Monday, December 17, 2012

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 5a

"On the bus between Avignon and Nimes, three days into the organ trip of southern France.  This trip has been interesting on several levels: the locales visited, the organ music, the travelers (26 individualistic – I could even say eccentric – organ aficionados, although only about half of them actually play the organ), the history (papal schisms, the Albigensian “heresy”), and of course, the opportunity to learn things I know very little about.”
The above was the only paragraph I managed to write in my journal during the entire Pipedreams organ tour in southern France. We were up and out early every morning, going all day long, and then bussed back exhausted and overwhelmed by our experiences. I usually just collapsed in the hotel bed. I was glad to have had a single room, with no roommate to chat with or keep me awake.
We had spent two nights in Avignon, and the better part of two days visiting churches in the vicinity and listening to their organs, most of which were newly built. The tour through the Popes’ Palace was an enlightening foray into history and religion.
Temple Saint-Martial in Avignon,ancient ruins outside

On the morning of Friday, May 14, we visited another church in Avignon, the Temple Saint-Martial. This is a protestant church, but was originally the church of a Benedictine monastery. Again, the organ is a new one, built by our contemporary organ builder, Pascal Quoirin. In this case, the cabinetry for the metal pipes is quite modern in design, unlike that in the Collegiale Saint-Martin in Saint-Remy. The organ had an enormous, full tone with the stops out. Also, it had a hand bellows, not used for most of the music, although we heard one piece with hand-pumped air, and the sound was large and full. In general, the lower tones were very mellow, although in the higher registers the pipes seemed somewhat shrill. All in all, the sound was as good as, or better than, most of the older organs we have heard.
Modern organ inside Temple Saint-Martial

From Provence, we crossed into the province of Languedoc, the center of the Albigensian heresy that convulsed southern France for a more than a century. It seems that the Crusade against this “heresy” by the Catholic Church in the 13th century, and its efforts to stamp out heresy thereafter, ultimately gave rise to the Inquisition that swung into full force during the Protestant Reformation.
Cathedrale Saint-Theodorit

The second church we visited on Friday was the Cathedrale Saint-Theodorit at Uzès. The church is a very old one, begun in the 11th century, and mostly destroyed in the 17th century, all except for the bell tower. The bell tower reminds me of the towers of early Christian churches on the east coast of Italy – in Ravenna. The organ is also an old one, constructed originally in the late 17th century, probably when the church was rebuilt. The organ has been restored twice, in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the aim of recapturing its original sound and elegance. The organ has a good tone, and its gilded casing is the most elaborate I've seen so far on the tour.

Again, I've linked recordings of the organs made by Ian Cook and uploaded to YouTube, as well as a recording of the Saint Theodorit organ by Finoskov Productions that illustrates both its magnificant tone and the exquisite baroque cabinetry.
Elaborate17th-century gilded organ cabinetry


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 4

Le Pont d'Avignon
Avignon is another old and famous city of Provence, and is probably best known in the U.S. for the song that high-school French students are required to learn: Sur le pont/d’Avignon/tout le monde/y danse, danse… (On the bridge at Avignon, everybody dances, dances…) I didn’t realize until college French that this was some reference to the old Popes who once held court there. So, yes, there is a fine remnant of a medieval bridge, half collapsed and half intact (a sort of bridge to nowhere) in Avignon, the actual name of which is Pont Saint-Benezet. More significantly, a huge and marvelously appointed Palace of the Popes, built during the 13th and 14th centuries, takes up a large part of the old town. We had time to tour the Palais des Papes that first afternoon, and it was clear how materialistic the church and its administrators had become by the Middle Ages, despite efforts by the likes of St. Francis, a century earlier, to bring the church back to Christian simplicity. This ecclesiastical opulence led eventually (after several centuries) to the Reformation, but not until a great deal of blood had been shed in the interest of maintaining economic (and spiritual?) power on the part of the established church.
The church we visited that morning (Thursday, May 13) in Avignon was the Collegiale Saint-Agricol, a very ancient church (7th - 15th centuries). My impression of the organ (a well preserved 19th century instrument) was that it had a lovely tone with a fantastic emotional range. I almost wept at one point during the demonstration by the organist.
Collegiale Saint-Agricol, outside stonework
Again, Ian Cook recorded the organ in Saint-Agricol and Saint-Martin and uploaded them on YouTube. An excerpt of what we had the pleasure of hearing can be found at the link.

Collegiale Saint-Agricol, organ, nave inside

Luckily, we had time to tour the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, an amazing structure both outside and in. Another bit of luck was that an annual rose festival was being held there, so we were treated to an abundant, luscious display of virtually every variety imaginable of roses, decorating hallways, growing in gardens, festooning cloisters.

Palace of the Popes with roses

From Avignon, we rode our bus to Saint-Remy de Provence, where we visited the Collegiale Saint-Martin. The organ there is a new one, installed in 1983. It was built by the organ builders we had visited previously, Pascal Quoirin, and it was apparently their first really big organ. It is a huge, powerful instrument, very versatile in range and sound. The church, itself, is a neo-classical structure, topped by an odd combination of neo-gothic tower and neo-roman oculus.
New Quorin organ in the Collegiale Saint-Martin
We saw and heard another new organ (Saby & Grenzing) at the Eglise Notre-Dame in Caumont-sur-Durance. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of that church or organ. I took both stills and movies with my movie camera, which was stolen later on the trip in Russia. Nonetheless, the organ had a clear, sweet sound in the upper registers. A Haydn piece had an almost bell-like tone, but a later Bach fugue sounded a bit muddy. That may have been the playing.
JAVS sur le Pont d'Avignon; the Rhone flows on beyond

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pipedreams Organ Tour, Day 3

  After a very pleasant dinner , we spent the night in Aix-en-Provence.
The following morning (Wednesday, May 12) we visited another church in Aix, the Eglise Saint-Jean-de-Malte. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera into the church, which was beautiful, with ogival arches and very light inside. On one wall was a painting by Delacroix, which I would love to have photographed. Again, the organ in this church was a new one, simple, with an elegant arrangement of the pipes. Jean-Claude played variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle,” a delightfully irreverent tune that suited the organ’s abilities.

From there, we went to Beaucaire, to the Eglise Notre-Dame des Pommiers, a baroque structure that scarcely looks like a church from the outside. The organ was built in 1849, using an even older case. It was restored between 1986 and ’88 and is considered an “Historical Monument.”

Notre-Dame des Pommiers, organ pipes.
The next stop (third church of the day) was Roquemaure, the Collegiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. This is an old church, with an old organ, apparently constructed in the 17th century and transferred to the church in the 19th century. The pipes are very well preserved, and the organ was restored in 1989. The church claims the remains of Saint Valentine (moved there in 1868). I wonder what lovers fought over those remains and where they were originally! The structure of the pipe assembly includes elements of both Spanish and Italian style organs; lovely stained windows illuminate the sanctuary.
Roquemaure, Collegiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste



After Roquemaure, we went to an organ builder’s workshop, Pascal Quoirin, a fascinating behind-the scenes glimpse at the guts of those magnificent music-makers. We saw two disassembled organs: one, being restored, from the cathedral at Toulon, and one being newly constructed for the Church of the Ascension (Episcopal?) in New York. We saw cabinetry, pipes and pipe construction, reeds and shallots. The many different types of pipes – tapered (trumpets), constant diameter, with and without reeds, the kinds of pipes in wood or metal – mostly tin (Sn) with about 10% lead (Pb) and even some (~0.1%) gold (Au). It seems that hammered and unhammered tin have different hardness and different sound.


Organ builder’s workshop, Pascal Quoirin

After the workshop visit, we went into the city of Avignon, where we were to spend the night in a hotel. The rest of the group went  to the cathedral (Notre-Dame des Doms), but I didn’t go; I was tired and wanted to take a shower and go to bed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pipedreams organ tour, Day 2

On the second day of the Pipedreams tour (Tuesday, May 11), we visited five different churches in five different towns in Provence, all in the vicinity of Marseilles. This seemed like a bit of a forced march to me, as I’m used to taking vacations in a leisurely and exploratory fashion.
Libbie at Notre Dame de l’Assomption

The first town was Barjols, and the church was the Collegiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. It was built into a town square, with commercial buildings sharing its walls. The interior was simple, but the organ was ancient, having been built in 1657 and restored in 1837. Several modifications were made in the later 19th and 20th century, but these were “reversed” in 1986, giving the organ its authentic functions and old, rich tone.

Organ at Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine

The second town was Saint-Maximin la Sainte-Baume, where we visited the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (I’m not fabricating any of these names!). The organ was an Isnard organ, built during the last half of the 18th century, so another very old organ whose original pipes have all been preserved, despite several restorations. This is the legendary site where Mary Magdalene, with her brother, Lazarus, landed on a boat trip from the Holy Land and established a Christian colony. A reliquary contains a skull and shin bone, with the epithet: “Noli me tangere.” The crypt contains sarcophagi purporting to contain the remains of Saints Maximin, Sidonius, and Mary Magdelaine.
Organ, Eglise St-Vincent
The next town on the itinerary was Roquevaire, and the organ was in the Eglise Saint-Vincent. It is a new organ, built in 1993, re-using some pipes. It boasts a total of 5,000 pipes and operates with electric action. The sound is huge and dramatic, and fills the large church with sound. Bell and percussion sounds chime from the high registers. John Claude played a storm scene on the organ that was almost overpowering.      
The next town (the fourth) was Bouc-Bel-Air, where the Eglise Saint-Andre sported a much more simple organ, again a new one, completed in 2006. It is a small organ with a good sound (although tinny in spots).
Organ, Eglise St-Andre
The fifth and final stop for the day was in Aix-en-Provence, at the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur. Several organs have been installed in this cathedral, beginning in the 15th century, with the latest restoration in the early 21st century. Several master organists have had a hand in renovations and restorations, including Jean-Esprit Isnard and Aristide Cavaille-Coll, two famous French organ producers. The interior of the cathedral was very dark; the organist, Chantal de Zeeuw, played a piece by a female student of Cesar Frank. The cathedral itself is built upon the foundations of a temple to Apollo.
 Again, the links to YouTube videos were done by Ian Cook, who took sound and videos of many of the organs and their churches.

Cathedral Saint-Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence, outside and inside, with organ loft and pipes.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Organ Tour, Marseilles, Day 1

Monday, May 10, 2010
The Pipedreams tour began in Marseilles immediately after several members of the group were picked up at the airport. We took a quick bus tour around the noisy, bustling city. The first of the three churches visited that day was the Reformed Church, Eglise St.-Vincent-de-Paul. It displayed two large organ cases, mounted on either side of the transept, as well as a choir organ (1948) in the apse. The main, historical organ (1888) had been out of commission for a while, but has since been restored. It was the first organ I heard, so I had nothing to compare it with, but it had a grand sound. The choir organ was not as rich or versatile.
Eglise St. Vincent-de-Paul
One person in the group, Ian Cook, posted video and sound of several of the organs we heard on YouTube, and I have included links to some of these beneath captions. 
After listening to the organs at the first church, we had lunch in a quaint library/lunch room near harbor, which was jammed with boats. The lunch, a nice salade Nicoise, was upscale, but we had an issue trying to get some salad (in a plastic container) to take out to our bus driver.
Abbaye de Saint-Victor
After lunch, we mounted the hill overlooking the harbor to the imposing Abbaye de Saint-Victor, a basilica that looks like a fortress and that apparently functioned for centuries to protect the harbor. It looms above the harbor, beside a nearby fortres--a statement in stone and strength. Much of the building was done from the 10th through the 14th centuries.

It is an ancient fortress-abbey. Pope Urban V (in Avignon) had once been abbot there and, as pope, fortified it further. It was also used by the Knights of Malta during and after the Crusades. I didn’t have change in Euros at the time to go down into the crypt, which houses remains of pre-Roman habitation, and I regret not seeing that. Apparently the organ in this abbey is a combination of old and new (1888 – 2009), and the sound didn’t seem quite as rich as that in the previous church, but its resonance in that old stone structure was body-penetrating.

Abbaye organ with prominent trumpets

The third church we visited that day was the Eglise Sainte-Marguerite. It was a modest church with a new organ (2003). The church appeared to be modernized from an older church, with bubble-décor windows and plain, painted walls. The paint was peeling in places though, and revealed evidence of painted (frescoed?) walls beneath.


Eglise Sainte-Marguerite

Jean-Claude Guidarini at the organ

Friday, August 24, 2012

Organ Tour, Part 1 - Marseilles

5/21/10 et seq.

I had essentially NO time during the organ tour to record events and impressions, nor to finish writing about the Italy trip, so I’ll try to do as much of that as possible on this train trip and for the couple of days in London. I will fly out of Heathrow (God willing and the ash-cloud doesn’t return) on Monday morning for Kiev. Hopefully, on that trip, I’ll have more time to write as we ply Russia’s rivers and canals.

I’ll try to reconstruct the extraordinary tour of the south of France (Le Midi) and its marvelous organs from a few tidbits of journal entries, from photographs, and from brief notes scribbled in the booklet for the tour: “Historic Organs of Southern France,” May 9 – 21, 2010, with Michael Barone. American Public Media, Pipedreams. I took lots of photos, and these should help refocus the memory.

Nave of Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

My photo strategy for the organ tour was to take a couple of photos of a church from the outside, then a couple of the nave inside, and then a couple of the organ, or more specifically, the pipes and casing or cabinetry. If there was something of particular interest in the church itself – special décor, ancient baptismal font, striking stained-glass windows – I often took photos of that, too. In some cases, I used a video camera (which “disappeared” in Russia) and recorded video and sound, as well.
Organ loft, Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul
The Pipedreams Organ Tour began in the shadow of the Icelandic ash cloud for many of those on the tour, as had this whole trip for me. A few of the participants couldn’t get air flights from Paris to Marseilles and had to take the train. Others were delayed in London and arrived a day late in Marseilles. I arrived the evening before most of the group in the city of Marseilles - once the ancient Greek port of Massilia, and now the largest city of Provence and the second largest city in France. I met Eddie, one of the trip regulars, that first evening and we met again at breakfast.
Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Marseilles, France
It turns out that many of those on the tour (perhaps half of them) are Michael Barone groupies and return year after year to visit organs in various parts of the world (mostly Europe), to listen to them, often to play them, and to enjoy one another’s idiosyncratic company and the chance to share a passion for music in their own individualistic manner. There were 22 members of the group (or 23, counting Lise Schmidt, Michael’s significant other of 32 years), as well as three leaders – Michael Barone, the host of Pipedreams on Minnesota Public Radio (which airs on Sunday afternoons in Charleston); Janet Tollund, who led our tour and usually organizes the Pipedreams tours (through her tour company, Accolades), although she usually doesn’t lead the tour itself; and Jean-Claude Guidarini, an accomplished organist from Toulouse, who was apparently the major musical contact for the tour, who knew most of the titular organists and organ builders, and who was usually the first person to play the organ (sometimes after the titular organist) to show off its possibilities with skilled improvisations.
Ancient fortifications above the harbor
Eventually I came to realize that several of the churches we visited had once been catholic cathedrals, converted to protestant churches. It was not always clear, however, which were which. Initially it seemed that church (eglise) signalled a protestant church, and cathedrale (or abbaye or basilique) indicated a catholic church, although, in retrospect, I’m dubious of these distinctions. The south of France has had a complex and contorted religious history, with the Albigensian heresy at the center of much persecution and bloodshed, in addition to the Catholic schism with Rome during which popes took up residency in Avignon, followed eventually by the protestant reformation, which was bloody in this part of Europe – perhaps even bloodier than elsewhere.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

5-9-2010 - Train to the Midi

Later…Guido drove me to Milano Centrale to catch the train to Marseilles. We arrived early and said good-bye, and now I await the posting of the rail for the train to Ventimiglia, where I will transfer to Nice and from there to Marseilles, where I have (hopefully) a reservation at The Holiday. This will begin the “organized,” or commercial part of my trip.
From Milano to Ventimiglia… I showed my ticket to the conductor and this seems to be the correct train.  I’m in a compartment with (so far) five other people.  The train is underway and the surroundings of Milano are passing by quickly.  Wild poppies grow in patches along the side of the tracks.
I believe we just passed over the River Po beyond Pavia, going towards Genova.
We are now traveling along the Mediterranean Sea, still in Italy, approaching, I suppose, what can be considered the Cote d’Azure.  I hadn’t realized that the land here dropped so precipitously toward the sea.  The train has traveled through many tunnels and I have been wearing a mask after I started having breathing troubles in one of the earlier ones, before Genoa.  The sea is on the left, and mountains and hillsides rise steeply on the right.
In the train compartment with me are two American couples; now the whole compartment speaks English and is riding Eurail since two Italians left at Genoa.  Two of my compartment companions are American soldiers from Iraq on R & R.  They spent the past week in Rome and have another week before they must return to Iraq.  The other two, from Alaska, are celebrating their 25-year anniversary with a two-week trip to Europe.
Later, I’m on the train in the station, about to depart from Nice to Marseilles.  I hope I’m sitting in the correct seat and car. 

The trek from Ventemiglia to here was dreadful.  There was no lift (elevator) or even escalator in the station at Ventemiglia; there was no information on trains in the station; and the loungers in the station seemed deliberately ignorant.  Perhaps it is local sport to watch the tourists trying to navigate the obscure and difficult passageways in this out-of-the-way - but essential - transfer stop between Italy and France.  I had to bump my bags down the stairs from our arrival track, one at a time.  Then I carried the smaller one to the top of the stairs (uscita & vaggia), and was hauling the larger bag up one step at a time when a policeman (caribinieri) came down the stairs and carried it the rest of the way up.  The policemen also didn’t know anything about when or where the train to Nice departed from the station. 

There was also a claque of 10 – 15 sports fans, half full of booze: yelling, and singing, and beating on metallic drums, and blowing noisemakers.  It was almost impossible to ask questions or to understand answers in the station’s echo-chamber.  The ticket teller directed me to information; the lady there said that the train to Nice departed at 15:37, on Track 1, thankfully right next to the atrium of the station.  Indeed, there was a sign along the track indicating that a train left at 15:37 for somewhere like Crassa (no indication of Nice).  However, several others hanging out by the track seemed also to think that the train was going to Nice, and some of them spoke English.
We are now passing along the Cote d’Azure of southern France.  I don’t think I’d want to live here.  It’s too crowded with houses and apartments and hotels - rather like Miami.  The big difference is that the houses crop out of steep hillsides rather than rising from marsh and tidal flats.  Here’s an amazing patch of countryside, now – crumbling sandstone hills and mountains rising like dolomites or western badlands, a few houses collected in a valley.  Now here, again, the hills are tamer and houses grow out of them everywhere, like mushrooms in rainy season.
Roman arch in Marseilles

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Milano, Part 4

5/09/10, continued
On Saturday morning, I went over to Guido’s after breakfast. Patrizia was at work (half day), and Guido was taking care of the children. I played race cars with Ricardo and watched Veronica do her cute little three-year-old show-off routine – dancing, playing piano, etc. Then Guido made pasta (pesto) for us for lunch and Veronica had a bit of a tantrum toward the end of it, but she had been quite good and sociable all morning. Patrizia came home and Veronica had a nap and I got online. It was a good thing, too, because I had a message from a person in the closing section of Community First Bank asking for more information with my signature. This relates to the house I'm trying to buy this summer. Briana has power-of-attorney, and will sign for me at the closing, but it has all been much more complicated than I'd hoped it would be. I was able to print out the e-mail at Guido’s and later (Monday, in Marseilles) faxed it to the person with signatures.
After Veronica awakened from her nap that afternoon, the whole family went for a walk in a nearby park. Riccardo used his gun with plastic pellets to shoot at ducks and posts and imaginary beasts. Veronica ran around and played on a swing set and slides, accompanied always by her mother. And Guido and I walked slowly along the pathways or sat on a bench, and he talked about his situation at work, with which he is dissatisfied, but which he doesn’t see a way to improve without changing companies, maybe moving to another city or even to another country, which he also doesn’t want to do, in order to feel creative and valued. I understand that situation, having been there myself. His solution will probably have to be different from mine, partly because he’s a man, partly because he’s younger than I was when I went through that apparent impasse. It’s tough.

In the evening on Saturday was a big birthday party for Marco, Guido’s brother. I stayed a day longer in Milano than I had originally intended so that I could spend some time with Guido and his family on Saturday. Thus, I was there for the family event, feeling a bit like a party crasher. The whole family was there, and Rosanna cooked a large dinner of lamb shanks and pasta and multiple hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. Her food is always very tasty. Gianni and Rosanna and their two boys, Guido and Marco, now themselves, paterfamilias, altogether created an experience of the intensity and importance of Italian family life, both in its best sense of support, and pleasure, and meaning found in one-another’s company, and in its rather stressful aspect of dissonance and chaos.

This morning (Sunday) I take the train for Marseilles. I’m packed and ready to go, but Gianni and Rosanna are still in bed after a long day yesterday and the big party last evening. Marco, Guido’s brother is now 41 and Guido is now 44 years old, I believe. So it has been nearly 27 years since he came to Charleston as a foreign-exchange student. He’s now married and has two children – Riccardo and Veronica – and a pretty good job, but one he doesn’t like so well because he has poor rapport with his boss. It was good to have another long talk yesterday, as we used to do all those many years ago. That probably won’t be repeated, though.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Milano, Part 3

5/09/10, continued
Villa Reale at Monza

On Friday, Rosanna decided that we needed to go to Monza in the morning.  It is a village, not far away from Brugherio, where Patrizia works (teaches school).  It is also the location of a summer palace (Villa Reale or Royal Villa) of the Austrian nobility that controlled the region of Milan for a couple of centuries.  The following day was to be the opening of a Rose Exhibit in a part of the formal gardens, but the weather has been so cold that very few of the roses were blooming.  There is also a very large park nearby (Monza Park) which is apparently one of the largest public parks in the country.  Then we had an elegant “snack” (small puff pastries with meat and cheese fillings, olives, nuts, crispy, seasoned breads) and tea. 

Friday afternoon, Rosanna, Gianni, Guido, Patrizia and I all drove into Milano in Guido’s car, in order to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, for which Gianni had made reservations. It is in a modest church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, with a lovely cloister area where we waited for our time to enter.
Santa Maria delle Grazie

I had seen the Last Supper once before (during the sabbatical year in Switzerland) and we didn’t need a reservation then. I remembered the space being smaller and darker with the cloister more accessible.  This time, about 20 people were herded into a spacious, softly lit room, with DaVinci’s mural on one end and a mural by Giovanni Donatto da Montorfano on the other.  The DaVinci mural has been “restored,” which is to say that it does not seem to be flaking from the wall. However, the colors seem more muted than I expected or remembered them to be. It was fairly easy to pick out Judas among the disciples.  The others were not so clear.  One looked like a woman, but it turned out to be John (the gospel writer). It was good to see the da Vinci again, and this time restored.

The painting by Donatto, was an elaborate, skilled, and richly colored rendering of the Crucifixion, and I actually spent more time viewing that than I did the Last Supper; there were fewer people crowded around it. Of course, photos were forbidden.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Milano, Part 2

5/09/10, continued.
Galleria Victor Emmanuel

In the afternoon of that first day in Milano (Wednesday), we had a nice lunch of onion soup in a restaurant in the Galeria Victor Emmanuel (the world’s first shopping mall, I believe), and then went to La Scala, where I had a glimpse of the fully lit loges facing a horseshoe, the stage in front and the flat parterre beneath. Then they closed the viewing loges and darkened the theater for a rehearsal (something Wagnerian, it seemed). We then visited the museum there, an intriguing collection of portraits and statues and mementos, and even plaster hand casts and death masks of famous composers and musicians and performers of La Scala’s illustrious past. One almost feels the passions and intrigue of the artists and managers in their portraits and in the artifacts they left behind in this powerfully iconic building.
La Scala

After visiting La Scala, we went to a small church with a very interesting perspective effect of inlaid marble in the apse. From the entrance, looking down the nave, the apse seemed 20 or 30 feet deep, but if one walked up toward the front, it was clear that the apse was no more than about a meter deep, and that the effect had been achieved with the clear use of perspective. I don't seem to have taken any photos of that - perhaps it was too dark inside the church.
That evening, Guido and his family came over for dinner at his parents’ home, a very pleasant evening. Ricardo came up to me and spoke a few words in English. It was clear that Patrizia and Guido love each other, that she’s a good mother, and that he loves the innocence of his children.
General Giuseppi Misouri on his tired horse
The following day, Thursday, Gianni, Rosanna and I went back to Milano, again by metro, and visited the medieval university of the city. We ate lunch (I had a large, very nice tuna salad) in an open-air café in front of a church near the Place Giuseppi Misouri. He was a general in Ghiribaldi’s army, and his commemorative statue shows him riding on a very tired horse. Afterwards, we went to a jewel of a museum housed in an old palace with a lovely little courtyard, of which the core collection was early Renaissance paintings and ancient manuscripts from throughout the civilized world of the Middle Ages.

That evening, the whole family got together at a very nice restaurant in the town of Bordigheria.  Rosanna said we would be “seeing the night life of Bordigheria,” a sleepy suburb of Milano, not far from the high-rise apartment complex where they live. Nonetheless, the meal was superb and the company (all family, including children) was lively and engaging.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Milano, Part 1

5/04/10 (cont.)
On the train from Lausanne to Milano. I had no problem catching the train, despite some anxiety ahead of time that I might not be in the right place at the right time. Also, I had a voice message from Guido (a former exchange student), asking me to call him, but it turned out he had sent it yesterday. We made contact today as I was waiting in the kiosk by the track (voie 3) for the train to Milano to arrive in the station.

The stay in Milano was lovely, but tinged with melancholy because I will probably not see that family again. I felt a great deal of love and acceptance – even honor – while there. The family is very strong, reflecting, I think, the general Italian culture. The two boys and their families live near Gianni and Rosanna, in the same complex of buildings. They work  in Milano, and that is one of the issues Guido has about the job. He and Patrizia have recently purchased a larger apartment in the same complex, which limits his options in terms of location for a new job.

Although I had requested a quiet stay in Milano, Gianni and Rosanna wanted to take me to as many sights as time would permit. Perhaps it was for the best, because they both have lost a good deal of hearing, and quiet conversation might have been impossible. So we visited many fascinating, historic, and beautiful sites in the four days there. When I wanted to speak, I would tap Gianni’s arm and he would turn his best ear toward me and cup his hand behind it, I would speak loudly, and most of the time he could hear and understand. If I wanted to say something to Rosanna, I would usually go through Gianni, although if she said something to me, I could often respond directly to her, in Italian. Our conversations usually began with Rosanna directing two or three words to me in English, followed by “comme se dice…” and an Italian word, which I was usually able to translate into English, then she would continue in Italian, and I would respond in Italian if I understood what she said, which was often the case.
On the first day in Milano, we went to the center of the city and saw Il Duomo (the cathedral), and we spent a good deal of time wandering around the inside. It is a huge structure, with a central nave and two large side-aisles, nearly as large as the central nave. The chiaroscuro of the interior gives a feeling of mysterious calm. I had an auditory guide, which I used primarily when looking at the three large windows in the apse. They were designed in the 1500s, I believe (the cathedral was built from the 1300s to the 1500a) and contain over 400 panels, of which some 60+ have survived intact; the rest have been repaired or replaced. One of the windows depicted stories from the New Testament, one had scenes from the crucifixion, and the third showed stories from the Old Testament, with scenes of the Garden of Eden before and after the fall near the bottom of the window.
After absorbing as much of the art and atmosphere as possible, I turned in the audio-guide and bought a booklet of postcards. Then we went into an underground passage near the entrance of the church, where the excavated remnants of several previous religious structures lie buried beneath the square in front of the Duomo. There was a paleo-Christian baptistery in a round, Romanesque structure (third century?) and fragments of earlier and later buildings, including two other churches (San ? and San Giovanni) that had preceded Il Duomo. It was very interesting to see the false-perspective checkerboard (black-and-white) that seemed to characterize much early Christian design, both in buildings and on the clothing of bishops and other church officials  I remember many such illustrations on the walls of ancient churches in Bulgaria.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lausanne, Part 2

June 4, 2010, continued

Yesterday, Mauricette and I walked down to Lac Leman and then took the metro up the hill to the area where she works. We had lunch at a nearby restaurant where she often eats. I ordered the “res de veau” which, she told me, translates to veal thymus. I thought it might taste something like sweetbreads, which I like. It was delicious. The meat was slightly crisp on the outside but soft inside, and was served over noodles with a delicious, light cream sauce with chives and other, delicate spices in the French mode.
Then, she went to work and I walked over to the cathedral and sat for a while on a bench in a little park in front of it overlooking the city of Lausanne and Lac Leman beyond. Then I wandered through the cathedral, meditating on the stained-glass windows, especially some blue ones, very high up. It’s a classic gothic cathedral, built during the 12th and 13th centuries, I believe – simple but elegant. I don’t know how many of the windows are original. Those on the south side seemed to be newer (etched/painted glass?), but I’m really not sure, and didn’t see any information on the windows. The closest thing to a rose window was an odd circular window in the southern transept. There was also a huge array of organ pipes arcing over the nave just beyond the vestibule – a relatively new one, I believe.

After a couple hours at the cathedral, I walked back to the museum and wandered slowly through an exhibit on evolution entitled something like: “Oh, My God by Darwin,” primarily a history of the ideas contributing to the theory of evolution, as well as evidence for the soundness of Darwin’s approach, from the ancients (Aristotle) to the present (Watson & Crick,  comparative biochemistry, etc.).
Later, on the train from Lausanne to Milano.
We are in a tunnel, now, but before that, as the clouds lifted and the day brightened, the famous Swiss mountains loomed through the train window, angling high above a green valley dotted with small houses, the bright spring green of deciduous trees climbing the sloping sides to sheer rock faces, mingling with, then giving way to the dark green of evergreens and snow still covering the top peaks and trailing down crevices. Here and there, a waterfall tumbles over a cliff in a graceful, white spray against the slate gray of bare rock. It reminds me of the thrill of my first time seeing the Swiss Alps and thinking I wanted to live there sometime. Was it during a car or bus trip that summer I worked in southern Germany (1957)?  And, of course, I thought of the year when we lived in Switzerland ('86 - '87). Although we did not have mountains visible from Basel, we took several short train rides to mountains throughout the countryside. I remember a couple, in particular, Rigi Kulm and the Jungfraujoch, that were utterly spectacular. And the green topped with jagged white also reminds me of mountains in Alaska that Dick and I saw on our R.V. trip there.
What about mountains is so emotionally compelling to me?  I don’t necessarily want to live in their midst, but I like to see them in the background. White, jagged peaks. Looking up and up and up and seeing the bright sky above snowfields buried in clouds. Lush green undulating unevenly up the mountain sides, interrupted here and there by crushed rock of an avalanche. Then looking back and back, through crevices, to a lonely glacier half buried in shadow and icy mist.