good place for a second or third date.  If I dated.  Which I don't.  Because I can't.  But it makes a lovely composition with the warmth of the color.  Perhaps I can fantasize seeing Audrey Hepburn sitting here being wooed.  

I would love to rip-off this sign for a very small bar that I've yet to see open so as to hang it in my room.  Love the whimsy. 

The last two are of the truly sublime.  Votive candles in the cathedral in Vieux Lyon. 

And finally, the crucifix and light streaming through the two or three story-sized stained glass window behind the main altar at Eglise St. Georges.  I've never seen stained glass with so many shades of yellow, ochre and orange with only small flecks of the primary colors one has come to expect in stained glass.  The glow is mystical, particularly when clouds of incense are rising into it.  I want to go back with the tripod so as to take a longer exposure at a slower film speed. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Photos and Observations on Lyon

I won't be writing any new homilies over the next few months unless under extraordinary circumstances.  The French studies are coming along but not quite that fast.  Given the complexities of French it is unlikely I would ever try to preach in it.  It is coming along given that we have had only nine days of classes.  On Thursday and Friday we covered things such as prepositions and so on.  I realized that it is very hard to have a conversation without knowing prepositions such as next to, above, under and so on.  Also learned how to give directions.  We are finally approaching that critical mass of words and concepts necessary to have a conversation that can result in further learning. 

The weather cooled a bit.  At 6:30 it was about 55 degrees with a nice breeze.  One man said that Lyon has some of the best weather in France.  I can't argue at the moment.  Though one of my teachers was complaining about the heat when it was hitting the low 90's during the day the humidity was only 22%.  After the horror of eight summers in D.C. this is absolutely glorious.  The problem is getting dehydrated and not realizing how much body water one has lost.  

Now that jet lag is gone I woke early yesterday morning and went out just as the sun was coming up to take photos over in Vieux Lyon.  Some of the results with explanations will appear below.  There was/is an international exposition of the come-to-know-our-country type at Place Bellecour.  I made two separate visits there yesterday with camera in hand.  Exhibitions ranged from a fashion show of Cambodian fashion to Irish step dancers, a Brazilian watercolorist who specializes in abstract paintings of beach and soccer scenes and many others.  

Two of the men in the community took me out for dinner last night.  Lyon is about food.  There are several streets within walking distance, not counting Vieux Lyon, that are chock-a-block with cafes, all of which have outdoor seating under awnings.  They line both sides of the streets rather like the bars on Bull Run in Plymouth before the flood (for those who know no explanation is necessary for those who don't none is possible).  I had one of the dishes typical of Lyon, boudin noir, that is black sausage.  Black because that is what happens when one cooks blood inside a sausage casing.  Very good meal.  The other two men were going to a movie but I chose to walk back to the house.  Didn't think I could say awake for a movie in French that wasn't beginning until 10 PM.   It was the first time I was on the streets of Lyon after 7 PM and the first time on a Saturday.  This is a bustling city.  Lots of young people.  I don't know what time it shuts down but it was certainly booming at 9:30 PM.  Of course I could still read a book with normal print sitting outdoors at 9:30 PM here.  Apparently somewhat farther to the north than Boston.  

Some of yesterday's photos. 

The architecture here is beautiful.  Obviously very old.  But it seems even buildings that are newer are designed to enhance rather than clash and stand out.  

The windows of the apartment building fascinate me.  Apparently each floor is a separate residence.  I am not entirely delighted with the alignment of the photo.  I was taking the it from the opposite side of the Saone, the sidewalk was slightly pitched and I couldn't quite get centered.  Nonetheless, I like the effect. 

By way of contrast this apartment window is just across the bridge.  To get to the main entrance for St. Georges, turn right at the corner.  Not quite as luxe.

Av Victor Hugo just off Place Bellecour.  I walk this twice daily to and from the subway.  Shops line both sides of the street for a great distance all the way down to the train station at Perrache.  Having seen no evidence of elevator shafts I suspect all of these are walk-ups.

Saturday morning farmer's market along the banks of the Saone. 

The Basilica of Our Lady of Fourvier can be seen from many parts of the city, particularly where the community is.  Have not yet gotten up there but expect to within a week or two.  As there is no way I want to walk up a hill that steep it will entail a short walk to Perrache and about five minutes on a bus.  One of the men in my class, a Salesian priest, lives adjacent to the basilica with his community.  The first photo was taken while standing just below the bridge while the other was taken from Vieux Lyon.   St. Georges is in the foreground in the first photo.

I only noticed the tiny cafe across the street from the community yesterday morning.  Bit of a self-portrait to the right in the window. 

Three art galleries in Vieux Lyon in the early morning.  

Jawbreaker anyone?  It is always fun to take shots that fill the frame with shape and color. 

Breakfast in Vieux Lyon. 

The word sandwich seems to be almost international. 

And speaking of international, Russian dancers at the exhibition at Place Bellecour. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, June 6, 2014

Lyon, part II

Have been in Lyon for five days.  Jet lag is beginning to fade.  It was awful the first few days.  I got lost twice trying to get between the subway and the school and thus arrived 1/2 late when I should have been 40 minutes early.  Very embarrassing.  Befuddled is the best way to describe the feeling.  I felt a lot better yesterday when I met up with a much younger Jesuit friend from Georgetown who lived here for four years.  He had arrived two days earlier for a conference.  He was as bad as I had been with misplacing things, being unable to find receipts, and getting disoriented on the street.  It was very comforting.  He helped me get a monthly unlimited ride subway pass.  The good news is that as I am almost 65 it only cost 33 Euros for the month.  I spent 17.50 Euro on tickets the first week.  The SDB noted below, who is not yet 40, paid 68 Euro for the same service.  Bring on Medicare!!!!

There have been a number of high points.  There is another priest in my class, a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) from Kenyan who is a nice guy.  We are going to have lunch on Wednesday, the only day I don't have conversation class for almost two hours after the three hours of the other class.  I crawl into the community some times. 

Found a notice for two performances of Verdi's Requiem at a church somewhere in the area.  Verdi's Requiem is the most important piece of music in my life.  I will go to one performance and, if I like it, will go again.  The cost is very low. 

The Jesuit house is in the middle of Presqu'Il section of Lyon.  It doesn't get any better than that.  We are midway between the Rhone and Saone rivers and surrounded by shops, churches, restaurants and much else.  Lots of tourists wandering around.  So far, in two outings, one of which was this afternoon, I took over 500 photos.  I'm trying to discipline myself to edit, or at least discard the real clunkers and duplicates early. 

French is a challenging language.  I have all the sounds in my throat and head as a result of speaking Portuguese (Brasilian no Continental).  That is a bit of a problem because at the moment some of my answers come out in Portuguese rather than French.  That should end soon.  I will never be able to describe numbers higher than 69.  To say someone is 93 in French, for example, one has to say four times 20 plus 13.  Really. 

Good food.  I've taken all of my meals in the community thus far.  Among one of the best revelations was the butter.  Much better than U.S.  I can now understand why foodies rave about European butter.  It is better.  Much.  Of course the baguettes that appear in the dining room every morning are fantastic.  Why or why do Americans eat soft styrofoam bread?  I feel fuller after some bread, butter and jam than I do after twice as much in the U.S  Bread.  With gluten.  And texture.  And crust.  And NO sugar (yech).  I am a good bread baker and may have to resume when I return to the U.S. out of the need for something other than plastic bagged junk, the only way to describe American bread.  Alas, I don't have much control in the community.  Enough whining. 

Attached are some of the photos I took this afternoon.  All were within one mile or less of the house.  Astounding setting. 
The rose window in the Cathedral St. Jean de Baptiste (pretend the accent marks are in there).  The Cathedral was a disappointment because the main altar and choir area are under construction.  All is blocked from view.  

I've never seen a rose window with such a rose-like appearance to the "petals."  It looks a lot more like a flower. 

Candles are great photographic subjects.  And thus we have first, a few votive lights. 

The long bank of lights is in front of a statue of Our Lady. 

This is the neighborhood.  If you walk from right to left on the small red suspension bridge and continue down the street for about 150 yards you will arrive at the Jesuit community. 

A bread bakery sign in Vieux Lyon. 

Puppets also in Vieux Lyon. 

Two different cafe scenes in the late afternoon on a Friday. 

No school on Monday since the Monday after Pentecost is a holiday.  Nice.  Will go out with the camera again.  And again. And again.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lyon, France and Jet Lag

Arrived at the Jesuit community in Lyon, yesterday afternoon.  The house is in the center of Lyon with easy access to the subway and photographic opportunities that will be difficult to overly use.  The house was built by Franciscans, a fact that explains the monastic-like architecture.  I don't know how old it is but it ain't new.  The community has been most welcoming.  One of the men took me to the subway this morning and went as far as the school.  I can make the trip in about twenty minutes with the following: 1/4 mile on foot, one subway for one stop.  Change to another subway and go two stops.  Walk 1/4 miles.  In theory I could walk to and from, something I may try from later in the week but not first thing in the morning.  That simply won't happen.  

It will take a bit to get used to eating at 8:15 PM.  Things will probably be fine once I develop a routine.  Must find where to buy coffee near the school.  Found a small place for espresso but that wasn't quite enough.  

The first day of classes went well enough.  Feel a bit overwhelmed with it all but the background in Portuguese is coming in very handy, particularly in pronunciation.  Several Americans in my classes.  There is one Australian woman who, it turns out, lived very near Canisius College in Pymble, the same place where we were based as tertians.  She was very surprised.  

After classes were over I picked up the books and managed to get home on the subway without problems.  I remain grateful to Philadelphia, Boston, Taipei, and D.C. for their subway systems, all of which I learned to navigate on my own.  Indeed, when a low level of panic was setting in I recalled that this was a lot easier than getting around Taiwan on my own.  

Attached are some photos I took yesterday.  As there is a three-day weekend (no school on Monday and I feel like a 16 year-old) I hope to spend a significant part of one day with camera in hand.  Lyon is mostly very flat though there are some impressive hills as well.  Many churches.  Many churches.  

This is some of what is local. 

Walk out of the front door and look to the left to see this.

Same street, Rue Sala, in color though a bit farther up.  The sturdy appearing building on the left is the Jesuit residence and the novitiate.  The two are separate communities.

Exit the residence and begin walking to the right. 

It is less than 1/4 mile to the river.  The boat was named Chardonnay.  It appears to be a dinner cruise boat. 

The three photos below show a sculpture just up the road from the boat.  From a distance I expected an itinerant balloon salesman.  But nothing was moving.  It is a huge, at least ten feet in diameter, sculpture of metal flowers painted brilliant colors.  In front there are fountains that come on and off randomly with an equally random pattern of how high the water shoots etc.  With the wind it was an effort keeping spray off the lens even though I was rather far away. 

Coming back I crossed the bridge at the end of our street.  There are two churches.  Will eventually visit both.  Not sure how to get to the one on top but I will get there.  Perhaps over the weekend. 

Please excuse typos and agrammatical writing.  Am not going to do much rereading here.   The jet lag is quite harsh.  About midway through the conversation class, four hours into the day at the school, I was having a bizarre sense of derealization coupled with uncertainty about where I was at the moment.  Quite an afternoon.  Time to go for a short walk to clear the cobwebs.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD