Toujours Belle, France

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We were feeling quite at home by the end of our stay in Germany, and therefore our leaving was with a degree of regret. This however was mixed with anticipatory delight as we looked forward to visiting another country hitherto unseen by any of our group. We were off to France.

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We drove westward through the Black Forest, where a thick mass of clouds clung to the treetops of a forest stretching far into the horizon. Cuckoo clocks were in abundance as we drove, though an accessible washroom was hard to come by, so it was a relief when we made it to Offenburg and could void ourselves of full bladders along with our rental car. For the remainder of our trip we would be relying on public transit. With backpacks once more strapped to our shoulders we caught a train to Strasbourg.

Eager to explore upon arrival, we opted for expediency with a fast food snack, but one truly French in nature: a Pomme de Pain spread of cordon bleu, pomme de frites, and croissants for desert. With that we walked through La Place Gutenberg, past a carousel and down a lane to peek inside the towering Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, the exterior of which would come alive that evening with a light show set to music. In the meantime a stroll ensued along the waterways of Le Petite France, ending with a proper sit down meal of French onion soup and Bordeaux. Our transition from beer with every meal in Germany to a liquid diet of red wine had begun.

Thus was comprised our stay in Strasbourg, along with a slumber at the visually stimulating Hôtel Graffalgar where each room is a dynamic piece of artwork designed by separate artists, and where my wife and I slept among walls emblazoned with the black and white illustrations of people transforming into trees as envisioned by the “M1K” collaboration of Thomas Munck and Swen Inkub. We would have loved to have spent additional sleeps in the city, but our predetermined itinerary had us scheduled to go to Paris in the morning. And so we checked out of the hotel and onto a train, zooming through the countryside of France at speeds of up to 320 km/h and arriving in Paris early in the afternoon.

This was well before the atrocious events which occurred there on Nov. 13, and I cannot reflect upon my fond memories of that place now without extending commiseration to those for whom such experiences have been tainted, or entirely deprived. My family and I were fortunate enough to witness Paris in a state of peaceful regularity, but that condition has since been shaken. It is too early to predict with any certainty the long-term effects last week’s bombings will have on the city, and though the families of the deceased involved can never regain what they have so tragically lost, I hope its people as a whole will stay strong and that it will continue undeterred as a hub of culture and of uplifting passion.

A place where a person can find inspiration in the art and architecture of the Louvre, or serenity within the massive hall of Notre-Dame de Paris aglow with rows of candles and sunlight streaming through stained glass.

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Where you can read a book or sip coffee in the same spots that innovative minds such as Hemmingway and Picasso once sat.

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Where family can gather around to eat food cooked on the flame of an open brick oven while accordion music drifts from down the alley.

Where newlyweds might be spotted clasping hands by the Seine, below a bridge ornamented with locks commemorating love. Near to that, in contrast, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation sits underground as a reminder of the horrific consequences of hate.

Hate, unfortunately, persists beyond mere memory into the present, where it is much too pervasive and far too often results in needless, horrible fatalities. Even Paris, renowned afar as the city of love, is not immune to this. The attacks of a week and a half ago emphasized something that while shocking is sadly rare across the world and throughout history. There are always new deaths to be remembered.

So let us remember these lives recently lost with sorrowful compassion, and let us do the same for victims everywhere of violence, war, genocide, and all other phenomena that fit into a category of lexicon that of necessity exists because humans, as our most appalling and detrimental flaw, have the capacity to create grand scale nightmares of which there is no waking up to end the suffering.

But we are also capable of conjuring lovely, ambitious futures of joy, peace, and unity. Perhaps someday all people might share together in a living reverie comprised of these ideals, empty of hate and all of its affiliate notions. Because thankfully humanity as a whole does now and then make brilliant strides toward greater goodness. Let’s keep doing that, and allow this globe we share to be forever beautiful.

Enough with all the animosity.

– Cory Magnus Stumpf

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One thought on “Toujours Belle, France

  1. Wow, France was amazing. Very good writing Cory, you do have a gift of sharing. The Louvre and Notre-Dame, speeding trains and locks. Yes, November 13th will always be in memory…a sad day indeed, France will grow stronger.

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