Travels with a Supervalue Bag.

 

At the early hour of 4.30a.m. on 16th. March 2007 a small party of 7 cold freemasons and their wives stood in Glengall Street, Belfast waiting to board the bus to speed them to Dublin airport. In order to be admitted we had to know the password, which the driver formally asked us, vis. "Does anyone know the fare?". Fortunately, this happened to be one of those pieces of information that our intrepid band knew! We were on our way to spend St. Patrick’s day in Marseille where St. Patrick’s Lodge No. 43 had been invited to visit La Nef Ecossaise No. 255 of the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise , Province de Massilia, and to twin with a new lodge, St. Patrick’s No. 1594 G.L.N.F., to be inaugurated on 17th. March 2007, Saint Patrick’s day.

After a couple of hours of catching up on lost sleep, we arrived at the airport to forge our way to the check-in and there to discover that one of the more "crafty" members of our group had planned to have a few days of freedom by sending his spouse to another part of France. He would have succeeded too, but for his colleagues, who were keeping a close eye on things. It was at this stage that a threat was made by someone who will remain anonymous, that if any of our mishaps were reported back home, I would be hit over the head with a rolling pin. However, I’m sure Betty didn’t mean it!

On to the security check, where anxious faces waited to see if our consignment of shamrock was to be allowed to contaminate la Belle France. We need not have worried, once it was pointed out that the plants were too small to smoke, security lost their interest. Not so the French police who, when we arrived in Marseille airport, decided to have a go at splitting us up again as they led one of us off to be questioned. After a long wait and a few expeditions into the bowels of the airport to find the police department, we eventually were re-united. By this time it was starting to feel like a game, where we could try and see if we could actually loose anybody. So to the bus for Marseille, and the intervention of a taxi driver who convinced us of the advantages of travelling in style rather than mixing with the great unwashed on public transport. So on to the taxis. But wait, some had already bought bus tickets. Ah ha, here is our chance to loose someone - only to be foiled by the foresight of one of our victims to have brought along a sat-nav!

Hotel Ibis, Marseille.

All gathered in at the hotel and we joined two brethren and wives who had journeyed from Belfast the day before. Now we were 9 brethren and their wives safely ensconced in Marseille and enjoying the warm glorious day. After a short rest, three French brethren arrived in their cars to pick us up at 4.30 p.m. and drive us directly to their Hall, a journey of about 15 minutes. This left our ladies to enjoy an afternoon in the shops and a hen evening in a restaurant owned by one of the members of the French Lodge.

Their Hall is impressive, quite modern and lies in a pleasant suburb of Marseille. It also houses a licensed restaurant which is open to the public. The Lodge room which we were to use was very tastefully decorated, complete with a ceiling lighted to resemble the night sky.

With the meeting due to start at 7.15, it seemed to be a long time to allow for photographs and a very long time to be at the "refreshment counter". There appeared to be no explanation as to why we were picked up from our hotel at 4.30, until that is, one of our merry bunch was spirited away to a practice for the Provincial meeting the following day, when a new St. Patrick’s Lodge was to be created. "You are to be an honorary founding member of St. Patrick’s" he was told! And so the practice started with a delighted and confused 43 member wondering what was going on as the proceedings were discussed, acted out, argued over and finalised in a French equivalent of "it will be all right on the night".

Then the Lodge meeting was started and we processed in with the "Venerable Maitre" and were seated on the dais on one side of the W.M. and all the Marseille Provincial Officers etc. on the other side. Not only was the Lodge laid out differently but so were the proceedings. Different, but recognisable.

The highlight of the evening was a first degree, where a medical Professor was given the works! This was a sight to behold, with much drama, complete with sound and lighting effects.

With the exchange of gifts of jewels etc. and our feeble attempts at fraternal sentiments expressed in broken French, we were left in no doubt as to how privileged they felt at our presence.

After the meeting, a gorgeous meal, cooked by the permanent restaurant staff accompanied by wine, jokes, and the forging of new friendships, with the night finishing off at about 1.00 a.m. in the morning. Then back to the hotel, expecting the ladies to be fast asleep - not so, there they all were with the night porter busy keeping the drinks flowing and they seemed to be even more noisier than we were!

Good Ulstermen in a monastery.

The next day (Saturday March 17th. St. Patrick’s Day) we congregated at 10.30 in the hotel lobby to be dressed in our shamrock and driven by our new French friends to Saint-Maximin, a small town about 50km. from Marseille. The Provincial meeting to inaugurate the new St. Patrick’s Lodge was to be held in a Hotel which started out in life as a 13th. Century monastery! What a place! Complete with medieval quadrangle, cloisters, the works!

First the banquette, accompanied by many toasts and good food (not so sure about the squid though!). Also great interest in our shamrock and its significance. The explanation of St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity, conjured up a vivid demonstration of the difficulty Patrick must have had as he tried to teach us Irish, only to be met with what could only be translated as "Yeh whaa?".

2x43 + 1x148 + 2x255= Happy Group.

Then the Provincial meeting, including the ceremony of forming the new Lodge of St. Patrick No. 1594. This dignified and sedate ceremony was a complete contract to the high drama of the following evening. Again the Irish Brethren were acknowledged and treated with much respect, even to the point of a "43" representative being conducted and presented to the Provincial Grand Master.

On closing the meeting, we all were taken back to our hotel, a rather longer journey this time due to much traffic on the roads following a football match.

In the evening we were invited, along with our helpmates, to a venue close to the harbour. There dinner was served and we spend a pleasant evening together with the French brethren and their charming wives. An ideal opportunity to relax and to celebrate both Saint-Patrick’s Day and our friendship - and also to finally get rid of the Supervalue bag!

For most of us next day, it was back to the airport and on to Dublin and Belfast, leaving a few of our gang to see more of what France has to offer. What a shock when we arrived back home. Snow and a wind that would skin a fairy! Our patron saint seems to have been too busy having a good time with us to remember to turn the warm side of the stone up!

Left to Right
W. Bro. G. Robinson St. Patrick'3 43,
V.M. of St. Patrick's No. 1594 Patrick Daoud, V.M. Le Nef Esscoisee 255 Christian Gouvenier, S.W. St. Patrick's 43 Bro. Gordon Keep.



A monk without a habit!

W. Bro. Jim Thompson