We have felt a bit cut off from the world for the past few days due to lack of Internet access. The afternoon before last, there was a rainstorm of biblical proportions (think Noah) with a bit of lightening thrown in. Ever since then we have had no connectivity at all. Our landlord, a British expat, just shrugged when I asked him about it and said, "This is France, what did you expect, this is the state of things here!" I can't say I am truly qualified to comment on the veracity of his prognostication on the entire state of the nation but as to the French information highway I can corroborate that at the best of times we have found bandwidth in France to be as narrow as the country tracks they consider to be two lane roads and as reliable as their weather forecasts. As a result we have not been able to touch base with our upcoming rentals in regards to arrival times and finalizing times to visit with relatives in Holland. The whole Internet situation has exacerbated our difficulties in getting out regular blog posts over the past couple of weeks. Once we get behind on one post we quickly lose momentum and motivation to keep up. It can feel as hopeless as trying to pass by a French patisserie without going in and buying something (or more like several somethings).
Perhaps it was the need for an alternate way to communicate with the outside world that prompted Muriel and I to rush, bleary-eyed, out the door for a church service this morning. The only thing that has been later than our blog posts recently has been our morning rising times. Muriel and I were acting on a recommendation we saw written in the guest book of our gite. The guest wrote, "If you want to experience something really different and amazing...make sure you drive to visit the Abbaye Mondaye for mass." We had no idea what to expect. Perhaps it would be a service in Latin accompanied by monks in black habits and sandals singing in Gregorian chant.
What we found was quite a large cathedral attached to a monastery that was absolutely packed with locals. We would estimate by a rough count of pews that there were at least 400 people in attendance at this church in the middle of the countryside at least 35 minutes from any sizeable town. Our arrival at the very last minute was suitably punished by having to sit in a pew directly behind a massive pillar. Others who were even later than us had the additional damnation of being assigned to ancient, I would almost dare say pre-Christian, benches along the sides with several pillars to contend with. Since the church is part of a monastery the service is well staffed and the pageantry far more than you would expect to find in run-of-the-mill Catholic Church service. I was thinking that perhaps even a pope might feel at home here. There were six altar boys, seven monks in white robes (no blackrobed Jesuits here), ten priests, an abbot/bishop and enough incense to make you double check if the church was on fire.
All the reports that say no one goes to church in France are at odds with what we witnessed. The congregation was an even representation of all generations with a healthy collection of crying babies and teenagers along with the expected gray-haired set. What we found notable, was the mixing of the priests and monks with the congregation after the service. Everyone was chatting with each other with great familiarity and affection. It would seem the rural French, in this area of Normandy at least, have kept their religious traditions alive and have a real affection for their clergy. If I am not mistaken, I saw a cake the size of a small car tire being passed off to one of the priests by a parishioner. By the look of the prelate's girth this was probably not the first such gesture of appreciation he has received from a congregant.
During the service one young boy partook in his first communion. He looked to be about seven years old and was dressed in an ivory coloured suit complete with ivory coloured shirt and bowtie. Despite the large number of people watching he looked quite at ease. The warm and friendly smiles from all the priests and monks seemed a key factor in his demeanour. We left the service realizing that it is the rural communities that preserve a culture and allow the urbanites to take a sober second look at what they are at risk of losing in terms of cultural practices and community. It is not to say that those in the country have it all right, they just don't have it all wrong either. There is no doubt that institutions, beliefs and practices really do need change in the light of the knowledge of the times but this doesn't mean it is in anyway healthy or wise to indiscriminately chuck it all either. That was enough intellectual fodder for reflection for the rest of the day.
It was overcast and rainy so we decide to remain at our gite. We like this quiet place in the country even with its quirks. Besides the unreliable or non-existent Internet service, there is the gas range. We have cooked nearly exclusively with gas in Europe. We have become much more appreciative of this method and have been thinking of eventually converting to gas back home. If our experience here was our first introduction to gas cooking we would be more likely singing a different tune like I would put an open campfire in my kitchen before using gas.
Our landlord made the odd statement when showing us the gite that stove was gas but it cooked really hot. I didn't ask him to explain. The gas canister connected to the stove is not particularly unusual but the sooty flames of the burners makes a coal burning cookstove look like the epitome of cleanliness. Try as we might we can't help but getting soot all over the place. The gas oven set off the smoke detectors twice this evening. Another quirk is the incessant beeping that occurs outside when it gets dark. Some comments in the guestbook suggest it might be the sound of frogs. I have grown up in a house next to a frog pond so I have heard a lot of frogs in my time and this really didn't seem like any species except of the digital kind. The beeping occurs in a recurrent pattern of single beeps. It might be something meant to keep birds or animals away from gardens and fields at night. It is something else to ponder today.
My pondering about electronic frogs lead to questioning my hosts the next morning. The beeping was produced by frogs. I wouldn't have believed it. Now if only I could have figured out how to take their "batteries" out last night I would have had an even better slumber last night.