Thursday, June 17, 2004

Rachel and Nick safely landed, after a three-hour delay out of Philadelphia due to lightning storms. But aside from a slight amount of culture shock -- everyone speaks French -- all is well. Both Rachel and Nick wanted to start sightseeing right away so we visited Notre Dame together for the first time and admired the flamboyant Gothic style throughout. Although much of the facade in the front had been renovated extensively in the 19th Century, the flavor was still definitely Gothic, complete with gargoyles, spires, dazzling stained glass windows, and lots of tourists.

After a indulgent breakfast of croissants, chocolate croissants, pain aux raisins (a kind of cinnamon roll with custard and raisins but no cinnamon), and cafe auu lait, the real treat came today as we headed off to the French Conservatory of Music to visit their museum of music. With electronic headsets, we began first with a history of instruments -- over 900 on display. As we walked by each display, a lovely mini-lecture and snips of music helped us understand the value and changes and contributions of each type of instrument. Imagine the evolution of the harpsichord to the pianoforte to the piano. The music brought tears to all our eyes it was so evocative of creativity, discipline and talent.

After a brief break to rest our tired feet, both Rachel and Nick had new shoes, we headed back through a stunning exhibit of music from the Middle Ages, integrating art and the role of the musician. We were all dazzled. Integrated with longer clips of medieval music, we looked at medievam sculptures and many illuminated manuscripts that, for example, showed the influence of Plato and Aristotle, and early theories of medieval music. Another example, the school of music at Notre Dame actually was the first to use measures in music. I saw illustrations of the first system of notation, a phonetic system which required great memorization, so much that musicians wrote the symbols for the sounds on different joints of their fingers! Four and a half hours later, we were ready to watch the latest soccer game, happily enconsed at home.

I almost forgive the French aristocracy for the excesses that led to the French revolution (for in that era about 90 percent of the people died of starvation, and the remaining 10 percent died of indigestion), for the court system and the striving to embellish the lavish court life led to patronage of all the arts -- including musicians -- and brings us so much beauty today. Allen also pointed out that French support for the American revolution was pivotal to our democratic system today, coming as it did in French opposition to the British and through the diplomatic efforts of B. Franklin. All in all, we have much to be grateful for from the French -- not the least being French fries.

Enjoy every day of summer. I can't wait to see the 'kids' react to the Louvre, Versailles, a boat ride down the Seine, and a concert of medieval music with authentic instruments. Write when you can. I send you good thoughts.


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