Thursday rolls around, and my excitement grows as I hop on the plane to Paris for the weekend. What could be nicer than taking a short trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world?
Well, one of the first things you learn while traveling is that nothing is ever quite as you expect. We woke up Friday morning, all ready to see the sights of Paris, walk out the door, and it’s raining. It’s windy. It’s freezing cold.
So we had to make a decision. Sit in our hostel all day, dry and warm? Or go out, see Paris, and risk hypothermia? Obviously we chose the latter. I mean, we were in Paris! So we adopted the motto, “Get cultured or die trying.”
Ok, to appease all of the worried mothers out there, no, we did not “die trying” by contracting hypothermia. Paris has many charming cafes that serve wonderful warm beverages of which we took full advantage. But we did get cultured; we did have an unforgettable experience.
I’ll always remember looking up in awe at the Eiffel tower, with all of the dark clouds swirling about as my umbrella flips inside out. I’ll always remember seeing the main plaza of the Louvre, with the glass pyramids glistening in the rain as I slip on the slick pavement. I’ll always remember walking into Notre Dame, hoping that it would be warm inside, and then realizing that 13th century Gothic churches don’t exactly have central heating.
Ah, but c’est la vie. That’s life. That’s the adventure in traveling. And it really was a wonderful weekend in Paris.
There were no classes last Thursday. Shops were closed; people had a day off from work. All for the national holiday—the Immaculate Conception.
Now to what degree the celebration is cultural vs. religious is out of my scope, but, regardless, it was interesting to experience what it’s like to live in a not completely secularized country.
So what was it like? A party was thrown in Mary’s honor across the city. I went to the beautiful church Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Mary of the People), which was a fitting place to go given that people were streaming in and out of the churches every hour for mass. The piazzas were crowded with people. On one of the busiest streets, Via del Corso, all of the church doors were thrown open, and people were pouring in and out to pray and light candles. I took the photo above as I was walking down Via del Corso. I was just struck by the serenity of Mary, watching the people as they swirl by on the street.
But the center of the party was Piazza di Spagna. There’s a large obelisk/column with a statue of Mary on top, and so every year the firemen of Rome get out their huge ladders to place a wreath of flowers on her arm. The base of the column is just covered with flowers, wreaths, and bouquets that people leave. Then, to crown the day, the Pope makes his annual appearance at the Piazza. I waited for two hours to get a prime spot, and it was well worth it. There was a wonderful sense of unity when the crowd prayed the Rosary during the last half hour of the wait. Pope Benedict XVI, or “Papa Bene,” gave an address about the Immaculate Conception based on the daily reading from Revelation.
All I can say is that the Italians really know how to celebrate Mary in style.
It’s always a good time in Naples.
We took a day trip there this weekend, and to start the day we walked through the dark narrow streets, lined with shops and stands, packed with people. Vendors were yelling advertisements for their wares, people were talking loudly, music filled the street—pouring out of shops and coming from street musicians. I could have sat in the piazza all day, watching people go by, listening to the musicians play, and just soaking in the fun atmosphere