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All Posts By

Mary LeBlanc

Flanders

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

In Flanders Fields, the Poppies Blow.

How many times have we heard that poem?

When I was in high school, I was part of a choir that every year would sing a haunting version of this poem that has since stuck with me. I wish that I could sing it to you through words alone, but I can’t.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky
the larks still bravely singing, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below.

It is a strangely haunting poem. Poppies, growing up for me were always a mysterious flower that I only recognized by the pins so many of us dawn each November. But poppies grow everywhere in France; between cracks in the sidewalks and amidst soil that most other plans would die in.

I think that that’s the point of the poem. War is ugly. But beauty still manages to sneak through. Even amidst death, poppies manage to grow and larks still sing. To me it seems like such a juxtaposition.

We spent around a week in Northern France and had the privilege of visiting a number of WWI memorials including Flanders Fields and Vimy Ridge. They were beautiful places. Beautiful, with an ugly past.

One evening, a group of us visited a cemetery filled with tombs of men who died during WWI. Many of them were the same age as me. Many were younger—the youngest I found was 17.

And yet the cemetery was a strangely peaceful place. It reminded me that there is more to the story after these men died.

God still has the final say

And fortunately, he is much more merciful than man is to each other.

Despite something so ugly, beauty will sneak in between the cracks and grow.

Just like the poppies in Flanders Fields.

Keeping art alive

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

Europe: the place of old buildings, old history and old art. Despite the many centuries of history, she seems to have aged well; like a bottle of wine. Yet despite her graceful aging, I keep on having the eerie sensation that we are merely looking at architectural bones. The sensation began when I was in Bath, England. The Roman baths are interesting, but all that is left are skeletons of what was once there. Granted, the Roman baths were not very well maintained until recent years, but the feeling insisted on following me throughout Spain and Italy, and is not limited solely to architecture, but all art.

The people who created many of the paintings that we see on a daily basis are dead and have been for years. As a result, I’ve been finding it difficult to connect with the art I see, which is the opposite of what I expected, considering the fact that I’m an artist myself.

But the art I’ve seen has simply felt… Dead.

I’m learning that there is a difference between live art, and dead art. Live art are the musicians we pass in the streets, or the Shakespeare play I had the privilege of seeing in London.

Live art, was the artist who sat just outside of the frantic leather market filled with men and women trying to convince tourists that their merchandise was the best. However, this man sat and painted with a calm countenance and wise eyes that gazed at the people that passed him by in the streets of Florence. I sat down next to him and watched him paint for awhile. He worked quickly and efficiently, but his work was beautiful.

We talked about life and about art. As we talked, I realized that the best way to experience art is through people.

People breathe life into art and without them, art is dead.

Reflections on the Philippines

By | 2015, Asia | No Comments

It’s hard to believe that two weeks have passed already and that our time in the Philippines is drawing to a close. We end our time in the capital, Manila, where we began. My first impression was that, aside from the heat it wasn’t all that different from back home, from Calgary. The streets were plastered with huge ads (and to my surprise, most of them were in English too), and filled with Filipinos. My high school experience consisted largely in building relationships with Filipinos, the majority ethnicity of my school.

On the long drive to Laoag my impression began gradually to change. For the first two days there things were comfortable. We stayed in a Westernized hotel where there were hot showers, toilet paper and Western toilets, where squatting was optional.

In our home stay family things began to change. The people were absolutely lovely, but they had a very different way of living. Showers consisted of pumping water into a bucket and then throwing that over my head. But I didn’t mind at all; it saved water and to forced me to shower quickly.

Religion here was also an interesting experience. With the Philippines being the third largest Catholic country in the world, I had set my hopes very highly. At mass in downtown Laoag, the church was so full I had to stand at the back, one of probably over 500 people. Our host mother told us that mass is said hourly at St. Williams on Sundays, and that all of them were this busy.  People leaving mass were bombarded by street children trying to sell  flowers, balloons, rosaries and many other things.

At North Western University, the school we were attending, I encountered more non-Catholic Filipinos than Catholic. My roommate and I had an interesting experience when we took public transit to Pagudpud, two hours away, with our host mother and her sister. As they were loading the bus, a woman began speaking in a loud voice in a language I did not understand. She stood at the front, facing everyone, closing her eyes and swaying as if reciting something; she then opened a book and said in a thick accent a Gospel name and a verse and then continued speaking. She was preaching!  The bus crew worked around her without even batting an eye. She then went around asking for what she pegged in English a “love offering” and then left.
I don’t doubt that the conversation about religion will continue, but in a completely different way, since Malaysia is filled mostly with Muslims.  As sad as I am to leave the Philippines, I am looking forward to the next leg of my journey, as I’m sure I will continue to grow and learn in ways what I could never anticipate!