Dawn goes to Paris

Paris Travel Blog

 › entry 28 of 29 › view all entries

It is Sunday. I am back from Paris, and it is still raining. In fact, this is our ninth day of rain, cold, and clouds. Noah, where are you? As Stephen mentioned in his rodent section, I figured if it’s going to be lousy weather, I might as well spend a couple of days of lousy weather in Paris where I can see some friends and get a little culture. In fact, for the duration of the five hour train ride, it was pretty gloomy weather all over toute la belle France.

Thanks to the Maheus again, I got to stay in their wonderful little “spare” flat, on the top floor of their building in the fifth arondissement on Rue Clovis. It’s only a short walk through the Jardin des Plantes from the Gare Austerlitz where the train arrived from Cahors. The apartment has a view of Paris rooftops, looking north with a great take on the south side of Notre Dame. It must be spectacular when it’s clear. Even with the clouds, it’s a beautiful view at night when the buildings are lit up, or at 6:00 am when I was up to greet the sun.

Thursday night, Isabelle treated me to seeing Pina Bausch at the Theatre de la Ville. Except for the fact that we spent twenty minutes looking for each other at the theatre, it was an inspiring evening. Pina Bausch concerts always sell out in Paris, and people were scrambling around trying to buy scalped tickets. As a choreographer, Pina has a keen eye for the absurd. This piece had a lot more humor in it than some of hers and much American popular music from the fifties as well as English “skits.” She made this piece in Los Angeles, and it’s definitely California flavored. One of the things I like about the company is that she has a couple of old guard performers who are definitely on the same side of fifty as Martha and I are. She’s also got some extraordinary young dancers who blew me away with the energy, subtlety, and virtuosity of their solos. The only problem with the performance is that she gave us too much. At the end of the first half, we were very satisfied, but then there was an intermission and a second half which, for Isabelle and myself, diluted the strength of what we had already seen. Each part was an hour and a half long. We left the theatre at midnight.

As wired as I was, I only slept four hours that night. Friday morning, Malek and I had coffee and talked about collaborating on an evening of poetry and dance. We fantasized about getting invited back to La Napoule to develop this work, but I haven’t had the nerve to discuss it with Isabelle yet. He is one of the few artists who has been there twice already.

I had a lovely lunch with Isabelle and Jean in their apartment. When I speak with him, I guess I get nervous and my French deteriorates. Sometimes I can hear myself using the wrong gender or the wrong tense, but it’s too late; the words are already out of my mouth. I still haven’t figured out if I should call him “Jean” or “M. Maheu,” or if I should be “tu-ing” or “vous-ing.” Since Isabelle has begun to address me in the more familiar form of “tu”, I feel comfortable speaking that way with her, but it doesn’t yet seem appropriate with “Monsieur.”

After lunch, they made a phone call and managed to get me invited (i.e. a complimentary ticket) to the Berlioz Requiem which was being played that night in the huge, gothic Basilique de St. Denis, at the northern edge of Paris.

After a drink with Isabelle and Malek, I rushed off by myself to the métro. (They all had other plans for the evening.) I arrived just after it started and sat in the back of the audience which was arranged with portable chairs in the nave of the basilica. There must have been easily 2,000 people in the audience and three hundred performers, what with full orchestra and chorus. It was the Orchestre de France and the Choeur de Radio France, conducted by Charles Dutoit. For those of you radio listeners out there in Boston who tune into WGBH, WCRB, or WBUR, you will appreciate how special it was to witness Maestro Dutoit live at the podium.

And what music! Berlioz composed this romantic era Requiem as a series of contrasts, in tone color, volume, range of voices, and instrumentation. The Basilica was a gorgeous and appropriate setting for this religious work, although if they taped it live, I sure hope the engineer kept his finger off the reverb switch.

I thought about the Mozart Requiem that we had heard in Prague, in the very austere Bethlehem Chapel, and how different the two experiences were. Berlioz was so French. I started thinking about France as a cultural, social entity. In the time that I was sitting there, “alone” among 2,000 people, I had a moment of sensing what France is.  I had a vision of the map of the country and how all its parts make up the whole, and of how that map is a metaphor for the strength of the nation itself. Its history, its provinces and cities, its rural people and their beautiful produce, its urban people and their love of culture -  all these combine to make France a very special place.

On the way home, I got yet another aspect of what France is when the métro car I was riding on stopped, and it was announced that because of “les greves” (strikes), this car was not going any farther. So an hour and a half later, after riding a few métro lines underneath the entire city of Paris, I arrived back at my little flat.

So this is it, friends. We’re leaving Cézac at 4:15 am tomorrow to fly from Toulouse to Amsterdam, to sit around Schipol Airport for awhile, and then to fly to Boston. One of the things that we have enjoyed most about the e-mail travelogue is the response that we get from some of our readers, from the appreciation and wish-I-was-there-with-you response to the sardonic, slightly mocking humor of some of our nearest and dearest.
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photo by: Sweetski