DAY 14, MAY 31
(MATT) We slept to 10 a.m., cleaned up; Chris and Sam swam. Jon and I skipped stones near the beach (possibly both of our personal best skipped rocks ever--40 yards.) Then after some oranges, bread, and butter and some planning discussion, we're off to Ars, where Jon's mom knows a nun we might be able to stay with... Bumbalina.
(CHRIS) Well, Bumbalina to you too, pal! We got some francs and Coke and headed north to Ars (near Lyon). It was a trip of about 3 1/2 hours; we took the toll roads. As we approached, we saw lots of farm land and small towns. We hoped Ars had not become over-embellished with tourist traps. We arrived about 3:30.
(SAM) Jon was driving (Jean Marie Vianney is his Confirmation name), and I was navigating. We had two maps. One had the city of Ars, but no roads going to it, and the other listed all the roads in the vicinity, but no town of Ars. So we drove to Trevoux and were happy when we spied a Ars sign. The moral of the story is that Ars is nothing of a tourist trap. We were happy. All four of us went through a rapid metamorphosis as we entered the small town. It was time once again for the pilgrimage part of our travels to rear its head. There was only one problem; we had to locate the fabled Sister Bumbalina!
We parked the car and walked to the Cure's parish church. The original church that was there when the Cure first came to Ars could still be seen, but there had been additions both in his time and after his death. The incorrupt body of the saint was located in a gold and glass structure. Wewhile, Jon looked for Sister Bumbalina. As it turned out, the first nun he introduced himself to was actually her. Jon signaled us and we followed a caretaker to where we would spend the night. The caretaker was a very cheerful little man, and, although he spoke almost no English, he had a great time talking to us anyway. He took us to a long low building near the church and opened what looked like a large garage door on horizontal rollers. Chris revealed a door which led into a room with a table, chairs, and bunk beds. The room was simple and this added to the pilgrim aura. It was also better than sleeping in the rain.
We then proceeded to hunt for some food in this small town. (Pilgrims have to eat too.) And what better sustenance than pizza, two kilos, over 100 franks. We also bought chips and soda. We then discovered how to park our car by our humble hostel and started grubbing. After much blood, sweat, and tears, Jon and Matt, and I went to the church to wait for 6:00 Mass and Chris ventured to the monument of the encounter just outside the small town in the beautiful French countryside. This monument depicts the story of when Jean Marie Vianney was first coming to Ars and lost his way. A small boy told the new Cure' the correct path. On the monument are inscribed the words of the saint, "You have shown me the way to Ars, now I will show you the way to heaven."
After mass, Sister Bumbalina invited Jon, Matt, and myself to sing vespers with the four sisters at the altar of the B.V.M. As the four sisters sang in their angelic voices, a beautiful young nun in full Dominican habit played an instrument that sounded somewhat like a harp, but different. It was possibly one of the most beautiful singing I have ever heard. Then Jon went to confession to a French priest in French (how odd). He said everything went well, but he had a hard time explaining some things. One can only wonder.
We also saw the parish house where the Cure' lived for the forty-one years he was at Ars. Everything was left the same as it was when he died in 1859. We saw his kitchen, and upstairs, we saw the various rooms the saint occupied. One could see his library with 400 books on the lives of the saints, his bedroom, his coffin, his vestments, and many personal articles. Probably the most interesting was the bed that the devil had shaken and lit on fire. The bed was still intact although it looked as if the two bedposts at the foot had been chopped up for relics.
Back at the hostel, we waited for Sister B. who was going to show us a film at 8:00. The film, although the soundtrack was not put together very well, was very interesting. It told the story of the Cure' and also the activities of that "back door" shrine today. We soon realized that Sister B. was actively recruiting us for the seminary located right there in Ars. We were flattered. You see, Mrs. Carlson had told Sister B. that we were on a six week pilgrimage. This, sadly, is not entirely true, but we did our best to play the part. Thus the sackcloth and ashes.
That night we joked about funny postcards we could send to loved ones. Jon wrote Sherri saying that pillaging the French countryside was fun and she would receive a French milk cow in a large crate shortly. Matt wrote to his boss Frank saying, "I have joined the order of the Flagalantes, send bandaids. Br. Scurgio." We then talked about the confrontations the Cure had with the devil. It a good thing to do before one goes to sleep. Matt let me borrow his wrist rosary and we set our alarms for 7:00 so we could hear the nuns sing Matins at 7:30.