Marin Marais. Sonnerie De St. Genevieve Du Mont De Paris

I chose today’s piece to celebrate a neighborhood in Paris, called the Marais, where I spent a lot of time during a semester of my senior year abroad in Paris in 1977.   The piece was written by the 18th Century French composer, Marin Marais.  Le Marais is a section of Paris on the Right Bank that starting in the 13th century was the fashionable place to live for the upper crusties.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a large number of Ashkenazy Jews settled there and it became a kind of garment district.  My friend, a budding Canadian painter named David Maes, house sat there for a while.  In all honesty, I hadn’t heard this piece when I lived in Paris. It came to me via a friend, who’d heard it in a film called “Tous Les Matins Du Monde,” which was about the life of the composer.

I chose it for three reasons. First, because of the composer’s last name, which makes me wonder whether it was an alias he adopted because of living in that neighborhood. According to one guide book I have, the Marais was the cultural heart of Paris during the reign of Louis XVI. My second reason for choosing it has to do with the work’s name. The “sonnerie” is a rythmic and melodic peal of bells. Thus the composer was trying to imitate the sound of the bells from a particular church in Paris. That church was St. Genevieve Du Mont which lay behind Shakespeare and Company on an eponymous street that ran down from the Sorbonne to the Rue des Ecoles. One of the Vietnamese restaurants where David and I used to eat sat on that street. Finally, I chose the piece because it is, simply, quite beautiful. It is a kind of canon built on a four beat melody that has a kind of self-propelled dynamism that carries you along. The lead instrument is the viola da gamba, a smaller cousin (and precursor) of the cello on which Marais was a virtuoso.

Marin Marais Biography

Cleanliness and Godliness in the Marais

Like most Americans, I am obsessed by cleanliness and daily feel compelled to have a morning ablution in the shower before braving the world. A French friend of mine recently told me that like her compatriots, she did not share that same obsession and showered only once a week.  I wonder, therefore, if things have really changed that much since 1977 when I was living in Paris. Back then, out of necessity, people conserved water and electricity, and the bookstore where I stayed, Shakespeare and Company, only had a shower in a small cupboard under the stairs that also served as a Turkish (i.e., squatting) toilet. The alternative were dank and smelly public showers where for a fee you could go and worry for about a half hour about being robbed or picking up some horrible foot disease.

Thus, when I returned to Paris from my two-week hitchhiking trek to Barcelona the day before Easter, I made a beeline to the apartment where my friend, the painter, David Maes lived, in the Marais. David hailed from Montreal, and his father had given him a letter of introduction to two famous Canadian painters before he arrived. One of them painted trompe l’oeuil murals on the sides of buildings. The other was a successful portrait painter and had been commissioned to paint Pierre Trudeau’s portrait. While the painter was in Canada, he asked David to live in his flat. This was not just to take care of it, it was also to keep an eye on his lover, the other artist, who was dying of cancer and lived upstairs. The latter was a grumpy old man with a large beard and an even larger, overweight cat that lurked about the place. David had told me before I left for Barcelona that the flat had a nice bathroom with a real tub and I was welcome to use it when I returned.

What a flat it was! The Marais at the time one of the most historically intact neighborhoods in Paris. It dates from the middle ages when the Knights of the Templar drained a swamp (Marais=”Swamp” in French) and built an outpost for themselves on the present Square Du Temple starting in the 12th Century. It is a maze of winding narrow streets lined by half-timbered medieval buildings. When David lived there in 1977, it was a working-class neighborhood with a large Jewish population and significant number of Algerians and Vietnamese.

David’s friend’s apartment building, which dated from the 13th Century, sat on the corner of a tiny street called Rue Pecquay in the heart of the Marais.  I was back there a few years ago and made a little pilgrimage.
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It had a very organic-looking twisting stairwell that wound up to the two flats. David’s was on the first floor and the dying painter lived on the third. The two artists had completely furnished the apartments with antiques and architectural details that they had bought at the Marche aux Puces (the flea market.) David’s flat was one huge room with a 12 foot-high ceiling supported by massive chestnut beams about 3 feet wide. The walls were covered with a green fabric, the fireplace had an ornately carved mantle on which sat a life-sized terra cotta bust looking like something by the 18th century sculptor Houdon. A huge mirror with flaking silver reflected light from the one floor-to-ceiling window that was draped with dark red and gold velvet drapes. An old pianoforte separated the back wall of the apartment with its wall of cabinets and kitchen area from the main part of the room that served as parlor, bedroom and studio. David’s easel was perched by the window and looked over the narrow Rue des Blancs Manteaux.

David greeted me at the door, a bit surprised to see me and then laughing when he caught sight of the towel I carried under my arm. “So how was Barcelona and Inge?” he asked. “No wait,” he said. “First take your bath and then we’ll talk.” He led me to the bathroom which was on the second floor and shared by the two apartments. When I entered the room, I gawked. The two painters had painstakingly covered the wall with a dark, reddish-brown false marble pattern. They had found gold plated spigots for the sink and bath. They had built a recession into the ceiling and then painted a wonderful, mock-baroque trompe l’oeuil scene looking up into heaven, complete with angels and cherubim. This was pretty astounding but even more wonderful in my present condition was the tub. It was a full six-feet long and about three feet deep. It sat on wonderful lion-claw legs. David left and I filled the tub and climbed in. As I floated in the luxuriously deep and warm water, I gazed up at the ceiling and savored the spirituality of the moment. “This,” I thought, “is as good as it gets.”

Scrubbed and dried, I joined David in his studio and we cooked dinner and I told him about my trip to Barcelona. He commiserated with me on the Sphinx-like Inge. He confessed he had had a crush on her, too, and like me couldn’t understand how she wouldn’t go for sensitive “artistic” types like us. I believe I had brought a bottle of white Burgundy and we sat up talking about art and literature and politics, eventually getting drunk and laughing about Inge’s intensity. I told him how she had once gone into an existential fit of despair at the sight of a dead pigeon that had been run over by a car.

David and I clowning around in Paris and Montreal in 1977

David and me clowning around in Paris and Montreal in 1977

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From that point on, my friendship with David was cemented. He often dropped by Shakespeare and Company after a day of painting and we would go out and eat couscous in cheap Algerian or Vietnamese restaurants nearby. Sometimes he would invite a group of us “tumbleweeds” back to his flat for an artistic soiree. Yes, that was the life—to be young in Paris and feel that you were capable of being great.

As it turns out, David work was being exhibited in a small gallery the last time I was there (summer 2012) in the Marais.  I got there too late to go in, but peered at the pictures through the window.

David's work on the wall next to the bust in a gallery in the Marais, July 2012

David’s work on the wall next to the bust in a gallery in the Marais, July 2012

David in his studio

David in his studio

One of David's recent works.

One of David’s recent works.

Pablo de Sarasate: Fantaisie de Concert sur des motifs d l’opera “Carmen”

Perhaps it is fitting to choose a piece for today based on music that comes from an opera about a love triangle. (Please see my article below about visiting Barcelona in 1977.)  Composed in 1883, eight years after Carmen’s disastrous premier and after its revival in Paris, the Fantaisie... is one of those pieces designed to show off virtuoso violin playing. It is full of incredibly high, almost ethereal harmonics and complicated double stops that almost chill you to the bone. Then there are the devilishly fast passages with bouncing bows and rapid pizzicatos that seem capable of generating sparks. Gaudi’s Gaudy Architecture The main reason I wanted to visit Barcelona in April of 1977 was to see first-hand the works of the Art Nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudí. His surrealistic buildings captivated me the first time I came upon them in an art history book in college. Gaudí’s work seemed to be a last reaction against the straight lines and harsh angles of the cold machine age. Gaudí on the other hand, incorporated organic and naturalistic shapes into his buildings, some of which looked as if they were melting, others as if they would start sprouting tendrils. Gaudí was able to bring his visionary design to light because of a wealthy patron name Guell, and created for him a palatial dwelling, a public park, and several apartment buildings. Indeed, Gaudí’s presence is such an integral part of Barcelona that had he not lived, I am sure it would not have given us the likes of Picasso, Dali, and Miro. So, on our excursions out, I dragged my traveling companions, Inge and Chris, to various parts of the city where Gaudí had created his fantastic buildings and public spaces. My first goal was to locate the Casa Mila, an apartment building that has an undulating, organic façade and looks kind of like a big, bloated puff-ball mushroom. It appears in a number of art history books, and it had shown up in a film by Michelangelo Antonioni called “The Passenger” which I had seen the year before. In one scene in the film, Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider go onto the roof, which has white, surrealistic chimneys decorated with brightly colored stones and tiles. I wanted to see if we could do the same. We found the Casa Mila in a fairly nice part of town. It is in the shape of the letter “L” and we ducked into the bottom of the short leg into the main courtyard just as it started to rain. This courtyard had been covered over and the misguided owners had carved up the interior space in an attempt to create a number of little trendy boutiques, but which were quite hideous. One was full of late 1970’s disco gear and I seem to remembers a silver mannequin with a black afro wig, 6-inch platform shoes, a blue cape and a black feather boa. We eventually found a long sweeping stairway that followed the interior wall of the courtyard up to the next level. I looked up and saw that Gaudí had covered the ceiling with wild and colorful frescoes. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been maintained and they were now flaking and peelings. They could have been “The Last Supper” for all you could tell. I wondered what the hell the condo association was spending its money on if not the upkeep of the building. We took an elevator to the top floor and emerged, completely amazed at what we saw–there didn’t seem to be a single straight line in the place. The wall curved gently around the inner courtyard and the floors and door frames were all made of a lovely, honey-colored wood. The walls were creamy stucco. We wondered around the floor passing a number of locked doors. Eventually we found ourselves back where we started but there was a change: one of the doors that had been closed was now open. I pushed it open a little further and looked in. It was dark but when my eyes adjusted, I saw it was a stairwell leading upward. I stuck my head in and a drop of water struck my forehead. I looked up and saw these ghostly shapes suspended above me. They were sheets. It was wash day, and because it was raining, someone had hung their laundry in the stairwell because they couldn?t put it up on the roof. I persuaded Chris and Inge to follow me, and we emerged onto the roof. It was grand! It looked like Gaudí had sculpted the rooftop out of meringue. He had created a tiled walkway that leads around the outside of the L-shaped building. This walkway went up and down like a huge roller coaster. The walls were white and inlaid with colored glass and semi-precious stone and Gaudi had built a continuous low bench into the wall that ran round the perimeter. Though it was blowing rain, we felt like kids in a giant playground and we peered over the walls looking for various landmarks. We spotted Gaudí ‘s church, La Sagrada Familia, in the distance, his Parque Guell, the port and the Luna Park to the south.

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After coming down to the street, we ducking into a bar/restaurant and ordered a tortilla and my usual Campari and soda. At the bar, I notices they sold cigars and when I went up to investigate realized they were Cuban. I asked the barrista what they called them and she said “puros.” I bought one of these fat, thick stogies and lit it up, much to the disgust of Inge and Chris. Inge announced that she was going to leave for Majorca in a day or two and Chris and I looked each other. Back in Paris, I had tried to form a romantic relationship with this dour, self-abusing, German existentialist. We had long deep discussions and part of me thought she might be my soul mate. Then Chris, the free spirit from California, came along and they instantly bonded. Chris and I were staying in Shakespeare and Company and we all hung out together, so I was invited along to Barcelona, though I felt a bit of a fifth wheel. Now Inge was announcing that she was off to Majorca and she did not invite either of us along. After lunch it stopped raining and we continued on our way in search of the next Gaudí building. As we walked, I puffed my puro pensively and looked at the buildings, the streets and the sidewalks, trying to get a feel for the city. Suddenly a pattern in the sidewalk caught my attention. I looked carefully and realized the sidewalk was made up of molded tiles with an intricate, interlocking pattern. They reminded me a bit of those morphing tile patterns of M. C. Escher, in which black birds flying one way interlock with white birds flying in the opposite direction. When I pointed this out to Chris and Inge, the latter said that she had read in her guide book that Gaudí had designed these tiles as well.

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Seeing these tiles tickled me. First, because I liked the idea that Gaudi had been able to turn his ideas into reality and change the physical environment around him to fit his visionary dreams. Second, these tiles represented a connection with Spain’s Moorish past. Islam is an iconoclastic religion and artistic representations of people were forbidden. Artists therefore turned their talents filling spaces with visually interesting organic forms and curlicues. Eventually these became more and more abstract and became into repeating tile patterns that covered unused space. Think of the Blue Mosque or Arabic calligraphy. The Moors had conquered Spain and brought their artistic traditions with them, which showed up in these tiles of Gaudí. Eventually, we found Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, the roof of which he designed in the shape of a giant multi-colored dragon.  It has the most wonderful facade, the apex of Art Nouveau.

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Later we went to the Parque Guell, which has two cascading stairways, between which Gaudí created a fantastic, dragon-shaped fountain that crawls down the hill and belches water to greet the visitors as they enter the park.

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These works show how the freer Gaudí became to do what he wanted the more organic and fantastic his works became. He became so engrossed by his work that he turned into a long-haired hermit, who often slept in a shack on the building sites for his structures. A day or two later, Chris and I woke early and met Inge, whom we escorted to the port and the ferry that took her to Majorca. Afterwards, Chris and I sat around planning what to do next. He decided to go south to Valencia and me back to Paris. Palm Sunday was coming in a few days, however, and I persuaded him to remain so we could see a few of the spectacles leading up to Easter, and so we spent the next few days exploring the city, eventually becoming friends and trying to deconstruct what had happened between us and Inge. But more on that later.

What instrument should you play? reblog

Got this from tumblr today from a humorous classical music site. Enjoy.

classicalmusichumor:

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is 100 years old.

Read the Guardian Article about the fact that Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is 100 years old.


It’s still revolutionary in my books. Read my earlier post on it: http://youtu.be/jF1OQkHybEQ

Afghanistan National Institute Of Music

Afghanistan National Institute Of Music

“Since 2010, an Afghan music scholar trained in Australia, aided by a Juilliard-educated violinist and with government backing, has kept a small music school going in Kabul, putting musical instruments into the hands of street kids and striving to make space for girls in a country where education is often denied them.”

They’re playing in DC and at my place of work. Can’t wait.

Click here to read article in New York Times

Maurice Ravel: Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte

Ravel’s Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte is one of his most well known and lovely pieces. There are two versions of it–one for piano and one for orchestra. Pavane means a kind of slow processional dance, and Ravel’s is “for a dead princess.” Ravel did not write the piece for anyone in particular, though he had a patron named, Winaretta Singer, heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, and who was a princess by marriage to one Prince Edmond de Polignac. The word “infante,” refers to the child of a Spanish monarch, the French word for child being “enfante.” Ravel wrote the piece while studying music under Gabriel Faure at the Paris Conservatory. At the time, things Spanish were the vogue in Paris, and he wrote it to evoke the pleasant emotions of things Spanish in general and the the sounds that the word infante had on him in specific.

Ravel wrote the Pavane for piano, but it has also been scored for orchestra and string quartet. A search on youtube revealed a version for four harps as well. Though Ravel later thought of this early work as immature and poorly executed, it remains a favorite–its haunting, gentle melody as touching as Debussy’s Claire de la Lune.

When Ravel performed the work on piano, he played it much more slowly than other interpreters. Yet when he heard plodding versions of it, he reportedly quipped: “it’s a pavane for a dead princess, not a dead pavane for a princess.”

I hadn’t heard this piece for a long time, but coincidentally, a friend of mine who is a cellist performed it with his string quartet a couple of nights ago at a fund raiser for the Duke Ellington School for the Performing arts in Washington, DC. What it invokes in me, is the memory of a man named Josef and his daughter, whom I met in 1977 while hitchhiking from Paris to Barcelona (described below).

Pavane for a Truck Driver’s Daughter

Ingebord, Chris and I had left Paris the day before and had only gotten as far as Lyons, just about half way to the Mediterranean. There we had not been received with open arms by the former dorm mate of mine from the French House, where I lived in college. He had acted upset at my calling so late. This was back in 1977, when life in France was a bit slower and people had the luxury of going to sleep at nine o’clock in the evening.

We left Lyons a bit groggy-eyed. Fortunately the rain had let up and the sun warmed us a bit as we stood by the side of the road and stuck our thumbs out. I cannot remember all the rides we had that day, but I do remember the last one. A fairly genial young man, maybe in his late twenties to mid thirties, picked us up in his big moving van. He had fairly long hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and soft features. Back then in France I remember being struck at how people seemed to have a number of well defined class and socio-economic roles. These weren’t necessarily seen as bad. In fact, they gave a well defined structure to ones work and career life, freeing one up to lead enriching interior lives. Our truck driver had a job, a truck, and a house. The state took good care of him. He had all he needed. But I wouldn’t necessarily call him complacent.

He lived in Avignon, and as the day was drawing to a close by the time we got that far, he offered to put us up for the night with his family. After the night before, we tired gypsies rejoiced at our good fortune.

Let’s call our host Josef. Josef lived in a nice two-story house in a small suburb of villas that lay on either side of eucalyptus lined streets. His wife greeted us and did not seem at all put out by his having brought us home. Inside we found a very comfortable place in the Mediterranean style with marble floors and efficient cupboards, shelves and organizers. The place had big windows that on the second floor opened out onto a balcony which commanded a breathtaking view of the mountains. He told me that when the Mistral blew, it would blow debris onto the balcony and it was awesome to watch the force and speed of it in that tight space. On the ground floor on the other side of the house he took us into his ample back yard where he had a sizeable garden. It was there that I first saw an espalier, which is when they train and prune the branches of a fruit tree to run along a low frame or a fence so that the fruit can be easily harvested.

Back inside the house, Josef’s wife fed us a great meal that we shared with their two beautiful children, a boy and a girl about 3 and 5. After dinner, we sat around talking. He was not snobby or impatient with my French and I found myself having a nice conversation with him. We did not watch TV–I’m not sure if they owned one and it would have been an affront I’m sure to put it before one’s guests.

When it was time to turn in, he showed us our rooms. On the way, we passed a family photo. In it I saw there were three children–an older girl who had not sat with us at the table. When I asked him about her, Josef said “Oh. That was my oldest daughter. She passed away last year. She had a bad heart.” And as he said it, he brought his right hand up in a tender gesture and tapped lightly over his own heart. My own heart aches now, 36 years later, as I remember what a sad thing to have happen to such a sweet guy. Yet, he did not seem to have a victim’s mentality or feel outraged at his luck. “Yes, that is life,” he sighed.

When I first got to Paris, there was a big flap in the papers at how the Americans had developed the neutron bomb. This bomb, we were told, would create a blast of sub-atomic particles that would not harm buildings but which would kill all animal life in the vicinity where it was dropped. Somehow that was seen as the perfect weapon. To my mind, it represents the purest of evil. Way back before there were guns, armies fought hand to hand and the terror of that I’m sure made power hungry men think twice before leading their troops into battle. World War II, pretty much dropped the pretense that war was fought by soldiers for noble causes and the civilian population was not to be included in the target. With this bomb, however, you could wage war from afar, never seeing your enemy, which it killed indiscriminately-men, women and children, soldiers and civilians.

Because I did come from America and bought into the victim’s “why me?” mentality, I took every affront by Parisians personally. Therefore, I am ashamed to say, when news of the neutron bomb broke, I joked that Paris was the perfect place to drop the neutron bomb–“get rid of the Parisians and it would be a great place.”

That was before I met Josef, however, who restored my faith not just in the French but in all of humanity. It reminds me of a quote I recently heard by the fiction writer, Scot Turow. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” a character asks. “I’m convinced that God does that to us to bring us together. If everything were perfect and there was no suffering, we’d all just be these individuals doing our own thing.” That pretty much sums up what I learned from Josef. It’s when you meet people who have so much warmth and dignity and take life as it comes, that your really know that life is truly worth living.

Ralph Vaughn Williams. The Lark Ascending

The Lark Ascending is a romance for violin and orchestra that Vaughn Williams composed in 1914 at the age of 42. Vaughn Williams is considered a late bloomer as a composer, having studied composition with Max Bruch in Berlin and Ravel (who was three years younger than he) in Paris before finally finding his voice.

Like Bartok in Hungary and Romania, Vaughn Williams and his friend, the fellow composer, Holst went out into the the countryside and collected folk songs, whose melodies he wove into his own compositions. He gave them new life with the mix of modern and traditional orchestration, and his works are as lush as the Cotswolds where he grew up.

The Lark Ascending is based on the poem by George Meredith, which you can read here. I find the music amazingly evocative of what Gerard Manley Hopkins called the “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!” A few tentative trills on the violin and the piece soars off the score and bears us aloft. The piece remains to this day one of my favorites and every time I put it on my wife, Laura, says, “What’s the name of this piece.” Considering she not as avid a classical music fan as I, that’s quite a recommendation.

Speaking of birds, check out the following description of my stay in Nice, France, in 1977.

Vaughn Williams Biography

Buy CD or Download MP3s of The Lark Ascending Here

The Gull Ascending

In February of 1977, after a few days spent in Cannes, France, I took the train to Nice. My plan was to find a small hotel in a quite neighborhood and spend my time trying to get to know the locals and improve my spoken French. By the time I checked into the Hotel Olympia, however, all I wanted to do was sleep. I was running a fever, had a horrible sore throat, and had a deep, bronchial cough that sometimes woke me at night. The weather on the coast was balmy and sometimes sunny and the people in the hotel suggested I stay until Carnival. Carnival in Nice supposedly drew almost as many people back then as Carnival in Venice, I was told.

The Hotel Olympia had little in the way of charm,being sandwiched in a tall apartment building. The furniture dated from the late 50s and early 60s-a large armoire, a low bed, a writing desk, and a small sink. The double doors were huge and thick with a complicated series of levers connected to a central lock. The key, which was about as big as a tablespoon, moved the levers, which shot deadbolts into the floor and the lintel. The room was cavernous, however, and at the far end a tall set of windows opened out over some smaller houses, with red tile roofs. The sun poured in and I found it a good place to write.

Before leaving Paris, I had purchased a portable backpacking propane stove and used it to heat water for tea in the morning and Knorr soup for lunch and dinner. Sometimes, I’d splurge for myself and buy some blood sausage, which I’d fry in a small frying pan that came with the stove’s mess kit. It sounds pretty squalid, but I loved the idea of having a kind of garret where I could pretend to be a starving artist.

Though lacking in amenities, the Hotel Olympia more than gave me my money’s worth in hospitality. My cough worried the proprietor and his wife. One night at about two in the morning, I woke in a fit of coughing. Someone knocked on the door. It was the proprietor. “Vous etes souffrant?” (Are you suffering?) he asked. I was touched by his concern. They did not own a TV and it was rare when I hear a radio from their room. They spent most evenings playing Scrabble.

One day, I think I really flummoxed them. Remember that heavy old door with the complicated levers? Well, one day, a screw connecting one part of it fell off. That made it impossible to remove the deadbolts, thereby imprisoning me in the room. I banged on the wall to get the proprietor’s attention. He ran to the door. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” (What’s the matter?) he asked. I didn’t know the word for lever, so I used a false cognate. “Le Louvre est cassé!” I shouted back. There was a dead silence on the other side of the door. Then “Comment?” (What?) I had just announced that the Louvre art museum in Paris was broken!

Nice suited me just fine, and I quickly developed a routine. I would rise with the sun and have a quick breakfast. Then I’d start to write. Sometimes I’d go to a small café nearby and scribble away in my notebook on a short story I had begun. After a few hours, I would go out to explore the city-its old quarter, the grand “Promenade des Anglais” (or boardwalk), and the lemon-tree lined streets. Nice was founded in 350 BCE by Greek settlers from nearby Marseilles and it was part of the Kingdom of The Two Sicilies, the Italian city state of Savoie, and even attacked in 1543 by the Turks under the direction of feared pirate Barberousse (Red Beard.)

I found myself drawn to the sea. The coast of the Mediterranean formed a semi-protected bay called the Baie Des Anges (Bay of the Angels.) I tried to go to the beach and look at the sea at least once a day. Coming from the Midwest, it was the first time I had ever seen an ocean, and it never ceased to amaze me. Every day, the water looked different. Some days it was choppy with white caps. On others, huge roaring waves stirred up the bottom and gave the cobalt-blue water a brownish cast. The beach also surprised me–it was covered with smooth round shaped rocks about 2 inches in diameter that had been worn smooth over the eons.

For February, the weather was quite sunny and despite the stiff breeze, there were usually a few sunbathers on the beach. One day, I walked up toward and around the peninsula, which juts out and divides the touristic part of the city from the port. In the shelter of the huge volcanic rocks at the end of the beach, a woman lay with no top on sunning herself. Her face seemed old, but the body was young. Another woman close by shifted her position and then let her hand glide several times over her stomach before letting it come to rest by her side. The sun shone down on their bronze, oily bodies. The beach stretched out from under them and drowned itself in the white foam and blue-green marble of the sea. Waves crashed into the rocks, exploding and sending a shower of water skyward. I had a kind of mystical experience in which I felt connected to the earth and the sea and all the generations of seafarers and conquerors–going back to Ulysses and the Phoenicians–who had passed by these shores.

I climbed up the east side of the peninsula on which stands a huge cactus and cypress covered hill. The steps wound up and along the way I must have come across 10 or more cats. Some I surprised clutching a morsel of food; they slid off into the underbrush. Others surprised me as I flew up the steps. I reached the top on which stands a huge park, a cascade, and the ruins of a tenth century cathedral. I rummaged around the latter for some time. I walked seaward over to the southern point of the promontory across a grassy field where a sign proclaimed “Jeu de Ballons” was “interdit.” I looked over the cactus and out to the sea. It was midday, and the silver pathway which lead out over the sea and up to the sun was long, due south, and wide. I came across two mimosa trees in full bloom, their sulfur colored flowers flowed out of the their tops and cascaded down over the olive-green foliage. Below, where it fell, grew daisies and lilac, which huge bees were busy working.

The lavender and its smell swayed in the breeze. I felt a feeling of vertigo for an instant as I looked down; the water seemed an infinite distance away. Then a white gull flew out from the rocks below me and was framed by the blue gray of the sea. I felt very sensually aroused. I thought of living bodies lying close together. I saw beautiful bronzed skin, freshly oiled, shining in the sun close together. I passed my hand over my stomach and felt the light hair growing there. I sighed and felt very comfortable, in spite of the slightly erotic images being called to my mind–or perhaps because of them. Why not? All of my senses were keyed up and aware of the things around me–why not wish I were lying next to a loved one or in the arms of a woman caressing and touching and being intimate? There was no reason not to be, but I did not feel worse off for the fact that I was here alone.

Rereading the description of the seagull above convinces me of the appropriateness of The Lark Ascendingfor today’s piece.

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