Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Where special things happen

PARIS, April 1, 2007

There was no program. We shivered in the unheated church. The soloist never appeared. And the string quartet simply left out one of the major works advertised in advance.

But this was Paris, so it didn’t matter.

The setting was Ste. Chapelle. The evening light poured through its magnificent, rich-blue, 13th century, stain-glassed windows. The first violinist proved a virtuoso. And who can complain when Barber’s Adagio, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written, replaces Pachabel’s Canon?

The day we had arrived in town, the temperatures had plunged. It rained our first 36 hours. Coffee cost $4 and up. But this was Paris, so it didn’t matter.

We ignored the rain and walked through gilded rooms of the Louvre we’d never tried to push through before, the usual crowds thinned by the wintry weather and early spring date. The Egyptian wing. The Louis XVI room with its gilded ceiling painted by Delacroix.

We visited old friends – Renoir, Manet, Gaughin, Cezanne, Degas -- in the Musee D’Orsay and marveled at the eight panels of water lilies painted by Monet himself in two rooms of the Orangerie.

And then the rain stopped and the sun broke through as we strolled past the stately apartments of the Ile Saint-Louis, past the booksellers along the Seine and the narrow and newly restored streets of the Marais district , where on the Rue Du Point, we found a shop selling instruments of ancient music (1650 on), next to Melodies Graphiques, with its collection of quill pens, and across the street from Monastica, selling products made by French monks.

Behind St. Sulpice, of Da Vinci Code notoriety, we squeezed into a restaurant so cozy that the waitress moved the coat rack, not once but twice, to squeeze in a few more diners. We stumbled upon a Brazilian jazz quartet on Arbucci in the 6th arrondisement that had us pulsing in our place for two glorious sets for no more than the price of a glass of wine. We caught the boat trip, unplanned, around Notre Dame and past the Eiffel Tower by night just because the concert in the cold church happened to end when it did and because our footsteps led us onto the Pont Neuf, and we remembered reveling on the same night boat ride four years ago.

Incroyable.

But this is Paris, where, it seems, good things always happen. Like the desk clerk who let me practice French although she could easily have insisted on English. Like the street performer who enlisted Kathy as his sidekick, leaving us in stitches and Kathy with a red heart balloon (“Bravo, Kathrin,” a mother said out of the blue as we left the bridge of his act. We presented her daughter with the heart.) Like a spontaneous late lunch amidst the gargoyles on Notre Dame’s tower, again with time to dawdle because no summer crowds pushed us through.

We left Paris at the midpoint of this most remarkable five-month sojourn in France. We left with a smile, and the memory that in that cold church, on the day the soloist didn’t show up and the string quartet played whatever it wished, the audience jumped to its feet as one in a standing ovation.

Yes, it was Paris.

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