10 February 2008

Rather Unique Mass

This morning I had to wake up at six, which is never fun. However, I was quite motivated to get up because... I got to go to jail! Don't worry, I was just singing mass there with the cathedral choir. But I'd never been to a prison, and more specifically I'd never been to a French prison, so I was excited. Since I expect that at least some of my readers are like me and think visiting a prison is a cool way to spend a Sunday morning, my description'll be detailed!

It took us a long time to get through security (which involved handing over our IDs, which we'd given them photocopies of last month, then locking all of our possessions except our choir robes and sheet music in lockers, then going through a metal detector. Remember how the world's opinion of Americans isn't great at the moment? That made it pretty funny when the guard told everyone "For once, try to follow America's example, please!" after I was the first to go through the metal detector without making it beep. Let's face it, I'm a security pro by now :)

Anyway, they took us through a series of locked doors into the prison. The prison has a few wings, and a round room in the center that used to be a chapel. There are apt quotes on the walls about forgiveness and God caring for captives. But I had never seen a chapel anything like this. Imagine a giant round platform about twenty feet in diameter, with wrought iron supports and decoration. That platform has the altar on it! So Mass was said about fifteen feet above the ground, in the middle of the domed room in all senses of the word middle. It's been classified a historic element (not really a monument, so I'm calling it an element), so they can't do anything to it. They can, however, have their modern glass-encased security center underneath!

We went up to the prison's chapel to leave our coats. The windows had window-paint on them to create "stained glass" and there were some nice posters on the walls. Mass was held, however, in a larger room downstairs, which would be able to hold the usual Catholic crowd plus the choir. The atmosphere was somewhere in between creepy (since it's a prison), sad (since most of the men are held while they're waiting for trial, they haven't been convicted of anything yet), and very reverent. It's a wonderful feeling to go to a Mass, or any religious service, when all the participants really want to be there and are really praying. I will, however, admit that it made me (the unique alto) and the sopranos a bit nervous that we were locked into a room with fifty prisoners and no visible security cameras!

Mass went well, and we sang nicely. (Back to the interesting stuff!)

After Mass there was a pot with coffee and hot chocolate for everyone, and we had a little bit of time to chat. I turned into ultra-shy Kel, since I didn't want to talk enough for people to realize I was a foreigner. That could be awkward. Everybody was really nice and welcoming.

All in all, I agree with Pauline, one of our sopranos: before you go in it's very impressive to see the high walls and big gates and bars and guards. But once you're in, the mystery's gone and it's kind of a let down. It's just a jail, and once the suspense is gone, it's not too impressive. Still neat though!

In other news, yesterday I went shopping and bought a couple DVDs that I didn't need, a notebook that I didn't need, and a folder that I did need. France has excellent taste in office supplies. I'm still creeped out by the way students take notes (at least three colors of pens, underlining things-- with a ruler-- and with a full pencil case always on the desk in front of them. I always get a weird look or two when I pull out my notebook and one pen and its eraser (erasable ink), and sometimes a pencil just in case. I'm so... eccentric.

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