I Dream of Foreign Places and Dog-Free Spaces

Someone – I don’t know who – pooped on the welcome mat. I discovered it early one morning while chasing my teenage son to the school bus with a wet mop as he’s not a morning person,

Don't let that face fool you - she's a walking toilet

Don’t let that face fool you – she’s a walking toilet

doesn’t shower enough, and thinks 16-year-old boys shouldn’t have to ride the school bus but, instead, should be driving a smoking hot sports car with booming speakers and teenaged girls taking up every spare inch of space.

But I digress.

As I was saying, someone pooped on the welcome mat, and I’m hoping it was the dog, but in this house with these kids and my particular breed of husband, everyone is a suspect.  Being an optimist, I realized things could be worse.  For one thing, a) it had hardened by the time I found it and b) I hadn’t fertilized the shrubs in a while.  So, finding lemons and making lemonade, I gave the mat a quick flip, tossed the little unwrapped gift under the hopefully hungry yew and called it a morning.  Extra cup of coffee, here I come.

I love that extra cup of coffee because it comes with a quiet house and sleeping pets and time to think.  It’s that blessed in-between time when all is still and it’s not yet time to report to the home office.  It’s my time to sit, to sip and to dream – dream about a cleaner house, thinner thighs, constipated pets and, more often than not, of foreign times in foreign lands with foreign people in a beautiful little space charmingly free of cat hair.

My heart belongs to Venice

My heart belongs to Venice

I’ve found such a place in the form of my dream Go with Oh apartment in that magical place known as Venice, Italy.  When my dreams take me away like a 747 flying high over my rolling Hoosier farmland, I still find it hard to believe such a place does, in fact, exist.  How could this place, this magical watery space, be real?

When I planned my first of hopefully many trips to Venice in the spring of 2012, I spent many a happy idle hour drooling over Go with Oh apartments in Venice.  Did I want to be near the Piazza San Marco?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

Or was something overlooking the Rialto Bridge more my style? Or perhaps I should consider something half hidden away in the looming shadow of the Santa Maria de Miricoli with her pink laced marble walls and her gleaming dome? Maybe one of the outlying islands would be fun.

Decisions, decisions.

While I could have happily searched for Go with Oh apartments for an eternity, I eventually, found what I was looking for – a lovely two-bedroom, two bath beauty with multiple windows and balconies overlooking the San Severo River, with an actual terrace AND an actual fireplace in the kitchen and a wide entry hall just begging for weary travelers to enter, unwind and toss down their luggage.  Pinch me until I’m pink, I found heaven on earth!!!

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

It was everything one could dream of.  One bedroom – MY bedroom – featured wooden parquet floors tread by who knows how many Venetian tradesmen.  A wooden desk sat between two windows overlooking the canal and a bridge – an actual Venetian bridge with its graceful arch and bobbing boats for neighbors.  I could easily imagine that desk and that bridge just waiting for me to show up with pen and paper to sit, stare and write.  Venetian glass chandeliers winked overhead.  Within the kitchen stood a wide open door to a terrace featuring who knows what kind of wonderful view outside.

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I wanted to waltz into that kitchen, open that door and step outside to know –  really know – what was out there.  As long as it wasn’t a pooping puppy, I knew I would be thrilled!

And in real estate they say what matters is location, location, location and my Go with Oh San Severo beauty had that too. While everything in Venice is near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, this one was so tantalizingly close that I imagine I could stand on that balcony and hear the ghostly breath of long dead prisoners coming from the Bridge of Sighs. I imagined I could pick out the domes of St. Mark’s against the one-of-a-kind Venetian skyline and I knew I

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door...

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door…

would be able to hear the ringing bells of the piazza’s tower.

Sadly, however, like many a beautiful woman, my Go with Oh San Severo love had many suitors and she was unavailable to rent the week I needed her.

First the denial – no, how could that be??? Then, the heartbreak!

And then, I returned to my Go with Oh apartment list and found the next love of my life, Ca ‘Elena.  Think what you will, she was no rebound apartment and in September of 2012, I fell in love with her too.  In fact, my heart will always belong to my little Ca ‘Elena.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=0&babies=0

With that said, I WILL go back to Venice and I WILL take friends and family with me – but not the dog.  And I WILL begin a new love affair with the lovely Go with Oh San Severo beauty.  Until then, I will wash the clothes and pick up after the children and feed hard cheese and bananas to the dog in hopes of avoiding a

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark's in the nearby Piazza San Marco

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark’s in the nearby Piazza San Marco

repeat offense on the welcome mat.  I will clip my coupons and I will save my pennies and soon – hopefully very soon – I will be making plans and packing bags and sharpening pencils.

Because eventually I will sit at that bedroom desk and I will gaze at that bridge and I will write a line or two about what it means to travel and see the world.  I will make memories and take pictures and I will fall in love again with new spaces and places.  And, eventually, I will go home, but I will take with me a little of that watery, wonderful world that is Venice, Italy.

Here is a link to my future foreign Go with Oh San Severo home away from home.  I’ll share it with you now because I’m a nice person and I know I’m not the only middle-aged mom wrestling with crusty teenagers and pooping pets.

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy.  May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy. May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Think of it as my little gift to you – and you’re welcome!

But it does come with a caveat.  While I’m sharing it with you, remember one thing – I’ve got dibs on next September.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_15447/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=&babies=

With that said, get to Venice.  Everyone needs a little living, breathing slice of real world fantasy to hold on to.  Now excuse me. I have to go diaper the dog.

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Robin Winzenread Fritz

Missionary Style – An Idiot’s Guide to Doing Good Works in Haiti (Part I)

These young boys stole my heart in Haiti.

These young boys stole my heart in Haiti.

The sun has set on my first mission trip to Haiti, but I hope and pray it won’t be my last.  It was a soul-satisfying adventure that came with good people, great experiences and a unique learning curve.  As I hope my experience will encourage others to take a chance and do good works there too, let me share with you what I’ve learned…. so far.

 I’m tackling this task in two parts.  Part I which follows focuses on the big picture items.  Part II will tackle the more practical aspects of missionary work in Haiti, such as how to pack, what to bring and which toilet to poop in as – trust me, on this – it makes a difference.

 My hope is that, as 2012 draws to a close, you too will be inspired to go out into the world and make an attempt – any attempt, no matter how big or how small – to leave it better than you found it. 

But before I begin, a huge shout of THANKS goes out to everyone who made this trip possible – David Duba (our fearless leader), the United Methodist Church of Fishers, Indiana (our sponsor), the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti (site of our work projects), and the United Methodist guest house and Paster Chrisnel (our host for the week in Jeremie).

Jeremie, Haiti as viewed from our Cessna commuter plane

Jeremie, Haiti as viewed from our Cessna commuter plane

Part I – the Big Picture

Be open to being led – Prior to my trip, my well-traveled sister and brother-in-law regaled me with tales of how the people of the Dominican Republic told them not to set foot in Haiti.  They warned me about the poor infrastructure, general lawlessness and disease.  Were they wrong to do so?  No.  Haiti is not a place to be tread lightly or, perhaps I should say more accurately – it is not a place to be tread stupidly. 

BUT, if you chose your leader wisely, it IS a place that can be experienced with a relative degree of safety.  I say relative because, like all places – including elementary schools in Connecticut – safety is an elusive thing and is often very relative to how you conduct yourself or what precautions you take.

Dave and Martin plan the work, then work the plan

Dave and Martin plan the work, then work the plan

In our case, our fearless leader, David Duba, has traveled to Haiti many, many times.  As he is tall, lean, with great posture and carries a very well-worn Army knapsack as his luggage of choice, he comes across like a modern day Rambo with more intelligence.  In short, it pays to travel with someone who just looks like he knows what he’s doing, especially when he does.

Additionally, David had arranged for us not one but three interpreters whom he knows well and has worked with in the past.  Moreover, he arranged drivers for us during our two Port-au-Prince stopovers – a necessity to avoid being swarmed by crowds of strange Haitian men lingering outside of the airport looking to give you a ride.  If you’re thinking New York City yellow cab, think again.  DO NOT get into a car with a strange man in Port-au-Prince, even if it is at the airport.  Trust me.  Arrange a driver and, if you need one, let me know.  I’ll get Nader’s number for you.  I think Dave has him on speed dial.

Commuting in Port-au-Prince, Hait

Commuting in Port-au-Prince, Hait

Be smart, but have faith in your fellow man – I’ll admit it, Port-au-Prince was outside of my comfort zone.  While I was looking forward to our end destination of Jeremie on the far southwestern coast, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the seething humanity of Haiti’s capital.  Plus, it didn’t help that as we left the international airport for our one kilometer drive to the municipal airport, I encountered my first ever experience with the realities of a developing nation.  Step outside the airport and you enter another world.

As Nader ushered us out the door, we headed straight for a white van while Nader and Dave waved off the initial crush of strange men looking for a pay day.  While putting my backpack in the back of the van, Nader said to me, rather urgently, I might add, “Get in.  Close the door.”

As he repeated those two phrases with more urgency each time, I hopped in the van and climbed in the back row.  Young David Duba – Rambo Dave’s son who joined us on the trip – climbed in too and left the door open.  As Nader proceeded to shout, “Close the door!  Close the door!” another white van pulled up close beside us.  With my heart in my throat, I watched as a large man dark as night climbed out beside us.  Isn’t this how Port-au-Prince kidnappings start, I wondered?  And as my heart rate increased I watched as this large man approached our van and… closed the door for us.

Haiti is full of good people, including these two lovely young ladies who enjoyed playing with a matching game app on my cellphone

Haiti is full of good people, including these two lovely young ladies who enjoyed playing with a matching game app on my cellphone

Silly me.  No, in Haiti, it’s not wrong to have your guard up.  Self preservation is a natural instinct.  But time and time again when I travel, I’m reminded that I should have more faith in my fellow man.  Yes, there are bad people in this world, but there are so many more good ones too, and we tend to forget about that fact.  In Haiti – when it came to my fellow man – I encountered way more good than bad.

Case in point – and it’s an odd example, I’ll admit – was that of my cell phone charger which took a hike in Haiti.  The last time I saw it, it was in an outside pocket attached to my backpack strap with Velcro.  Someone at the airport in Haiti helped themselves to it, but, rather than keeping the detachable pocket it came in, they took it out and put that very same pocket back into my backpack.  In short, he or she only took what was needed.  As I have a spare charger at home and can also charge my phone from anyone of four computers and two laptops via a UBS port, I can hardly begrudge them a phone charger.  Do I blame them?  No.  BUT, take it from me, if you don’t want to “lose” something of value, put it inside your luggage.  It’s ok to trust your fellow man, but, at the same time, don’t tempt him.

Women carry heavy loads on their heads, including water and produce.  These birds are going to market.

Women carry heavy loads on their heads, including water and produce. These birds are going to market. Photo by David Duba

Be patient, you’re on Haitian time – In short, leave your American “time is money” mindset at home.  Life moves to a slower beat in Haiti, and slowness has value.  This is a country where few people have running water in their homes.  The mere act of getting water – walking up hill and down, balancing large buckets on your head, day in and day out – sets a pace that moves slower than most Americans are use to.  We turn on a faucet and it’s there.  For many Haitians, it’s a 30 or 40 minute uphill hike away from home.

Taking motocycles to the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti.  The roads can be a bit challenging.

Taking motocycles to the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti. The roads can be a bit challenging.  Photo by David Duba

Plus, the roads are pitted, gravel and just plain bad, and even short trips take time.  A five and a half mile trek up the mountain in a four-wheel drive diesel truck took us 45 minutes.  To some, that may sound like torture, but that ride remains one of the highlights of my trip.  I sat in the bed of that truck with young David and Martin, one of our interpreters, watching the mountains and Caribbean sea unfold as we made our bumpity-bump-bump way up into the hills. 

This slower pace is not a bad thing.  Haiti is an experience that needs to be savored.  It’s not a world of drive-thru windows and freezer meals.  So park the impatience at the airport, relax and enjoy.  Your blood pressure will thank you.

Remnants of Hurricane Sandy haunt the beautiful jungles of Haiti.

Remnants of Hurricane Sandy haunt the beautiful jungles of Haiti.  Photo by David Duba

Next time, I’ll tackle the more practical aspects of navigating a mission trip in Haiti.

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

Blimey, I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

The first thing I saw were fists, tiny little fists raised to the air shaking with anger, confusion, fear, who knows.  She doesn’t recall why she raised her fists, partly because it didn’t appear on her favorite TV show, Merlin, or on her Kindle, and partly because she was only seconds old.  But I remember it like yesterday as it was the very first time I ever laid eyes on my daughter – ultra sound not withstanding- and she came out with a bang.  Her dark red hair was askew, her lungs were in good working order (and haven’t failed since) and those tiny fists were raised to the sky, making one thing abundantly clear – tiny or not, Jackie Marie was ready to take on the world.

My baby girl at her first communion, no doubt dreaming of a boy with an Irish brogue…. or wondering how far she can spit from there.

And now, she’s just one month shy of 18 years old, a high school senior planning her future.  For her, that future includes prom, graduation, fighting with her brother, heading off to college and – if we plan right and save accordingly – her dream trip to Ireland.

The Irish coast is a calling

That’s where Go with Oh’s dream contest comes into play.  I want to make my daughter’s Irish dream trip come true.  And if I get to tag along for the ride, so be it!

Despite our last name of Fritz, Jackie and I are Irish on my mother’s side (Kelley) and have the strawberry blonde hair, green eyes and freckles to prove it.  We don’t tan so much as pink up and Jackie has more Celtic music on her iPod than pop. She’s in love with all things Anglo Saxon, but not in a creepy Nazi sort of way, and she swoons at even a hint of an Irish brogue in any member of the opposite sex.  As for me, when I get mad, I try to cuss like an Irish sailor, but it clashes with my Catholic school upbringing, though somehow I manage.  If you prick our fingers, we bleed shamrocks and when I pee, it foams like Guinness. Don’t worry – I’m having that checked out.

The Bingley Bridge

Jackie’s dream is to live in Ireland, teach history, marry an Irish man and raise their adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Riley or whatever his last name may be, in the rolling green hills of the mother country.  Yes, you read that right.  Someday I may be the only Hoosier with Chinese grandchildren living in Ireland. Jackie’s learning Gaelic, has plastered her school binders with pictures of the Irish countryside, and works at Burger King partly to save for her graduation trip and partly because she’s too young and her mother won’t let her work at the Titled Kilt. Yeah, she’s that committed.  And yeah, I know that’s Scottish, but it’s close.

Hence our mother and daughter dream trip to Ireland.  Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to Dublin we Go with Oh – we hope!

We don’t see many castles in Indiana

As a mother, I relish the thought of joining her on that trip for many reasons.  From what I’ve seen from pictures, Ireland is stunning.  Imagine how amazing it would be to stand on the ramparts of a castle ruin trying to count how many different shades of green one can see.  Whether we’re strolling the gardens of Trinity College or ambling down a cobbled stone street in some tiny Irish village or hanging upside down to kiss the Blarney stone, one can bet the surroundings will be stunning.

It’s just waiting to be explored

Plus, it’s dripping with history, a love my bookworm daughter and I both share.  I can easily imagine us enoying a gray afternoon in the National Museum of Ireland steeping in Celtic history and Irish lore.  After all, there’s Viking Irish history and medieval Irish history and let’s not forget about iron-aged Irish history – so much to discover and so little time.  And when the museums are few and far between, we most certainly will stumble into every church that strays near our path.  Bring on the incense and candles!

And, there’s that family connection too. How many Kelleys will we find?  And will any of them claim us?  After all, who doesn’t want to visit their ancestral roots, even if they include more than a wee bit of drunken debauchery?

Which brings me to my next set of reasons for joining her on her trip – parental supervision required.  Much like her mother, Jackie has tasted a glass of wine or two and liked it, plus she’ll be 18, of legal age, in a foreign country, smitten by boys with Irish accents and able to go to the bars.  Not that I don’t trust her, mind you, but a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, and if that includes Irish bar hopping, sign me up.  After all, it sure beats sending her to her room.

Lovely, lovely Dublin

 So a good part of our mother-daughter dream trip will be an indoctrination into responsible adulthood before I send her off to college.  Yes, we will be on vacation and yes, we will be exploring the wonders of Ireland in all their radiant green glory, and yes, we WILL go to the Dublin bars, but it will also be our time to talk, to share, to plan and to practice for that next stage of her life.  August will be here before we know it and with it will be college and moving her into the dorm.  She’ll be tasting that first sweet taste of real independence.  Sure, she’ll still be my baby girl, but she’ll be off on her own. It’s enough to make a mother cry with both joy AND dread.

How do I love thee? Let me count the greens.

But to have a dream week with my daughter in Ireland will make that transition so much more bearable from a maternal point of view.  It will still be delightfully painful to part with her this fall, but that looming pain of sending my little Peaches off into the real world will be tempered by those sweet green Irish memories of our time together.  It will still sting and I will still cry, but that’s life and we’ll always have Ireland.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  http://www.gowithoh.com/

And enter the competition at: http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out in it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

Hanging with my baby girl in New York

By Robin Fritz

San Michele and the Art of Venice Past

The cemetery island of San Michele beckons from across the lagoon

 
Sonia Kaliensky lies above her tomb, hauntingly realistic in bronze.  Her cold hand shines in the sunlight, polished smooth by the touch of many strangers. An aristocratic Russian beauty, she killed herself in her room at the Hotel Danieli in Venice, Italy on February 6, 1907, a victim of an unhappy love affair.  Now she lays interred forever on the isle of San Michele off the shores of Venice proper.

The tomb of Sonia Kaliensky

These things were told to me by Antonio, a lithe middle-aged man who wandered aimlessly about the cemetery, smoking and occasionally sitting in between hitting on me like the red-blooded Venetian he was.  Leave it to the Italians to combine love and death so effortlessly.

One of many courtyards within the former Franciscan monestery

I had not come to San Michele for a date, but rather, to stroll in solitude among the dark cypress pines that peaked above the glowing terracotta walls surrounding the island.

The bell tower

  These walls stared out at me from across the lagoon as I stood on the Fondamenta Nove and I was determined to visit.

The Piazza San Marco may be the biggest draw when visiting Venice, but when the tourists, pigeons and souvenir carts wear thin, vaporetto lines 41 and 42 will drop visitors at this haven of peace before heading on to Murano. 

Walking through the gates, it’s apparent the island had its beginnings as a monastery, but what’s not readily apparent at first is the sheer magnitude and stunning beauty of the funerary art within, for the tomb of fair Sonia is only a sample.

Established as a cemetery by Napoleon, it is maintained by the Franciscans whose church, San Michele, was built in 1469. 

Yet another stunning courtyard within San Michele

I made my way first through the cool shade of the loggia courtyard, admiring one worn crypt after another until I arrived at the church which gleams blindingly white against the blue green depths of the lagoon to one side and the evergreen darkness of what must be thousands of cypress to the other.

Stunning art abounds within the walls of San Michele church

Hidden treasures abound within the church, for few tourists visit on a regular basis, and the echoes of one’s own footsteps ring out loudly within her stone walls.  She is replete with glorious nooks and crannies and, like so many ancient Catholic churches, drips with beauty from her worn inlaid floor to her stunning ceiling so high above.

Pictures don’t do this justice

As delightful as the church of San Michele is, even more rewarding is the joy of ambling through the cemetery itself, stumbling upon statute after carving after bass relief, concocted by unsung Venetian artists to memorialize those long dead and possibly forgotten.  It leaves you breathless to say the least.

A domed crypt awaits to be explored

One can easily spend hours exploring her cool depths for her avenues of cypress escort you from one treasure to the next.  Whether it be peering out through the main gates to Venice proper or hunting the graves of such famous inhabitants as Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinsky, San Michele is nothing if not engaging.

One of many glorious statutes

Stunning mosaic portrait

As I stood on the jetty awaiting the vaporetto back to the Fondamenta Nove, I couldn’t help but think how, once again, Venice has managed to get it right.  What elevates Venice so in our imaginations is how she manages to take such everyday things as walking, shopping, praying, eating and living to such a magical level.  That Venetians have done the same with death should not come as a surprise.  While the modern dead now only rest in peace on San Michele for 10 years before moving mainland to a more permanent interment, it’s a 10-year respite I wouldn’t mind for myself.

From the inside looking out – the view out of the main gates toward Fondamenta Nove

The locals drape this lovely statute with rosaries as they leave San Michele

This ancient plaque is dissolving in the wind

An avenue of cypress beckons

Italians make even funerary art sexy

In San Michele, it’s wise to look up

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Paris

It was the lime green pleather jumpsuit with a hot-pink plastic zipper down the front that told the tale.  This was no ordinary Parisan woman strolling past my table at 6 a.m. as I dipped my croissant in coffee near the Gare de l ’Est rail station.  Rather, this vibrantly clad neon woman was a “poole,” a street walker, a hooker, a whore, a what have you – she was a prostitute, don’t you know – and as a 16-year-old virginal Midwestern Catholic school girl freshly flown in as a foreign exchange student in 1980, I was thrilled! 

Surrounded by Indiana cornfields, we don’t get a lot of polyester-clad prostitutes strolling past the breakfast table fresh from stimulating the economy.  It’s a somewhat tamer atmosphere.  Given the lack of adventure, I often find myself wanting more.  And that, my friends, is why I travel.

It’s been 32 years since I last set foot in Paris and my bucket list for adventure has grown.  In that time, I’ve managed to wet my way down the ice toboggan at the winter festival in Quebec City, catch a tiny crab with my inner ear while diving off Key Largo, and chase big city rats for a photo op in Central Park, but now it’s time to go back to the grande dame that is Paris, pen in hand, and cross off a few items.  The lime green jumpsuit I imagine is long since gone, though I doubt it’s deteriorated much in the landfill, and as for the hooker – well, who knows?  But the city is still there as are the croissants and the coffee and the people, and when I do get back, here’s what I hope to accomplish:

1)   Eat my way through a moveable feast.

As clichéd as Hemingway’s Paris may sound to the well heeled and better traveled than I, it’s still my go-to dream when the laundry’s piled high and my teenagers’ socks smell like runny French cheese.  Having devoured that book more than once, it’s time to walk in Ernie and Hadley’s footsteps no matter how many decades separate us.  Much like them, I desire a decent meal at a good café on the Place St.-Michel when a bitter wind blows the rain sodden leaves from the trees in Place de la Contrescarpe.  And I too will wile away a windy day wrapped in the musty warmth of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore where I’m sure I can find a less tattered version of this Hemingway classic.

2)   Strike the mountain pose at sunrise in the Square Jean XXIII

They say yoga is a great stress reliever, but when I strike a pose my husband sticks a frying pan in my outstretched arms and balances a package of bacon on my head.  Not so in the Square Jean XXIII – it’s refreshingly oven free.  Butting up against the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame (perfect inspiration for a day of downward-facing-dog) this peaceful oasis alongside the river offers up gardens, trees, immense manicured walkways and a gurgling fountain, all within the shadow of this classic cathedral.  Accessed by St.Stephen’s door within Notre Dame, it is a sea of sunrise calm and a great way to kick off a day filled with plans of completing item No. 3.

 3)   Partake in a mini communion marathon at church after church after church…

As Catholics go, I’m far from devote, but exploring unknown churches – the more cathedral like the better – leaves me drooling like an old priest over a new alter boy.  Everything about ancient cathedrals leaves me breathless – from the smell of burning beeswax and incense, to the smooth feel of the well worn stone floors underfoot, to the broken multi-colored light streaming through brittle stained glass – it’s sigh inducing on so many levels.  And in Paris, one can trip over an ancient church like a Starbucks in Seattle– they’re everywhere – which necessitates a plan.

For me, it’s not enough to just visit these timeless treasures.  No, my desire is to become a part of their active history and ancient ritual by taking in a quick half-hour mass with communion to follow in as many churches as I can stumble into before the communion wine sinks me like the Titanic.  Thus distant is a factor, leading me to start off with the queen of all churches – Notre Dame (hence the a.m. yoga session) – followed by her adorable kid sister, Sainte-Chapelle of the glowing Rose window fame.  After a hearty chug of communion wine, it’s time to sprint four blocks northeast to the hulking queen that is St.-Eustache where I can recover in her quiet Gothic beauty before hailing a cab to the Latin Quarter where St.-Severin will treat me to one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the city.

And if four masses and communion don’t get me off the hook for that priest joke, perhaps I can cage absolution with a quickie confession at St.-Paul-St.-Louis, built in 1641 for Cardinal Richeleu.  On second thought, maybe not.

4)   Burn a hole in my Batobus pass

Given my family’s Navy roots and sailing background, I can’t visit any water-wealthy locale and not set foot on a boat.  Fortunately, Paris accommodates in that regard with its hop on, hop off Batobus, the floating equivalent of a city bus which navigates the Seine hitting all of its high points, both Left Bank and Right.  Boats run on a generous schedule with departures happening every 17 to 35 minutes – the difference, I imagine, being a function of traveling upstream or down and whether any bodies are floating by – one of the seedy habitual uses of the river by pissed off Parisians since ancient times.

5)   Channel my inner gypsy at Bistrot d’ Eustache

Much as I love exploring churches and riding on boats, they pale in comparison to my first real love – eating good food – and in Paris, one can eat some seriously good food.  But who doesn’t appreciate dinner and a show, especially when that show includes local musicians playing some seriously hot gypsy jazz?  Get there early on a Thursday night when this tiny little handkerchief of a restaurant features live musicians, chain yourself to a table, order up the house specialty and prepare to be entertained.

And next – wait, what?  We’re limited to five?  But how can one limit a city like Paris to a bucket list of five?  Who doesn’t also want to discover some unknown starving artist?  Or snag an invite to an autumn house party on Ile St. Louis?  Or swing by No. 51 Rue de Montmorency and see if Nicholas Flamel left behind any useful anti-aging tips?

Well, five it is, and it’s a start and from there more items for the list will most definitely come.  Because a bucket list is never EVER really finished, is it?  Much like a grocery list, there’s always one more item to add.

So, what’s on yours?

Go with OhFor more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes through their Facebook contest, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/

by Robin Fritz