As my excitement for the musical “Les Miserables” heightens, I am overwhelmed by nostalgia for a country that continues to hold my heart at the palm of her hand: France.
The beauty of France’s capital, Paris, was captivating, and it truly edified me during my visit in 2009. I went to France as part of a prize bestowed upon me and my essay by the European Union and the Order of the Knights of Rizal. Having won the grand prize of the nationwide essay-writing contest “Rizal Na, EUropa Pa!”, I was entitled to an all-expenses-paid trip throug Europe to retrace the footsteps of Dr. José P. Rizal, my country’s national hero. Talking about Rizal and Victor Hugo is like comparing two like-minded men. Both writers, both patriots, both geniuses. Hugo’s Les Miserables relayed the sufferings of the ordinary French and Jean Valjean’s journey of conversion; Rizal also spoke of Filipinos’ plights in his Noli me tangere and El filibusterismo.As I went through Paris, I had Rizal in my mind,
How was Rizal formed and transformed by the beauty of France? How did her children treat the Great Malayan? How was Rizal in “the city of blinding lights”? Was he like Marius, poor but idealistic?
France’s grandeur was a tangible proclamation of her long and noble history, from the Ancien Régime to the Revolution, to the Napoleonic epoch, to the era of cafes (Belle Époque) and on to post-modern Europe. The belief that la France est la fille aînée de l’église (France is the eldest daughter of the Church) also contributed to the divine beauty of France, a land of martyrs and holy men and women. As a devotee of St. Thérèse of Liseux, I saw France as truly a land of pilgrimage. I was there both as a pilgrim of Rizal and France’s saints.
In September 2009, I arrived in Paris and spent several days exploring both the touristy and not-so-touristy portions of the elegant city. Indeed, my experience in Paris as well as nearby Versailles changed me. It was there where I realized how much beauty and culture can truly uplift the soul. Amidst the backdrop of Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s Paris, the tourist in me became a devout believer in the presence of the sublime in beauty. My fondest memories of Paris were walking down alleys and sitting down on benches with the crisp autumn wind cooling my body. Just sitting down, and absorbing everything uplifted my soul. Just looking at the blue roofs, the jammed cafes, the endless procession of well-coiffed ladies walking their dogs, the endless rows of boulangeries and patisseries, these all warmed my heart.
Of course, one should not fail to mention the grandiose structures that dot Paris. The Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Chateau of Versailles, the eclectic Centre Pompidou, Place du Trocadero, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, the Seine and of course, the Eiffel Tower are just among the hundreds of sites, streets, natural wonders and monuments that take one’s breath away.
Truly, my memories and thoughts about Paris, Versailles and the French cannot be contained in one blog entry. The beauty and glory of that land of cheese, wine and art cannot be reduced to some paragraphs. They have to be seen, tasted, smelled, heard, touched. France has to be experienced.
It is my fervent prayer to soon return. As pf now, I’ll allow to experience post-Revolution France vicariously through the haunting songs of Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables”.