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Posts Tagged ‘Beauty’

I spent a majority of my weekend holed up in a secret music library in the northwest part of the heart of Paris.

Yes, that’s as wonderful as it sounds. I was a temporary visitor to the fabulous Médiathèque Mahler for a group presentation — or exposé — on the differentiation of opera genres in the 19th century for my French class on music and politics. Exposés are apparently the key piece of the SciencesPo academic methodology, although this will be my first and only one.

But opera is kind of my jam — witness: my upcoming summer research project on opera in Europe — and I really like Bizet, one of the three composers we have to cover for this project. So, I found myself in a quietly elegant reading room all weekend, listening to and reading about Bizet’s first major work, “Les pêcheurs de perles, or The Pearl Fishers.

Finding myself there was rather tricky. I had the address — a “bis”, or half number — and a general idea of what I’d find — music, books, assorted other related items — but I had no idea what kind of people would be there, or if it would be worth my time. It doesn’t help that I don’t particular like the music of Mahler.

(You see, I once went to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with my uncle. We were there to see the celebrated pianist Lang Lang, and as a young pianist myself, I was pretty excited. Lang Lang opened the concert with his trademark flare and pizazz, and I remember being really impressed. But after intermission, Lang Lang was nowhere to be found, and instead the orchestra pulled out this ridiculously long and depressing 75 minute Mahler symphony. It was well played, but so very long, and after the flash that was Lang Lang, nobody really was into the Mahler. Plus, I remained convinced they put that piece in the latter half of the sold-out Lang Lang concert to trick people into listening to something that normally wouldn’t attract anyone on its own. My uncle fell asleep. I was bored out of mind. Hence, my dislike of Mahler. I’m sure he has some great stuff, I’ve just only heard that one long and boring and poorly placed piece.)

The professor gave everybody a list of books and musical works to consult for these presentations, and strongly recommended we go to the Mahler library, so I headed up that way Friday afternoon to see what it was all about. It’s located in a beautiful neighborhood I hadn’t had the chance to see yet, just south of Parc Monceau, and the trees and flowers were all blooming in the warm spring breeze.

The street door led into a little narrow hallway and courtyard, and somewhere in the distance, someone was playing the piano. I was excited. This seemed like my kind of place. A quick buzz on the inner door and then a walk up a beautiful carpeted staircase took me up to the library, and brought me face to face with the diminutive bibliothécaire, or librarian.

After some confusion on her part — “You know this is a very specific library, for classical music study,” she told me — I explained to her why I was there and showed her my reading list. She signed me up, gave me a temporary library card, and showed me to a seat. Moments later, she had my books in a neat pile.

“Enjoy yourself, M. Andersen,” she said, smiling.

And boy, did I ever. I spent the entire afternoon poring over thick books on opera theory and the life and times of Georges Bizet. I even got to listen to a couple of recordings of “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” and follow along in the complete score. This library had EVERYTHING you could ever want in the field of classical music.

As I sat there, reading and listening — and having a wonderful time — I slowly found myself remembering what it felt like to be studious again. This term, while interesting and rewarding and all that jazz, has really been low on the academic-stress scale. Not being overloaded with work and obligations and stuff makes me feel lazy and bored and just…not right.

But these next two weeks are going to be chock full of work — this exposé, two major papers and two or three article assignments — so I felt that I needed to regain some of my old drive. Especially since the light at the end of this work pattern is a trip to Spain for Spring Break.

And surprisingly, Mahler — or rather, the French music library named in his honor — did it. I felt like a real, busy student again, with time to manage and work to complete and books to read and all that wonderful residual stress that trickles down from on high.

It felt good.

My favorite place in Paris is still Parc des Buttes Chaumont, but the Médiathèque takes a close second. I’ll definitely be back again to research for my summer project.

Its a quiet, secret place. But it is beautiful.

And I feel at home there.

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It was late, and I was tired, and I generally do not like to take the metro past midnight, even on a weekday — it gets all funky, and you can never be sure how drunk your fellow riders are: happily buzzed, or pushed to the limits of belligerence?

But I wasn’t that far from home, and I of course prefer the funky metro when given the choice between that and walking the windy streets of late-night Paris.

I was waiting on the quai of the always-useful line number 4 after transferring from the 8, and nearby, a man was playing Yann Tiersen — read: stuff from “Amelie” — tunes on his accordion. He was actually pretty good, and I do love me some Yann Tiersen. I felt bad that I didn’t have any spare change to give him — he was good, but not 2 euro good.

He had set up a little personal band shell by the portal to the quai of the 4, complete with signs — in multiple languages — relaying the power, beauty and skill of music as an art form. Clearly, this guy was a professional busker.

(A quick side note: in order to get official permission from the city of Paris to play music for money in the metro stations, you actually have to get a permit. They only give out a certain number of permits per station, and there apparently is some sort of audition process to obtain a permit. Granted, there are clearly some people — those who play their music on the trains themselves — who ignore this regulatory procedure, but the lengths the Parisian government goes to recognize and regulate this busking process is really fascinating.)

Anyway, with Yann Tiersen playing gently in the background and the train coming in 3 or 4 minutes, I had time to look around. I noticed a woman, in all black with a bright, multi-colored plastic shopping bag, passionately dancing in front of the accordionist. She wasn’t twirling, or jumping — if you’ve ever heard Yann Tiersen, you’d know that that kind of dancing is hard to do to his music, unless you twirl and jump in 3/4 time — but rather, she was intently clapping, stomping and shaking. It was kind of captivating, in its way.

I found it interesting that this couple would work together in this manner — the dancing woman was fascinating, but I wouldn’t call her skilled or anything, or at least, not as skilled as the accordionist — when suddenly, the train arrived and the in and out exchange of passengers began.

I watched as the dancing woman shared some words with the accordionist — what was said, I don’t know — and then wandered over to the train. She got in the car behind mine, and gingerly took one of the many folding seats in the front section of the car.

It became clear that this woman, with her colorful shopping bag and peculiarly delightful dancing, was just another late-night passenger headed home on the metro. She heard the music, thought she’d take part, and started to dance.

Sure, you could argue that our friend in black was probably not all there. You could argue that it was just another crazy out taking part in a world that sometimes doesn’t even want them to take part; I couldn’t tell if the accordionist appreciated her Martha Graham-influenced tribute to his music or not.

And yet, all craziness aside, I found the entire moment terribly beautiful in its oddity. And it really was the entire moment. If the woman had stayed on the quai and kept dancing, I would have just written it off as another desperate couple looking for change in the metro. If she had disappeared, I would have thought similar things.

But she didn’t do either of those things. She picked up her polka-dotted shopping bag, nodded to the accordionist and perhaps her invisible crowd of adoring fans, and headed on home on the same metro as me, in a car just behind my own.

Call me sentimental or overly cinematic, but this anonymous and public display of music appreciation put a satisfying smile of wonder on my face.

May we all have the chance to do something similar in our own time.

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