Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

What is a Protestant to do about Mary? It’s a question that naturally arises at Christmas, and while I have yet to find a satisfactory resting place on the subject, I lean toward the view that the Protestant church as a whole has thrown the baby out with the bath water. Though I first engaged with this question about seven years ago when I went off to a largely Catholic college, it reappeared on my radar this year through two events: first, my trip to Italy in the spring and, second, my attending an academic conference at Notre Dame this November.

You simply cannot escape Ma Donna in Italy. She’s everywhere and usually more prominently placed than Jesus. I don’t have peace about embracing the full Catholic doctrine of Mary, but an email I received during this time opened my eyes to a new way of appreciating the Marian art I was experiencing daily. This person wrote about Jesus’ mother as

the representative of all believers in all ages.  She ascends to be with Jesus and is a joint-heir with Him.  She even births the physical expression of God in the world as all believers do when they live out their lives gloriously communicating salvation to all.  She was able to say to the angel, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord” and let God do through her what she could never have imagined for herself.  She simply agreed to whatever God had in mind for her.  She is content in her sorrow and grief, through plenty of suffering and difficulties, because she trusts God.  She is not the author of her own sorrows, but suffers in order to be part of God’s purpose in ending all suffering.  I am inspired by her quiet submission.  She doesn’t insist that God fulfill her plans.  She accepts her role in fulfilling His.  She isn’t judging the value of her role as better/worse or more/less.  She simply fulfills her part.

Isn’t that beautiful and profound? A few days later, I visited the Frari Church in Venice and beheld this masterpiece of Titian’s:

Image from Wikipedia. Click photo for link.

While I had studied Assumption of the Virgin in an art history course before leaving the States, what struck me as I gawked in its physical presence was the JOY and WONDER and GLORY of it all! That idea of “Mary as the representative of all believers in all ages” rushed back to me. Here she is, a woman whom we know to be a faithful, humble, courageous believer, portrayed as a magnificent creature ascending in glory to her (and our!) intended position as child of God and co-heir with Christ. How amazing and inspiring it is! Why must I hold on to my own flat, fear-driven ideas of my glory and who I think should and must be when God has something MAGNIFICENT in mind? That’s what I saw in this painting: the magnificence of God’s intentions for me and the paleness of my own dead substitutes. In short, I walked away inspired and deeply thankful that we have been creating art about the believer for the past two thousand years, whether or not her name is Mary.

Later, when I stopped alone in Reims, France, to visit the great Cathedral there, a second piece of Marian art touched me deeply.

Can you see how Jesus is crowning Mary? You cannot see their expressions clearly in my iPhone photo, but the beauty and, again, wonder of the scene overwhelmed me on that gray morning. This is another scene that I think can apply to all believers. Yet how can it be? How is it that I too — I, Alison —  am intended to be honored as a co-heir with my Saviour? How is this possible? It is beyond my comprehension, and so is the kind of God who would hold such a thing in His heart for me. What strange beauty. What great love.


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Summer Salad Recipe

I’ve been experimenting with our salads in the past couple of weeks, based on several ideas I picked up in France. This is one of my husband’s and my favorites so far.

I started with a bed of whole organic romaine lettuce leaves, then added pan-fried potato slices. I am so excited about these potatoes because they are purple outside and inside!

How cool is that? I found them at my farmers’ market. They are gorgeous and taste so fresh and sweet. I was very pleased to find them again this year.

Then, I added a pile of fresh, raw corn from our farmers’ market. I ate a lot of fresh corn in my salads in France, in everything from riz Nicoise to tabbouleh to cobb salad.

For protein, I followed an idea I got on our first Versailles outing, when we took a bicycle tour. In the morning, our guides led us to a market in Versailles town to buy picnic lunch provisions. Along with blue and goat cheeses, I bought a fabulous tabbouleh salad (more about that another time) and a mayo-less tuna salad, made with only tuna, fresh tomatoes, maybe a light dressing, and some parsley. It was so refreshing! When I recreated it, I used equal parts canned tuna and farmers’ market tomatoes, added lots of fresh dill, and dressed it with lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper. Wow.

Finally, I drizzled a Basque-style dressing over the whole thing. I followed this recipe, adding some whole grain Dijon mustard to it. While it didn’t match my memory of the fabulous dressing at Chez Gladine, it was still delicious and brought all the salad’s flavors together nicely.

We love this salad. It’s beautiful to look at, easy to prepare, full of different textures, and tastes divine. More, please!

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After coming back from France, I’m obsessed with salads.  J and I loved them already, but our old standbys were getting boring. No longer! I found the French salads very exciting and started taking notes to help my culinary efforts at home.

This was one of my favorites:

I devoured this mound of deliciousness in Colmar, France (in the Alsace region), while I was traveling alone during the last week of the trip. I had very little information on the town — only two overviewish this-is-why-you-should-visit-Colmar guidebook pages — so I was on my own when it came to finding good restaurants and accommodations. I learned to follow my nose and happy dining noises. This restaurant, Jadis & Gourmande, was a grand success. (I later found it listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook, so I’m not the only one who thinks it’s great.)

This particular salad boasted farfalle, boiled egg, green and red leaf lettuces, English peas, sliced radishes, tomatoes, scrumptious basil chicken, small chunks of cooked carrot, raw fennel, cucumber, parsley, what I imagine were tiny chunks of liver, and a creamy, mustardy, vinegary dressing. Though my picture isn’t fabulous, my salivary glands kick into overdrive just thinking about the salad. I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs — minus the hole in my cheek, of course.

Here’s another salad I ate during my solo travel time, this one from Reims, home of the famous Reims cathedral, where I stopped for a night on my way from Paris to Colmar:

It features two of my new favorite salad toppings, fried eggs and fried potatoes. Yum, yum, yum! Who knew they could be so tasty on a salad? The salad above also had grilled apples, lightly steamed green beans, raw mushrooms, balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and what was translated as “white pudding” and “black pudding.” I was feeling bold that day — looking for a thrill. Here’s a close-up of the white pudding:

I may not have got the thrill, but I certainly shivered all the way down to my toes. It tasted and felt as bad as it looks. I gave both puddings a valiant effort but finally put down the fork. Whew. My couch surfing friend, Jasmin (more about her and couch surfing in a later post), later told me that the white pudding is liver sausage, and the black pudding is blood sausage. Oh my.

Moving on now, before I lose my appetite again.

I found my very favorite salad of all at Chez Gladine, a Basque restaurant in Paris highly recommended by our bicycle tour guides. This little place was a knockout! Nancy and I dutifully arrived early just as instructed, around 6:45 PM, to find the place empty. We wondered if we had been led astray. Less than 30 minutes later, though, very early indeed for Parisians, who seem to eat around 9:00 PM, the place was packed to the gills, and we found ourselves with another couple sharing our little table. Nancy and I ordered Chez Gladine’s Salade Complete, comprising a bed of whole romaine lettuce leaves, fried potato slices, squares of fabulous white cheese, prosciutto-type ham, a fried egg, and mustardy, garlicky dressing. I wish I had eaten it every day while I was there! I also wish I had nabbed a photo of it. Instead, enjoy this photo of our sangria, which was a little too good, if you know what I mean:

And a picture of Nancy’s sangria face:

And a shot of the magical disappearing waiter:

Really, the man rushed up to the bar, flipped open an invisible door, turned around, and backed down into what must have been the cellar. It was quite shocking. As you can see, the place was still empty when I took these photos, but the staff was rushing around like mad, slicing dozens of loaves of bread and setting tables for the imminent deluge.

If you’re in Paris, do check out Chez Gladine at 30 Rue des Cinq Diamants for great food, fun atmosphere, and very reasonable prices. It’s well worth the metro ride.

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Am I Really Home?

Ahoy! Since I’m starting to get grouchy comments here and there about my lack of updates, I thought I’d better get started.

Now that I’m home.

Eek. This is the last time I ever promise to update my blog while I’m out of the country. What was I thinking?!

This goes hand-in-hand with something else I promised myself to do during the trip: read seven or eight books. Yes, it’s true. I am an idiot. I had to haul those sad, neglected, unread books. From Houston to Cairo. And Cairo to Rome. And Rome to Florence. And Florence to Venice. And Venice to Switzerland. And then I gave up and sent them home with my husband.

Defeat is bitter, dear friends.

It turns out that I didn’t have nearly as much free time as I expected. Most nights I collapsed into bed. Read? Right. Journal? As if. Blog? Bigger if. I did discover, though, that traveling alone works marvelously for journaling, contemplation, and photo-taking. Unfortunately, by the last week of the trip when all of my companions had fled, I no longer had a laptop, so none of those things made it onto the blog. Until now.

Behold, I begin:

I’m in Houston again (this is exciting, right?), and I find myself not feeling quite at home. My husband and I are basking in each other’s presence, yes, but the rest of it seems, well, a little foreign at the moment. My apartment doesn’t feel quite right. Driving definitely doesn’t feel good. On Monday, my first day driving in seven weeks, I hit a trash can and a curb! I am trying to work my way back into daily life, but I’m having to get re-acquainted with it all, and it’s just uncomfortable.

Still, I’m trying to look on the bright side. It’s a great time to forge new habits. Since my old ones don’t feel quite as natural as they did, it’s easier to break them and insert better ones. Exhibit A: I’m starting to lock the apartment door from the outside, rather than from the inside as I rush out the door. Insignificant as this sounds, given the number of times I locked myself out of the apartment with the old method (spur-of-the-moment sunbathing in the front yard, anyone?), I foresee a significant quality of life improvement with my new habit.

Okay, seriously, I have more impressive habits in the works too. But since this is all a little boring compared to, oh, I don’t know, Africa or Europe, maybe I’ll move on for now and cover the past 7 weeks first. I’ll return to my present life later, in all its grocery-shopping, house-keeping, doctor-visiting glory.

Twenty-six hours in Cairo, coming right up . . .

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Quick update: After Air France canceled our flights multiple times and we found ourselves on a waiting list along with, oh, about 6 million other people, my mother-in-law, Nancy, and I took control of our situation. We nabbed tickets that delivered us to Rome via Cairo and Athens.

Nancy and I aboard Egyptian Air flight 986

We may have lost 6 of our 15 days in Rome, but I feel fairly well compensated. Not only did Nancy and I have adventures in Houston, gain 26 hours in Cairo of all places, and get back my 6 days at the end of the trip by delaying my return flight, I will finally get a solo foreign travel experience. I’ll spend those last 6 days in France without travel companions. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with the time, but after visiting the Pyramids on my own (harrowing details to come), I have a lot more confidence. Of course, we lost a lot of money in the process, but I tell myself I’m buying an education. We’ve been in Rome now for about 48 hours. Off to bed now! More soon.

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A Volcano? Really?

I’m trying out positive spins on my day.  My favorite so far: “How many people can say a volcanic eruption canceled their first flight to Europe?”

Yes, it’s true.  I’m still here in Houston, languishing on the couch, stress-eating grapefruits and tangelos (five and counting).  Air France claimed they put us on a flight that leaves on Sunday but then didn’t send us a confirmation email, and now the Star Alliance says it’s impossible for us to be on any flight with any carrier before Tuesday, and most people won’t fly until Thursday or Friday.  And the Air France office closed 45 minutes ago.  Oh dear.

Things I’m thankful for: (I really need to make this list right now. Really.)

1.  I am not stranded in an airport somewhere, but safe at home.
2.  I have great company while I wait.
3.  I planned a 6-week trip, so I’ll still get to enjoy 5 weeks of it, rather than miss my entire vacation, as some people, who only have one week off of work, are doing.
4.  In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small problem.
5.  God is good and present and generous.  I can look for gifts from Him all around in any situation.
6.  I have more time to work on my Italian and can watch more of my art history course and read more books before I go.
7.  I can go to the museum or the movies or do other fun vacation-y things.

Oy.  That’s it for now.

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