Experience vs consumption …

After Renée finished her language class in Villefranche sur Mer we drove to Carpentras in Provence to spend 3 days with friends from California. Even Bakke and his wife Marie-Caroline Paillard-Bakke had bought a winery in La Barroux at the foot of Mt. Ventoux.  It is an old winery in the middle of a beautiful valley facing the mountainvineyard1.jpg

Even is convinced he will take the grapes and turn them into something different, something new and exciting. Marie-Caroline is happy that they and their 3 young 3-kids.jpg

children can live in the country, close to the land. We sat at an old wooden refectory table over a pot of chicken soup that Marie-Caroline had made that morning. We ate, drank wine and talked. Even talked about the difference between experience and consumption.  We instantly knew this was our intention in France; to experience not to consume.  To experience the music, the language, the art, the food, the culture in which all of these things are embedded. To lose at least a part of ourselves to France.

So here is last weekend’s experience: Friday, after a young Scot helped us set up our computers, we walked across the street to the Cluny(Musée de Moyen Age), a 9th century church. The program, a Carmina Burana based on a 13th century manuscript played on authentic instruments was performed by Ultreia: 3 singers, a drummer, a harpist and a man who played flute, panpipe, and two different types of bag pipes. The hour concert was remarkable. We not only were treated to music rarely heard, but in a setting of the same era. The musicians enjoyed themselves unselfconsciously as one would imagine they did at the time the music was written. At one point they played and sang a country dance and I saw the great Brueghal painting, The Peasant Wedding weeding.jpg

We left the Cluny thrilled that we were able to experience this in the middle of the day and once we hit the street, we thought “Lunch!”  And there facing us across the street was the Brasserie Balzar, a Brasserie where we had eaten before and where Eugene had dinner with Betsy and Richard two weeks before.  Now we were seated at the same table. It was champagne,oysters, veal and Bordeaux.

From our apartment there is a window that looks into a well.  As I am walking around the bend one night, I looked down the well into the kitchen on the floor below and there was a man stark naked pouring champagne into two flutes. (Didn’t get any photos.)


We had gone to several concerts in local churches but Saturday was our first major event. We were going to the Theatre Champs-Elysees, 15 Avenue Montaigne, the scene of the movie “Avenue Montaigne.”  The Orchestra of the Enlightenment was performing an  oratorio bySchumann that neither of us had ever heard of: “DasParadies und Die Peri.” It was pouring rain. We left the metro on Champs-Elysees packed solid with tourists. It felt more like Times Square than Paris. With a little help we found Avenue Montaigne. As we walked towards the avenue, the atmosphere changed until we were on a wide avenue lined with trees sparking with small red lights for the season. As we walked to the theater up ahead, we recalled the movie “Avenue Montaigne” and the scene in the Theatre Champs-Elysees when during a performance, the pianist got up from the piano in the middle of the concert, fed up with what he considered an “elitist” enterprise, playing for well-heeled audiences.  He ripped off his tail coat, his board white shirt and even the shirt under it, standing there in a t-shirt, asking the audience, “Isn’t it hot in here?” He sat down played the concerto beautifully,with deep and tender passion. His action revealed what was real about the music and it wasn’t the formalities of performance.

Across the street was the Bar de Theatre, also familiar from the movie. This was where Sidney Pollack, in the role of a director preparing a movie on the love affair between Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir changed his entire concept for the movie due to the passionate exposition of Valerie Lemercier. Lemercier claimed that it was not Jean Paul Sartre who was the great existentialist. It was Simone de Beauvoir. And according to Lemercier, Satre was a lousy lay. Perhaps that is why he became a philosopher.

THE EXPERIENCE AT THE THEATRE ….I had seen an advertisement for a concert of DasParadies und die Peri, an oratorio by Schumann performed by Sir Simon Rattle, one of the great conductors of the world. I had gone to Fnac, an electronic store with a special desk for concert tickets. They only had 7 seats left and I took 2 on the top balcony. We walked into the theater full of expectancy and I reached inside my jacket. No tickets. I realized what I had done. I also instantly went nuts! I had changed jackets before we left and the tickets were still in the other jacket. I was beside myself. We had looked forward to this and had read a synopsis of the oratorio, based on a poem by Thomas Moore who had taken the idea from a Persian folktale. It is the story of the Peris, a race of demigoddesses descended from the fallen angles, forbidden to enter paradise. One Peri who desires to enter is told by an angel she may enter if she can bring the “gift heaven prefers above all others.” Her first two attempts –the last drop of blood from a hero and the last breath of a young woman who chooses to die with her plague stricken lover – are rejected. She then saw a hardened sinner approaching an innocent child whose innocence moved the sinner to tears of remorse. That was the gift - tears of remorse – that admited her to paradise. We rushed to the ticket window and explained. The man behind the window sent us to  ”Le contrôle”,  a counter manned by men in blacks suits and women in little black dresses. I explained nervously to a man what had happened and that we’d appreciate any seats we could get and they needn’t be together. He spoke kindly in English, saying not to worry but to wait a few moments.  Two minutes later, he called us over, smiled and handed us a slip of paper. “I have 2 seats for you and they are together.” We went in, checked our coats and found our seats. We were in the Loge, the first small balcony, essentially boxes, some fifteen rows from the stage and no more than twenty feet off the orchestra floor. We were a little to the left of center, in perfect seats. We had already played out the oratorio: having been denied access to Das Paradies (with no tickets) Le contrôle (notre ange) had opened the door for us …

Then there was the music. The very first sounds of the violins captured the mood of paradise; of an Eden without judgement. We were transported. We joined the Peri’s search for paradise and in the end, the swelling glorious music took us into the Eden Schumann had created.The applause was thunderous. The conductor and singers left and were called back four times.

concert1.jpgAs in most of Europe, the clapping for a curtain call was a steady beat. No one stood up. People shouted bravo from their seats. What a contrast to the US where at almost every performance people jump to proclaim how much they loved the performance. It seems that we in the US always need a larger gesture, no matter what the occasion.  Here it struck me that no one had to stand. The audience had come expecting to hear excellence and they got it.

Then to the Paris Opera  on Sunday

operaday1.jpg Some pictures are worth thousands of words. Glittering is the word for the Palais Garnier. From the moment we came out of the Metro and faced the opera house, we felt we were walking into music history.  … renee-at-the-opera.jpg 

We had perfect seats (yet again).  I had bought these tickets long before we had left the U.S. and we were in the third row of the First Balcony. The Garnier is small, compared to opera houses in the U.S. It was built in 1875. The balcony started at about the 15th row of the orchestra and our row of seats, although all connected, were more like armchairs. Above us, the cupola, was painted by Chagall, singers, dancers, musicians performing chagall.jpg

even before the curtain went up. 

curtain.jpg  We were treated to 4 hours of  glorious music.The opera opened with a soprano dressed as a maid in a very short skirt with legs above high “C” and a magnificent voice to match.  As was the voice of every performer in the opera. Love, desire, jealousy, abandonment, innocence lost, reunion and loss again. We experienced it all.There is no way to describe the afternoon except to say that it was a perfect balance of music, singing,acting, set design, and ambiance. inside.jpg  

There are things words don’t fully describe. As Renée said that’s what poetry’s about.

One Response to “Experience vs consumption …”

  1. I love your site. I know Marie-Caroline and would be grateful if you could share the name of the winery that Even & Marie-Caroline own. Their children are beautiful - I am so appreciative of you sharing the pictures of those lovely children. I remember Marie-Caroline staying with us at our Guest House in Palm Beach County, FL when she was pregant with her first born!

    I too am a Francophile and I hope to live in France one of these days. Provence & Burgundy are two of my favorite places. Thank you for bringing France to us here in America.

    P.S. - my Website is almost ready.


Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.