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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Conundrums of the Exile

We are just a few short days away from Christmas.  Since we are moving on the 28th of December we are living in disorder - in an apartment surrounded by empty shelves and cardboard boxes.

We are leaving just enough stuff out to be able to do a minimal Christmas. The
Réveillon (Christmas Eve dinner) will be foie gras, smoked salmon and oysters because these thing are really really good and require almost no preparation or cooking.  Christmas day dinner will most likely be a capon (castrated rooster).

Still up in the air is where and when we will attend Mass.  The past couple of years I've celebrated Christmas Mass at St. Joseph's in Paris.  This is the Roman Catholic "mission Anglophone" which serves the English-speaking Catholic community (Irish, Canadian, American, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Indian and others).  This is a church I really love for its diversity, exceptional music and because Father Aidan (Irish) and Father Melvin (American) preach amazing sermons and make the Mass come alive.  The Christmas Mass at St. Joseph's is special to me because I get to hear and sing in English the Christmas carols of my childhood - something that has the power to make me feel both terribly sad and to soothe my spirit all at the same time.   The Frenchlings are interested because they have never been to a Mass in English (only in French) and they think it would be a nice change.

However over the past few months I've become more and more involved in my parish church here in Versailles where the Mass in in French or Portuguese (not English).  I've made connections with people in this parish.  When I go to church on Sunday I know people by name.  So celebrating Christmas here in Versailles means doing so as part of a community of believers in the community where I reside. And I find that matters very much to me these days.

The last option is to go to Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral here in Versailles which will undoubtedly be a wonderful glittering beautiful impressive Mass in one of the city's most extraordinary churches.

If you've been following me so far here you may be asking yourself why all this matters.  Enough already, Madame, going to services on Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Does it matter so much if it's in English or French?   And so on.  Point taken.

And yet, when one is thousands of miles away from one's country of origin, this sort of thing does matter.  There is a reason my parish church offers Mass in Portuguese and it's surely not because this community does not speak French.

My choice here would say something important about where I am in relationship to my home and host countries.   Letting the English- speaking Mass at St. Joseph's go in favor of Mass in French in my local parish is a huge step.  And I find that I am unsure about it.  Am I really ready to let one more thing (among the hundreds of other habits and customs and the like I have dropped over the years) go?  I'm not so sure I'm ready for yet another loss.

These are the conundrums of the exile.

"It was when I realised I had a new nationality: I was in exile. I am an adulterous resident: when I am in one city, I am dreaming of the other. I am an exile; citizen of the country of longing.”
Suketu Mehta


French Girl in Seattle said...

Thank you for your visit chez moi today, Victoria. How I enjoyed reading this post, and how I can relate to your feelings, and that quote... The Exile... Quite an adventure. So many opportunities to learn, to step out of one's comfort zone; yet the feeling of loss - and nostalgia - are always present, lurking in the background... I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas, whether you celebrate mass in English, in French, in Portuguese, or whatever. I hope 2013 treats you well, health wise... Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Anonymous said...

Loved the quote. And captures today's complex, layered national identities.

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria and Co

Merry Christmas and a great New Year in your new home in 2013, Thanks for all your posts. May your health improve.


Pat L (Normandy)