Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Three

Thursday, 8 December, 1988

I know it sounds like blasphemy†, but the cathedral was rather a disappointment.

It was a very gray, heavily overcast day today, and the church was so dark you could see almost nothing. The vaults were lost in the gloom and the windows badly needed cleaning. I kept praying the sky would clear up but that wasn’t in the divine plan.

I could see the importance of light in bringing about the proper effect here. Mont-St.-Michel was a religious experience. Here I had to play art historian and approach the cathedral intellectually. Not the best way.

Shot the south and north portals using the flash. Wouldn’t dream of using it inside. I did photograph some of the windows inside. We’ll see how they come out.

There was a plan with all the windows keyed on it posted at the west end. I found the one of the life of St. Nigel‡ and headed for that apse chapel. Not a particularly popular saint: it was quite dark, partly because the window was opaque with grime. N’importe. There were people-- or a person-- who deserved to be prayed for there and so it came to pass.

Chartres is definitely an urban cathedral. It’s in use daily by the townspeople who employ its nave and transepts as thoroughfares and as places to greet and gather. They treat it, it appears, familiarly if respectfully (most of the time). But oy, it needs cleaning! That familiarity is verging on neglect.

I’m afraid I didn’t throw all that much into the restoration coffer myself. The francs go awfully fast.

I greatly enjoyed going up the stairs and along the buttresses to climb the north tower. You can see all over Chartres from there and in the tower see the great bells and the late Gothic stonework details.

I think the cathedral looked best today early in the evening. And when I came by at 6:30 to bid it farewell before heading back to the Auberge de Jeunesse the bells began to ring. That was grand.

Bought Malcolm Miller’s official guide in the cathedral bookstore, along with various cartes postales. Blew 350F (£35 +/-; $70 +/-) on a book on the stained glass at a bookstore across the street. The things I’ll do to write decent essays!

There was a little problem at lunch, my first meal of the day, when I was so tired and hungry I couldn’t decide what I wanted at the restaurant. Problem really was, the only thing I could afford was an omelet-- again. This one was cooked through. The real problem came when I found I’ve been confusing five-centime pieces with five-franc ones. I went to pay and found I was 5F short. Fortunately, they didn’t call the gendarmerie to run me in. No, I was allowed to go across to the Credit Lyonnaise, cash some traveller’s cheques, and bring back the balance.

(Something interesting I noticed in the restaurant: People had their dogs in there with them, no problem, and the sign posted on the subject only asked that patrons not allow them up on the chairs!)

As far as emotional satisfaction goes, I think I liked the town better than the cathedral. The streets of Chartres are a great deal of fun. I wouldn’t mind spending several days there just exploring. They teem with interesting shops, most of them too expensive for me (will the French really pay around $60 or $70 for a little nine-color watercolor paint set?), and a myriad of boulangeries, patisseries, and confiseries. It was very lively and colorful, especially after dark with the windows lit up with a golden glow and the Christmas decorations festooning from facade to facade overhead. There were all sorts of people out and it was pleasant just to wander around with them.

It’d be even more pleasant to do it with less to carry. That camera bag is good for the long haul but during the days, walking around, it’s a pain. The new document case bag is better as of today, though. Not that the clasp is fixed, but I was directed to a place where they put some new holes in the strap. It hangs about five inches shorter now and is much more comfortable. No longer banging against my thigh.

I have discovered that useful as that satchel is (and how much in vogue here), it’s heavy even unloaded. Not a lot to be done about it.

At about 5:45, I had a cup of chocolate at a shop across from the north flank of the cathedral. Wrote postcards. Funny, I don’t realize how damn tired I am until I sit down. Then I absolutely vibrate. Being hungry and exhausted does nothing for my French, either. I don’t speak such hot English in such states, but the people around here don’t know that.

Otherwise, my French is adequate. Or at least good enough to make people think I speak it and so go right over my head.

Second night at the Auberge de Jeunesse. It’s a nice place, in a modern way. Reminds me of something a young, bright architectural firm would do. It is rather annoying, though, for the management to be so pointed about the low-budget basis of the place. I mean, at least they could put waste bins in the rooms. Even people travelling on the cheap generate trash.

I didn’t really expect them to provide towels, and they didn’t. I would love to travel light, she said, but it’s hard when you have to carry your own linens with you.

I almost think that if I get tireder and not stronger, I may blow the money to send a few things back, sacrificing one kind of comfort for another; that is, sacrifice comfort in place to comfort in motion. Like, I’m beginning to think I could do without my jeans. They’re not really right for the kinds of places I’m visiting. And the hairdryer won’t work in the outlets here, even with the adaptor.
†I'd studied the cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Chartres at KU under the great Prof. Lou Michel, and had conceived the sentiment, "See Chartres and die!"
‡Yes, I know there is no "St. Nigel"; at least, I doubt any such is commemorated in any French cathedral. Never mind, you get the point!


whiskers said...

Amazing which things seem essential when packing, and incomprehensible as to why you packed them when walking.

I carry a computer bag and a book bag to school, and sometimes I look into one or the other and think, why on earth did I think I was going to need that today??


Viola Larson said...

Sorry I am being slow reading the last few days. Chartes was the only place outside of Paris we went in France, which I know is a shame. But we only had so much time and spent most of it in England. when we were there, my husband and myself, there was a wedding occuring and that made the experience far better. I very much enjoy reading about your experience there. we did wander the streets a bit and took a picture of a piano shop.