My favorite part of traveling is the moment when you’ve settled into your hotel or wherever, and you’ve done your obligatory wandering around, and you finally get to sit at a café with a cup of coffee (and a Speculoos cookie, bless the French!), listen to Simon and Garfunkel, and look at where you are.
I’m not a great traveler. I find everything about traveling incredibly stressful, catching trains, living out of a suitcase for a couple of days, relying on other people to get you where you need to go (not always so easy in never-quite-on-time France!)…it’s just hard for plan-ahead me. But it tickled me immensely to realize that I was sitting at a café in La Rochelle, of all places, where I had decided to stay the night because somebody in the Gregorian Chant class, somebody I had never met before, was staying there and could drive me. I think after this year abroad, no place will ever be too foreign for me to navigate (okay, within reason–that is to say, within Europe).
Anyway. Day two of the master class went well, and it was a lot less exhausting than the first day (possibly because I had gotten more sleep, and possibly because the teacher, characterized by Catherine as “having her head in the clouds,” realized that four hours of sight-reading medieval notation was probably not a good idea).
I’m not really in the mood to go into real detail about the rest of the time, but quick wrap-up: this weekend I made some cool new friends (including, Marius, the son of our teacher, with whom I had a very serious conversation about whether or not you could make pâté out of escargot. We thought not), acquired an invitation to go visit Normandy, shared an interest in female Renaissance composers, learned how to read neumes (which I misspelled in my last entry), and rang a bell in the final concert.
It was fun, it was good, I really feel like I learned a lot, and I have never been so happy to get back to Paris.
(I’m smiling because the sun is out and I made it to Surgères without missing my train, though it was kind of a close call. The teacher’s husband was supposed to drive me there to catch my 4:45 train. The concert ended at 3:45, and he said, just give me ten minutes…and proceeded to re-arrange chairs and move tables about as slowly as humanly possible. Finally Catherine was like, let’s go, so we hopped it her car. I caught the train in plenty of time. Phew!)
It also occurred to me how much reading medieval musical notation is like reading Torah. Of course, the notes are written out for medieval chant, but then underneath (or above) there’s a system of notation, perhaps created later, to tell you the durations of the notes and the style. So now we’re adding “reading Torah trope at sight” and “mastering neumes” to the list of things I’d love to do but really can’t focus on at the moment. Ah well.
Back to translating Le Nozze di Figaro. SENTI QUESTO!
P.S. A couple of things that I forgot when I was writing this entry but that I just remembered right now. Jenifer, the Englishwoman from the Manche, at one point said, “Je pourrais démolir un café.” I could demolish a coffee. I thought that was utterly charming, because it made me think of the moment in Topsy-Turvy when Richard d’Oyly Carte says, “I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I could murder a pork chop.” And I told Jenifer so, and she said that it’s not at all a French expression, so it doesn’t really translate. I love it anyway. I think it’s going to become part of my lexicon. (In case you were curious, I remembered about this because I commented on somebody’s Facebook status saying that while I’m generally a Tagalong girl, I can also demolish a box of Thin Mints in a shamefully short time. Thank goodness they don’t have Girl Scout Cookies in France!…she said, looking askance at the empty Ritter Sport wrapper on the bedside table…)
The other thing I remembered, because it was also connected with this particular group from Normandy. At the very end of yesterday’s session, I was talking to Nelly. I asked her if they had far to go, and she told me the name of the town, which I can’t remember, but it’s between Caen and Mont St. Michel. Then she said something which I didn’t understand at first. She told me that their town was twins with a town in Virginia called Roanoke. All I know about Roanoke (in fact, maybe all there IS to know about Roanoke) is that it was one of the first settlements in the New World, and then mysteriously, inexplicably, it disappeared. I could probably look it up, but at the moment I can’t remember if they ever figured it out. Anyway, it turns out that the Nelly’s town is only 30 miles from Normandy Beach, and 96% of the town and its population was destroyed on D-Day…and now, seventy-ish years later, people are making their lives there. Extraordinary.