In the last hour, I arrived home from what will go down in my memory as one of my favorite Parisian moments ever. I attended an evening concert consisting of two Bach Cantatas (#51, and #147 -- the one that has the music for what we call "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring") and a beautiful piece by Camille Saint-Saën called "Oratorio de Noël". And the concert was held at none other than the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris!
The concert was scheduled for 8pm and as usual since I've been in Paris, I was running late, and I MEAN "running", at least as well as I could in the shoes I was wearing. Try as I might I can NOT get the timing right to arrive anyplace when I want to, with public transportation. But as I came out of Métro Cité and rounded the corner to the cathedral, I had to stop in my tracks.
Because it was just so incredibly beautiful. There's a big Christmas tree in the courtyard in front with white lights and red shiny balls of all sizes, some as big as basketballs. And with the spotlighting on the face of the centuries-old edifice (which currently has NO scaffolding and looks as clean as can be) there is no other word I can use to describe it except "breathtaking". [P.S. I didn't take the photo above but stumbled upon it online and this is EXACTLY what it looked like there tonight!]
But I couldn't stand there and appreciate it for long... I had to figure out how to get tickets since I didn't make reservations in advance. There was a relatively short line outside one of the portals, but they were clearly letting in people who had advance tickets. Then, while I was standing in the line, I overheard a man with an Irish accent telling his friends that if they wanted to pay for the higher priced seats at 40 Euros they could go right in. Turns out I was in the line for whatever leftover "cheap seats" were available and it didn't look like the line was even moving. I haven't splurged on much in the way of entertainment since I've been here so I thought: the hell with it, I'm going in, even at 40 Euros. After all, it was Bach at Notre Dame. And I got all dressed up for the occasion. How could I not go?
I love old European cathedrals. I'm always so impressed with the engineering effort it took to build these huge structures in the days before giant boom cranes like those that clutter my apartment's view of the Eiffel Tower daily. And Notre Dame is my favorite. I just love being there. This was my first time there in the evening, too, which made it even more special.
The orchestra was set up in what seemed to be a sort of "pit" area in the center, and because the audience was sitting in the regular church pews which are all at the same level, and because I got there late and had to sit in the back of the "good" section, and because they did not use microphones, the sound quality of the accoustics wasn't as good as it might have been in a symphony hall.
But I enjoyed it all the same. Five soloists -- soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor and bass -- plus a very good choir and the Ensemble Orchestra of Paris, directed by conductor John Nelson. They had a smaller organ (not the big pipe organ at my back, which would have drowned out the other musicians) with the orchestra, which was very "Bach".
As I sat listening to the music, I looked up at the gothic arches of the ceiling, and all I could think of was: I am so lucky. I am so blessed. Look where I am! Look where I get to spend my Friday night! A month ago the most interesting thing I was doing with my Friday nights was typically either watching reruns on TV or watching whatever Netflix movie came in the mail that week, and that's only if I wasn't up late working.
I always seem to have memorable experiences at Notre Dame. The last one was five years ago, the day after my 40th birthday, on a beautiful sunny Sunday in May. My mother and I were wandering around the two islands, just enjoying being outdoors with everyone else that afternoon. There were long lines of tourists waiting to get into Notre Dame when we first arrived, so we kept walking around to the gardens at the back, and discovered a lovely arts and crafts show right out in the gardens near the rose bushes.
I bought a small embroidered piece that shows my favorite view in Paris, of the Ile de la Cité and the Pont Neuf as seen from the Pont des Arts. It's now one of my favorite Paris treasures. Then we took a few moments to pay our respects at the Holocaust Memorial which is at the tip of the island right behind the Notre Dame gardens.
Afterward, we crossed the bridge over to Ile St. Louis and listened to a pair of street jazz musicians who actually had the tiniest spinet piano (on a dolly so they could move it to different locations, and we'd actually seen them the night before over in the 6th). Mom decided to buy their CD, she enjoyed their music so much, and that's one of her momentos of our trip. A little ice cream from Berthillon, and then we were ready to go into Notre Dame. They were in the middle of mass so we couldn't roam freely throughout the church, but we DID take a few moments and join the service. My mother, who was raised Catholic, had little trouble following the traditional mass (I guess that's the nice thing about Catholicism, you always know what to expect in any language) and even decided to take communion; another special moment for her. I'm not religious but I do find it very peaceful to be in a space with other people who are praying, whether or not I share their theology. And being able to do that in Notre Dame was the icing on the cake of a perfect Sunday in Paris.
And, tonight, an hour ago, I got to create one more wonderful Notre Dame memory. It's memorable for many reasons, but mainly because it gave me the chance to be completely in the moment, right here, in Paris, immersed in beautiful music in the most beautiful setting I could imagine. (And yes, Mom, I did remember to light a candle, just as you asked.)
It doesn't get much better than that.
Thanks, Sunday Scribblings, for giving me the perfect prompt (once again, your timing is impeccable!)
If you're in Paris or planning a visit, here's where you can find out more about Notre Dame, and their concert schedule is provided as a link under Sacred Music: www.cathedraledeparis.com/EN/0.asp