Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Toccata et Fugue

There's a scene in my novel where an organist plays Bach's Toccata et Fugue. It's one of the scenes that's been mulled over by my writing group with questions about whether I really managed to communicate the way the piece opens as it reverberates through a church sanctuary.

When I wrote that section I was reaching way back to a memory of stepping into Westminster Abbey just as a Bach concert started. It was a doubly remarkable moment because I didn't know where I was or that music was about to begin. The timing was such that it almost seemed my step signaled the opening of the concert, an explosive pleasure I never forgot.

Today I was at the church of Saint Eustache, which is situated near what was for centuries the main market in Paris, Les Halles. Now it's tourist country. The church is important to our Art History class because of the way it mixes Late Gothic and early Renaissance Architecture—of interest to me because Liszt played a concert there. But it also turns out that this coming Sunday there's going to be a free organ concert. And the music? Bach's Toccata et Fugue. Nice touch—what my classmates call sweet.

From Saint Eustache, we walked to the Louvre, right through the part of town Liszt and Berlioz negotiate during the uprising of 1830. We walked around a good bit of the exterior of the Louvre, learning about the architecture of the building.

During the July Revolution of 1830, a lot of fighting took place around the Louvre and the Tuileries Palace, which stood behind the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. The palace was destroyed by fire in the political violence of 1871. Napoleon had lived there, and in 1830, a violent battle between republican rebels and the King's guard raged in the area. Liszt and Berlioz come through these streets and into the Louvre's courtyard late at night after the fighting has died down.

I definitely walked some of their route today and concluded that, as per usual, my description of the terrain has been woefully inadequate. I looked up at the architecture, aware I hadn't described it when, in fact, standing there is like standing in front of the Raft of the Medusa—it's huge and overwhelming, and totally defines the environment. So. It was a good walk for my book. I learned a lot, even though much of the area is different then it was during the time of the book thanks to 19th century architecture of Baron Haussmann.

Inside the Louvre we started with Botticelli, whom I love, and spent time exploring the Renaissance. We ended with Leonardo and the new presentation of the Mona Lisa, which is very nice, actually, much more dramatic than I remember from seeing it in 1984. After class I went back to the room where I spent time Monday, where Gericault, Delacroix and Ary Scheffer all have huge pieces of work hanging. This time I noticed all of Gericault's horses. I sat in front of the Raft of the Medusa again for perhaps ten minutes and listened to a woman describe it in French to her friends. I didn't understand very much of what she said, but I teared up listening and looking. I tried to guess which figure might have been Delacroix. There's one that looks almost like a father comforting a son. For some reason I wondered if that was Delacroix. It might have been. I don't know.

I also sat in front of Delacroix's, Liberty Leading the People again, and became very aware of how everyone wants their picture taken in front of it, but most of picture takers and posers don't bother to actually look at the painting.

I walked home from the Pigalle Metro stop and found the market that my landlady was undoubtedly referencing when she said there was a grocery store nearby. It's about twice as big as any of the stores I've been in. I figured out the deal with grapefruit, which is what drew me in, they're sold, not by weight, but by the grapefruit. I was looking for them in the little fruit and vegetable markets along my way home, practicing saying Pamplemousse—their name in French. I've been craving grapefruit. In fact, I ate one when I got home tonight, my dinner. I think I might have found fresh cream for my coffee, too.

Here's my first thought for Tori's house—from today's walk. The top floor is where Bette, the maid would have had her room. The next set of windows down would have been Tori's, though without the balcony. This is a corner building and not so tall as Baron Haussmann's architecture, which is what I live in. Most of it was built after the events of my story.

I actually sketched out a couple of buildings this afternoon as they sat side by side, four-story buildings counting the ground floor and the maids quarters. I'm kind of getting into this sketching thing. There's an art store on Rue des Martyrs. I think I'll indulge in a sketching pencil. Right now I'm using my pen, which isn't that good.

I came home through the early evening darkness tonight, down Rue des Martyrs. It was very beautiful, a warm day morphing into a lovely evening. Everyone out in the cafes. It was my nicest walk home yet. Even though my feet hurt and I came home exhausted again, I like walking on Rue des Martyrs. Its the romantic side of Paris, and the commute wasn't so bad tonight. I waited a bit, left the Louvre, which stays open on Wednesday evenings, around 7:30pm. Je suis content, and looking forward to my organ concert Sunday.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Molly,
    I'd encourage you to continue with the "pen" even though you end up with lines you don't really want. It is always a good first impression. I do also carry a sketch book and pencils...learned I feel more free when I work in ink...I guess I expect the mistakes rather than worry about them (my sketch of you reading for example- not my best work but it did capture something of the moment even with the inaccuracies)
    Sketching will definitely enhance your "seeing".

    Can't wait to get back there! I'm jealous.