Archive for May, 2007

2:43 pm

Réjouis-toi, Marie

Notre-Dame is showing another "opera of images", like the Lumen de Lumine, Lumière née de la Lumiére show I saw in January. This one is based upon the Akathist hymn, a Byzantine hymn to Our Lady.

This one was not quite as successful, in my opinion. It is projected from behind onto a sheer screen. But this time of year at 9 PM, it’s still light, so the windows and sanctuary were visible through the screen, and the double images gave me a headache. In addition, the English translation (where it existed) stood in serious need of proofreading. It seems that Mary bore in her womb a "bake," thus serving as a sanctuary for "Gog," who is a friend of "makind".

The images were lovely, though (if only I could have seen them better!), and the music was splendid. And there was only one occasion on which a barbarian decided to take a flash picture.

After the show, I wandered along the Seine a little and watched the bateaux mouches go by.

I’m going to have to take one of those boat trips sometime soon. Before I leave Paris.

4:07 am


This week’s little excursion was to Fontainebleau, about 1/2 hour (by train) southeast of Paris.

The trip and Avon, where the station for Fontainebleau is located, are not particularly interesting. The suburbs of Paris through which the train passes look largely industrial; it doesn’t get pretty until after Melun. As for Avon, I suppose I really shouldn’t judge by what I could see from the bus, but I certainly didn’t see anything that made me want to linger.

The château has been there since the 12th century, and was used and renovated by kings and emperors through the Second Empire in the 19th century. Most of what remains now was built on what François Ier put in place in the 16th century, but very little is in an "original" form. There are rooms where the ceiling panels are from the time of François Ier, but the panelling on the walls dates to Louis XIV, while the furniture is from the reign of Napoleon III. (In fact, one of the artists who worked on the restoration painted DeGaulle and one of his ministers into some of the trim in the Hall of Trophies, so you could even argue that the renovations continued right on up to the Fifth Republic.)

The main approach to the Château is now across the Court of the White Horse (named for a statue that’s been gone since the 17th century); also known as the Court of Adieux, since it was from here that Napoleon made his farewells before going into his first exile.

The audio guide that’s included with the price of admission to the Château is very good, and quite complete. The guided tour, on the other hand, was pretty much a waste of time. It mostly covered rooms that are also done in the audio guide, and the tour guide was uninspiring. She seemed more interested in getting the tour over with.

The gardens are lovely, through: spacious and green, with lots of fountains and ponds. I don’t quite get what’s going on with the topiary cones, though.

The carp pond in back of the Château has this little pavilion in the middle, where the King could entertain his mistress. One hopes that they remembered how well sound carries over water!

And a view of Fontainebleau from the far side of the carp pond.

12:07 pm

Musée Rodin

Last week’s sightseeing trip was a visit to the Musée Rodin, one of my favorites. They had just opened a new exhibit, Le Rêve Japonais (The Japanese Dream), which includes both Japanese selections from Rodin’s private collection as well as Japanese inspired works of Rodin.

I was not all that blown away by the exhibit, although that says more about my tastes than the exhibit. The reason I really visit the Rodin is to wander in the garden and visit my favorite sculptures. The Thinker, for example:

Or The Burghers of Calais, which is just heartbreaking:

The Three Shades I find fascinating: it’s three of the same figure, just turned differently:

And of course, I could pour over The Gates of Hell indefinitely:

1:03 pm


I took a little day trip down to Chartres on Wednesday the 16th.

It’s an hour out of Paris by train, through some very green and lush country. Aside: each time I leave Paris, I return a little more dissatisfied with pavement and stone buildings.

The Cathedral is a prominent landmark: you can see it about 10 minutes before arriving in Chartres, and it’s easy to hone in on once you arrive. It’s also close enough to train station that I could easily remember how to get back!

When visiting the cathedral, Malcolm Miller’s tour is a must (at least for Anglophones). He’s 73 now, and literally wrote the book (Chartres Cathedral). He’s been giving tours twice daily (noon and 2:45) during the spring and summer at the cathedral since 1956; during the winter, he tours and gives lectures. I took his tour on my first visit 20 years ago. Back then, he solicited tips at the end of his tour; now, at the prompting of the government, which wants to be able to collect taxes, he charges a 10€ fee up front. (Well, that’s how he explains it, anyway.)

At the time of my first visit, the government had just barely started cleaning and restoring the stained glass windows. Now, twenty years later, they’ve made impressive progress, and I’d estimate that a good half of the windows (it looks as though all of lower tier windows, as well as the west and north rose windows and some other of the upper tier windows) have been done. Perhaps if I return in another 20 years, they’ll all be done!

They’ve also started cleaning the outside: the north entrance is done, and the south entrance is about to be shut and cordoned off so that they can restore that one. The north entrance, all cleaned up:
North entrance, Chartres cathedral

I showed up for both tours, as did a few other visitors, so Miller very thoughtfully changed his spiel so that we wouldn’t be bored. During the noon tour, for example, he walked us through the west rose window (left below), with its story of the Passion, the Nativity story, and the Jesse tree, going from left to right below the " rose"; during the 2:45 tour he walked us through the north rose window (right below), with St. Anne in the center, flanked by Old Testament patriarch below the rose. (We know it’s St. Anne holding Mary, and not Mary holding Jesus, he explained, because the child’s halo doesn’t have the cross that marks Jesus. Not that you can pick up that detail from the picture.)

The dedication of the Cathedral at Chartres to Our Lady predates the trend of Marian devotion that started in the 12th century. As a result, when the king of France received a significant Marian relic, Chartres, as the nearest major church devoted to Mary, became the beneficiary of the Sancta Camisa, which is alternately described as having been the garment that Mary wore at the time of the Annunciation or at the time of the Birth of Jesus. When the reliquary was opened, though, it was found to be a length of silk that reportedly does indeed date back 2000 years.

The presence of the Sancta Camisa made Chartres a major pilgrimage center. Conveniently enough, it was also on one of the major routes to Compostella, another favorite destination for pilgrims. And so, in the pavement around Chartres, you can find these reminders of the past: mosaics of pilgrims and the shell of St. James, the patron of Compostella.

I didn’t have much opportunity to explore the rest of Chartres. Like most French cities, though, it does have its war memorial:

1:27 am

Impressing French waiters

Things I’ve learned about impressing French waiters:

  • Ordering an apéritif, especially a Ricard (an anisette), impresses them to no end. I haven’t quite figured out why this is, but they really straighten up at that. Kir is also very popular, and is frequently a default selection when a restaurant includes an apéritif as part of its menu.
  • Ordering cheese instead of something sweet for dessert also marks you as a force to be reckoned with. It’s not a bad move at any rate, since I find that French desserts are pretty boring. Note: Those luscious, creamy pastries you see in the bakeries? They never make an appearance for dessert; the French don’t understand why you want something rich like that after your meal. (But you do want something rich like cheese? Well, no one says this is logical.) Pastries make an appearance only at the French version of tea time, the goûter.
  • Ordering a digestif, such as an Armagnac or a Calvados, also wins over waiters. Outside of Paris, ordering a regional specialty will especially endear you. I ordered Izzara (a green, herby Basque liqueur, kind of like Chartreuse, only milder) in Lourdes, and my (Basque) waiter immediately became my new best friend.

I’ve thought about trying to train myself to eat with my fork in my left hand, in the Continental style, but finally decided against it. Any attempt to masquerade as a native withers and dies the instant I open my mouth to speak, so why bother? Besides, as Miss Manners observes, "American table manners are, if anything, a more advanced form of civilized behavior than the European, because they are more complicated and further removed from the practical result, always a sign of refinement".

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