Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Four

Friday, 9 December, 1988
Chartres to Bourges to Lyon

ON THE TRAIN, BETWEEN BOURGES AND LYON-- Most of the day on the train today. The kid is very tired. This business of waiting till late to eat breakfast is not such a hot idea, is it? One begins to make a fool of oneself when one can’t manage locker keys. Or to become desperate and settle for mineral water and synthetic flan. This you call French cooking?

That gourmet repast happened in the Tours station, one of two train changes before Bourges.

Between Chartres and LeMans the sun rose and it looked like the sky might actually turn out clear.  No such luck. It’d clouded up completely by Tours and by the time I got to Bourges it was mizzling pretty steadily.  Well, nothing to be done about it. Though I guess I could’ve taken the lens cap with me.

Bourges Cathedral was lighter and more impressive than Chartres, even with the same weather. But Bourges has more clear or grisaille glass (thanks to the Huguenots?) than Chartres and they seem to have gotten farther with their window restoration work. Many of those in the chevet had already been cleaned and looked stunning.

The most wonderful thing here today was totally serendipitous: when I arrived the organist was practicing and he kept it up pretty steadily the entire two hours or so I spent there. It was marvellous to hear Bach rolling through that soaring three-level space. The organ is at the west end and was new or restored in 1985. There’s a smaller one-- also real-- in the choir (I blush to relate the Chartres’ choir ‘organ’ seems to be an EKI ["Electronic Keyboard Instrument"]). The organists used all the stops; it was lovely, the range of dynamic effects.

The inner aisle is unbelievable in its soaring proportions. And I love the way the ribs in the vaults of the ambulatory sway and curve across the webbing after they spring from the pier colonnettes. It’s so lively. Those piers look like slender trees, like giant sequoias, perhaps, that just grew and grew and branched out above.

I was surprised to see how much of the west end sculpture still remained. Most of the trumeau figures and pretty much all the tympana and archivolts. In its drapery the Beau Dieu [the statue of Christ at the main entrance] reminded me a lot of pictures I’ve seen of the one at Amiens, but the face wasn’t as sensitive. I wonder if it’s original or a 19th Century replacement.

I regret to say I was so intent on getting outside to see the edifice as a whole that I didn’t think to turn around and survey the southern portal when I emerged from it. It wasn’t till I was on the train and looking through the booklet I’d bought that I learned it has some very fine early Gothic sculpture, à la the Royal Portals at Chartres.

It was almost by accident that I found the cathedral at all. They have signs up to a point, but then when you’re looking for the next one you glance from la rue Moyenne to the left up this little belgian-pavered street, la rue de Guichet, and mon Dieu, there she is.

The south flank is nowhere so coquettish. It can be viewed in full, across the municipal garden, which must look lovely when everything is in bloom. As it was, the rows of gingko trees with their cropped heads had a certain baroque beauty. They rather reminded me of the rows of piers inside.

Something to check at home: have the apsidal chapels always had full buttresses below the corbels, or is that a recent pis aller?

Left the cathedral grounds a bit after 4:00. Got some cheese pastries and a can of soda at a patisserie, to eat on the train. But when I was passing by a salon de thé on the street to the station I thought of how chilled and wet and hungry I was now and besides it was over an hour to the train. So I turned in and had tea and a croque-monsieur.

Funny, but in the States that’s a pressed and grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Here I received a kind of hotdog with cheese on a long hard roll. Or hadn’t I made my order clear? No matter. It was hot and it was good and I’m grateful. Felt much better thereafter.

Bourges was all decked up for Christmas, too. I think it’s nice to think of all those decorations up all over the world. It’s something in common. If only all the world had the Savior in common, too!


Viola Larson said...

I am enjoying this so much.

Marlene said...

I love reading this. Thank you for the link to the cathedral. It is beyond me how they could build such beautiful buildings so long ago. How did they do it without modern equipment, how many people did it take, how long, who paid for it, how many committees did they have, did the women get to pick the colors????