(Now we enter into the time of Advent. The word "Advent" come from the Latin "adventus" which means the coming or the arrival of something significant. This liturgical event does not exist in the Eastern Church.)
Ste. Elisabeth de Hongrie, Versailles
Temperatures are dropping fast here in Versailles. This weekend was bitter cold at night and not much warmer during the day. This city was built on swampland so we can add high humidity to its winter charm.
But we are learning about how to make our woodstove work for us. Saturday I managed to stoke it properly for the first time before I went to bed and it was still going when I got up on Sunday morning. There were even coals remaining when I got back from church early in the afternoon and I was able to start a new fire from the ashes of the old one.
Two weeks ago we went to the wood lot in Viroflay and bought 3/4 of a stère. A stère is an old unit of measurement that roughly corresponds today to 1 meter cubed. I'm not sure how much that would be in cords, the unit of measurement still used in North America for wood. One upon a time the French used cordes as well: "Corde (pour le bois) = 2 voies soit 3.84 ou 2.74 stères (selon la longueur du bois qui pouvait être de 2.5 ou 3.5 pieds)."
The logs come in several standard sizes: 1 meter, 50 cm, 33 cm, and 25 cm. Our wood guy only sells 50 and 33. Since we were still learning about our stove we were conservative and took half a stère of the 33 cm logs and a quarter stère in 50 cm. After two weeks of daily fires we have about 1/4 stère left so we will have to get wood again next weekend.
I love the Christmas season. The city has put up lights - the octrois (old tax houses) are particularly nice. This inspired us to go down into the basement and take out our box of goodies: the old Angel Chimes from my grandmother and various lights and ornaments from the U.S., Japan and France. This is our first Christmas in our house here in Porchefontaine and so we must arrange old things in a new setting. The chimes found a home in the living room. The crèche (nativity scene) will have to go on the chest of drawers in the dining room (the only surface with enough space for all those santons).
We'll get our usual tree next week but I think this year we will also put up outside lights along the top of the porch. White, I think, to match the ones the city put up along the street. I kept one bag of branches from the juniper (tuya) hedge my parents helped take out last fall and I made a wreath for the door. It's not perfect but not too bad for a first effort. I'm thinking I will decorate the front porch with the rest - a good use for the remaining branches and all those silver and red ribbons I've carried for years from one country to another.
Another area where we mix and match French traditions with American ones is food. From the French side it's chocolate and foie gras and other delicacies. From the American side it's pies, cookies, cakes, and other pastries. I still haven't got the knack of baking for two adults but not a problem - the extra goes to my neighbors and friends. Since our neighbors were kind enough to share their fresh figs from their glorious fig tree (brought to France in a car from Italy a few decades ago), they got a Swedish tea ring with fig filling.
One food tradition from the family in Seattle that I would very much like to revive is making Krumkake, a Norwegian crêpe baked in a mold like a waffle. I have an iron, an old cast iron one with a wood handle that I bought over 25 years ago at a garage sale for a couple dollars. It's stamped "Alfred Andersen & Co. 2424, Minneapolis" and a quick websearch shows that they are still on the market and sold as "vintage" or "antique" Norwegian waffle irons. Amazing. Since I have zero knowledge of Norwegian culture, I can't tell you much more or vouch for the authenticity of any of this but the iron is beautiful and, as of 2013, is 99 years old. Still works and will probably work for another 99 years if the Frenchlings take care of it (a little like the Godin now that I think about it).
My problem is that I have an induction stovetop and there's no way I can see to use the iron on it. Perhaps the woodstove would be of service here. If I can make boeuf bourguignon on it, surely I could whip up a few crumb cakes. Ah, you might be thinking, "This is a woman with too much time on her hands." Perhaps, but they are awfully good and it's food which (happily) is something that people in the Hexagon take seriously.
Sunday Mass was lovely. I can now get through an entire Mass in French and not miss a word (or a response). I can even sing most of the hymns without too much trouble, though I still miss many of the liaisons where the last consonant is dragged over to the first vowel of the next word. Also when we sing the last consonant of words ending in "e", it's drawn out and becomes a separate syllable (something that doesn't happen in regular speech). So prière becomes pri-è-re. If anyone knows why this is, I'd love to have an explanation.
I know when to sit and when to stand (not too different from the Anglophone church I used to go to in Paris). Kneeling is optional and most don't. I do because, well, it's what I was taught and because there is a moment in the ritual where it just feels right. Unlike the American churches I knew, there are no kneelers - padded boards for you to rest your knees. So it's the floor and I'm not so old that I can't handle that for five or ten minutes. I know that this may strike some of you as weird but I've spent a fair amount of my life confusing myself with the Deity which was a recipe for disaster and despair. Kneeling is one way, among many, of acknowledging that God is present, His name is not Victoria (can't kneel before or bow to yourself, right?), and that I will be more (not less) for having done it. It is a graceful act of trustful surrender. As John Waters put it:
"And so it is with belief in God. Previously I was terrified of a world I didn't trust to support me. I feared everything, mistrusted everything. Now I accept, as a matter of fact, that I am part of reality, that I can throw myself into the stuff of everyday and be sure it will embrace my surrender. I cannot think this process into being. I can only do it. It depends on action based on trust, and feeling based on a state of harmony with the world, which can be also called grace."