Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Fifteen

Tuesday, 20 December, 1988
Paris to Reims to Paris to Dijon

PARIS-- Was supposed to get the 8:30 for Reims from the Gare d’Est this morning. But due to not figuring in Paris rush hour on the Métro and having to figure out a strange railway station, I just missed it. First time I’ve missed a train so far. Funny, as I discovered later, I might’ve made it if I’d remembered to look for the train on the board for "Grands Lignes" instead of trying to find it on the one for "Banlieu." The difficulty was that there was an 8:30 to the suburbs, too.

Nothing to do at that point but use the time I had. So I reserved a place on the TGV for Dijon tonight.

Then I boarded the Métro and almost went out to see the abbey church of St. Denis. But the word was that the Métro there was running at 50% only and I had two more transfers to make. And if I was going to Reims today I needed to make the 11:05 train and it was heading towards 10:00 as it was.

So I stayed on the subway to the Invalides stop and walked over in the Paris sunshine to the chapel of
St. Louis des Invalides.

This church witnessed the first performance of my Requiem. They were about to hold a funeral service so I couldn’t linger, but it was good to see the place and wonder exactly where Berlioz had placed his four brass choirs.

I could see the Eiffel Tower’s top over some buildings near there. Closest I’ll get this trip . . .

Shocking, isn’t it? But this trip to Paris has primarily been a Berlioz pilgrimage for me. And even though I couldn’t find the Conservatoire day before yesterday and didn’t get the chance to visit his old street in Montmartre to see where he lived or go and "eat bread and salt on the Pont Neuf" as he did in his poor student days, I found he was more present here than he was in La Côte St. Andre. It’s given me real perspective on why I felt so empty about things there.

Paris was the city he flew to, to do and dare and struggle and use the talent God had given him. Even when Paris put him down and refused to rightly estimate his brilliance and talent, it was still the crucible where his musical skill was refined, the fertile field where his mind was sown with the strong seed of Gluck and Spontini and Beethoven and von Weber, the arena where he fought his battles for his music and for the music of the great ones who rose with him.

Whereas La Côte was the place he had to escape from, the place he feared being stifled by.

You know what it reminds me of? La Côte, I mean? Especially seeing the substantial, upper middle class house where Hector was raised, it reminds me of
Mission Hills, with all those respectable and prosperous doctors and lawyers and stockbrokers, all proudly expecting their firstborn sons to grow up and become doctors and lawyers and stockbrokers just like them. That’s what Dr. Berlioz wanted Hector to do. He wasn’t a hick country practitioner. Dr. Louis Berlioz was a scholar and a scientist of note. He published esteemed medical papers and had a name among his colleagues. He always thought his eldest would follow in his footsteps, that playing the flute and scribbling music for local string and wind ensembles as Hector did was just a civilized pastime for after hours. For his son to throw over medical school and tell his parents to hell with it, he was going to the Conservatory of Music and become an opera composer, was like a kid from Mission Hills informing his folks he was abandoning Harvard to play in a rock and roll band.

There was so much inertia pulling Hector to accede to his father’s wishes! It was always expected that he'd get his medical degree and return to La Côte and join the family practice and become as respectable and prosperous as his father. It went without saying that he'd inherit that fine house and live out the rest of his days as the esteemed physician of the Isere region! The only thing that could break that inertia was the musical fire within him and his conviction that he had to let it blaze forth and Paris was the only place he could begin to do that.

And that is why I couldn’t find or feel mon cher Hector in La Côte St. Andre. He wasn’t there. He left. He came to Paris and got away.

REIMS-- Made the 11:05. Contrarily, the weather clouded up again as the train travelled east. Of course.

The sculpture on both the west front and the north transept portals of the
Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims was being restored. Scaffolding everywhere. So for this one I spent the most time circling the flanks and the chevet. I do like the angels up in the buttress piers. And of course anyone who’s anybody is featured up on the west front.

They don’t have much of the medieval glass left at Reims. What they do have is the axial chapel windows by
Marc Chagall (interesting place for a nice Jewish boy) and some very harmonious but quirky windows by Jacques Simon. The latter included one dedicated to the making of champagne.

It’s a pity so much of the cathedral sculpture has been destroyed. It’s very effective the way it continues around to the screen on the interior of the west wall. One of my favorite scenes there was of Abraham offering a tithe of the spoils to the priest-king Melchizedek after the battle of Sodom. Abraham is dressed in full chain mail like a medieval knight!

It looked as if the weather might-- just might-- break enough for me to get some sunlight on the west front sculpture this afternoon. So I decided to go get something to eat while I waited for it to do it. As I wandered through the streets of the town, I found a shop that actually had little busts of mon cher Hector, in alabaster on a marble base. The one on display had the sculpture and the base a little out of kilter . . . In a good cause I can be pretty bold, so I asked the clerk in my best fractured French if they had any more to choose from. He got a ladder and reached down a couple more from high off the shelf above. Examined them . . . ah, yes, one of these was definitely better.

This set me back 72F but I’ve done so little souvenir acquiring so far (books don’t count). Had the store pack it in a box so it won’t get hurt in transit.

The skies did clear up so I returned to the cathedral and took some more photos of the statuary, with the west front all golden. It was a fun getting angles where the scaffolding was least in the way. Thanks to the telephoto lens on the Olympus I think I was able to get some good shots of the kings on the archivolts. Then I popped back inside and admired the sunlight streaming through the medieval glass, especially the west end rose window. What a blessing the sunlight can be!

I thought I’d read that the tomb of
Hughes Libergier, a medieval architect, was in Reims Cathedral. But I couldn’t find it. And I didn’t ask the man at the bookstall. This is dumb, because on the train back to Paris I read in the guidebook I bought that it is there somewhere . . . and now it’s too late to see it.

Before I left Reims, since I was in one of the major cities of the
genuine Champagne region, I decided to do something gracious for a change. I bought a bottle of champagne for a hostess gift for Lukas’s* family. I think I can carry that bit more . . . Have no idea if the vintner is any good. It’s just what they had on Christmas special at the Monoprix. Really wanted one of those pretty Art Nouveau bottles from Perrier but at upwards of 220F there was no way.

PARIS AGAIN-- After the return from Reims got off the subway at the Bastille stop to admire
Duc’s column and see the place where the Funeral and Triumphal Symphony was first performed. There were a lot of other places here I wished I had time to see but there was no way-- I had to find something to eat and pick up my bags from the hotel and make that train for Dijon.

Around that area, though, I found something else I was interested in-- one of the famous Art Nouveau
Métro stops, by another Hector, M. Guimard. Glad I caught that.

DIJON, THE HÔTEL MONGE-- Not a good time getting here. First of all, I cut it a little short on time in Paris. Second, with the bust and the bottle and the books and all, and with me being in general fatigued, the bags were miserably heavy to carry. And then the lady at the hotel, who’s known nothing about it so far, so why did I take her advice now? told me (in English, since she had no patience with my French), oh, the slowdown strike is still on, don’t take the Métro, take the #63 bus to the gare de Lyon.

So instead of schlepping one and a half blocks to the Métro stop I lugged everything, feeling like the Ride to the Abyss, four long blocks to the corner where, according to the concierge’s sage advice, I could get the right bus. But when sweating and panting I arrived there, I found that no one on that corner had any idea where any such #63 bus stopped.

So I took the Métro anyway. And yes, it was a bit slow, not being full service, but at least I did get to the station and onto the train with ten or so minutes to spare.

I feel like I spent most of the short time on the TGV catching my breath. I pulled into
Dijon, feeling about half-past dead. Blessedly, a man, a fellow-passenger from the train, carried my blue and heavy bag for me from the platform to the outside of the station.

Well, it seemed that since I had to use my Visa, being short of cash, and not liking to check into hotels sight unseen anymore, I thought I could just walk into town and check a couple of possibilities. The distance didn’t seem far on the Michelin Guide map.

It was excruciatingly far. It was 10:00 PM and Dijon isn’t as well populated at night as Paris or Toulouse. The streets were dark and empty and I thought, wonderful, someone could come right now and bang me over the head and steal me blind. But I was so close to the end of my rope, only able to stagger a few more steps before I had to set the bag down and rest, that I didn’t care. I couldn’t hurt worse than I already did. I almost wished someone would come along and run off with my luggage. I’d be free of it then.

Fortunately, one of the Let’s Go hotels , the Hôtel Monge, did take Visa. And they did have a room. And it’s actually not decorated too badly. Usual chenille bedspread but the wall paper is good. And it overlooks a charming courtyard and has a view of the steeples of two churches.

Also has a view of the apartment opposite, whose occupants were engaging in something I’m sure was its own absorbing reason for their forgetting to pull the shades or extinguish the lights. That’s all right, we’ll assume they’re married and leave our own curtains closed. MYOB.

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