Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the bones below and the art above

We are back in Toulouse now after a wonderful couple of days off in Paris. Dani and I stayed in a tiny little hotel near the Louvre and just a block away from the decidedly swankier hotel we stayed in circa 2007 when we were young and foolish. Our room, a cozy little hovel with a curiously stained duvet and a great view of the Bank of France on the Rue Petit Croix Champs (sic?), awaited us at the end of a gargantuan effort of heaving our very heavy suitcases up four flights of the steep and narrow staircase in the quaint Hotel Du Rouen.
I mentioned in a previous blog that we were on our way to the Catacombs and though we did finally reach the ossuary beneath the streets of Paris housing the bones of millions of Parisians lying in an endless (if somewhat cramped) slumber, it was not to be on that day. On our trip to Paris in 2007, the Catacombs were one of the sights on our checklist – but it seemed as if we were jinxed. Every time we tried to get there, it was to no avail – whether it was the closing times or getting lost and stuck in the rain – we just couldn’t get there. We promised ourselves that if we were lucky enough to return to this amazing city we would give it another bash. However, this time around, it appeared as if Paris’ dead were still conspiring against us. Every time we mentioned our impending trip to the graveyard beneath the streets some strange obstacle would present itself and our plans would be upended. The night before we decided that perhaps we should just skip it entirely and immediately (and I mean immediately – the phone rang as we spoke) the path was cleared. And so we came to an unspoken resolution not to mention (out loud) our intended visit. We spoke of going for a walk, followed by melodramatic winking and nudging and began our trek to the dead.
It worked. I think the ghosts of Paris are a modest lot (despite their raucous and flamboyant lives) and didn’t want us to make too much of a fanfare, and once we had grown subtle, they opened their arms to us. The consecrated ossuary in the Catacombs is a narrow passageway deep under the streets of Paris where your stroll is accompanied on either side by the bones of millions of Parisians stacked to the ceiling in starkly beautiful aesthetic patterns. I found it a deeply humbling experience. Death is everywhere and as natural as life… and here - in these dark subterranean lanes where the silence of history is louder than you can imagine, where the bones of the famous (great architects, artists, poets, academics) lie in anonymity on top of, amongst and unrecognizable from the bones of paupers, beggars and the diseased – you really feel the pull of the tide, the endless cycle of coming and going and the wonderful simplicity of it all. I was struck by the condensation and in particular of a drop of water hanging in transience from the brow of a skull embedded in the wall of bones. I am like this drop of water, I thought, waiting to fall – and then I will become another bone in the wall. And that’s ok.
In our remaining days in Paris we took in the Rodin Museum and the Pompidou Centre on consecutive days – and what a cool juxtaposition that offered us. The Rodin Museum is a sanctity of classic beauty in which the genius of the great master is dizzying whereas the Pompidou with its daring architectural statement is a raucous yawp and a torrential downfall of contemporary imagery. Highlights from both: Rodins’ Gates of Hell – wow – the scope, the detail, the immensity. Ron Arad at the Pompidou – a crazy, genius working in a laboratory of architecture and design. Daniel Cordier’s collection was phenomenal – he is a collector extraordinaire whose exhibition blurs the line between art and objects delightfully. Pollock and Rothko. And so much more - we were overwhelmed by over 60 000 works of art that flowed over us like a river. It was totally rad. We also had an amazing meal prepared by a tiny old woman at La Cambodge – a very cool Cambodian restaurant where they squeezed tables in somewhat like the bones at the Catacombs. We did ‘Picasso and The Masters’ at the Grand Palais on our final day in Paris and I was blown away by his virtuosity in studies he did as a thirteen year old student as well as his in-depth dialogue with the work of the masters he followed throughout his life. The more I see of his stuff up close the more I like his vibe and get what he was trying to do. He was no hack – he could pull off the classical stuff, he could do pointillism better than Seurat and his cronies – but he chose to try and find what wasn’t shown, what hadn’t been done.
On the train back to Toulouse the fatigue of the art tourist, that had plagued me so heavily in the Rodin Museum where I stumbled like a drunk from room to room and groped inelegantly for any available chair to collapse in and just look, gripped me once again. I plonked my head against the window and watched as the landscape bustled by. It seemed to me as if I had been placed in a stationery viewing booth and beyond the glass a great and intricate diorama rotated endlessly by offering up a smorgasbord of model villages, fields, towns and cities. I noticed also the reflection of my own tired but happy eyes and the face of my beautiful wife chomping away at her sandwich. We stocked up on goodies from Paul (Dani’s favorite deli) before the trip and ate our full before falling asleep. Why does the person you love always order the food you would rather be eating? This is one of life’s mysteries I guess.
So now we are in Toulouse, we rehearse briefly tomorrow and perform till the weekend before heading to Dijon and then Strasbourg, after which we will return to Toulouse. Dani and I plan a trip to Barcelona which is very exciting.
A quick note to Mem’s friend Helen – you worry too much about me, I am very happy – I have been a performer for over a decade now and a traveler for precious little of that time, and so if I speak more of my adventures off stage than on – it is because they are so foreign (and exciting) to me – I promise to give you more insight to my onstage antics. I guess I am glad that for once I am involved in a show that I have not over invested both emotionally and financially in and I can give my all but not to the detriment of my experience of the world around me. And too Anne - thanks. glad you are enjoying it.
Love to all at home – especially you Mem – I walked through the streets of Paris (and below) with you by my side and continue to do so through the rest of my adventure.


Mem said...

Dear Rob. Today is my first day at BIG school, Grade 1. My teacher's name is Mrs Duffy (I don't know her first name, my mom tells me at big school you don't call your teacher by their first name... I wonder why?) Anyway, my mom came to settle me into my new classroom which is accross the way from the headmistress's office (ouch!), but I said a very emphatic "bye Mom" and she got the hint. I'll let you know all the details once the work starts. We dont start sports until week after next. Yesterday my mom and I drove all the way to Atlantis (past Koeberg Nuclear Station) and we had an empty box in the car... she told me we were going to pick vegetables and that this trip would be part of my birthday present. I was a bit confused and worried about my mom's mental health (I'm turning 7 and vegetables are not my idea of "fun")... eventually after almost 2 hours of driving too fast and too slow and getting lost, we got to the farm and then my mom told me that I was actually going to pick up my first puppy. I was so excited, I hopped out of the hot car and ran around with a very happy face and told my mom "I am so excited, I'm sweating mom!!!!!" My puppy is a black and white jack russell, she is so beautiful and I have called her "Dixie". Can I send you a picture of us sleeping together last night and a picture of my first day at school? My tooth is still not out, but the big tooth that is pushing it out is HUGE. I'll let you know when I get to get the money from the tooth fairy... I cant wait. Love to you and Dani (and from my parents), Daniel, xxx P.S: My mom read your message to me, thank you Robbie, I love you too.

Mem said...

Hi Rob, its Steve here, enjoying your adventure with you and remembering what it was like to see Our Lady Notre Dame for the first time, especially as a small boy. I remember hunching my shoulders when I entered the cathedral and whispering under the enormous (opressive almost) vaults and towering pillars. Another favorite in my memory is the Pompidou, but as a kid I was really most impressed by the huge coloured pipes on the road side and by the simple fact that everything that should be on the inside is on the outside! Leaving the inside empty! Go figure.
Have you seen the great cathedral of St. Sernin in Toulouse yet? It is one of the oldest pilgrimige churches / cathedrals in France and was on the route to Santiago Da Compostella in north west Spain. It is MUCH older and darker than even Notre Dame and its bloody and tragic history would be right up your street. When I teach Romanesque architecture to little ingrate brats, I alsays use St. Sernin as my example of what best catagorizes Romanesque architecture. My mom says that I have seen it but I'm sure I would remember (obviously I wasn't so interested in art when I was 4). If you haven't seen it you can't miss it it has this central tower over the crossing which is octagonal (I think) and goes up in smaller blocks to a conical, shallow roof.
I look farward to the next installment from your and Danni's galivanting and enviously reminiss. I shouldn't ask, but I'm going to anyway. Did you put Versailles on your list of places to go in Paris. Shit, I just remembered your not going back, sorry.