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  • Shelley Dark

26. from St Martin to Saint Chapelle

I have so much to tell you tonight I don’t know where to start. Because my head is still full of music soaring to the roof of Saint Chapelle. But let me go back to this morning.

Today we planned to go on the boat trip along the Canal St Martin. Paris had always had a very poor supply of drinking water, which became worse during the ancien régime. There were frequent outbreaks of dysentery and cholera. Napoleon ordered three canals to be dug to help solve the problem. Haussmann later improved their appearance. St Martin with its 9 locks is now used mainly for tourism and a little commercial traffic.

No sign of our 9.30am boat at the Quay Anatole in front of the Musée d’Orsay. As you can see.

Only a few people exercising on gym equipment. A jogger helped us find Thomas, a company employee. Thomas said that the first lock of the canal is having its 10-yearly maintenance, so we will have to walk across the river, catch the métro to Bastille, and then walk to the quay to join the boat after the lock. Paris seems to be specialising in modern sculptural installations everywhere like this one in the Tuileries garden. The shocking is no longer shocking.

This abandoned chair was on the quay where we boarded our boat. It didn’t look very different from some of the art installations.

We really enjoyed our trip on Le Martin Pecheur. A very long dark tunnel to begin with, with lovely round holes in the ceiling casting pools of light on the water every few hundred metres.

The locks were amazing. They filled with water so quickly, the huge water gates opening and closing on someone’s command.

There were three university students on board - Zoe, Luca, and Lucas. They were sketching the architecture of the canal. This is one of Zoe’s sketches.

Lucas asked if I would have my photo taken with them and if I could email it to them.

There was quite a bit of graffiti in some areas, the whole sides of buildings covered.

It was really very picturesque.

The terminus is at La Villette, a scientific area and playground which looked interesting for children. We passed a hot waffle and crèpe street stall and we couldn’t resist. With chantilly cream. I’m embarrassed to say I ate every crumb. It actually was very light. I know. I know. As the comment said on Instagram, never eat anything bigger than your head.

We visited Le Comptoir Générale, which had been recommended to me. When Cally asked me what it was, I said I wasn’t sure. A shop? A bar? It turned out that it is a bar or nightclub frequented by the young, and stays open until 2am. The fitout is quite extraordinary. It looks a little as if Harrison Ford should swing through a huge glass window on a rope in jungle greens. It has a mezzanine. A large-leafed climber twines through wooden beams, under a glass roof, and along rafters, clinging where it wants. There is a thatched hawaiian bar, skulls, books, retro items, vintage clothes, old sofas. Sound odd? It certainly was. I wouldn't make a special trip for it, but if you're in the area, have a look.

From there we walked to the Picasso Museum. We have museum passes, but are we plain tickets, or adhesions? Cally decided we were adhesions and she was right.

I love what Picasso represents, at least to me - the total shift in art to something that expresses emotion rather than the exact physical form. I find his art funny and outrageous, and somewhat whimsical.

The development of the way he expressed his feelings about his wife Olga in his art absolutely fascinating. It reflected the path their marriage took. At first he drew her with fine lines and graceful curves. As the marriage deteriorated and his style changed, the paintings of her and women in general became grotesque.

Olga was a ballet dancer. Her photo makes me want to read more about her.

I particularly liked his self-portrait of the young painter. Doesn’t he look so ingenuous, which I suppose he felt.

These took my eye too, realism, cubism, surrealism etc....

We wandered the shops a little after that. This shop had great cotton nighties, pjs and towels.

This one had teeny tiny china animals. I would like to go back there as it was closed.

Merci is great for a few economical gifts. I love the real pressed tin counter and the wallpaper which is so convincing.

My phone was flat (I had forgotten to charge my re-charger last night). And I really wanted it for the concert at Saint Chapelle. So we sat on the footpath at the Merci street café while the staff put my phone on their power. Three quarters of an hour over a champagne for me and a pear cider for Cally, watching the world go by.

Another long walk back to Saint Chapelle for our concert at 7pm, with a lovely view of Notre Dame.

About 12 years ago, my daughter Ange and I were in Paris together, and we went to a live performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Saint Chapelle. We really enjoyed it. So this was a replay with Cally.

This time, VIP seating on the aisle in the second row. Metres from the orchestra. Right in front of us a couple from Beverley Hills, seats marked RESERVED. I honestly thought she was Jane Fonda. I think they were the only couple in the chapel who had dressed for the occasion. Made me wish we’d had time to go back to the apartment to change. We wouldn’t have had the energy. We chatted away, and her husband went out and brought back one programme for his wife and one for Cally and me. Wasn't that kind? I’m so glad he did, because it meant I knew who the violin soloist was. I was only sad it didn't name the other performers.

Tonight was one of the experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. The venue as you know, is stunning.

The concert though, for me, was even better. The Solist Orchestre was made up of 4 violins, one cello, and a pianist. One of the violins was of course, the soloist. The legless piano, made of bare wood, stood on black saw horses.

This is a poor, quickly taken photo as I wanted to turn my phone off immediately.

Two of the violinists, a younger man and a woman, stood on the left together. Several times through the performance they smiled at each other when they plucked the strings with their fingers. As if they had a secret joke.

The cellist, an older man with a smiling face, was on the right. When he played, his head jerked alarmingly, but he was quick to smile in response to the lead violinist, who stood inside the semicircle formed by the other players.

Another pleasant-looking middle-aged man at the back had a bit of trouble tuning his violin. The soloist played a note. The man copied it, to my ear, perfectly. The briefest pained look on the soloist’s face. Soloist repeated the note. Man copied again. Almost imperceptible tightening of the soloist’s mouth. The cellist felt the tension and played the note himself. The offender played the note again, pleading with his eyes. The soloist didn’t appear totally happy with it, but he nodded slightly, turned smiling to the audience, almost as if to say, I’m being picky, it will be fine.

The old pianist, his short white hair standing on end, sat almost expressionless, Charlie Chaplin like, at the piano.

The players were led, no, hypnotised, by the solo violinist, Frederic Laroque. He is the lead violinist with the Paris Opera Orchestra. I don’t think I have ever been so spell-bound. He and the violin were one instrument. He drew his bow across those strings with such love that I was almost embarrassed to watch. He looked down at it, he turned as he played, he bent his knee, he was totally and absolutely superb. He was frenetic, then gentle beyond words. His skill was simply wonderful. This is a promotional image I found on google, photographer unknown. I would have loved to take my own photograph.

From the second the concert started, he communicated with the other players with his face. It’s a strange thing to say, but there was a real feeling of happiness between all of them. Each one smiled back at him during the concert, and each one smiled by him or herself, loving to play. Loving the combined sound of their instruments.

The soloist would lift his bow and look at one of the players, who would also lift his bow. Then the soloist would begin to draw down, watching the player stay in synchronisation with him exactly. And their two sounds would melt into each other, and as they did, the other instruments would softly join in, combining in total harmony. I could hardly breathe.

Sometimes the soloist would just smile to himself. At the sweetness of it all. And the happiness would radiate.

At the beginning, as the lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing Pugnani’s Prelude and Allegro (I know from the programme) I closed my eyes and a couple of tears dropped. I don’t know why, but music does that to me. As the concert continued with Pachelbel’s Canon and then Vivaldi, I opened my eyes and was totally entertained not only by the music, but by the relationship of the players with their instruments, and with each other.

How lucky were Cally and I?

I won’t go on. What I've written is unedited from the heart. But I really wish you could all have been there with me.

So there you have it. Another quite perfect day. Hope you enjoyed it too. Bonsoir mes amis.

ps if you aren't receiving my emails with the password and the link each time, check your junk mail. And please feel free to email me if you're not getting them. Or for any reason.

shelley dark, writer 

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