Monday, January 19, 2015

January 19, 2015 -- Avignon, France

Yesterday was my last full day in Paris on this leg of the journey, although I will stop by there again in about two weeks on my way back to Brussels and the flight to the US. This morning I took the bullet train here to Avignon in the South of France or le Midi as the French call it.

Yesterday I dedicated to a walking tour along the Seine River and high mass at the Notre Dame cathedral or to to give the cathedral its full name in in French, Notre-Dame de Paris (our lady of Paris). I hadn’t planned to visit the cathedral this trip, but attending high mass is a bit more of an experience than just entering the cathedral as a tourist.

Below is the first shot I took of the cathedral as I walked toward it on the Left Bank of the Seine. Note the flying buttresses that support the walls of the apse or area where the choir sits. Flying buttresses were developed to take part of the sideways force put on the walls of a building by the roof. In Gothic architecture, they enabled the outer walls of cathedrals to be thinner and to have large openings for stained glass windows compared to the earlier Roman style cathedrals, which had massive walls with narrow slits for windows.
The Seine River with Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in the background
The following picture shows the buttresses better and also gives a view of the large windows that the buttresses make possible. Incidentally, Incidentally, Notre-Dame supposedly houses Jesus’ crown of thorns, a fragment of the cross on which he was crucified, and one of the nails used to affix him to the cross. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide how much credence to give this claim.

A closer view of Notre-Dame show the flying buttresses that support the walls of the choir section
People who know me to be an unbeliever may not believe that I actually attended mass, so I took the following picture to prove that I was there. It is blurry, because it was taken in low light conditions, and I didn’t dare use a flash during the holy mass.

High Sunday mass in Notre-Dame
Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, high mass at Notre-Dame is an impressive event. There was a very large choir in the apse behind the altar whose singing filled the cathedral. The choir was accompanied by the Notre-Dame pipe organ, whose bass notes especially were very impressive. There was a solo performance by a female voice that sounded as if it belonged in the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The service was conducted mainly in French, and with the echoes inside cathedral and my poor ability to understand spoken French, it reminded me of the old days when my sister and I attended mass sung in Latin with our father. There was a handout with the mass translated into English, Spanish, German, Italian, and perhaps some other languages. However, at one point the priest switched to English, and I caught the words, “Thank you for your generosity.” Needless to say, that was just before the collection plate was passed.

There was a massive participation in communion with several priests passing out the hosts in front of the altar. I was tempted to get into one of the lines, even though I’m an unbeliever, but the last time I was at confession was probably 60 years ago, and in those days (and I imagine still today) one was supposed to go to confession and be free of sin before taking communion. In my opinion, I have a clear conscience, but with all of its rules about such sinful behavior as skipping mass and having impure thoughts, I doubt if the Church would judge me that way.

As I left the cathedral, I shot the following selfie, the only picture of me to appear in this blog so far during this particular voyage.

A selfie of the blog author in front of Notre-Dame
I set the alarm on my watch to wake me up at 6 this morning, as I had an early train to catch to Avignon. It was the first time I used the alarm, so naturally I screwed it up, and the alarm didn't go off. When I woke up this morning, it was just a few minutes to seven, which is the time I had planned to leave the hostel for the train station. I rushed, but needless to say, I did make the train. I

t is drizzling rain here in Avignon, and south of Paris on the train ride I saw a light coating of snow lying on the farmers' fields. It's the first snow I've seen this trip.

The trip is 428 miles. In a car, Google Maps says it would take 6 hours and 14 minutes. In the bullet train or TGV it took 2 hours and 45 minutes, and average speed of 156 miles per hour.

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