Sunday I went to 10am service at Notre Dame because in my many times being in Paris I had never attended mass at the famous cathedral. We left early so we were able to see the Lauds Service and Gregorian Mass.
It was an intense experience to attend church in such a beautiful place, in the unfamiliar but recognizable Latin tongue, and with such moving music. The music played on the organ at the end of the mass was a score that I had never heard before. It was vivacious and loud and very celebratory. In fact, the women sitting next to me was appalled by the volume and fervor with which the organist played. I thought, “Aren’t we in a church? You shouldn’t judge?” Then I thought, “Uh… wait a minute didn’t you just judge her?” And then I remembered Matthew 7:1-3 “Judge not lest ye be judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in thine own eye.” And the lesson for the day was laid out without provocation. Simple and direct it was clear. I was a child again learning a rudimentary lesson, that even now, is a difficult one to uphold.
The sounds and ceremonial aspects of this mass affected me in a very heavy way. The Gregorian chanting and the organ, as I had mentioned, but also the bells as we were walking out of the cathedral, filled me with nostalgia in a way that I don’t believe I have felt before. I was sick for a specific time in my life. A time when church was simple and I was an altar girl at Saint Louis-de-France, on Don Mills Road. A time when church didn’t include a homily I might have questions about. And a time when church meant sitting in the pews with my family. We were together for about an hour, not socializing, but occupying the same space for that time together as a unit. The time spent in those pews was sometimes the only time we would be together for an entire week. Attending mass this Sunday made me realize that I cherish the precious time we spent together as a family despite the fact that we weren’t socializing or conversing. We were simply occupying the space together as a family. Our lives were busy but we managed to take a little less than one hour a week to converge on the churches of my childhood to be with each other for that time.
After mass we strolled up (lets be honest, got lost a little, asked for directions, and got lost a little more) Rue Mouftard. We had a delicious lunch beside a church next to a square where an accordion was playing typical French tunes and elderly couples were dancing bras en bras. It was an amazing sight filled with laughter and joy on a Sunday afternoon.
On Monday we took a guided walking tour of Montmartre and used the funicular. I had never actually taken the funicular so it was a different experience although I do prefer the walk up. It was far too crammed and felt worse than the Brooklyn A train at rush hour.
Our tour guide Daniele was excellent and very humorous! She pointed out so many great details about Montmartre that I was unaware of despite having been there several times. In fact, I have walked by the many buildings and parks she pointed out without even a thought of knowing they were of particular interest.
One of the first things she pointed out was how the word Bistro was appropriated into the French language. There was a Russian occupation of France in 1813-1814. Legend has it that there were some Russian patrons that were waiting to order at Les Jardins de Catherine (the now oldest restaurant in Montmartre). They continued to yell at Catherine, “Bistrot! Bistrot!” But Catherine, not a Russian speaker and so terrified during the occupation, thought the Russians were threatening her so she skipped out a window. The word bistrot in Russian actually means, “Hurry!” Hence how the word bistro was appropriated into the French language.
Daniele told us about the wine of Montmartre, the artists that lived there as well as some interesting stories about the churches and architecture. How painters would continue to pay for their evenings at the bistros on credit at one location and once their credit ran out they would go to a different bistro. Once one of them sold a painting they would pay off their debts and the cycle would continue. She told us that Renoir would continue to live in Montmartre even after becoming wealthy and would cook dinner for those painters and artists who had not yet made it big which he would hold at his house. It was a day filled with stories of the Montmartre of days past where artists roamed and met, fell in love and lived.
On Tuesday we went to the Picasso Museum, which I had never been to. It was really beautiful! It is housed in the Hotel Sallé, which has been deemed a historic monument. It is literally called Salted Hotel. It is so named because of the profession of the man who lived in within. He collected the taxes for salt. I loved the vestibule and interior, although I was a bit confused about the choice to paint the beautifully marbled walls stark white. I thought the ornate detailing of the carved marble, the wrought iron banister and the elegant feel was all of a sudden whipped out once you entered the galleries. That being said I’m not altogether sure how I would have felt seeing Picasso’s art work on anything but white walls because of their abstract qualities.
I really enjoyed the sculptures that were strewn about the museum because they reminded me of the sculptures from one of my favorite films as a child, Beetlejuice. A quick Google search revealed that Craig Talmy was the sculptor for the film although I was unable to find out whether Picasso influenced his work for the film.
At any rate I enjoyed the museum overall. One of the pieces of art that struck me was Picasso’s Le coupeur des têtes (1901). It is a dark India ink drawing on paper. As I had mentioned earlier in my previous blog post, I always thought of Picasso as a one-dimensional character who only used cubism as a means to express his art. However, I was dead wrong a week ago and I continue to be shown how truly multi-faceted he really was. In fact, today we learned that he even created costumes for the Ballets Russes. At any rate, Le coupeur des têtes translates to the The Head-hunter (some sources also say The Cutter of Heads) and depicts a man in period clothing of the time, a top hat and black overcoat, holding a severed head in one hand and a bloody knife in the other. In the background of the picture, suspended near the top of the paper, are more severed bleeding heads. There seems to be a caricature of a smiling face in red on the left hand side of the paper as well. I was initially drawn to the photo because of its dark nature and menacing features despite it being relatively small in comparison to the large canvases. But the little bit of research that I did on this painting also sparked my interest in the English translation of the work. Head hunters today are as Google describes them “hired by firms to find talent, and to locate individuals who meet specific job requirements, such as an executive with 15 years experience in a certain field.” With this definition and Picasso’s drawing I immediately thought of the film The Devil’s Advocate.
We’ve also created and experienced a self-guided walking tour of the Marais region of Paris which was probably one of my favorite ways of active learning. We were each given an area of the Marais to research and then give information to the group while our guides navigated us to each location. I think this puts us in charge of our own education. We can pick out the details that we find interesting and thus will remember while our teacher made sure to cover the many important areas of the Marias. We also have free time to head back if there are any particular areas of interest so this activity was a huge success in my eyes. We saw L’Hôtel de Ville, Place des Vosges, The Jewish Quarter, Hôtel Carnavalet, Église St Gervais des Prés, Hôtel Beauvais, Victor Hugo’s Home, Village St. Dennis and the walls that used to encompass this area. We walked along Rue des Rosiers and ended up on our own to purchase lunch before heading to class. I really found this experience to be engaging and hope that I will use this type of learning dynamic in the future.
The absolute treat this week was that we were invited to the dress rehearsal for the Paris Opera Ballet’s Les Enfants du Paradis. I cannot believe the generosity that the Paris Opera Ballet has extended to us on this trip. I remember attending the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular invited dress and this was equally as impressive. To hear the director José Martinez, former étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet and now director of Compañia Nacional de Danza à Madrid, give notes to the cast with intensity and care was a delightful experience. Seeing the little details that still needed some tending to make it to opening night made the experience feel like one shared by all dancers a few days before opening. It made the sacred space of the dress rehearsal attainable at least for us dancers in the audience. I felt empathy for the dancers still trying to make that one formation change or step into the light just right because I have been there. We were treated to the entire length of the ballet and it was something I will cherish forever.
At intermission we were even treated to an entreact that would make Doug Nielsen proud! On the foyer steps of the Palais Garnier a beautiful duet was performed by two étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet. We were encouraged to watch this pop up show that literally happened at arms distance. I distinctly remember the directions Mr. Martinez gave the dancers, the way the female’s period style dress swept her across the marble floor during her floor work, and the lingering, somewhat dangerous, movement down the stairs and into the male dancer’s arms. It was incredible to witness such beauty literally steps away.
I’ve also taken three classes since my last post, Natahlie Pubelier, Peter Goss, and Michael Cassan, all of which have once again been incredibly enlightening. In fact, the more I take class in French, the more I appreciate the French language and it’s innate use of description imbedded into each word. I was discussing with some of my classmates that when one greets someone in France they say, “enchanté” which literally translates to, “enchanted.” How beautiful is that? It’s usually accompanied by a kiss on the hand or of course a kiss on each cheek. When leaving the French say, “Au revoir,” which literally translates to “til I see you again.” Again, how great is that?
In dance, we have much the same terms in English as in French but, as another student pointed out in the program, “they literally use the words as descriptors not just for the names of steps!” So true! In fact we were taking a contemporary class tonight taught by Michael Cassan when this phenomena hit me again. In reference to releasing over the legs in a standing position and then returning to standing, he kept saying, “Relache et on monte.” This translates to, “release and we climb.” We have all heard of the term release in a contemporary, modern even ballet and tap class. But the word climb is key here. Climb is a much more descriptive term then the regularly used phrases such as “roll up”, “come up” etc. Climb implies effort and often times in dance class when we “roll up” we don’t always engage in the muscular effort necessary to really perform this movement both safely and effectively. I was once again drawn to the language of a dance class in French and I feel affirmation that this will strengthen both my dancing and my teaching!
I’ve also had the opportunity to really delve into my own teaching philosophy with Peter Goss’s class. His approach to dance is on a very somatic level, which I greatly admire and appreciate. His class, being an open class where anyone can sign up, would be a challenge for me as a teacher, namely because the somatic approach to dance teaching requires some base knowledge of the specific bodies and the bodies’ history of injury in the room on any given day. This advanced knowledge allows us the teachers to alter given exercises if need be for the students in the room so that a somatic approach to learning can be fostered and developed to it’s fullest.
And today… A fashion tour of Paris! La vie est belle!