Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Thirteen

Sunday, 18 December, 1988

Woke up around 7:00 AM with a stomachache. It was either food poisoning, indigestion, the flu that’s going around, or the approach of the wrong time of month. I chose to believe the last, having pills on hand to throw at that condition. So I took them then went back to sleep.

Nevertheless I did not feel too wonderful all day. Considered not getting up for Mass (à la Mexico City, 1970†) but decided I’d regret it if I didn’t.

So I put on my gray dress and went to Mass at Notre Dame. It’s rather odd-- the organ plays and they have readings and so forth between services. Meanwhile people are walking around taking pictures-- with flash-- and it’s a real zoo. Fortunately things calmed down for the service itself.

There was a copy in French and in three other languages of the readings. What I need is that and the actual eucharistic liturgy, in French. A copy of the sermon wouldn’t hurt, either. The priest spoke, I believe, on not making Christmas a surface thing. Very edifying, I’m sure, if I could’ve understood it.

I still did not feel at all well and hoped to gracious I would not have one of my famous Raging Hormonal Imbalances right in the middle of the service. But I survived to go up and take Communion (one kind only), and to come back to my seat and lose it.

Emotionally, I mean. It wasn’t being there, per se, that did it. It was more the feeling of oh, God, what am I supposed to be doing with my life, and if You don’t let me know, who will? I asked Him to give me some kind of sign as to what He wants me to do . . . somebody bringing something up in a conversation, maybe. I don’t know. What did He give Jim Leffel*‡ when he was struggling over accepting the call to Wilkes-Barre*?

Outside afterwards there was a rather ragtag group in front of the cathedral singing Christmas carols-- in English-- for the Armenian earthquake relief (and that’s what happened there, on top of the delicate political situation).

I headed north and had a bottle of Perrier at the first café I found open. I needed the bubbles. Stomach lousy. Between the Pompidou Center and Les Halles I made myself buy a crepe and eat it, but I wasn’t too happy about it.

Still, there were things I had to do today so I pushed myself. Had to find a florist to sell me some real flowers, for one. And as long as I was fairly close, I thought I’d go up to the Boulevards and see where Berlioz went to music school.

Found the fleurs first, near the rue Montmartre. I had to decide what he would like. I settled on a bunch of those small tulips, yellow and white and dark pink and variegated, with their green stems and leaves. Freesias would’ve done well, too, but the only ones they had were all yellow and looked like cheese popcorn. Definitely wrong.

Walked on over to where the Conservatoire is supposed to be, but unless there is another place in Paris with streets named rue Bergère and rue Faubourg de Montmartre, they’ve demolished the building that was there in the early 19th century and moved the school elsewhere.§ Still, to think that he walked there once, on that pavement, and passed through that air!

Took the Métro to Havre-Canmartin, where I encountered a check. The #13 line, which I needed for both la Cimetière Montmartre and for St. Denis [to see the famous abbey church] was closed. Went on to Villiers to at least reach the former and discovered the #6 line wasn’t going today, either. Transit strike on. So I went back to the Place Europe stop and walked it from there.

The cemetery is under the Rue Calincourt overpass, unlike what is shown on my map. Found the entrance down below, though, and inquired of the uniformed porter where to find it . . . Hector’s got a lane named after him there. And he’s not under the viaduct, thank God.

French urban cemeteries aren’t like American ones. They don’t go in for green grass and well-tended plots. They tend to be little necropoles of miniature chapels and temples all jumbled in cheek by jowl with only drear, sandy soil between.

But thank God, somebody has done something about that ghastly Beaux Arts horror of a tomb that Hector originally had, the picture of which I saw in a book in the Philadelphia Free Library. It was all redone in 1970 in black Andes granite (or something similar) with gold in the incised lettering. The portrait on the medallion isn’t as beautiful as it should be, it doesn’t properly convey his character, but everything is very well tended, there are cyclamens, the pretty dark pink kind, and healthy-looking shrubbery growing in pots that are an integral part of the monument, not like the desiccated chrysanthemums on some nearly tombs, and-- oh, God, Berlioz! Berlioz! I can’t-- I wish-- Oh, Lord, I-- and he’s-- I can’t express it!

One doesn’t go to pieces totally. One mustn’t. There are other people around every so often. And it’s not like he died recently or anything . . . let us be sensible.

I could take refuge in activity. I could at least give him what I brought him. Someone who came earlier had left him a bunch of white chrysanthemums (I was glad to see that); I unbound my tulips and laid them across the other flowers. And I knew I’d chosen the right thing. They’re like him, in a way. Straightforward, unpretentious, colorful in their way, but still sensitive to the rigors of the mundane.

There’s a tree there . . . its roots probably grow down into his grave. It’s very handy when you have no other shoulder to cry on . . . Though I’ve cried on his shoulder often enough, figuratively, singing his songs and reading his memoirs and his letters, taking comfort in knowing there was one who has been through it himself, who could express it all so as to draw it up into ineffable poetry and beauty, one who despite his sins and failings took the gift that God gave him and used it, sublimely . . . I couldn’t help it, I prayed again the prayer I’ve said for the past eleven years, that please, God, in Jesus’ Name, if he can’t actually be saved-- and if there’s any proper way he could be, please effect it!-- please allow his faithfulness to his gift and all the good he’s done through its fulfillment speak grace and amelioration for him in the judgement! Please!

There’s a cross engraved above his name on his monument. I hope it is not there for naught. I wish I could believe the Roman Catholic doctrine that you can be saved by being baptised as an infant. I cannot, but it would be a comfort.

I tried to sing the Te Decet Hymnus for him but my voice broke-- "Ad Te caro omnis veniet!" Yes, but how-- and in what spirit?

There were some fuzzy cats roaming around (none of them black) and one approached now and sat a little ways off, preening herself. I went over and patted her, and, unusually for a French cat, she responded to it. If she’d been [my own cat] Didon I’d’ve picked her up, but she was not.

Then I went back and stood once more before la noire tombe-- mon pauvre Hector! Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine!-- kissed my hand to him, and departed.


Found la Square Berlioz after that, not far from la Place Clichy. The statue there is of him as a younger man than on the medallion of the tomb. It was not carved out of very high quality stone-- it has deteriorated badly. I dislike seeing that. And somehow, though I’m glad he is honored in public sculptures like that, somehow seeing them makes him seem more distant, unlike the portraits. I’ve read that his portrait by Courbet is said to be the only one by that artist that has a spark of life. If so, I’m glad it was Hector’s. Nothing can portray him that does not give you those piercing, wonderful eyes.

The square is largely given over to a large sandbox where children play, and sandy paths where the kids were kicking around a soccer ball. I wonder what he’d think of having his statue placed in a playground. He wasn’t much good at children, except for his son Louis.

Since going to see the abbey church of St. Denis was a bust and it was getting on towards 4:00 anyway, I took the Métro back downtown and got off at the Opéra stop. Had to look at the building which, while not the one that Hector knew, yet houses the institution that only opened its doors to him once.

Ironically, they did the Damnation de Faust, as I saw on a poster in the lobby, on the 8th. If I’d known that I could’ve come in from Chartres, no problem. Damnation, indeed.

They had tours but I just didn’t feel up to it. Browsed the gift shop; they had enamelled composer pins, even one of Hector. But they were just too expensive: 70F.

Over then to les Galeries Lafayette to see if maybe they were running the same sale on slips their branch in Toulouse was.

They weren’t; moreover the only suitable kind of slip they did have was running 225F each and was made in the good old USA. I think I’ll wait till I get back to Oxford.

Close one on the escalator there. It was full of people and as we rode upwards, a fairly good-sized man in his 60's lost his balance just ahead of me. Only my never-that-strong and presently very fatigued left arm and hand desperately clutching the rail kept him and me and everyone else from falling like dominoes. I don’t even think I was holding the righthand rail. I just stiffened up and hoped he’d get his balance before I gave way, too. When he made a grab for the rail he pushed into me worse and I had to step back, crunching the toes of the guy behind me (who wasn’t being any help, I might add). Fortunately the older man regained his footing at that point and aside from a little soreness, I was ok.

Still can’t figure out how I did that. I was feeling extremely yucky. Thank God I was able to, though.

The store was packed with Christmas shoppers and decorated to the hilt. (It’s the same all over, isn’t it?) And then it has that immense stained glass dome over the central court.

Back towards the hotel on the Métro (I might use the busses if I had a bus map. But I don’t, so I don’t). Really dragging by now. Figured I’d better find some food though so I got some junk at a croissanterie on Boul. St. Michel.

Got it and me up to the room-- and just couldn’t face it. Changed my clothes and climbed under the bedspread. Was not going to make it to the organ concert at Notre-Dame at 5:45. No. Listened to the radio, BBC World Service. They were airing their worldwide request program, and played the Hallelujah Chorus. And for the third time today I broke down and cried. Oh, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Made myself work at train schedules for the next two days but other than that accomplished nothing but sleep all evening.
†I was part of a high school group that took an Easter weekend trip to Mexico that year. On the Saturday, I, like an idiot, Drank the Water, and woke up the next morning too sick to go to the American church for Easter service. Happily, it was a mild case of MR and passed off by late that afternoon.
‡The immediate past pastor of my home church in Kansas City.
§Turns out I'd come up with the wrong address. The old Conservatoire building was and is still there, three or four blocks away from where I was looking for it.

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