Sep 08 2011
After a magnifique concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on Tuesday evening, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians enjoyed their last day off before the home stretch. Cynthia Koledo de Almeida and Jim Gorton purchased new oboes at the Lorée factory store. Bass Betsy Heston toured the Louvre and loved the Fragonard. Lots of folks looked for souvenirs, or visited the Orsay Museum of Impressionism, looked at Notre Dame, took a bicycle tour, slept and practiced. Tonight, I met the Associate Principal Cello of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Efe Baltacigal, who was in the lobby talking with PSO Assistant Conductor Thomas Hong. The Philadelphia will wrap up its tour of Europe with Charles Dutoit conducting Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique at the Salle Pleyel. I have vivid memories of being in the front row at Heinz Hall to hear the Berlioz just the season before last.
I met a friend of Classical QED 89.3 listeners Lynette MacLeod and Bea Thomas who lives in Paris. Alfonso Feria promised to help me get to Erik Satie’s house at 6 Rue Cortot. It is no longer open as a museum. When Satie died, the house was filled with hundreds of umbrellas. He lived for six years in the house in the artists’ district, Montmartre. Getting there on the subway was challenging. A very insistent man had some sort of scam going at the ticket purchasing machine.
To get to the Métro, we walked through the Monceau Park near the Hilton Hotel. The flowers were beautiful, as was the white statue of French writer Alfred Musset, and the gold and black entrance gate modeled on Versailles.
From the house of Satie, we had lunch at the Chez Eugène. The waiter wore a beret to deliver Onion soup and croque-madame (ham and cheese toasted with an over-easy egg on top), and Tarte tatin with cream for dessert. All around the open-air restaurants in the cobblestone square, the bohemian life survives, with artists selling portraits, landscapes, and while-you-wait masterpieces. It’s right out of Puccini’s opera, La Bohème.
After lunch, I visited the 1871 Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica), which looks like the Taj Mahal, at the highest spot in the city. The look over the skyline with the Centre Georges Pompidou in the distance is just amazing and a real people magnet. A violinist sat on the steps, playing Tchaikovsky with Parisian lovers oblivious to the crowds taking photos.
Photos! I was gently but firmly escorted from the cathedral which has a strict policy against photos. I wanted to take a shot of the poster for the restoration of the Cavaillé-Coll organ and a shot of the dome, but a uniformed guard thought otherwise. He motioned and led me past the line to get in to the door. What would Jesus say about cameras? It is his consecrated blood in the monstrance at the altar, but dear blog reader, I meant no harm. I always have a fear that my SD memory card will be taken from me in times like these. It’s an irony that in the increasingly secular world of Europe, where very few penitent are sitting in the pews at any given service, the church would be so unwelcoming.
From the sacred world of Sacré Coeur, it was a few blocks to Pigalle – the red light district which is naughty, but not shocking, with ladies on the street encouraging visitation to the erotique shops. The famous Moulin Rouge is right in the middle of it all with its famous neon windmill.
Keep walking to 15 Rue Chaptal, and you’re looking at the spot where Django Reinhardt played his guitar for the Hot Club of France. Django, the notoriously unmanageable guitar player who fused two fingers together in a terrible fire, still managed to do things with his strings that guitarists today try to figure out. It’s a bar now.
On the other side of the street, Parisian parents wait for their kids at 4:30 every day. The nationalized school system has set the time uniformly across the country.
Next to the school is the Musée de la Vie Romantique. It is the former home of the painter Ary Scheffer. Ary invited George Sand and Chopin, Liszt, Rossine, Delacroix and Pauline Viardot to visit, and they did so often. Sand and Chopin were regulars. Chopin’s piano was there, but it was covered with a sign reminding me not to lean on it. I loved seeing the lovers’ hands next to one another in white plaster casts by Auguste Clesinger. The arm of Sand and hand of Chopin make a wonderful reminder of their eight-year, most unusual love affair. Chopin’s music plays on, gently, from a recording. The house was in the family until 1983 when it was donated by one of Georges Sand’s relatives.
The Métro again to Père Lachaise cemetery, to see Chopin’s permanent residence. At least his body’s. He asked that his heart remain in Warsaw, and so it is – in the column of his church there. The grave has a beautiful white sculpture on top, said to be music crying over Chopin’s demise. Flowers and votive candles adorn the plot. A tour group stopped to hear a few words from a guide. The cemetery is not easy without a guide map and we could only find a permanent map. As luck would have it, Joel was walking near Georges Bizet’s grave and asked if we needed help. Speaking French, Al said that I wanted to see Luigi Cherubini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Jim Morrison. D’accor! Off we went.
It seems Rossini and Bellini were once buried here, but now have gone back to Italy. Still, you can admire their memorials and former resting places. Jim Morrison is the most visited of all. More than Colette, Héloïse and Abelard, Edith Piaf, Molière, Seurat, Yves Montand, Delacroix, Oscar Wilde, and Max Ophüls. There are photos of the Doors lead singer on the grave decorated with votive candles and flowers. The tree immediately in front of the grave is covered with graffiti from fans. Messages like “Wake up Lizard King!” are scrawled amidst the names of thousands who’ve come to pay their respects. A young man scaled the fence in hope of getting a closer photo. Morrison’s grave is the only one with a metal fence, due to the attempts by overzealous fans to take a souvenir. The gorgeous cemetery meanders along for over eight miles.
Al and I stopped in La Tradition Boulangerie to pick up some pastry, then visited his apartment where I met his wife Nicole, and children Joel, Emmanuelle and Elizabeth, who are bilingual. They do missionary work with outreach to artists, children, and families in Paris. In Pigalle we noticed a poster from the Catholic Church encouraging young people to attend catechism. It’s a large poster campaign seen throughout the city.
In the taxi on the way back to the hotel, the driver said it was Fashion’s Night Out on the Champs-Elysées and traffic was especially heavy. I noticed a KFC and a Pizza Hut with a sign for Emporte or take away. I love the national differences. In London the Detour signs read “Diversion,” and the exit signs are “Way Out.”
Last night, Michel Sidier, from BNY Mellon had recommended President Obama’s favorite bistro where he’d dined with Nicholas Sarkozy. It’s La Fontaine de Mars. As a second choice, he suggested Chez l’Ami Jean. Next time. I did get an Indian vegetarian thali sampler at Chez Gandhi with members of the orchestra. They suggested that I see the movie Shadowlands and Black Swan. I wanted to see Black Swan, but there are just so many newspapers and records and so little time. It will have to be on DVD. They told me a psychologist who teaches at Pitt had said the psychological aspects of artistic breakdown into madness in Black Swan were portrayed quite convincingly.
I am listening to radio Nostalgie playing Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, and the Rolling Stones singing “Miss You” from their disco period, along with lots of French nostalgia which I must admit is lost on me. President Obama is giving his economic pep talk to Congress on French TV. CSI is still on in every European country in every language, here dubbed en Français.
Tomorrow begins the last three concerts of this tour. We’ll take a train ride to Cologne, and a one-hour bus trip to Beethoven’s hometown, Bonn.