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 d├ęcor, 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