Four years ago, our daughter made a decision. She decided to learn the French language. She also informed us she would be going to France. We told her to save her money and we’d make it happen…
Then, little over a year ago, we made another decision that continues to bless and change our lives. We hosted a French foreign exchange student during the month of July. Long term readers may remember. By the end of the month, Miss Bee had become precious to us. Saying goodbye hurt everyone’s heart. With promises to somehow reconnect, she boarded a plane for home.
Fast forward to Spring of this year. Our church is opening a new place of worship in France. This is very exciting to us because it’s the first LDS temple in the country of France. And for the first few weeks, our church opened it to public tours. We really, really wanted to see it.
We could go, visit the European versions of Mom and Pop AND see Miss Bee! Sunshine knew the language well enough, had saved up the funds and was very ready.
After a flurry of back-and-forth emails, two things were confirmed: our trip AND that the Bee Family were really long lost friends in disguise. In the ultimate gesture of graciousness, Mrs. Bee invited us to stay in their home IN PARIS!
But before we get to Paris, let’s talk about Normandy.
Ever since watching ‘The Longest Day’ with my WWII history buff father, It’s been a dream of mine to pay my respects on the sacred shores of the ‘Gateway to Europe’.
The movie scene that burned into my little girl brain was when the paratroopers landed along the countryside. A man named John Steele became tangled in the church steeple of Saint Mere Eglise where he hung for hours, watching his friends butchered by the Nazi army as they landed. Miraculously, he survived, although deaf for some time because of the church bells ringing in his ears. To visit that place, to feel the reverence still very present and to see the love the community has for those who gave so much, it was a surreal experience. I’ll never forget it. I really, REALLY heart Normandy.
My three favorite pictures from the first couple of days: The flags of the nations…including the German flag. (I found such a gesture to be breathtakingly beautiful.) And, THIS mighty girl. It never occurred to me what the people of this area went through under Nazi Occupation. I had NO CLUE.
After a quick trip to Bayeux where we got a glimpse of the most violent tapestry ever, we headed off to PARIS! This is where we got to clobber our Sweet Miss Bee with hugs. Oh, how we’ve missed her! And we finally got to meet, in person, our friends, The Bees.
The Bees are much of the reason Paris was what it was for us. Rather than bore you with the hundreds of photos we took there, I thought I would sum up our experience with a list of Ten Things I Learned in Paris and include my most favorite pics…
- Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were what happens when a nation gets fed up. I kinda feel bad for them. They were the last of a long line of royalty who seemed oblivious to the plight of the common man. After seeing Versailles, it’s no wonder they were so ticked!
2. French food is DELICIOUS…and as long as you don’t get a glimpse of a cute little dead face, escargot is scrumptious. We had a good laugh with the Bees at the irony of the American ordering snails and the Parisian ordering Caesar Salad.
And, this is a good one…documentation of Sunshine eating a crepe on Mr. Eiffel’s crowning achievement.
3. After all these years, Mom and Pop are still making out. (In other news, one of the very BEST moments of the trip was seeing my father’s eyes absolutely sparkle as he gazed out upon the skyline of Paris on top of the Eiffel Tower. He’s generally a very stoic man but in those moments, he reminded me of a little boy on Christmas morning.)
4. While it’s probably wildly inappropriate to snicker at the statue of John the Baptist, who after hundreds of years, is STILL holding his own head, it’s inspiring to behold the devotion thousands of artists through the centuries had to God. Many of these creators sacrificed so much, risk to life and limb even, to produce precious artifacts with the sole purpose of expressing their love for Him. This is pretty impressive considering these works were made without the aid of modern-day machinery. Case in point: The Saint Chappelle. It has 1300+ stained glass windows depicting stories from the Bible crafted by hand hundreds of years ago.
One of my favorite things about the Catholic church is their reverence for their saints. It’s a beautiful thing. In related news, Joan of Arc is still my favorite. This statue brought me to tears the first time I laid eyes on her 17 years ago. To bring my daughter back to it meant so much to me. Sunshine, in a world full of followers, be a Joan.
5. There really are such things as kindred spirits. We’re so lucky when we find them. They can be thousands of miles away and you can go forever without talking but when you get a chance to reconnect, it can feel like no time has passed.
Of all the hundreds of pictures taken during our trip, these two just might be my favorites:
6. People talk about it all the time but somehow I didn’t realize it until now…My sweet little girl is no longer a little girl. This is when her life is just beginning…
For a week I was completely and utterly helpless. (This, after 2 years of French in high school and several courses in college.) Not her though, she knows enough French to make her way through Paris. She would have been just fine without me there. That makes me hyperventilate a little.
7. It doesn’t matter where in this world it is, I love to see the temple. Of all the happy moments in my life, the moments spent there are among my happiest.
For more pictures of the inside, go here.
8. In the land of sunbursts and marbled halls, sometimes leaping for joy is appropriate.
9. When you spend all day at the Louvre and your tired, aching feet carry you to the gift shop, you will notice postcards of paintings from Van Gogh and Monet. Don’t panic. Don’t beat yourself up, wondering how you could have possibly missed them. They aren’t actually housed at the Louvre. Which means, you haven’t broken an unforgivable art history commandment.
Also, one of my favorite pictures was one painted of a girl who looks almost exactly like a five year old Ruby. The Mona Lisa was okay but I much prefer da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci (it’s permanently housed in D.C.) and there is something magical about The Winged Victory. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen.
10. The land of Jules Verne and his extraordinary journeys might just be the perfect place for a ride along a river and hot air balloon ride overlooking a city.
Of course, there’s more to the story. Much, much more. The people of France are beautiful. They are kind and very generous. They love their families and have a remarkable ability to sit down to dinner and make it a work of art; they savor each other’s company along with the food they are eating.
I also didn’t realize it until visiting, this election cycle has been a tough one for them too.
And, there is magic in the Eiffel Tower at night. It sparkles.
While we saw so much and wouldn’t change a single moment, there is still so much to see and experience. Looks like we need to refill our piggie bank and fire up Duolingo again.
In the ultimate expression of friendship, the Bees did the most amazing thing. Notice that adorable orange pea coat Sunshine wore in most of her pictures? She forgot it. When she realized this, she cried. Of all the mementos of this trip that will bring the memories back in years to come, that coat will be the best of them. Working with Mom and Pop, they corresponded with absolute strangers, met people under the Eiffel Tower and made an exchange in order to get her coat to Germany where it will take another voyage across the ocean back to her (sounds like it’s getting a high adventure itself!). Yep, we’re keeping these folks. They’re pretty special.
To everyone who made this an beautiful, unforgettable experience for Sunshine and also for me, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Here’s to the next four years and four hundred thousand pennies.