I’ll continue my recap with a few more superlatives beginning with…
Believe it or not, the food. Yes, in France!
This was a typical everyday restaurant meal and face it, a Croque Monsieur is just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. And although I never thought I’d get sick of french fries, I got to the point where I couldn’t even look at them after a while. They are served with everything. An omelet…with frites. A crêpe…with frites. A chicken leg…with frites. Kebab…with frites. A sandwich, a meat patty, a salad, you-name-it…with frites.
I would have been happy if I could have just found some good popcorn. The French insist on putting sugar on it for reasons I’ll never understand. We were in a movie theater where the freshly popped popcorn smelled so good and I could see little crystals gleaming on top which I thought was salt. I took a big bite and YUCK! It was SUGAR! What are they thinking? Even the few varieties of microwave popcorn that are available (and you have to search for it) is goût sucré. For a culture that loves their butter on everything else, I’m not sure I understand why they don’t put it on popcorn with salt.
The meals I ate in the Resto U were dreary and dull. Think Junior High cafeteria – it wasn’t even as good as that. It was heavy on the starches – piles of instant mashed potatoes or plain macaroni – with a bland piece of meat and some canned vegetables. My other meals were mostly what I could prepare in my dorm in a microwave such as frozen entrees. The one bright spot was the cheese and I ate many a meal consisting of Camembert with half a baguette and an apple.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE:
Everyone in France is not thin as a rail, I don’t care what they tell you. This is just one example, and not unusual.
I’m not trying to be unkind, but I want to dispel that myth right here and now. Obviously all those frites and baguettes are going somewhere!
I started with the negatives, but of course its not all negative. I’ll turn to some positives now and talk about…
The most beautiful sights in France:
Which to me were the cathedrals, specifically the Gothic cathedrals. I won’t put all the photos here – there are great pictures of all of them just a google away. But I saw cathedrals and basilicas in Paris, Amiens, Reims, Metz, Laon, Albert, Rennes and I don’t remember where all else.
I guess the thing that makes them so beautiful to me is the fact that we simply don’t have them in the U.S. while there is a Gothic cathedral in practically every town and village in France. (This was never more apparent than during a trip to Metz with one of the natives, when we were strolling through the centre-ville. We came around a corner and suddenly there was a magnificent cathedral right in front of me, which I wasn’t expecting. I kind of gasped and said, “you didn’t tell me you had a grand cathedral right here in Metz!” With the typical Gallic shrug he answered, “But of course, every town has a cathedral.”)
Besides being beautiful buildings, they are – to me – places of peace and tranquility. There is an air of solemnity and spirituality that truly transcends the ages. If you can put aside your prejudices about “idolatry”, you can see them for what they were meant to be: A monument to the heavens; a way to make sense out of a cold, dark, dangerous world in the Middle Ages; a place to make a spiritual pilgrimage; a way of illustrating the stories of the Scriptures for people who couldn’t read. (And yes, a place in which to increase the riches of the Church, I know.) They were, above all, the very best that man could offer as a temple in which to worship his Creator. Anyway, I found the peaceful moments of contemplation in the cathedrals to be a true respite from the horrors of the news stories about extremism and terrorism.
(Not to mention that these are feats of engineering marvel!)