Monday, April 29, 2013

The Cevenne in the Rain

It's rainy here. It seems to be rainy and cloudy just about everywhere on my iPhone weather app. So we decided to not let the rain slow us down and we went on a hunt for an ancient dolmen (a pile of circular rocks that is a prehistoric burial mound). We could not find trail markings to the site for anything. We drove and drove, back into the mountains through the rain until we came to a pullout on the road with the view above. Lush, dramatic, enchanting. That's the Cevenne!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lost Time

            A remarkable thing happened last week. Both of our watches died! Both batteries gave out, leaving our wrists naked. If you know me, that’s a big deal. I’m a wristwatch guy. I’ve always worn a wrist-watch (oh, for a time I tried pocket watches but they were too bulky). I like (obsess?) about knowing what time it is now and when things should start and end. If you go into my office, you will see several clocks strategically placed in the room so that I can see them easily. When the top of the hour is about to arrive, I like to wind up most meetings to get ready for the next one. It helps now that my iPhone serves as a watch (and alarm clock) as well.
            The French community in which we lives cares little for my kind of punctuality. Worship begins sometime after 10:30 or whenever the power point and musicians are ready. Worship ends when it ends, sometimes an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes or an hour and a half. It just depends on the day and no one worries (except me with my watch).
            Now we are timeless (no pun intended). We wake when we wake up and go to sleep when we are tired. Oh, the car and the iPad have clocks, but they matter little to us now. We have no appointments nor pressing schedule. I write until I need more coffee. We eat when we are hungry. We are paying attention to other signals and rhythms.
            I’m sure I will not keep this up when I return to pastoral life. But its kind of freeing for now!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Travel Thoughts

            Is there such a thing as a travel hang-over? I feel a slight buzz in my head after driving over 2,800 miles and then taking a train back and forth across Norway from Oslo to Bergen. I am not complaining nor whining, but deeply grateful for this high privilege of being able to travel like I just did.
            First, I was able to fulfill a fantasy of a solo road trip through Europe. Last week Monday, I left southern France and drove the north-south length to Metz, France. On Tuesday I drove all the way through Germany to Hamburg. Wow, driving the autobahn with no speed limit was a driving experience like none other. Where do all those Mercedes, Audis and Porsches come from? On Wednesday I drove all the way north through Denmark to the ferry-town of Hirtshal. I walked the town, the dunes and the German gun batteries. The three hour ferry ride across the North Sea was fun, even though it was raining. I got into Horten, Norway (south of Oslo) Thursday night to spend with artist friends, Jan and Vipsen Kohlstad. They put me on a train Saturday morning for Bergen. The train ascended into the mountains, still covered with snow and frozen lakes. I arrived Saturday evening just in time for Martha’s opening (more later). It was sweet to be reunited with Martha and see her fabulous art work!
            Sunday we actually found a Covenant church in Bergen and worshiped with them. We spent the day taking down the show and having dinner with Asbjorn Hollerud (Martha’s former student and director of Trykkeriet Print Studio). We took the train back to Horten on Tuesday, having dinner with Kohlstads that night and left around noon on Wednesday by ferry for Sweden.

  I’ve never been to Sweden before, though I’m 100% Swedish heritage. While it was a longer ride, Martha insisted that we take this opportunity to see where my blood came from. We drove leisurely through the length of Sweden, hitting Smoland (where my roots lie) and Varmland (where some other family came from). We stopped at the café shown below for genuine Swedish coffee and cake. What it did to me was remind me how much Northern Michigan looks just like Smoland: lakes, trees, small farms. But it was also harsh and tough. I can see why my ancestors left the known land for the promised land.

            Wednesday night we stayed in a delightful Best Western in Denmark (exhausted). Thursday we left Denmark, drove though Germany (high speed!) and Luxemborg, and ito France. We made it as far as Dijon for the night at an Ibis hotel next to the train station. Friday we rose early and high-tailed it the last 500 km to our little village in France. On the way in, we decided to have a leisurely lunch at a place we had never tried, an old train station. Oh my! What a surprise: fresh salad, fish, baguette, and cheese, followed by great coffee!
            I’m filled with Europe! Each country has distinct architecture, roof-lines, field arrangements, roads and food. As I traveled north into Scandinavia, I saw myself in the faces and bodies of the people: bigger, ruddy faced. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Coffee in Smoland!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Train from Bergen to Oslo Brrr!

We are back in Oslo (really Horten) now after a great show in Bergen and a 7 hour train ride through the frozen mountains of Norway. Ready for warmth and sun!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Martha blowing glass!

Norway on April 20

Martha's Opening

Saturday night April 20 Martha had a great opening at Foreningen Trykkereit printmaking studio in Bergen Norway. Asbjorn Hollerud, standing next to Martha, is the director and former student of Martha's.

Bergen Covenant Church

Covenant Church in Bergen...who knew?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fresh shrimp & flounder off the boat

Jan & Vipsen in Horten

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Here's where I am this morning

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More trenches

German fortifications on Danish shores

Hirtshal Denmark

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Through Germany

I left Metz, France this morning and drove through morning fog to the autobahn. As I followed slow trucks I looked into the forests and was sure I saw remnants of trenches. But for which war(s)? There has been so much blood shed over centuries here. I drove mostly in silence pondering...my grandfather who fought in France in WWI and my dad who fought in Germany in WWII.
Then I noticed all the wind farms with those huge blades circling slowly. What do they get that we don't?
Autobahn driving is a kick! Who buys all those Mercedes and Audis? When I was driving in the right lane at 130 km/hr I was passed like I was standing still. They really drive fast!
So I've driven about 1,300 km so far, all the way through France & Germany. What a privilege and joy! Tomorrow I head up into Denmark for a ferry ride to Norway Thursday.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Road Trip day 1

I just arrived in Metz France on the first leg of my road trip to Norway. It was a good 750 km of 130km/hr auto route. Big mistake wa leaving my laptop behind. All blogging now on the phone!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Millau Viaduct

            “Let’s go see a bridge together!” was Yves’ idea of a good time while Martha is away. So yesterday we drove 2 hours into the hills and valleys of mid-France to a town called Millau (“Me-o” as Yves pronounced it). We arrived beneath the third of seven pylons of this art-form bridge. Constructed from 2001-2004 it spans 2.4 km. It is the major East-West corridor for the French auto-route. Formerly, traffic clogged going down the mountain and through the town of Millau (taking up to 5 hours in some jams!)
            The bridge is bow-shaped horizontally so it arcs into the prevailing wind like a sail. It’s underside is shaped like a wing and louvered panels on the deck deflect wind to make it stable. The second pylon is the tallest bridge pylon in the world at 343 meters (multiple by about 3 for feet). The circumference of the pylons is that of a regulation tennis court.
            What amazed me is the elegant beauty of architecture and engineering. This was done right, saving money for transportation and crowding for a town. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


            What is it about boys and fire? When I was little there was nothing I enjoyed doing more than helping my dad build a fire or tend a fire. I loved (and still do) real fires in fireplaces and outdoors in my chimera. But today in most states, brush fires are no longer allowed because of air pollution and the nuisance the smoke makes. I recall fond memories of burning piles of leaves in the street or alley and a 50 gallon drum we used to burn paper garbage. But that’s all a memory until today.
            France still allows outdoor burning in the spring when the ground is still wet. You can see tendrils of smoke curling into the sky wherever you drive. Farmers clearing fields and vineyards burning old vines. In fact, two smells dominate France in the spring: diesel exhaust and brush fires.
            Today I joined Yves and his grandson Brian in a wonderful adventure of burning a big pile of dead branches. The air was pretty cold this morning at eight, so much so we could see our breath. The dew was heavy in the grass, making shoes and pant-legs wet. We piled and piled the stick together, then soaked paper with kerosene and set it aflame. Oh boy, did we have fun! It was really fun to watch Brian play with and poke around the fire under Yves’ watchful eye. It was boy-time! We built the fire higher and higher, and the heat hit us in waves. Soon we were sweating with both the effort and from the radiant heat. After a couple of hours I was soaked with sweat and smoke, thoroughly happy! It was a good morning!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

My Perch

            This is my perch. Our apartment is in the lower unit seen next to the power pole. The weather has been most helpful for writing: grey, cold and rainy. My routine is monkish with a twist. I rise before light and make coffee. I dress warmly and read in the Bible for at least an hour (about 3 cups of coffee). Then I retrieve emails and upload news sites (I have to go outside to do this). I read during breakfast, shower, change and dive into writing until my brain freezes (usually around 10:00 am). I get more email, walk around, or do something to unfreeze my brain and then go back to writing (with more coffee of course).
            I have been able to finish my long project on sacred time and sacred space. Now I’m working on a devotional project revolving around the questions God asks us. But I’m doing all this alone. Martha is busy in Bergen, Norway being artist-in-residence at a printmaking atelier. While spring is reluctantly springing here in southern France (not two sunny days in a row yet), it’s been snowing on Martha in Norway. I’m glad I’m here.
            What I’ve noticed as I’ve read and pondered:
1.     God’s questions are tough!
2.     Paul prays a lot for believers.
3.     Jesus uses a lot of imperative verbs
4.     Being faithful to Jesus is a battle
5.     Some people don’t make it
6.     The center of the faith is always Jesus
7.     The church is non-negotiable, it’s part of God’s plan
8.     Good people screw up

Friday, April 05, 2013

A New Chapter

            A new chapter in my sabbatical began today. Since February 12, Martha and I have lived the sabbatical leave in France together. I mean, really together. We share a small two bedroom apartment. One room was Martha’s studio and the other was our bedroom. I spent my time in the living room reading and writing and Martha in her studio. We ate every meal together, drove together, walked together, shopped together, and talked together. Today we are apart.
            Yesterday we drove 700 km north to Orly Airport in Paris to spend the night. Martha flew successfully to Bergen Norway today to begin her 3 week artist-in-residence at an atelier in Bergen with a former student, who now runs the atelier, Asbjorn Hollerud. It’s a big deal for her and I am excited for her show on April 20 in Bergen.
            I drove back today alone. That was a big deal too. Martha is the best navigator I could ever imagine. She knows directions and has hunches about which highway to take. We have been driving France successfully since 2000 together. I drive, she navigates. Today I drove and navigated alone. It was weird.
            First of all, the radio would not turn off. I left Paris in crazy traffic with a French radio station going at full blast. It would not respond to the volume knob or go off. It just blathered. The desk clerk gave me specific directions how to get out of our construction encircled hotel on to the major auto-route A-6. It worked!
            In heavy and slow traffic, I figured out how to connect my iPhone to the radio and play music (Over The Rhine) continually. But I got out of Paris successfully. The photo above could be anywhere from Paris south 500 km. Grey, foggy and drizzly and cold. The nicest thing about Paris was getting out of it! The next big hurdle was to get through Lyon. The A-6 turns into the A-7 right in the heart of the city. So I used my gps and dialed in a hotel south of the city. It worked just great until it told me to take a turn in 400 meters. A turn showed up, I took it, and found myself downtown Lyon, along the Rhone River, in heavy traffic, away from the A-6 or 7! Where was Martha when I needed her!
            Luckily I saw a sign pointing to A-6 direction of Marseilles (south of Lyon) and headed to it and go out of Lyon after about an hour of wandering around laughing! Yes, I laughed at getting myself into this.
            The trip south got better and better, sunnier and sunnier as I headed into Languedoc. Martha emailed me when I got to a MacDonald’s rest stop (the one restaurant with free wifi) that she had already landed in Bergen. She beat me by two hours!
            Now my next chapter begins of reading and writing in more solitude than I’ve ever had. What a privilege.

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