Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Eight

Tuesday, 13 December, 1988

HÔTEL GRANDS BOULEVARDS, 11:30 PM-- When I woke up at the Hôtel St. Antoine around 8:00 this morning and it was still almost totally dark in my room, with only a sickly glow filtering in from the dirty rippled plastic over the inner courtyard, I decided I definitely had to change hotels.

Spent a good part of the morning doing that. Looking for another hotel, I mean. And had one or two interesting experiences in the process.

At one place they were letting little rooms for 100F with little windows high in the wall, up under the roof. I was trying to decide if I could deal with that and asking questions about whether the front door is locked at night to see if that would tip my decision one way or the other, when suddenly the previously amicable patronne changed her countenance, began to go on about how it was all "trop complique" for her, and summarily showed me the door! I wondered what God thinks of such behavior. I know that if I behaved in such a fashion I wouldn’t expect His compliments . . .

Anyway, I ended up in the first place I’d inquired into, the Hôtel Grands Boulevards in the rue de Austerlitz on the other side of Place President Wilson from where I was last night.

Unfortunately, I have to change rooms again tomorrow. Where they're moving me I'll be paying 135F for a chambre avec douche. Very nice, that will be, but the room I have now, with only a sink and bidet, is quite sufficient and has a (nonoperating) fireplace besides. But it’s booked for tomorrow night, it seems . . .

This room is 90F a night, only 3F more than what I paid at the St. Antoine last night, and it has a large window, on the street. That other place was too quiet.

All that settled, I headed for la gare and got my couchette reservation for Friday night’s run to Paris taken care of.

Then I found there’s no bus to Conques so I checked into rental cars. Hertz has the best one-day deal. 490F. If I do that I go to Aurillac the same day. Depends on if I’m up to wrestling with French road signs.

Saw the basilica of St.-Sernin . . . too bad the sun didn’t stay out. But it was still a lot brighter inside than was Chartres. All a very pretty delicate pink. They laid the brick with a tinted mortar, then flattened the excess over the brick, then raked out a V-groove horizontally.

I hadn’t realized how much of the old polychromy is left. Most of that is in the transepts.

Visited the ambulatory and the crypt. They have quite a fine treasury. And it’s impressive to see the plaque commemorating the fact that Charlemagne helped the church obtain many of its apostolic relics.

The choir is pretty well Baroque. Woodwork, mainly. And it’s true-- the piers for the crossing tower do rather interrupt the flow of vision. But the tower is wonderful from the outside.

The west front is obstinately homely, especially compared with the liveliness of the east end chevet. The odd thing is why it’s so much higher than the nave itself. Were they planning on western towers?

Bought a copy of the book that Dr. Gendle† gave me to study from, and a number of postcards. I seem to have lost all but one of these, having held the bag upside down while consulting my map on the street. I noticed I was doing that, stuffed the one card back in, and figured the rest were all inside. Wrong!

At that point I was wandering around trying to find the laundromat. Finally did, and went and fetched the dirty clothes. Did the wash, so, but sitting in laundries in strange cities is, well, strange.

Blew 91F on dinner, around the corner from the hotel on the rue de Strasbourg. Oysters and other mussels on the half-shell for starters and then a compendium of salmon, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms in a sauce. Had a carafe of Sauvignon blanc which I didn’t finish.

I dined at one of a line of two-person tables, ranged close together along one wall with a long banquette on one side and chairs on the other. The man seated at the table next to me engaged me in conversation. He looked to be in his late 40's or early 50's and reminded me of the guy who played Manolito in High Chapparal. Seems he was born in northern Italy but moved to France at an early age and has been here ever since. Lives in Rodez but comes to Toulouse on business. A certain amount of chitchat ensued, allowing for my downhill French, but I did not take him up on his offer to go somewhere else for a drink (I’d had enough, anyway) or to a discotheque. There’s probably a difference between being company and being a pickup, but until I learn the dividing line I’d better avoid any semblance of either.

Gave the patron of the hotel a good laugh when I returned. Was thinking so intently about what had just happened at the restaurant that I didn’t process the fact that I had an open door and not a sidelight there in front of me. Kept trying to operate the inoperable leaf and wondering why the man, sitting in the lobby watching the tube, didn’t come and let me in . . .
†My Medieval architecture history tutor in Oxford

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Music of the City

Last night I attended the Pittsburgh Symphony concert at Heinz Hall.

The night began with percussion and the sound of winds, and that was before I arrived at the concert hall. The wind was the panting of myself and other latecoming patrons as we ran along the crowded Pittsburgh streets, hoping to arrive before PSO concertmaster and tonight's conductor Andrés Cárdenes would raise his baton, and the percussion was the impact of fireworks against the night sky, from the Steelers pre-Super Bowl rally at Heinz Field across the river.

I hurried up to the balcony and to my row just as the first piece was beginning. The hall was almost full, and my seat, of course, was in the middle. But everyone was very cheerful about letting me in. And once I got myself seated and had caught my breath, I detached my mind and put myself into that submissive mood were thoughts and impressions rise from instinct and not from analysis.

The piece was Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1, Op. 9. The only thing I knew about it was that it was in one movement. I didn't read the program notes. I just listened, and as I did I found that the traditional musical terms for the parts of the work rose to the surface of my mind of their own accord. "Yes . . . what a lively Scherzo! . . . or would it be a Scherzetto? . . . . Ah, here's something rather Maestoso . . . . Here's a change, there's the Andante . . . " If I'd been trying to think of this on purpose, I never could have managed.

The second item on the program was George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. It was more than appropriate that that would be played in downtown Pittsburgh last night, for it always evokes urban bustle and activity for me: bright lights and cars, people hurrying to theaters and concerts, crowded stylish restaurants full of patrons sitting down to intimate and celebratory meals. And last night downtown Pittsburgh was crammed. All the playhouses and music halls were open, it was this month's exhibit opening night for the contemporary art galleries, and then you add in all the Steeler fans come down to cheer on the team. Traffic was so thick, I had to try five different garages before I could find a place to park-- that's why I was running late. Rhapsody in Blue was the ideal musical theme.

The piano soloist was Gabriela Montero. The playing of the Pittsburgh Symphony didn't quite rise to the level of her performance, but she sets a very high standard. I hate to say it, but the upward sliding call of the opening clarinet was a little bodiless. I had to say, "That was it?" But the brass made up for it later, especially the riffs from the muted trumpet.

There was nothing in the program about more music before the intermission, but I'd say almost everyone there knew what to expect. Ms. Montero is a master of improvisation, in a tradition that goes back to the young Mozart and before. She stepped to the apron of the stage and requested a theme from the audience. One man sang out, literally, "'A mighty fortress is our God!'" in recognition of the Mendelssohn Reformation Symphony to be played in the second half. But through the hubbub Ms. Montero said no, give her something more characteristic of Pittsburgh. And from several places throughout the hall, voices began to call, "'Here we go, Steelers, here we go! Here we go, Steelers, here we go!'"

She went to the piano and plunked it out: "Daa-da-da, da! da! Daa-da-da!"

"That's it?" she queried.

"That's it!" roared back the audience.

Whereupon she sat herself down at the keyboard and took that little call and stretched it, dressed it, inverted it, reverted to it, embroidered on it, and made it an object of classical delight. Classical, yes, then she added variations Romantic, Latin, and even jazz. Whew! What must it be like to have a genius like that! If I could have any complaint to make, it's that Ms. Montero did not, as I had hoped, end her improvisation on Here We Go, Steelers! with a grand fortissimo. Surely, that would have been better luck for the game on the 1st? But I told myself not to be silly-- we were there for music, not football.

Besides, her playing that has got to be good luck for us anyway!

After the intermission, the PSO played Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 in D Major, "Reformation." And I do not care what anyone else thought, I found it to be well-played, lively, colorful, and not just the Allegro vivace, either. That second movement certainly evoked Germany at its sunniest, and when music can make Germany seem sunny, that's saying a lot.

It's a good thing I didn't read the program notes on the Mendelssohn until I got home. The writer had the nerve to imply that the quotation of "Ein' Feste Burg" in the Finale "burdens" it with "extramusical meanings." Excuse me!? What is "extramusical" about Master Luther's hymntune? And if it causes the listener to meditate on the ideals of the Reformation or on the history of the Reformation itself, what of it? Will this writer also throw out Vivaldi's Four Seasons or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or his Eroica because they too carry "extramusical meanings"?


Me, I enjoyed the idea that this symphony was a suitable piece to play in this, the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, even if it celebrates primarily the Lutheran side of things. In fact, wouldn't it be wonderful if musicians could come up with musical celebrations of Calvin this year? Maybe something based on the tunes of the Geneva Psalter!

But the Barber, the Gershwin, the Mendelssohn, and the Montero variations were not all the music we enjoyed in the city last night. I noticed that the intermission went on unusually long, and when the audience reconvened the piano was still front and center on the stage. And here came Gabriela Montero, Andrés Cárdenes with his violin, cellist David Premo, and clarinetist Michael Rusinek to play the John Williams "Air and Simple Gifts" that she had played with Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, and Anthony McGill at the inauguration this past Tuesday. Ms. Montero expressed her gratitude for being able to play it this time in "a nice warm hall"-- despite the honor and thrill of being in on the inaugural performance, it was "real torture" playing outside in those frigid temperatures.

I tried sketching the quartet, but I took too long about it and didn't get them all. Funny, but it seemed like a longer piece when I heard it the other day. Maybe because I was wondering how they would manage to finish up by high noon; and as it happened, they didn't! It went very quickly last night.

Of course there were curtain calls after that, and lo! Maestra Montero came out wearing a Terrible Towel! Not only that, but--

I can be very slow about some things. When she first appeared for her solo in the Gershwin, I'd noticed that although her publicity photo shows her as a blonde, Gabriela Montero was wearing her hair in a nice and down-to-earth shade of brown. I'd noted that over black leggings she was wearing a flowing black tunic with a flowing jacket over it, black with a wide patterned dark yellow border over the hem. But now that I saw her with the Terrible Towel, it hit me-- She's wearing Black and Gold! She's in Pixburgh and she's wearing Black and Gold! And when she swung the Towel on her final curtain call, I knew it had to be good luck for Pittsburgh for two weeks from now.

Here we go, Steelers, here we go! [clap! clap!] Here we go, Steelers, here we go! [clap! clap!] Here we go, Steelers--!

(Oh, shut up!)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Joy of Bloggery

In my last post, which features an entry from my 1988 Christmas break travels around Europe, my 1988 self writes, "What's life for except to be shared? And when you're like me and always taking in and never giving out, because you have no one to give to . . . it all seems pretty pointless."

When I was transcribing that from my handwritten journal, I had to be amazed at how things work out. Twenty years ago, the Internet may have been thought of, but not by me, and the concept of the web log had not been envisioned at all.

And now, here it is! Ordinary people like me who aren't syndicated columnists or publish-or-perish professors or popular short story authors have this forum where we can share life and ruminate on and give out what we've taken in, and whoever calls up our blog page can receive it-- or not-- all they please!

I admit that the forms that appear in blogs are nothing new. They are of old: the political column, the technical handbook entry, the theological pamphlet. The personal blog reproduces the private diary, and the more polished efforts of Blogdom owe tribute to three centuries and more of books of essays by men like Bacon, Lamb, and de Quincy.

But the freedom of publication is new, and it is amazing. Someone like me can broadcast my thoughts in my words over the wide fields of cyberspace, and all I need is a keyboard and a bit of bandwidth!

Four or so years ago, when I first heard of the web log, it was described as an indiscriminate stream-of-consciousness mind-dump indulged in by the terminally self-centered. Back then, I heard, daily or even hourly publication was everything, form and content and consideration for one's audience was nothing.

But I read others' blogs and learned different. I found that writers will display their care or their carelessness, whether they are publishing on paper or on-line. I found that if a blog featuring pure abandoned emotion turns out to be compelling, it's probably because its author is an artist of that style and labors to get the effect just right. I found that whatever the style or genre, the blogger has to mind what he says and how he says it, so his story will be featly told and his opinion aptly expressed, and his readers edified, entertained, enlightened, or, if that's the purpose, even enraged. And in the process, he'll find that his thoughts and opinions become clearer to himself, because he is not writing exclusively for himself, he is communicating with a great unseen audience.

At least that's how it is for me. And whether you, my unseen audience, are many or few, I stand in awe that the world has turned round to the place where I can communicate with you, and for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Seven

Monday, 12 December, 1988
La Côte St. André to Toulouse

ON THE TRAIN, ALMOST TO TOULOUSE, 5:30 PM-- Not sure why, but I feel rather scared. Maybe because it's almost dark and it's raining outside. No real reason to be scared. Toulouse is the end of the line so it's not like I'll miss my stop. And I lucked out in Valence and got this train, which wasn't listed in the Cook Guide. It's one of those that splits. Part went to Nice, part to Toulouse. Happened in Avignon. And hey, I did manage that all right . . . Taking this kept me from needing to change trains twice more. Arrival time about the same.

All sorts of geography since 9:00 this morning. From the foothills at La Côte to the Alps at Grenoble to the Mediterranean at Sète. And now the rugged wine region of the Midi.

Weather tried to clear up for awhile, but I think it's hopeless. Must be monsoon season.


"Aye, now am I in Arden, the more fool I.
When I was at home I was in a better place,
But travellers must be content."†

Took the first stab at a hotel from the Let's Go France: the Hôtel St. Antoine. Yes, the neighborhood looks lively and interesting but they neglected to mention that the corrugated-plastic-covered indoor courtyard affords the only "exterior" light to many of the rooms. And the hotel front door stays open all night, and do I really want to leave my stuff here while I make my day trips to my monasteries?

And have you noticed how the prices are always higher than in the book? This one is at 85F.

Well, I've only paid for one night. I could scout around in the morning.

Meanwhile, I'd like a good cry. It's not so much being here as a stranger in a strange land, it's more the feeling of not having a real home anywhere, not even in Kansas City. Home is someone to go to, and at my age, mothers don't count.

At this point, I think I wish that after I see or talk to Friedl* in Stuttgart I could punt the whole deal and go back to Coverdale* early.

8:15 PM-- Went out for a bit. Pretty shop windows but I wasn't up to really admiring anything. Nor to wanting to go into any of the cafés for dinner. Back to the hotel to consume the cheese and pâté I bought this morning in La Côte.

And to be professionally depressed. I know that it's really very bad. That I should be making the most of this wonderful opportunity, etc., etc. But I keep thinking, what's it all for? What's life for except to be shared? And when you're like me and always taking in and never giving out, because you have no one to give to . . . it all seems pretty pointless.

I find the bathroom here has no lock. The WC in the public corridor, I mean. And the dingy "white" (sorta) chenille (of course) bedspread has funny dark curly hairs all over the topside of it. I'm not looking forward to seeing what the sheets look like underneath-- much less, sleeping between them. The plastic-covered courtyard two floors below is lit with fluorescent lamps that glare into my room, and no telling when I'll be able to get to sleep, even when I do work up the nerve to get into this dubious bed . . . I wonder what it'd do to my bills come summer if for the sake of my sanity I removed to a place a little more like civilization? And put it on my Visa?
†Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene iv

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Stillers win, 23-14!

Mr. Polamalu, u R teh Mann!!

But ow! the injuries! The doctors and trainers will be hard at work the next week. God willing, everyone will make a speedy and full recovery.

Especially our guys who will be needed on February 1st.

This trip to the Super Bowl is poetically appropriate, considering Pittsburgh has just celebrated its 250th anniversary. What a way to cap the festival year! But if you want my opinion, Pittsburgh won because of the two teams, it's the Steelers who were more desperate to go south to Tampa and get out of this freaking cold.

Stiller Lurve

*Looks around surreptitiously to make sure no Balmer fans are watching*

Goooooooooo Stillllleeeerrrrrrrrsssss!!!!!

We luvs u thiiiiiiiiissssssssssssssssssssssssss muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucccccccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(3-0 first quarter. Keep it up, Black & Gold!)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Uh, What Was It That I . . . ?

Last night I was getting ready for bed and I couldn't find my nightgown. It wasn't hanging over the footboard of the bed. It wasn't under any of my clothes lying on the bedspread. It wasn't on the floor.

It had to be there somewhere. So I looked. But no, not under the pillow, not under the covers, not under the bed, not in the basket with the dirty clothes.

Well, it was late. I was half undressed and cold. I have other nightgowns, nice clean ones. So I put one on and went to bed. I'd find the missing garment someplace obvious in the morning.

So then, early this afternoon, I was bringing a clean sweater up from the laundry room. I folded it up nicely and opened my sweater drawer to put it away. And there, lying on top of my sweaters, was my carefully-folded flannel nightgown.

What the . . . ?

Please understand, this was not a matter of my putting something somewhere reasonable and forgetting I put it there. My nightgowns don't belong in that drawer! They don't even belong in that dresser! In fact, technically-speaking, they don't even go in that room! Besides, this one wasn't clean, it had been worn! Whatever would possess me to put it in the sweater drawer? Where was my freaking mind when I put it there?

Oh, gosh. Am I headed for premature senility?

Kitteh sez, Du nawt want!!

But suppose that's what I'm headed for. I guess that means before it's too late I'd better exert myself and finish up all the half-completed projects I've got lying around the house. I'd better hurry up and do all those wonderful things I always wanted to do. I mean, Schubert can leave unfinished symphonies lying around, but not me!

If I'm on the way to losing my marbles-- what I have left of them-- I'd better get moving and start and complete my masterpiece, my magnum opus.

That is, if I could only remember what it's supposed to be . . .

Friday, January 16, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Six

Sunday, 11 December, 1988
La Côte St. André

HÔTEL FRANCE-- Hector’s birthday dawned cloudy and gray, which has become typical . . . The sun peeked out only once: oddly, when I was reading in the Mémoires about what a sunny spring day it was when he had his first Communion.

That was after church, when I was waiting for the hotel dining room to open for Sunday dinner.

The salle à manger was filled with jolly family parties this afternoon. Interestingly, at a nearby table there was a young man who had a look of la famille Berlioz about him, especially about the nose and mouth and in his abundant mop of curling light brown hair. But he lacked Hector’s poetry and gravity of countenance. I wonder if there are collateral lines extant around here . . .

I also noticed what I think was the cause of that squeaking noise I heard last night. They have a set of Western-salon swinging louvre doors between the kitchen and dining room, and they give out a creech every time a waiter or waitress passes through.

I shall say something about dinner, since I can’t afford many such, at 125F plus wine. It began with an amuse-guele in an egg cup. Layered, with aspic glaze. First bit tasted of chicken stock then as you ate lower with the tiny spoon there was a kind of vegetable puree mixed in. Carrot and tomato, I think.

Then came a nice bit of pâté chaud en croûte.

The fish course was a cold lobster pâté with a dollop of creme dressing with chives. The slice of pâté was very prettily decorated with chives and red and black caviar. On the side was a decorative lattice of haricots verts with tiny carrot balls inside the squares. A garnish more than anything, but it was cute. This was all quite delicious.

The only real disappointment was the main course. It was bits of duck that came drowned in a brown sauce, served in a copper skillet. The meat was rather overdone and the sauce reminded me too much of the omnipresent stuff the cooks at Coverdale* make from a mix. There were scalloped potatoes on the side and they did come off, however.

I’d pretty well eaten myself into a coma by then but still sampled four kinds of fromage off the cheese board.

And then there were little bonbon affairs and then the dessert I chose, a passion fruit mousse. Thought that was appropriate for celebrating Hector’s birthday . . .

Couldn’t finish any of these, and the waitress asked if I wanted to take it with me. With my bad French I gave her the impression I didn’t and as ungodly stuffed as I was I didn’t make any effort to correct that. Rather wish I had, now.

Chose a white Savoie for the wine. Fine with the lobster pâté but I think a red would have worked better with the duck.

I’m afraid I let my gourmandizing laissez-faire run away with me, however. I know the French take their eating seriously, especially Sunday dinner, and I can spend three hours over a multi-course meal with the best of them, which this afternoon I did. However, my sitting there patiently between courses letting the waiting folk assume I had nothing to do here in La Côte except pack in their cooking really reamed me for time. I barely was able to see the Musée Berlioz and then get back to the church for the concert. And I was late at that, making it for only the last two Faurés. They were the pieces I wanted to hear, but still I had no time to wander around the town and take pictures, at all. And the bus leaves at 9:13 AM tomorrow, which in this land of eternal daylight savings time means it will be just barely light.

As Mr. Chenley† said in his letter, the director of the Musée was most friendly and courteous. He even came downstairs (after I had explained that I was a member of the London Berlioz Society) to where I was looking at the chronology to give me a keyring and medal made for the 1969 centenary of Hector’s death.

What he did not give me was his name, nor I mine. For that matter, I am not even signed in here at the hotel. Madame says last night, oh, it can wait till morning. Very nice and trusting, but I don’t really care for the idea that if I croaked up here this evening they’d only know who I was by rummaging through my baggage.

Anyway, at the Musée it’s hard to tell what room is what, as there’s no way of knowing if the furniture is arranged as it was in Berlioz’s time or if it was just put in to look pretty.‡ I did ask which one was where Dr. Berlioz taught his son Latin. It’s the room opposite the kitchen.

There’s a chair in there that was Hector’s. Forgive me, mon bien-aime, but I’m afraid I was so far within myself that it was only my intellect that moved itself to realize, "He actually sat there."

It’s a charming house, however. Very nice marble fireplaces. And a stone sink in the kitchen. And plaster walls with painted designs.

The music isn’t piped anywhere but into the reception room, to the left of the entry, but you can hear it dimly upstairs. Bits of Harold, the Hamlet Funeral March, the Waverly and Le Corsair overtures . . . Nothing vocal or they might’ve gotten something live.

I had Volume I of my 1878 edition of the Mémoires with me, and showed it to the people on the desk. I didn’t understand all their comments but I gathered it was a reasonably good find.

They gave me a copy of the Bulletin of the French Society. And I bought a monograph on Hector’s childhood and adolescence (plus a few postcards). Tout en française, à bien sûr, meaning I’m in for the long haul with this language . . . but I would dearly love to have a companion with me to whom I could speak English and who could maybe supplement my French . . .

Got back to the hotel (where I dropped off my camera) then over to the church just before they were to do the Cantique de Jean Racine. The director of the Musée was there and very kindly made sure I got in on a student ticket and found me a seat closer to the front. The choir, who I think are called "À Coeur Joie," and the orchestra, the Orchestre de Chambre du Dauphine, did a positively luminous job on the prayer. The Fauré Requiem was lovely, too, but the men were just a tad harsh in places and the baritone soloist was choppy in his phrasing. Still, they did lots better than we did in Hector’s Te Deum last Saturday. And the audience liked it. Set up a rhythmic clapping afterwards . . . but there were to be no encores ce soir.

The acoustics in the eglise St.-André are pretty good. Apparently the nave used to have a wooden roof but it’s rough plaster now. The aisles are ribbed groin vaulted. The nave piers are great fat round Romanesque ones but the arches are all pointed. The architecture is in general rather klutzy and uncoordinated (nothing aligns or matches), but it’s solid and substantial nonetheless.

In spite of or because of what I experienced this afternoon and evening, I’m afraid I feel a bit depressed. The weather has a lot to do with it and so does the language. I can get my physical needs met in it but none of my emotional ones. I hope I pop out of this before the 23rd or else I’m going to make a pest of myself when I see Lukas*. He’s liable to get a hug whether he wants one or not.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I’d been more inspired by what I’ve seen today. But perhaps the voice and presence of men of vision speak more loudly in their works than in the sites and artifacts that knew them in their physical presence. Meaning I wasn’t as moved as I’d expected to be seeing the house where Berlioz grew up and learned Virgil and the first elements of music.

But I just had a rather alarming thought. Over the last fourteen and a half years since I learned and sang the Requiem, Hector's music has become internalized for me. It's become part of my personality as much as of his, and to a degree that’s also happened with the places and things he described in the Mémoires. So when I see them in person and their reality doesn’t fit the concept I had of them in my head, they seem somewhat irrelevant. Worse, they seem to take this person to whom my soul feels so close and remove him from me, to make him a stranger like all the strangers here.

Fortunately, I brought the music along. Oh God, let it not abandon me!

I think I should take advantage of the bathtub again this evening. Heaven knows when I shall have another chance . . .

A silly note here. My missing glove you know about. But here’s the further tally of items lost so far: My luggage keys and their neck chain, pulled off somewhere between Caen and Chartres (nothing was locked, fortunately). My Youth Hostel pass which I left at the desk at Chartres (they’re supposed to be sending it to the PO at Toulouse, poste restante). And I appear to have left my slip at the Auberge in Chartres as well. Now this is really too bad. It was good enough for me to wear but with its shot elastic and safety pins, it’s really no good to anyone else. I shall have to buy another, too. Pestiferous.

I can't hear that squeaky door below me tonight, so I guess the restaurant isn't open Sunday evenings. That's a blessing, at least.
†The then-secretary of the London Berlioz Society
‡The Musée was renovated in 2002-03 for the Berlioz birth bicentennial, so this state of affairs may well have changed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


My 2008 Christmas letter morphed into a 2009 Epiphany letter, and I've spent the day personalizing them and addressing the envelopes, finally to get them sent out across the globe along with copies of my latest Christmas carol.

Being a prudent person (sometimes), I'm checking the addresses of my British and European friends, especially if I haven't heard from them in a year or two. Or five. Or ten.

The Internet is a marvellous tool for the purpose. If you have enough information on a person to avoid outrageous plunges into mistaken identity, you can track down about anyone, worldwide.

And I have to say many of my Oxford former fellow-students and friends have emerged as an illustrious bunch. The man I've tagged as Friedl* is the European coordinator of a major Protestant ecumenical alliance. Another man coaches fencing teams that have taken international championships. Others have posts at prestigious universities and have written enough books on meaty topics to supply half the missing couch legs in Christendom. They shine and shine, whereas I--?

I'm sitting here with no vocation because my church authorities in their wisdom think my next post should be an "easy" one, and easy posts aren't exactly current in the PC(USA)!

It's my own fault, really. I could claim gender discrimination, but plenty of women are wildly successful. I could say I'd do brilliantly were I simply given the chance, but why must the chance be "given" to me? I could argue that I wasn't raised to be ambitious or to have wide horizons, but what did I ever do to fight back against those assumptions?

No, while my grad school colleagues have used their guts and gone on to be wonders, I am a gutless wonder.

And I hope I get a fine sense of accomplishment from getting these letters out. Because unless I think hard about what I should and ought and can make of my life in 2009, that's about the level of fulfillment I can expect.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Five

Saturday, 10 December 1988
Lyon to La Côte St. André

LYON-- Slept last night at the Hotel Alexander†, within schlepping distance-- just barely-- from the Perrache station. Turns out I may have reamed myself if the object was to avoid carrying things-- the interurban bus station is at Part-Dieu. The local one is at Perrache.

However, considering that the bus for La Côte doesn’t leave till 5:00 pm, and that the sights worth seeing here are closer to la Gare Perrache (such as Vieux Lyon), maybe it’s ok.

Terribly tired and stressed and not having such an easy time determining the bus schedules. I really think I’m going to have to rethink my itinerary. Allow a full day in Toulouse, perhaps, just to sit on my rear and recruit my strength. I’m getting to the point where I can’t cope in English, let alone in French. Tempted to cry or get bitchy in public which is not Christian.

At the moment I’m sitting in a salon de thé in la Vieille Ville . . . Nursing a pot of tea after dejeuner. Charcuterie, I learn, is cold cuts and not a lot of them, either. But the salad was good, as was the cheese dressing for it, and the bit of gateau chocolat generous. And the
orange amère is quite flavorful.

They have little glass pitchers pour le vin which are quite attractive. Williams-Sonoma should pick them up.

The young lady doing the serving was taking her sweet time about bringing the rest of my order after the initial entrée. This was all right in its way: I thus had no compunction about sitting there getting the tiredness out.

And I had the opportunity to listen to a sextet of Britons who walked in about the time I was tucking into the cake. It was good to hear a British voice again. Couldn’t identify all the accents but one woman sounded northern Irish and one of the men like a Liverpudlian. They knew even less French than I do and were discussing what the really useful phrases for the English-French phrasebooks would be. When one of the men wryly suggested, "‘I am an idiot!’" ("Je suis un idiot!"), I couldn’t help but smile. They must’ve noticed my reaction, for one said, sotto voce, "I think the lady’s English."

Well, not quite, but that’ll do.

(Funny about that. No one’s nailed me as an American yet. Or else, that’s considered a bit of an insult around here and it’s politer to ask first if one is British, even if you think otherwise.)

After awhile, the dilatory service stopped being an advantage. It was 3:05 and I had a train to catch at 4:08. Pried the bill out of the girl, though I had to go to the kitchen door to get it, and paid it. Service charge tacked on top of the food here. Not sure if that included gratuity; if it didn’t, tant pis. (I am rotten.) Au revoir, merci, I’m gone.

The old city looks like a great place to come on a sunny day with more energy and a lighter (in terms of weight, not money) purse. Myriad cobbled streets with the drains down the middle. I mainly stuck to the Rue St. Jean, which extends from the Cathedral.

I’m growing quite used to walking in the middle of streets like that, along with everyone else. Always liked that sort of thing. Not on the boulevards, of course. Not that wild and crazy.

(What’s the term for when you state the obvious and it sounds inane? I think I just did it.)

Most French cars have yellow headlights. A lot easier to see. Although there may be a white or yellow option, because in the country they’re mostly white.

They drive on the right side of the road (with allowances for the feelings of my British friends, who prefer to keep left). But there is a street just before the rue Victor Hugo here where they were doing it the British way. Most odd.

Anyway, I’d passed a couple of old bookshops in my ramblings before lunch. They’d been closed then (lunchtime is lunchtime here. Period.) but were open now. Ducked into one; asked if they had any books by or about Berlioz. No, they did not. A bit further on, tried the other one. The proprietor indicated a lower shelf. And there were two little volumes of the Mémoires, en française, à bien sûr, with very nice leather spines and inscribed 1882 by their original owner. Second or third edition, 1878, but still tantalizingly close to the original publication date. It’s a good thing this wasn’t one of those places where one bargains, because I pounced on those things like a starving man on food. The price would’ve gone straight up.

As it was, the marked price was pretty high: 500F, or around £45. I realize that’s not so bad, when you compare it with those Oxford U Press volumes I priced at £30.

Oh, well, they didn’t take Visa and if I’d spent my cash I’d never make it out of La Côte. "Trop cher," je dis, et je pars.

It’s wonderful how I have the chutzpah to say in French things I never would in English. I’d never tell a British or American shopkeeper I couldn’t afford something. Anything else but.

I took off-- it was 3:25 by now-- but just as I was rounding the corner towards the Pont Bonapart I saw that the Credit Agricole was still open. Oh God! Hector, the things I’ll do for you!

And I went in and changed another £60 of traveller’s cheques. They took an ungodly amount of time about it, though there was no line. And I'd already eaten up several minutes finding a private nook in the bank where I could discreetly extricate my waist wallet from under my clothes and lay hands on the cheques.

Finally the transaction was done. I took the money and ran, back to the Diogenes Librairie. Cash on the barrelhead (or the chair seat), take the books in a plastic bag, and pray we get that 4:08 train.

Plan was to find a taxi, but the only one I saw was occupied. Ran like the dickens. Fortunately felt better having eaten. Bypassed Place Bellecour, down the first stretch of rue Victor Hugo, past the statue to M. Ampere (electrifying), down more of Victor Hugo to the hotel entrance opposite the charming McDonald’s. Collected my bags from the hotel closet and began limping for the station. Across Place Carnot, up the stairs (ascenseur broken, of course), through the shopping mall, across the pedestrian bridge, through the station entry mall, and in.

OK, there’s my train on the board. Track 5. So I got down there and the conductor tells me the train to Lyon-Part Dieu is on Track #1! He very graciously shouldered my heaviest bag and got me over there in time to catch the 4:08 to get the bus at the other station.

ON THE TRAIN TO LYON-PART DIEU-- Something else odd I’ve noticed here in France. About half the time, I’ve observed, nobody ever comes to take tickets on the trains. And though you do have to validate your ticket each time (not passes, though) in a machine before you enter the platform area, it’s not like there’s a turnstile. I suppose the penalties for travelling without a ticket are great? Or could you just say, Oh, I was running late, and buy one from the conductor?

LA CÔTE ST. ANDRÉ, 11:50 PM-- Everything turned out ok with the busses. A tourist information lady showed me where to wait. And though the posted schedules were no help, the bus driver was able to give me a schedule of the route to Grenoble. Turns out it originates in Vienne, which was why my referring to the "Lyon-Grenoble bus" was so confusing to everyone in Lyon.

Travelling to La Côte, the bus takes a little two lane highway that all of a sudden shoots into these little villages. The road narrows to a lane and a half and that great big bus has to negotiate the tightest turns against the houses. It’s a miracle they have any walls left.

I took the time on the road to verify that I don’t need a seat reservation for the TGV between Narbonne and Montpelier Monday. And that I shall either have to punt my side-trip to Aurillac or rent a car from Toulouse. The train schedule won’t let me get there and back to Toulouse again in a single day.

It was raining on the way down here. It’s raining everywhere in this country. Je pense que il pleuvra toujours.

Well, it’s December. And at least it wasn’t actively dripping when I was set down by la Place Berlioz here. It is not exactly in the center of town. So I shouldered my load and took off. The things I do for Hector, again!

Lost one of my lightweight leather gloves in all that running about in Lyon. Missed it as I was assembling my things to get off the bus.

Found the rue de la Republique within a couple of blocks. And there on my right, up the street a ways, was the solid but unprepossessing facade of the
Birthplace. Funny, but I don’t think I expected it to be smack in the middle of town like that. But then I guess I don’t expect small towns to be all rowhouses like this, either.

Checked the opening hours but didn’t stay around to pay my devotions. Bags too heavy. Crossed the street to a stationer’s (still open, at 7:15, thank God) and asked the way to the two hotels I knew of.

Hotel Europe, recommended by Brian Chenley‡ in his letter, was closed for the season. So I trudged on up the hill to the
Hotel France, aupres de l’eglise. It, as Michelin states, is a restaurant with rooms. A very nice girl and an elderly lady are running the place; I’m afraid my French abandoned me at the crucial moment. N’importe! They discerned what I was after and showed me upstairs immediately, never mind, I could register later.

I’m spending the money (Visa, since I have to make up for the books I’ve bought) on a room with a bathtub. I am just too grubby otherwise. I think I perspired all the way through my coat. How else did the inner face of my backpack get wet?

Nice little room with a table that, covered with the spare blanket, made an adequate ironing board for my dark gray dress. Thank goodness that B&D travel iron does work and didn’t blow any fuses.

Only problem with this place (ignoring the insufficiency of hangers and no hooks in the bathroom, which is par for the course all over cette pays and besides, these people do provide towels) is the presence of a high-pitched, irregularly intermittent sound, like a sign swinging in the breeze or maybe a swinging door opening and shutting . . . Whatever it is I shall have to endeavor to ignore it and try not to get a headache from tension.

Over to the eglise first thing after getting established. Mass at 10:30 in the morning. And there’s a Berlioz birthday celebration concert there at 5:00. Wonderful, think I, we shall hear some of Hector’s music in his hometown. Then I saw the poster. All Debussy and Fauré! OK, so it is the Fauré Requiem, which I love, but still.

Maybe they don’t have the forces around here to do a decent job of most Berlioz. They could tackle L’Enfance du Christ and Les Nuits d’Été, I should think, but maybe they’ve been done recently.

Feels a little odd being here. Wonder what the townspeople think of people coming in just to honor their most unusual native son. Do they regard us as oddities? But then they found him rather odd, too, didn’t they?
†Having done some Web research, I find I gave my Lyon hotel an inadvertent sex change! It's really the Hotel Alexandra, and it's still there at 49 rue Victor Hugo and is still quite reasonable.

‡The then-secretary of the London Berlioz Society

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It Would Be Good For Me . . .

A couple posts ago I listed my Impossible Dreams for 2009. Such lovely habits! Such ideal accomplishments! How good it would be to incorporate them all into my life-- if only I were a wholly different sort of person born in a whole different universe.

But now, if I am to make one serious resolution for 2009, I see it would be good for me to resolve to stand against cowardice and fear and instead think and act in courage and fortitude.

Never mind all the specific things I do or refrain from doing out of fear. I'm sure if you examine your own heart you'll discover many of them for yourself, in yourself. But God helping, I resolve to stand against . . .

. . . the fear of disappointment.

. . . the fear of not being liked by other people.

. . . the fear of bothering other people.

. . . the fear of having to take the time and trouble to do something properly.

. . . the fear of not performing up to other people's expectations.

. . . the even greater fear of not performing up to my own expectations.

. . . the fear of making a choice in a given situation because it automatically eliminates my freedom to choose.

. . . the fear of loss of freedom.

. . . the fear of loss of autonomy.

. . . and all those other crabby, craven cowardices that seize me in the gut and whine, "I doan wanna. I'm not gonna. It scares me. Leave me alone!"

So what can I put up against this? How can I take heart and strength in the new year?

By means of perfect love.

John the Apostle in his first letter writes, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

Whose perfect love is this? Mine? Don't be ridiculous. I can't love perfectly, any more than I can be perfectly brave, courageous, and bold.

No, John is referring to the perfect love of God. He says, "We love, because he first loved us." That perfect love is shown in Jesus Christ the Son of God as he willingly died to turn away the condemnation that I and every human being deserved for our rebellion against God. So since God loved me so much as to do that for me, and since there is now no condemnation for someone like me who belongs to Christ Jesus, what do I have on earth to be afraid of? Really, ultimately, God himself is the only one we really need to fear, and in Christ, he's taken that fear of punishment totally away!

This doesn't mean that when fear marks my first reaction to being asked to do something, I'll automatically tackle it or pick it up and run with it to prove how courageous and God-trusting I am. Maybe the best response in a given situation might be for me to decide that whatever it is isn't worth doing! But let me make that decision clearly and honorably out of logic and love, not as a by-product of my endocrine system! To conduct myself like that would be very good for me . . . and, most likely, very good for others as well.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Car-nal Knowledge

First thing this morning, I was heading southbound down the two-lane highway, literally on my way to do the Lord's work. The day was dark, cold, and wet and the road was twisty and hilly through field and forest, moor and mountain-- oops! not time for the second hymn yet, is it? Google Maps had told me it was going to take over an hour to do the twenty-nine miles to the first church where I was to preach, but I was trying to cut that down a bit-- while keeping an eye on road conditions, of course, and watching out for Deer With Attitude.

Two miles or so from my destination, I'd emerged from the hills into the flats. I was making good time, the day was beginning to open up, and all was well.

Until I rounded a lefthand bend. And the front end of my PT Cruiser took a sudden fancy to keep heading left. On the straightaway.

Hey! Did I just cross the center line? Oops, 'fraid so! All right, stay cool-- crank the wheel-crank the wheel-crank the wheel-I can do this, I can pull it out, keep cranking-crank-crank-crank! Oh, damn, which way am I supposed to crank the wheel? I'm turning it right-right-right, but it doesn't seem to be doing a heck of a lot of good, is that why I'm still sliding across the--empty, thank God!--northbound lane, closer and closer to the-- dammit, don't want to hit-- keep turning the wheel, keep turning the wheel, keep the car away from the-- bamm! guardrail.

I did not intend to be introduced to any guardrails this morning. I especially did not intend to experience intimate knowledge of any.

So much for my plans. Thank you, Mr. Black Ice's Matchmaking Service.

It was my left fender and the left corner of my bumper that left a token of paint and broken parts on the unfeeling, uncaring galvanized railing. That's some consolation. Head-on would have been a lot nastier.

So there I was. Stopped, at least. On the shoulder and not down into the field, which was a blessing. Shut off the engine and tried opening my door. No go. Call the cops? Triple-A?

No. I had a service to lead and preach in twenty-five minutes. And no contact number at the church to let anyone know if I'd be late.

So I wouldn't be late, if I and my car could help it. Would it restart?


Would it disengage itself from the guardrail's steely embrace?


So eager-- anxious-- was I to prove this that I did not get out and take any pictures of the Carnal Act itself. Souvenir shots waited till I'd carefully driven back across the road and parked the car on the southbound shoulder. I gingerly climbed over the stickshift and handbrake, and getting out by way of the passenger door, went around to document the damage.

How damnable the damage is, I'll have to find out. I really, really, really would prefer not to turn this in to my insurance . . . I was just five months away from getting out from under the three-year penalty from a previous accident, and I do not want my rates to go up, no I do not . . .

But I know what I'll be doing tomorrow . . .

Me? I feel fine, mostly. A little pain in my lower back. But how much of that is the bump on the highway, and how much of it was standing in the pulpit with my fallen arches in dress shoes for two services, with no worship leaders to assist so I could sit down occasionally? Not to mention wandering around the mall checking out the sales until 4:00 PM afterwards! In those same shoes!

After the second service at the second church, I drove again, more carefully and more slowly, along that fateful stretch of road, casting an eye over to the side to see if I could tell where I'd hit, maybe by token of a bright red piece of plastic bumper at the guardrail's feet.

I saw nothing. Nary a trace. Teach me to have any more casual encounters with guardrails! They're all Come 'ere, Sweetie, but once they've got you they leave you bruised and battered and won't even cherish the little gifts you leave behind!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Resolutionem ad Absurdum

2009 is u-cumen in, loude sing sparrow et crowe!

It's New Year's Day, so it must be time for New Year's resolutions!

And I have lots. Lots and lots, all backed up with fiery resolve for a clean, glorious, efficient, practical, productive, and did I leave out earth-friendly? new year.

>In 2009, I resolve to ALWAYS get to bed with the lights off by 11:00 PM, even if I don't get home till midnight! And ALWAYS to get up on the dot of 6:00 AM, no matter how many cats are on the bed!

>I resolve to wash the kitchen floor EVERY NIGHT before I go to bed, so its gleaming whiteness will make it unnecessary for me to turn on the light when I come down in the dark of the morning!

>I resolve to get ALL the renovation work done on my first floor, including any new flooring, so I can astonish my friends and neighbors when I invite them all over for the stupendous Christmas party I resolve to throw next December!

>I resolve that anyone who ever drops by unexpectedly will NEVER, EVER find my floors and stairs blowing with kitteh and goggie furballs!

>I resolve to answer all my business and volunteer work e-mails RIGHT AWAY, even if I don't know how to answer them, because I also resolve to become so confident and brilliant that I will ALWAYS know the right answer to everything, without needing to think about it!

>I resolve to finish up EVERY LAST ONE of my in-progress sewing projects, even the ones I started in the early 1980s!

>I resolve to grow my garden this year ENTIRELY FROM SEED, meaning I also resolve to teach my cats not to eat the seedlings from under the grow light!

>I resolve NEVER, EVER to leave a light on in a room where I am not; in fact, I will get my cats to teach me how to see in the dark!

>I resolve to turn all my compost piles once EVERY TWO WEEKS! At least.

>I resolve to buy NO MORE books until I've first verified my bookcase space!

>I resolve to buy NO MORE frozen food, until I've checked whether I already have three of whatever it is in my freezer already!

>I resolve to train my dog NEVER, EVER to bark unless it's really, truly important! And teach him to ask me first so I can decide if it really is.

>I resolve to put off reading new magazines and rereading old novels until I've finished EVERY LAST ONE of the (dry, dull, boring) church growth tomes I promised 16 months ago to read and review for my presbytery committee work!

>I resolve to focus on ONLY ONE thing at a time! My widdle sis thinks our whole family is riddled with ADD. I'll show her!

>I resolve ALWAYS to deal with and file all my paperwork right away! No piles in my study in 2009!

>I resolve to keep my accounts up to date EVERY DAY, and NEVER lose track of a single penny.

>I resolve to get a wonderful, fulfilling, high-paying full-time job in the NEXT TWO WEEKS and pay off ALL my credit cards by my birthday in June!

>I resolve that ALL my blog posts this year will be riveting and compelling masterpieces of modern literature (or is that 'post-modern'??)!

>And finally, in 2009, I will NEVER, EVER, EVER backdate a blog post!!

[And if you believe any of this, you need to resolve not to believe everything you read on the Intertoobz!]