Purpose

You ever go on trips to kind of get away from the normal crazy of your life? Then when on vacation, you’re just as busy as when you’re not on vacation?

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About a year and a half ago I got to go on a trip through Italy, with Assisi as the main place I wanted to go. There are many reasons why and simply I just wanted to trace some roots to Saint Francis of Assisi, which is the main draw for most people to this place. I wanted to try and experience the place on foot as much as possible, by staying in a hotel within the city walls. One place that I did want to see, it was quite a distance, so I opted for the bus. On the way back however, seeing large fields below the city, it just beckoned to go for a long walk. Funny thing is, the walk was one place I got to just listen.

CHANGES

I had had a dream about coming to Assisi, or at least having the chance to. So, I came to see what there would be. Between the dream and coming, I lost my job, became low on funds, moved back in with my parents, and essentially faced a lot of change. In one sense everything was ok, but on the inside I was somewhat panicked. In my exploring of Italy, I was wondering what my purpose was, is, and would be. Would I meet someone along the way that would be a catalyst for something new? I did get to meet some people along the way. I did get to try new food, see new and beautiful places, but something was still nagging me.

As I walked I began praying/complaining to God again, asking why am I here. I had the dream and ventured out this far. Instead of just walking, I stopped to just look around. In some sense I was in the middle of nowhere. It was just me, standing in empty farm fields, hearing the sound of wind and cars from far away. That’s how life feels. I kept walking and stopping every so often to continue just to look. I came across a solo sunflower, all withered up.

As I began to photograph the flower, it resonated with me that I feel much the same. I could hear for a moment. I heard it’s just seasons, they come and go. The flower withering was once a bud waiting to blossom, only to release its seeds. The withered flower you see has lived its purpose. It will create more flowers in their season.

If God created them that way, I wondered what is my purpose? Sometimes I feel so blind to the obvious. I wonder if the flower knows what it’s doing. Regardless, God’s creative purpose is accomplished.

Adding on, I can wonder if our purpose is each other. In one way or another, whatever we do effects others, positively or negatively, does it not? What can we do that's loving for others? An engineer knows how to build bridges. By doing so, this enables people to pass over places safely. An artist expresses something, a politician (sometimes) works for others, a chef, a mother, a friend...everything is associated with otherness. 

Paris, Made in the Shade

To err is human. To loaf is to Parisian. - Victor Hugo

Many photographers say that the best time to photograph a place is early in the morning, as in to be up before the sun is up. That sounds fine and obvious, until your alarm goes off. I didn't leave the previous night's dinner until 12:30 this same morning, when my alarm went off at 5am. I don't even remember when exactly I got it and I won't labor the point further. Let's just say it was early. However, I wanted to be up during this so-called "best time."

Just Walk and Enjoy

Upon waking up, I was curious about breakfast. My hostel kitchen didn't open for another hour or so, making me excited to look for a local bakery. One thing I love about Europe is simple breakfasts. I found a bakery nearby on Google that was about a mile and a half and made that my first goal. Thinking it would be a quick walk, I fooled myself. I didn't even get two steps from the hostel door before I started snapping away. It was dark, slightly chilly, and the streets were empty with Paris slowly waking up.

Upon finding the bakery, I ordered half with my stomach and half with my eyes. Little bread delights with chocolate were dangled (resting in a showcase) in front of me and I was sold. As I ate my goodies outside on the sidewalk I was thinking it would be fun to photograph the breads being made in the back of the shop. My French being well below par, I wondered how to ask. Plus, the place was rather hopping with customers and the workers seemed busy, adding to my shyness to ask. Waiting a few minutes, I went in to ask. My universal language of holding up my camera and pointing around, it elicited a response in clear English from the gal who just sold me pastries. "You want to photograph in here? Go ahead! Have fun!" Well that was hard. If you're ever in Paris, do go to the bakery, Douceurs et traditions Boulangerie. They open at 6:30. They're real and they're spectacular.

Feeling pretty excited, I saw from afar the top of the Eiffel Tower peaking over some buildings, so I went thataway. The morning light was still great and I wanted to see the Tower before it got crowded. I'm not an early morning person in general, but I love when am up early. It always seems like a treat getting to see a place when few are around.

When getting to the Eiffel Tower, I instantly returned to my feeling like a tourist. My insecurity caught me with, "ok, here's another drop in the ocean of Eiffel Tower photos." It was beautiful to be around, but I walked around a bit before snapping away. Getting around to another side of it, I found a cool little park underneath it.

Before the sun got too high, I made my way to a somewhat nearby bridge to try and photograph the tower from there. It was a great place to see people walking and riding their bikes to I don't know where. I saw a lot of couples dressed up, having photo sessions with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It seems like a good business idea and I wondered if I could get in on that somehow, somewhere, sometime. In the meantime, I saw one photographer was just finishing up with a couple and walking away. Feeling a bit like a vulture, I went really quick and asked the couple if I could photograph them with the Eiffel Tower behind them and they obliged. Is that bad?

Then it was time for second breakfast, and I enjoyed a street cafe. I don't remember which was the driving force, the desire for a cappuccino or to sit at a street cafe.

Time for Church

After such an exhausting (finding pastries and cappuccino is tough work...) morning, I figured it was time to go see some stained glass windows and cathedrals. Before seeing Notre Dame, I wanted to see a cathedral named Sainte-Chapelle. I had seen a picture somewhere of the windows and it looked pretty amazing. Plus, I heard there are less tourists as Notre Dame and so I was in. Taking an Uber for 5 euros from the Eiffel Tower, I got to enjoy a bit of downtown Paris traffic. It afforded me a quick nap.

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In finding the church, it was crowded. I figured I would just have to get used to it at this point and enjoy it (and photograph above the crowd). As promised, the stained glass windows looked amazing. In looking around at all the artwork and symbols, I wondered if I should have sprang for a tour guide, or even one of those audio-guides. I just read the little placards scattered around. As usual, my mind began taking over in thought, in wondering what this place was for. Seeing it was connected to the royal palace, I wondered what life was like for a royal church.

I wondered if this place was connected in history with the crusades. Wouldn't you know it, I began to feel somewhat sad here. I will admit I know little to nothing about French history, but I wonder about beautiful Cathedrals beyond the awesome beauty to how they were built. Are they self-image extensions of former kings? Did the money come from military conquest or on the backs of peasants? Yes, I'm an over thinker. Seeing all the little pictures in the stained glass, I knew it was telling history both Biblical and probably french history. Wish I had sprung for a guide!

A couple blocks over is the famed Notre Dame de Paris. It was crowded and that was ok. I was actually surprised  that the line to get in moved pretty quick. Once inside it seemed like a world unto itself. The place is massive and felt a bit maze-like. Like in Sainte-Chapelle, I have admit my mind was already rolling in thought. With so many people flowing through here, I wondered how many saw this as a place of worship and a checkmark on a list of places to see. A place nearly 900 years old, I imagine the lure it has for history. My ignorance held me since I knew little history beyond the Disney cartoon movie about a hunchback. I was curious if there really is a person that lives here to ring the bells.

In wandering around a bit, I found myself sitting near the center and Mass soon began. At first I thought I should leave, thinking Mass would go long and I didn't want to stay too long, but I stayed. The Mass sounded beautiful in hymns, but I didn't understand the French. I did enjoy getting to greet and be greeted by those sitting around me. That's always a fun part in the Mass. I also got to go up for communion, even though I didn't get to have it. The Mass was enjoyable. Maybe one of these days I'll get confirmed so I would be allowed to have communion. Someday!

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Gelato Time!

After leaving Notre Dame, next on my list of musts in Paris was to have some gelato. I had seen an episode of Anthony Bourdain eat at someplace nearby and it became a quest to find it. The place was named St. Louis something and I went looking for that name. Finding it on Google Maps, I went and found 8 gelato places on a street named St. Louis. They were all called St. Louis gelato. Where was Mr. Bourdain to help me?

While trying to decide which place to try, I noticed this was a great place for people watching. Plus the light was great in the midday sun. It was time for gelato and time to relax along the Seine River. I was told that was the thing to do. And I will tell you to do the same...they were right! Relax! The gelato I had, by the way, it was freaking amazing. It was raspberry flavor and oh my...I wish I could buy you one to try.

After sitting along the river for a bit, I began wondering if I had had the Anthony Bourdain gelato. Recalling the episode and the exterior of the place, I decided to walk further down St. Louis street. I ended up finding it and I figured it I owed it to someone to have more gelato. What justification do you use? This time it was a scoop of cherry and a scoop of chocolate. Was it good? You bet your sweet bippy it was good!

Time for a Siesta

Also on my list of places to see were local parks. Looking at which one was nearest to a subway station, I headed to Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Aside from being near to a subway station, I found myself amused at the word "Buttes" and went to see it.

As I got to the park, the previous late night and jet lag were beginning to hit me. The park looked beautiful, with a quiet pond and giant rock with a Romanesque gazebo on top. But all I wanted to do was to sit, and I sat. Something I always like about European countries (and Middle East) is that people in public don't mind sharing tables or benches. The park was not crowded, but most of the benches were taken. I found one with a man sitting on one end, leaving the other end open. I plopped down and he didn't mind. In the US, this seems culturally weird. Or maybe it's just me?

As time passed, my sleepiness was kicking into high-gear. I looked around and saw other people sleeping on the grass. So like the Romans, I did as the Parisians do and laid down and enjoyed basking in the mix of sun and shade. Not a bad way to spend an hour.

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As Night Fell

Soon after my nap, I rejoined the world and took an Uber back near the Eiffel Tower. I know I had dinner somewhere, but I can't remember what beyond a crepe. I just enjoyed strolling along the Seine and ended where I ended the night before, on the narrow street of Rue Berton.

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After much heal dragging in coming to Paris, I found myself enjoying the pace of the city. This time I wasn't in a rush, I didn't have anywhere to be, the night was a warmish mix of cool, and for the moment, all was right in the world. Thankful to the Lord, it was a great time to say goodnight.

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